Neuroscience and Shikantaza

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desert_woodworker
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Neuroscience and Shikantaza

Post by desert_woodworker » Tue Jun 19, 2018 5:03 pm

Jundo, a new thread for a topic I'd like to propose may be more appropriate to hold a discussion about it, but I'd like to ask you here about the topic, which is related to the present one.

Can you, would you, give some thought to how your view of the practice of shikantaza can be described or characterized in terms of neuroscience? Thoughts about how neuroscience can be relied on to offer insight about it would be very welcome.

And then, how could the differing views of others -- as you understand them to differ -- on the teaching and practice of shikantaza be described in terms of neuroscience?

I'd invite you to give any attention you want to this topic. And if you do consider it, I hope you might include something in your book about it (even if there may not yet be experimental results as "proofs" to give: just to hear some of the characteristics however even speculatively couched in neuroscience terms would be unique, and I think would be a good and welcoming basis on which others could afterwards build.

Now, BTW, would the scientist who is collaborating with you on your book happen to be a ...neuroscientist? :) If not, and if you would be interested, I could offer you an introduction to a local Soto teacher here who is also a neuroscientist.

best,

--Joe

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jundocohen
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Re: Neuroscience and Shikantaza

Post by jundocohen » Wed Jun 20, 2018 4:09 pm

Hi Joe,

I am writing the book with a theoretical physicist.

My opinion is that, as of now, the scientific studies of Zazen and other forms of meditation have not been very reliable, as well as limited in what they can show. I believe that science cannot yet capture what is "love" or the "beauty of seeing a rose" either, although it can record some blips on the brain associated with both.

That being said, in sitting Shikantaza, I know the experience and vision (?) of peace, union and wholeness that I sometimes describe. So, since it is happening in my head, via my senses and brain, I am sure that it is something that could be measured and recorded in some way by a neuroscientist. I am sure that the same is true for what you and others experience to the extent that the brain is involved.

I would love to know your friend. Thank you.

Gassho, J
Teacher at Treeleaf Zendo, a Soto Zen Sangha, an online practice place for folks who cannot commute to a Zen Center due to health, living in remote areas, work or family needs. The focus is Shikantaza 'Just Sitting' Zazen http://www.treeleaf.org

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boda
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Re: Neuroscience and Shikantaza

Post by boda » Wed Jun 20, 2018 6:01 pm

jundocohen wrote:
Wed Jun 20, 2018 4:09 pm
My opinion is that, as of now, the scientific studies of Zazen and other forms of meditation have not been very reliable, as well as limited in what they can show.
Not true, a significant neurological correlate is deactivation of the DMN (default mode network). DMN activity could be described as 'monkey-mind' and is believed to be associated with the sense of self, as well as other things.
I am writing the book with a theoretical physicist.
Conflation of zazen and theoretical physics, just the sort of thing in which the DMN excels.
I believe that science cannot yet capture what is "love" or the "beauty of seeing a rose" either, although it can record some blips on the brain associated with both.
You can't capture wind in a jar, and why would you want to?
Last edited by boda on Wed Jun 20, 2018 10:12 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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desert_woodworker
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Re: Neuroscience and Shikantaza

Post by desert_woodworker » Wed Jun 20, 2018 7:30 pm

Thanks, Jundo. Good to catch up with how you're writing the book. Actually I remember now that your collaborator is a theoretical physicist (interesting! I await the book and send best wishes).

What would interest me is to see some generalized signs detected by neuroscientific means in practitioners of what some call "pure shikantaza", vs. the generalized signs of other practitioners whose practice is modified according to the claims of the more pure practitioners. Differences might show up.

Now, the question that will come up first is, when to study these populations? In what phase of their activities during a day? While they are sitting zazen?, or just sitting quietly in a chair? In sleep? Or, when eating?, or listening to music? Surely, if a practice is to change the traits one displays or enacts, then almost any stage or condition of the person may show a difference from others who practice differently, but who are in the same stage or condition. Probably, the researchers would feel a bias toward studying the practitioners while they are in a period of practicing zazen, though.

Jundo, I'll tell my friend (Sensei) about you, and if in fact he'd like to be in touch, can he, by the way, do that via some link at Tree Leaf? I'll mention to him that you are not writing a book with a Neuroscientist collaborator, and that you are probably not looking for one (but that is in fact his expertise; and indeed, you may have already met him or heard him present a paper at the Mind and Life conferences). I'll PM you from here.

Oh, and about this:
jundo wrote:My opinion is that, as of now, the scientific studies of Zazen and other forms of meditation have not been very reliable, ...
You have company in that among Dan Goleman and Richie Davidson. They reveal in their book ALTERED TRAITS (2017) that in their 10-year meta-study of 18753 journal articles with keywords "Mindfulness" or "Meditation" in their titles or abstracts, only 47 of the studies were, according to them, "well designed". But those 47 come to stand for them as "gold-standard" studies. I think none or almost none of the studies involved Zen Buddhist meditators, and most of the studies had to do with clinical applications of meditative practices drawn from or modified from Vipassana and Tibetan practice, where claims were made in the studies about statistically-significant effectiveness of the meditative practices in improving physical or mental health or in making detectable changes in brain structure (sizes) or function.

Best!, and good success with the book,

--Joe
jundocohen wrote:
Wed Jun 20, 2018 4:09 pm
I am writing the book with a theoretical physicist.

My opinion is that, as of now, the scientific studies of Zazen and other forms of meditation have not been very reliable, as well as limited in what they can show. I believe that science cannot yet capture what is "love" or the "beauty of seeing a rose" either, although it can record some blips on the brain associated with both.

That being said, in sitting Shikantaza, I know the experience and vision (?) of peace, union and wholeness that I sometimes describe. So, since it is happening in my head, via my senses and brain, I am sure that it is something that could be measured and recorded in some way by a neuroscientist. I am sure that the same is true for what you and others experience to the extent that the brain is involved.

I would love to know your friend. Thank you.

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lindama
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Re: Neuroscience and Shikantaza

Post by lindama » Thu Jun 21, 2018 5:50 am

oh my, Shikantaza is having more babies.... just what are we going to do with this? :lol:

That's the Trouble with Tribbles

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jundocohen
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Re: Neuroscience and Shikantaza

Post by jundocohen » Thu Jun 21, 2018 6:05 am

Hi Joe,
desert_woodworker wrote:
Wed Jun 20, 2018 7:30 pm
Now, the question that will come up first is, when to study these populations? In what phase of their activities during a day? While they are sitting zazen?, or just sitting quietly in a chair? In sleep? Or, when eating?, or listening to music? Surely, if a practice is to change the traits one displays or enacts, then almost any stage or condition of the person may show a difference from others who practice differently, but who are in the same stage or condition. Probably, the researchers would feel a bias toward studying the practitioners while they are in a period of practicing zazen, though.
One problem with the meditation tests so far is that folks have to be inside an MRI machine, or wired up. They also have to be meditating. Shikantaza, as with other ways of Zazen and Meditation, is to be practiced on the cushion but also off the cushion too (I like to say, "on the bus, washing dishes, in the hospital emergency room, at the dry cleaners when they lose your pants." Zazen on the cushion is vital, yet Zazen off the cushion is life. )
Jundo, I'll tell my friend (Sensei) about you, and if in fact he'd like to be in touch, can he, by the way, do that via some link at Tree Leaf?


I will respond to the PM you wrote. Always happy to know such a person.

jundo wrote:My opinion is that, as of now, the scientific studies of Zazen and other forms of meditation have not been very reliable, ...
You have company in that among Dan Goleman and Richie Davidson. They reveal in their book ALTERED TRAITS (2017) that in their 10-year meta-study of 18753 journal articles with keywords "Mindfulness" or "Meditation" in their titles or abstracts, only 47 of the studies were, according to them, "well designed". But those 47 come to stand for them as "gold-standard" studies. I think none or almost none of the studies involved Zen Buddhist meditators, and most of the studies had to do with clinical applications of meditative practices drawn from or modified from Vipassana and Tibetan practice, where claims were made in the studies about statistically-significant effectiveness of the meditative practices in improving physical or mental health or in making detectable changes in brain structure (sizes) or function.
Yes, hard to tell much from just 47 studies even if "solid gold," especially if methods of meditation, subject being tested for, experience of the people being studied, and other variables vary widely. Even the studies said to be on "Zen meditation" are often not very clear or consistent on what that means.

For now, Zazen has a positive effect even if not yet measurable. I love my family, I appreciate the beauty of the hydragea flowers in bloom today. That is enough for now, whether in an MRI or not.

Gassho, J
Teacher at Treeleaf Zendo, a Soto Zen Sangha, an online practice place for folks who cannot commute to a Zen Center due to health, living in remote areas, work or family needs. The focus is Shikantaza 'Just Sitting' Zazen http://www.treeleaf.org

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boda
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Re: Neuroscience and Shikantaza

Post by boda » Thu Jun 21, 2018 8:54 pm

More about the DMN, I did a google search for "default mode network and zen" and this is the first link on the list of results:

http://psychologytomorrowmagazine.com/j ... ering-end/

The article ends with:
This kind of neurobiological perspective is a movement towards what Brewer calls “evidence-based faith,” where science may be able to help teachers and practitioners fine-tune the approaches they take to practice. Contemplatives may recoil at the idea, but for Brewer, addressing suffering is the priority, a project science can help with. As proof-of-concept, Brewer has just published two studies [here and here] that show how meditators can watch live feedback from their brains inside the fMRI and use it to decrease their DMN activation in real-time. And he’s just received an NIH grant to study how this could work for non-meditators – more quickly, and hopefully, one day, more affordably. “The aim is to see if neurofeedback can give regular folks feedback on subtle aspects of their experience …stuff they wouldn’t notice otherwise,” he says.

Weber agrees, “Right now we can get folks off the street and within one or two runs in the Yale fMRI they can produce this deactivated state. The more glimpses the brain gets, the more time it spends there, the more it can stay there. It’s like riding a bike. With this technology you may not have to spend twenty-five years practicing like I did. It’s much more efficient.”

Like the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths with a psychotherapeutic twist, Weber has it down to a terse progression: “I had suffering, it came from my attachments. My attachments cause me to slip over into the narrator. If I stop that, I lose my suffering. We have the tools to do this. They require no scriptural texts or philosophy. All it takes is persistence and curiosity. The old ego-motivated human existence, our 75,000 year-old operating system with its need to gratify our desires and exploit the environment and have six of this and ten of that – that can all fall away. It’s time for an upgrade.”
My bolding of course. The way science could help teachers would essentially be to get them to understand that a lot of religiosity is really counterproductive to relieving suffering. People can find meaning without religion, and indeed people can follow this science or 'evidence-based faith' without teachers, so if teachers want to remain relevant they need to take suffering and what actually relieves it seriously.

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desert_woodworker
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Re: Neuroscience and Shikantaza

Post by desert_woodworker » Thu Jun 28, 2018 8:46 pm

"Religiosity" can't be all bad, if you cotton to it.

--Joe

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