How Yoga Got Ahead of Genetics Centuries Ago
By Deepak Chopra, MD, FACP, FRCP
If you decide to enroll in a Yoga class, you are entering a worldview at the same time. The Yoga worldview is vaster than the physical aspect that meets the eye at Yoga studios — worldviews aim to explain everything. That’s what makes them worldviews. The religious worldview explains everything through metaphysics, placing creation on a supernatural basis. Science explains everything through physical models, turning its back on anything metaphysical.
Yoga has the distinction of being metaphysical and physical at the same time. It doesn’t deal in either/or but in all. The all is consciousness, depicted as a field of infinite potential that generates not just the physical universe but our own bodies and mind. Without going any deeper, you can see that Yoga encroaches on the modern scientific explanation for where our bodies and minds come from, which is genetics.
Genetics is undeniable. Twenty years ago, with the mapping of the human genome, DNA came to fruition as the source of all the physical traits that make us human, including the brain. If the brain was created by our genes, there’s a viable explanation for the mind as well. The scientific worldview thus attained its greatest triumph.
You could claim that the encroachment of Yoga is therefore pointless, because it has been rendered unnecessary. In fact, since the scientific worldview doesn’t recognize metaphysics as legitimate, Yoga’s great claim that it unites physics and metaphysics becomes just as pointless. However, it doesn’t actually work to clear the decks in this neat, rational way.
When you look deeper, it turns out that Yoga pre-empted genetics by thousands of years, and it did so in two ways. It provided a better understanding of the mind than the brain, and it solves some mysteries that genetics is helpless to solve.
To start with the mysteries first, here are some of the most baffling.
· Who or what made humans creative?
· Where did love originate?
· How did the ordinary organic chemicals that constitute the human brain learn to think?
· Why do babies show a definite personality so early in life?
· Where does extraordinary musical and mathematical genius come from?
These mysteries are relevant to everyday life, but more importantly, they pose a litmus test for your worldview. Either your worldview offers a viable explanation or it doesn’t. For countless people, the horrors of the Holocaust isn’t consistent with the religious worldview that includes a benign, loving God. At the same time, such an atrocity dispels the humanist worldview, which sees human nature as essentially benign and progressive.
No major challenge has ever dispelled Yoga or made it invalid. Restricting ourselves to genetics, Yoga far outstrips it when explaining the mysteries listed above, for one simple reason. A worldview that begins with consciousness is far more powerful than a worldview that tries to assemble bits and pieces of physical “stuff” to arrive at consciousness as a last step. Your genes evolved over billions of years from the most primitive life forms; therefore, you are the end product of that process, and consciousness is like the grand prize of Darwinian evolution that took over three billion years to attain.
All the mysteries on the list can be explained through evolution (the way preferred by genetics) by looking beyond genes to the evolution of consciousness. This allows for the missing ingredient, which is creative evolution. Genes evolve randomly, through chance mutations. Yet everything about human existence is obviously creative. Civilization, education, the arts, morality, and science itself are creative products of a process that can have no other origin except consciousness.
It makes no sense to believe that genes decided on their own to discover fire, make flint tools, invent weaving, and depict animals in cave paintings. How could a collection of organic chemicals, even one as complex as human DNA, make such conscious choices? What do chemicals care about the highest values in human life, such as love, compassion, truth, beauty, and inner growth?
It takes the merger of physics and metaphysics to accomplish creative evolution. Placing metaphysics at the foot of God or the gods isn’t necessary. “Meta” is the Greek prefix for “beyond,” and what it implies is that there is a realm of existence beyond physical appearances. Consciousness fits the bill perfectly. A model that produces consciousness only as a final step can never produce the right explanation.
The remaining challenge for Yoga is to explain how genes fit into the picture, because the statistical probabilities behind random Darwinian evolution are valid. If evolution is creative, why do genes mutate randomly? Why do species appear and vanish? Actually, there is no reason why consciousness forbids random mutations. They occur in the same process of trial and error that mainstream genetics relies upon. We undertake all kinds of projects by trial and error — it is how babies learn about the world in the first place. Mutations are Nature’s trial balloons or initial stages on the way to a finished product.
The agency of creative evolution in Yoga is known as Shakti, the cosmic urge of consciousness to explore, invent, discover, and push into the unknown. Shakti allows you to learn from your experiences, to regroup on higher ground, to seek creative solutions, and so on. Shakti, one might say, is the junction between what is possible and what actually happens. It is the pivot that keeps experience evolving rather than statically repeating the same tactics until your species either survives or becomes extinct.
In genetics this pivot is traced to the epigene, the sheath of proteins surrounding DNA that serves to trigger genetic activity. The epigene responds to experiences, which overcomes the huge disadvantage that genes themselves are fixed at birth. They give no room for a creature to learn from its experiences. The epigene does. A mouse born of a mother who takes good care of it is likely to grow up and become a good mother in turn. The traits of good mothering didn’t have to wait for a random mutation to become instilled. Experience in the here and now creates marks on the epigene.
These marks are physical fingerprints of invisible experiences. Epigenetics is therefore a pivot between physics and metaphysics. But Yoga got there first, and it merges physics and metaphysics on the grand scale, next to which epigenetics is just a first step. The vast achievements of the human mind cannot be traced to genetic markers, no matter how fluid and shifting genetic activity turns out to be. The basic problem remains, that chemicals cannot be shown to think.
In the future no one expects the sudden rediscovery and recognition that Yoga presents the most powerful worldview in history. Some new hybrid will emerge, because it has to. Until physics and metaphysics are united, we will never know who we really are.
DEEPAK CHOPRA MD, FACP, FRCP, founder of The Chopra Foundation, a non-profit entity for research on well-being and humanitarianism, and Chopra Global, a whole health company at the intersection of science and spirituality, is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation. Chopra is a Clinical Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of California, San Diego and serves as a senior scientist with Gallup Organization. He is the author of over 90 books translated into over forty-three languages, including numerous New York Times bestsellers. His 91st book, Total Meditation: Practices in Living the Awakened Life explores and reinterprets the physical, mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual benefits that the practice of meditation can bring. For the last thirty years, Chopra has been at the forefront of the meditation revolution. His latest book, Living in the Light co-authored with Sarah Platt-Finger. TIME magazine has described Dr. Chopra as “one of the top 100 heroes and icons of the century.” www.deepakchopra.com