Honoring My Ancestors
Updated: Dec 6, 2019
Within the Vedic tradition there is a time to honor our ancestors, it is called Pitra Paksha. Pitra means ancestors, paksha means a period or phase of the lunar month. This phase, which started on September 24th this year, is 16 days when we give thanks to our biological ancestors.
It is curious that Pitra Paksha is similar in some ways to Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), which is celebrated in early November. Both traditions have altars which are set up in our homes, including photos of our ancestors, ghee lamps or candles and an offering of the marigold flower on the altar. So interesting that marigolds are used in both cultures as an offering to ancestors. In my Mexican culture, the marigold is said to have the scent and color to guide the spirits to our altars.
Through the Vedic Spiritual Studies Program, Acharya Shunya gave us the teachings of Pancha Maha Yajna (the five great actions of Karma Yoga). A yajna in Sanskrit is a word for a ritualistic sacrifice. When we perform these yajnas daily, over time they reveal within us a different way to see life–to do for others first before our individual ego wants and needs. These teachings open up within us a space of gratitude. One of these yajnas is called Pitra Yajna, actions to remember our ancestors. The mantra to our ancestors is as follows:
Matradevo bhava, Pitradevo bhava – God is revealed through our Mother and God is revealed through our Father.
From my teacher’s words:
Everyone who shows up in our life–offering us light or darkness, joy or sorrow, respect or insult, is ultimately an opportunity, awakening us to the One truth of Atman– It alone is.
As both these rituals of honoring our ancestors approaches, I am remembering my Grandma, my Mom’s Mother. My first memory of her was very early on, as a baby, maybe months old. I opened my eyes and I see her. She is breastfeeding me – my Grandma. Was it real? It has been in my memory all these years.
Growing up, living next door to my Grandma wasn’t always ideal, especially when I was a teenager – but now my memories are filled with my Grandma as a blessing.
I remember holidays of making tamales with my Grandma, my Mom, Aunts, and my sisters. All of us around a kitchen table, laughing, drinking cups of coffee, and eating pan dulce (sweet bread). Memories of rolling out dough, using your comal (flat griddle) to cook fresh tortillas. That comal is in my kitchen today used for making pancakes and chaptis (Indian flat bread).
I can still smell the Yerba Buena plant that lived outside your front door. You used that plant for years making ‘medicine’ by heating olive oil and yerba buena, then soaking a cotton ball that you and Mom would insert in our ears whenever my sisters or I had a cold or earache.
I remember whenever I would leave the house, I’d give you a kiss and you would make the sign of the cross on my forehead whispering Vaya con Dios (Go with God). I thank you Grandma for being in my life.
Pitra Yajna is beginning to take on a whole new way I see my past, family members who are no longer here, how I remember them, and how I miss them. With the knowledge of Viveka (discrimination) between what is nitya (real) and anitya (unreal), I am understanding there is an eternal conscious awareness, a Oneness, Atman (Eternal Self) that lives beyond our suffering and that that Oneness lives in joy, gratitude and compassion.
I have one lasting memory of seeing my Grandma leave for work, I see her walk up the street towards the bus stop. Such a clear memory, so many times I would see her take that walk, I must have been eight or nine years old. As I look in that past, things start to blur and I am back on that street, only now I am a woman in her sixties. I turn in the opposite direction where I see another woman, she has long dark hair and she is wearing a saffron and yellow sari. I walk towards her and as I approach, I bow down to touch her feet, showing my respect (vinay). She is my teacher, my Guru, Shunyaji. I turn to see my Grandma in the distant past, and I bow to her and all my ancestors for giving me this lifetime to move towards awakening.
As Pitra Paksha and Dia de Los Muertos approach, I will set out photos of my loved ones who are now in my ancestor realm, light my candles, set out marigolds and bow to my loved ones, for without them, I am nothing.
The author Sākshi Joanne Banuelos is a longtime student of Acharya Shunya, and served as the Student Coordinator of the Vedic Spiritual Studies Program.
Learn from Acharya Shunya by watching her LIVE Global Satsang on the first Sunday of every month on YouTube.