Why Would A Devotee’s Ancestors Get Liberated Too

[Prahlada and Narasimha]“The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: My dear Prahlada, O most pure, O great saintly person, your father has been purified, along with twenty-one forefathers in your family. Because you were born in this family, the entire dynasty has been purified.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.10.18)

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श्री-भगवान् उवाच
त्रिः-सप्तभिः पिता पूतः
पितृभिः सह ते ’नघ
यत् साधो ’स्य कुले जातो
भवान् वै कुल-पावनः

śrī-bhagavān uvāca
triḥ-saptabhiḥ pitā pūtaḥ
pitṛbhiḥ saha te ’nagha
yat sādho ’sya kule jāto
bhavān vai kula-pāvanaḥ

Friend1: One of the key teachings of the Bhagavad-gita is that a person gets the kind of existence in the next birth based on their consciousness while quitting the body.

Friend2: Yes, the yam yam vapi smaran shloka:

यं यं वापि स्मरन् भावं
त्यजत्य् अन्ते कलेवरम्
तं तम् एवैति कौन्तेय
सदा तद्-भाव-भावितः

yaṁ yaṁ vāpi smaran bhāvaṁ
tyajaty ante kalevaram
taṁ tam evaiti kaunteya
sadā tad-bhāva-bhāvitaḥ

“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.6)

Friend1: You also get the guarantee from Shri Krishna that the person who thinks of Him while quitting the body does not take birth again.

Friend2: The two principles are related. Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. In other words, God in the complete realization, beyond the abstract. Clearing up the foggy picture painted through sole reliance on speculation. If you are conscious of Him then the nature of the next life is similar to His.

Friend1: And He lives in the imperishable realm. The definition of liberation is living with Him.

Friend2: Side by side, in the svarupa, or actual form of the self.

Friend1: Let me reference history for a second here, to juxtapose the Gita’s teachings with a benediction received from pious behavior.

Friend2: Okay.

Friend1: There is the story of Prahlada Maharaja, told in detail in the Shrimad Bhagavatam.

Friend2: The son of Hiranyakashipu, the impious king who was feared throughout the world.

Friend1: When he was little, five years old, Prahlada was harassed by the father in so many ways.

Friend2: Lethal attacks, intended to stop devotion to Vishnu in the kingdom. Vishnu is another personal form of the Almighty.

Friend1: Yes, the same Krishna but with four hands, living in Vaikuntha, and opulently adorned.

Friend2: Worshiped in awe and reverence, generally.

Friend1: We know that Hiranyakashipu’s torture was so severe that eventually Krishna arrived on the scene in the amazing form of a half-man/half-lion.

[Narasimha killing]Friend2: One of the famous avataras. A spiritual form tailored to the situation, to maintain the boons first granted by Lord Brahma but also proving that one percent mortality is enough to do the job.

Friend1: In the aftermath Prahlada continued to show his saintly character. He asked for pardon for the father. He was one of the few people on the scene not afraid of Narasimhadeva, who was quite angry.

Friend2: Bhagavan replied that not only would the father be liberated, but so would many previous generations. I forgot the exact number.

Friend1: That is what I want to talk about. I get that Prahlada was a special case. The boy had pure devotion; not mixed with any personal desire. Therefore, Krishna would surely grant whatever was asked. At the same time, the father was the worst kind of person.

Friend2: You should remember that Hiranyakashipu received liberation automatically from dying directly at Vishnu’s hands. He was conscious of God while quitting the body.

Friend1: Okay, but why the previous generations? What did the ancestors do? We don’t know for sure if they had the proper consciousness while quitting the body. We can’t attest to their character, whether it was good or bad.

Friend2: Prahlada appeared in a Daitya family, which is a race of demon-like people.

Friend1: Exactly, so we could say that many of the ancestors probably weren’t worthy of such a benediction. How were they able to receive it?

Friend2: I think you know how. When Narasimhadeva declares something, it must come to be.

Friend1: I get that, but what is the reasoning? Why should ancestors get any of the benefits?

Friend2: Because people don’t take birth in a vacuum.

Friend1: What do you mean?

Friend2: The circumstances are not isolated to personal achievement. I had no idea where I was going to take birth, in which country, in which family.

Friend1: Yes, but there is karma for that.

Friend2: Still, the ancestors paved the way. They helped to create the circumstances in which a person was able to succeed in the devotional path, of purifying the consciousness. Why shouldn’t they be rewarded?

Friend1: It makes sense if the ancestors set up a tradition of worship, such as with ensuring that Shri Hanuman gets respected and honored every Tuesday. If they established the practice of eating only food offered to the Supreme Lord, prasadam, then it makes sense for them to get liberation through a future member of the family. But like you said, Prahlada took birth in a family of Daityas.

Friend2: That should underscore just how important and rare it is to find a pure devotee of the Lord. Honor ascends; it doesn’t descend or divide. Even in mundane affairs, if someone does something praiseworthy, the honor goes up the chain of family members, friends and well-wishers. Why shouldn’t it be even more important in devotional life? The ancestors can also say that they were related to Prahlada. That is enough to win the benediction. Similarly, we can say that we are related to him by following the example of worship of Krishna.

Friend1: And then we receive the same benediction. Does he get further honor?

Friend2: Of course. So does the spiritual master. That’s why the best way to please the guru is to practice devotion under their guidance. Then the rewards from liberation get shared with the parampara, as well.

Friend1: The disciplic succession.

[Prahlada and Narasimha]Friend2: Yes. In every way yoga is a winning situation. It creates the most auspicious environment for every person involved.

In Closing:

Though hesitant a benediction to state,

Prahlada with concern over father’s fate.

Since of Vishnu so much hate,

Approaching now not hell’s gate?

Response that flowing up the chain,

Ancestors in family rewards to gain.

Since Prahlada in their line to appear,

Past sins through devotion disappear.

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