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I am looking for references to any (obviously modern) practices that might be described as "mindfulness of brain" or "meditation on brain" -- using the brain, part of the brain or nervous system, or any neuroscience concept as a meditation object or theme. An example might be using Daniel Goleman's idea of "amygdala hijack" for meditation on fear or other problematic emotions -- thinking about the amygdala during meditation or even trying to visualize it.

This might include subtle body techniques (chakras, channels, winds, etc) that make explicit reference to brain or neuroscience concepts (which would be highly speculative, scientifically speaking, but that’s ok for my purposes).

I am seeking references to established teachers or meditation systems or programs -- online or in books or papers -- not just ideas about how to do it, or the pros and cons of the notion. I'm also not seeking programs -- which abound -- that talk conceptually about brain or neuroscience but don't integrate that material into specific meditation material or themes.


addendum -- 2/28

As I said, I am not looking to discuss pros and cons of "mindfulness of brain". I just want to know if anybody is even attempting it. This is a small part of a larger research project on the consequences of current neuroscience for Buddhadharma. In fact, if nobody is doing it, that would confirm a hypothesis. But there are a lot of people drawing connections between neuroscience and meditation, so it's conceivable that someone is attempting "mindfulness of brain". If so, I'd like to know the story.

If nobody responds, that's fine. It will be some evidence of non-existence, though obviously not definitive. It's all but impossible to do an online search for this idea because all the conceptual material on neuroscience and meditation gets retrieved first.

That's all -- I'm not advocating it. Thanks.

  • Never heard of anything like this ever. – Andrei Volkov Mar 2 '18 at 15:28
  • I think that Taoist meditation asks you to move your centre of awareness downwards, i.e. out of your head (where it normally, or too often, is) and down to your dan tien. – ChrisW Mar 2 '18 at 17:36
  • I would have no idea how to be mindful of my brain. I have no access to it and no sense of its existence. I can see no value in it. Might as well be mindful of my foot. . – PeterJ Apr 2 at 15:15
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Brain is a concept. You cannot experience 'brain'. So by definition, there can be no mindfulness of the brain. You can be mindful of the idea of a brain. Even if you split someone's head open and take out the brain, it's still just seeing, feeling, smelling... So an attempt to create such a system would fail. In other words, it would be a system that fortifies ignorance instead of weakening it.

  • I agree that such a meditation would be problematic, but as I said, I am not looking to discuss pros and cons. I just want to know if anybody is even attempting it. It's a small part of a larger research project. In fact, if nobody is doing it, that would confirm a hypothesis. But there are a lot of people drawing connections between neuroscience and meditation, so it's conceivable that someone is attempting "mindfulness of brain". If so, I'd like to know the story. That's all -- I'm not advocating it. – David Lewis Feb 28 '18 at 22:22
  • You would have better luck if you look for scientific research on brain functionality while in meditation. "Mindfulness of the brain" doesn't make much sense. – Sankha Kulathantille Mar 1 '18 at 2:50
  • Thanks for the opinion and suggestion. I am already looking quite intensively at research on brain functionality during meditation -- for other aspects of this project. – David Lewis Mar 1 '18 at 3:14
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    @DavidLewis I doubt you will find a traditional presentation. Plus, traditionally, the mind is generally believed to be located at the heart. Meditation techniques related to the heart are used in the context of (Tibetan) Tantra. But even the Chinese word for mind is also translates heart, xin (心). – Tenzin Dorje Mar 1 '18 at 9:28
  • Right @Tenzin -- thanks. I'm definitely not looking for a traditional presentation. If it exists, it would definitely be a modern notion, perhaps in some system of (so-called) secular Buddhism or a psychological self-help program like MBSR, MBCT, or DBT, which are not Buddhadharma per se, but have some Buddhist roots or inspiration. See the answer I posted from DhammaWheel.com. – David Lewis Mar 4 '18 at 23:08
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Here is one response from dhammawheel.com in 2013.

https://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?t=18207#p256513

The rest of the thread is along traditional lines suggested here by answers and comments. I have invited the author to provide more details here. Meanwhile, here is the post...

Re: Mindfulness of the brain? Post by Majjhima Patipada » Sun Aug 04, 2013 2:51 pm

As a life-long student of the brain (academically, professionally, and recreationally), "mindfulness of the brain" is something I do practice. It takes a thorough knowledge of functional anatomy and the biochemical basis of neural activity in order to practice it in the way you may be thinking. This can include "mindfulness of amygdalic activity and noreprinephrine release at synaptic terminals" as a simple example with which others are likely to have some familiarity due to the connection to anxiety and the fear response. In fact, this type of mindfulness exercise is on occasional taught in psychiatric/therapeutic settings and in MBSR courses. This, of course, is a modern development and is not taught in such a way in traditional Buddhist circles.

Interestingly, the connection of the amygdala to anxiety and fear responses has recently been cast in serious doubt by neuroscientists, perhaps illustrating the pitfalls of meditation practice based on science (as opposed to direct experience), certainly such an immature field as neuroscience.

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The brain is just another part of the body & can be an object of meditative awareness, particularly when breaking though into the elusive 3rd Satipatthana & also the later jhanas.

As for reference to "the brain" in the Buddhist scriptures, there is possibly Dhammapada 37, which states the mind resides in "the cave", which could mean "the skull", that is, "the brain":

37. Dwelling in the cave (of the heart), the mind, without form, wanders far and alone. Those who subdue this mind are liberated from the bonds of Mara.

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Following the work of Ivan Pavlov in the beginning of 19th century emerged a field of study concerned with sanity and behavioral conditioning, in particular what was studied was the effect of ignorance on mental health, the field was called General Semantics (not to be confused with linguistic study of semantics).

It was largely misunderstood and eventually absorbed into other disciplines concerned with cognitive therapy during the 1950-1960s but there is still a community primarily focused on further study development of the discipline to this day.

It is mostly based on contemplation of the workings of the brain, behavioral conditioning and abandoning wrong views in regards to external & internal reality. It is a systematic approach and a training.

The main pieces of literature are attributed to the founder Alfred Korzybski ie his 'Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics'. It is quite dense but there are also various popularization works such as the 'Tyranny of Words' by Stuart Chase, both available on Amazon and free pdfs online.

  • Thanks. I skimmed and searched Chase and perused the TOC of Korzybski, but could find nothing about meditation in either, by any reasonable terminology. If I'm wrong, I'd appreciate a pointer. Plenty about the brain, but of course all probably premature given how much more we know since the advent of neuroimaging, not to mention the vast unknown beyond even that. – David Lewis Apr 2 at 13:24
  • It is based on contemplation and is well suited for formal sitting and pondering. I personally would not read too much into the particulars of neurology because the field is largely undeveloped but the general link between neural and behavioral conditioning and the deliberate formation of neural pathways is very beneficial. It is somewhat like an AI debugging itself imo. As for the endocrinal systems it is good to keep in mind but i personally don't mind it much because there is not that much to think about. – 1231546 Apr 3 at 1:27

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