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Honoring our Ancestors

The annual tradition of holding a special service to honor our ancestors started decades ago. In some cultures, such traditions reach back hundreds of years, and people and cultures in different countries have different traditions for marking special occasions to remember their departed loved ones.

Some remember their ancestors through anniversary observances, prayers, and food offerings during special occasions; some have shrines and special altars dedicated in their homes, while others have unique rituals and ceremonies – from simple to elaborate.

Memorial Day is traditionally observed in the United States around the end of May. It is when we travel to the final resting places of deceased family members or friends. Gravesites are cleaned, and fresh flowers are placed there. Some have picnics, while others may read a favorite book or play a piece of music that the deceased loved. While forms and traditions may vary, the intention is the same - it is to remember and honor loved ones and to feel close to them in some unique way. We also acknowledge our history when we acknowledge this connection extending through the generations. By coming together in prayer and celebration, we are helping our ancestors grow further in the spirit world.

Every person has a unique relationship with their loved ones while sharing their existence in the physical world. Sometimes, such relationships may be loving and fulfilling. For others, their relationships may be more complex – both positive and challenging. Some relationships may remain unresolved and tinged with regret, whether by choice or circumstance. Holding special services for the departed can provide opportunities to heal and mend for both the living and those that have passed to the world of spirit.

Everyone belongs to a specific family identified by name, race, ethnicity, or nationality. What unique characteristic distinguishes one person from another, one family line from the next? Every person is connected to their ancestors by an unseen connection, a "spiritual cord." It is like a specific spiritual DNA strand. This cord represents a unique life force energy that could be traced back to the very beginning of this unique familial lineage—to the source of our physical existence.

By observing such special services for our ancestors, we honor and repair this special strand with love, forgiveness, and Light. If we compare a family to a tree, the present generations represent the new branches and leaves, while the trunk and the roots represent the older generations.

Our founder, Meishu-sama, wrote: "It is time we realized that all human beings do not simply exist by themselves, that we are closely linked to and are an extension of our ancestors. It means that an infinite number of ancestors are joined together to make one of us – that their countless number of spiritual cords are connected to our single spiritual cord…for this reason, the remnants of the clouds (negative karma* or thoughts, words or deeds) that our ancestors carry trickle down our way constantly as they are being purified."

- September 15, 1935

* The sum of a person's actions in this and previous states of existence, viewed as influencing one's future existence. It can also be described as destiny or fate, followed by effect from cause.

In our ancestral services, food offerings are placed on a special altar, and special prayers are recited to establish a connection between the physical and spiritual realms. The food and beverage offerings represent symbols of sustenance and love for departed souls. Through this special connection during this service, we express gratitude and love to heal and honor the past, acknowledge the present, and pray for a positive future.

There are three ways to remove family karma:

1. Praying for ancestors. 

2. Enshrining ancestors is the process of inscribing their names on special ancestral tablets or registries. These tablets symbolize the spirits of ancestors and are venerated by descendants.

3. Giving service to others - volunteering and helping others. 

In the words of our founder, Meishu-sama:

Making our parents and ancestors

Happy in the spiritual world

By our good deeds

Is the best and greatest

Of filial acts.

For those who may not follow any particular spiritual, religious, or cultural tradition of honoring ancestors, may these words speak to their hearts. 

How does a tree remember? The seed responds to the soil, water, the warmth of the sun. It remembers to push its tiny roots out, finding its way outward and upward from ages of memories. How does a tree remember to push its branches this way and not that way? The seed of memory is inherited from its ancestors. It remembers its past. 

We are just as much a part of the past as we are of the present. Living in the thumbnail of the present is like floating on a tiny raft on a vast ocean. It does not connect us. Our ancestors are as much responsible for our present. And so, this applies to all living beings and things.

(Author unknown)

Johrei Fellowship, NHQ.

May 2024

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