Dhyana and the brain.

Discussion of meditation in the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions.

Dhyana and the brain.

Postby TaTa » Thu Jul 25, 2013 6:40 pm

Does anyone know if there is brain ativity during deep dhyana states?
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Re: Dhyana and the brain.

Postby In the bone yard » Sat Jul 27, 2013 7:30 pm

Brain activity persists until one dies, even at death (bardo).
Or so I'm told. I'm not dead yet so I can't tell you for sure.
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Re: Dhyana and the brain.

Postby Wayfarer » Sat Jul 27, 2013 11:05 pm

There's been a lot of research on that question over the last couple of decades. See books by Rick Hanson ('The Buddha's Brain) and James Austin (Zen and the Brain). There are also articles and books on the Mind and Life Institute website at http:www.mindandlife.org.

It was discovered in the 1960s that meditation is associated with particular types of brainwaves, which is what started off the research interest in it.

My personal, anecdotal and non-scientific understanding is that mental activity dimishes during meditation, and that states of deep meditation or samadhi are characterized by stillness and inner quietude. I believe this state corresponds with diminution of normal brain activity.
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Re: Dhyana and the brain.

Postby 5heaps » Thu Aug 01, 2013 12:20 pm

there are levels of dhyana where there is neither brain activity nor breathe taking place.
theres going to be a hell of a lot of research done into this in the coming decades, so stick around.
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Re: Dhyana and the brain.

Postby Martin007 » Thu Aug 01, 2013 1:26 pm

jeeprs wrote:My personal, anecdotal and non-scientific understanding is that mental activity dimishes during meditation, and that states of deep meditation or samadhi are characterized by stillness and inner quietude. I believe this state corresponds with diminution of normal brain activity.


Yes, I'd agree. Though I suspect there's still a lot of activity still going on "beneath the surface".
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Re: Dhyana and the brain.

Postby undefineable » Thu Aug 01, 2013 2:26 pm

5heaps wrote:there are levels of dhyana where there is neither brain activity nor breathe taking place.
theres going to be a hell of a lot of research done into this in the coming decades, so stick around.

I doubt that somehow ;)
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Re: Dhyana and the brain.

Postby Roland » Fri Aug 02, 2013 3:52 am

jeeprs wrote:My personal, anecdotal and non-scientific understanding is that mental activity dimishes during meditation, and that states of deep meditation or samadhi are characterized by stillness and inner quietude. I believe this state corresponds with diminution of normal brain activity.


There was a study (although I'm not sure where the source is at this moment) performed that showed the "areas of the brain that are associated with a sense of self" were attenuated when meditating. It was compared with another study which concluded that the chemical psilocybin had the exact same effect on those areas of the brain but it was "like a sledgehammer". I heard about it in an interview with a neuroscientist on the "Buddhist Geeks" podcast.
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Re: Dhyana and the brain.

Postby Madhyama Pratipada » Fri Aug 02, 2013 4:45 pm

It's important to keep in mind that diminished occurrence of discursive thinking does not necessarily correlate with an inactive brain. Rather, neural resources are diverted away from verbal processes and toward attentional processes, which require a fair amount of activity to maintain.

Only one empirical study to date has been conducted with regard to jhana/dhyana and the brain. It utilizes one subject (Leigh Brasington, known for his extensive meditation experience and writings on the jhanas) and was published by Hagerty et al. (2013). A preliminary paper was submitted in 2008 and is easily accessible online. I can summarize the recently published results.

For the purposes of this summary, data are reported in terms of brain activity as measured through standard functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) signals. Both anatomical names and the associated Brodmann's Areas (BA) are summarized below. Results conform to subjective report by the subject.

Progression through the four rupa jhanas/dhyanas and the four arupa jhanas/dhyanas (eight in total) in the subject reliably resulted in:

    - Dimming of external awareness as measured through decreased activity in visual (BA 17, 19) and auditory (BA 41, 42) processing areas.

    - Fading of internal verbalization as measured through decreased activity in Broca's Area (BA 44, 45) and Wernicke's Area (BA 39, 40).

    - Alteration in one's sense of personal boundaries as measured through decreased activity in orientation areas (BA 5, 7).

    - Highly focused attention as measured through increased activity in the Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC) (BA 32, 33).

    - Experience of ecstatic joy as measured through increased activity in the Nucleus Accumbens (NAc) and Medial Occipital Frontal Cortex (Med OFC).

      Note: Interestingly, the NAc is a major part of the dopamine reward system, which is implicated in addiction. Thus, it is possible that the pleasure induced by jhana/dhyana through increased activity of the NAc may become addictive for the practitioner.

    - Less rhythmic movement as measured through decreased activity in the Somatosensory Cortex (BA 1, 2, 3), Primary Motor Cortex (BA 4), and Cerebellum.

Of course, this is merely a summary, and it is encouraged (especially for those familiar with neuroimaging studies and the emerging field of Contemplative Science) to read the full peer-reviewed article:

Hagerty, M. R., Isaacs, J., Brasington, L., Shupe, L., Fetz, E. E., & Cramer, S. C. (2013). Case study of ecstatic meditation: fMRI and EEG evidence of self-stimulating a reward system. Neural Plasticity, 2013 doi:10.1155/2013/653572
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Re: Dhyana and the brain.

Postby Wayfarer » Sun Aug 04, 2013 6:07 am

Madhyama Pratipada wrote:Only one empirical study to date has been conducted with regard to jhana/dhyana and the brain.


Only one? I seem to remember reading articles about Matthieu Ricard participating in similar studies, and I'm sure there are references to further such studies on the Mind and Life Institute website, and in other places.
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Re: Dhyana and the brain.

Postby Madhyama Pratipada » Sun Aug 04, 2013 3:31 pm

No. The Mind and Life Institute and Dr. Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison focus their research on compassion-based meditation (not the jhanas/dhyanas), which has produced an entire industry of research with published articles surpassing the hundreds. Jhanas/Dhyanas (proceeding from the four rupa jhanas to the four arupa jhanas) have not been practiced by Matthieu Ricard or other Tibetan Buddhist test subjects in a controlled setting, only by Leigh Brasington in the single aforementioned study cited above.
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Re: Dhyana and the brain.

Postby Wayfarer » Sun Aug 04, 2013 10:55 pm

Thanks! Important distinction. I will look into that article.
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