ISBN: 9780262267472 | 616 pp. | September 2010


Zen-Brain Reflections


This sequel to the widely read Zen and the Brain continues James Austin’s explorations into the key interrelationships between Zen Buddhism and brain research. In Zen-Brain Reflections, Austin, a clinical neurologist, researcher, and Zen practitioner, examines the evolving psychological processes and brain changes associated with the path of long-range meditative training. Austin draws not only on the latest neuroscience research and new neuroimaging studies but also on Zen literature and his personal experience with alternate states of consciousness.

Zen-Brain Reflections takes up where the earlier book left off. It addresses such questions as: how do placebos and acupuncture change the brain? Can neuroimaging studies localize the sites where our notions of self arise? How can the latest brain imaging methods monitor meditators more effectively? How do long years of meditative training plus brief enlightened states produce pivotal transformations in the physiology of the brain? In many chapters testable hypotheses suggest ways to correlate normal brain functions and meditative training with the phenomena of extraordinary states of consciousness.

After briefly introducing the topic of Zen and describing recent research into meditation, Austin reviews the latest studies on the amygdala, frontotemporal interactions, and paralimbic extensions of the limbic system. He then explores different states of consciousness, both the early superficial absorptions and the later, major "peak experiences." This discussion begins with the states called kensho and satori and includes a fresh analysis of their several different expressions of "oneness." He points beyond the still more advanced states toward that rare ongoing stage of enlightenment that is manifest as "sage wisdom."

Finally, with reference to a delayed "moonlight" phase of kensho, Austin envisions novel links between migraines and metaphors, moonlight and mysticism. The Zen perspective on the self and consciousness is an ancient one. Readers will discover how relevant Zen is to the neurosciences, and how each field can illuminate the other.

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 Some Common Ground between Zen Experience and the Brain?
  9. 2. A Brief Outline of Zen History
  10. 3. Western Perspectives on Mystical Experiences
  11. 4. An Outline of the Path of Zen
  12. 5. The Semantics of Self
  13. 6. Developing Our Conscious Levels of Self
  14. 7. Some ABCs of the I-Me-Mine
  15. 8. Constructing Our Self, Inside and Outwardly
  16. 9. Two Interpreters: One Articulate, the Other Silent
  17. 10. Dissolving the Psychic Self and Its Veils of Interpretation
  18. 11. Further Commentary on the Several Meanings of Zen-Brain "Reflections"
  19. 12. First Mondo
  20. II. Meditating
  21. 13. The Attentive Art of Meditation
  22. 14. Just This
  23. 15. Meditative Attention: Accessing Deeper Avenues of Seeing and Hearing
  24. 16. Interpreting Synchronized Brain Waves
  25. 17. Some Gamma EEG and Heart Rate Changes during Meditation
  26. 18. EEG and Heart Rate Changes in Zen Meditation
  27. 19. Delayed Physiological Responses to Meditation
  28. 20. Breathing In; Breathing Out
  29. 21. A Quest for "No" Answers: Koan, Huatou, Jakugo, Mondo
  30. 22. The Roshi
  31. III. Neurologizing
  32. 23. Landmarks. Brain in Overview
  33. 24. Messenger Molecules: Some New Data
  34. 25. The Septal Region and the Nucleus Accumbens
  35. 26. The Wide Variety of Cingulate Gyrus Functions
  36. 27. The Amygdala as a Gateway to Our Fears
  37. 28. Expanded Roles for the Insula
  38. 29. Remembrances and the Hippocampus
  39. 30. The Well-Concealed Hypothalamus
  40. 31. GABA Inhibits; Glutamate Excites
  41. 32. Stress Responses within the Brain
  42. 33. Laid-Back Nurturing Promotes Laid-Back Limbic System Receptors
  43. 34. Peptides in Social Affiliative Behaviors: Oxytocin and Vasopressin
  44. 35. Our Brain's Own Opioids
  45. 36. Opioids, Acupuncture, and the Placebo Response
  46. 37. Metabolic Cascades That Transform the Next Nerve Cell's Firing Responses
  47. 38. Neurotrophins and Change
  48. 39. The Pineal and Melatonin
  49. 40. Cortical Anatomy by the Numbers
  50. 41. Where Is It? A Prelude to My Action. The Parietal Lobe
  51. 42. What Is It? The Temporal Lobe Pathway
  52. 43. What Should I Do about It? The Frontal Lobes
  53. 44. The Thalamus
  54. 45. The Pulvinar
  55. 46. The Reticular Nucleus and Its Extrareticular Allies
  56. 47. Higher Mechanisms of Attention
  57. 48. Ever-Present Awareness
  58. 49. Neuroimaging, EEG Tomography, Event-Related Potentials, and Caveats
  59. 50. Self/Other Frames of Reference; Laboratory Correlates?
  60. 51. Moving Away from The Self; Embodied Teachings
  61. 52. Neuroimaging Data from Different Studies of Self-Referent Functions
  62. 53. Imaging a Meditating Brain: A Commentary
  63. IV. Exploring States of Consciousness
  64. 54. Words and Metaphors in Religious Traditions
  65. 55. Multiple Meanings of "Taste"
  66. 56. Witnessing Awareness during Sleep (Continued)
  67. 57. Tilting the Emotional Set Point?
  68. 58. The Roots of Our Emotions
  69. 59. Attributing Different Emotions to Various Brain Regions
  70. 60. Conditioning: Learning and Unlearning
  71. 61. Addictions
  72. 62. Being in Love
  73. 63. The Male Animal: Libido and Ex-Libido
  74. 64. Cracks in the Bowl: The Broken Seal
  75. 65. Empathies, Mirror Neurons, and Prolonged Affirmative Attitudes
  76. 66. Through What Steps Does Ordinary Insight Transform Consciousness?
  77. 67. Second Mondo
  78. V. Quickening
  79. 68. The Remarkable Properties of Nitric Oxide
  80. 69. The Nitrous Oxide Connection
  81. 70. Self-Abuse by Drugs
  82. 71. How Do Certain Drugs "Alter" Consciousness?
  83. 72. Triggers
  84. 73. The Extraordinary Scope of Migraine: "The Hildegard Syndrome"
  85. VI. The Absorptions
  86. 74. The Varieties of Absorption
  87. 75. Space
  88. VII. Insightful Awakenings
  89. 76. Affirming One Reality: A Commentary on the Sandokai
  90. 77. Varieties of "Oneness" and "Unity." Category I: A and B
  91. 78. Varieties of "Oneness" and "Unity." Provisional Categories II and III
  92. 79. Varieties of "Oneness" And "‘Unity." Provisional Category IV
  93. 80. Prajna: Insight-Wisdom
  94. 81. Words for the Inexpressible
  95. 82. Suchness and the Noumenon: An Allocentric Perspective
  96. 83. The Construction of Time
  97. 84. Disorders and Dissolutions of Time
  98. 85. Emptiness
  99. 86. Third Mondo
  100. VIII. Openings into Being; and Beyond to the Stage of Ongoing Enlightened Traits
  101. 87. Problem Words: "Pure Consciousness"; "Being"; "Cosmic"
  102. 88. Are There Levels and Sequences of "Nonattainment?"
  103. 89. Cultivating Compassion, a Native Virtue
  104. 90. On "Moral Cognition"
  105. 91. Some Aspects of Maturity That Are Nurtured during Long-Range Meditative Training
  106. IX. Pointing at Moonlight: Allusions and Illusions
  107. 92. Pointing toward a Late Lunar Phase of Objective Vision
  108. 93. A Contemporary "Taste of Kensho": Its Profile of Early and Late Phenomena
  109. 94. How Our Brain Normally Perceives Light and Colors
  110. 95. Significance of the Late "Moonlight" Phase within the Whole Profile of Kensho
  111. 96. Significance of the Illusions at the Close of the Moonlight Phase
  112. 97. Some Cultural and Neural Origins of Moon Metaphors and Visual Symbols
  113. 98. The Hernandez Connection: A Darkened Sky and Moonglow
  114. 99. Other Ancient Fingers Pointing toward the Moon
  115. 100. People Differ in Their Response to Illusions: Psychological Considerations
  116. 101. People Differ in Their Susceptibility to Illusions
  117. 102. Fourth Mondo
  118. In Closing
  119. Appendix A: Other Links between the Moon and Enlightenment in the Old Zen Literature
  120. Appendix B: On Wilderness Poetry during the Tang and Sung Periods
  121. Appendix C: Daio Kokushi "On Zen"
  122. Glossary
  123. References and Notes
  124. Source Notes
  125. Index