We are the results of all of those who came before us. Physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually this is true. Their genes form our own genes and our blood is created by theirs. This influence includes all things deemed both “positive” and “negative” alike. Our negative habits, those tendencies which hinder us and keep us from revealing our divine purpose and light, are rooted and shared with theirs. In Ayurveda this is called a Khavaigunya. Similarly our strengths are being guided and nourished by theirs. Our ancestors are quite literally alive within us. This is why many ancient cultures knew well the importance of acknowledging, honoring and forgiving our ancestors as our actions impact seven generations in both directions. In yogic philosophy we learn that our sādhana, our practice and prayer, effects seven generations from us. In Christianity there is the tradition of All Souls Day where ancestors are visited and honored. The Iroquois Confederacy similarly stated that “we must consider the impact of our actions on the seventh generation”.
In the ancient Vedic calendar we are in the 16-day lunar cycle known as Pitru Paksha ( पित्रू पक्ष ) where one worships, thanks and also releases their ancestors. It is said that our ancestors are their waiting for us to do this act of prayer for them that they may be released and know peace. It also releases us from any negative influence upon our own lives. In particular the most auspicious and powerful time to do this is on a new moon day. Currently Pitru Paksha falls in September. The power of doing certain acts or prayers on certain days is the true birth of Jyotisha, ancient Vedic astrology. The following story illustrates this well. One time my father and I were in Alaska in Glacier Bay National Park. We decided to rent a two person kayak and go out into the larger bay. Our timing was, however, not ideal as we soon realized that the tide was coming in. This meant that despite our greatest efforts we were constantly faced with a forceful flow of freezing water that made our efforts most insufficient. We did, after taking on much ice cold water, exchanging some intensive words, and seeking refuge on a rocky shore, make our destination. How much easier would it have been had we acknowledged the flow of the water? Had we gone earlier or later that same current would have ushered us forth with very little paddling (not to mention less profanity). In either scenario the willingness, strength and ability of the paddlers would have been the same yet the outcome would be tremendously different. This lesson is the importance of timing when doing our practice. It is why the morning is a sacred time to pray and meditate. It is also the reason why this Friday during the new moon in Virgo it is the most ideal time to perform the ancient ritual of Tarpana (तर्पण). Additionally, the Moon will be in the Nakshatra (lunar constellation) of Hasta, which lends energy towards prayer, jyotish and healing and will be conjunct beneficial Jupiter. The Moon will be perfectly a new moon at 8:10pm EST.
Tarpana is simple and is best performed while facing south while sitting on the bank of a body of water or river. It can also be performed in your home if this is not an option. To prepare for this practice think of what one food item was most loved by the ancestors which you want to acknowledge and honor. It could be anything from a simple candy to a dish that your prepare. As you bring the particular ancestor to mind feel them as being real there with you. Perhaps you are focusing on a photograph if you never knew them or a memory that is most vivid. Once the image is most present there in front of you state your intent to honor them, thank them, forgive them and release them from any lingering earthly attachment and offer them a spoonful of water, a spoonful of milk (preferably raw), and a spoonful of black sesame seeds. Next offer a small amount of the favorite food which you brought for them and say a prayer that they be released fully in G-d’s peace and love. Once you have honored and prayed for each ancestor you may throw the food into flowing water, feed it to an animal or place it in your compost (the compost being and symbolizing Agni, the digestive fire which transforms that which is no longer useful into something new).
At this point you may wish to chant the Mahamrtunjaya Mantra (om tryambakam), read the 23rd Psalm from the Bible outloud, chant Lokah Samastha sukhino bhāvantu or say a sincere prayer for healing, forgiveness and love.
Doing this ritual once a year is a crucial way for us to remember that we are not independent of our ancestors. Our healing is their healing and because we are currently alive this healing is our sacred task. Though our journeys are our own and our soul’s karma is unique ultimately everything they have given us is the greatest blessing because it has enabled us to be alive.
Richard G. Powell is a Jyotishi (vedic astrologer) and certified Ayurvedic Counselor in Albuquerque, NM. He is currently a student in the second year at the Ayurvedic Institute.
* The ritual of Tarpana was taken from Robert Svoboda’s book “Prakriti”. A highly recommended read.