DNA – the human family
A few months ago a box arrived in the post. Inside was a clinical kit with a swab and a vile of liquid. The swab was for a DNA test and after rubbing it vigorously against my inside cheek it was deposited in the vile and sent off. A month latter a large envelope was delivered. Inside was a book containing the break down of my DNA results. Having grown up knowing that my relatives on my fathers side were Italian and Hungarian I was not surprised to find that the break down indicated DNA matches with central Europe and Southern Europe. What was surprising was to see I had only inherited 15% of DNA that matched with the British Isles. Just looking at me in terms of DNA I have more in common with people living in central and Southern Europe than the UK!
Looking at my mother line the story becomes even more fascinating. The DNA match here is with people still living in Egypt. The mother line tracing back much further to our origins in Africa.
Last week I was reflecting on the theory that we are all made of star dust. This week the reflection is again around interconnectedness, but now on the level of DNA. In this body, my body, there is DNA that is the same as people now living in Egypt, in Italy and Germany and Scandinavia. In fact I share more DNA with these people whom I have never met than with many people born in the UK. It is a reminder that we are one family. That the divisions of national boundaries give us a sense of belonging, but that as bodies we are not the product of just one geographic area.
I find this a fascinating reflection. A reminder on a scientific level of the spiritual teaching of the Buddha and other mystics that on a deep level we are all one. And that to divide off against others through hatred and aggression or a sense of self and other is to be ignorant of our shared nature and unity.
If we add to this the reflection that we are all made of the same elements that were born in the furnace of stars that burnt bright billions of years ago, we have a potent message from science that is inviting us to reflect on the teaching that we are part of a whole.
Many teachers give their disciples the simple question to ask as they rest in meditation: “who?”, or “who am I?” This was a question that I asked myself as a child as I stood out in the garden looking up at the stars. “Who am I and what is the point of being here?” It felt as if there was something I had forgotten and needed to remember to make sense of it all. I thought that on becoming an adult I would be inducted into the mystery, but instead it became the root of my interest in Buddhism and spiritual practice. It was the question that I hoped to find an answer to through meditation. I’ve not found an answer…but I enjoy the question still!
From this scientific and rational exploration of DNA and the origins of the elemental table in the stars we have one lesson that we may feel more deeply in meditation. In answer to the question who am I we get the answer I am both me, unique in this moment, and I am everything and everyone…… and everyone is me.
It was for this reason that the Buddha emphasised compassion as a central part of his teaching: learning to care for others as much as we care for oneself. And in the modern world where we carry guilt and shame to a degree that was maybe not as strong in the past, we must bring this compassion to ourselves as well, learning to hold our own suffering with a kindness that does not condemn us for being weak or a failure.
As I teach I meet so many people who feel a sense of self loathing, or lack of self worth. I hope these reflections help: for rather than feeling a failure, when we see like this we see that we are part of a whole process of the Universe coming to know itself through us. We are each a vital part of that process. It is like one wave on the ocean thinking it is irrelevant – but without it the whole pattern of waves that flows back and forth could not exist as it is both unique and an integral part of that complex pattern of shifting and changing waves across the surface of the ocean. And beneath it is the still vast ocean of which it is made but from which it seems a separate thing, just as the teachings say we are part of a vast stillness which is our true nature: we are it but we forget and get lost in being a wave dashing from one shore to another. As we meditate we have the opportunity to feel this deeper peace, the peace of the ocean which we – and everyone and everything is made of: our true nature.
If you are interested in the DNA test I used DNA worldwide but there are many other sites and some may even offer a better test so do look around.