Monday, October 13, 2008

Psychology and Buddhism in Today's Society

An interesting post from a site that's new to me, Helium.

Psychology and Buddhism in Today's Society

by Ivor W. Hartmann

In a little over 997 years or 128 years if you count Wilhelm Wundt as the original father, modern psychology has grown from a branch of philosophy into a discipline with over 30 distinct yet overlapping specialisations. Combined, it is on a quest to fully understand the human mind and its complete relation to the physical organ of the brain. The word psychology stems from the Greek "psyche" or soul and -ology from "logos" or knowledge, knowledge of the soul.

This is the perhaps the deeper undercurrent of psychology, to understand the very soul of a being and thereby the universe which reflects psychology's philosophical beginnings. In recent times there has been an investigation into possibly one of the oldest known but rarely acknowledged systems of psychology, Buddhism, specifically Tibetan Buddhism with its highly precise well developed methods of self analysis and meditation techniques.

"Buddhists believe that the radical transformation of consciousness necessary to realize Sukha (lasting happiness) can occur by sustained training in attention, emotional balance, and mindfulness, so that one can learn to distinguish between the way things are as they appear to the senses and the conceptual superimpositions one projects upon them. As a result of such training, one perceives what is presented to the senses, including one's own mental states, in a way that is closer to their true nature, undistorted by the projections people habitually mistake for reality." -Dr. Richard J. Davidson (RJD) *

Psychology and Buddhism are united in their quest to both understand human suffering and to realistically alleviate that suffering in a practical manner. They may differ widely in how this is actually achieved, but perhaps a bridge across that gap is practicable. Dr. Davidson in 2004 set out to ascertain; the possible affects of long term consistent meditation practice.

"The functional consequences of sustained gamma-activity during mental practice are not currently known but need to be studied in the future. The study of experts in mental training may offer a promising research strategy to investigate high-order cognitive and affective processes" -RJD*

Davidson lined up 8 long term (15-40 years) consistent (average 8hrs/day on retreat) meditation practitioners against 10 random students who had expressed an interest in meditation and had been so trained for a week. He sat them down and taped multiple electrodes aligned into a Geodesic Sensor Net onto their heads. After preliminary tests all the subjects were asked to perform a specific meditation and try to achieve:

"The state of unconditional loving-kindness and compassion is described as an unrestricted readiness and availability to help living beings. This practice does not require concentration on particular objects, memories, or images" -RJD*

What he found both startled and scientifically confirmed a number of the medical benefits Buddhism has long worked on sharing with the world:

"data suggest(ed) that large-scale brain coordination increases during mental practice."-RJD*

"The high-amplitude gamma activity found in some of these practitioners are, to our knowledge, the highest reported in the literature in a nonpathological context" -RJD

"data suggest(ed) that massive distributed neural assemblies are synchronized with a high temporal precision in the fast frequencies during this state. The gradual increase of gamma activity during meditation is in agreement with the view that neural synchronization, as a network phenomenon, requires time to develop, proportional to the size of the synchronized neural assembly."-RJD*

"The endogenous gamma-band synchrony found here could reflect a change in the quality of moment-to-moment awareness, as claimed by the Buddhist practitioners and as postulated by many models of consciousness In addition to the meditation-induced effects, we found a difference in the normative EEG spectral profile between the two populations during the resting state before meditation. It is not unexpected that such differences would be detected during a resting baseline, because the goal of meditation practice is to transform the baseline state and to diminish the distinction between formal meditation practice and everyday life."-RJD*

So essentially, the long term meditators utilised far more of their brain area and in so doing had larger neuron network structure. This was a proven direct result of their meditation practises and the general accumulative effect that continued even when they were not actively in a meditation.

So aside from the most obvious long and short term benefits of meditation; e.g. being calm, collected, aware, or not agitated, stressed etc. It would seem Buddhist practice can actively, if slowly, dispute that long held statistic of our bemoaned minimal brain usage. In the light of Davidson's study the health benefits of achieving and maintaining a Sukha or happy state of mind, through the systems of Buddhist practice, can no longer be ignored, nor denied as hippy crap. For too long has valuable global ancient knowledge, been relegated in the west because of the failings of Timothy Leary etc. and misguided popular opinion.

If these practises and their systems can be correlated confirmed and transposed into a clinical therapy system, basically Buddhism with or without the western perceived shroud of ritual, then we could possibly see a happy drug free population arising from a widely accessible psychological therapy system.

*Long-term meditators self-induce high-amplitude gamma synchrony during mental practice: Antoine Lutz, Lawrence L. Greischar, Nancy B. Rawlings, Matthieu Ricard, and Richard J. Davidson. 26th August 2004

* Buddhist and Psychological Perspectives on Emotions and Well-Being
Paul Ekman, 1 Richard J. Davidson, 2 Matthieu Ricard, 3 and B. Alan Wallace 2005?


Anonymous said...

I'm glad to see Buddhist practice being confirmed by neuroscience.

At the same time, I want to say "Duh!" It's as if we don't believe and trust our own experience until we see numbers on a spreadsheet.

Ivor W. Hartmann said...

Hi, William.

I am glad you enjoyed my article, for more of my articles on this topic and many more please go to The IWH Inquirer

Anonymous said...

Recent findings in neuroscience are confirming the benefits of meditation.

I use mediation every single to relax and prepare my subconscious mind to soak in my visions of a better lifestyle. However, I feel like I only slip into the "trance" for a brief moment. How do I stay in this moment for longer?

Another method I've been using lately is visualization with vision boards. Have you ever heard of them? They are images pasted on a board that represents your hopes, dreams, and goals. Studying these boards every days plants seeds of these goals within your subconscious mind.

Your subconscious mind is where all of habits are formed. Combine these visualizations with mediation and affirmations, and the seed in your subconscious mind will begin to grow, sprouting a newly developed habit that is oriented towards your desired outcome, or goal.

John Assaraf does a better job of explaining this and showing you how to do it in his new book "The Complete Vision Board Kit." I downloaded the free chapter here:

Thanks for the article.