Tarpana = Honoring the Ancestors

age gracefully ayurveda gratitude meditation reflect Sep 22, 2019

Most of us live our lives focused on the future while carrying burdens from the past. Sometimes those burdens aren't even our own, but have been handed down through the generations.  
Many cultures around the world have celebrations and rituals focused on honoring the ancestors. In these traditions, it is said that if the ancestors are not honored then they will be restless and create discord in the lives of their living relatives. This is a foreign thought to most of us in modern America, but if you think about it, our family stories become our stories and affect how we live our lives.  

Acknowledging these stories, honoring the choices our ancestors have made, and recognizing that some of our behaviors have come from unconscious familial patterns can be very healing and freeing. Once we acknowledge and honor those in our lineage, our insights can help us shift out of unhealthy patterns and lighten our load as we continue on our life journey.

In the Ayurvedic tradition, the process of honoring the ancestors, and clearing any ancestral pain/baggage, is ideally done on the new moon in September. This year that falls on Saturday, September 28th. In the retreat I am leading this weekend we are doing a simple Tarpana ceremony, and I wanted to invite you to do one of your own at home, if you are so inclined.

From an Ayurvedic perspective, family stories need to be processed and digested, or else we carry them as Ama, toxins. One of the most important things we can do for more ease and clarity in our lives is to honor our ancestors to digest emotional Ama. Appreciating what our ancestors went through in their lives, feeling gratitude for the gifts they shared in your lineage, and honoring the gifts you have been given, even if it is insight in where your anger or tendency to overeat came from. The basic teaching here is: We either walk around with our ancestors on our backs, or we stand on their shoulders.

The power of ritual comes from enactment, either imagined or real. For this Tarpana practice it will be imagined. If we are quiet enough, and out of our own way mentally, we can receive the deeper wisdom without having to know it from a mental place. We know what is true from love and gratitude. Follow the guidelines here and see what comes to you. Here are the steps to create a simple ceremony at home:

  • Create a little altar with pictures and or relics from your family ancestors (these people are who you came from - parents, grandparents, great-grandparents. Some may still be living and very present in your life today, others may be long dead and you may know little about them).
  • Make a list of as many of your ancestors as you know
  • Light a candle, get a journal or notebook and something to write with, and sit before the altar
  • Meditate for several minutes, beginning to tune in to all the people who came before you
  • When ready, with eyes open or closed, begin the Tarpana
  • Starting with your mother, call her forward in your mind. See her and really feel into her life experience. Sit with her for a while, ask her questions, and let any insights come to you.
  • Write anything in your journal that you want to record from that person. - Once you have gathered all that she has to share, imagine offering her a favorite food and seeing her delight as she is nourished.
  • Thank her and let her be at peace.
  • Repeat this process in the following order: father, maternal grandparents with grandmother first, then paternal grandparents with grandmother first, and so on. Call each member forward in your mind, sit with them, ask questions or just listen, record their wisdom, envision offering them their favorite food, or one you know they would enjoy. Thank them and let them be at peace.
  • Once you have completed this process for each ancestor, again, meditate for several minutes.
  • Sit facing the south
  • Either internally or out loud, chant the Mantra for Ancestral healing 108 times. You can use a mala bead strand to keep count as they have 108 beads on them. Let the chanting guide you into deeper intuition.
  • When finished allow yourself to sit for a few moments, receiving any last insights. - Thank the ancestors and notice what has shifted for you

The effects of this practice may be immediate or they may take some time to sink it or reveal themselves. When I first did Tarpana, I noticed shifts many weeks later with how I related to my family and a new lightness I felt in my spirit. I would love to hear from you after doing this practice and know what you learned or what shifted for you, understanding that it may be revealed with time.
Ama can come in many forms - physical, mental, and emotional. By addressing one, we can help clear other forms of Ama too. This is why in addition to honoring the ancestors, detoxing in the Spring and Fall is recommended. Detoxing assures that we don't carry the gunk from one season into the next. The body, mind and spirt do not need to be carrying burdens.

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