Insightful newsletter of Drishtikone: Issue #293 - Transgenerational Epigenetic Inheritance and Civilizational Deserts
Can trauma triggered by environmental factors and events go across generations and DNA? Can these be tweaked and improved via meditation? Can these lead to Civilizational Deserts? We investigate.
“I did not know if the story was factually true or not, but it was emotionally true [...].” ― Richard Wright, Black Boy
The basis of the Dharmic culture is an inquiry into how the human mechanism works and carries on impacts of the environment, actions, lineage, and attacks across generations, lifetimes, and Yugas (loosely epochs).
This is called the Karmic cycle.
The memory across these divides that carries on enslaving every action of ours as it responds to the result of the environment that we are born into based - again on our karmic structure - is the karmic structure.
This Karmic structure is handled via Sanchit and Prarabdha banks of memories.
Today we will look at transgenerational memory banks that are being scientifically studied and some takeaways from those research studies.
Gandhara art style was a Buddhist visual art school that is said to have developed in the 1st and 7th century CE. Gandhar of the yore is now spread over Pothohar Plateau, Peshawar Valley, and Kabul River Valley. The name Kandahar came from Gandhara.
Because it was at the crossroads of many a traveler, the region got influenced by not just Indian art styles but also the Greco-Roman styles.
Today, nothing of civilizational value in terms of arts, music, and dance survives in those areas.
Afghanistan's location lends porous borders to trade routes between the East and West, while the Silk Road providing a vector for Buddhism and Hellenistic culture and even Egyptian influences from the west, renders an amalgamation of culture and art. Perpetual invasion and conflict has rendered a cyclic continuum of renaissance and destruction of art and culture in Afghanistan. (Source)
How could areas which have seen war go on to lose every aspect of art, dance, and cultural performance skills? Whatever that defines culture is eventually taken out over some generations. The impact is not immediate, but there surely.
What does war - and poverty do to generations of kids that are about to come?
Transgenerational Epigenetic Inheritance
Trains were being brought to a stop in the Netherlands in 1944. It was to stop the transport of the Nazi troops. This was done to help the Allied troops to advance. Later the Nazis punished the Dutch. Their food supplies were blocked. The result was a country in famine.
20,000 Dutch had died in that orchestrated famine. Until May 1945 when they were liberated.
That whole tragedy was called The Dutch Hunger Winter.
Women who were pregnant then gave birth to kids who were afflicted with health issues much after the famines.
When they became adults, they ended up a few pounds heavier than average. In middle age, they had higher levels of triglycerides and LDL cholesterol. They also experienced higher rates of such conditions as obesity, diabetes and schizophrenia. By the time they reached old age, those risks had taken a measurable toll, according to the research of L.H. Lumey, an epidemiologist at Columbia University. In 2013, he and his colleagues reviewed death records of hundreds of thousands of Dutch people born in the mid-1940s. (Source)
Those kids who were in utero during the Dutch Hunger Winter had a 10% higher mortality after 68 years.
Scientists studying the phenomenon had a strange problem on their hands.
“How on earth can your body remember the environment it was exposed to in the womb — and manifest that decades later?”
Bas Heijmans, a geneticist at Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands asked that question.
In the study then conducted by Dr. Heijmans, Dr. Lumey and their colleagues found that Dutch Hunger Winter silenced certain genes in unborn children.
Worse, they had stayed suppressed since then.
Even stranger, these changes in genes are transgenerational (passed from one generation to another)
Both human and animal studies indicate that environmental exposures experienced during early life can robustly influence risk for adult disease. Moreover, environmental exposures experienced by parents during either intrauterine or postnatal life can also influence the health of their offspring, thus initiating a cycle of disease risk across generations. (Source)
This phenomenon is called Transgenerational Epigenetic Inheritance.
Transgenerational epigenetic inheritance is the transmission of epigenetic markers from one organism to the next (i.e., from parent to child) that affects the traits of offspring without altering the primary structure of DNA (i.e. the sequence of nucleotides) - in other words, epigenetically.
Let us recap - changes in the environment or just events that happen outside while a woman is pregnant can impact the DNA of the offspring without altering the genes in a way that the child later becomes susceptible to certain diseases and eventually higher mortality.
The impact of conflict can bring changes in the future generations epigenetically that inflict adverse health impacts.
That harms to health may be long-lasting within an individual’s lifetime is well established, but there is increasing awareness that adverse effects may continue through intergenerational biological mechanisms. Our life course is sensitive to the environments in which we, our mothers, and grandmothers were conceived and grew up. Many exposures during development are mediated by maternal phenotype and reflect stresses to which mothers were originally exposed. Figure 2 illustrates how the effects of conflict can be mediated through harm to mothers. Recent work has emphasized that maternal physiology and behavior can buffer their offspring against ecological stresses, but this is only partial , such that exposure to conflict in one generation may potentially propagate adverse effects to subsequent generations. Epigenetic modifications to DNA expression have emerged as key biological mechanisms contributing to such intergenerational transmission, although direct transmission of epigenetic marks themselves appears rare and the primary impact of maternal phenotype is its influence on de novo marks in the offspring [16,17]. (Source)
In the Indian tradition, the inheritance of a family was always marked by Kula (कुल). Kula refers to a family line. Kula and Gotra (which is the beginning of the family tree with respect to the lineage traceable to the earliest Rishis) form an important part of the whole mechanism.
If the family tree was kept intact and proper marriage norms were followed, then the family’s genetic and epigenetic inheritance could be predicted with some accuracy.
That was the importance and utility of a kula devta (कुल देवता). The importance of lineage to the Rishi was probably in how the family’s epigenetic makeup had been impacted by their immense meditative energy.
Modern research studies show that meditation has epigenetic impacts.
Few epigenetic studies involving experienced meditators were conducted to evaluate possible changes in genome-wide DNA methylation profiling at CpG sites. In the first study, Chaix et al. (2017), using PBMCs, analyzed 353 CpG sites whose methylation level is highly correlated with chronological age across tissues and cell types and represent a measure of epigenetic age (DNAm age; Hovarth, 2013). The deviation between the DNAm age and the chronological age provides information regarding the epigenetic aging rate of an individual (Chen et al., 2016). The study, focused on subjects practicing mindfulness and compassion meditation, revealed that the epigenetic aging rate in meditators is significantly decreased as a function of the practice duration (Chaix et al., 2017). (Source)
The impact of meditation is on genes that are associated with stress. These are the genes that are part of the epigenetic impact of the stress-related environment. Like the Dutch Hunger Winter.
Relevant examples of stress-related targets of epigenetic deregulation are genes involved in glucocorticoid signaling, serotonergic signaling, and neurotrophins. Surprisingly, meditation practices seem to act on the same gene targets, such as FKBP5, SLC6A4, and BDNF, and promote endocrinal, neuronal, and behavioral functions. This suggests that the achievement of a state of inner silence through the practice of meditation can prevent or reverse the detrimental effects of a stressful environment (Source)
What these studies are showing is that meditative practices, even rudimentary and for shorter time periods, can bring about epigenetic changes in the same genes which are impacted by stressful environments like war and famine.
These changes (due to meditation) like the environmentally triggered ones can be passed on via several generations.
In the Indian tradition, we looked at it from the stand-point of a kula (कुल).
That is where a temple - properly consecrated with the energy form relevant for a certain family tree’s genetic makeup - for कुल देवता (kula devta) was created.
You see, lineages or families which were more susceptible to war would have a certain level of stress-related epigenetic impacts that, say a family whose only interest was in blacksmithy, would not have.
The transgenerational epigenetic inheritance within these family trees would be vastly different.
And, that is why the energy intervention with respect to meditative practices would be very different as well.
Translated in the Agama shastra framework - the method for Prana Pratishtha of the temple would be very different.
The kula and gotra mechanism was a vast and elaborate scientific intervention in social living that would be unique and spectacular in its approach.
Think through it and see.
Victimhood and transgenerational impact
With this, we move to an important area of transgenerational stress in societies.
Atrocities by an aggressor and the subsequent victimhood by the group that has been wronged and persecuted.
For example, the indigenous people - aborigines in Australia, Maoris in New Zealand, Hindus in India, Native Americans in North America and the Mayans and Aztec tribes in South America - have been the victims of genocides and extreme aggression by outside invaders.
The research studies being conducted in Australia/New Zealand show that there seems to be an epigenetic link between the victimhood of the natives by the Western invaders and their health as well as their behavior.
In sharp contrast to this resistance to genetic research, the recent rise of epigenetics has been embraced by Indigenous peoples in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States. Over the last five to ten years, there has been a remarkable increase in the use of environmental epigenetics as an explanatory framework that draws upon the relationship between biological mechanisms and social lives to understand ongoing intergenerational Indigenous disadvantage and ill-health (Kowal 2016; Kowal and Warin 2018). Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians (hereafter Indigenous Australians) remain the least healthy population group in Australia (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2015), and it is well-documented that rapid cultural destruction, coupled with decades of slow violence in the form of government policies and marginalization from mainstream society, is to blame (Atkinson, Nelson, and Atkinson 2010; Boulton 2016). (Source)
Victimhood plays a very negative role in how a group of people. Those who keep blaming others for their situation - factual or not - are impacted by the sensitivity they carry across their life span.
People reliably differ in the extent to which they are sensitive to being victimized by others. Importantly, “victim sensitivity” predicts how people behave in social dilemma situations: Victim-sensitive individuals are less likely to trust others and more likely to behave uncooperatively—especially in socially uncertain situations. This pattern can be explained with the sensitivity to mean intentions (SeMI) model, according to which victim sensitivity entails a specific and asymmetric sensitivity to contextual cues that are associated with untrustworthiness. Recent research is largely in line with the model’s prediction, but some issues have remained conceptually unresolved so far. For instance, it is unclear why and how victim sensitivity becomes a stable trait and which developmental and cognitive processes are involved in such stabilization. In the present article, we will discuss the psychological processes that contribute to a stabilization of victim sensitivity within persons, both across the life span (“ontogenetic stabilization”) and across social situations (“actual-genetic stabilization”). (Source) [Article in Frontiers in Psychology by Mario Gollwitzer,* Philipp Süssenbach, and Marianne Hannuschke. (Source)
How does the feeling of victimhood manifest and impact its subjects?
In a very powerful research study published under the title “The tendency for interpersonal victimhood: The personality construct and its consequences”, Rahav Gabay and fellow researchers came up with path-breaking.
They used a conceptualization called Tendency for Interpersonal Victimhood (TIV). This is defined as an enduring feeling that the self is a victim across different kinds of interpersonal relationships.
In a series of 8 studies, they looked at every aspect of TIV manifestation.
In Part 1 (Studies 1A-1C) we establish the construct of TIV, with its four dimensions; i.e., need for recognition, moral elitism, lack of empathy, and rumination, and then assess TIV's internal consistency, stability over time, and its effect on the interpretation of ambiguous situations. In Part 2 (Studies 2A-2C) we examine TIV's convergent and discriminant validities, using several personality dimensions, and the role of attachment styles as conceptual antecedents. In Part 3 (Studies 3–4) we explore the cognitive and behavioral consequences of TIV. Specifically, we examine the relationships between TIV, negative attribution and recall biases, and the desire for revenge (Study 3), and the effects of TIV on behavioral revenge (Study 4). (Source)
In these, Study 4 was the most remarkable. It showed that subjects who were very high on the Victimhood scale were more likely to seek revenge. Even when the perception was created by reading out passages that described a partner giving them poor feedback.
Interestingly, the two studies found that those who scored higher on the measure of TIV were more likely to desire revenge against the person who wronged them. (Source)
Those who consider themselves victims will be exceptionally prone to taking revenge than those who do not entertain such an idea.
That is the power and impact of Victimhood!
When one looks at what happened with respect to the cultural ethos of the Gandhara region in Afghanistan, one wonders - did the epigenetic inheritance of the stress emanating from the brutal invasions and subsequent playing up of victimhood create a culture of revenge and aggression?
To a point where the finer things of creative expression like the Bamiyan Buddhas, art, dance, and music have been barred?
If one looks at that region - Afghanistan and progressively Pakistan in the recent decades - then one cannot escape the question:
Has a certain ideological makeup that centers on victimhood and has used aggression over generations as a means to express their discontent or disagreement with the “Other” - the reason for the process of what we would call “Civilizational Desertification”?
For example, at the International Urdu Conference in December 2020 the local artists were lamenting how classical arts were disappearing and declining in Pakistan.
Sheema Kermani, a classical dancer and social activist, lamented that performing arts, particularly classical dance, had not been made part of the curriculum at schools. She regretted that a constant decline was being observed in all the fields of the performing arts. One key reason for this, she noted, was that people were in haste to become famous instead of honing the skills. (Source)
In fact, they were right because dance performances have been banned in the most important Punjab province of Pakistan!
The government of Pakistan’s Punjab province has banned dance performances by students in all government and private schools, according to a Punjab School Education Department (PSED) notification that surfaced in the media on Monday. PSED chief executive officer Zahid Bashir Goraya said the ban extends to performances on occasions of prize distribution, parents’ day, teachers’ day, and other events. He warned that the education department would suspend the licence of any school that allowed or forced children to dance at any school event. (Source)
This was the region where once Bulleh Shah was famous for having danced like a transgender (kanjri) to please his murshid (master).
What is Bhakti?
This Sunday, National Award-winning Bollywood Director, Writer, Thinker, and Influencer Vivek Agnihotri and I explore this question on Sunday on the YouTube channel #IAmBuddha.
Please do mark your times - Sunday, 10 AM India Time and Saturday 11.30 PM Central Time in the US, Sunday 3.30 PM Sydney Australia, and Sunday 4.30 AM London Time
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