The Time of the Ancestors


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Lesson 10

Pitṛpakṣa Practice Day 9: Make Atonement

Today is the 9th day of Pitṛpakṣa, and it is dedicated to all the women who have passed. Some families (especially those with a strong patriarchal bias) only do full ritual practice for male ancestors, and then honor the females all at once on the ninth day. However, in our lineages, we do full ritual practices for all immediate family regardless of gender. And, that said, you can also remember all the women today.

Many of you in this course have asked us, “what do I do if my ancestors did mean things?” First off, ALL of us have ancestors who behaved badly. People behave badly because of fear and ignorance. So as we transform our own fears and ignorance, that’s the easiest way to uplift our family line.

Secondly, all ancestor practices are designed to help alleviate their [and as a result, your inherited] karmic burden for their unkind, unconscious actions.

That said, today’s practice is how to specifically clean up and atone for any of their adharmic behavior. Adharmic means anything that is out of alignment with dharma, with what serves all beings.

It’s important to note that we are not guilty or tainted by association. We can feel saddened and perhaps even horrified by what our ancestors did. But we do not have to believe that their actions makes US impure or unworthy.

In fact, it’s because of our purity that we are able to feel remorse and we even have the awareness and longing to help. Healing and forgiveness only really happen in a shame-free space. This is not about putting anyone down. Rather, we need to identify their harmful, fear-driven behavior, and choose to act from love and wisdom.

Atonement includes:

1) full and open acknowledgement of the harm that was committed

2) a heartfelt expression of remorse and empathy

3) a clear commitment not to repeat the harm

4) tangible action – offering physical resources or our service – as retribution for what was taken

5) deep listening, humility, and respect towards those harmed

6) offering rituals and prayers to the divine for grace and collective healing, and to clear the energetic imprint of the harm

7) embodying dharmic conduct through our own example

The first one – admitting what happened without any need to sugarcoat or make excuses – is perhaps the hardest for the ego. It’s even harder if you are deeply identified with a story that you/your ancestors were justified and/or the victims in the situation. You may even find that your ancestral patterns in your subconscious will push hard against you speaking for truth.

However, once you speak the truth, the other aspects of the practice will unfold organically, and you might need to repeat some of them before the process is complete.

Traditionally, one thing you can do is dedicate the blessings of your spiritual practices (discussed in Lesson 4) to those wronged by your ancestors, and also their descendants. This is alongside the practice of offering right actions (making retribution, offering service, expressing empathy and remorse).

You can also pray to the divine for mercy and wisdom to be granted to your ancestors.

More specifically:

If your ancestors committed systemic harm to an entire group of people (colonization, slavery, racism, sexism, economic oppression, etc), along with your personal practice, you might want to get involved with larger-scale justice and retribution efforts.

And, we can become aware of how we are still participating in these patterns of suffering today. One aspect of our daily practice (pūjā, prayer, mantra-japa, meditation, etc) can be devoted specifically to increasing awareness and asking forgiveness for any unintentional harm that we continue to cause.

If your ancestors committed crimes against nature and animal beings, you can dedicate time, energy, and resources to protecting animals and the natural world. As a regular practice, bow to the earth and ask for her forgiveness and mercy.

If your ancestors inflicted severe trauma or horrific violence upon themselves or others, along with whatever other practices you do, we strongly advise working with a priest or ritualist who can perform a ceremony to help clear the unresolved energetic remnants of that action. Without tackling it at multiple levels, the energetic patterns can linger and repeat for generations.

Lastly, please remember that if violent/fearful/unconscious ancestors’ energies show up in a forceful or even manipulative way, it is perfectly fine to set boundaries and to take space. (A lot of our lifelong anxieties, for example, are actually ancestor energies’ offering their opinions a bit too loudly. In that case, you can turn inwards and say something like “I understand that you think I can’t or shouldn’t do —-. I want you to know that I’ve reached my decision by listening to my heart and I remain committed to it. Please support me and protect me, but if you can’t, then stand behind me, and not blocking my path. I am doing this because I think it will benefit our family, and our world. Thank you”). There’s nothing wrong with taking a safe distance.

Lastly, remember you can invoke the guidance, protection, and grace of the divine, your guru, and your spiritual lineage. Ultimately, your task is simply to express your gratitude and lend a helping hand in their awakening, but you alone are not responsible for them, either.

Remember: Ancestor practice is not about embracing or getting overpowered by unconscious forces; it is about steadily inviting and transforming them into consciousness.

If you have any questions, or want to share your experience, you can do so by emailing us at

Teacher: Shivani Hawkins

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