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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.
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Top customer reviews
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1) Whether or not the mind is the brain is still an open question and there is plenty of evidence to show that the mind is *not* the brain, and what we need to do if we wish to achieve happiness, love and wisdom is transform the mind.
2) Let us suppose that the mind *is* the brain, for the sake of argument. The issue then becomes "How can we change the brain so as to achieve release from suffering?" The best answer to this question is "Follow the actual teachings of the Buddha, because you cannot change the brain directly, but only indirectly by altering habits of thought, speech and action, and the teachings of the Buddha tell you how to do precisely that."
So, the bottom line is, read the original teachings of the Buddha: Majjhima Nikaya, Samyutta Nikaya, Anguttara Nikaya and Dighya Nikaya. if you follow the teachings of the Buddha as set down in these texts, your brain will change as a matter of course (if the mind is the brain, as the author thinks). You could also review some of the many hundreds of practical guides to transforming your mind that are based on the Buddha's teachings and are written by seasoned practitioners of the Buddhist way. The book "Buddha's Brain" need never have been written. Don't waste your money.
Let me explain.
The aim of the book is to guide people to increase the frequency and power of positive emotions in their lives--emotions like equanimity, compassion, gratitude and joy. (And, of course, to decrease the power of negative emotions like fear and hate.) There are a number of ways to do this, but the technique which the authors describe in the most detail is guided imagery. In guided imagery one imagines a situation that will trigger the desired emotion. Each time one creates these emotions, one strengthens their pathways in the brain/mind and thus makes oneself a happier/better person.
The problem is that when some people do this imagery they are unable to generate the intended feelings. Instead they feel disappointment and frustration at being unable to do what comes so easily (it seems) to other people. If the person has a history of failure at trying to improve her mood, and if the person has been told all her life to cheer up, look at the bright side, etc., than this can be quite painful, and, ultimately, psychologically harmful.
To see if these methods will work for you, try calling up some happy memory and see if it makes you feel happy. If it does, buy this book. There's a lot of good stuff here. If it doesn't, I recommend trying "The Mindful Way Through Depression". It has much of the same material but it is directed at people who have experienced long-term mental pain--not just depressives, but also people suffering from anxiety, chronic pain, and so forth. It is a tremendously good, useful, insightful book. (No, I have no connection with the book or its authors. I just think it's a great book.)
A book on teaching your brain how to become like the Buddha's is akin to one teaching it how to become like Einstein's--complete and utter nonsense. But because, as the great Zen master Huang Po says, "the fur are many, and the horns are few," the authors are able to laugh all the way to the bank peddling their pseudo-scientific "blue pill" Buddhist pabulum to the Matrix-bound New Age masses.
The authors briefly mention Spirit in the book, but instead of properly identifying it as the Bliss Body (Sambhogakaya), which flows into and out of the Heart-center, they improperly apotheosize the brain as the conduit to spiritual fulfillment.
The authors display their lack of depth when they write: "A reasonable working hypothesis is that the mind is what the brain does." Anyone with any insight into esoteric spirituality knows this is hogwash. The seed tendencies (samskaras) of one's thoughts are stored in one's soul (located two digits to the right of the center of one's chest relative to the body). Hindus call this causal-body Heart-center "Hridayam" (distinct from the anahata heart chakra), and in Buddhism this Heart-Mind center is referred to as the Tathagatagarbha. The samskaras, or karmic seed tendencies, concatenate in the soul, and "sprout" as vasanas (impulses and desires) that "crystallize" in the brain as thoughts-forms.
Anyone interested in learning more about the Heart-center relative to the brain and en-Light-enment should check out my (two-star) review of "The Lankavatra Sutra," by Red Pine, my (five-star) review of "Sat Darshana Bhashya and Talks with Maharshi," and the book "Sri Ramana Gita," by Ramana Maharshi.
The authors mention Ramana Maharshi, India's foremost twentieth-century guru, but they have not grokked him. Not only do they fail to mention the Heart-mind-brain relationship that Maharshi explicates, but they also do not understand his Self-enquiry (enquiring "Who am I?") The authors write, "At some point, we all ask the same question" Who am I? And no one really knows the answer." This is nonsense. As Maharshi and the Hindus make clear, one's true identity, the Self (or Buddha-nature) is Sat-Chit-Ananda (Being-Consciousness-Bliss).
The authors identify "taking refuge in the ground of being" as "an essential practice in the path of awakening," but they don't explain what this means. And if they knew what it means (little chance of that!), they would have to identify Being as Consciousness-Energy that intersects the meditator in the Heart-center, where the mind is undone, or transcended at its root, by Consciousness-Energy (or Heart-Shakti).
This depthless, disintegral New-Agey type book (aimed at the clueless masses in order to generate maximal revenue) is filled with almost endless remedial strategies and basic meditation exercises. In other words, it's hodgepodge Buddhism for Dummies augmented with superfluous pseudo-scientific pontifications about the brain's function relative to enlightenment. The authors even recommend nutritional supplements to improve the brain's function; and as a student of health and nutrition, I strongly disagree with their "super-nutrition" approach, which is unnatural and toxifying.
I include a recommended Spiritual Reading List in the books I write--and I'm always looking to add new books--but it will be a cold day in Hell before I add "Buddha's Brain" to my List.