This sequel to the widely read Zen and the Brain continues James Austin’s explorations into the key interrelationships between Zen Buddhism and brain research. In Zen-Brain Reflections, Austin, a clinical neurologist, researcher, and Zen practitioner, examines the evolving psychological processes and brain changes associated with the path of long-range meditative training. Austin draws not only on the latest neuroscience research and new neuroimaging studies but also on Zen literature and his personal experience with alternate states of consciousness.
Zen-Brain Reflections takes up where the earlier book left off. It addresses such questions as: how do placebos and acupuncture change the brain? Can neuroimaging studies localize the sites where our notions of self arise? How can the latest brain imaging methods monitor meditators more effectively? How do long years of meditative training plus brief enlightened states produce pivotal transformations in the physiology of the brain? In many chapters testable hypotheses suggest ways to correlate normal brain functions and meditative training with the phenomena of extraordinary states of consciousness.
After briefly introducing the topic of Zen and describing recent research into meditation, Austin reviews the latest studies on the amygdala, frontotemporal interactions, and paralimbic extensions of the limbic system. He then explores different states of consciousness, both the early superficial absorptions and the later, major "peak experiences." This discussion begins with the states called kensho and satori and includes a fresh analysis of their several different expressions of "oneness." He points beyond the still more advanced states toward that rare ongoing stage of enlightenment that is manifest as "sage wisdom."
Finally, with reference to a delayed "moonlight" phase of kensho, Austin envisions novel links between migraines and metaphors, moonlight and mysticism. The Zen perspective on the self and consciousness is an ancient one. Readers will discover how relevant Zen is to the neurosciences, and how each field can illuminate the other.
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"A monumental melding of wisdom from Zen and other contemplative traditions with modern neuroscience. This extraordinary synthesis will serve as an important resource for many years to come. A must-read for any serious student of the emerging discipline of contemplative neuroscience."
—Richard J. Davidson, William James and Vilas Research Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry, University of Wisconsin-Madison
"In Zen and the Brain, James Austin quoted Einstein's dictum that 'Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.' Neurophysiological studies help us understand the biological bases of behavior, but attempting to understand experience is a heroic pursuit. In this sequel, Zen-Brain Reflections, Austin continues his quest of allowing us to better grasp how Zen practices influence and alter brain functions. His quest is not complete, but in this new book he reviews and synthesizes the substantial progress that has been made in understanding the biological basis of Zen experience, providing the reader with further enlightenment."
—Kenneth M. Heilman, James E. Rooks Jr. Distinguished Professor of Neurology, University of Florida College of Medicine
"Following his monumental masterpiece Zen and the Brain, James Austin here presents further reflections on the koan 'How do neural mechanisms create enlightened consciousness?' This superb sequel not only reviews the most recent relevant neuroscience research but also stands alone as a readable survey of mind-brain relationships underlying the spectrum of mental states. Austin's unique expertise as a neurologist and Zen practitioner, as well as an articulate writer, makes him the perfect guide to elucidate the profound interrelationships between consciousness, the brain, and the world."
—Eberhard E. Fetz, Professor of Physiology & Biophysics, University of Washington
About the Author
James H. Austin, clinical neurologist, researcher, and Zen practitioner, is Professor Emeritus of Neurology at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and Clinical Professor of Neurology at the University of Missouri (Columbia) School of Medicine. He is the author of Zen and the Brain, Chase, Chance, and Creativity, and Zen-Brain Reflections, all published by the MIT Press.