Pitra Pakṣa (the fortnight of the ancestors) and its significance

Shunya Pratichi Mathur

 Being a Vedic Gurukula, a striking feature at Vedika is our belief system in Ātman and its eternality(even after death) and we celebrate all things spiritual and pause to celebrate the great cycles of birth, death and passages in between.

I invite you to celebrate the dark moon cycle that started on September 30th 2012, to pay homage to your ancestors- biological as well as educational/ spiritual ancestors who are not with us in body but dwell with us in spirit (literally).

Pitra Pakṣa (पितृ पक्ष), is the 16 day lunar period in which we honor our ancestors. Navratri follows this auspicious time (begins on 16th of October 2012) .

For Pitra Pakṣa, we set up an altar for our ancestors or bring their photos out, and we light a ghee lamp, offer flowers etc. to those who came before us. From now until the 15th, we will offer our sādhanā and prayers to our ancestors. Remember to include the souls of all teachers important to you, who have walked a spiritual path before you and have influenced you in some positive potent manner.

According to Vedic thought, the souls of three preceding generations of one's ancestors which reside in Pitra Loka, a realm between heaven and earth - leave it and reside in their descendants' homes for a month (who ever invites them) until the sun enters the next zodiac, Scorpio, and there is a full moon. We, the living ones, are expected to propitiate the ancestors in the first half, during the dark fortnight which is going on now.
The scriptures teach that we should propitiate ancestors (Pitris), along with the gods, spirit friends and all guests (birds, animals, people who visit us in this time). The scripture Markandeya Purana says that if the ancestors are content with the śraddhā (our mindful prayers especially at sunrise and sun set), they will bestow health, wealth, knowledge and longevity, and ultimately heaven and Mokṣa upon the performer.

There is a complex series of rituals that Vedic tradition recommends for this dark cycle of the moon and the first day is very important. It is the sarva pitra day, where we remember all our ancestors, because usually based on the day of the month, first day, second day, it will correspond to the passing of a certain ancestor and all those calculations. But the goal of remembering ancestors here at Vedika is to honor and understand the meaning of what the ritual is trying to show us. We may have heard that this is a dark time, an unlucky time, don’t start anything new, as though some fear is associated with this period. But the reality is that we don’t start many new things because the mind is easily engaged and distracted and we really prefer to spend 15 days contemplating the whole journey of humanity and the amount of knowledge, struggle and transcendence that has gone into it, and we are the fruit. We are the leading edge of the tree and it is upon us how we take it forward. It is not just our ancestors that are bringing us light and knowledge, but it is also us here on bhu loka, who have the unique ability to recognize our reality, our true self and take such steps forward or inwards and upwards in our consciousness that the entire lineage is illuminated. Each time there is an evolution of consciousness from one animal to semi-human, human, human-God, semi-God and God and Brahman, there is so much light everywhere.

So this is a very good time to
contemplate our unique opportunity. This is a very important time to contemplate thankfulness and the kind of thoughts that we have towards our ancestors. It is a time to cultivate illumination in our relationships with them.

So we begin with a ritual of offering lit lamps to Yama, the Lord of Death. The Lord of Death is actually the master of life. Death is reality, represents reality. This short awakened birth represents not That. That is why Naciketa in the Upanishads, had to go to Yama, to understand all about the reality of life, in the Kathopanishad. So Lord Yama has to be brought closer in our consciousness. We will deeply meditate on the transient nature of this body, on the transient nature of the body that our ancestors' souls came in, and then they left those bodies. May the fruit of their learning, the fruit of their blessing, may the fruit of their journey, be illumined to us, because we are connected.

It is said in our
śāstra, that when the elders were truly elders and they have led a dharmic path and fulfilled their life purpose of love, bliss, peace, and their duties, then we should emulate our elders, our ancestors, during our life in this world. So the Vedic path is the path of celebration. Even if our immediate family, which is present and alive is not able to nurture us that much, we will have some ancestors who have done some amazing work for us and brought us to this point. We go into a meditative state of great thankfulness, gratitude, recognition of struggle, forgiveness, and a lot of energy.

Remember Caraka, Su
śruta, and great sages all over the world; they also had physical bodies, and they gave so much to us. They put the body to good use. They put the buddhi (intellect) to good use. And we have thankfulness for all those mothers who gave birth to us and had labor pain and our grandmothers who gave birth to our parents and had pain. They nursed us, watched over us, fed us and much more. And difficulty, poverty, movement from different countries to USA, so much has gone into our being present here so that we can be cognizant of our human opportunity to become grateful to this temple, this body. We begin to see that our citta (mind) is our tool and it must be in perfect condition and purity.

So Pitra Pak
ṣa is nothing but complete rhythm, synchronicity and thankfulness with our ancestors.
Thank your ancestors at least three generations removed, and more if you remember. If you have tears coming through, that is okay. If you have laughter, that’s okay. One by one, say thank you. Many of us have lost mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, children. I tend to include dogs, cats, birds in my ancestry, too.
Sheer gratefulness and appreciation of their human journey, and the completion of their journeys, because you are here. Because you are saying thank you, their journey has become completed. The light of the lit lamp represents the eternalness of their Ātman. In this light, they bless us. In this flame, they are present.

The eternalness of Ātmā is the only truth. But we are grateful to the passage, to the great contribution, to this samsāra (world). Our pitras appreciate our recognition of their journey. They like being invited into wholeness. Today, we are also saying good-bye to them. May they return to the house of Yama, and to that highest judgment of ta-satyam, as per which the souls of our ancestors will dwell in different lokas. We are here, cognizant and aware and thankful for our opportunity to be in this body, as souls, and to know the difference between our true nature which is Spirit, and our equipment, which is body and citta, the mind. And we pledge today, in front of our pitras, who are here gathered around us, that we will devote our life to the service of humanity and to the pursuit of jñāna, knowledge. More and more knowledge, about our true Self, and the reality of this existence, so that we can break free from all bonds and all difficulties.

There are three kinds of suffering:
ādhidevika, ādhibhoutika and adhyātmika. The most critical is adhyātmika, in which the self hurts the Self. Let us pray, “May I know my true Self and thereby become a potent agent of healing my Self and bringing fame to my ancestors and to the ones who come after me, and I may I become like this lamp, lighting everything in society around me, because that is my true nature. I thank my ancestors who have come before me. I recognize the tremendous responsibility that is upon my shoulders. I understand that time is critical. I understand that every action of mine, every speech of mine, every thought of mine is creating karma that could potentially lead to the fruit that I do not wish to get involved with, or because of which I have to take yet another birth in some form or the other and go through the whole process of ignorance. Now that I am awake, my ancestors, I will remain and become more and more awake, and to stay awakened is my promise to you. And I will seek your help from time to time. Please come and gently remind me of what you already know, because of your journey here before me.”

Baba explained how we welcome those little souls of one mummy, one daddy, one granny, but when the Pitra Pak
ṣa ends, we release those souls into the large cycle of Spirit. We release them to the compassionate field, which is Brahman. We invited them into our homes in their small little selves, and through this merging of the lights, through the eternalness of the Ātman, we actually had the indulgence of shedding a few tears. Because it is our need to do that. But in reality, every leaf, every flower, every bee, everything that is, was and will be, is all well and all complete in Brahman.

And that’s why on this day, there is actually a great surrender to death. And this is why all souls return happily to Yama, the teacher of life.
Because life is not just this little life, in one living room, one couch, and one title and one body that has become tired or old or traumatized or broken. Life is very large, and Yama and death ensures that life doesn’t get caught and trapped in selfish little boxes and small, little tired bodies. But life lives and sustains itself and renews itself again and again through the ceaseless womb through which beings are emerging and through that infinite home to which souls are returning to be rejuvenated and to play and adventure in the different lokas until in satyam they are in their true Self. So therefore death is but a doorway, and I understood from my teacher how our dear ones had returned to be safe with their teacher, death, and they are not abandoned by us, because they could visit us every Pitra Pakṣa.

And so next year also, we will let you know the dates. It falls around this time and this is a very potent time. It is not that only the Vedic Indians knew how to connect to their departed ones. Anybody can connect at any time. It’s just that the rishis showed us a few more windows, a few more opportunities. And in India, people go to holy places and Gaya and they offer lamps and donate to the poor. Do donations if you can, but if you get the whole message of death, then life becomes worthwhile. And as Vedic students, we have to embrace death and understand its potent teaching and its potent message. This biological body, it is the fruit of our ancestors. We are grateful for it. Because they took on the struggle and were not cowards, we are here. And hence
there is a great beauty and joy in connecting with the departed ones through this knowledge, this jñāna. This jñāna, this knowledge, is the only thing worth living for. Everything changes, but this knowledge converts the entire death to the most welcome invitation. 

What you can do during this time :

1-Offer gratitude

2-Light a ghee lamp

3- Offer food to birds - cook rice balls, add ghee and leave them out to be eaten - daily or on first and last day for sure

4- This is a good time to make donations to a good worthy cause in their name, such as Vedika's newly installed Free Medicine Bank

5- Delay (if you can) any new undertakings until the 16th morning and stay immersed in contemplation and gratitude during the dark fortnight.

6 - Meditate daily - offer Gayatri sādhanā daily to their collective welfare in various lokas or states of consciousness.

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