Skip navigation
Hardcover | $27.95 Trade | £19.95 | ISBN: 9780262027564 | 296 pp. | 5.375 x 8 in | 15 b&w illus., 1 table, 5 color plates| August 2014
Ebook | $19.95 Trade | ISBN: 9780262321143 | 296 pp. | 5.375 x 8 in | 15 b&w illus., 1 table, 5 color plates| August 2014
About MIT Press Ebooks

Zen-Brain Horizons

Toward a Living Zen


In Zen-Brain Horizons, James Austin draws on his decades of experience as a neurologist and Zen practitioner to clarify the benefits of meditative training. Austin integrates classical Buddhist literature with modern brain research, exploring the horizons of a living, neural Zen.

When viewed in the light of today, the timeless wisdom of some Zen masters seems almost to have anticipated recent research in the neurosciences. The keen attentiveness and awareness that we cultivate during meditative practices becomes the leading edge of our subsequent mental processing. Austin explains how our covert, involuntary functions can make crucial contributions to the subtle ways we learn, intuit, and engage in creative activities.

Austin begins by looking back at ancient Buddhist narratives. He then weaves together the major themes of self, attention, emotion, language, and insight. He goes on to examine Zen and psychology as cultural developments, including recent information about how a clear, calm awareness can change the meditating brain. He considers the pathways through which intuitions develop on their way to becoming realized, exploring the phenomena of the spontaneous color imagery that arises during meditation.

Looking out even further into the future, Austin discusses the universal themes of creativity, happiness, openness, and selflessness. Along the way, he bows in homage to William James, explores “Buddhist Botany” and “Avian Zen,” demonstrates why living Zen means much more than sitting quietly indoors on a cushion, and provides simplified advice that helps guide readers to the most important points.

About the Author

James H. Austin, a clinical neurologist, researcher, and Zen practitioner for more than three decades, is Professor Emeritus of Neurology at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and Courtesy Professor of Neurology at the University of Florida College of Medicine. He is the author of Zen and the Brain, Chase, Chance, and Creativity, Zen-Brain Reflections, Selfless Insight, and Meditating Selflessly, all published by the MIT Press.


"This insightful book by neurologist and Zen practitioner James Austin is icing on the four-layered cake of his previous books on Zen and the brain. He provides a unique, informed, and readable account of the brain mechanisms generating egocentric and enlightened consciousness, cross-referenced with his earlier works."—Eberhard E. Fetz, Professor of Physiology and Biophysics, University of Washington, Seattle

"Zen-Brain Horizons is a wise and extraordinary book that brings science into focus through the medium of contemplative practice, and opens up new avenues to understanding how the mind works."—Roshi Joan Halifax, Founding Abbot, Upaya Zen Center

"In this, the fifth of Dr. James Austin's explorations of Zen and neuroscience, new research, well-established cerebral anatomy, and the classical stories of Chinese and Japanese Zen are brought together in creative insights regarding the transformative process of Zen practice. Of particular interest to readers who have been following Dr. Austin's unfolding understanding across his books will be the detailed speculations regarding different attentional systems of the brain and how their functioning may relate to sudden awakening experience triggered by sound or visual phenomena above the horizon. As with his previous volumes, this is a feast for the mind to be savored by scientists, meditation practitioners, and everyone fascinated by the interface between science, religion, and the humanities."—Alfred W. Kaszniak, Professor of Psychology, Psychiatry, and Neurology, University of Arizona