Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Good Son

Lord Vishnu “In Vedic society, after the death of a relative, especially one’s father or mother, one must go to Gaya and there offer oblations to the lotus feet of Lord Vishnu.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 17.8 Purport)

According to the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, it is very important for parents to beget sons, more so than begetting daughters. Having a baby girl definitely isn’t a bad thing, but a son is able to rescue even the most sinful of parents from going to hell in the afterlife.

Upon taking birth, every one of us incurs three separate debts. We owe a debt to our forefathers, known as the pitrs. They are the progenitors of our family, and it is due to their efforts that we take birth in the family that we do. We also owe a debt to the rishis, or great sages of the past. Their tireless efforts produced a body of literary work unmatched in human history. The Vedic literature combined is by far and away the largest set of scriptures known to mankind. It took the effort and dedication of great saints to produce such insightful and pertinent reading material. We are all forever indebted to them for their contribution to mankind. We are also indebted to the devatas, or demigods. There is only one God, Lord Krishna, but He has deputies who handle various departments of the material creation. These agents are known as the demigods. Shiva, Ganesha, Lakshmi, Indra are a few of the well-known devatas. They are in charge of producing rain, which in turn produces the food that sustains our life. They are also in charge of administering justice, doling out wealth, and even creating and destroying the earth.

We can pay off these debts by following the path enjoined in the shastras. To honor the great saints, we should rigorously study the primary Vedic texts, such as the Bhagavad-gita, Shrimad Bhagavatam, and Ramayana. They gave us these books to read and use as a guideline for our day to day affairs, so we shouldn’t neglect them. The demigods are pleased by the performance of sacrifice. All Vedic sacrifices involve fire and the offering of oblations in the form of clarified butter or ghee. By performing these regularly, the demigods become happy. The debt we owe to our forefathers can be satisfied by begetting sons. A son carries on the family name, ensuring that the traditions and reputation set forth by generations past will continue. The true benefit of having sons lies in their ability to offer pinda to the departed souls.

After a father or mother dies, one observes a shradda ceremony, which is a way to pay homage to the deceased. A pinda, a small ball of food, is offered to the departed soul. According to the Bhagavad-gita, when we die, our next birth is determined by our consciousness at the time of death. If we are sinful then we go to the hellish planets for a certain time period, at the expiry of which we return back to earth. The same goes for those ascending to heaven. However, the most sinful people remain in an intermediate state, where they are perpetually stuck in a subtle body. They are considered too sinful to even get another body after death. For these people, it is extremely important to have someone available to offer them food in the form of the pinda. After the initial shradda ceremony, the pinda is then offered annually on the anniversary of the person’s death. Only a son is fit for delivering the sinful soul. The word for son in Sanskrit is putra, which has a special significance. There is a specific hell referred to as put, so since the son can deliver one from such a hellish condition, he is referred to as putra.

“In Gaya there is Vishnu temple, and in the Vishnu temple the oblation is offered at the lotus feet of the... There are many practical cases that one's father or mother became ghost after death, and after offering oblations at the lotus feet of Vishnu at Gaya, he was delivered. There are many cases.”  (Shrila Prabhupada, Lecture, Surat, Jan 3rd, 1971)

The offered food gives sustenance to the sinful soul, eventually absolving them of their sins. If a sinful person begets a son who is pious enough to recognize the need to offer pinda, then God can’t be too angry with the sinful person, for at least they have produced good offspring.

Narasimha Deva killing Hiranyakashipu For these reasons, it is very important to beget sons who are very pious. It takes just one great person to redeem generations worth of sinful family members. There are two great examples in this regard. The great devotee of Krishna, Prahlada Maharaja, was born in a family of demons. His father Hiranyakashipu was an avowed atheist who denied the supremacy of God. However, Prahlada was a devotee from his very birth, and due to his devotion to Krishna, the Lord personally appeared before him. Hiranyakashipu had tried in various ways to kill his five year old son, but Prahalada survived all the attempts. Finally God had enough and personally appeared in the form of a half-man half-lion specially to kill Hiranyakashipu. Being killed directly by the Lord is the greatest of boons, for the Lord offers liberation to such people. In essence, Prahlada’s piety resulted in the salvation of his father.

A similar situation occurred with Bhagiratha, a descendant of the great King Sagara. Also a very pious person, Bhagiratha was able to bring the Ganges River, Mother Ganga, down from heaven to earth. Since the Ganges emanates from the lotus feet of Lord Krishna, it is considered sacred. When the river initially came to earth, it washed over the ashes of the sixty thousand sons of King Sagara. Therefore, not only were those sons granted liberation, but up to five previous generations in Bhagiratha’s line were emancipated from the repeated cycle of birth and death, simply through Bhagiratha’s pious deeds.

Ganges River coming down to earth All this doesn’t mean that having a daughter is a bad thing. For women, their importance lies in the influence they can have on their husbands. A husband and wife share the same spiritual fate, so if a son offers pinda to the departed father, the departed mother will also be fed. In this way, a good son is beneficial to both parents. Also, while living, a woman can prove beneficial to her husband if she herself is very pious and dedicated to God.

Begetting a son serves as an insurance policy more than anything else. Regardless of whether our children are boys or girls, we should try to provide them the necessary tools for returning back home, back to Godhead. We should be committed to making sure that the birth of our children will be the last birth they have to take. If one is Krishna conscious in this life, then they are assured of returning back to Krishna’s spiritual planet after death, where having once gone, one never returns. The best way to ensure our path to eternal heaven is for us to change our way of life now, instead of relying on the future services of our offspring. God is so nice that He gives us what we want. If we sincerely desire to return to His home, then He will give us the means to do so.