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Thread: Neurotheology

  1. #1
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    Neurotheology

    If "we realize that mystical experiences originate from the same neurological mechanisms that underlie hallucinations ... I bet dollar to donut that the reality experienced by meditating Buddhists and praying nuns is entirely contained in their mind and is not a glimpse of a 'higher' realm, as tantalizing as that idea may be," he concluded.
    Exactly right, and I tend to discount most mystical experiences as dreamlike fantasy.

    Of course, my experience of Kirk's words right now is just a recreation within my neurological circuits, as is the experience of the sweet tea I am drinking (I think I am drinking) right now. Who is to say for sure which sweet taste is real? What is to tell me that there is a 'Kirk' behind those words (no offense, Kirk)?

    And we are left with the mystery of just how every twist and turn of physics, chemistry, earth development, biology and evolution twisted and turned just right to allow a brain so wired as to let me savor Kirk's words, plus all the rest that went into evolving a 'me' and a 'Kirk' ...

    In other words, it is a 'Koan' because there are mysteries. 'Great Doubt' because we cannot say for sure. All we have are our suspicions, this seeming miracle of being alive in a universe to ponder it all, and this life ... just like this cup of tea ... that seems to sit before us. I think.

    Agnostic Gassho, Jundo

  2. #2

    Re: Neurotheology

    Quote Originally Posted by kirkmc
    If "we realize that mystical experiences originate from the same neurological mechanisms that underlie hallucinations ... I bet dollar to donut that the reality experienced by meditating Buddhists and praying nuns is entirely contained in their mind and is not a glimpse of a 'higher' realm, as tantalizing as that idea may be," he concluded.
    It seems to me that all our experiences originate from our neurological mechanisms. Including our "ordinary" perception of reality and everyday consciousness as well as mystical experiences and hallucinations.

    For me, part of what I think Buddha is teaching us is that our "normal" experience of consciousness is somehow flawed and that this leads to much of the suffering we experience ourselves and tend to share with each other. By practicing and meditating, I think we are in a way healing our neurological mechanisms, and returning to a more real experience of reality.

    I think the mystical experience may be our direct experience of reality here and now without the usual interpretative functions of our central nervous system interfering.

    As Socrates said in the movie Peaceful Warrior, "Sometimes you have to go out of your mind to come to your senses".

    Love and light to all.

    Namaste,

    Urug

  3. #3
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    Urug,

    I have to disagree - I don't think anything is "flawed". That suggests that we have to fix something. My understand of the buddha's teaching is that we have to simply accept what is, and not try to fix things; when we try to fix or change things, that's what makes everything worse.

    Kirk

    BTW, it looks like my original post got deleted, and Jundo somehow assumed my identity to write about, well, his identity and mine. Intentional? :-)

  4. #4
    Hi Kirk,

    I think we may be actually saying something very similar, but are just saying it in different ways.

    I think the "flaw" (perhaps mistake would have been a better word) is our constant thinking, or perhaps more correctly our identification with our thinking mind. I agree with you that we as our mind can not fix this, since it is the constant doing of our mind that is creating the veil between us and reality, and in so doing creating suffering. When our mind is calm and we accept what is as it is and are here now, then we can directly experience what is, and that I think is the "mystical" experience.

    I think it is the conundrum of doing not doing (wei wu wei) that is difficult to express in words.

    Urug

    PS Thanks for clearing up what happened with your original post, I was a little confused by the one that seemed to be from you and Jundo at the same time. 8)

  5. #5
    Hi. This is Jundo (as Jundo),

    I would only say this about "mystical states". They are interesting, a lot of fun, wouldn't want to live there (nor could I ... especially since there is no "I" there). Much rather get back to the here and now. Also, how to interpret them: Are you touching the face of god, becoming one with Brahma, or simply feeling some endorphin rush of the brain??? None of the above?????

    I would much prefer to get back to the most magical, wondrous, incredible and miraculous state of all ... namely, buying paper clips, fighting with my wife, changing the oil in the car, hearing from the dentist that I need a root canal, watching the war news on tv and crying, celebrating a niece's birthday.

    That is what we have to embrace, realizing that there is nothing to fix, dropping all resistance and preferences. I think.

    Yes, there is nothing flawed (even the flaws) when we stop viewing them as flaws. And what we must fix is our desire to fix.

    Gassho, Jundo

  6. #6
    Hi Jundo,

    Thank you. And thank you for your wonderful site and teachings.

    Your comment on mystical states rings true for me. Especially "...there is no 'I' there".

    I am still having trouble however, fully grasping the concept of nothing to fix.

    That is what we have to embrace, realizing that there is nothing to fix, dropping all resistance and preferences. I think.

    Yes, there is nothing flawed (even the flaws) when we stop viewing them as flaws. And what we must fix is our desire to fix.
    I had thought that the meaning was that I as my thinking mind could not fix the problem because the problem was identifying myself as my thinking mind. I thought the Buddha's message was to relinguish my concept of myself as my mind and to open myself to the moment as it is. To be here now as it all is now. To be the silent witness behind the thoughts and emotions. To then be able to still act without attachment to outcome. Doing without doing or wei wu wei.

    If there is "nothing to fix", what is the purpose of studying Buddhism or meditating? Is not trying to "drop resistance and preferences" or fixing "our desire to fix" trying to fix or change ourselves?

    I am trying to grasp the idea of "nothing to fix" (or "everything is perfect the way it is"), although for me it often becomes a paradox. Can you help me better understand what you mean by nothing to fix?

    Thank you.

    Namaste,

    Urug

  7. #7
    Howdy Urug,

    Quote Originally Posted by Urug

    I am still having trouble however, fully grasping the concept of nothing to fix.

    ...

    I had thought that the meaning was that I as my thinking mind could not fix the problem because the problem was identifying myself as my thinking mind. I thought the Buddha's message was to relinguish my concept of myself as my mind and to open myself to the moment as it is. To be here now as it all is now. To be the silent witness behind the thoughts and emotions. To then be able to still act without attachment to outcome. Doing without doing or wei wu wei.
    Well, I like your description. It is right, I think. In Zazen, we learn to taste a self-less, non-thinking, "open to the moment as it is", here and now, silent behind the thoughts and emotions, without attachments, without seeking outcomes, without doing .... beyond being/not being "way to be". We do experience that way to be via the radical "non-seeking, non-judging" I preach about around here.

    But ... mountains are mountains again. We can't live like that. So we must live in a world of self, thinking, time passing, places to go, choosing, likes and dislikes, talking, concerned for the future, possessing, seeking outcomes, doing. Otherwise, we could not do anything as simple as screwing in a lightbulb (we would be content in the dark) or catching a bus (where would we wish to go??).

    However, it is not the self same world of self, thinking, time passing, choosing, etc. that we probably knew before our Practice of Zazen.

    Now, you see ... it is a world of self/self-less, thinking not thinking [aka non-thinking], time passing in the moment just as-it-is, places to go while always here and now, silent while talking, concerned for the future while non-resisting events, possessing things to which we are not attached, working for success without seeking outcomes, having likes and dislikes without likes and dislikes, doing by non-doing ...

    ... like a fellow with a split personality, but in a good way. Living on two levels not even one, like two sides of a single coin.

    Got it?

    That's when, for example, you work hard to save money for a new house for you and your family, yet can smile as lightning strikes and it burns down. That is when you can choose your favorite ice cream flavor (a metaphor for all of life, not just ice cream), yet accept whatever flavor you are handed. Something like that.


    If there is "nothing to fix", what is the purpose of studying Buddhism or meditating? Is not trying to "drop resistance and preferences" or fixing "our desire to fix" trying to fix or change ourselves?
    Yes. Our goal is to get to goallessness. How to get to goalessness? By radically dropping even the goal of getting to goallessness.

    Yes, we need to fix our desire to fix. How to fix our desire to fix? By radically dropping even our desire to fix our desire to fix.

    I am trying to grasp the idea of "nothing to fix" (or "everything is perfect the way it is"), although for me it often becomes a paradox.
    I like to say that life is rarely "perfect" [meaning how we would judge things if they were 100% as we would like them] but they are "perfectly what they are" [when we give up likes and dislikes about them]. And to repeat, we give up likes and dislikes, but do not.

    Gassho, Jundo

  8. #8
    Thank you Jundo.

    That helps.

    The paradox of life unfolds in the present moment.

    Gassho,

    Urug

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by HezB

    Hi Jundo,

    What's your view on psychotherapy and, in particular "Buddhist Psychotherapy" where meditation techniques are employed as part of the therapy?

    Regards,

    Harry.
    I can recommend Zazen to almost every human being on the planet.

    That being said, I do not think that Zazen is a cure for many things ... it will not fix a bad tooth (just allow you to be present with the toothache ... you had better see a dentist, not a Zen teacher), cure cancer (although it may have some healthful effects and make one more attune to the process), etc. There are many psychological problems or psycho/medical problems such as alcoholism that may require other therapies, although Zen can be part of a 10-Step program or such (a few Zen teachers in America with a drinking problem had to seek outside help). Serious depression can have physiological origins, and respond quickly to pharmaceutical intervention (but I think that too many people confuse basic sadness and "the blues" with something requiring a pill). In fact, Zazen can often trigger or irritate certain psychological conditions, and I have witnessed its leading to a breakdown in a couple of folks during retreats.

    That being said too, I do think that we run to psychotherapists too quickly in the West. Our way is not about analyzing our thoughts/emotions and cruel childhoods, it is not about needing to be happy or free from anxiety. Instead, it is about freeing ourselves from thoughts/emotions and not wallowing in the past, and embracing our human condition even when we are not happy or are anxious.

    So, I do not really know how to answer except to say that I would not recommend Zazen combined with psychotherapy to someone except in a case of special need. Zazen is perfectly sufficient for most folks in most situations, I think.

    Gassho, Jundo

    PS- Certain forms of depression can involve "overthinking problems," or confusing emotions at the moment with "how the world really is." For example, I went through a long depression as a teenager (lasted until I was about 21). I thought the world really black and hopeless, like being at the bottom of a dark well, because that is how my thoughts and emotions made me view things. I now see that, when my thoughts and emotions changed, the world changed instantly! The world did not change, only my experience of it.

    I also "overthought" problems, magnifying small problems into mountains. Again, I now see that it was my mind at work. Zazen has been shown to be very effective in treatment of that kind of depression and neurosis.

  10. #10
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    Yes, that overthinking is one of the causes of depression. And meditation can help people think less. And also take things in perspective more.

    Kirk

  11. #11
    I think there is nothing wrong in mysticism, " A belief in the existence of realities beyond perceptual or intellectual apprehension that are central to being and directly accessible by subjective experience", Buddha was a Mystic. I look at "Mysticism" as true insight. However, a mystic experience is only an answer, one cannot rely on Mysticism for food shelter or clothing. This brings me to the 10 Oxhearding Pictures. These pictures show a journey from begining to end, with a mystic experience in the middle. Korean Zen Master Seun Sahn, refered to it as the compas of Zen.
    When we start our quest, wer'e after something more than we already have (enlightenment). As our journey progresses, we have a glimpse of the mind, 1st pic. Finding the tracks, we progress Through to seeing the ox, right through to no ox no I. Eventually though, we return with gift bestowing hands, 10th pic. This last pic. is returning to the start, or in the Zen compass, travelling 360degrees. However now we have real insight. We still have to work, cook and converse with each other , though now through this mystical insight, we know why!

  12. #12
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    Why do you say the Buddha was a mystic? There is no proof that I know of that suggests this...

    Kirk

  13. #13
    The reason I believe the Buddha to be a mystic is: The life of the Buddha states, that he sat under the Bodhi tree untill he had the answers for which he was searching (enlightenment). This was a mystical experience.
    If one has not achieved (attained) Enlightenment, how would one know if a mystic experience is valid or not, otherwise it's pure conjecture.

  14. #14
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    If I'm not mistaken - and Jundo will clear this up - the Buddha never preached any mysticism, and told people not to look for mysticism, but rather to look at everyday reality and understand it. Why do you suggest that his enlightenment was in any way a mystical experience? It was simply an understanding. (Unless we're disagreeing on the meaning of the term mystical - I tend to see it as being something with flashing lights, colors, out-of-body experiences, etc.)

    Kirk

  15. #15
    If you check my earlier post, you will notice that I described a mystic experience as real insight. I don't know where you got the idea of flashing lights etc.

  16. #16
    One of the more ego-dampening things I have read is from E.O. Wilson's Consilience. Wilson writes about the brain, complexity, evolution, etc. but this is what I liked.

    In talking about what the brain does automatically he says the when presented with a situation via the senses the brain processes information and first cathects memories that share to various degrees the same information (same room, same food, same words, etc.). It then constructs possible actions (say 'yes', 'no', just eat, etc.) and imagines the events that would follow these various actions. This process is automatic and almost always unavailable to our conscience. IOW, we don't preceive our brain doing this.

    The brain then discerns which of the possible outcomes has the greatest value with re. to evolution of the species (community building, self-preservation, procreation, etc.) and we THEN experience a desire for the action that would bring about that outcome, i.e. we sense that we want to say 'yes' or 'no' or just eat, etc. And we do this with varying degrees of awareness. The greater the complexity, unfamiliarity, ambiguity of the situation the longer the process takes and the more aware we become of the process. The more difficult the 'decision' seems.

    Now here's the kicker. Wilson says 1) this happens as automatically as the functioning of our other organs. 2) we experience the time it takes for the brain to accomplish this task, the time between perception of the situation and the discernment of the most evolutionarily positive action as "I am making a decision." But there is no "I" there acting on freewill and coming to some sort of rational, calculated decision. There is simply the brain doing what it has evolved to do--remembering, imagining, calculating/discerning, motivating the actor via desire. The perception of an independent actor is an illusion that arises in that time lapse while the brain is working.

    It is, of course, happening with far greater complexity and speed than can be written/read about but the implications are very, very provocative.

  17. #17
    Hi,

    David wrote ...

    I think there is nothing wrong in mysticism, " A belief in the existence of realities beyond perceptual or intellectual apprehension that are central to being and directly accessible by subjective experience", Buddha was a Mystic. I look at "Mysticism" as true insight. However, a mystic experience is only an answer, one cannot rely on Mysticism for food shelter or clothing. This brings me to the 10 Oxhearding Pictures. These pictures show a journey from begining to end, with a mystic experience in the middle. Korean Zen Master Seun Sahn, refered to it as the compas of Zen.
    When we start our quest, wer'e after something more than we already have (enlightenment). As our journey progresses, we have a glimpse of the mind, 1st pic. Finding the tracks, we progress Through to seeing the ox, right through to no ox no I. Eventually though, we return with gift bestowing hands, 10th pic. This last pic. is returning to the start, or in the Zen compass, travelling 360degrees. However now we have real insight. We still have to work, cook and converse with each other , though now through this mystical insight, we know why!

    ...

    The reason I believe the Buddha to be a mystic is: The life of the Buddha states, that he sat under the Bodhi tree untill he had the answers for which he was searching (enlightenment). This was a mystical experience.
    If one has not achieved (attained) Enlightenment, how would one know if a mystic experience is valid or not, otherwise it's pure conjecture.
    and Harry wrote ...

    If I'm not mistaken - and Jundo will clear this up - the Buddha never preached any mysticism, and told people not to look for mysticism, but rather to look at everyday reality and understand it. Why do you suggest that his enlightenment was in any way a mystical experience? It was simply an understanding. (Unless we're disagreeing on the meaning of the term mystical - I tend to see it as being something with flashing lights, colors, out-of-body experiences, etc.)
    and David wrote ...


    If you check my earlier post, you will notice that I described a mystic experience as real insight. I don't know where you got the idea of flashing lights etc.
    This is a very difficult question, and turns on the meaning of "mystic experience" I think. First, it is difficult to say exactly what the Buddha was teaching because, for the last 2500 years, his followers have been giving the Buddha's words 1001 different interpretations. However, I think we can say pretty clearly some of the things that the Buddha was -not- teaching, and also we can talk about what Zen Buddhist teachers have been teaching since that time.

    It is pretty clear that the Buddha rejected many of the teachings in India at the time that we would usually consider "mysticism", e.g., merging into Brahma or seeking states of perpetual bliss. The reason I believe this is because, before he found his Truth, he spent years sampling many of the schools of meditation available at the time. Most of those schools pursued such mystic experiences, including through various degrees of denial of the physical body and of the reality of this world. After that (in my view), the Buddha seems to express almost a "to heck with it" attitude, a refusal to go to extremes, an emphasis on moderation. The emphasis was more on life IN this world, than on any escape (and, again, this depends on whose "Buddha" interpretation one takes).

    The Zen teachings, to varying degrees, tend also to emphasize life in this world more than the attaining of some state of escape from this world.

    Now, that being said, many people have referred to Zen Buddhism as, for example, a mysticism of the ordinary, rational mysticism, etc. What does that mean? To me, it means accepting the simple wonder in the most ordinary aspects of life. "Enlightenment" is not seeing some other world or state that suddenly makes everything in our lives become clear. Far from it, it is that same, smiling "to heck with it, and isn't that grand!" that allows us to appreciate everything in life as just what it is. Conflict and friction dissolves because (as I discussed in one of the talks a few days ago), we see each thing as just what it is, and simultaneously, we see each thing as without separate self.

    We are not merging with god or some higher state, so much as merging with our own lives and allowing each thing in life to merge with each other.

    Said a different way, we just allow for a balance in our approach to life and way of perceiving the world. Is that a kind of mystical state?? Well, yes, of a kind. (I just do not like the word "mystical" because of the "other world" reality and hocus-pocus it could imply. I like to say more, finding the ordinary magic in the ordinary. I even hesitate to use the word "sacred," and instead might say that we recognize treasure in what otherwise looks like tin and brass).

    It is true that some Zen teachers (I think Seung Sahn is one) overemphasize the Satori experience as attaining some mind blowing, "other" state that, when attained, makes everything in this life suddenly "fall into place". It is not so simple, and there is nothing about the lives of such teachers (there are many) that indicates in any way that, once they had such an experience, they were less a fool than the rest of us poor human beings (myself at the top of the list). Our Soto practice is much more boring.

    However, if seeing the wonder of that "boring" is a form of mysticism ... than it is mystical.

    Gassho, Jundo

  18. #18
    Greetings,

    Jundo wrote:

    It is true that some Zen teachers (I think Seung Sahn is one) overemphasize the Satori experience as attaining some mind blowing, "other" state that, when attained, makes everything in this life suddenly "fall into place". It is not so simple, and there is nothing about the lives of such teachers (there are many) that indicates in any way that, once they had such an experience, they were less a fool than the rest of us poor human beings (myself at the top of the list). Our Soto practice is much more boring.

    However, if seeing the wonder of that "boring" is a form of mysticism ... than it is mystical.
    It seems to me that so much of what we are trying to understand is a paradox. The concept of enlightenment or satori is that way for me.

    I initially thought of enlightenment as a one time, "oh-my-god", "now I see the light", completely life changing event, after which I would be transformed into some kind of sage with deep and wonderous understanding of all matters. Boy did I miss the boat on that one.

    I have had some satori experiences that were quite life changing but not how I had anticipated. I had thought that the satori experience was the point. That was what I was striving for with sitting and workshops and intensives. One of the things that surprised me was that when I stopped trying for that experience and just abided in the present moment, and appreciated life as it was at that moment, then without trying or even hoping... everything changed, yet was exactly the same... everything was perfect just as it was...everything was an overwhelming sensation of bliss...there was just being...

    I have had milder experiences off and on since that time, and what I have discovered is that for me this experience was not the end of the quest, but the beginning of a new road that I have only just started to walk down.

    It seems to me now that satori experiences are not the point, but neither are they nothing. For me they have helped me to feel the interconnectedness and oneness of all-that-is, feeling myself an expression of the one-thing-that-is, and feeling related to everything. I think that pursuing the satori experience helped me to find my way to now, where everything is happening.

    On the other hand, whenever I start getting too full of it I like to remember the poem by the Sufi Master Hafiz:

    Ten Thousand Idiots

    It is always a danger
    To Aspirants
    On the
    Path

    When they begin
    To Believe and
    Act

    As if the ten thousand idiots
    Who so long ruled
    And lived
    Inside

    Have all packed their bags
    And skipped town
    Or
    Died.


    Amen.

    Namaste.

    Gassho,

    Urug 8)

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