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The Enduring Presence of Ancestors - How Our Past Shapes Our Present

Updated: Jan 10

By Jayada S. Sarela

The Buddha's teachings on ancestral inheritance and recent scientific research on intergenerational trauma :




The Buddha taught that our ancestors live on within us - that we inherit personality traits, talents, even subtle karmic qualities from past generations. He used this point about our deep interconnectedness to make people more conscious of how their actions would ripple through time and impact descendants.


Modern science is now demonstrating that ancestral inheritance is more than just physical DNA. Trauma is having effects across generations. Studies on descendants of Holocaust survivors found increased anxiety and health effects compared to peers. Similar intergenerational impacts show among populations affected by slavery, genocide and famine.

The field of epigenetics is discovering these trauma markers can get encoded into genetic expression through chemical tags attached to our DNA. This reveals how intense suffering can alter genes to manifest later as diseases, mental health issues, and harmful behaviors in future generations.


Animal models show these changes persisting over at least 4 generations. Some human studies trace trauma inheritance to 12 generations. More research is needed, but it appears trauma cast shadows further than we realized.


The Buddha was right - our interconnectedness spans more generations than we can envision. If we inherit vulnerabilities and trauma from ancestors, even beyond those we knew, it makes each of us even more responsible for preventing suffering now. Our actions echo into the deep future through those that come after us. May we live consciously of blessing, not burdening, the generations of descendants who in a real sense are already living within us.

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