Category Archives: Neuroscience

You decide if it’s good or bad!

There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. Hamlet

William Shakespeare

I wonder if Shakespeare knew this statement’s depth when he wrote it? I haven’t been blogging much in the last few years as I have been going through the most difficult situations in my life. Two and a half years ago my ex and I split up and the battle began over where our daughter was to live. As I am sure many of you have been through something like this you know things can get really bad really quickly. Even for two Buddhists who have promised their lama and all beings to work for their benefit until enlightenment. With such a shared altruistic goal how could things go so wrong?

For over one year I focused on all the bad things that she did and was doing and I spiraled down a very dark rabbit hole. I have never been so negative in my life. Slowly even my best friends started to wisely but compassionately warn me that they could not hear my constant telling of all the things that she was doing wrong. I was becoming bitter and hard not to mention very angry. I had been giving all my energy to and focusing on the bad things that were happening. And not to my surprise but bad things kept happening, it was as if I was willing these things into existence with my attention and awareness and then amplifying them to absurd proportions.

Just like Hamlet, I was a prisoner of my own mind as he was contemplating the murder of his father and his killer King Claudius.

Then the change came, at the behest of my lawyer and a few good friends I began to keep a log of all the things that “she was doing” so that if needed I could use this protocol in court. The first time I started doing this I was emotionally triggered. Fast heart rate, shaking hands, you name it. However, her bad actions had now become my ammunition and my mental health began to improve. I wrote the things down and began to let them go. I was actually happy when she did something stupid so I could write it down. As more and more bad became good I started to see more and more good all around me. Paradox?

My fortunes had begun to change, and I began to heal from deep within. Anger turned to joy and love. The more she did that was meant to hurt me the more healing I found. I found that my own thinking was the key I could decide what I wanted. Heaven or hell was my choice and my choice alone. By choosing to place my attention on negative things or thoughts I was feeding my anger and hastening my own demise. I managed to bring my meditation practice into my daily life and by resting in my heart and consciously directing my thoughts in the direction of love and joy I turned my mind around 180 degrees. I can even say today that I am thankful for her bad actions as I was able to transform them into love and now my relationships have completely changed. Old childhood wounds that had been festering for decades began to heal and the sun started shining brighter than ever before in even the darkest corners of my mind. I am less and less triggered by her actions all the time. It’s clear to me that if I had focused on revenge and anger I would not have only lost my relationship with my daughter but like Hamlet, I would have lost much more.

In my Buddhist practice, I have been taught to build up good impressions in mind. How do we do this? Through mandala practice or volunteering benefiting others, or even just in simple meditation. This is really an interesting thing to do. The more good memories or thoughts you have the easier it is to have something good to focus on. It is much better to wake up from a good dream than a bad one any day of the week. It is as if our minds are hungry and our very attention to one thought or another is the food or energy we expend. We choose to feed our minds with good or bad things at every moment. Of course, sometimes bad things come up in mind, we need only to think, about how interesting, and then let it go back to from whence they came. It is dangerous to deny the energy of stifled or repressed emotions. We simply need to use this energy or fuel in a new way. Give it a new direction and watch our lives change.

Choose today in this very moment what thoughts you want to feed and watch them grow in the garden of your mind. We are the sower and reaper of all things in mind, this is Karma. Remember that being angry is natural but if you feed it, it’s like drinking poison yourself and expecting the other person to die. This is never going to work.

We are in control of our mind in fact we possess mind. Mind does not possess us. This is what we learn in meditation. And to have this come forth in daily life is one expected result of any meditative practice.

QP

Coemergence of Subject Object and Action

The hard question of consciousness asks us to consider where consciousness arises from.

I believe that this question is fundamentally flawed and should be restructured. Instead of asking where does consciousness come from, what we should be asking is, what arises from consciousness?

Many of my subscribers are familiar with the theory of panpsychism, which presupposes that consciousness is omnipresent. It is everywhere, even your chair under you or your screen that you are reading or watching this on is in a small way conscious. Does this seem far fetched to you? The only other explanation is that consciousness is nothing more than a biological and chemical reaction limited to somewhere in the brain or body.

So if we presume that consciousness is everywhere and all things are conscious, then we could extrapolate that consciousness is the cause of everything. That the simple act of observation or awareness collapses the wavefront of all the possibilities of particles in superposition into our everyday world.

Now the stage is set for some more questions. The Buddha Dharma talks a lot about the unity of subject, object, and action. This is one of the many ways of expressing non duality. Let’s explore this, we have three things. A subject, (you or me), and an apple (object) that we would like to enjoy (action). So now, what good is a subject (you or me) without an object (apple) to enjoy (action)? What good is an object (apple) without a subject (you or me) to enjoy (action) it? And finally what good is action like enjoyment without a subject ( you or me) to do it to an object (apple)? This system of codependent existence is very interesting to play with. to understand what I mean here is that it is simply not meaningful or logical for one of these things to exist without the others.

Co emergence or co arising are two terms that are often used when comparing our very dualistic experience to a non dual reality. A general understanding of this would be that both good and bad, light and dark, and up and down only exist dependent on each other. We are pointing at the unity of two extremes and saying that what we want or what we perceive is actually in the middle somewhere, but we do not naturally perceive this. We see or understand only the separation or the borders between, in fact our total understanding of the world is based on an ontological seperation of all things. We project the idea of separation on to all that we see. The Buddha Dharma shows us otherwise.

Are we starting to see how all of this is connected?

Now if we ask both questions 1. How does consciousness arise? and 2. What arises from consciousness? at the same time, we begin to close the gap in understanding the conditioned physical world of particles and form, and the unseen world of forces, waves, and our conscious energy. Understanding that some things are not mutually exclusive but rather inclusive or both and, makes our world of experience full and complete. There is a lot of freedom in this understanding.

I want to close with two thoughts. Firstly to quote Albert Einstein when he was speaking about the famous double slit experiment, detailed in the link above. “It seems as though we must use sometimes the one theory and sometimes the other, while at times we may use either” Einstein knew that a “both and” understanding is optimal for complete understanding of the very strange world of particels and waves.

And secondly that, consciousness is the universe’s way of seeing and understanding itself. What is an object, the universe, without a subject, our consciousness, to enjoy or perceive it?

QP

What do Kyerim and Dzogrim mean?

Every once in a while I inspired to share one of my website pages instead of a science-based entry. This time around I chose a more recent addition because I find it so inspiring how my Buddhist lineage uses such skillful means to meditate. Meditation and my Lama have unquestionably changed my life for the better. So here is the page in full.

In a previous page I detailed the difference between Shiné and Laktong, here I would like to highlight Kyerim and Dzogrim two closely related but very different terms so as to avoid any confusion as to how Vajrayana Tibetan meditations are often structured and how skillfully they have been put together to enable one to work with mind.

Kyerim sounds like Cherim it is the building up or generation phase and is closely linked to the practice of Shiné. One could almost call it Shiné plus, as the student does not just calmly pacify mind or rest mind on an object of meditation, the object of meditation interacts and provides feedback. Through a process called self-initiation, the meditator receives a combination of lights, syllables, and sounds from the object of focus or the Buddha aspect. Sometimes even a feeling is transmitted to the meditator. This feedback is said to trigger subtle psychological changes or responses in mind, the cumulative effect of such feedback is not to be underestimated. A typical example would be as follows: A white light from the Buddha form shines out towards us from an Om syllable on the Buddhas forehead towards our forehead at the same time we and or the group we are meditating with say the syllable Ommmmmmmmmm out loud for a few seconds. We feel or experience the vibration of the light and the sound together. This process is greatly magnified when we meditate in groups especially when we are in very large groups.

Khyrem can be translated to the moment when the Buddha is born. Here the Buddha or Buddha nature is clearly born and activated in our mind. This conscious feedback is also the same feedback one receives in Tibetan empowerments or initiations, albeit with less ritual. This is why this phase is sometimes referred to as self-empowerment as the lights, syllables, and sounds all correspond to the main chakras that are blessed by high Lamas and Rinpoches during an initiation. This self-empowerment provides the meditator with a strong blessing and enlightened contact regardless of where the lama is. One can also use the analogy of tieing ones rapidly changing stream of consciousness to a pole. Within the meditation, one has a series of approved distractions or highly detailed archetypal forms to focus on. Often one can simply rotate ones attention from one specific aspect to another at will within a much smaller field of attention than one is normally used to. These skillful means are very powerful mind training techniques.

Dzogrim or the completion phase can be compared to hugging or uniting ourselves with the Buddha form. The full mixing of powerful light energy and one’s own energy form imbues the meditator with the enlightened qualities of the Buddha aspect and one is filled with blessing. When the term dissolving phase is used it can be understood to be where we dissolve the barrier or distance between us and the enlightened qualities of the lama or Buddha aspect, here one simply feels inseparable from the teacher and all beings. One no longer is looking into the mirror of mind, we are the mirror, reflecting our own enlightened qualities. Perfection phase refers to the total understanding or the absolute realization of Mahamudra the highest teachings in Vajrayana Buddhism. This is a CLEAR experience of mind unadulterated by the veils of our disturbing emotions and basic ignorance. All three are Dzogrim. Dzogrim and Laktong often share the same place and time in most meditations but as Laktong is the insight the “ah ha” moment or the connection to one’s deepest awareness, beyond the normal understanding. Dzogrim clearly points to a pristine unadulterated experience of the LUMINANCE of mind. This CLEAR LIGHT, when seen from an outside perspective but still within the meditative experience, is the mechanism with which mind shines on the form and sound realms in order so that we may perceive them. This responsive outward shining of consciousness is what we are mentally reproducing in the Khyrem part of the meditation. In its very essence, we are the CLEAR LIGHT when there is no longer any distance or barrier between us and our experience and when we have total unity within our experience, sounds perfect doesn’t it?

 

QP

Flowing in the Stream of Consciousness

There is an old saying that you can never enter the same stream twice. This seems kind of odd to the uninitiated especially if you swam in a river or stream often as a kid, so what do we mean here? We have two Buddhist terms that I would like to introduce and discuss here in relation to the steam. The first is impermanence this is understood that everything is in a constant state of change and the second is “dependent arising”. Impermanence is simple and covered in detail here, but dependent arising can be a bit complex. Let’s use the following example of a stream to discover the meaning in dependent arising. We have a stream flowing past us the fresh cool water is clean and clear. As the water flows by it erodes the banks of the stream in some places and deposits the eroded earth in others, it changes constantly. When our stream meets another stream and the two merge and flow on together, soon we have a river. Then at the end of the long river, we often have all the sand or earth carried by the river deposited in the delta where the main river once again divides into smaller streams as it slowly meets the ocean. Once the river has merged with the ocean a new process takes over as the water evaporates into the air becomes clouds and falls back to the earth as rain to be collected by the stream once again. This natural environmental cycle is dependent arising constant and ever-changing based on the impermanence of the surrounding conditions. One part of the process depends on the other and when seen as a whole there is no beginning or end to be found. Take one part out and nothing exists. No start or creation point is then necessary.

“At first practice is like a river rushing through a gorge. In the middle, it’s the river Ganges, smooth and flowing. In the end, it’s where all rivers meet, mother and child.” Tilopa Ganges Mahamudra.

It is here where we realise Dzogrim or that we are a drop of water in the whole ocean.

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It is like this that we can understand our own existence here on earth one big cycle of ever-changing conditions and we can never be the same person twice like we can never enter the same stream or river twice. How do we compare to the river, certainly we are more complex? Here modern science would have to include our store consciousness, that is the sum of all the knowledge, thoughts, and actions we have ever encountered or our stream or consciousness. William James in “Principals of Psychology” used the phrase, stream of consciousness, to describe an unbroken flow of perceptions, thoughts, and feelings in the waking mind.

Buddhist theory calls our store consciousness “Alaya” this is the sum of all our experiences or our karma from all our lives since beginningless time. This Alaya is constantly mixing and interacting with our new life situation. Based on previous actions we decide the new course of action and we cycle through our existence without beginning or end just like the water in the stream. We are never the same person from each moment of mind to the next. The point here is clear we are the result of our actions and ideas, we should be more responsible.

This quote from the physicist Böhm sums it up quite nicely:

“I would say that in my scientific and philosophical work, my main concern has been with understanding the nature of reality in general and of consciousness in particular as a coherent whole, which is never static or complete but which is an unending process of movement and unfoldment….”

D. Bohm, _Wholeness and the Implicate Order_, p.ix

The coherent whole is his comparison for the cycle of dependent arising that is never static or complete. And the unending movement of the river unfolds slowly as new conditions arise in mind.

Modern neuroscientists cannot find the mechanism of how our vast knowledge or memory is stored and then recalled, there are theories but none that are generally agreed upon. There is evidence that certain areas of the brain are associated with certain types of memory but the mechanism is unknown and much of what we know is based on the theory from one man Henry Molaison who has his complete hippocampus removed. After the removal, Henry could not form new long term memories. While this part of the brain certainly plays an important role in memory there is no proof of the storage processes in the brain then the storage could be somewhere else. Just my thoughts but the hippocampus is rather small to store all those memories. Not to mention it’s removal prevented new memories from being formed. The memories formed prior to the operation were still there, showing that the hippocampus is not the storage location.

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Alaya has no specific location it is said to be non-local, or more simply said, space is information, omnipresent or everywhere, like energy. It’s simple and beautiful think of it as a cosmic conscious internet or quantum network, flowing through the universe everywhere and always new. Our entire being changing with every new situation and experience. Like always in Buddhism, this responsibility is our own to decide what direction we take, ask yourself do you want a comedy or tragedy today? The choice and answer is clear, are they not?

QP

 

Who is the boss, Mind or the Brain?

I find the field of Neuroscience totally fascinating as it challenges one of the most difficult questions mankind has ever asked, how or through what mechanism is consciousness produced. This is also known as the hard problem of consciousness. Neuroscientists have from a mechanical perspective dissected and probed the brain in many many ways, identifying all the parts big and small and how they interact with one another. But to no avail, there is no answer to the big question or at least no agreement or even a general consensus as to how consciousness arises, within the scientific community. If we compare a Neuroscientist to a motor mechanic we will have an amazing understanding of how all the nuts, bolts, and parts of a motor work but we will not know why they do what they do. Today we will explore the how and why of the Buddhist theory of consciousness.

Buddhism has for the last 2500 years also tried to answer this question but from a very different perspective. Buddhists began their understanding of consciousness by searching and studying consciousness from within or from an inner mental perspective. Aided by eastern philosophical training and through the practice of meditation, a practitioner is guided along a gentle path of looking deeper and deeper within one’s most secret place, the seat of our consciousness and our true being.

It seems to me the obvious solution is to not ignore the fact that these two opposites are asking the very same question, but are investigating it from completely different perspectives. What could they learn from each other and how might this benefit mankind? Could there be a new middle way or a consensus of consciousness to be found through cooperation?

To begin understanding the mental or inner perspective of how the Buddhadharma explains consciousness we need to understand two sets of ideas the Eight Consciousnesses and the Five Skandhas. We begin with the radio example. Many Buddhist lamas have likened the brain to a radio a mechanical device that receives signals from our sense organs or the gates of our perception. We are all familiar with them; sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. Yes, there are other senses like balance and intuition but let us stick to the obvious ones for reasons of simplicity. In this example, the brain acts as a radio receiving signals from 6 different stations. In Buddhist terms, the stations are called the Eight Consciousnesses. They are as follows 1. Visual (or eye) consciousness 2. Auditory (or ear) consciousness 3. Olfactory (or nose) consciousness 4. Gustatory (or tongue) consciousness 5. Tactile (or body) consciousness and 6. Mental (or mind) consciousness. 7 and 8 will be covered later. The Five Skandhas or Mind and are as follows 1. Form, 2. Feeling or sensation, 3. Discrimination or Perception, 4. Mental Formations, and 5. Consciousness.

Ready to see how all this fits together? Let’s tune into the Visual station on the radio and take a look around. Oh, look what’s that? We have a form. The eyes sense something, for example, a rose, and sends the information to the sixth consciousness the Mind consciousness. Here is where things get interesting. The mind consciousness has received the first skandha of form from the eyes. Here we can think that the mind builds the picture or mental fabrication from the information supplied by the input or inputs. Once a mental fabrication has formed a feeling or sensation arises like good, bad, or neutral this is the second Skandha. The discriminating or perception Skandha then registers, recognises, and labels the object. Then the fourth Mental Formation Skandha has us act by taking a closer look, running away or simply moving on based now on all the information our sense consciousnesses provide. We are now in the fifth Skandha and consciousness of the rose. This state gives rise to the seventh consciousness.
The seventh consciousness or the defiled mental consciousness or better described as emotions arise. “Oh what a beautiful rose, I want it.” we say, and then we are fully aware or conscious of the rose. This is where all the trouble begins, you all know what I mean here.
After the stimulus ends or is no longer the focus of the mind’s attention the information or experience is stored in the eighth consciousness or the All Encompassing Foundation Consciousness. This is most like what we would call our subconsciousness, and is called Alaya in Buddhism.

Was that easy to follow and does it compare to your everyday experience?

Remember, Mind doesn’t mind, matter doesn’t matter! Mind is Boss.