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Buddha's Brain

Frustratingly bogus, full of suspiciously selected citations and sloppy illogic, with an appendix by the author's wife on "Nutritional Neurochemistry". Everybody involved has an insecurity-syndrome string of letters after their surname ("Ph.D", "M.D.", "L.Ac." — that last is "Licensed Acupuncturist", if you don't already know). The "References" section runs 17 pages and lists over 200 publications. Paragraphs of prose are interrupted by brain-structure acronyms, text boxes of neurochemicals, cartoon cerebellums, and callouts to studies most of which are doubtless statistically insignificant. If ever there were a poster child for John Ioannidis's thesis — that most published research is wrong — this would be it. It's cargo-cult neuroscience, like the bogus tomes that point to quantum-mechanics and proclaim it an answer to the Mysteries of the Mind. And there's no index in the back.

And yet...

Although Buddha's Brain by Rick Hanson & Co. is a book one wants to instantly dismiss, it also has an astounding amount of good in it — setting aside the unneeded veneer of pop-science. In that way it's much like Susan Smalley and Diana Winston's Fully Present, another cognitive-neuro-meditation forced marriage. Or maybe it resembles The Bodhisattva's Brain, Owen Flanagan's philosophy book (cf. Buddhism Naturalized). There's much good here, amidst the fluff. For starters, in Chapter 1 the discussion "Virtue, Mindfulness, and Wisdom" attempts a mapping between the evolution of life, doctrines of Buddhist practice, and fundamental brain activities:

Paths Evolutionary Strategies Pillars of Practice Brain Functions
Virtueseparation, creating a boundary between "self" and world
(e.g., the cell wall, the skin)
"Cool the fires of greed and hatred to live with integrity"regulation
(excitatory and inhibitory activity)
Mindfulnessstabilization of internal systems against change
(homeostasis, negative-feedback loops)
"Steady and concentrate the mind to see through its confusions"learning
(forming new circuits, tuning existing connections)
Wisdomclinging to pleasures and fleeing pains "Develop liberating insight"selection
(choosing among alternatives)

At best, loosely analogical concepts, no?

And yet ...

Hmmm! Much to ponder there. Perhaps 01 needs to have a third principle added?

Also in Chapter 1 of Buddha's Brain, not closely linked to the science, a lovely mantra worth remembering:

Be on Your Own Side

That is, offer loving-kindness (metta) to oneself, just as one tries to bring it to others. Hanson suggests envisioning yourself as a young child, worthy of happiness, love and wisdom. He also notes that nurturing your own development isn't (wholly) selfish, since the ultimate result will likely help other people too. (cf. his comments in Strong and Lasting)

More thoughts and quotes from Buddha's Brain to follow. Meanwhile, see Hanson's Just One Thing and excerpts therefrom for other insights on awareness; see 01 for in-a-nutshell notions re non-clinging and non-separation ...

^z - 2014-07-27