How Much Of Our Blessings Are From Our Ancestors?

The wise are grateful
for their ancestors’ good,
and never resentful
for their mistakes.

– Nowanden (Part 1)

Is it so, that many generations’ accumulation of merits is needed, for us to be able to learn and practise the Dharma? Although family members have some collective karma, can it accumulate and all bear fruit in only one generation? Even if the above seems so, it is simply that generation’s own positive karma bearing fruit to deserve this. Thus, there is no collective karma that can be experienced by an individual without that individual’s own karma at play. (共业中有别业) Individuals’ karma includes both that from past lives (前世业力) and the present karma created here and now, through diligence (今世努力) or lack of it.

Our ancestors might seem to have made life better for us, but technically, the quality of our lives is what we karmically deserve too. Their efforts offered supportive conditions (助缘) for our present quality of life, while its main causes (正因) are always from us. Interestingly, because of rebirth, we could have been our own ancestors, though existentially, we are always our own karmic descendants. Although we should be grateful for our ancestors’ past efforts, so as to not take our blessings for granted, they also made mistakes. What we should do is learn from their good examples and to not repeat their bad examples.

Our ancestors’ deeds should not always directly influence what we should do now. For example, there are folks with very negative families in the immediate preceding generation, but are able to turn their backs on this, to turn things around by doing better in the current generation. There would be no point in doing otherwise – to claim that personal misfortune is entirely due to past generations’ transgressions. Conversely, there are folks with very positive families in the immediate preceding generation, but ride upon the good reputation to turn things worse, by taking their ‘blessings’ for granted, being wasteful, abusive or complacent.

The Buddha taught that we are noble not by birth, but by what we do after birth. True gratitude to ancestors should be expressed with sincere learning and practice of the Dharma now, so as to be more accomplished, to better guide them to do likewise, to advance towards liberation. Even if difficult to do so immediately, merits can be dedicated to alleviate suffering, to expedite better rebirths. The most skilful means is to practise mindfulness of Amitābha Buddha’s name (i.e. Āmítuófó) with profound Faith and sincere Aspiration to reach his Pure Land personally, where there is swiftest progress to Buddhahood, also able to guide ancestors to do the same, wherever they are.

The foolish are ungrateful
for their ancestors’ good,
and ever resentful
for their mistakes.

– Nowanden (Part 2)

Related Article:
Can Ancestors Bless Survivors?

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