Why not brain-scan an Aharant? Benefits for science & Dhamma

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Re: Why not brain-scan an Aharant? Benefits for science & Dhamma

Postby 5heaps » Thu Sep 16, 2010 9:45 pm

fijiNut wrote:there should be benefits in terms of outreach in terms of Dhamma for others?

since there are so many levels of dhamma, doing it for the sake of pushing dhamma would probably be ineffectual (ie. one person's so-called fruitions are another person's conceptual consciousness). probably better to do it for the very beneficial effects of single-pointedness, which seems to be the main thing they are testing anyway
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Re: Why not brain-scan an Aharant? Benefits for science & Dhamma

Postby Monkey Mind » Thu Sep 16, 2010 10:02 pm

I think this is an interesting idea. Brain imaging of people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder show quantitative differences in brains of trauma survivors versus the general population, and then images taken after treatment for PTSD show the same brains returning to "normative" functioning. With that in mind, why not study the "healthiest" brains? What quantitative differences would we find in the brains of arahants? What implications would this have for health and wellness?

And thank you for the science articles. I love this stuff!
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Re: Why not brain-scan an Aharant? Benefits for science & Dhamma

Postby Ben » Thu Sep 16, 2010 10:05 pm

Hi Viscid,

Viscid wrote:Western practitioners are always looking for further validation of their beliefs through objective methodology. If you want the brain to light up in the pattern of the wheel of dhamma in an fMRI or show substantive neuroanatomical changes (I dub these 'modern siddhis,') then it shows doubt and insecurity in the necessity of your practice.


With respect, I think you might be misunderstanding what is going on. FijiNut believes that by doing brain-scans and studies on the brains of arahants it may provide interest and develop faith in the path by non-practitioners. I don't think FijiNut or anyone else here is looking for scientific evidence of arahantship to counter insecurity or doubts.
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Re: Why not brain-scan an Aharant? Benefits for science & Dhamma

Postby manas » Thu Sep 16, 2010 10:45 pm

I would like to see such a scan done. But I forsee a few problems. One is actually finding someone who embodies the very high standards of purity that the Buddha extols as present in those who have 'laid down the burden' ("passionless...pride destroyed...pure...sorrowless...(etc). Another is that, (if there are such beings present on the earth today) it is perhaps more likely that arahants would be found in the Monastic orders (but as stated previously, they would not disclose this to lay people (scientists) anyway). Thirdly

Buddha wrote: "And how is the monk a Noble One who has taken down the flag, put down the burden, become unfettered? He has abandoned the conceit of self, has cut it off at the root, removed it from is soil like a palmyra tree, brought it to utter extinction, incapable of arising again. Thus is the monk a Noble One who has taken down the flag, put down the burden, become unfettered.

"When a monk's mind is thus freed, O monks, neither the gods with Indra, nor the gods with Brahma, nor the gods with the Lord of Creatures (Pajaapati), when searching will find on what the consciousness of one thus gone (tathaagata) is based. Why is that? One who has thus gone is no longer traceable here and now, so I say.
-(from the Alagaddupama Sutta (MN 22)


If neither the gods nor Brahma can find 'on what the consciousness of one thus gone (in this case, an arahant) is based' due to the arahant being 'no longer traceable here and now', how are mundane scientists going to do it? :ugeek:

So IMHO, considering all of the above, we won't get any conclusive evidence of what an arahant's brain looks like as compared with a non-arahants brain very easily. On a positive note, I'm sure that practitioners such as Ingram and Folk would be happy enough to submit to such a scan, and it would indeed be interesting to see how the results compare with other (advanced) practitioners who have had them done. I just don't see how any claims to arahantship can be either proved, or disproved, upon that basis.

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Re: Why not brain-scan an Aharant? Benefits for science & Dhamma

Postby Viscid » Thu Sep 16, 2010 11:32 pm

Ben wrote:Hi Viscid,

With respect, I think you might be misunderstanding what is going on. FijiNut believes that by doing brain-scans and studies on the brains of arahants it may provide interest and develop faith in the path by non-practitioners. I don't think FijiNut or anyone else here is looking for scientific evidence of arahantship to counter insecurity or doubts.
kind regards

Ben


You're right, but I still believe there are those want to prove to non-practitioners that their practice is worthwhile with scientific evidence.

Also, you don't have to be too respectful towards me: I'm quite arrogant. :tongue:
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Re: Why not brain-scan an Aharant? Benefits for science & Dhamma

Postby Ben » Thu Sep 16, 2010 11:42 pm

Viscid wrote:You're right, but I still believe there are those want to prove to non-practitioners that their practice is worthwhile with scientific evidence.


No problem, Viscid. Yes, I see that from time to time as well.

Viscid wrote:Also, you don't have to be too respectful towards me:

I try to be respectful to everyone. Sometimes, my own negativities push through and I can exhibit less-than ideal behaviours.

Viscid wrote:I'm quite arrogant. :tongue:

You're in good company, as I am still deeply ignorant. I tend to believe that self-awareness of one's own defilements is a good thing.
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Re: Why not brain-scan an Aharant? Benefits for science & Dhamma

Postby m0rl0ck » Fri Sep 17, 2010 2:59 am

The articles i linked to earlier in the thread say that the differences in brain function and structure are also in areas that process emotion and pain, not just areas that register attention. In other words in areas that process suffering. So we already have objective evidence for those who need it that the path works as advertised.


In meditating zen monks a global increase in gamma waves has been noticed. Gamma waves from what i have read have a sort of syncing effect on the entire brain and its brainwave output. It seems possible to me, that the incremental changes, detailed in the articles i linked to earlier, might lead to a tipping point where the entire brain functioned differently and more coherently, possibly due to something like the global gamma wave effect. This would probably be observable with tools we already have.


And of course its important, because it would help relieve suffering in a world that has too much of it. Hiding your light under a bushel doesnt help anyone and seems a ridiculous, antiquated, and quaint custom to me.

EDIT: many thanks to the originator of this thread, i wouldnt have put all of this together otherwise :)
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Re: Why not brain-scan an Aharant? Benefits for science & Dhamma

Postby Ben » Fri Sep 17, 2010 3:49 am

Hi morlock,

m0rl0ck wrote:The articles i linked to earlier in the thread say that the differences in brain function and structure are also in areas that process emotion and pain, not just areas that register attention. In other words in areas that process suffering. So we already have objective evidence for those who need it that the path works as advertised.

I would say that while pain and emotion may look like suffering, they may not be suffering. Pain is just unpleasant vedana and emotion are composed of cittas (mind states), dhammas (thoughts), vedanas (sensations) and kaya (physical process changes such as increase/decrease of heart-rate and breathing). The suffering arises when we crave what we do not have or wish to be free from something we do not like.

m0rl0ck wrote:Hiding your light under a bushel doesnt help anyone and seems a ridiculous, antiquated, and quaint custom to me.

There's been quite a bit of recent discussion regarding the authenticity of some people's attainments lately. Some of it is in relation to the fact that the announcements have been counter to a long-standing tradition in Theravadin cultures since the days of the Buddha when he forbade his ordained disciples from discussing or revealing their attainments to the laity. The culture that has developed in many asiatic Buddhist cultures is that among the laity, it is considered a serious faux pas. I don't think this is mere cultural baggage but is indicative of how to discern a real ariya from a charletain or someone who is deluded. As you know, there are a number of personal qualities which develop in tandem to spiritual progress and the attainment of genuine meditative attainments. They go together and one yardstick is to have a look at all areas of a person's life for qualities like loving kindness, equanimity, generosity, compassion, humility and gratitude - just to name a few. While it might be nigh-on impossible to get to know some people via the internet well enough to make that sort of a judgement, you can get an idea by the sorts of discussions they participate in, what they discuss and last but not least, whethr they announce they have this or that attainment. And I'll bet you dollars to doughnuts that anyone who declares themself this or that ariya - isn't. Perhaps genuine ariyas have discovered that the best thing to do is just to get on, practice Dhamma and living a Dhammic life. Living an exemplary life that helps to illuminate the path for others.
kind regards

Ben
Learn this from the waters:
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Taṃ nadīhi vijānātha:
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tuṇhīyanti mahodadhī.

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Re: Why not brain-scan an Aharant? Benefits for science & Dhamma

Postby m0rl0ck » Fri Sep 17, 2010 4:28 am

Ben wrote:I would say that while pain and emotion may look like suffering, they may not be suffering.


Well, slice it up anyway you like, you cant have suffering without either pain or emotion and since the brain activity in the studies occurred in areas that process pain and emotion, coupled with evidence that meditators are generally happier people, leads me to conclude that meditation relieves suffering.
Ben wrote: And I'll bet you dollars to doughnuts that anyone who declares themself this or that ariya - isn't. Perhaps genuine ariyas have discovered that the best thing to do is just to get on, practice Dhamma and living a Dhammic life.


Id say you are probably right about that. On the off chance that isnt the case or that someone may be relating an experience for the sake of getting emotional support or on the chance they have some other valid positive motive for such a claim (like encouraging others). It is imo better to create as non judgmental an atmosphere as possible about such things, rather than risk retarding someones progress or creating an atmosphere that inhibits discussion. You may have to put up with the occasional idiot or few, but creating an encouraging atmosphere is worth the exercise of patience imo.
"When you meditate, don't send your mind outside. Don't fasten onto any knowledge at all. Whatever knowledge you've gained from books or teachers, don't bring it in to complicate things. Cut away all preoccupations, and then as you meditate let all your knowledge come from what's going on in the mind. When the mind is quiet, you'll know it for yourself. But you have to keep meditating a lot. When the time comes for things to develop, they'll develop on their own. Whatever you know, have it come from your own mind.
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Re: Why not brain-scan an Aharant? Benefits for science & Dhamma

Postby Laurens » Sat Sep 18, 2010 11:15 am

There is nothing science cannot explain, only things science cannot explain yet ;)
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Re: Why not brain-scan an Aharant? Benefits for science & Dhamma

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Sun Apr 24, 2011 10:46 pm

See this BBC news item

In a laboratory tucked away off a noisy New York City street, a soft-spoken neuroscientist has been placing Tibetan Buddhist monks into a car-sized brain scanner to better understand the ancient practice of meditation.
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Re: Why not brain-scan an Aharant? Benefits for science & Dhamma

Postby fijiNut » Sun Apr 24, 2011 11:28 pm

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Re: Why not brain-scan an Aharant? Benefits for science & Dhamma

Postby plwk » Mon Apr 25, 2011 12:43 am

So we already have brain scan technology....now if only one can find an Arahant for this endeavor...
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Re: Why not brain-scan an Aharant? Benefits for science & Dhamma

Postby Monkey Mind » Mon Apr 25, 2011 2:05 am

I've been thinking about this again. Brain imaging studies have looked at "experienced Zen meditators" (I think they defined that as 10+ years of daily practice). This current study, cited above, used Tibetan monks because they were a convenience sample (they volunteered). There are many sccientific barriers to studying "arahants" (operationally defining "arahant" and finding a useful sample size). Why not study Theravadan monks/ nuns who meditate, or study experienced vipassana meditators?
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Re: Why not brain-scan an Aharant? Benefits for science & Dhamma

Postby chownah » Mon Apr 25, 2011 3:04 am

Bhikkhu Pesala wrote:See this BBC news item

In a laboratory tucked away off a noisy New York City street, a soft-spoken neuroscientist has been placing Tibetan Buddhist monks into a car-sized brain scanner to better understand the ancient practice of meditation.

Bhikku Pesala,
Great post...great link....if anyone on this thread actually has a real interest in scanning the brain of an arahant then I suggest contacting the man doing the research from the link

whose name is: Zoran Josipovic

his email address is: zoran@nyu.edu

and further information about him is at: http://psych.nyu.edu/josipovic/

He's got the equipment.....he's got the interest....he's even got some funding....I do suggest that before contacting him one should spend some time (maybe a month?) studying up on all that he has been doing and what others have been doing in the field....I'm sure he gets lots of emails from uninformed people wanting to tell him how to do his research...and as someone who has been involved in research let me say that it is a real challenge to remain polite in dealing with someone who knows next to nothing about my research or even the subject being researched and yet tries to tell me the right way to do it and why what I'm doing is wrong/inadequate.................
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Re: Why not brain-scan an Aharant? Benefits for science & Dhamma

Postby Nibbida » Mon May 02, 2011 4:44 am

I partly agree with Ven. Appichato. On one hand, identifying brain changes corresponding to enlightenment could be world-changing. On the other hand, it may not make much difference in terms of our practice. But if we are going to be studying the mind and brain scientifically, I cannot imagine a better topic to study. It only took scientists a few centuries to catch on. If nothing else, this seems to be Western cultures' way of exploring and accepting things of this sort. If you would have told me 20 years ago that mindfulness meditation would become a widely accepted treatment for anxiety and depression, I wouldn't have believed it.

Yes, part of the problem would be identifying a number of arahats. I suppose that could be done by a consensus from respected teachers. I'm not sure. What would be interesting, and more feasible, would be to scan people who have and have not attained stream-entry (and maybe once-returners and non-returners). Are any brain differences seen in them? Is there an abrupt change in structure or function, or are the changes more of a gradual continuum? I think this research will eventually be done. Interested scientists are building a solid base of research on the effects of meditation and doing a good job of establishing the validity and importance of this research. A decade or so ago this would have been treated like flaky fringe-science. Now it's being taken very seriously. That will allow scientists to pursue deeper study into these topics.

This is a single-case study of the EEG of someone going through the 8 jhanas:
http://www.leighb.com/EEG%20Power%20and%20Coherence%20Analysis%20of%20an%20Expert%20Meditator%20in%208%20JhanasV5.doc

It would not be much of stretch to do this in more people, and to do it in an fMRI.
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Re: Why not brain-scan an Aharant? Benefits for science & Dhamma

Postby zavk » Tue May 03, 2011 11:23 am

Some comments... not so much on the specificities of such scientific studies (because such knowledges are quite foreign to me), but rather on the growing 'public profile' of meditation. I have nothing against such research per se; these studies could indeed discover some very interesting things about the neurological processes of meditation and apply that knowledge in skilful ways. But IMO, these studies--which seem to be getting more and more media attention--ought to be balanced by public discourses about the broader context of meditation practice.

As far as my limited experience goes, meditation ought not be practiced in isolation. For the practice to produce 'results' (though this is a somewhat awkward, crude word to use when discussing meditation), it has to be accompanied by a commitment to dana and sila, for instance. And I think this is what makes meditation so challenging, so difficult to maintain, but at the same time so full of potential for a radical transformation/healing of one's thought and behaviour. For meditation to be 'effective', one has to also make a commitment to lead one's life according to certain ethical guidelines and to constantly make the effort to honour and enact certain virtues like generosity, kindness, friendliness, etc.... not easy with all the pressures of the contemporary world... and I must confess I still find this a huge challenge.

So while such studies may help to raise the profile of meditation, it would be nice to also see greater awareness of the ethical commitments involved, of the lifestyle change that must ACCOMPANY and SUPPORT the practice. Otherwise, there is a risk of people approaching meditation with a narrow, instrumental or calculative attitude. I think we can see evidence of this with certain groups or movements who treat meditation like a kind of sporting activity, declaring one's attainments and conferring statuses on themselves willy nilly--as if one's 'proficiency' in meditation could be evaluated with coloured belts like in taekwando or something! We can also see evidence of meditation being adopted in certain self-help or 'professional development' movements, whereby the notions of 'self-observation' and 'self-transformation' serve to reinforce individualistic-consumerist-capitalist imperatives rather than challenge or transform such self-centred attitudes.

Please note that I'm not devaluing the scientific endeavour to investigate meditation... I'm just wondering if there ought to be greater circumspection on how the 'benefits' of meditation are discussed publicly, or how other proponents of the practice could contribute to the conversation by drawing attention to those other aspects of the practice which--perhaps because they 'go against the grain' and unsettle comfortable attitudes and behaviour we take for granted--are not usually mentioned.
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Re: Why not brain-scan an Aharant? Benefits for science & Dhamma

Postby rowyourboat » Tue May 03, 2011 11:09 pm

I wonder if anyone on this forum started exploring Buddhism based on the research which has already been published.

In any case I wonder if anyone is interested in setting up a Dhamma and science website. I'm just thinking of how popular mindfulness became after the research was widely published.

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Re: Why not brain-scan an Aharant? Benefits for science & Dhamma

Postby ancientbuddhism » Wed May 04, 2011 2:47 pm

From: Straight from the HeartThirteen Talks on the Practice of Meditation
by
Venerable Acariya Maha Boowa Ñanasampanno

There's a story about Ven. Vangisa that has a bearing on this. Ven. Vangisa, when he was a layman, was very talented in divining the level of being in which the mind of a dead person was reborn — no matter who the person was. You couldn't quite say he was a fortuneteller. Actually he was more a master of psychic skills. When anyone died, he would take that person's skull and knock on it — knock! knock! knock! — focus his mind, and then know that this person was reborn there, that person was reborn here. If the person was reborn in hell or in heaven, as a common animal or a hungry ghost, he could tell in every case, without any hesitation. All he needed was to knock on the skull.

When he heard his friends say that the Buddha was many times more talented than this, he wanted to expand on his knowledge. So he went to the Buddha's presence to ask for further training in this science. When he reached the Buddha, the Buddha gave him the skull of an arahant to knock on.

'All right, see if you can tell where he was reborn.'

Ven. Vangisa knocked on the skull and listened.

Silence.

He knocked again and listened.

Silence.

He thought for a moment.

Silence.

He focused his mind.

Silence.

He couldn't see where the owner of the skull was reborn. At his wit's end, he confessed frankly that he didn't know where the arahant was reborn.

At first, Ven. Vangisa had thought himself talented and smart, and had planned to challenge the Buddha before asking for further training. But when he reached the Buddha, the Buddha gave him the skull of an arahant to knock on — and right there he was stymied. So now he genuinely wanted further training. Once he had further training, he'd really be something special. This being the way things stood, he asked to study with the Buddha. So the Buddha taught him the science, taught him the method — in other words, the science of the Dhamma. Ven. Vangisa practiced and practiced until finally he attained arahantship. From then on he was no longer interested in knocking on anyone's skull except for his own. Once he had known clearly, that was the end of the matter. This is called 'knocking on the right skull.'
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Re: Why not brain-scan an Aharant? Benefits for science & Dhamma

Postby Nibbida » Thu May 05, 2011 4:02 pm

zavk wrote:Some comments... not so much on the specificities of such scientific studies (because such knowledges are quite foreign to me), but rather on the growing 'public profile' of meditation. I have nothing against such research per se; these studies could indeed discover some very interesting things about the neurological processes of meditation and apply that knowledge in skilful ways. But IMO, these studies--which seem to be getting more and more media attention--ought to be balanced by public discourses about the broader context of meditation practice.

As far as my limited experience goes, meditation ought not be practiced in isolation. For the practice to produce 'results' (though this is a somewhat awkward, crude word to use when discussing meditation), it has to be accompanied by a commitment to dana and sila, for instance. And I think this is what makes meditation so challenging, so difficult to maintain, but at the same time so full of potential for a radical transformation/healing of one's thought and behaviour. For meditation to be 'effective', one has to also make a commitment to lead one's life according to certain ethical guidelines and to constantly make the effort to honour and enact certain virtues like generosity, kindness, friendliness, etc.... not easy with all the pressures of the contemporary world... and I must confess I still find this a huge challenge.

So while such studies may help to raise the profile of meditation, it would be nice to also see greater awareness of the ethical commitments involved, of the lifestyle change that must ACCOMPANY and SUPPORT the practice. Otherwise, there is a risk of people approaching meditation with a narrow, instrumental or calculative attitude. I think we can see evidence of this with certain groups or movements who treat meditation like a kind of sporting activity, declaring one's attainments and conferring statuses on themselves willy nilly--as if one's 'proficiency' in meditation could be evaluated with coloured belts like in taekwando or something! We can also see evidence of meditation being adopted in certain self-help or 'professional development' movements, whereby the notions of 'self-observation' and 'self-transformation' serve to reinforce individualistic-consumerist-capitalist imperatives rather than challenge or transform such self-centred attitudes.

Please note that I'm not devaluing the scientific endeavour to investigate meditation... I'm just wondering if there ought to be greater circumspection on how the 'benefits' of meditation are discussed publicly, or how other proponents of the practice could contribute to the conversation by drawing attention to those other aspects of the practice which--perhaps because they 'go against the grain' and unsettle comfortable attitudes and behaviour we take for granted--are not usually mentioned.



This is a good point Zavk. Keep in mind that many of the people doing this research are themselves dharma practitioners. Many others are taking guidance from meditation teachers like Tibetan monks and/or Theravada-based teachers in the USA. IMS for example, hosts retreats for scientists. So there is a good deal of interaction going on. Research has expanded from just mindfulness into loving-kindness and compassion. I'm even seeing suggestions by psychologists to incorporate the "five mindfulness trainings" (i.e. precepts) into mindfulness practice.

So this is an evolving situation and I think continued input from the dharma community is very important.
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