A relative of mine died a few weeks ago, not close family, but close enough that I was made aware of it. This got me wondering, how is grief and mourning addressed in your religion or world view?
! Even though I have preached the true background of these death rituals to you several times, you have to do these rituals. The reason is that you have to go along with the forceful flow of ignorant people when you cannot change them. You have to follow the majority even if it is wrong. In the Parliament, the Lok Sabha passes a bill when the Rajya Sabha approves it. The former often contains members elected by the public irrespective of the intelligence of the members while the latter contains members having some intelligence and education. The former is like the king while latter is like the wise minister. Similarly, the majority should always take the opinion of the intellectual preacher (Satguru) before adopting any tradition.
The wrong concept in these rituals is that the food eaten by the priest will reach the departed soul. The soul is basically awareness or nervous energy. At the time of death, the soul departs from the material body and enters into a body made of inert energy. Food is matter and the eater of the food is also present here on Earth in a material body. Material food is suitable for a human being having a material body whereas energy is the suitable ‘food’ for energetic beings. The ‘food’ of angels is the rays of the sun. Departed souls get their ‘food’ from the rays of the moon as told in the scriptures. So, it is clear that the departed souls neither need any material food nor can the food eaten by the priest somehow reach the departed souls. Sage Carvāka mocked at this false concept. He said that if food fed to the priest could reach the dead, then by feeding a person on the ground floor,the food should also reach one’s father who is upstairs! Even though the sage was an atheist, he should be appreciated for his systematic and scientific logic on this point.
If this concept is not true, then why did the ancient sages establish this tradition of feeding the priest? Actually, when you give food, clothes and a money offering (dakṣiṇa
) to a deserving priest, apūrvam
is said to be generated. Apūrvam
means merit, which brings good fruit not only to the the departed soul existing in an energetic body after death but also to the performer of the ritual. The most essential condition for that to happen is that the priest must be deserving of your donation. If the priest is undeserving, instead of earning merit, both will incur sin.
The fruitfulness of the entire ritual depends on the deservingness of the priest alone and not on the place of donation or on the time of donation. In other words, there is no necessity to do the rituals only on a certain date, such as the date of the death of one’s parents.
If the receiver of your donation is undeserving, instead of the ritual helping the soul, it will bring trouble for the departed soul as well as the performer.
The Veda states two requisites in the receiver which indicate his deservingness. They are: (1) the receiver must be well-versed in spiritual knowledge (Śrotriya
) and (2) the receiver must not aspire for anything in return from anybody for his propagation of the Vedic knowledge in the ritual (Akāmahatasya
). This means that the priest reciting the Veda during the ritual without knowing its meaning and without preaching the Vedic spiritual knowledge to the public is undeserving.
Moreover, the present-day priest demands money for his wrong performance of the ritual! Neither does he know the knowledge of the recited Veda in order to propagate it nor does he perform the ritual without aspiring for anything in return. In both ways, the priest is undeserving. The non-performance of the ritual is better than such wrong performance because inaction is better than sinful action.
In the ancient times of the sages, almost everybody was deserving and hence, this problem never arose. At present, almost everybody is undeserving and hence, this problem is at its climax. The food offered even to a deserving priest never reaches the departed soul. Then why is this lie propagated that if you offer food to a deserving human being present in a material body here, it will reach the departed energetic being there? The performer of the ritual is totally fooled by this lie. He performs the ritual out of worry for his departed parents, thinking that they would starve if the ritual is not performed. This lie was not created by priests for fooling the publicand earning money from them. The lie was created by the sages so that greedy people would be forced to perform the ritual and donate to a deserving receiver,at least on the occasion of the death of his elders. This correct performance of the ritual does not harm anybody because the donation is given to a deserving receiver which will help not only the departed soul but also the performer. Any lie that leads to good action is not wrong. It is called arthavāda
, which means a lie told for a good purpose. Artha
means for the sake of a good purpose and vāda
means a lie told.
The mother tells a lie to her child that if the child finishes eating everything in the plate, the moon will come down to the child! The mother does not incur any sin in telling such a lie. On the other hand, speaking the truth can also be a sin on some occasions. A saint carrying some money was being chased by robbers. He quickly hid himself in a bush. A sage saw the hiding saint. When robbers asked the sage where the saint was, the sage, believing that it is always a sin to lie, told them where the saint was hiding. The robbers killed the saint, took his money and left. The sage went to hell because he told the truth when he should have told a lie! Even Śaṅkara told a lie that every ordinary soul is God. But that lie helped atheists believe in the existence of God since the atheists were sure about their own existence. Here, telling that lie helped the atheist become a theist and progress further. Helping good people is a higher justice whereas telling the truth is a lower justice.
This lie that the food fed to a priest reaches the departed hungry soul is not a sin since it is beneficial as long as the priest is deserving. People want to avoid the sin of not feeding a deserving priest. But due to their lack of proper analysis, they end up donating to undeserving priests. In their effort to avoid one sin, they end up committing another sin. Donating to the undeserving and not donating to the deserving are both sins as told by Vidura in the Mahābhārata. The present-day priests who are undeserving must be transformed to make them deserving. This can be done only by the performer of the ritual. The performer of the ritual is the customer of the priest’s services and it is said that the customer is God. So, the customer-god must insist that the priest preaches the knowledge of the Veda contained in the verses recited by him. This is the only way to forcibly bring a change in the priest. The priest must be convinced that there is no need of the blind recitation of the Veda since the Veda is already well-preserved by printing. The priest must be advised not to waste time in the blind recitation of the Veda and must instead use the same time for studying the knowledge preached by the Veda. The Gita says that the rituals must be performed only after full analysis and correct knowledge (Jñātvā kurvīta karmāṇi
If a deserving priest is not available, you can postpone the ritual to some later date on which the deserving priest will be available. You cannot find fault with such a valid postponement. Do you not postpone these rituals for the sake of even a mechanical astronomical phenomenon like an eclipse? People are hasty in making donations. They onlygive importance to the place and time of donation. They think “Today is the auspicious occasion of Śivarātri and we are in the holy city of Varanasi. So, we must donate today”. Thus, they make some hasty donation to somebody without checking whether the person is deserving or undeserving.
Lord Krishna made only one donation in His entire life, which is giving infinite wealth to Sudāmā. The day He made the donation was not an auspicious day and the place where He made the donation was not a holy city like Varanasi. All He saw was that Sudāmā was the most deserving person who had true Vedic knowledge. He had clearly understood the essence of the Vedic knowledge, which is seen from His devotion to Krishna, his contemporary Human Incarnation of God. Even though Krishna was his childhood classmate, he was not negligent towards Krishna. Moreover, Sudāmā never aspired for anything from Kishna in spite of his severe poverty. Instead, he offered to Krishna, a little parched rice which he had borrowed from a neighbor. That rice was his sacrifice of wealth or karmaphala tyāga
to Krishna, the contemporary Human Incarnation of God.