Zen and the Brain
Toward an Understanding of Meditation and Consciousness
- Winner of the Scientific and Medical Network Book Prize for 1998
868 pp., 7 x 10 in,
- Published: June 4, 1999
- Publisher: The MIT Press
- Published: February 17, 1998
- Publisher: The MIT Press
A neuroscientist and Zen practitioner interweaves the latest research on the brain with his personal narrative of Zen.
Aldous Huxley called humankind's basic trend toward spiritual growth the "perennial philosophy." In the view of James Austin, the trend implies a "perennial psychophysiology"—because awakening, or enlightenment, occurs only when the human brain undergoes substantial changes. What are the peak experiences of enlightenment? How could these states profoundly enhance, and yet simplify, the workings of the brain? Zen and the Brain presents the latest evidence. In this book Zen Buddhism becomes the opening wedge for an extraordinarily wide-ranging exploration of consciousness. In order to understand which brain mechanisms produce Zen states, one needs some understanding of the anatomy, physiology, and chemistry of the brain. Austin, both a neurologist and a Zen practitioner, interweaves the most recent brain research with the personal narrative of his Zen experiences. The science is both inclusive and rigorous; the Zen sections are clear and evocative. Along the way, Austin examines such topics as similar states in other disciplines and religions, sleep and dreams, mental illness, consciousness-altering drugs, and the social consequences of the advanced stage of ongoing enlightenment.
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.
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