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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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Easy to understand introduction to the use of self awareness to change the way you react to the stresses of life.
Sound science and practical introduction to meditative practice.
As a physician who works a lot with teens and adults with anxiety issues I use this book extensively to introduce people to why they focus on negative events from an evolutionary biological basis. Then I use the book to show them that cutting edge neuroscience shows that they can change the way they relate to the world by "re-booting" their brain.
I can tell you that if you follow the simple exercises and common sense approaches in this entertaining book it will change your life and your brain.
For a taste of Dr Hanson's applied scientific wisdom, go to his foundation's web site: wise brain.org
I wish I'd written this book, but I am so happy that he did!!!
A high-school teacher of mine used to say "Your brain is a muscle!" and he was right. We now know that if you don't use it, you do indeed lose it. That's actually a feature of life, whatever doesn't get used is deemed wasteful and discarded over time (think of blind cave salamanders...though I use that to illustrate a point, it's not applicable to individual lifetimes, just multiple generations). Or similarly, if you don't use your legs, they atrophy. So it goes with the brain (the theory of neuroplasticity). Just as you can weight train your muscles, so can you do increased mental lifting with focused meditation and adaptive mental strategies.
I've read the other books on Zen Buddhism and found them very soothing, but given my background in science, found this book approachable, practical, comfortable, and valuable. As an example, though the authors admit to sourcing it from elsewhere, they put the following quote in great context which the wife has found it especially valuable: "Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die." What better way to let go of inappropriate anger?
Many thanks to the authors for this excellent bit of work.
Hanson and Mendius, a neuropsychologist and a neurologist and both practicing Buddhists, show us just how the brain programs us to experience the world a certain way by combining information from the external world with information held in neural pathways within the brain. These pathways operate in the background of our awareness, influencing our conscious mental activity. Unless we consciously interrupt this process, we are destined to develop deeper neural networks and even stronger programming.
The argument that the brain has the ability to simulate the world is not new. What is interesting is how Hanson and Mendius link Buddhist teachings on the causes of suffering (painful situations cannot be avoided but our emotional responses to them can) to the deep programming in our brains caused by ancestral survival strategies. They suggest that this hardwiring helped us survive constant life-threatening situations but is based on erroneous beliefs that we are separate, that it is possible to stabilize an ever changing world, that we can avoid situations that create pain and pursue only those that give us pleasure. None of these beliefs are true or can be attained. Their inherent contradictions cause us to live with an underlying feeling of anxiety taking us away from our true ground of being and causing much physical and psychological ill-health.
The main part of the book is a practical guide and is packed with useful exercises and guided meditations to help us develop a more loving, happier, and wiser state of being. The methods Hanson and Mendius suggest are informed by their experiences as therapists and management consultants, and are rooted in Buddhist teachings on mindfulness, virtue, and wisdom. I particularly liked the way they use neuroscience to underpin the tools they offer, only choosing "methods that have a plausible scientific explanation for how they light up neural networks of contentment, kindness and peace." Now I know why taking five deep inhalations and exhalations calms me.
Many of their methods show how to activate desired brain states by consciously changing the association between an event and its painful or pleasurable feelings. This can take a long time. Understanding the neuroscience behind the process can help us be compassionate with ourselves when "swimming against ancient currents within our nervous system."
This book is very informative, with helpful summaries at the end of each chapter. The authors' writing, even when explaining the intricacies of neuroscience, is infused with humor and fun to read. This is a good working manual to help us to become who we already are, and an important contribution to the growing body of knowledge on the relationship between mind, brain, and consciousness. Highly Recommended.
Review by Marta Freundlich