Pitra are the souls of departed ancestors of one’s family. The persons, who are alive today, have a long line of ancestors encompassing many generations. According to Bhagwat Gita which is one of the leading texts of Hinduism, the soul is immortal. The relevant slokas which describe the immortality of souls and its rebirth are given below.
“As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, the soul similarly accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones”. (Text 22, Chapter 2)
“The soul can never be cut to pieces by any weapon nor burned by fire, nor withered by the wind”. (Text 23, Chapter 2)
“The individual soul is unbreakable and insoluble, and can be neither burned nor dried. He is everlasting, present everywhere, unchangeable, immovable and eternally the same”. (Text 24, Chapter 2)
“One who has taken his birth is sure to die, and after death one is sure to take birth again. Therefore, in the avoidable discharge of your duty, you should not lament”. (Text 27, Chapter 2)
After taking birth in a new body, the performance of the new body is judged by his karma. If an individual performs well during his life time, the rebirth of his soul after death will be in a higher level. Bad karmas of the lifetime may push the soul to lower levels if it reincarnates. Therefore, Gita preaches the effects of karma on the levels of rebirth.
We are alive today. Our souls are with us and we are performing accordingly to our likes and dislikes. Some of our actions are good some are bad. Therefore, our spiritual levels may not be very high. Similarly, our ancestors also lived their lives according to their personal likes and dislikes, acquired positive and negative qualities. The soul keeps on taking rebirth till it attains liberation (Moksha). In the Bhagwat Gita it has been said:-
“From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place. But one who attains to My abode, O son of Kunti, never takes birth again”. (Text 16, Chapter 8)
The soul cannot attain liberation till its records of performance are of a very high order. Our ancestors were also people like us whose actions might have been similar to us. They lived in more difficult circumstances. They might have struggled very hard to keep themselves and their family alive. They might have compromised on many occasions and might have taken objectionable path. Therefore, they may not be free from cycle of birth and death.
The soul may not take rebirth immediately after death. Based on the karma of the previous life, they may be wandering between heaven and hell. Such a state of soul is in the form of a spirit or ghost waiting for liberation.
The Spiritual Science Research Foundation (SSRF) has done extensive studies on spiritual matters concerning ancestors. They say that more than 50% of mankind is below the 30% spiritual level with minimal spiritual strength. If our ancestors had the same spiritual strength, they will look to us for liberation of their souls.
The soul after reincarnating in a material body cannot be expected to perform free from blemishes. The material body is subject to many pulls and pressures caused by positive and negative energies operating in the universe. Some of the slokas of Bhagwat Gita clearly point out the circumstances in which the material body has to act in this world.
“As fire is covered by smoke, as a mirror is covered by dust, or as the embryo is covered by the womb, the living entity is similarly covered by different degrees of this lust”. (Text 38, Chapter 3)
“Thus the wise living entity’s pure consciousness becomes covered by his eternal enemy in the form of lust, which is never satisfied and which burns like fire”. (Text 39, Chapter 3)
“The sense, the mind and the intelligence are the sitting places of this lust. Through them lust covers the real knowledge of the living entity and bewilders him”. (Text 40, Chapter 3)
“Thus knowing oneself to be transcendental to the material senses, mind and intelligence. O mighty-armed Arjuna, one should steady the mind by deliberate spiritual intelligence and thus – by spiritual strength – conquer this insatiable enemy known as lust”. (Text 43, Chapter 3)
The souls of our ancestors who may be waiting for liberation, affect our lives in many ways. They cannot look to others for help. They can look towards their descendants only for spiritual help because the descendants are heirs to their wealth and belongings. These unliberated souls send signals to their descendants as reminders for the help they need which is generally referred to as “Pitra dosha”.
In the Bhagwat Gita such circumstances has been narrated clearly which influence the activities of the souls incarnating into material body. The following texts are very important in this regard.
“Material nature consists of three modes – goodness, passion and ignorance. When the eternal living entity comes in contact with nature, O mighty-armed Arjuna, he becomes conditioned by these modes”. (Text 5, Chapter 14)
“O son of Bharata, the mode of goodness conditions one to happiness; passion conditions one to fruitive action; and ignorance, covering one’s knowledge, binds one to madness”. (Text 9, Chapter 14)
“Sometimes the mode of goodness becomes prominent, defeating the modes of passion and ignorance, One son of Bharata. Sometimes the modes of passion defeats goodness and ignorance, and at other times ignorance defeats goodness and passion. In this way there is always competition for supremacy.” (Text 10, Chapter 14)
“From the mode of goodness, real knowledge develop, from the mode of passion, greed develops; and from the mode of ignorance develop foolishness, madness and illusion”. (Text, 17, Chapter 14)
“Those situated in the mode of goodness gradually go upward to the higher planets; those in the mode of passion live on the earthly planets; and those in the abominable mode of ignorance go down to the hellish worlds”. (Text 18, Chapter 14)
“When the embodied being is able to transcend these three modes associated with the material body, he can become free from birth, death, old age and their distresses and can enjoy nectar even in this life”. (Text 20, Chapter 18)
The extracts from the Bhagwat Gita given above are quite revealing and illuminating. It clearly points towards the possibility that the souls of our departed ancestors may not be in a liberated state. They may be waiting for liberation and since they are without a material body they cannot take necessary steps for liberation themselves. They are in a spiritual state and they can send only signals to their descendants through dreams, shocking incidents, disease etc. A careful analysis of these signals is necessary for the descendant because only they can take necessary steps for the liberation of souls of departed ancestors.