A village pandit was very devoted to the memory of his departed father. He used to say, “The father is God incarnate. We are able to enjoy earthly pleasures by his mercy only. I do not accept any other deity except that of my father.” The pandita’s favorite verse was
pita svarga pita dharma pita hi paramam tapa pitari pritimapanna priyante sarva devata
To chant the name of the father, to meditate on his image and to make offerings to the ancestors were this pandit’s daily rituals.
Now, the land upon which the brahmana lived had been handed down to him from many generations. On this land was a draw-well that had been dug by his great-grandfather. In the past, the water from this well was the sweetest and clearest of all the wells in the village. But in recent years, at the time the pandit became the inheritor of his family’s property and tradition, the well became extremely putrid and disease-ridden, unfit for human use. But because the pandit’s father made it a rule to never take water from anywhere else except the ancestral well, the pandit was convinced he must follow suit. Thus he grew very ill, and because he insisted that his wife and sons stick to tradition also, they died one by one.
His neighbors urged him to dig a new well or use one of the many other wells in the village, or take water from the Ganges which flowed nearby. Adamantly, the brahmana refused. Finally the government stepped in. But when the health officials and workmen arrived at his house to seal up the well for good, he squatted over it in defiance and had to be forcibly dragged away from it.
Similarly, there are persons who refuse to change their religious traditions, even though they have become spoiled with age. An example is the tradition in India of kula-guru or family guru: a family will have a tradition that each of its current generation must accept initiation from a professional guru from a particular caste gosvami family. Thus spiritual instruction is not accepted on the basis of qualification, but family tradition. When in time the traditions decay, whole generations become degraded by following blindly the footsteps of their elders.