David's Book:Some of the Benefits of this practice
[By Dr.David N. Snyder]
Some of the Benefits of this practice
This section is based on some of the material I presented to the Annual Meeting of the
Association for the Scientific Study of Religion (sociologists‘ convention), in Dallas, Summer
1988. (Snyder, 1988)
Some people on various spiritual and religious paths speak only of life in the hereafter, but do
little talk or action to improve the quality of life in the here and now, while we are still breathing.
Buddhism can be seen as a psychological spiritual development process for improving the
quality of life.
As a religion, Buddhism is most definitely interested in spiritual development, for example the
Noble Eightfold Middle Path to enlightenment. As a science and psychological process,
Buddhism is interested in a good quality of life, by ending the suffering of life while one is still
alive and beyond. Buddhism‘s psychological process for eliminating suffering is synonymous
with overall good spiritual health, physical health, and mental health.
Meditation is at the core of Buddhist practice. Meditation is used to attain wisdom, morality,
insights, and enlightenment. By attaining wisdom, morality, and insights, with or without
enlightenment, the practice leads to overall spiritual health, physical health, and mental health.
The moral issues that are raised in the Eightfold Middle Path seem dogmatic, but actually are
not. In the practice of meditation we discover for ourselves the value of practicing the moral
issues. For example it is impossible to violate a moral issue without generating great agitation in
the mind, great craving and aversion. If we insult someone, we can feel the agitation in our
mind, the heat in our bodily sensations and the fear and worry when we see the person we have
done gossip or insulting speech toward.
Numerous studies (in medical, psychological, clinical journals, newspapers, and popular
magazines almost everyday) have pointed to the positive effects of meditation for sound mental
health and overall physical wellness.
Meditation has been prescribed by medical doctors for all kinds of patients and has been
successful in the treatment of high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, and all mental or
The meditation practice requires or eventually leads to greater self-confidence. The individual is
seen as possessing the ability for higher truths through an empirical act, beyond faith.
One sociological study examined the association between Buddhism, meditation, sound mental
health, and spiritual development. This study evaluated the effects of five years of religious
training on the personalities of residents of a zen Buddhist monastic seminary. Psychological
tests were administered throughout the five years and significant improvements were found at
the end of the five years. At the end of the five year training period for the zen Buddhist
priesthood, the residents scored significantly higher in ego strength and in measures of general
adjustment. The residents scored significantly lower on measures of concern about individual
health, depression, repression, naïve conformity, frustration, anger, rebelliousness,
authority conflicts, family disharmony, distrust, sensitivity to criticism, presence of tension,
anxiety, fear, obsessive concerns, social isolation, unusual thought processes, and poor self
concept. Some of the residents were certified by the Abbess as having experienced kensho, an
enlightenment experience. These ―enlightened residents significantly improved on all
psychological tests and at a significantly higher rate than the other residents as well. These
results were compared to other studies of residents of Christian monasteries which found
regressive results rather than improvements. The only major difference being the Buddhist
emphasis on meditation, while Christian monasteries emphasize worship and devotion.
Other studies comparing Buddhists, Buddhist monks, and non-practitioners have found similar
results, with the non-practitioners scoring lower on general adjustment tests than Buddhists. The
Buddhists, especially the monks or more experienced meditators, scored lower on anxiety tests
and showed a higher capacity for attention. (Davidson, Goleman, and Schwartz)
Update for this book:
Numerous studies continue to demonstrate and support the earlier studies of the effectiveness of
meditation. A study reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, in year
2004 showed that meditation not only produces calming effects, but also lasting changes in the
Researchers found that monks who spent many years in Buddhist meditation training show
significantly greater brain activity in areas associated with learning and happiness than those
who have never practiced meditation. The researchers measured brain activity before, during,
and after meditation using electroencephalograms. They compared the monks to a group of
people who had no meditation experience. They found striking differences between the two
groups in a type of brain activity called gamma wave activity, which is involved in mental
processes including attention, working memory, learning, and conscious perception.
The Buddhist monks had a higher level of gamma wave activity before they began meditation,
and this difference increased dramatically during meditation. In fact, the researchers said that
the extremely high levels of gamma wave activity were the highest ever reported. The monks
also had more activity in areas associated with positive emotions, such as happiness. (Warner
and Nazario, 2004)
All forms of Buddhist meditation seek an opening up or expansion of awareness. We know that
all the information we have about ourselves and the external world comes to us through the
senses. We also know that much of what we receive is ―filtered‖ to us, never becoming a part of
our conscious experience. The filter selects information because of culture, the limits of our
sense organs, and the limits of the nervous system‘s capacity. Psychologists note that we attend
to only a small part of the stimulus field to which we ―could‖ become aware. (Layman, 1976)
Those who have heightened awareness (meditators) can be expected to have a greater capacity
for receiving information and external stimuli. As a result some scholars have suggested that
meditation, in particular, Buddhist meditation may increase I.Q. (Layman, 1976)
Carl Jung and other famous psychologists have found Buddhism completely compatible with
their own conceptual systems. Jung is quoted as saying, ―Your vision will become clear only
when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.
Some Buddhist schools have stages of development, similar to psychological theories. Abraham
Maslow (Maslow, 1970) studied characteristics of ―peak experiences‖ or experiences of great
joy, happiness, ecstasy, and creativity to Buddhist enlightenment experiences and found similar
A tendency to perceive the object as a whole
Total attention to the perception
Perception which is ego-less
The ability to abstract without giving up concreteness
The ability to be concrete without giving up abstractness
The ability to transcend dichotomies
The therapist-patient role is very similar to the master-disciple relationship. Both relationships
eventually require ending the dependency of the disciple to the master and the disciple / patient
gradually rejects the master / therapist as an authority figure. Both approaches aim at
transcending morality, they only insist on maintaining sound mental health. Things regarded as
good or moral are simply the effects of caring for sound mental health. Both approaches assume
an ethical transformation will take place.
Freudian psychoanalysis and methods of psychotherapy aim at the attainment of insight and to
rid oneself of delusions causing neurotic behavior. Buddhist goals are similar which are
Insight into the nature of things and to rid oneself of delusions of permanence and self. Modern
psychology and Buddhism both insist on practical activities, the suppression of fantasies and
over concern about the past, and prefer attention to awareness of the here and now.
Further Benefits to Meditation
So what is the big deal about having mindfulness, awareness, equanimity 24 hours a day?
Anything we do in life, we do better if we have focus, if we have concentration, if we do it
with a balanced mind. This is vipassana. Imagine trying to take a test or drive a car without
concentration or mindfulness. The result could be very bad!
The practice is not to be done just in a meditation hall. The goal is to apply it in everyday life.
Our lives will become more productive and happier if we can continue the mindful, equanimous
state throughout the day. Here is a list of some of the benefits of this practice:
1. Calm, relaxed mind and body, free of negative thoughts.
2. As a by-product, reduced heart rate.*
3. As a by-product, a healthy body.*
4. As a by-product, stable-normal blood pressure.*
5. As a by-product, significantly reduced risk of heart disease.*
6. As a by-product, significantly reduced risk of cancers.*
7. As a by-product, a healthy personality free of obsessive complexes.*
8. Inner peace; a greatly reduced or the elimination of stress.*
9. An ability to observe rather than react, for example, if or when anger arises, to observe it
rather than react to it.
10. A tendency to let things happen rather than trying to force things to happen.
11. A loss of interest in conflict.
12. A tendency to be more open and flexible and less dogmatic.
13. A loss of the need to fear and worry.
14. Frequent feelings of joy for yourself and others.
15. Frequent bouts of smiling.
16. A feeling of inter-connection to other living beings and nature.
17. A loss of interest in criticizing others.
18. A tendency to notice the similarities, rather than the differences between people.
19. A tendency to live in the present moment, not dwelling on what is past or speculating on the
20. You stop blaming others and take responsibility for every aspect of your life.
* Those items with an asterisk above have enormous evidence to support them from studies of
the scientific - medical community, including the AMA, the American Heart Association, the
New England Journal of Medicine, etc. Other items listed have support from social science
research on meditators and non-meditators.
-----to be continued--------