Honoring Our Ancestors
Every year during the month of May, we hold a special service in honor of our ancestors.
We prepare favorite food and drinks that our ancestors enjoyed and place them on a special altar, as a symbolic offering to them. While they cannot partake in these food offerings in the physical sense, the expression of love and appreciation is represented through this ceremony and the prayers offered on their behalf.
In the United States, Memorial Day is observed on the last Monday of May, in honor of the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving for this country. This day has also become a tradition for families to visit the resting places of loved ones. In Johrei Fellowship, we offer prayers and flowers at the final resting places of ministers and members who served selflessly and contributed a great part of their lives for the fellowship.
During Memorial Day in cemeteries all over America, one can find different headstones and markers with flags, flowers, balloons, pictures and other memorabilia. Family members have picnics and play music as if to celebrate the life of their loved ones. If we take the time to read the names on the markers and headstones, each one has a story behind it. A story that represents a whole life – some long, others brief. Stories filled with many experiences. Hopes and dreams; successes and hardships.
In their silence, these headstones beckon the living family members and friends, as if to remind them of the spiritual connection that exists between their world and this physical one. A thread that keeps us connected and offers acknowledgment.
All the people who visit their loved ones may represent different faiths or perhaps no particular faith. Yet, this yearning for connection is as strong as the bonds that we have in this physical life.
An ancestral service is one way to honor this bond.
By acknowledging our ancestors, we acknowledge our connections to them and with the family line. In our faith practice, we believe that our ancestors are helped in the spiritual realm through our good deeds and they feel our love and gratitude toward them.
Our founder, Meishu-sama reminded us that we can continue to help our ancestors throughout the year by simply serving others with sincerity. He expressed the following in 1935: "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."
This tradition of remembering our ancestors through special prayers and ceremonies isn’t unique to our fellowship only. Many cultures honor their ancestors and generational tradition in different ways and each custom is unique. The form may be different, but the intention is universal. Through such observances, we nurture this special bond that weaves through and extends through generations.
There are spiritual teachers who have also explored and experienced the realm of spirit and written about the divine realm and the existence of the realm where our ancestors reside in.
One well-known person was Emanuel Swedenborg who lived in the 1700's. He was a Swedish Lutheran theologian, scientist, philosopher and mystic. He is probably known best for his book on the afterlife, Heaven and Hell.
Swedenborg also had a prolific career as an inventor and scientist. 1741, at 53, he entered into a spiritual phase in which he began to experience dreams and visions, According to his book The Heavenly Doctrine, he said that God had opened his spiritual eyes so that from then on, he could visit the divine realm as well as lower realms, to converse with angels, other entities and souls.
In his final hours, a good friend told him some people thought he had written his theology just to make a name for himself and asked if he would perhaps like to say something about that. Swedenborg raised himself up on his bed with his hand on his heart, and replied, "As truly as you see me before your eyes, so true is everything that I have written; and I could have said more had it been permitted. When you enter eternity you will see everything, and then you and I shall have much to talk about". He died later that afternoon, on the date he had predicted, March 29. __________________________________
In reminding us about our family line, Meishu-sama wrote in a poem:
Making our parents and our ancestors Happy in the spiritual world By our good deeds Is the best and greatest Of filial acts.
We do not think about them constantly and create undue attachment. Meishu-sama taught us three simple ways to serve and honor them and also to help remove any accumulated family karma:
1. Prayers for our Ancestors 2. Giving service to others 3. Enshrining our Ancestors
He said we have spiritual cords of varying strengths with all the people we know and are related to, and we maintain the strongest of our spiritual cords with family and close friends. The blessing of this relationship is that as we grow spiritually through Johrei, prayer, expressions of gratitude, and the giving of service for others, all our ancestors are uplifted.
When we are aligned with the Higher Consciousness, our ancestors can continue to receive the Light, even at times when we are not thinking of them. As we maintain this bond, we will come to intuitively understand what help may be needed by our ancestors.
Prayers for the Light of Johrei to reach the souls and strengthen their spiritual cords to the more highly evolved spirits in their family line, will enable help to come to them in the form they can best understand and make use of.
The spiritual realm is a realm of consciousness. Life in the spiritual world is an extension of the soul’s life in the physical world. This is the Law of Spiritual Affinity – like attracts like. Therefore, a spirit will gravitate to a level in the spiritual world which corresponds to its state of awareness as in the physical world. The spirit or soul takes its spiritual clouds and is still in need of purification, prayer and suffering. That is the cycle of rebirth and karma.
~ 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. ~