Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Orientation to Neuroscience and Meditation by Roshi Joan Halifax, PhD


Orientation to Neuroscience and Meditation by Roshi Joan Halifax, PhD

Why should meditation practitioners be concerned with the relationship between meditation and science (particularly neuroscience and cognitive/affective science)?

(1) At the most general level, there is no separation between meditation and the efforts of neuroscience and cognitive/affective science: Each observes the mind (with different approaches to minimizing obscurations that interfere with the clarity of observation) and allows these observations to play into the emergence of insight regarding human nature, how the mind works, and the causes and alleviation of suffering.

(2) Given the dominant role of the sciences within Western European, North American, and other cultures, can the clarification of parallels between meditation and neuroscientific observations be a skillful means to allow greater numbers of persons in these cultures to become interested in meditation practice?

(3) Can specific neuroscientific, cognitive, and affective scientific studies of experienced meditation practitioners serve to make meditation practice seem less “foreign” or esoteric, and therefore more personally approachable?

(4) Is there potential for a true interchange between science and meditation to help the meditation practitioner to discern fundamental “truths” of meditation from present and historical cultural accoutrements it may have accumulated?

(5) Can the explication of parallels between insights gained from Buddhist practice and those from current research and theory in the biological and cognitive/affective sciences help meditation practitioners in the cultivation of wisdom and compassion?

(6) Can informed feedback from meditation practitioners to scientists help to improve the quality of science and reduce obscurations?

(7) Can meditation practice of scientists enhance the skillfulness with which science is conducted and communicated? How can our efforts in this retreat minimize the dualistic thinking that often characterizes discussions about Buddhism and science?

(1) Scientific presentations, discussions, and reflection will occur within the context of Zazen practice throughout the retreat. Our intention is to not simply increase knowledge, but to cultivate wisdom. As Dogen Zenji reminds us (in the Hachidainingaku, commenting on Shakyamuni Buddha’s teaching on the eight awarenesses of the enlightened person), wisdom is aroused by hearing, reflecting, practicing, and realizing.

(2) Presentations, questions, and comments will strive to communicate with clarity, compassion, non-attachment, and openness to possibilities.

(3) In our listening to presentations, questions, and comments, our intention will be to just really listen, being fully present and one with whatever is said.

(4) Space in the flow of communication, the use of silence, and not always looking for solutions will all play a role in the retreat.

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