“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)
त्रिः-सप्तभिः पिता पूतः
पितृभिः सह ते ’नघ
यत् साधो ’स्य कुले जातो
भवान् वै कुल-पावनः
triḥ-saptabhiḥ pitā pūtaḥ
pitṛbhiḥ saha te ’nagha
yat sādho ’sya kule jāto
bhavān vai kula-pāvanaḥ
It’s the easy way out. Life in the material world is difficult, after all. So many factors to consider. With each one a degree of uncertainty. Who is actually guaranteed of making it, however that is defined? Danger is lurking around every corner, and so many forces conspire to suppress.
Why not take the advantage provided by predecessors? Claim a high status based simply on birth. The ancestors did such and such noble deed. They were respected in society. For some reason people pass on the honor to you, also, though you haven’t done anything.
In truth, honor cannot descend. This is because the future generations have nothing to do with the initial achievement for which the honor arrives. As an example, a person is well-known for their wisdom and knowledge. They can explain the highest topics to others. In Sanskrit there is a corresponding name for the occupation: brahmana.
This is something like the brains of society. Every aspect to the body is important, but the brain knows what everyone else should be doing. The hands cannot act on their own, and neither can the legs. With properly qualified brahmanas guiding society, every person follows the role to which they are ideally suited. Unity in diversity; not everyone of the same status, but all parts working towards the same goal.
If the brahmana’s son inherits the honor and receives distinction solely based on heredity, then no action is required. If honor descended in such a way, then there is no meaning to merit. I would not visit a doctor’s son for treatment unless they were actually qualified themselves to treat patients.
If honor were to descend, then it must also divide. That is to say if a person is praiseworthy for something they have done and there is insistence on passing along the distinction to future generations, then with each new person the honor would have to split.
As an example, a famous person has four children. The honor would have to be divided amongst them, though only one of the children may possess the qualities worthy of the same respect. Nevertheless, the link in heredity is equal. Every child is just as much related to the ancestor; so no such weighting system could be implemented. The child who turns into a degenerate gambler is as much entitled to the honor as the child of saintly qualities.
From an incident described in the Shrimad Bhagavatam, we see that honor actually ascends. A notable achievement brings distinction for the ancestors, since every one of them had some role in creating the conditions necessary for the descendent to thrive.
The ancestor does not necessarily have to be of good character to share in the glory. Prahlada Maharaja was seeking clemency for his father, the former king named Hiranyakashipu. The petition was made directly to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who had appeared on the scene in the amazing half-man/half-lion form called Narasimha.
Prahlada was only five years old, but he had done so much already. Such a saintly person was the jewel of any family, let alone one of Daitya demons. Narasimhadeva replied that not only would Hiranyakashipu be purified, but so would up to twenty-one generations of ancestors within the family.
Hiranyakashipu was the worst kind of person. He violently attacked the five-year old Prahlada multiple times, in an effort to stop the devotion to Vishnu exhibited. The king wanted no trace of bhakti or bhajana anywhere in the kingdom.
He was a kind of worthless father, a demon’s demon, and yet he shared in the glory of the son. This is the power of pure devotion to God. Anyone who had a role, large or small, in creating the conditions for the achievement of connecting with the Supreme Lord, yoga, gets to share in the benefits.
The incident reveals a secret relating to an issue which may trouble a person upon first taking up devotional service. The connection itself, the yoga, ends up doing the best service to the parents, who may not be accepting of the decision of the child. Even if there is violent interference, there will still be a benefit to them, since they have the honor of bringing such a wonderful person into this world.
How proper homage to pay,
To those paving the way.
To ancestors coming in their line,
Where now as devotee to shine.
Known that bhakti sufficient as much,
That even forefathers worthy as such.
Like with Prahlada the family glorifying,
Despite father’s attacks mortifying.
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