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Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom Paperback – November 1, 2009
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From the Publisher
From The Book: Your Brain, Basic Facts
Your brain is three pounds of tofu-like tissue containing 1.1 trillion cells, including 100 billion neurons. On average, each neuron receives about five thousand connections, called synapses, from other neurons (Linden 2007).
At its receiving synapses, a neuron gets signals usually as a burst of chemicals called neurotransmitters from other neurons. Signals tell a neuron either to fire or not; whether it fires depends mainly on the combination of signals it receives each moment. In turn, when a neuron fires, it sends signals to other neurons through its transmitting synapses, telling them to fire or not.
A typical neuron fires 5–50 times a second. In the time it takes you to read the bullet points in this box, literally quadrillions of signals will travel inside your head.
Find out more in Buddha’s Brain.
"A wonderfully comprehensive book. The authors have made it easy to understand how our minds function and how to make changes so that we can live happier, fuller lives."
—Sharon Salzberg, author of Lovingkindness
"This is simply the best book I have read on why and how we can shape our brains to be peaceful and happy. This is a book that will literally change your brain and your life."
—Jennifer Louden, author of The Woman’s Comfort Book and The Life Organizer
"Buddha’s Brain is a significant contribution to understanding the interface between science and meditation in the path of transformation. Illuminating."
—Joseph Goldstein, author of A Heart Full of Peace and One Dharma
"Buddha’s Brain is compelling, easy to read, and quite educational. The book skillfully answers the central question of each of our lives—how to be happy—by presenting the core precepts of Buddhism integrated with a primer on how our brains function. This book will be helpful to anyone wanting to understand time-tested ways of skillful living backed up by up-to-date science."
—Frederic Luskin, PhD, author of Forgive for Good and director of Stanford Forgiveness Projects
"I wish I had a science teacher like Rick Hanson when I went to school. Buddha’s Brain is at once fun, fascinating, and profound. It not only shows us effective ways to develop real happiness in our lives, but also explains physiologically how and why they work. As he instructs us to do with positive experiences, take in all the good information this book offers and savor it."
—James Baraz, author of Awakening Joy and cofounder of Spirit Rock Meditation Center
"With the mind of a scientist, the perspective of a psychologist, and the wise heart of a parent and devoted meditator, Rick Hanson has created a guide for all of us who want to learn about and apply the scintillating new research that embraces neurology, psychology, and authentic spiritual inquiry. Up-to-date discoveries combined with state-of-the-art practices make this book an engaging read. Buddha’s Brain is at the top of my list!"
—Richard A. Heckler, PhD, assistant professor at John F. Kennedy University in Pleasant Hill, CA
"An illuminating guide to the emerging confluence of cutting-edge neuropsychology and ancient Buddhist wisdom filled with practical suggestions on how to gradually rewire your brain for greater happiness. Lucid, good-humored, and easily accessible."
—John J. Prendergast, PhD, adjunct associate professor of psychology at California Institute of Integral Studies and senior editor of The Sacred Mirror and Listening from the Heart of Silence
"Buddha’s Brain will show you how mental practices, informed by the contemplative traditions, can increase your capacity for experiencing happiness and peace. This book provides a scientific understanding of these methods, and clear guidance for practices that cultivate a wise and free heart."
—Tara Brach, PhD author of Radical Acceptance
"This book enables us to understand the whys and hows of our human operating system so we can make more informed actions that allow us to live our lives more fully, compassionately, and with greater well-being and kindness towards others and ourselves. What I find exciting about Buddha’s Brain is Rick Hanson’s ability to clearly delineate the root causes of suffering and explain pertinent ways we can actually change these causes and effect lasting change on all levels of our mind, body, and interpersonal relationships. His informative, relaxed, and easy-to-read style of writing made me want to pick up this book again and again and dive ever more deeply into the complexities of our human engineering. Buddha’s Brain is now on my recommendation list for all my students and teachers-in-training."
—Richard C. Miller, PhD, founding president of Integrative Restoration Institute
"Numerous writings in recent years have exacerbated the traditional rift between science and religion; however, there has been a refreshing parallel movement in the opposite direction. Neuroscientists have become increasingly interested in using first-person introspective inquiries of the mind to complement their third-person, Western scientific investigations of the brain. Buddhist contemplative practices are particularly amenable to such collaboration, inviting efforts to find neurobiological explanations for Buddhist philosophy. Stripped of religious baggage, Buddha’s Brain clearly describes how modern concepts of evolutionary and cognitive neurobiology support core Buddhist teachings and practice. This book should have great appeal for those seeking a secular spiritual path, while also raising many testable hypotheses for interested neuroscientists."
—Jerome Engel, Jr., MD, PhD, Jonathan Sinay Distinguished Professor of Neurology, Neurobiology, and Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles
"Buddha’s Brain makes a significant contribution to the current dynamic dialogue among neuroscience, psychology, and Buddhist disciplines of mind training. Drawing on the wisdom born of their own meditation practice and their scientific backgrounds, the authors point again and again to the possibilities of the deep transformation of our minds and lives."
—Christina Feldman, author of Compassion and The Buddhist Path to Simplicity
"Recent developments in psychology and the neurosciences have led to clear and powerful insights about how our brains work and how these neurological functions shape our experience of the world. These insights are profoundly congruent with the wisdom that has been developed over thousands of years in the contemplative traditions. The authors of Buddha’s Brain have given us a concise and practical guide to how these two currents of knowledge can be used to transform our capacity to engage both ourselves and others with wisdom, compassion, and mindfulness."
—Robert D. Truog, MD, professor at Harvard Medical School, executive director of the Institute for Professionalism and Ethical Practice, and senior associate in critical care medicine at Children’s Hospital, Boston
"A clear introduction to some basic principles of neuroscience and dharma."
—Roger Walsh, MD, PhD, professor at the University of California, Irvine, and author of Essential Spirituality
"Buddha’s Brain brilliantly reveals the teachings of the Buddha in the light of modern neuroscience. This is a practical guide to changing your reality. This is your brain on Dharma!"
—Wes "Scoop" Nisker, author of Essential Crazy Wisdom and editor of Inquiring Mind
"Solidly grounded in the latest neuroscientific research, and supported by a deep understanding of contemplative practice, this book is accessible, compelling, and profound—a crystallization of practical wisdom!"
—Philip David Zelazo, PhD, Nancy M. and John E. Lindahl Professor at the Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota
From the Publisher
In Buddha's Brain, a clinical psychologist and a senior neurologist explain how the brain benefits from contemplative practice and show readers how to develop greater happiness, love, and wisdom by drawing from breakthroughs in modern neuroscience.
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For someone who has an insatiable need to understand how things work (and is therefore a skeptic), this book was more helpful to me than any of the more spiritually focused books have been. Sure, those books gave me the terminology and the practices, but this book gave me the hows and whys. Essentially, it helped me understand and therefore believe. This scientific approach really broke through. It really allowed me to come to an understanding of the mechanics of what was going on inside me when I had an emotional reaction. And, understanding, I could identify what was occurring in the moment (which engaged my prefrontal cortex) which allowed me to become aware of the emotion in question so I could assess it and take steps to counter or discard it as needed.
This book has been incredibly helpful and timely for me as I wade through a tough time in life (brain surgery, divorce because I had brain surgery...). It has given me more control over my emotions and my life in a very real way.
This book discusses several simple but meaningful techniques one can use to help promote relaxation as well as awareness. The author explains the process of these techniques by describing what occurs in the brain while one is performing relaxation exercises. He also explains how positive behaviors and actions result from the exercises. Beyond that, he talks about how certain situations affect our arousal. These exercises range from simple breathing techniques to more complex mindfulness practices. The baseline of our peacefulness is guided by our parasympathetic system, which is responsible for producing a balanced state. This is our rest/digest system. There is also the SNS system, responsible for the fight/flight response. Various situations occur in our daily lives that cause us to unleash certain behaviors. Our physical state becomes altered due to certain systems being activated, such as the PNS and SNS. Performing relaxation and meditation techniques helps us reach a more balanced our state.
When performing these relaxation and mindfulness techniques, the brain is at rest in a state of tranquility. The brain is complex, filled with many parts that serve different functions. One part of the brain is the pituitary gland which is responsible for producing endorphins, triggering stress hormones, and storing and releasing oxytocin. Oxytocin is the “bonding” or “love” hormone that we humans have. This hormone is the key element of our human nature; it allows us to form bonds and to feel empathy for one another. In relationships, oxytocin encourages eye contact and trust. The release of oxytocin is one way that the brain can be in a peaceful state, therefore causing you to be happy.
Contrarily, the amygdala is a section in the brain that is in charge of responses to emotion, fear, and other negative stimuli. It also helps form implicit memories. These memories form primarily from negative experiences due to a defense mechanism that has been used to survive throughout human evolution. Negative experiences needed to be recalled so that we would be ready to fight in dangerous times, such as being preyed upon. This explains why we are quick to react negatively or with hostility. This also explains the origin of anxiety and aggression. Constant feelings of threat lead to feeling anxious and can lead to aggressiveness in order to fight and protect oneself.
Without a doubt, we need all systems in the brain, but depending on our upbringing and our environment (nature/nurture), the way we react to certain situations differs among all humans. The happiest state of mind, according to Buddha and Hanson, the author of this book, is a state of equilitry. Neuroplasticity is the key factor here. Our brains are changeable; the number of neurons being fired together cause this mutability. Emotions are not a result of certain situations that occur but a result of the way we interpret the situation and react to it. Therefore, we have the ability to rewire our brains to react to situations mindfully, essentially making us happier in the long run.
I was very pleased with the information the author has provided in this book. There are plenty of facts on the brain and its functions, and connections made to the spiritual aspect of the mind. The author describes the main parts of the brain; such as the frontal cortex, the diencephalon, the hippocampus, etc. and makes sure to connect them to the ways our body reacts in certain situations. It is important to elaborate on the functions of the complex brain. There are many self-help books that provide tons of information on mindfulness techniques and living with a happy equilibrium, but these books provide little to no detail as to how exactly this works. Rick Hanson helps readers understand how the brain essentially works as a whole unit and how certain situations impact and alter brain functions, therefore altering how we perceive the world, our moods, reactions, impulsiveness, etc.
Someone who has not read the book and is unfamiliar with mindfulness techniques may think that the idea that we can change who we are by changing our brains is silly. But, after reading this book, the idea makes sense. I would definitely recommend this book to everyone, especially those who have an interest in mindfulness meditation so that they can fully understand why and how these systems are working to better their mood and outlook on life.
To conclude, I give this book a 5/5 rating. Rick Hanson appears to be a well educated neuropsychologist who is good at sharing his ideas in writing that is also clear and easy to understand. He did a good job on giving brief explanations on sections of the brain and what we can do to reach that tranquil, equilibrium state of mind in order to live happier.
Thank you so much, Rick Hanson.