- Series: MIT Press
- Paperback: 872 pages
- Publisher: The MIT Press; Reprint edition (July 2, 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0262511096
- ISBN-13: 978-0262511094
- Product Dimensions: 7 x 1.5 x 10 inches
- Shipping Weight: 3.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 55 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #108,951 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Zen and the Brain: Toward an Understanding of Meditation and Consciousness Reprint Edition
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Take a trip through the topography of the brain, and you're likely to get lost somewhere around the medulla oblongata. Zen can lose you before you've even pretzeled your legs into the lotus position. But a unique neurologist-Zen Buddhist has written a tome that is a map to all the mysteries of meditation and mind. Take breathing out, for example. We spend just over half of our breathing time exhaling. For meditating monks, it's a full three-quarters. EEGs show us that the act of exhaling helps physically quiet the brain. Many other causal connections can be found between Zen practices and the physiology of the brain, and James H. Austin lays them out one by one, drawing from his own Zen experiences and the latest in neurological research. So if you've ever wondered what the corpus callosum has to do with consciousness or how the limbic system contributes to enlightenment, Austin will get your brain racing and put your mind at ease. --Brian Bruya --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Currently, to many scientists reductionism means fractionization rather than synthesis. In the last several decades, neuroscientists have increasingly fractionated the brain, but the mind-brain dichotomy remains to be resolved. James H. Austin's book Zen and the Brain attempts such a synthesis. Although he has not reduced this dichotomy to a unity, he has courageously started us on the road.(Kenneth M. Heilman M.D., The James E. Rooks Jr. Professor of Neurology, University of Florida College of Medicine)
Thanks to the unprecedented developments of the Neurosciences in recent years, we now possess (and in most cases enjoy) an enormous amount of new information about the nervious system and the human brain. However the progress of science would be sterile without an effort of synthesis aimed at putting together the results of previous work in order to understand the crucial element of the puzzle: the nature of consciousness. This is what Austin has done in his remarkable book and we should be all grateful to him for this demanding achievement.(Francois Boller, M.D., Professor of Neurology, Director, INSERM Unit 324, Centre Paul Broca)
This is a book written with passion and seriousness.(Psychoanalytic Books)
In this monumental work, the author marshals the evidence fromneuroscience to help clarify which brain mechanisms underlie the subjectivestates of Zen, and employs Zen to 'illuminate' how the brain 'works' invarious states of consciousness. By 'monumental' I refer not merely to thesize but to the breadth and depth of coverage of the book.(George Adelman, Editor of The Encyclopedia of Neuroscience)
... remarkable in its synthesis of the mystical point of view with the scientific.(Bodhi Tree Book Review)
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His skill at the field of neurology; I will reserve comment until I obtain sufficient information to form a credible opinion.
The information about Zen; is terroble at least in the beginning. I was only able to complete the first thirty pages before throwing the book down in disgust because he tells some things about zen that "just ain't so."
Page 7. "The Zen of which we speak is an ancient sect of mahayana Buddhism."
Zen is NOT Mahayana Buddhism. Zen is neither fish nor fowl.
Zen began in China and was called chan (sitting meditation) Buddhism began in India, when Buddhism was taken to China; the Chinese state religion was Taoism.
Zen is an outgrowth of the two philosophies Buddhism and Taoism. Chan practitioners borrowed parts of each philosophy, and chan was born as a third and seperate philsophy. the name was changed to Zen after chan was taken to Japan.
Page 8. "Chan also drew some of it's ethical base from Confucianism"
Confucius lived about the same time of Buddha (sidhartha Gautama), and by the time Chan was introduced Confucianism had been replaced with the state religion pf Taoism. It's a mice story; but isn't so.
Page 8. "Thus it gradually evolved into what Kobori-roshi would later describe as a strange dragon with a Taoist torso, Confucian feet and the Buddhist enlightenment-experience for it's eyes.
I documented earlier that Taoism had replaced Confucianism as the state religion before the birth of zen, and I thought the author said on page 7 that Zen was Mahayana Buddhism?
Page 13. "Authentic Zen will not be drawn into such artificial "minn gyms"."
What is a gym? a gymnasium where a person goes to play a sport or to exercize. Zen IS all about exercizing the mind so you can awaken to your True Nature, and silence the monkey mind.
Page 14. "Zen shuns halucinations and dogmatism"
Excuse me Mr. Austin; but one can NOT awaken to their True Nature without going through the mental state called makyo where your mind will generate all sorts of visual AND sometimes audible halucinations.
As I said earlier' I was only able to stand about the first thirty pages before throwing the book down in disgust. The Zen instruction may get better; but I DO know the author puts a lot of garbage about Zen in the mind of the readers.
If you want to learn Zen; start here.
"Taking The Path Of Zen" Robert Aitken
"Zen: Lessons From A Modern Master" Katsukui Sekida
"Zen Training: Methods And Philsophy" Katsuki Sekida
"Three Pillars Of Zen" Phillip Kapleau
For more books check my listmania list for Zen books
Zen was the first meditation system I learned at the age of 12 when studying martial arts.
I am nearly 52 now. I have practised taoist, guided, Hawaiian, Jewish, and several other forms of meditation over the years; but I always seem to find myself wandering back to Zen after a few weeks to months.
For example, consider Fig. 2 and 3 on pg's 150 and 151. Fig. 2 shows the brain with regions delineated by 5 patterns (dots, dashes, white, etc.). OK so far, but there is no graphical legend to the patterns. And in the textual legend the author refers to "the cross-hatched area." I submit no x-hatched area exists in this Figure. (Maybe a zazen test?)
Being human, I forgive one error. Now, on to Fig. 3. Nice picture. But read this part of the legend. "The long cingulate gyrus receives extensive thalamic projections from the anterior thalamic nucleus (not indicated)."
What I describe is a figure legend describing something not indicated in the Figure. In 54 years (OK, I have only been reading since age 3 or 4, so in the last 50 years of reading), I have never before seen such an example.
Did the MIT Press really read and edit this text?
The scientific contribution of the book is certainly valuable. There are exhaustive descriptions of brain structure and physiology, neurotransmission processes, as well as of neurological changes associated with the different states of awareness with special interest given to those related to meditation practice. I particularly liked the comparison of enlightenment reached through meditation with the mental effects induced by psychotropic drugs, especially LSD. However, from this point on, the author tries to link neurological concepts with Zen elements in so many ways that the train of thought seems to jump back and forth over and over, and one progressively gets lost in a sea of confusion. Moreover, I think that some of the philosophical discussions presented go way beyond the limit of "understanding of meditation and consciousness" as the subtitle of the book claims. Hence, at times the biomedical explanations are directed towards the purely religious side of Zen and Buddhism, that is, its supposed truths, ethically correct behaviors and morality. This gives me the impression that the book is intended to be Zen proselytism as opposed to a positive contribution to bridge the gap between science and human mind. It is clear that this book deals with Zen, as the title states. However, Zen philosophy also contains a strong charge of eastern culture, and as the author is a westerner and a scientist, I expected a more neutral discussion of the nature of enlightenment since similar experiences may also be found outside Buddhism. It is well known that Christian mystics such as Saint John of the Cross, Saint Teresa of Avila and Meister Eckhart reached alternate states of consciousness equivalent to Zen enlightenment. However, these states were interpreted according to their Christian faith, in a God-communion oriented manner. This is very different to what is practiced by eastern cultures. The author, as a Zen practitioner, channels his arguments in favor of the Zen perspective. I do not mean that this is incorrect or unfair. I feel that a broader discussion would be more appropriate taking into account that the author has already opened the door to the presence of religion. This is in contrast to the tendency of the author to touch on all possible implications of his postulates. For example, there are some philosophical and rather pseudoscientific discussions about time, space and eternity that, in my opinion, are out of place. I think that these topics would be more appropriate in a debate on quantum physics, for which the author does not appear to be qualified.
As a final remark, I think that this is a complex work with an excess of information to be presented in a single book. Although it seems to be intended to popularize Zen, it does not appear to be appropriate for anyone just wanting to become familiar with Zen or even for a trained meditation practitioner. Maybe the book could be useful for a scientist aiming to learn about brain function and consciousness, but as I have described above, the lack of clarity and a certain religious bias are major handicaps. In summary, I feel that if the objective of the author was to generate a heavy, dense compilation of knowledge and erudition, then he probably succeeded. If his objective was, however, to write an instructive and didactic book for a popular audience, then I think he missed the point.
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Not light reading. Take it slow.
It changed me. I love it. I buy it for fellow seekers.Read more