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Articles

Meditation Study a Cosmic Attack on Brain Science-on ALL Science

by Victor Fama

Western science is finally catching up to what the Buddha taught 2500 years ago: that meditation is indeed a brain workout, and this workout actually increases the size of the brain:

"A study published in NeuroImage presents findings by a group of researchers at UCLA who used high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to scan the brains of meditators. The researchers report having found differences between the scans, showing that certain brain areas of the long-term meditator group were larger than those of the non-meditating control group. Meditators displayed a significantly larger volume of hippocampal tissue, as well as a similarly increased volume of tissue in the orbito-frontal cortex, the thalamus and the inferior temporal gyrus. All of these areas are recognized as playing a role in emotional regulation."

This is no surprise to Buddhists: most of us have heard that the brain is no different than any other muscle, "use it or lose it" as it will entropy if it isn't exercised regularly. The implications of the study are far-reaching, from the treatment of Alzheimer's, ADHD to anger management.

And thus new life is breathed into the free-will vs. determinism argument. For the better part of the last century, the scientific materialists were running away with this argument, but finally free-will has scored, as implicit in these findings is the idea that there is something that directs and controls the brain itself, some BEHAVIOR, which determines, or CAUSES the brain to be a certain way, rather than the materialistic view that the brain (and genes) control behavior. We have arrived at the door of religion, ladies and gentlemen!

The study refutes that idea the brain CAUSES certain behaviors, and implies that the brain is a RESULT of certain behaviors. Since meditation changes the brain, it means that the brain is a result, not a cause. Other studies are starting to show the effect of different behaviors on the brain as well.

So...what exactly IS it that is 'in charge'? WHAT-or WHO-inside this physical body can make the decision to do things to cause the brain to get larger in the first place? What can get us to meditate, if it's not the brain itself? Interesting questions, to be sure.

In addition, the meditation study rejects the ever-increasing tendency of our culture to abdicate personal responsibility, by claiming that our behavior is caused by things out of our control, like our genes or our brain.The reality is that, as the Buddha taught, we can overcome all manner of inner obstacles, from faulty brain chemistry to difficult upbringing to abusive parents. We CAN.

Example: I say that depression is not caused by faulty brain chemistry; depression is the CAUSE of faulty brain chemistry. Interestingly, there are old Orthodox Christian texts that speak of the 'sin of low self-esteem'. 'Sloth', which is physical and emotional apathy, is one of the 'seven deadly sins'. Buddhism sees depression as just another mental formation to become aware of and to let go of, a mental formation which can be a source of a false self, or self-identification.

It seems like western science now has a lot of catching up to do. Think of the implications to the drug industry. It is completely built on the idea that depression is purely a result of bad chemistry, and that drugs can fix this. (By the way, while I'm pretty much anti-medication for this type of thing, as you can can see, I won't deny that once the brain chemistry has been altered, it will be much tougher for the average person to 'fix' it with meditation alone, and they might not be willing to put in the effort. In such cases I leave open the possibility that medication can at least do some help.)

I say, "Meditate, not medicate!"

"Luders (one of the researchers) suggests, "These [more developed areas] might be the neuronal underpinnings that give meditators' the outstanding ability to regulate their emotions, and allow for well-adjusted responses to whatever life throws their way." The specific correlates of these findings on the microscopic level are not known, leading her to propose the need for further study in order to determine whether it is an increase in the multiplicity of neurons, increased neuronal size or a specific neuroplastic wiring scheme that those who meditate develop, as opposed to those who do not."

The beautiful thing about meditation is that the breath, the most common object of meditation, is not even religious! The breath is not Christian, not Muslim, not Hindu, not Buddhist, not even atheist-it is all of these, and it is none of these. So you don't have to worry about whether 'it's ok' to practice.

So, as they say, "Hurry up and just sit there!"

Happy Sitting!

Victor Fama, Quang Vinh or Light of Glory, the founder of this site, was ordained as a Lay Buddhist Teacher as a 45th Generation Descendant of Linji (Lam Te in Vietnamese, Rinzai in Japanese) by Ven. Thich Tri Hoang. Quang Vinh is inspired by what he calls 'The Iconoclastic Teachers' or 'The Iconoclasts', which includes Linji, Huineng, Sunlun Sayadaw, G.I. Gurdjieff and Christian Rosenkreuz, as well as the Ven. Hoang, filled with quiet humility, love for all beings and, simply, presence.

Published June 11th, 2010

Filed in Religion