Neurochemistry of meditation.

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Meditation, e.g. meditation postures, developing a regular sitting practice, skillfully relating to difficulties and hindrances, etc.

Re: Neurochemistry of meditation.

Postby PeterB » Wed Jan 12, 2011 4:52 pm

Thats a fantasy ...because it suggests that dhyana can be seperated from sila.

I am involved in an on going programme that seeks to match mapped brain activity with Cognitive Behavioural work. and teaching people to change brain wave patterns is a relatively easy task...and one that is only partially useful in a Dhammic sense in the absence of sila and Insight in the Vipassana sense.
No conditioning of brain functioning will in isolation produce an Arahant.
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Re: Neurochemistry of meditation.

Postby Nibbida » Wed Jan 12, 2011 5:42 pm

If some technology were developed that would facilitate meditation, it would be exclusive of sila. Sila is an essential part of the picture, so that's still something a person would have to practice in everyday life. Let's also not forget that ethical/moral actions also depend on healthy brain function (although not necessarily just on that...) Psychopaths show brain dysfunction and certain kinds of brain injuries and illnesses can cause psychopathic-like behavior. Again, it wouldn't be something that does the job for someone, but maybe would help them zero in on what they need to do. Even if a device could help facilitate concentration and nothing more, that concentration would help a person be more aware of the consequences of their unskillful actions, i.e. more mental and emotional agitation. That would indirectly help a person exercise sila because they would see more clearly how skillful actions produce better results.

No conditioning of brain functioning will in isolation produce an Arahant.


I absolutely agree. It wouldn't even produce a stream-enterer, in my estimation. The classical teachings of the Buddha would still be essential, irreplaceable. Again, just working out in a gym will not make you a tennis pro. You need coaching from an expert, you need to exercise certain techniques like swinging a racket properly. In the same way we will still need monastics and lay teachers to teach the path and instruct us in meditation practices. A tennis pro needs to eat nutritious food and avoid junk food, just as Dhamma practictioners will need sila, to engage in skillful choices and avoid unskillful ones. None of that would change. There's just no way around it.

I doubt that current neurofeedback protocols would be what's needed. They're good for certain things, but probably too crude and simple for something like this. Just increasing alpha or theta, for example, does not produce samadhi. What's still needed is a much better understanding of how the brain works, how wisdom/ethics/meditation changes it, and how that might be facilitated. We're nowhere near that now. We may never be, but it's something worth looking into. Of all the projects psychologists and neuroscientists to be working on, that seems like a worthy undertaking.

There are newer forms of neurofeedback that work very differently. Zengar Neuroptimal regards the brain as a non-linear, self-organizing system. Rather than trying to push the brain in a certain way (i.e. increase alpha), it gives the brain feedback on what it's doing and allows it to fine tune itself. One result is improved concentration and equanimity, better self-regulation. Christopher deCharms is using real-time fMRI to allow people to change activity in particular brain regions. Maybe the technology that could facilitate meditation has not yet been invented.

This is an interesting talk by Debi Dusold, who talks about her own experience with neurofeedback (particularly Zengar Neuroptimal) in helping her recover from anxiety, depression, and a mild traumatic brain injury. She improved to the point where she could subsequently do jhana and insight practice:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hOjd3VoIIPA
"Dispositions of the mind, like limbs of the body, acquire strength by exercise." --Thomas Jefferson

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Re: Neurochemistry of meditation.

Postby PeterB » Wed Jan 12, 2011 5:52 pm

Its certainly an interesting area Nibbida and we are already seeing fruit in terms of showing actual tangible and measurable results in terms of reducing compulsive thought patterns and restoring a degree of functionality to those afflicted by such thought patterns..which is not be sneezed at. In terms of where it might lead I am going to err on the side of caution. I think it will have its place in the psychotherapy of the future and possibly in meditative practises too and is certainly light years away from the earlier speculative schemata of Freud or Jung....but we shall see.
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Re: Neurochemistry of meditation.

Postby Moog » Thu Jan 13, 2011 7:13 pm

Wow, great stuff Nibbida. Thank you very much!
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Re: Neurochemistry of meditation.

Postby Nibbida » Fri Jan 14, 2011 12:18 pm

It all makes for a good story. Now let's see if it actually leads somewhere. ;-)

But the collaborative efforts between scientists and Buddhists is encouraging, even if just to explore rather than mutually ignore each other.
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