What Is Samskara And The Significance Of Death Rituals?
Summary: Samskara is used for two aspects. One is, the genetic memory that we carry; memory coming from previous generations. Another is the rituals that are performed after one's death. These two meanings are connected. Whether the memory that we are carrying through are genetics is a bondage or an advantage for us, simply depends on how much distance we are able to create with it. The way to create this distance is through yogic practices, and through death rituals. Death rituals are not for remembrance, but to distance ourselves from the genetic memory of are parents.
article originally published on isha.sadhguru.org
Dispelling the Shadow of the Dead
Q: My physical body is going through a lot of changes after I began my practices, which I, as a medical doctor, cannot explain at all. I know it is a process happening from within, and it is a fantastic process, but it is a little hard to make sense of. So, perhaps you could explain what the physical body goes through when certain layers of karma are being shed, or when new energies are accessed? What may be potentially going on with me?
Sadhguru: What may be going on with you must be looked at individually. But it is possible that dramatic changes can happen in the physical system. I can show you many people, when they go through powerful initiations, within twenty-four hours the very shape of their face will change. The way they look will be quite dramatically different from the way they looked twenty-four hours ago. That much change can happen in the physiology.
I know best about my own experience. When things happened within me over thirty-five years ago, everything about my body changed. Things changed that were distinctly noticeable for other people. I had passed the age when the voice changes, but my voice changed in a very different way. The shape of my eyes changed. My gait changed so dramatically that I was trying to get back into my old way of walking but I could not. In many ways, the shape of my body changed in subtle ways. The shape of my brain changed for sure; there is no question about that.
Samskara – Memory of Generations Past
Energy interventions can completely change the influence of genetic and evolutionary memory within us. It is these two dimensions of memory that restrict and influence us in ways you cannot consciously figure. To become free from that or to disconnect from that is a very important aspect of yogic practice.
How can you create distance with a memory that you are not even conscious of, something that throbs in every cell in your body?
People usually misunderstand the word samskara. It is used for two aspects. This word means the genetic memory that is coming to us from previous generations. Let us say there is a prodigy who could sing wonderfully from childhood. It is common for people to say, “Oh, it is his samskara that he is able to sing like this.” That means it has come to him from elsewhere. At the same time, the rituals that are performed after one’s death are also known as samskaras.
Why is a common word used for both these aspects, which seem to be different? Because they are not actually different. There is no denying that many memories and experiences of the people before us are carried within us. At the same time, whether this memory that we have inherited has become a means of bondage or an advantage in our life depends on how much freedom or distance we are able to create with this memory.
How can you create distance with a memory that you are not even conscious of, something that throbs in every cell in your body? This is where initiation into yogic practices becomes significant, because initiation is an energetic intervention where you and the genetic memory are separated in a certain way.
Leave the Dead to the Dead
When people die, or even when they are not dead, we perform what is called as samskara, which is a way of distancing yourself from the genetic memory of your grandparents and parents. This is not just done for the generations that you have seen – your parents and grandparents – but for many generations before them.
For some people who wish to go into certain types of activity, they clean their memory from seven or twelve generations ago. In general, everyone performs this process for the past three generations. This is the tradition in India.
These rituals are not in remembrance of our parents and grandparents. These rituals are an effort to distance ourselves from the genetic memory of our parentage because we want to be a fresh life. We do not want to be a recycling of the past lives. We want to carve out our own destiny. The samskaras are done in this effort, so the same terminology is used for both the genetic memory and the rituals that help you to distance yourself from genetic memory.
I think the closest thing to this that has been uttered, that people are aware of in the Western world, is – it seems Jesus said, “Leave the dead to the dead.” Leaving the dead to the dead is not easy because the dead are living in you. This is what genetic memory means. You will see, if who you are becomes very important, then having children becomes very important too because this is your legacy. You want to leave your genetic material in many people after you, so that in some way you live on. So do not underestimate the dead. They try to live through you.
Suffering Without Freedom
But when you are initiated into a powerful process, like Shambhavi Mahamudra Kriya, if you give yourself to it, the very energetic influence works as an intervention to distance you from your genetic memory. You become a conscious process of life, not a product of compulsive cycles. That is very important for a human being because, in human life, to become free is the most important goal.
A human being suffers most when their freedom is suffocated.
A human being suffers most when their freedom is suffocated. If they are denied many things in their life – comforts and whatever else life provides – if you deny all of it, they will manage, they will endure. In fact, they become stronger. But if you take away their freedom, that is when suffering is at its highest.
This is something that I personally witnessed, and it was unbelievable. About 20% of Isha’s time and resources are spent in Isha Yoga programs in prisons. We conduct programs in all the prisons in Tamil Nadu, and in a few prison in the United States also. A prison is a place where everything is pretty well organized. Food comes on time. People open doors for you and of course, close it for you. They turn lights on and off for you. It is actually a good life. For a whole lot of people who live pretty badly outside, prison is pretty good. But if you enter the prison, there is simply an inexplicable pain in the air. There is suffering everywhere because one thing has been taken away. Food has been given, clothing has been given, security has been given, but freedom has been taken away. That is the deepest suffering for a human being.
It does not matter why your freedom is taken away, whether it is by somebody, by your own ways, because of your genetic material, or because of your evolutionary memory – slowly your face will become long and you suffer. You do not need any other reason. Not knowing why, you will suffer. This is the reason for the energetic intervention of initiations, so that you become capable of distancing yourself from your memory.
Whatever changes naturally occur in anyone, you do not have to be concerned. But do not try to instigate changes because that can lead to a different kind of situation. Whatever naturally occurs, it is perfectly fine.