In an effort to determine whether science can shed light on why some people are spiritually inclined and some are not, some researchers have sought evidence to determine whether the tendency to either embrace or reject spirituality is influenced by — or even caused by — an individual’s genetics or idiosyncrasies in brain structures.
The God Gene — Is Faith Hardwired into Our Genes?
There’s a growing interest in the scientific community in linking genes to complex human traits and behaviors, from personality traits and disease susceptibility to spirituality and other belief systems. The VMAT2 gene, in particular, has attracted attention in popular culture as a possible contributor to spirituality. Most famously, in his book The God Gene: How Faith is Hardwired into Our Genes, geneticist Dean Hamer argues that a particular allele of the VMAT2 gene plays a role in one’s openness to spiritual experiences (Hamer, 2004). In fact, he proposes that the VMAT2 gene is one of many potential genes that influence our acceptance of spirituality.
Hamer correlated the DNA samples of participants to their responses to questions designed to measure self-transcendence. He found that those who scored “more likely to develop spiritual beliefs” shared one particular gene variation (a change from an A to a C, present in 28% of participants), which he theorized was a marker for the “more spiritual” version of this gene. But Hamer’s study was never published in a peer-reviewed journal, and even Hamer himself admits that VMAT2 is, at most, a minor player in influencing spirituality.
Hamer’s theory doesn’t seem to take into account all the factors that can alter our spiritual tendencies across a lifetime. Life experience, for example. No two life experiences are alike and our experiences change our beliefs — sometimes radically — over a lifetime. So do personal searching, experimentation and truth-seeking. Someone could be a strict fundamentalist in their 20s and become a diehard atheist by their 50s — or vice versa. It happens all the time. And while it seems fair to assume that all these people have not been genetically tested to determine whether dramatic changes in gene expression could have caused these changes, it seems more likely that it was nurture — experience and external factors — rather than nature, that changed their belief systems.
And even if it’s true that we’re genetically hardwired to be predisposed to spirituality vs. atheism or agnosticism, epigenetics, or the altering of a gene’s expression over time, could conceivably rewire our brains, altering our beliefs and behaviors. Epigenetics are external modifications to DNA that turn genes on or off — they affect how cells “read” genes. For example, we know that an epigenetic change that silences a tumor suppressor gene (e.g., a gene that keeps cell growth in check or prevents cells from becoming cancerous) could lead to uncontrolled cancerous cell growth. Many cancers are also associated with epigenetic alterations induced by factors such as poor diet and toxins (Watanabe & Maekawa, 2010; Pogribny, 2010).
We know that epigenetic processes can be strongly influenced by environment — that is, exposure to external factors like diet, living conditions, exercise, stress, chemicals, drugs, and toxins. Both positive and negative factors can alter our epigenomes. For example, psychoactive drugs like cocaine or antipsychotics can cause epigenetic changes. Positive factors such as enriched living conditions, social interactions and physical activity can promote beneficial epigenetic processes, while negative factors such as severe stress or agricultural chemicals can permanently alter some genes (Portela & Esteller, 2010; Rivera & Bennett, 2010). Negative events such as trauma and severe chronic stress in early life have been found to alter the epigenome in a persistent and sometimes heritable fashion (Franklin & Mansuy, 2010; Franklin, Russig et al., 2010; Weiss et al., 2011).
So while our genetic code greatly determines who we are, it does not act alone. Hamer’s theory, while interesting, may only serve to highlight the problems associated with trying to confine the drivers of spiritual tendencies to a purely physiological realm. Such neurotheology theories are almost certainly insufficient to truly explain spirituality-seeking behavior.
The Sahaja Meditator’s Perspective
The anecdotal experience of meditators, particularly meditation teachers, reveals that all human beings are capable of responding to spirituality and the experience of the divine power. No special brain hardwiring or particular gene variant required, especially not a mechanism that could be present in some but not in others.
The practice of spirituality and meditation, which helps actualize spirituality in our daily lives, deals with the universal unconscious. By its very definition, the universal unconscious is everywhere and is available to everyone. It is all-pervading and has a cosmic presence.
In the realm of meditation, there are ancient techniques relating to the Kundalini energy and the chakras inside us, the origins of which go back nearly 14,000 years. Over the centuries, all spiritual teachings and scriptures, without exception, talk about how this subtle energy is present in every human being, including: those who may not believe in it; those who are leading lives that stray very far from what would be considered a spiritual path; those who exhibit characteristics and behaviors that are hardly spiritual; and those, who are, in fact, avowed atheists. These individuals clearly must have believed that the spiritual plane of our existence was separate from the physiological, mental and emotional planes.
But the reality is that no matter what our thinking, disposition or attitude, we all have a spiritual plane of existence that we can activate and actualize through time-honored techniques, such as those incorporated into the practice of Sahaja. Actualization happens through the awakening of the Kundalini energy and achieving a connection to the universal unconscious.
By choosing to make Sahaja meditation as your choice of meditation, you can achieve and experience all of this, through our online meditation sessions and your daily practice of meditation.
So, you can feel supremely confident that there’s nothing stopping you from manifesting your full spiritual potential, not certainly genetics or anything that you might feel may be lacking in you compared to others. Nothing is.
Actualizing spirituality and the experience of it is there for the taking and very much within reach, especially since you’ve signed up with Sahaja meditation.