Zen and the Brain

Toward an Understanding of Meditation and Consciousness
Overview

Winner of the Scientific and Medical Network Book Prize for 1998

Aldous Huxley called humankind's basic trend toward spiritual growth the "perennial philosophy." In the view of James Austin, the trend implies a "perennial psychophysiology"—because awakening, or enlightenment, occurs only when the human brain undergoes substantial changes. What are the peak experiences of enlightenment? How could these states profoundly enhance, and yet simplify, the workings of the brain? Zen and the Brain presents the latest evidence. In this book Zen Buddhism becomes the opening wedge for an extraordinarily wide-ranging exploration of consciousness. In order to understand which brain mechanisms produce Zen states, one needs some understanding of the anatomy, physiology, and chemistry of the brain. Austin, both a neurologist and a Zen practitioner, interweaves the most recent brain research with the personal narrative of his Zen experiences. The science is both inclusive and rigorous; the Zen sections are clear and evocative. Along the way, Austin examines such topics as similar states in other disciplines and religions, sleep and dreams, mental illness, consciousness-altering drugs, and the social consequences of the advanced stage of ongoing enlightenment.

Table of Contents

  1. Chapters Containing Testable Hypotheses
  2. List of Figures
  3. List of Tables
  4. Preface
  5. Acknowledgments
  6. By Way of Introduction
  7. I. Starting to Point toward Zen
  8. 1. Is There Any Common Ground between Zen and the Brain?
  9. 2. A Brief Outline of Zen History
  10. 3. But What Is Zen?
  11. 4. Mysticism, Zen, Religion, and Neuroscience
  12. 5. Western Perspectives on Mystical Experiences
  13. 6. Is Mysticism a Kind of Schizophrenia in Disguise?
  14. 7. The Semantics of Self
  15. 8. Constructing Our Self
  16. 9. Some ABCs of the I-Me-Mine
  17. 10. The Zen Mirror: Beyond Narcissism and Depersonalization
  18. 11. Where Does Zen Think It's Coming From?
  19. II. Meditating
  20. 12. What Is Meditation?
  21. 13. Ryoko-in, Kyoto, 1974
  22. 14. Zazen at Ryoko-in
  23. 15. Attention
  24. 16. The Attentive Art of Meditation
  25. 17. Restraint and Renunciation
  26. 18. Zen Meditative Techniques and Skills
  27. 19. Physiological Changes during Meditation
  28. 20. Brain Waves and Their Limitations
  29. 21. The EEG in Meditation
  30. 22. Breathing In; Breathing Out
  31. 23. The Effects of Sensorimotor Deprivation
  32. 24. Monks and Clicks: Habituation
  33. 25. The Koan and Sanzen: Kyoto, 1974
  34. 26. A Quest for Non-Answers: Mondo and Koan
  35. 27. The Roshi
  36. 28. The Mindful, Introspective Path toward Insight
  37. 29. Inkblots, Blind Spots, and High Spots
  38. 30. Sesshin and Teisho at Ryoko-in, 1974
  39. 31. Sesshin
  40. 32. The Meditative Approach to the Dissolution of the Self
  41. III. Neurologizing
  42. 33. Brain in Overview: The Large of It
  43. 34. Brain in Overview: The Small of It
  44. 35. Brain in Overview: Coordinated Networks Synthesizing Higher Functions
  45. 36. The Orienting Reflex and Activation
  46. 37. Arousal Pathways in the Reticular Formation and Beyond
  47. 38. Acetylcholine Systems
  48. 39. The Septum and Pleasure
  49. 40. The Attachments of the Cingulate Gyrus
  50. 41. The Amygdala and Fear
  51. 42. Remembrances and the Hippocampus
  52. 43. Visceral Drives and the Hypothalamus
  53. 44. Biogenic Amines: Three Systems
  54. 45. GABA and Inhibition
  55. 46. Peptides
  56. 47. The Brain's Own Opioids
  57. 48. Ripples in the Next Cell: Second and Third Messengers
  58. 49. The Aplysia Withdraws
  59. 50. Matters of Taste
  60. 51. The Mouse in Victory and Defeat
  61. 52. The Central Gray: Offense, Defense, and Loss of Pain
  62. 53. The Third Route: Stress Responses within the Brain
  63. 54. The Large Visual Brain
  64. 55. Where Is It? The Parietal Lobe Pathway
  65. 56. What Is It? The Temporal Lobe Pathway
  66. 57. What Should I Do About It? The Frontal Lobes
  67. 58. Ripples in Larger Systems: Laying Down and Retrieving Memories
  68. 59. The Thalamus
  69. 60. The Reticular Nucleus
  70. 61. The Pulvinar
  71. 62. Higher Mechanisms of Attention
  72. 63. Looking, and Seeing Preattentively
  73. 64. Laboratory Correlates of Awareness, Attention, Novelty, and Surprise
  74. 65. Biological Theories: What Causes Mystical Experiences? How Does Meditation Act?
  75. IV. Exploring States of Consciousness
  76. 66. Problems with Words: Mind
  77. 67. Ordinary Forms of Conscious Awareness
  78. 68. Variations on the Theme of Consciousness
  79. 69. Alternate States of Consciousness: Avenues of Entry
  80. 70. The Architecture of Sleep
  81. 71. Desynchronized Sleep
  82. 72. Other Perspectives in Dreams
  83. 73. Lucid Dreaming
  84. 74. Conditioning: Learning and Unlearning
  85. 75. Other Ways to Change Behavior
  86. 76. The Awakening from Hibernation
  87. 77. Tidal Rhythms and Biological Clocks
  88. 78. The Roots of Our Emotions
  89. 79. The Spread of Positive Feeling States
  90. 80. Pain and the Relief of Pain
  91. 81. Suffering and the Relief of Suffering
  92. 82. Bridging the Two Hemispheres
  93. 83. The Pregnant Meditative Pause
  94. V. Quickening
  95. 84. Side Effects of Meditation: Makyo
  96. 85. The Light
  97. 86. Bright Lights and Blank Vision
  98. 87. Faces in the Fire: Illusions and Hallucinations
  99. 88. Stimulating Human Brains
  100. 89. The Ins and Outs of Imagery
  101. 90. The Tachistoscope
  102. 91. The Descent of Charles Darwin: Computer Parallels
  103. 92. Bytes of Memory
  104. 93. Where Is the Phantom Limb?
  105. 94. The Feel of Two Hands
  106. 95. The Attentive Cat
  107. 96. Emotionalized Awareness without Sensate Loss
  108. 97. Seizures, Religious Experience, and Patterns of Behavior
  109. 98. The Fleeting Truths of Nitrous Oxide
  110. 99. The Roots of Laughter
  111. 100. How Do Psychedelic and Certain Other Drugs Affect the Brain?
  112. 101. Levels and Sequences of Psychedelic Experiences after LSD
  113. 102. The Miracle of Marsh Chapel
  114. 103. How Do Psychedelic Drugs Affect Amine Receptors?
  115. 104. Near-Death Experiences; Far-Death Attitudes
  116. 105. Triggers
  117. 106. The Surge
  118. 107. First Zen-Brain Mondo
  119. VI. Turning In: The Absorptions
  120. 108. Vacuum Plenum: Kyoto, December 1974
  121. 109. The Leaf: Coda
  122. 110. The Semantics of Samadhi
  123. 111. The Vacuum Plenum of Absorption: An Agenda of Events to Be Explained
  124. 112. The Plunge: Blankness, Then Blackness
  125. 113. The Hallucinated Leaf
  126. 114. Space
  127. 115. The Ascent of Charles Lindbergh: Ambient Vision
  128. 116. The Ambient Vision of Meditative Absorption
  129. 117. The Sound of Silence
  130. 118. The Loss of the Self in Clear, Held Awareness
  131. 119. The Warm Affective Tone
  132. 120. Motor and Other Residues of Internal Absorption
  133. 121. The When and Where of Time
  134. 122. Gateway to Paradox
  135. 123. Second Zen-Brain Mondo
  136. VII. Turning Out: The Awakenings
  137. 124. Dimensions of Meaning
  138. 125. Authentic Meanings within Wide-Open Boundaries
  139. 126. Word Problems: Oneness and Unity
  140. 127. How Often Does Enlightenment Occur?
  141. 128. A Taste of Kensho: London, 1982
  142. 129. What Is My Original Face?
  143. 130. Major Characteristics of Insight-Wisdom in Kensho
  144. 131. Prajna: Insight-Wisdom
  145. 132. Suchness
  146. 133. Direct Perception of the Eternally Perfect World
  147. 134. The Construction of Time
  148. 135. The Dissolution of Time
  149. 136. The Death of Fear
  150. 137. Emptiness
  151. 138. Objective Vision: The Lunar View
  152. 139. Are There Levels and Sequences of Nonattainment?
  153. 140. Preludes with Potential: Dark Nights and Depressions
  154. 141. Operational Differences between Absorption and Insight-Wisdom
  155. 142. Reflections on Kensho, Personal and Neurological
  156. 143. Selective Mechanisms Underlying Kensho
  157. 144. Third Zen-Brain Mondo
  158. VIII. Being and Beyond: To the Stage of Ongoing Enlightenment
  159. 145. The State of Ultimate Pure Being
  160. 146. The Power of Silence
  161. 147. Beyond Sudden States of Enlightenment
  162. 148. The Exceptional Stage of Ongoing Enlightened Traits
  163. 149. Simplicity and Stability
  164. 150. An Ethical Base of Zen?
  165. 151. Compassion, the Native Virtue
  166. 152. Etching In and Out
  167. 153. Aging in the Brain
  168. 154. The Celebration of Nature
  169. 155. Expressing Zen in Action
  170. 156. The Other Side of Zen
  171. 157. Still-Evolving Brains in Still-Evolving Societies
  172. 158. Commentary on the Trait Change of Ongoing Enlightenment
  173. In Closing
  174. Appendix A: Introduction to the Heart Sutra
  175. Appendix B: Selections from Affirmation of Faith in Mind
  176. Appendix C: Suggested Further Reading
  177. Glossary
  178. References and Notes
  179. Source Notes
  180. Index