A show on Animal Planet this morning featured modern day animals, like the white shark, and their pre-historic (and significantly larger) relatives. The show culminated with today’s ground sloth and its ancient cousin, the giant tree sloth, which was 750 times larger then its contemporary.
Before the show ended, it featured a lab in California that can trace a person’s origin back through hundreds, if not thousands of generations via DNA. AncestryByDNA.com is the company that can tell you where you’re “from” (i.e., a certain amount of your DNA is similar to that found in East Asians, Sub-Saharan Africans or Native Americans) by analyzing a sample of your DNA. And it’s only $240.
For a moment, I considered doing it. After all, if it were free, most people would probably sign up for the service because they’d be interested in knowing where in the world they hail from. As I thought about the concept, my mind flashed forward to getting the results. What would I learn that would make a difference in how I live today? If I found out most of my genetic background came from Africa, for example, would that change the way I relate to my black friends, neighbors and business associates? Or would a test showing that I have connections to East Asia explain my love for the television show Iron Chef?
These are silly thoughts, for sure, but then I started thinking about what this type of test really means from a spiritual perspective. I believe in reincarnation as a central tenet of Buddhism, so in my mind, the body I have today (and all of the DNA and everything else that makes it – and me – unique) is inconsequential because my real connection to the universe, for lack of a better way of saying it, transcends the physical realm. When I die, this body will return to the earth while something about me will be reborn, hopefully in a human form.
So if that’s the case, then what about this obvious connection that my DNA would show to something that predates modern history? While I believe in reincarnation, I also have to believe in things that science can prove, which, in this case, would be that I am the sum of the previous generations before me, and that those generations would have points of origin in different parts of the globe. It an interesting progression of thoughts for a Buddhist trying to find an understanding of the concept of non-existence. (Tibetan Buddhism teaches that the “I” we all hold on to so dearly doesn’t really exist. It’s complicated.)
What would be really cool would be a test that could map our spiritual DNA. Something like past-life regression, I guess, but backed up by science. Talk about blurring the lines between science and religion!