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Meditation on the Brain: a Conversation with Andrew Newberg

Dr_Andrew_NewbergDr. Andrew New­berg is an Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor in the Depart­ment of Radi­ol­o­gy and Psy­chi­a­try and Adjunct Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor in the Depart­ment of Reli­gious Stud­ies at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia. He has pub­lished a vari­ety of neu­roimag­ing stud­ies relat­ed to aging and demen­tia. He has also researched the neu­ro­phys­i­o­log­i­cal cor­re­lates of med­i­ta­tion, prayer, and how brain func­tion is asso­ci­at­ed with mys­ti­cal and reli­gious expe­ri­ences. Alvaro Fer­nan­dez inter­views him here as part of our research for the book The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness: How to Opti­mize Brain Health and Per­for­mance at Any Age.

Dr. New­berg, thank you for being with us today. Can you please explain the source of your inter­ests at the inter­sec­tion of brain research and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty?

Since I was a kid, I had a keen inter­est in spir­i­tu­al prac­tice. I always won­dered how spir­i­tu­al­i­ty and reli­gion affect us, and over time I came to appre­ci­ate how sci­ence can help us explore and under­stand the world around us, includ­ing why we humans care about spir­i­tu­al prac­tices. This, of course, led me to be par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed in brain research.

Dur­ing med­ical school I was par­tic­u­lar­ly attract­ed by the prob­lem of con­scious­ness. I was for­tu­nate to meet researcher Dr. Eugene D’Aquili in the ear­ly 1990s, who had been doing much research on reli­gious prac­tices effect on brain since the 1970s. Through him I came to see that brain imag­ing can pro­vide a fas­ci­nat­ing win­dow into the brain.

Can we define reli­gion and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty -which sound to me as very dif­fer­ent brain process­es-, and why learn­ing about them may be help­ful from a pure­ly sec­u­lar, sci­en­tif­ic point of view?

Good point, def­i­n­i­tions mat­ter, since dif­fer­ent peo­ple may be search­ing for God in dif­fer­ent ways. I view being reli­gious as par­tic­i­pat­ing in orga­nized rit­u­als and shared beliefs, such as going to church. Being spir­i­tu­al, on the oth­er hand, is more of an indi­vid­ual prac­tice, whether we call it med­i­ta­tion, or relax­ation, or prayer, aimed at expand­ing the self, devel­op­ing a sense of one­ness with the uni­verse.

What is hap­pen­ing is that spe­cif­ic prac­tices that have tra­di­tion­al­ly been asso­ci­at­ed with reli­gious and spir­i­tu­al con­texts may also be very use­ful from a main­stream, sec­u­lar, health point of view, beyond those con­texts. Sci­en­tists are research­ing, for exam­ple, what ele­ments of med­i­ta­tion may help man­age stress and improve mem­o­ry. How breath­ing and med­i­ta­tion tech­niques can con­tribute to health and well­ness. For exam­ple, my lab is now con­duct­ing a study where 15 old­er adults with mem­o­ry prob­lems are prac­tic­ing Kir­tan Kriya med­i­ta­tion dur­ing 8 weeks, and we have found very promis­ing pre­lim­i­nary out­comes in terms of the impact on brain func­tion. This work is being fund­ed by the Alzheimer’s Research and Pre­ven­tion Foun­da­tion, but we have sub­mit­ted a grant request to the Nation­al Insti­tute of Health as well.

Can you give an overview of the ben­e­fits of med­i­ta­tion, includ­ing Richard Davidson’s stud­ies on mind­ful­ness med­i­ta­tion?

There are many types of med­i­ta­tion — and we each are research­ing dif­fer­ent prac­tices. Which of course share some com­mon ele­ments, but are dif­fer­ent in nature. Dr. David­son has access to the Dalai Lama and many Bud­dhist prac­ti­tion­ers, so much of his research cen­ters on mind­ful­ness med­i­ta­tion. We have eas­i­er access to Fran­cis­can monks and to prac­ti­tion­ers of Kir­tan Kriya med­i­ta­tion.

At its core, med­i­ta­tion is an active process that requires alert­ness and atten­tion, which explains why we often find increased brain activ­i­ty in frontal lobes dur­ing prac­tice. Usu­al­ly you need to focus on some­thing — a mantra, a visu­al or ver­bal prompt- while you mon­i­tor breath­ing.

A vari­ety of stud­ies have already shown the stress man­age­ment ben­e­fits of med­i­ta­tion, result­ing in what is often called Mind­ful­ness Based Stress Reduc­tion. What we are research­ing now is what are the cog­ni­tive — atten­tion, mem­o­ry- ben­e­fits? It is clear that mem­o­ry depends on atten­tion and the abil­i­ty to screen out dis­trac­tions — so we want to mea­sure the effect of med­i­ta­tion on the brain, both struc­tural­ly and func­tion­al­ly.

To mea­sure the brain acti­va­tion pat­terns we have been using SPECT imag­ing, which involves inject­ing small amounts of radioac­tive trac­ers in vol­un­teers, and helps us get a more view of what hap­pens dur­ing prac­tice (fMRI is much more noisy).

To mea­sure func­tion­al ben­e­fits we use the typ­i­cal bat­ter­ies of neu­ropsy­chol­o­gy test­ing.

If there is a grow­ing body of evi­dence behind the health and cog­ni­tive ben­e­fits of med­i­ta­tion — what is pre­vent­ing a more wide­spread adop­tion of the prac­tice, per­haps in ways sim­i­lar to yoga, which is now pret­ty much a main­stream activ­i­ty?

Well, the real­i­ty is that med­i­ta­tion requires prac­tice and ded­i­ca­tion. It is not an easy fix. And some of the best-researched med­i­ta­tion tech­niques, such as mind­ful­ness med­i­ta­tion, are very inten­sive. You need a trained facil­i­ta­tor. You need to stick to the prac­tice.

In fact, that’s why our ongo­ing research focused on a much eas­i­er to teach and prac­tice tech­nique. We want to see if peo­ple can prac­tice on their own, at home, a few min­utes a day for a few weeks.

The oth­er prob­lem is that this is not a stan­dard­ized prac­tice, so there is a lot of con­fu­sion: many dif­fer­ent med­i­ta­tion tech­niques, with dif­fer­ent sets of pri­or­i­ties and styles.

My advice for inter­est­ed peo­ple would be to look for some­thing sim­ple, easy to try first, ensur­ing the prac­tice is com­pat­i­ble with one’s beliefs and goals. You need to match prac­tice with need: under­stand the spe­cif­ic goals you have in mind, your sched­ule and lifestyle, and find some­thing prac­ti­cal. Oth­er­wise, you will not stick to it (sim­i­lar to peo­ple who nev­er show up at the health club despite pay­ing fees).

New York Times colum­nist David Brooks recent­ly wrote two very thought-pro­vok­ing arti­cles, one on the Cog­ni­tive Age we are liv­ing in, anoth­er on the Neur­al Bud­dhists, where he quotes your work. What is the big pic­ture, the main impli­ca­tions for soci­ety from your research?

I believe Phi­los­o­phy com­ple­ments Sci­ence, and all of us human beings would ben­e­fit from spir­i­tu­al prac­tices to achieve high­er state of being, devel­op com­pas­sion, increase aware­ness, in ways com­pat­i­ble with any reli­gious or sec­u­lar beliefs. This is the main theme of my upcom­ing book, How God Changes Brain (to be pub­lished on March 2009): how we devel­op a shared knowl­edge of our com­mon biol­o­gy, and cel­e­brate the dif­fer­ences which are based on our spe­cif­ic con­texts. We are spir­i­tu­al and social beings.

From an edu­ca­tion point of view, I believe schools will need to rec­og­nize that rote learn­ing is not enough, and add to the mix prac­tices to improve cog­ni­tion, and man­age stress and rela­tion­ships.

That spir­i­tu­al angle may prove con­tro­ver­sial in a num­ber of sci­en­tif­ic quar­ters. What would, for exam­ple, say to biol­o­gist Richard Dawkins?

I’d tell him that we all view the world through the lens of our brains, reflect­ing our cul­tur­al, social, and per­son­al back­ground. His view is based on his lens. Same as mine. All of us have a belief sys­tem. His is not par­tic­u­lar­ly more accu­rate than every­body else’s.

We shouldn’t throw out the baby with bath­wa­ter. I don’t think reli­gion is a black & white mat­ter: yes, fun­da­men­tal­ism is a prob­lem, as is reject­ing data and ignor­ing sci­en­tif­ic find­ings. But there are also good ele­ments: the moti­va­tion to care about human beings, to devel­op com­pas­sion, to per­fect our­selves and our world.

Dr. New­berg, thank you for your time today.

My plea­sure.

——

You may enjoy more inter­views and insights by check­ing out The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness book.

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9 Responses

  1. Alvaro and Dr. New­berg,

    Thank you so much for bring­ing anoth­er per­spec­tive to the brain/mind dis­cus­sion of med­i­ta­tion, mys­ti­cism and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty. Dur­ing the 1970’s, when Indi­an yogis, Zen monks and South Amer­i­can shamans were being shut­tled into uni­ver­si­ty brain research labs up and down the West Coast (of the U.S.), I had the extra­or­di­nary chance to work in Dr. Val Hunt’s UCLA lab that looked into shaman­is­tic mod­els using elec­tromyo­g­ra­phy. I sus­pect had we used the kind of test­ing equip­ment now avail­able to neu­ro­sci­en­tists, we would have found some fas­ci­nat­ing cor­re­lates to the mus­cle move­ments we were record­ing.

    Today, the field of reli­gious and spir­i­tu­al stud­ies is spread­ing open to encom­pass new hori­zons, ones priv­i­lege both the neu­ro­sci­en­tif­ic and the ethno­graph­ic par­a­digms that define the “med­i­ta­tive” expe­ri­ence.

    For those of us work­ing in the brain research and fit­ness fields, we have a chance to trans­late the insights of ancient tra­di­tions into clear pic­tures and acces­si­ble prac­tices of how to achieve peace­ful and wise hearts, brains, bod­ies and minds.

    Gtate­ful­ly yours,

    Dr. G.

    M. A. Green­stein, Ph.D., R.Y.T.

  2. Mark Waldman says:

    I work close­ly with Dr. New­berg, and when you look at all of the brain-scan med­i­ta­tion stud­ies (includ­ing Davidson’s), an emer­gent con­sis­ten­cy appears: the dif­fer­ent prac­tices (includ­ing yoga) tend to strength­en a spe­cif­ic neur­al cir­cuit that enhances cog­ni­tion, self aware­ness, and social empa­thy. This cir­cuit, which appears to be both func­tion­al­ly and struc­tural­ly altered by con­tem­pla­tive spir­i­tu­al prac­tices also sup­press­es areas in the lim­bic sys­tem that gen­er­ate anx­i­ety, depres­sion, and stress. Thus we feel it is safe to say that med­i­ta­tion-along with exer­cise, intense social inter­ac­tion, and intense intel­lec­tu­al pur­suits-are three of the most impor­tant activ­i­ties for main­tain­ing a healthy brain.

    Sin­cere­ly,
    Mark Wald­man
    Asso­ciate Fel­low
    Cen­ter for Spir­i­tu­al­i­ty and the Mind,
    Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia

  3. Rob says:

    I can’t speak for Richard Dawkins, but I sus­pect he would have no prob­lem with the kind of spir­i­tu­al­i­ty dis­cussed in this inter­view.

    As a non-believ­ing, non-reli­gious per­son, I real­ly enjoy and ben­e­fit from med­i­ta­tion, and I am inter­est­ed in spir­i­tu­al­i­ty. A human spir­it need not be a lit­er­al tran­scen­dent soul in order to be a rec­og­niz­able con­cept worth expe­ri­enc­ing and talk­ing about.

  4. GaryD says:

    Very inter­est­ing post!

    Quot­ing from the post”

    prac­tices that have tra­di­tion­al­ly been asso­ci­at­ed with reli­gious and spir­i­tu­al con­texts may also be very use­ful from a main­stream, sec­u­lar, health point of view”

    This is not sur­prist­ing to me. In fact, many of the “reli­gious” prac­tices found in the Old Tes­ta­ment were health relat­ed (ie. dietary rules, clean­li­ness rules,etc).

    It does not sur­prise me at all that “reli­gious” and “spir­i­tu­al” prac­tices would be use­ful from a main­stream, sec­u­lar, health point of view. From a believ­ing per­sons view point, I believe such prac­tices were giv­en to use for our pro­vi­sion in the first place.

    It is in fact inter­est­ing to see that sci­ence has dis­cov­ered that spir­i­tu­al prac­tices such as prayer (likened to med­i­ta­tion) and even music and singing have ben­e­fi­cial affects on our brains.

    Again, thanks for the post.

    GaryD

  5. Alvaro says:

    All, thank you for your excel­lent com­ments!

    Gary: it is impor­tant to note that research is show­ing that pray­ing can be ben­e­fi­cial for the one pray­ing (not for any­one being prayed for). A nat­ur­al effect, yes. A super­nat­ur­al effect, no.

    Rob: I agree with you. In fact, Dawkins’ The Self­ish Gene includes these two amaz­ing para­graphs:

    When we die there are two things we can leave behind us: genes and memes…But if you con­tribute to the world’s cul­ture, if you have a good idea, com­pose a tune, invent a spark­ing plug, write a poem, it may live on, intact, long after your genes have dis­solved in the com­mon pool.”

    … We have at least the men­tal equip­ment to fos­ter our long-term self­ish inter­ests rather than mere­ly our short-term ones…We have the pow­er to defy the self­ish genes of our birth and, if nec­es­sary, the self­ish memes of our indoc­tri­na­tion. We can even dis­cuss ways of delib­er­ate­ly cul­ti­vat­ing and nur­tur­ing pure, dis­in­ter­est­ed altru­ism-some­thing that has no place in nature, some­thing that has nev­er exist­ed before in the whole his­to­ry of the world. We are built as gene machine and cul­tured as meme machines, but we have the pow­er to turn against our cre­ators. We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyran­ny of the self­ish repli­ca­tors.”

    I would love Dawkins to build on con­tent like this, build­ing bridges with peo­ple who may dis­agree with us in order to “rebel against the tyran­ny of the self­ish repli­ca­tors”

  6. Dylan Payne says:

    I am a six­teen year old athe­ist, and the son of two biol­o­gists. While I have no inter­est in learn­ing about the super­nat­ur­al, I have become quite inter­est­ed in the psy­chol­o­gy behind reli­gion, and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty, specif­i­cal­ly med­i­ta­tion. Most of my research on the sub­ject has been done through spec­u­la­tion, read­ing, and con­ver­sa­tion with friends and fam­i­ly, so I was fas­ci­nat­ed to read about the psy­chol­o­gy of reli­gion from a sci­en­tif­ic stand­point. I have sev­er­al ideas and ques­tions on the sub­ject that I would love to get feed­back on.
    I have read quite a bit about brain scans per­formed on monks dur­ing med­i­ta­tion. It seems that dif­fer­ent areas of the brain, or “neural circuits”, as Mark Wald­man put it, become very active dur­ing med­i­ta­tion. I don’t know much about neur­al sci­ence but I imag­ine that if sci­en­tists could pin­point these areas, a machine could be cre­at­ed that could help peo­ple learn to med­i­tate. The mech­a­nism is sim­ple: a per­son is attached to an fMRI machine which is pro­grammed to emit a sound when cer­tain areas of the brain asso­ci­at­ed with med­i­ta­tion light up. The stu­dent may then be able to rec­og­nize the right thought process­es by the sound and learn to med­i­tate much faster than con­ven­tion­al meth­ods allow. The same machine may work to rein­force any oth­er cir­cuits in the brain, like doing mus­cle iso­la­tion exer­cis­es.
    Anoth­er less real­is­tic, but per­haps more impor­tant ques­tion that I have is the ques­tion of enlight­en­ment. Reli­gious ideas such as spir­i­tu­al­i­ty and med­i­ta­tion seem to have cap­tured the inter­est of a num­ber of neu­ro­sci­en­tists today. Med­i­ta­tion is an impor­tant part of Bud­dhism but it is thought of by most Bud­dhists as a means to an end. An equal or greater amount of Bud­dhist lit­er­a­ture has been devot­ed to the sub­ject of enlight­en­ment than the sub­ject of med­i­ta­tion. I can’t deny that enlight­en­ment may be as false as any oth­er reli­gious myth, but I believe that enlight­en­ment is a legit­i­mate men­tal state, explain­able in sci­en­tif­ic terms. I think that enlight­en­ment is sim­ply let­ting go of one’s inse­cu­ri­ties and emo­tion­al con­nec­tions to the world. Every­thing that we see in the world is warped by our own per­cep­tions. When you let go of your emo­tions, you can see the world through a clear lens, for what it real­ly is. I think that this is the wis­dom gained from enlight­en­ment. Tech­niques for gain­ing enlight­en­ment have been cre­at­ed and refined by monks for hun­dreds of years. Unfor­tu­nate­ly these tech­niques are based around super­nat­ur­al Bud­dhist beliefs. I think that enlight­en­ment, and the process of achiev­ing it should be ana­lyzed sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly for the ben­e­fit of any non-Bud­dhist who wish­es to achieve men­tal peace. Per­haps a new and more effec­tive method for achiev­ing enlight­en­ment could be cre­at­ed based on stud­ies of ancient Bud­dhist meth­ods, much like pills derived from Chi­nese herbal med­i­cines.
    My last idea was the idea that got me inter­est­ed in reli­gious psy­chol­o­gy. It is sim­ply this: a new reli­gion for athe­ists with­out any super­nat­ur­al beliefs; a reli­gion based on human psy­chol­o­gy. As New­berg said “…all of us human beings would ben­e­fit from spir­i­tu­al prac­tices to achieve high­er state of being, devel­op com­pas­sion, increase aware­ness, in ways com­pat­i­ble with any reli­gious or sec­u­lar beliefs…From an edu­ca­tion point of view, I believe schools will need to rec­og­nize that rote learn­ing is not enough, and add to the mix prac­tices to improve cog­ni­tion, and man­age stress and relationships.” This is all good to talk about, but how many athe­ists are going to pick up reli­gious prac­tices such as med­i­ta­tion or prayer with­out any encour­age­ment or guid­ance? If these age-old tech­niques for men­tal improve­ment aren’t going to reach any­one non-reli­gious but a small group of most­ly mid­dle-aged, most­ly white peo­ple how impor­tant is it to research them? Across the world, reli­gions are falling out of favor with peo­ple due to unde­ni­able con­tra­dic­tions with sci­en­tif­ic obser­va­tions and the imprac­ti­cal­i­ty of prac­tic­ing a reli­gion in a mod­ern life. A reli­gion formed to fit mod­ern lifestyles, with clear­er tenets and a focus on com­mu­ni­ty could help fill the spir­i­tu­al void left by reli­gions based on the super­nat­ur­al. Cre­at­ing a new reli­gion for athe­ists is a chance to make a reli­gion that is bet­ter thought out; to keep what was good from the old (com­mu­ni­ty, spir­i­tu­al­i­ty, char­i­ty etc.), and throw out the bad (unclear teach­ings, wide­spread cor­rup­tion, jus­ti­fi­ca­tion of vio­lence). Per­haps a new reli­gious insti­tu­tion cre­at­ed by athe­ists with no oth­er motive than to help peo­ple live hap­pi­ly togeth­er could be the first major instru­ment in our bat­tle against “the tyran­ny of our self­ish genes”. Please reply if you have any thoughts or crit­i­cisms of my ideas!

  7. Anirudh says:

    Yoga (Appli­ca­tion) which was based on the con­trol of the body phys­i­cal­ly and implied that a per­fect con­trol over the body and the sens­es led to knowl­edge of the ulti­mate real­i­ty. A detailed anatom­i­cal knowl­edge of the human body was nec­es­sary to the advance­ment of yoga and there­fore those prac­tis­ing yoga had to keep in touch with med­ical knowl­edge. (Romi­la Tha­par, A His­to­ry of India, vol­ume one).

    I sug­gest : Mind and brain are two dis­tinct things. Brain is anatom­i­cal enti­ty where­as mind is func­tion­al enti­ty. Mind can be defined as the func­tion of auto­nom­ic ner­vous sys­tem (ANS). It is claimed that mind can be brought under con­scious con­trol through the prac­tice of med­i­ta­tion. But how? ANS is large­ly under hypo­thal­a­m­ic con­trol which is sit­u­at­ed very close to optic chi­as­ma (sixth chakra or ajna chakra). Pro­tract­ed prac­tice of con­cen­tra­tion to med­i­tate at this region brings func­tions of ANS say mind under one’s con­scious con­trol.

    ANS is fur­ther divid­ed into parasym­pa­thet­ic ner­vous sys­tem (PSNS) and sym­pa­thet­ic ner­vous sys­tem (SNS). On the basis of these facts I have dis­cov­ered a math­e­mat­i­cal rela­tion­ship for spir­i­tu­al quo­tient (S.Q.). Spir­i­tu­al Quo­tient can be expressed math­e­mat­i­cal­ly as the ratio of Parasym­pa­thet­ic dom­i­nance to Sym­pa­thet­ic dom­i­nance. PSNS dom­i­nates dur­ing med­i­ta­tive calm and SNS dom­i­nates dur­ing stress. In this for­mu­la we assign numer­i­cal val­ues to the phys­i­o­log­i­cal para­me­ters acti­vat­ed or sup­pressed dur­ing auto­nom­ic mobi­liza­tion and put in the for­mu­la to describe the state of mind of an indi­vid­ual and also infer his/her lev­el of con­scious­ness.

    Med­i­ta­tion is the art of look­ing with­in and sci­ence of doing noth­ing. We don’t use any­thing in med­i­ta­tion. We just try to con­cen­trate to med­i­tate at some point in human anato­my known as ‘chakra’ in Indi­an Sys­tem of Yoga. The cur­rent of mind is flow­ing out­ward through the sens­es and uncon­scious­ly. The mind comes at rest grad­u­al­ly through reg­u­lar prac­tice of med­i­ta­tion. Then comes self real­iza­tion and enlight­en­ment. Pro­tract­ed prac­tice of med­i­ta­tion under qual­i­fied guid­ance will help to man­age all sort of psy­cho­log­i­cal prob­lems.

    Emo­tion­al Quo­tient can also be expressed math­e­mat­i­cal­ly as the prod­uct of I.Q. and Wis­dom Fac­tor. E.Q. stands for Emo­tion­al Quo­tient. An intel­li­gent per­son may not be wise. But a wise man will always be intel­li­gent. An intel­li­gent per­son hav­ing cer­tain lev­el of pos­i­tive emo­tions can be said as wise. An intel­li­gent per­son lack­ing wis­dom will turn auto­crat. A wise man will always be a demo­c­rat who respects oth­ers exis­tence.

    Some may raise doubt that how could be the Wis­dom quan­ti­fied? The answer is sim­ple -if Men­tal Age of I.Q. can be quan­ti­fied then Wis­dom can also be quan­ti­fied, of course, com­par­a­tive­ly with more efforts. Wil­helm Stern had giv­en the for­mu­la of I.Q.. It is, Men­tal Age/ Chrono­log­i­cal Age x 100. Spir­i­tu­al Quo­tient (S.Q.) lever­ages both E.Q. and I.Q.
    Rad­ha Soa­mi Faith is a branch of Reli­gion of Saints like Kabir, Nanak, Pal­tu, Soami­ji Maharaj and oth­ers. You may call It a New Wine in Old Bot­tle. We should not expect any mir­a­cle overnight.

    In this dis­cus­sion, it appears, that experts from var­i­ous dis­ci­plines are par­tic­i­pat­ing some­one of course from psy­chol­o­gy. He /she can under­stand my views more clear­ly.

    Maslow has giv­en Hier­ar­chy of Needs. At the top of it is need for self-actu­al­iza­tion or self-real­iza­tion.

    In our soci­ety we should learn To Live and Let Live and help to sat­is­fy oth­ers need. When the low­er order needs, phys­i­o­log­i­cal and soci­o­log­i­cal both, are sat­is­fied then only a per­son think to sat­is­fy need for self-real­iza­tion in true sense. Else he/she may spend all his/her life to sat­is­fy at the most the for self-expres­sion instead of self-real­iza­tion.

    It is, there­fore, the duty of every respon­si­ble per­son, at the least, of our soci­ety to give seri­ous thought over it.

    For the sat­is­fac­tion of need for self-real­iza­tion i.e. estab­lish­ment of har­mo­ny of indi­vid­ual con­scious­ness with that of uni­ver­sal con­scious­ness we need fol­low­ing three things:

    1. Mater or Guru (A Self-Real­ized Soul)
    2. Secret of Lev­els of Uni­ver­sal Con­scious­ness
    3. Method for tra­vers­ing the path.

    Anirudh Kumar Sat­san­gi

  8. Dylan: thank you for your thought­ful, and I’d say, mind­ful, com­ment. On your 2 points:

    1- “I don’t know much about neur­al sci­ence but I imag­ine that if sci­en­tists could pin­point these areas, a machine could be cre­at­ed that could help peo­ple learn to med­i­tate”: well, sim­i­lar approach­es are already under way, so what you sug­gest is like­ly to hap­pen once 1) sci­en­tists have a more defined under­stand­ing of the brain-basis of a vari­ety of men­tal states, 2) neu­roimag­ing is not as expen­sive as it is today. Sim­i­lar approach­es today for emo­tion­al self-reg­u­la­tion rely on biofeed­back, which is pret­ty inex­pen­sive, and there is a start-up, called Omneu­ron, builds on fMRI and cog­ni­tive ther­a­py (more estab­lished than med­i­ta­tion to help patients with depres­sion) to accel­er­ate the devel­op­ment of skills. You can learn more at
    http://www.omneuron.com/PNAS_study.html

    2- In my view, the reli­gious vs. athe­ist dis­cus­sion adds very lit­tle to the “enlight­en­ment” agen­da you pro­pose, which is attrac­tive to many peo­ple no mat­ter religious/ sec­u­lar incli­na­tions. I am not sure about launch a new “reli­gion” but indeed I encour­age you to social­ize with like-mind­ed peo­ple and encour­age each oth­er into a path of life­long learn­ing and pos­i­tive con­tri­bu­tions to the world.

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