Nature versus Nurture


by Durga Ahlund

Are we born with predispositions concerning our personality, social and emotional behaviour and intelligence? Or are we born with a tabula rasa, a “blank slate” without any mental content, or behavioral tendencies, and consequently, does our behavior depend entirely upon our subsequent experience and perception? Generally proponents of the tabula rasa theory say that only environmental factors are consequential in the development of one’s personality, whereas those who believe we are born with predispositions or tendencies argue that our “nature” is uniquely individual, and at least partially determined before we are born. This is known as the “nature-versus-nurture” debate.

I have never been a believer of the theory of tabula rasa, but mostly because I saw that both of my sons brought their unique personalities and talents with them.. We now have a new granddaughter, Kiplyn Eva Ahlund, born in March, three-weeks early. I knew how much I was going to love her, but again, as with my own children, the intensity of such love is particular and overwhelming. I suppose God makes a baby adorable in the eyes of the parents, for a purpose. They need to be engaging because they are so delicate and need so much care. But the spell that a baby of your flesh and blood casts seems quite mystical. And, I had forgotten that even in these very early days of life so much personality shines through a baby’s eyes. The whole process of birth is just magical and so full of grace.

You may not be aware of it, but in the Tirumandiram, Siddha Tirumular describes the process of birth, in forty-one mandirams. He devotes mandirams 451 through 492 to the soul’s birth in the body. Tirumular tells us specifically, that he “heard” from Nandi, his guru, at Kailash and studied scripture with his great preceptor, to receive this authentically revealed knowledge. Tirumular describes birth beautifully, as the most sublime of phenomena, accompanied by the Lord Himself. He says that not only does the Lord grants the proper time and choose the particular parental relationship, but He even gives the worldly environment of goods and services for the soul’s proper maturing.

Mandiram 451

The Lord, my beloved, embarks upon creation;
The twenty-five that separated, he now joins;
He creates, seated in the center of the womb;
He creates, knowing what will take place.

Tirumular’s writings would certainly be controversial today, especially in the way he describes Swara Yoga with regard to the gender, health, nature and longevity of offspring. However, Tirumular says some beautiful things about the Lord’s care for the soul in the womb, which is both comforting and profound. One major point centers on conception. He says conception occurs not only at the material level, but also at a spiritual level. At the moment of fertilization, the causal body flows with the essence of the five senses, mind, intellect and ego.

In mandiram 465, Tirumular says that the Lord attaches the soul to the subtle bodies and places the soul and consciousness along with the gunas in the womb. Without these, the body could not be born alive. He says that even, before conception there is an act of subtle creation, called Civa-puranam, or “the dance of the Lord in the night.” This suggests that if the soul and the subtle elements are not attracted to the womb, there is no conception of life.

The combining of the parabda karmas (past karmic consequences to be worked out in this birth), the vidhya (meaning that which gives light-the knowledge and divine qualities imparted on the soul to help it ascend the path of spiritual progress), and the gunas (attributes of nature of rajas- activity, tamas-inertia and sattva-balance, takes place once the soul is in the womb. The five subtle bodies, the physical, vital, mental, intellectual and spiritual are fixed and balanced according to the karma of the soul, while in the womb. The all-pervasive Lord is present too, within that smallest seed of life as the soul’s ultimate destiny. Tirumular says that even within that seed, the Lord knows what is in store for the soul after birth. He knows all the experiences that it will go through to reduce its karmic liability. The body is then, fashioned in the womb, as an appropriate instrument.

Tirumular says, too, that when destiny warrants, the Lord will separate the soul from the womb. But, even then, He is extending protection to the soul. For, the soul is responsible for the consequences of its past actions. The Lord ensures the soul runs through experiences ordained by that karma.

The soul is given ten months in the womb, in which to be equipped for life. While the fetus is dependent on the mother for it’s breathing, it is through the mothers’ subtle body of ida and pingala nadis that its breathing and temperature are effectively maintained in the body. The soul has no gender, but in order to preserve and propagate this earthly life for evolution, the soul generates the garb of male and female.

There are other subtle developments that are worked out in the womb. The appearance of the child is highly affected, not only by genetics, but also by the mind and breath of the parents. Breath and mind affect one another. When the parent’s breathing is in harmony, the mind is empty and heart is full of love and balance or sattva is created. Within the womb, the fetus is nourished by the balance and by the inner light, which shapes and affects the child or contributes to its development. Tirumular says that within the mind of an infant is a collection of many lives, not only that of the child, but also of the parents, as well.

While still in the womb, the soul exists at the crown of the head, and there, the heart is united with the Lord. The Lord is the lustrous fire, which fuels the body. At birth, the Lord entrusts the soul to two “foster mothers,” the saktis of anugraha (mercy or grace) and tirodhana (concealing power), who invisibly guide the soul granting equanimity in suffering and sorrow. The grace, embedded in and pervading the infant and the world, grants various gifts and talents to the soul. The tirodhana sakti, the concealing power of the Lord obscures its presence, but takes invisible care of the growth of the soul in the child, once it is born, giving it more and more opportunities to discharge its karmic debts. Birth is for the soul to grow and mature.

We are so fortunate to have this soul, at least temporarily, in our care, to love and protect and guide, as she begins her world journey. The gratitude and love we experience in her presence today certainly nourishes us at the deepest level. I imagine that she will highly influence us, as she grows in her soul and shows us who she is. As I watch her drift off to sleep, she often rolls her eyes upward, as if she is has had enough for today, and is returning to the light of the Lord. I am drawn to do the same with a feeling of oneness and gratitude to the Lord for what it has given to the soul.

From the Kriya Yoga Journal, Volume 19 Number 1, Spring 2012


Copyright © by Durga Ahlund 2012


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