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The Science of Compassion

2009年04月14日 13:51:00 佛教在线 点击:0

During most training students report changes, not only at a psychological level, but also physically and neurologically. Almost standard amongst changes reported are increased feelings of happiness, joy, clarity and peace, often followed by a diminishing sense of “me”, and a loss of feeling separate from others. This can be followed by a feeling of expansiveness which becomes limitless, finally taking the meditator into a state of bliss and clarity where any sense of duality of limitation is lost.

These descriptions by meditators indicate that profound transformations of consciousness are brought about by the process, which is what it is designed to do. Now science is enabling us to ascertain how these changes manifest in the brain and actually change the physical structure of the brain.

During the past 20 years neuroscientists have shown great interest in the effects of meditation. In 2002 extensive tests were performed on eight long-term Buddhist meditators by an American team of top neuroscientists.1 These were highly sophisticated tests capturing a moment-by-moment record of changing levels of activity in different areas of the brain.

One of the long-term meditators was prone to severe panic attacks as a child. The fact that within claustrophobic space of the MRI scanner he could focus his mind on an altruistic and compassionate state confirmed the result of his training in meditation.

In one of the tests, brain activity during compassionate meditation was measured in meditators and a control group. The measurement of activation in the area of the brain stimulated by maternal love and empathy was significantly higher in the meditator group. In addition, the measurements of the long-term meditators were so much higher than in the control group that the laboratory technicians suspected that there was a malfunction of the recording machinery. In 2005, Time magazine interviewed Richard Davidson2  about these exciting results. He admitted: “We didn’t expect to see anything quite that dramatic.”

This piece of research is a small sample of a rapidly increasing body of evidence which establishes that there is an intricate interaction between how we use our minds and what happens to the brain.

1 Study reported in PNAS, November 16th, 2004. Vol 101 No 46 16373: Long-term meditators self-induced high-amplitude gamma synchrony during mental practice.

2 Richard Davidson: Neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.One of the studied meditators comments,Through the patient tutoring of experts in the fields of psychology and neuroscience….I’ve begun to recognize why, from an objectively scientific perspective, the practices actually work: those feelings of limitation, anxiety, fear, and so on are just so much neuronal gossip. They are, in essence, habits, and habits can be unlearned.1

Conclusion

Neuroscientists have confirmed that through meditation changes can take place that improve our health and our sense of well-being. It is encouraging and refreshing to realise that what the Buddha taught more than 2500 years ago is now being brought to the 21st century in the scientific language of our time. Not only does this enrich and give a profound perspective to what could otherwise be a cold and soulless discipline, but it also de-mystifies ancient teachings which describe states of consciousness in language that seems to place them beyond our reach. When presented in the language in our time we begin to realise that we are as capable now of treading the path to enlightenment and compassion as the Lord Buddha and his disciples were thousands of years ago. It is simply that today our methods may be different.

Observing mind and doing mind training is possible for everyone.  It makes a person more mature and develops their loving kindness and compassion. Inner peace can be reached! Less mistakes are made and this positively influences a person’s family, then - his or her neighbours and through this the environment and ultimately the world.

The world is influenced by human beings. So, if we want to change the world into a compassionate and positive place, then each one of us has to change individually and positively.  This can be done through facing, accepting and dealing with our emotions.

1 Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche: The Joy of Living, p. 47

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