Before we share today’s suggested practice, please take a moment and reflect on what you’ve received from your ancestors. Regardless of what you think or feel about them, what is their one undeniable gift to you?
A physical body.
Because of the body, we are able to walk the earth; we are able to experience this universe; we are able to learn and serve; we are able to fulfill our dharma. It is not a small gift they gave to us, nor can it be easily repaid.
It’s easy to become selfish as we walk the earth, especially if we allow weariness and trauma to numb our sensitivity and enthusiasm. Often, it isn’t until we’re nearing death that we feel remorse about not having been kind or loving enough. Of course, by then it’s too late to do anything.
Many of our ancestors ran out of time like this. One way we can serve them is to use our time on earth to be kind and loving, on their behalf. And, it’s not enough to just say “I love you”; our love has to be put into action.
We can show our love by doing all the beautiful, kind, and loving things that they weren’t able to do, and help uplift suffering on this planet. The most universal form of suffering amongst all living things is hunger. To feed another being is to offer love in the most primal and fundamental way. Whether it’s a plant, animal, or human, you can always serve by offering food.
This body is made of food – anna; what our ancestors ate is what formed our bodies. All life is sustained by food. And in every lesson so far, we’ve looked at different ways of protecting the flow of life – which is the primary function of ancestral energy. When we honor life, we honor them.
The suggested practice for today is to share food, especially with the hungry. Of all the traditional Pitṛpakṣa practices, this is perhaps the most common besides ritual worship, pūjā. You can do it daily or weekly, but it’s particularly beneficial during this time.
To give food in charity is called अन्नदान anna-dāna.
Please keep in mind:
1) Traditionally, whatever is leftover from each meal is always given to hungry people or animals in the neighborhood. As you offer it, remember that we’re not just getting rid of our trash. If we give from a place of unconscious selfishness and pride, we’re just reinforcing the existing karmic pattern!
It works best as a spiritual practice if you cultivate a feeling of deep love and respect – for you, for the other person, for the ancestors, for the food, and also the act of giving.
2) You can also gift a special meal. Often, the entire family will get together and either organize or even personally prepare (and serve) a large meal to share with the poor on behalf of one or more of their ancestors.
If you’re not sure how to set this up, contact your local food bank – most places let either donate food or physically volunteer to serve a meal.
3) In many ancient stories, God or Goddess often takes the form of a beggar just to test the depth and purity of the donor’s heart. We need to remember that if someone is willing to receive from us, it’s a gift to us, and also our ancestors. Without the receiver, we would not be able to serve at all. So we need to approach the receiver with gratitude and humility. The ability to give (and have our gift received) is a great blessing to US.
If you find yourself somehow thwarted in your efforts to give food (you might be surprised – it’s not always easy), pray for grace from the divine for support in clearing your ancestral karma. If you have particularly hard-hearted ancestors, you may find this practice trickier, but it will also yield the greatest blessing for you and your family. And, as always with ancestor practice, we dedicate these blessings to our ancestors, so they can abide in joy and peace.
If you have any questions, or want to share your experience, you can do so by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Teacher: Shivani Hawkins