“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
“Listen, I understand that death is part of life. It is inevitable, along with taxes, as founding father, Benjamin Franklin, famously quipped. As Shri Krishna explains in Bhagavad-gita, as soon as a person takes birth, their guaranteed end is death. Birth and death are certain; they are paired events in the grand dichotomy that is a janma in the material world.
“I know that Shri Rama explains that for the mature human being there is no greater fear than death. The comparison is to the ripened fruit. Hanging off the tree, there is nothing left to be done. The previous work is successful. The karma that went into the planting of the seed, the care and attention offered during the growing process, the proper protection against the three sources of misery – everything ended well.
“In a similar manner, there is nowhere else to go for the mature human being. They must die. So many have passed on before me. So many will appear and disappear in the future. Again and again the host of beings is manifest and then later annihilated, toggling through the transition based on the duration of Brahma’s day and night.
“Despite everyone knowing this certainty of an existence, to deal with the pain of loss is difficult. Especially if the departed is a loved one, like a father, it is a striking blow to realize that you will never speak to that person again. There are no remnants of their time in this world other than memories. That you will always keep, but it would be of some comfort to know that you could at least contact the person after they have left.
“Nevertheless, this is the reality we must deal with. I am okay with everything, except for one lingering issue. How do we properly honor the person who has left? We can offer kind words and heartfelt tears for their departure, but I don’t think that really does anything, What is the best way to make their contact with us fruitful?”
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada describes bhakti-yoga as watering the root of the tree. This material world has so much variety. Though everything is in one sense illusion, like scenes in a dream, there is so much to experience that it is like we are jumping from one branch of a tree to another.
The branches have different levels. You start at one place and then break out in one direction. There is a new line created on the other side. One branch has children, who then have siblings. Then there are grandchildren, aunts, uncles, ancestors, and so forth.
At the root of the tree is the Almighty, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. We are encouraged to worship Him directly. He is the father to even Brahma. The four-headed creator emerges from the stem of the lotus-flower tied to the lotus-like navel of Vishnu, who is all-pervading.
This direct approach and appeal to the original person, adi-purusha, has the exclusive benefit of automatically helping others. If Vishnu is pleased with my worship, then my parents, grandparents, and several generations of forefathers get honored at the same time.
As is known to the wise, honor ascends. If I do something noteworthy, something to legitimately help society, then it is a positive reflection on those who came before me. Though I am proud of my abilities, I could not stand up without the help of my protectors. I was fully dependent on them at one time, and they had their own teachers and guides.
From a historical account found in Shrimad Bhagavatam, we see a five-year old boy asking God directly for clemency for his just-departed, sinful father. Prahlada Maharaja wants that Hiranyakashipu not be held liable for his horrible crimes. Perhaps the Almighty can forgive, as the leader of the Daityas had merely been ensnared in the grand illusion of the material world.
Vishnu as Narasimhadeva replied that Hiranyakashipu was already liberated. This was because the demon had a son like Prahlada. Though there was no explicit instruction in the path of devotion, though there was only antagonism and interference, nevertheless the situation created by the father allowed the son to thrive in his devotion.
Therefore, some credit was due. Imagine, then, the benefit that extends to my father who has led a pious life, showing unconditional love to me, even when I didn’t deserve it. Imagine how much the Supreme Lord must love him, who has shown by example the importance of spiritual life and following regulative principles. My father will forever be glorious, as he showed me the way towards unending bliss and happiness in the shelter of the husband of Lakshmi.
To forget him never,
Sitting glorious forever.
Since path by him shown,
Through which Almighty known.
That despite short time spent,
This life for something meant.
Simple but always unafraid,
Best example through obeisances paid.