The Interaction of the Individual Soul, Heredity and Environment

We are born into the world as children of our parents, carrying with us a physical heritage from our ancestors which is called heredity. These traits are passed along in the DNA transmitted from the parents, and combined according to the dominant or recessive characteristics of the particular genetic interactions. This process therefore provides a basis for the continuity of the physical framework of our lives from generation to generation. The ability for genetic material to combine and create new combinations through the contribution of the two parents provides an enormous potential capability for individuation and new development in the newly born child.

This process of heredity, however, is not the sole factor in determining our lives. Once born into the world, we interact with an environment consisting of both the world at large, and the other beings with whom we interact. We are both influenced, and in our turn, influence the development of the community of life and existence and its development. We are part of the community and partake of the time-spirit within which we are born and live, carried along by the currents of that tremendous collective energy, but also doing our part to try to shape and move that collective existence.

While there is a debate about whether heredity or environment is more important in the development of the human being, and there are strong proponents of each view, it is clear that both are part of the legacy of the past, and the force of the present within which we have to take up our lives and become who we are meant to be. These two factors on their own however are not the whole story, although they provide us a clue. When we recognize that the very process helps to ensure “uniqueness” of each individual, we can see that the physical process supports the concept of the individual soul born into life.

Sri Aurobindo concludes the following with respect to heredity: “What matters supremely is what I make of my heredity and not what my heredity makes of me.” With respect to environment: “What is supremely important is what I make of all this surrounding and invading present and not what it makes of me.” The individual importance is recognized: “Still the central power of my psychology takes its colour from this seeing that I live for my self, and for others or for the world only as an extension of my self, as a thing with which I am bound up in some kind of oneness. I seem to be a soul, self or spirit who constantly with the assistance of all create out of my past and present my future being and myself too help in the surrounding creative evolution.”

Sri Aurobindo,Rebirth and Karma, Section I, Chapter 11, Rebirth and Karma, pp. 97-98,