Buddhist Meditation and Modern Science

Friday June 17, 2016

•  Buddhist studies •  Coursera •  developmental psychology •  eastern philosophy •  Hinduism •  meditation •  Taoism • 

I’ve been taking Robert Wright’s Cousera course, “Buddhism and Modern Psychology,” mostly because I didn’t know anything about either. As Coursera is great fodder for blog content, here’s my essay response to the questions,

Does modern science lend support to Buddhist ideas about the human mind? Does modern science lend support to the logic behind Buddhist meditation practice?

Buddhist philosophy presents the idea that discontentment is a fundamental part of human existence and that the way to relieve this discontent is through the Noble Eightfold Path. Critically, three of the eight steps on the Noble Eightfold Path are focused on meditation practice:

  1. Right effort,
  2. Right mindfulness, and
  3. Right concentration.

These aspects confine and define the meditation practice, making it somewhat different from the meditation practices of other traditions, including the closely related Hindu and Taoist meditation practices. In this regard, Buddhism is more a philosophical approach and study than it is a religion, though it has inherited religious aspects from different folk and cultural traditions throughout southern and eastern Asia.

Generally, modern science provides some evidence to support Buddhist ideas about the human mind. In particular, the idea, some scientific evidence supports the idea that meditation can still the mind. It is, obviously, unclear whether meditation can lead to enlightenment, since that an area that science cannot explore. Nevertheless, it is clear a regular meditation practice can have a number health benefits associated with it, affecting the physical health of those studied. For instance, a meta-analysis of studies on the efficacy of meditation for reducing stress shows that meditation practice, as part of a larger program of stress reduction, can support and complement other methods. Other studies have shown that mindfulness meditation training can increase attentiveness, which is great since that is the entire point. Further, mindfulness meditation has been linked to increased memory recall, which should improve both short term and long term memory.

Further, some of the psychological models associated with modern developmental and evolution psychology support these analysis. This is illustrated most clearly through the default mode network. The default mode network is characterized as a set of brain regions that are active when someone is “doing nothing.” Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of those in meditation practice have shown the default mode network relaxing when in a meditative state. This offers some explanation for how meditation can reduce anxiety and increase memory and focus. Based on this information, there is evidence from modern science to support the logic behind the Buddhist meditation practice.

Also, I found on Wednesday evening I passed the class.

Image by suc / Pixabay.