The Bhagavatha Purana and the Science of Genetics

The Bhagavatha Purana also called Srimad Bhagavatam is the most popular among the 18 Puranas and is divided into 12 skandhas (cantos) or books and contains 18,000 shlokas (hymns). This devotional literature of the Hindus describes the various incarnation of Lord Vishnu, one among the famous Gods of Hindus. But the most amazing fact about this work probably composed in the 12th century A.D. is that the author had intuitively been aware of some of the facts which modern geneticists speak of.

Modern genetics says that our genome does not separate us from other species and we are closely tied to the rest of life on this planet by our DNA and this closeness to other organisms include animals, plants, fungi and bacteria.(Katie McKissick – What’s in your Genes). In Bhagavatha Purana (VI.16.4), we find sage Narada addressing the soul of a deceased son of a king to reenter his (deceased son) body and put an end to the lamentation of his parents who are grieving over his death. To this the soul of the deceased son of the king questions who his parents are; as due to past actions (karma), he had taken birth as god, animal and human being and had father and mother from all the above species. Through this statement the author of Bhagavatha Purana shows the interrelation of all living species. According to the science of genetics, 99.9% of the gene code of all human beings is the same. Bhagavatha Purana (VI.16.5) says that as a result of a result of countless, successive births and inter relations; all men eventually become related to one another.

Life is a Chance

Though it is a fact that genes are responsible for the way we live, the diseases we inherit, out attitude, behavior, etc., geneticists like Tim Spector have found that twins who have inherited the same genes differ in their likes, attitudes, modes, etc.(Tim Spector – Identically DifferentWhy We Can Change Our Genes). Similarly it is well known that environment, diet and life style also affects the influence of genes over our bodies. Then there is the unexplained role of mutations occurring in genes.

In evolution theory it is assumed that from primitive organisms other organisms including man evolved gradually. This theory does not have an answer as to how even after the evolution of man, other organisms like apes from which man is said to have evolved continues to exist. For instance a caterpillar forms a cocoon and emerges as a butterfly. But in the case of man we find him existing along with apes from which he is said to have evolved. Geneticist may say that mutation which occurred among a few apes could have led them to emerge as human beings while in those apes where mutation did not take place remained as apes and continue to reproduce apes. But why mutation occurred in a few apes and not others? For this Richard Fortey in his work, Life- A natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth writes that Chance plays an important role in life. The analogy of permutations in a game of chance has long been applied to genetic mutations (spontaneous changes in the genetic code). While some mutations lead to nothing, some may have disadvantages and some may even be lethal. But those rare mutations that hit upon an advantageous combination produce the big payoff—the jackpot. “It is luck which determines which animals, when and where are attached to a particular continent (place),” he adds.

Theory of Karma

But what is the substratum for ‘chance’ or ‘luck’. This is explained by Bhagavatha Purana in a rational manner through the theory of karma (actions, both positive and negative. Before brought into existence, a living being (soul) is not asked for its consent or choice as to what form of life (plant or animal), parents, gender, nationality or religion would it choose. This shows that the law of karma plays an active role in assigning each and every living being its place in this world. Hence in Bhagavatha Purana (VIII.4.4,5,6) we find a crocodile who in its former birth was a gandharva (a demi god) and a king due to a curse is born as an elephant in his next birth.

Like the Creationists Bhagavatha Purana ascribes a divine role in creation but it does not believe in the superiority of man over other organisms and believes in the karma theory which explains how souls assume forms based on their past action. Even if born as a human, a soul can also take birth in an animal or plant form. Though Bhagavatha Purana is a theological work it is bio centric and sees the world and its creatures as one substance, one organic body created by a divine force simultaneously and not through gradual evolution.

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Kaleidoscope of Indian civilization

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