Genotype and Mana

K.K.Verma, Ph.D.,
HIG 1/327, Housing Board Colony, Borsi, DURG-491001, India
- Rashmi Saxena, Ph.D.,
Bhupal Nobles P.G. College, Udaipur-313001, India.
Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 12 (2002), 64-5.

An extensive paper on this topic has recently appeared (Fleising, 2001). A parallel between DNA FUNCTIONING and "MANA" was first pointed out by Firth (1940). The present communication is about reexamining this parallel, keeping in view the original Sanskrit meaning of "mana".

What is "mana"?

Fleising (2001) has based his discussion on the meaning of "mana", as understood in Bali (Indonesia), and as described by Geertz (1980). According to this meaning "mana" refers to a special power or capacity present in a dominant and strong person, who generates respect as well as fear among the people around him, such as a tribal chief. This power has far reaching effect on conduct and behaviour of the person.

"Mana" as well as some other words, like "sekti" and "murti" mentioned by Geertz (1980), have been obviously inherited by the Bali people from Sanskrit, which was the language in the Indian subcontinent in ancient times. Much of the Bali mythology has its roots in the Indian mythology. But the meaning of "mana" in the parent language Sanskrit is considerably different from the Bali concept. In Sanskrit "mana" refers to inherent tendencies or desire or drive.

The following "shlokas" from Bhagwat Geeta, a sacred Hindu scripture in Sanskrit, will help in bringing out the meaning of "mana". The "shlokas" are being cited here in a translated form, and the authors are well aware of imperfection in the translation.

Chapter 6, Shloka 33. (Arjun speaks to Krishna)

O Krishna, you have just said about "yoga", but I find it impractical, as "mana" is mercurial and unstable.

Chapter 6, Shloka 34. (Arjun continues)

"Mana", besides being unstable, is very strong and unbending. Hence to control it is as difficult as to control wind.

Chapter 6, Shloka 35. (Krishna says in reply)

O great warrior, undoubtedly "mana" is mercurial and very difficult to control. But, through practice and "vairagya" (= detachment from worldly pleasures and relations), harnessing of "mana" can be achieved.

Chapter 6, Shloka 36.

(Krishna continues)

If a man does not have his "mana" under his control, for such a person "yoga" is very difficult to attain. On the other hand, if a person keeps his "mana" under check and makes efforts, he can attain "yoga" quite easily.

In these shlokas it has been pointed out that internal desire or inborn urges should not be allowed to be expressed in behaviour without rational screening, if one is trying to attain a healthy state of body and mind or "yoga".


Analogy between genotype and "mana"

Some notable analogy may be made out between the Sanskrit "mana" and genotype. The following is an attempt in this direction.

The entire set of genes or genotype includes all the genetic potential possessed by an individual, but all of it does find expression in the phenotype. This is partly because of genetic dominance and epistasis, and in part due to effect of environment. Monozygotic twins have identical genotypes, but if one of them suffers from iodine deficiency in his/her diet, he/she will not grow up normally like his/her sibling. In fact it is a fundamental concept of the present day genetics that the genotype interacts with the environment to produce the observable characters or the phenotype.

Now let us turn to "mana". As has been noted earlier, the Sanskrit "mana" refers to inherent urges or tendencies. A person normally does not give expression to all his urges and tendencies, because he has learnt from his cultural environment (constituted by his parents and other family members, his friends, his teachers, his religion and his society in general) that some of his urges may be harmful to the society or to himself, if expressed as such.

From the above discussion an analogy between "mana" and genotype may be readily made out, namely that in either case, because of interaction with the environment, the full potential does not find expression in observable features or behaviour.

This analogy, however cannot be reasonably stretched further. "Mana" is concerned with behaviour, whereas genotype controls development of various characters, including those of ontogeny, morphology, physiology, behaviour, ecological preferences etc.. "Mana" is related to consciousness and when consciousness appears in a human foetus is not known. Genotype, on the other hand, is functional throughout the lifetime of an individual right from the moment of zygote formation. Genotype is a scientific term, and it cannot be separated from its biological meaning. "Mana" has a spiritual aspect. When Fleising points out that the analogy between D.N.A. and "mana" is "demonstrating the resemblance of a scientific inference to a religious entity", one has to agree with him.

In conclusion of the present discussion it may be said that development of behavioral pattern is influenced and modified by the environment in a developing human individual at two different levels, namely at the genotype / _phenotype level and again at the "mana" level. This situation improves the chances of producing well adjusted and useful members for the intricate human society.


Fleising, U., 2001. Genetic essentialism, mana, and the meaning of DNA. New Genetics and Society, 20(1):43-57.

Firth, R., 1940. The analysis of Mana: an empirical approach. Journal of the Polynesian Society, 49(4):483-510.

Geertz, C., 1980. Negara : The Theatre State in Nineteenth century Bali. Princeton University Press, Princeton.

Shrimadbhagwatgeeta, 54th edition, published by Geeta Press, Gorakhpur was been consulted.

Commentary on Verma and Saxena

- Masahiro Morioka
CIAS, Osaka Prefecture University,
Gakuencho, Sakai, Osaka, 599-8531 Japan
International Network for Life Studies
Verma and Saxena's paper on the analogy between "mana" and genotype is stimulating. Probably a similar argument could be applied to our "human nature", that philosophers have contemplated for centuries. This suggests that our "human nature" has some close relations to our genes, which has been the main argument from recent evolutionary sciences.

My question is: what happens if we apply our knowledge of genes to the concept of "mana"? For example, our DNA is modified and a new set of genes is created when an egg and a sperm meets. Do similar things happen to "mana"? Is it possible that one's "mana" will get mixed with some other's one and create a completely new "mana"? What about the natural selection of "mana"? When the phenotypes of a certain group's "mana" is more adequate to the environment than other groups' phenotypes, then, what happens? The evolution of "mana," or the shift in the "mana"-frequencies in a population occurs?

The relationship between "meme" and "mana" also comes to my mind. Anyway, thank you for your thought-evoking article.

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