by Christina Sarich
November 14, 2014
A team of researchers led by Dr. Lazar, a neurologist and instructor at Harvard medical school, has discovered that meditating for just 8 weeks can fuel grey-matter in the hippocampus and promote brain ‘growth’. More specifically, the practice of meditation can spark measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress.
For the study, 16 volunteers took part in Dr. Lazar’s ‘mindfulness’ course, with magnetic resonance (MR) images being taken 2 weeks before and after the study. After just 8 short weeks of practicing mindfulness meditation, her volunteers showed thicker grey matter in several important areas of the brain, including the left hippocampus, a small horseshoe-shaped structure in the central brain involved in memory, learning and emotional regulation.
Additional parts of the brain positively affected by just eight weeks of meditation were posterior cingulate cortex – also important for memory and emotions; the temporoparietal junction, involved in empathy creation; and the cerebellum, which helps to coordinate movement.
Study senior author Sara Lazar of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program and a Harvard Medical School instructor in psychology, said:
“Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day. This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.”
Britta Hölzel, first author of the paper and a research fellow at MGH and Giessen University in Germany, said:
“It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life. Other studies in different patient populations have shown that meditation can make significant improvements in a variety of symptoms, and we are now investigating the underlying mechanisms in the brain that facilitate this change.”
Those who did not go take part in Dr. Lazar’s course experienced no such structural brain changes.
The meditation course seemed to cause the brain to form denser connections among important centers that regulate our behavior and help us to be ‘smart.’
This translates to all sorts of possible benefits – from handling stress better at work and in our lives, to conducting out responsibilities with more élan. Sure, you can cram for those finals, or beat your head against the wall trying to meet a deadline at work, but maybe some life-long meditative practices can help.
Her talk and pictures are highly motivating for those looking for an edge in their industry or who just need some extra oomph to get through their hectic lives.
You can see Dr. Lazar talk about her brain scans in a Ted Talks video here.
The 37 Practices of the Bodhisattva
July 12, 2013
A.1: Though he sees that in all phenomena there is no coming and going, He strives solely for the sake of beings. To the sublime teacher inseparable from the Lord of Compassion, the Protector of Beings, I pay constant homage with respectful body, speech, and mind.
A.2: The perfect Buddhas —source of happiness and ultimate peace— exist through having accomplished the sacred Dharma, And that, in turn, depends on knowing how to practice it. I shall therefore explain the practice of the Bodhisattvas.
B.1: Now that I have this great ship, a precious human life, so hard to obtain, I must carry myself and others across the ocean of samsara. To that end, to listen, reflect, and meditate day and night, without distraction, is the practice of a Bodhisattva.
B.2: In my native land waves of attachment to friends and kin surge, hatred for enemies rages like fire, the darkness of indifference, not caring what to adopt or avoid, thickens. To abandon my native land is the practice of a Bodhisattva.
B.3: When unfavorable places are abandoned, disturbing emotions gradually fade. When there are no distractions, positive activities naturally increase. As awareness becomes clearer, confidence in the Dharma grows. To rely on solitude is the practice of a Bodhisattva.
B.4: Close friends who have long been together will separate. Wealth and possessions gained with much effort will be left behind. Consciousness, a guest, will leave the lodge of the body. To give up the concerns of this life is the practice of a Bodhisattva.
B.5: In bad company, the three poisons grow stronger, study, contemplation, and cultivation decline, and loving-kindness and compassion vanish. To avoid unsuitable friends is the practice of a Bodhisattva.
B.6: Through reliance on a true spiritual friend, my faults will fade and good qualities will grow like a waxing moon. To consider him even more precious than my own body is the practice of a Bodhisattva.
B.7: Whom can worldly gods protect, themselves imprisoned in samsara? To take refuge in the Three Jewels, who never fail those they protect, is the practice of a Bodhisattva.
B.8: The Buddha taught that the unendurable suffering of the lower realms is the fruit of unvirtuous actions. Therefore, to never act unvirtuously, even at the cost of my life, is the practice of a Bodhisattva.
B.9: Like dew on grass, the delights of the three worlds by their very nature evaporate in an instant. To strive for the supreme level of liberation that never changes is the practice of a Bodhisattva.
B.10: If all the mothers who have loved me since beginningless time are suffering, what is the use of my own happiness? So, with the aim of liberating limitless sentient beings, to set my mind on enlightenment is the practice of a Bodhisattva.
B.11: All suffering, without exception, arises from desiring happiness for myself, while perfect enlightenment is born from the thought of benefiting others. Therefore, to really exchange my own happiness for the suffering of others is the practice of a Bodhisattva.
B.12: If someone driven by great desire seizes all my wealth, or induces others to do so, to dedicate to him my body, possessions, and past, present, and future merit is the practice of a Bodhisattva.
B.13: If, in return for not the slightest wrong of mine, someone were to cut off even my very head, through the power of compassion to take all his negative actions upon myself is the practice of a Bodhisattva.
B.14: Even if someone says all sorts of derogatory words about me and proclaims them throughout the universe, in return, out of loving-kindness, to extol that person’s qualities is the practice of a Bodhisattva.
B.15: Even if in the midst of a large gathering someone exposes my hidden faults with insulting language, to bow to him respectfully, regarding him as a spiritual friend, is the practice of a Bodhisattva.
B.16: Even if one I’ve lovingly cared for like my own child regards me as an enemy, to love him even more, as a mother loves a sick child, is the practice of a Bodhisattva.
B.17: Even if my peers or my inferiors, out of pride, do all they can to debase me, to respectfully consider them like my teachers on the crown of my head, is the practice of a Bodhisattva.
B.18: Even when utterly destitute and constantly maligned by others, afflicted by terrible illness and prey to evil forces, to still draw upon myself the suffering and wrongdoing of all beings and not lose heart is the practice of a Bodhisattva.
B.19: Though I may be famous, and revered by many, and as rich as the god of wealth himself, to see that the riches and glory of the world are without essence, and to be free of arrogance, is the practice of a Bodhisattva.
B.20: If I do not conquer my own hatred, the more I fight outer enemies, the more they will increase. Therefore, with the powers of loving-kindness and compassion, to tame my own mind is the practice of a Bodhisattva.
B.21: Sense pleasures and desirable things are like saltwater —the more I taste them, the more my thirst increases. To abandon promptly all objects which arouse attachment is the practice of a Bodhisattva.
B.22: All that appears is the work of my own mind; the nature of mind is primordially free from conceptual limitations. To recognize this nature and not to entertain concepts of subject and object is the practice of a Bodhisattva.
B.23: When encountering objects which please me, to view them like rainbows in summer, not ultimately real, however beautiful they appear, and to relinquish craving and attachment, is the practice of a Bodhisattva.
B.24: The various forms of suffering are like the death of a dream child —by clinging to deluded perceptions as real I exhaust myself. Therefore, when encountering unfavorable circumstances, to view them as illusions is the practice of a Bodhisattva.
B.25: If those who wish for enlightenment must give away even their own bodies, how much more should it be true of material objects? Therefore, without expectation of result or reward, to give with generosity is the practice of a Bodhisattva.
B.26: If, lacking discipline, I cannot accomplish my own good, it is laughable to think of accomplishing the good of others. Therefore, to observe discipline without samsaric motives is the practice of a Bodhisattva.
B.27: For a Bodhisattva who desires the joys of virtue, all who harm him are like a precious treasure. Therefore, to cultivate patience toward all, without resentment, is the practice of a Bodhisattva.
B.28: Merely for their own sake, even those who long for liberation make efforts like one whose hair is on fire. Seeing this, for the sake of all beings, constant effort, the source of excellent qualities, is the practice of a Bodhisattva.
B.29: Knowing that through profound insight, thoroughly grounded in sustained calm, the disturbing emotions are completely conquered, to practice the concentration which utterly transcends the four formless states is the practice of a Bodhisattva.
B.30: In the absence of wisdom, perfect enlightenment cannot be attained through the other five perfections alone. Therefore, to cultivate wisdom combined with skillful means and free from the three concepts is the practice of a Bodhisattva.
B.31: If I do not examine my own defects, though outwardly a Dharma practitioner, I may act against the Dharma. Therefore, continuously to examine my own faults and give them up is the practice of a Bodhisattva.
B.32: If, impelled by negative emotions, I relate the faults of other Bodhisattvas, I will myself degenerate. Therefore, to not talk about the faults of anyone who has entered the path is the practice of a Bodhisattva.
B.33: Offerings and respect may bring discord and cause study, contemplation, and cultivation to decline. Therefore, to avoid attachment to friends and benefactors is the practice of a Bodhisattva.
B.34: Harsh words disturb the minds of others and spoil my own practice. Therefore, to give up coarse speech, which others find unpleasant, is the practice of a Bodhisattva.
B.35: When emotions become habitual, they are hard to counteract with antidotes. Therefore, with mindfulness and vigilance, to crush attachment and other negative emotions the moment they arise is the practice of a Bodhisattva.
B.36: In short, wherever I am, whatever I do, to be continually mindful and vigilant, asking, “What is the state of my mind?” and accomplishing the good of others is the practice of a Bodhisattva.
B.37: Dedicating to enlightenment through wisdom purified of the three concepts all merit achieved by such endeavor, to remove the suffering of numberless beings, is the practice of a Bodhisattva.
C.1: Following the teachings of the holy beings, I have arranged the points taught in the sutras, tantras, and shastras as The Thirty-seven Practices of the Bodhisattva for the benefit of those who wish to train on the path.
C.2: Since my understanding is poor, and I have little education, this is no composition to delight the learned; but as it is based on the sutras and teachings of holy beings, it is genuinely the practice of the Bodhisattvas.
C.3: However, it is hard for someone unintelligent like me to fathom the great waves of the Bodhisattvas’ activities, so I beg the forgiveness of the holy ones for my contradictions, irrelevances, and other mistakes.
C.4: Through the merit arising from this and through the power of the sublime bodhichitta, relative and absolute, may all beings become like the Lord of Compassion, who is beyond the extremes of samsara and nirvana.
–Gyalse Ngulchu Tokme Zangpo (1297-1371)
Looking for consciousness in the brain is like looking inside a radio for the announcer.
Feb. 11, 2013
People who meditate grow bigger brains than those who don’t.
Researchers at Harvard, Yale, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have found the first evidence that meditation can alter the physical structure of our brains. Brain scans they conducted reveal that experienced meditators boasted increased thickness in parts of the brain that deal with attention and processing sensory input.
In one area of gray matter, the thickening turns out to be more pronounced in older than in younger people. That’s intriguing because those sections of the human cortex, or thinking cap, normally get thinner as we age.
“Our data suggest that meditation practice can promote cortical plasticity in adults in areas important for cognitive and emotional processing and well-being,” says Sara Lazar, leader of the study and a psychologist at Harvard Medical School. “These findings are consistent with other studies that demonstrated increased thickness of music areas in the brains of musicians, and visual and motor areas in the brains of jugglers. In other words, the structure of an adult brain can change in response to repeated practice.”
The researchers compared brain scans of 20 experienced meditators with those of 15 nonmeditators. Four of the former taught meditation or yoga, but they were not monks living in seclusion. The rest worked in careers such as law, health care, and journalism. All the participants were white. During scanning, the meditators meditated; the others just relaxed and thought about whatever they wanted.
Meditators did Buddhist “insight meditation,” which focuses on whatever is there, like noise or body sensations. It doesn’t involve “om,” other mantras, or chanting.
The Zen of physics. How can one particle be in two places at the same time ? Being and not being. Modern science is finally reaching what Zen, the Tao, have been saying for a long time. All is energy. All is consciousness. If you think it, if you desire it…
Yes, Zen and neuroplasticity work well together.