Sunday, April 16, 2006

satori and the brain

This is an article I found that refers to the subject of 'intra hemispherical intrusion' as a possible occurrence in sudden enlightenment experiences. I have no idea about the qualifications of the author but it's an interesting reading. I'm no science buff and I pretty much understood the gist of it. The pictures help alot. The guy seems to have a distorted view of what enlightenment is, but it could explain the experiences of people like Byron Katie and Eckhart Tolle.

http://%20www.innerworlds.50megs.com/enlightenment.htm

12 Comments:

At April 16, 2006, Blogger cromanyak said...

Well the link doesn't seem to be working. If you go here

http://www.innerworlds.50megs.com/

and scroll down to where it says Articles and click on the one labeled enlightenment you'll be able to read it. Sorry about that.

 
At April 16, 2006, Blogger MikeDoe said...

Apart from this bit (which he later corrects/expands)
"Imagine a person were to do long periods of meditation in which they spend many hours a day suppressing all negative ideation and emotion. With time, their right (fearful) amygdala would become increasingly quiet"

it all actually whilst being speculative seems reasonable.

It is clear that meditation changes the way that you handle emotions and chnages the effect that they have on you. It can also change which emotions arise (if any and when). So, his theories are consistent with this.

I think the thing that I take away from all of this as worth emphasising is the fact that meditation (in particular Zazen) is messing with your head in a way that is quite sophisticated and can cause permanent changes.

If you are aware that there is a full spectrum of enlightenment spread out all the way from blissed-out-vegetable through to fully-cognitive functioning-in-the-real-world-Buddha (FiRWB) then you can also be aware that it is in your control (perhaps?) to choose where you want to be on that line.

From what I have read (Huang Po et al.) and from my own experiences from meditation I would suggest that to head for the blissed-out-vegetable (BoV) end of the spectrum requires a very strong meditative push maintained over years since it is far away from the 'normal' human state.

It might also be sensible to posit that at the BoV state this would perhaps be equivalent to Nirvana where all suffering has ceased. As we then move from BoV to FiRWB then the amount of suffering moves from zero to a little.

Thanks for the link. All his ideas look reasonable and are definitely in the right areas of neurophysiology.

As for E. Tolle, I have read some of her stuff. In her early works ("The Power of Now") she has a superficial understanding. It seems to have got a little better in later works. I still have a strong feeling that she would have been better to hold of publishing for a decade or two...

 
At April 16, 2006, Blogger cromanyak said...

I'm not a fan of Eckhart Tolle. He's a guy by the way(lol), but I've always been curious about what happened to him and Byron Katie. I think this guy may have hit the nail on the head, but he also seems to view it as a sort of handicapped state, and I'd have to agree. From my understanding the goal of Buddhism is to establish as perfect a balance as possible.

 
At April 17, 2006, Blogger MikeDoe said...

cromanyak: "but he also seems to view it as a sort of handicapped state, and I'd have to agree. From my understanding the goal of Buddhism is to establish as perfect a balance as possible.
"


There are some interesting points here.

If Buddhism has any goal I would have thought that it was the elimination of suffering. It does that by taking away the thing that is suffering and this guy suggests a pretty good mechanism for that. Now, Buddhism also says that Suffering is inherent in living. So, something fundamental is being changed in how life is perceived/lived.

Buddhism talks about the ultimate goal being Nirvana - a state of perfect Bliss of oneness with everything. Whether this refers to this life or future lives I do not know for certain. My guess is that Nirvana is achievable in this life but that to achieve it would leave you in some sort of state which could well be described by others in the west as psychosis - requiring constant care.

Now, in terms of the science bit and enlightement and handicapped states the science theory does seem to match ancient descriptions of people who are "addicted to emptiness" and therefore unable to function well in the real world. A monastic support structure would mask this fact. There are also descriptions of telepathy and other things. Now for telepathy I can find evidence for it arising as a brain/perception dysfunction but I cannot find evidence for it as a real phenomena.

So, let's assume for now that this guy is reasonably accurate on the science bit (my intuition says that he is) and a bit sloppy on his understanding of Buddhism.

From his theories and from many ancient texts it is quite clear that to describe enlightementment as a handicapped state would be accurate since they are unable to function in society. You would have to be particularily blinded by Buddhism to read it otherwise.

So, an accurate understanding of the situation in much of Zen in the west would be that we have lots of unenlightened teachers who are teaching things that may result in their students doing things that could result in serious mental problems requiring long-term care. With this as an understanding the whole idea of "one who helps others to cross-over first" becomes very dangerous indeed for all concerned.

It is clear to me that people who come into Buddhism on average already have an unusually unhappy/unlucky/unpleasant lives and so the desire to end suffering is particularily strong.

Finally, I can talk about "The Middle Way" as it refers to enlightement - and it fits nicely with both the article and Dogen and others.It also fits nicely with phrases like "and they leave Nirvana to return to this world....".

Let's assume that clinically there are two extermes Blissed-Out-Vegetable (a.k.a Nirvana) and fully-functional (FF).

In terms of FF various texts describe it as a person having neither No-Self or Self. I have also heard it described as a mind blended with emptiness. To do this, requires after casting off the belief in the old self (and the suffering inherrent with it) that a new vestigal self is built. It is this new vestigal (without all the 'I' defining beliefs attached) self that allows one to function in the real world. This self can only be created by maintaing contact with reality and with people. "Mountains are mountains....... etc" and "Before enlightenemnt chop wood, carry water...."

Enlightenment is not something that anyone is going to find by accident. It is also difficult (but not impossible) for a blind teacher to point at the moon. For most people who are leading relatively happy well-adjusted lives I would say that the very real risks of enlightement outweigh potential 'benefits'. For most people, the simple act of Zazen of becomming more grounded in reality is more than sufficient without any serious risks to the psyche.

I have now met lots of people who claim to be earnestly seeking enlightenment and yet intuitively they also seem to avoid it. That is a good safety feature.

This is my current stand and what I consider to be "the middle way" for me:
I do not encourage anyone to seek enlightement. I do not claim that enlightementment is either 'good' or 'bad' or 'better' or 'worse' than anything else. If I meet anyone who is seriously seeking enlightement (and I do mean really, really seriously) then I will point vaguely in the right direction and see what they then do. I think that someone who is really seeking will be able to see that which they do not wish to see.
I think that everyone who claims to be seeking enlightement and is meditating frequently should be fully aware that with enlightenment there are no guarantees. You cannot know before what 'after' will be - and all texts are [to me] clear on that point. Where I find people meditating in a way that will cause disassociation (through perhaps a misunderstanding of "body and mind dropping off") then I will politely see if I can find a way to redirect them into a healthier form of meditation. That is all.

 
At April 17, 2006, Blogger Jules said...

I suspect maybe discussions like this are why Brad says there's no such thing as enlightenment.

The only thing resembling a "blissed out vegetable" state I've seen or heard of is someone under the influence of drugs, and that state only lasts a short time. Before long, the high energy levels run out and the person goes from "heaven" straight to "hell". I would think the effect would be the same whether the effect was drug induced or not.

The article talks a lot about the goals of Buddhism and meditation... the problem with this is that any goal you have is by definition an idea. It might be an idea of bliss, or oneness, or enlightenment (whatever that word means to you), or magical powers, but it's still just an idea. As long as you think that idea's important, in meditation you will spend more time focusing on that idea than just living in the present. In shikan-taza, we're supposed to be trying to spend less energy focusing on ideas, not more... right?

 
At April 17, 2006, Blogger me said...

I don't know that much about brain biology but I spotted enough grammatical errors in that article to make me doubt the author's scholarly authority on the matter. His linking of Darwinian evolution to enlightenment was particularly weak in my mind. For example:

A species that's really improving its ability to live isn't trying to arrive at a 'perfect' form.

He's correct that there is no 'perfection' that results from evolution - only adaptation to temporary local conditions, however, he makes a common mistake (even among biologists!) when he says "a species that's really improving its ability..." because the species is improved by natural selection, not by its own choice. This is where his linking to enlightenment fails for me - a human CHOOSES to meditate, a species does not choose to evolve.

That all aside - I much prefer Brad's emphasis that blissed-out satroi-like states are at best temporary excitements that might have an influence on your perception of things from that point, but should not be 'grasped' and clung to as some sort of 'life-raft' from suffering.

This seeking of blissed out states is exactly why Buddhism is sometimes associated with drug use - a clear dead-end to actually being in the moment regularly (unless you can maintain a 'high' permanently, but no one can & the more they try the more they miss the reality of the moment & the worse their 'lows' become).

Pay attention to the here and now, enlightenment is this moment. Lack of enlightenment is missing this moment. Or so I've read...

 
At April 17, 2006, Blogger me said...

Hi Jules, glad to see you're back! (& funny how close our comments are - written oblivious to each other).

 
At April 17, 2006, Blogger Jules said...

Hi me, I'm glad to be back. Things are going a lot better for me now, though I still don't have a lot of free time to spend on teh intarwebs. Later!
-J

 
At April 17, 2006, Blogger karen said...

mikedoe, I have to say I couldn't agree with you more. I also feel that the "goal" of buddhism, if it can be called that, is the cessation of suffering. My experience has been that the cessation of suffering is to realize that life IS difficult and that the acceptance of that allows us to continue on in a somewhat different frame of mind. When we realize that life is never going to be continual bliss, we can move beyond the suffering that we once saw as so undesirable. In other words, we don't expect there NOT to be suffering of some sort. And we can bear it. I also agree that this is very hard, very serious work that leads you to completely strange and unknown places. Most of mine have been, not confrontations with others or a magical way of changing the world, but a constant coming back to myself. My problems were seldom due to the other people in my life, but in my perception of what I thought should or should not be. And I was always shown, in my most judgemental moments, that I am not at all unlike the person that I have judged. There is a lot of mental tug of war that goes on within when we are face to face with a previously unseen picture of ourselves. And I might add, it is very hard to sit still with these little flashes. Our minds will automatically try to find justification for why WE are the way we are and why the other guy should NOT be the way he is. My thoughts on enlightment are that it is an ordinary state of mind minus the chains that keep us attached to our self-centeredness.

 
At April 18, 2006, Blogger MikeDoe said...

Karen [A good post BTW]:

My experience has been that the cessation of suffering is to realize that life IS difficult and that the acceptance of that allows us to continue on in a somewhat different frame of mind. When we realize that life is never going to be continual bliss, we can move beyond...In other words, we don't expect there NOT to be suffering of some sort. And we can bear it.
Karen, I think this is probably correct understanding. I would clarify it by saying that life will always involve some discomfort. Suffering arises when we believe that this discomfort is not part of life. Fundamentally, Suffering arises because we want life to be different in some way to what it is AND believe that such a thing is possible. Mostly this is flawed. Once you accept that a certain amount of discomfort is 'normal' then a whole heap of suffering just fades away.


I also agree that this is very hard, very serious work that leads you to completely strange and unknown places. Most of mine have been, not confrontations with others or a magical way of changing the world, but a constant coming back to myself. My problems were seldom due to the other people in my life, but in my perception of what I thought should or should not be.
That is the truth. Finding this out firsthand and accepting the consequences of that is tough work. Serious meditation practice keeps bringing you back to the uncomfortable truth that I create my own suffering. This is a direct consequence of having any sort of the Ego. The Ego is nothing more than a bunch of beliefs about who I am and how the world should be. Everything that disagrees with these beliefs gives rise to suffering. This is a little different from discomfort. Suffering is what you feel when you feel that their is something 'wrong' with the world that you cannot fix. Discomfort is what you feel when you know that the feelings arise from within yourself and are your responsibility. By accepting that the feelings are solely your responsibility you can live with them and meditate on them. When you reach to the source of the feelings they will often disappear (below).

There is a lot of mental tug of war that goes on within when we are face to face with a previously unseen picture of ourselves. And I might add, it is very hard to sit still with these little flashes.
Yes it is. As your practice deepens it often becomes more difficult not less because you are becoming aware of the core of your psyche.

My thoughts on enlightment are that it is an ordinary state of mind minus the chains that keep us attached to our self-centeredness.
I think that is close enough to my own understanding. Nothing special, neither normal nor abnormal not ordinary not extra-ordinary. Statistically rare in the population but that is all. For most people I would say that sincere meditation exploring the self (and therefore weakening/dissolving it) will be more than sufficient in relieving suffering.

Not everything in life is easy. This internal practice is inherrently not easy. I have met no-one who finds it easy and I have read no texts that suggest it is ever easy.

 
At April 18, 2006, Blogger MikeDoe said...

I've posted up on my blog rather than here a bit more about my own understanding of suffering.

 
At April 18, 2006, Blogger karen said...

Hi mikedoe, I just read your blog on suffering. Thanks for letting us know that you had written more. I think I have the same understanding especially the difference between the suffering and discomfort. The knowledge that we are responsible for most of what we feel can be a terrible awakening. Another terrible blow to the ego is the day you realize you are no better than any of the people you may have looked down on. When you actually get to glimpse your own ego in action it can be devastating. And after you do, the criticism of others becomes few and far between because you know that underneath it all, we all have the same capabilities, yearinings etc. some of us just choose to go about them in different ways. I tend to view people who may annoy me now as "there but for the grace of God". Because we do all go through the same stages. The ego is the ego, no matter if you are 20 or 50, it still wants what it wants, only the means to get the prize differs.

 

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