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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Microvita and Spiritual Attainment

Teachings from Tantra

Khamúrtti.  (1 )  Kha + múrtti = khamúrtti.  Khamúrtti literally means “image in space”.  Since ancient times rśis, sages, yogis, and spiritual aspirants have sometimes seen a kind of luminous body or disembodied soul, by the divine grace of Parama Puruśa.  These luminous bodies assist spiritual aspirants in all possible ways.  

Only spiritual aspirants are able to see these luminous bodies through the grace of Parama Puruśa.  Though they are visible to the naked eye, they cannot be photographed.  Spiritual aspirants can speak to these luminous bodies and get answers to their questions.  While the words of a spiritual aspirant may be recorded on a tape recorder, the answers given by the luminous bodies cannot be recorded.  If a spiritual aspirant asks them for any mundane object, they may or may not grant the request.  If they do grant the request, they do so only once, and after that they will never come within that person’s sight again.  

If a spiritual aspirant asks for something spiritual, one may get it either directly or through the siddhas.  Siddhas are a category of microvita (2 )  which are very helpful to spiritual aspirants.  Yogis and spiritual aspirants say that sometimes during their sádhaná they see siddhas and receive direct help from them.  

People see khamúrttis due to the grace of Parama Puruśa.  But the guru cautions them that they should never ask for any object of enjoyment or any mundane object from a khamúrtti.  If people want objects of enjoyment, they will find themselves caught in the insidious snare of enjoyment.  

It is worth mentioning here that one should not confuse khamúrtti with cháyá puruśa.  Cháyá Puruśa is a mere game of light and shade.  If someone gazes intently on a dazzling white object and then looks at a dimly-lit object, one will only see a shadow.  This shadow is called cháyá puruśa.  If you look towards the sun for a while and then look at another part of the sky, you will see a kind of shadow.  Similarly, if you look at the flame of a burning lamp for some time and then look at a source of dim light, you are sure to see a kind of shadow.  

In ancient times, people who practised hypnotism (3 )  would see cháyá puruśa at night with the help of the moon, or with the help of a burning lamp (fueled by ghee) on new-moon nights.  With their vision fixed on the cháyá puruśa, they would gradually become conversant with the science of hypnotism.  Since olden times, the practice of Avidyá Tantra and the science of hypnotism have been well known in India and China.  In modern times, the science of hypnotism was used to cure disease by Dr.  Mesmer, a [European] physician.  Since then, curing diseases by the science of hypnotism has been called “mesmerism”, after him.  So now you understand that cháyá puruśa as used in hypnotism or mesmerism is only a game of light and shade.  

A khamúrtti, however, is a thoroughly spiritual vision.  Cháyá puruśa is a mere image of a shadow, whereas khamúrtti is an image of bright effulgence.  If any of you have had a chance to see such a khamúrtti or are still seeing one on any occasion due to the grace of the guru, you should not pray for any mundane object or for any finite object of enjoyment from these khamúrttis.  

There is yet another kind of shadowy appearance unrelated to khamúrtti.  In Tantra this is known as yakśińii darshana.  As a result of practising a special type of Tantra, people attain the yakśińii siddhi.  (Such people are known as yakśińii siddhas – sádhakas who have attained a type of occult power.) These yakśińiis (4 )  work under the instructions of the siddhas, and provided that some rules and regulations are not violated, they abide by their instructions.  Usually the yakśińiis cannot be induced to perform any evil deed.  They have no influence in the supernatural and spiritual spheres – their influence is primarily exerted in the physical sphere and to some extent in the psychic sphere.  They follow the yakśińii siddhas like a shadowy image, and very often can be found moving on walls or inside rooms like black shadows.  I have never heard of anyone being harmed by a yakśińii, but it may have happened.  

I know a certain person who was a professor of physics in a college in Bihar.  Let us suppose his name was Swapneshwar Chattopadhyaya.  I heard that he had attained yakśińii siddhi.  He did not have a son, but a daughter who lived far away from him, in the house of her father-in-law.  She had a daughter who used to live with her grandparents (Swapneshwar Chattopadhyaya and his wife).  The granddaughter was very young – about two or three years old.  

Once Mr.  Chattopadhyaya had to go to Calcutta for quite a long time in connection with his academic pursuits.  His wife – say her name was Kanika – was a very good but a timid woman.  The thought that she would have to live alone for a long time made her feel half-dead.  After all, how far could she rely on her tiny granddaughter?  Mr.  Chattopadhyaya consoled his wife, saying, “Don’t worry.  My yakśińii will take care of you.  She will help you in all ways.”  On the eve of his departure for Calcutta, he showed his wife a black shadowy image reflected on the wall of their meditation room.  Though the figure was very small, it looked like a human figure.  Mr.  Chattopadhyaya said to his wife, “This yakśińii will protect you from all troubles and dangers.”  

He set out on his journey and was expected to return after forty-five days.  Immediately after his departure, many strange things began to happen.  Wherever Kanika went, the image of the yakśińii followed her like a shadow.  For the first few days Kanika was a bit nervous, seeing the shadowy image, but later on, as she was obliged to spend time in its company, she overcame her fear.  Rather, she grew more courageous than before.  

At noon one day, while Kanika was washing the dishes in the kitchen, she suddenly noticed that the image of the yakśińii was shaking abnormally.  At first she was puzzled, but then she saw the yakśińii move quickly out of the room.  She followed the image and also left the room.  The yakśińii came to the door of the living room beside the main gate.  Kanika discovered that a thief dressed like a gentleman was about to escape with a suitcase that was kept in the room.  The thief caught sight of Kanika and took to his heels, leaving the suitcase behind.  The main gate had been left open by mistake.  

On another day, Kanika was sitting in the kitchen kneading flour.  Suddenly she noticed that the yakśińii was shaking violently again.  Kanika looked at the figure in utter amazement.  Immediately it went out of the kitchen, and Kanika followed it closely.  The yakśińii rushed towards the well across the courtyard of the house.  As soon as Kanika looked towards the well she became alarmed… horrified.  She noticed that her three-year-old granddaughter was sitting precariously on the edge of the well, looking down into it.  If she moved slightly this way or that, or if she moved only a little to look at her own reflection in the water, she would immediately fall into the well.  No one could prevent her certain death.  Kanika moved stealthily forward from behind, picked the child up, and placed her on her lap.  

Barely a month had passed since Swapneshwar had left for Calcutta.  One day Kanika was cutting okra (“ladies’ finger”) in the kitchen.  Suddenly she looked at the image of the yakśińii on the wall, and she noticed that it was gradually disappearing.  She looked all over the wall but could not see the image anywhere.  Meanwhile, she heard the sound of someone knocking at the front door.  Kanika went to the door and opened it, only to see Swapneshwar standing on the doorstep.  Seeing Kanika, Swapneshwar said, “I was supposed to stay in Calcutta for one and a half months, but as the job was finished in one month, I came home without delay.”  

I am narrating what little information I have about yakśińiis.  Formerly, some people used to perform yakśińii sádhaná according to the prescribed Tantric rituals.  I do not know if people still do the same thing today.  In the past there were no caste or communal barriers as far as these Tantric practices were concerned, nor are there any today.  

The system of performing sádhaná on various deities is not exactly the same as this, but somewhat similar.  Deities like shadowy figures also become visible through this practice.  Although this sádhaná is different to some extent from the sádhaná of yakśińii siddhi, the psychology in both is the same.  All the systems of Kálii siddhi, Durgá siddhi, d́ákinii siddhi, yakśińii siddhi, etc., are different in practice, yet they are similar theoretically.  In case one wants to achieve the siddhi of various deities, one should acquire more mental purity than in the case of yakśińii siddhi, dákinii siddhi, yoginii siddhi, etc., because this subject concerns the psychic stratum.  It is of elevated nature, but it has no relation whatsoever to the realm of genuine spirituality.  

Once when I visited Allahabad, a certain gentleman came in contact with me.  He told me that he had attained Kálii siddhi.  I said to him, “Well, can you try to tell me something about your experiences?  For instance, what do you see, what do you understand, etc.?”  
He said, “I perform sádhaná according to such and such system.  One day after sádhaná I saw a shadowy image of Kálii on the wall.  Since then, whenever my mind gets concentrated, that image of Kálii produces some kind of vibration in my mind which enables me to understand what it wants to convey to me.  Last night that image conveyed to me that you were coming to Allahabad today from Bihar and that you would stay here for a few days.”  

I asked him, “Can you see the red mark on Kálii’s feet, her ankle bells, her iron bangles, the garland of skulls around her neck, the garland of fingers, etc.?”  

He replied, “No, I do not see anything like that.  All those things are mixed up in the shadow.  The shadow itself is the combination of all those things.”  

Then I asked him about yakśińii siddhi, and I also asked if he knew the difference between yakśińii siddhi and Kálii siddhi.  

In the case of sádhaná for yakśińii siddhi, there is less devotional intensity due to lack of deep ideation.  But during Kálii sádhaná there is a fair degree of devotion, and at the same time the psychic state is somewhat peaceful.  Usually, people do not utilize Kálii shakti for destructive purposes, but of course there may be some Avidyá Tantrics who use their acquired power for malevolent deeds.  

This type of siddhi of various deities is a kind of psychic achievement of a higher order, yet this has nothing to do with the spiritual world.  

Uttamo Brahmasadbhávo madhyamá dhyánadhárańá;
Japastutih syádhadhamá múrtipújádhamádhamá.  
[Ideation on Brahma is the best, dhyána and dhárańá are second best, repetitious incantation and eulogistic prayer are the worst, and idol worship is the worst of the worst.] 

You may have heard that some people attain bhúta siddhi or preta siddhi (the ability to communicate with ghosts).  This ability is greatly inferior to yakśińii siddhi.  In olden days, some people would follow the practice of bhúta siddhi, usually to extend their influence or to do harm to others, and would perform many misdeeds.  Today no one follows this practice; if some people do, they are very few.  

Instances of people being possessed by ghosts, gods and goddesses, d́ákiniis, yoginiis, etc., are somewhat similar to this from the psychological perspective.  You may have noticed that sometimes people look for those who are “possessed” by Manasá [snake goddess], Satii-Má [Mother Satii], etc., when they feel an immense desire to find answers to their questions.  Others visit special places or localities to attain the exact answers to their problems.  

Although these things are similar psychologically, they are somewhat different in practice.  To treat various diseases by performing a special type of dhárańá [deep concentration] on various gods and goddesses, is nothing but the play of the conscious, subconscious and unconscious levels of the mind.  
If, due to the grace of Parama Puruśa, someone gets the chance to see a khamúrtti and asks that entity for success on the path of self-abnegation, then one may get such inspiration from that siddha devayoni (positive microvitum).  One will merge one’s individual existence and spiritual flow into the Macrocosmic stance of Parama Puruśa and attain savisheśa or savikalpa samadhi, the state of partial absorption of mind; or, by merging in the supreme stance of Parama Puruśa, attain nirvisheśa or nirvikalpa samádhi, the state of complete absorption of mind.  This is the summit of spiritual attainment.  In the final stages of one’s spiritual journey, the entitative existence of the sádhaka is merged into Parama Puruśa.  

Translated from a dharshan by Mahasambhuti


(1) The contents of this chapter consists of elaboration on the words khamúrtti and khamúrttimán.  The author’s discourse on that day entailed linguistic discussion of a number of Sanskrit terms; the discussion of each term became an entry in the author’s linguistic encyclopedia Shabda Cayaniká (“Collection of Words”).  –Eds.  

(2) Microvita are entities which come within the realms both of physicality and of psychic expression.  They are smaller and subtler than physical atoms and sub-atomic particles, and in the psychic realm they may be subtler than ectoplasm (citta, or mind-stuff).  –Eds. 

(3) In those days hypnotism or sammohana vidyá was considered a part of Avidyá Tantra.  The six “actions” considered part of Avidyá Tantra are márańa, vashiikarańa, uccát́ana, sammohana, shántikarma and stambhana.  

(4) A yakśińii is not the same as a yakśa, which is one of the seven devayonis.  –Eds.  

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Monday, February 9, 2015

Conscious Engagement in Altering Health, Mind, and Brain -- Research Continues to Prove Such Efficacies

For thousands of years, Tantrics have known of the plasticity of the brain, the subtleties of our glands, and the methodologies for evolutionary husbandry of humanity in a progressive manner through experiential intuitional practices of body, mind, and transpersonal rapport and transcendence.  It's splendid to have material measuring devices of today, though discoveries of mind and brain -- typically far more subtle and practical than contemporary allopathic practitioners are willing to acknowledge -- have been part of human knowledge for thousands of years.

Guest article

by , staff writer for the Observer  

When you pick up a bestseller that announces “this book will change your life”, or which, say, claims to be full of “mind-bending, miracle-making, reality-busting stuff”, what are your first instincts?  Do you think “wow!” or “whoa”?  In a bookshop, faced with a choice of browsing, do you turn most often toward shelves marked definitively “science” or those labelled provocatively “mind, body, spirit”?  
Doing away with dogma … Norman Doidge extends his coverage to cures that might seem to border on hocus-pocus. Photograph: Felix Clay
Norman Doidge’s two books, The Brain That Changes Itself (more than a million copies sold) and, just published, The Brain’s Way of Healing (which comes complete with that “mind-bending” quote, from the New York Times), present such dilemmas within their own covers.  Doidge, a Canadian, is a distinguished scientist, a medical doctor, a psychiatrist on the faculty of both the University of Toronto and of Columbia University in New York.  He started out as an award-winning poet and a student of philosophy.  A profile he once wrote of the novelist Saul Bellow won the President’s Medal for the best single article published in Canada in the year 2000.He is persuasive and curious as a writer, and rigorous as a thinker, though what he writes about is at the edge of our current understanding of mind and body.  
For all these reasons, while reading The Brain’s Way of Healing I had a clear sense of other readers being divided – some turning its pages with a hardening edge of scepticism, some with a growing feeling of wonder.  Chapter by chapter, I jumped constantly between the two.
Doidge is, if not the inventor, then at least the populariser of a brand new science.  That science is called neuroplasticity, and it develops from a growing understanding that the human brain – for centuries thought a fairly fixed and unregenerative organ that, if injured or diseased, is subject to only very limited recovery – is in fact capable of much more significant self-repair and healing.  Not only that, but much of the healing – for conditions that range from Parkinson’s disease, to autism, to stroke, to traumatic head injury – can be stimulated by conscious habits of thought and action, by teaching the brain to “rewire itself”.
Doidge’s first book, published seven years ago, described how the principle of such healing – of the plastic brain – was becoming established fact in the laboratory through a greater understanding of ways in which circuits of neurons functioned and were created by thought.  “Equipped,” Doidge wrote, “for the first time, with the tools to observe the living brain’s microscopic activities, neuroplasticians showed that the brain changes as it works.  In 2000, the Nobel prize for medicine was awarded for demonstrating that, as learning occurs, the connections among nerve cells increase.  The scientist behind that discovery, Eric Kandel, also showed that learning can ‘switch on’ genes that change neural structure.  Hundreds of studies went on to demonstrate that mental activity is not only the product of the brain but the shaper of it.”  
Doidge’s new book takes those findings to the next logical stage.  He goes in search of cures and recoveries that either derive from or support that shift in thinking.  Apparent miracle follows on apparent miracle.  His first chapter details how a man in chronic pain from a crippling neck injury, himself a doctor, methodically teaches his brain to block out pain using visualisation techniques, forcing those “brain areas” that felt pain to “process anything but pain, to weaken his chronic brain circuits”.  This practice becomes second nature and then curative.  The doctor, an American named Michael Moskowitz, now runs – successfully, by Doidge’s account – a revolutionary pain clinic helping those with conditions no amount of analgesics can touch.
His next tale, from South Africa, is that of John Pepper, a man diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease more than 20 years ago who, at 77, has managed to reverse all of its symptoms using “neuroplastic techniques”.  Pepper, through trial and error, and an understanding of how Parkinson’s typically acts against sequences of muscle memory, taught his body, first through entirely conscious relearning of the sequences involved in walking, and then in all other actions, how to think differently.  Pepper had found, Doidge suggests, “through conscious walking, a way of using a different part of his brain to walk… by ‘unmasking’ existing brain circuits that had fallen into disuse”.  Pepper has taught many other Parkinson’s sufferers his methods, “uninhibiting” brain circuits and “strengthening them neuroplastically” over time.
From there, Doidge’s journey, across five continents and back into medical history in search of successful neuroplasticity, gets ever more curious.  He meets David Webber, who through deep meditation and tiny hand-eye exercises over a period of years has confounded his doctors and cured himself of blindness caused by an autoimmune disease called uveitis.  Again, Webber’s methods, based on relaxation and a “reorientation” of certain cognitive functions, are being used to measurable effect to treat conditions including double vision, lazy eye syndrome and other autoimmune eye disorders.  
Doidge doesn’t stop there.  He takes the principle of stimulating “unused” circuits of the brain and making them fit for other purposes, into analyses of new therapies for stroke and MS patients, as well as children with learning disorders, attention deficit and even autism.  A variety of techniques to stimulate the brain’s innate plasticity is being employed.  In many cases this involves an energy source, low-intensity lasers, or light, or heat, which appears to help stimulate neuronal connections.  Doidge examines the ways a device applied to the tongue, causing vibration, helped an opera singer with MS to regain his voice.  He documents how use of sound, particularly the sound of a mother’s voice, and certain types of chanting, has helped young children with symptoms of autism to overcome those symptoms.  
In the seven years since your first book came out, it seems a lot of the stories for this book have come to you.  Would it be fair to say you are the “go-to guy” when it comes to neuroplasticity?  In all of this he is careful to stress that the science behind neuroplasticity is still in an unformed state, and that just because the methods work for some patients, they will not work for all.  Even so, not a man shy of ambition, Doidge sees the potential of a whole new medical practice as the ideas develop, which will require the “active involvement of the whole patient in his or her own care: mind, brain and body”, as well as a health profession that focuses not only on the patient’s deficits “but also searches for healthy brain areas that may be dormant and for existing capacities that may aid recovery.”  I phoned him in Toronto last week to find out more…  
I can agree with the first part.  Many, many stories came to me and I chose ones that were illustrative of particular facets of healing.  
The people you focus on in the book seem to share an unusual willpower.  Do neuroplastic techniques require a particular cast of mind?  
You are correct that they are unusual, and I think there is a reason.  When you are going against paradigm, whether you are a clinician or a patient who is willing to try something, you are going to get someone who is quite high on openness psychologically and very conscientious, because to do a lot of these interventions you have to apply yourself diligently.  High openness and extreme conscientiousness don’t often go together, but when they do it’s a killer combination.  
It almost requires a faith that neuroplasticity exists…  
I would put it slightly differently: you don’t have to believe it, but you have to suspend your disbelief and just do it.  
What was the moment of your conversion?  
I’m still not completely converted.  I still have to pinch myself about what is possible. Having been educated in the period in which belief in the doctrine of the unchanging brain was mainstream, still when I hear about some person who has had brain damage or some other problem I find that my heart sinks.  But I also realise that mainstream reaction is not adequate.  We really do not know what a particular person will be able to do until we attempt some of these interventions.  
Did it help that you were a philosophy student and a poet before you did medical training?  
I decided to go into medicine because philosophy of mind opened more questions than it closed.  It seemed that studying biology would be very helpful in understanding some of the questions that agitated me.  However, when I got to studying the description of the body and brain as just a complex machine with fixed parts, that also seemed inadequate. I went and studied these models in depth to try to understand how they could depict something as animate as the brain and the body using a metaphor of something that is inanimate.  It was only when I thought I had mastered that metaphor and I realised that it didn’t hold water that I went to study psychiatry at Columbia.  
In some ways, it takes a philosophical cast of mind to grasp the shift in understanding you describe...  
Most neuroscientists don’t come from a philosophical background.  They basically believe that mind is merely what the brain does.  But I have a problem with that because none of these people can really define what mind is or what thought is.  The statement that “the mind is only what the brain does” is a statement that only makes sense in a pre-neuroplastic era.  Now that we know that mind also changes brain, should we not equally say that “the brain is what mind does”?  
One of the things that struck me, reading your books, is how entrenched our ideas of the brain’s essential fixed and unregenerative nature are.  Why are those ideas so powerful?  
The idea that the brain couldn’t heal came from a number of sources, not least the poor prognosis of many brain problems.  It wasn’t a meeting of, you know, the Biological Pessimist Society one day, it was more that clinical evidence of people with brain problems showed that they did not seem to cure themselves spontaneously.  There were great quarrels in the 19th century as to whether the brain worked locally or globally.  The Frenchman Paul Broca showed that speech problems inevitably occur when a person has a stroke in one area of the brain and the matter seemed to be settled.  But even then there were some children who had damage to Broca’s area who could still speak.  Still, once that idea took hold, people couldn’t imagine that if your speech area is damaged another area could be trained up to do it.  To train a person who has lost the ability to speak to use another area of their brain is very incremental, patient work applied over time by someone who really understands what it takes to grow new connections, and so on.  Neurologists said that people could only get better in the first six months or a year after a stroke because they were describing what they saw.  It became a dogma and it overlooked the exceptions.  
Particularly a western dogma.  One of the things your book argues is that in other cultures and at other times there is strong evidence that people have and had access to some of these techniques.  
Yes, well I didn’t set out to do that.  When I finished my first book I had come to the conclusion that many of the claims that eastern medicine was making, which led to a lot of eye-rolling among western doctors, had at least to be re-examined in the light of neuroplasticity.  By the time I had finished The Brain That Changes Itself, there were significant studies, which no one disputes, which show major changes in the structure of the brain of Tibetan monks, for example, brought about through the practice of meditation.  I suppose it is not really a hard sell once you have grasped that the brain is plastic, that someone who has spent 30,000 hours meditating might actually have changed the structure of their brain.  I mean, a London taxi driver can change his brain by studying routes through the city for a year or two.  
But from that it seems quite a long way to imagine that visualising certain scenes can allow someone in chronic pain to actually escape that pain, for example.  That is still a major stretch for western medicine.  
I hope I ended up showing that it is actually quite feasible once you absorb the idea of how plasticity works.  And of course the other big thing that eastern medicine talks about but often has trouble defining is the role of “energy” in its relationship to mind.  I was very sceptical about this.  I would listen and people would be saying “energy this” and “energy that”.  We have to know that we are not talking in some kind of magical way.  
What changed your mind about those definitions?  
All the energies I describe can be easily defined and measured in western terms.  The thing is, there are no lights, colours, smells or sounds inside the brain.  There are patterns of electrical information and our sense receptors, our retinas, the cochlea in the ear are, in energy terms, transducers.  Meaning that what they do is translate one form of energy – sound, light, heat – into another.  It is the latter – electrical patterns of energy in the brain – that in one way or another help or cause the brain to sculpt itself, neuroplastically.  Somehow or other, thought itself can do that work.  It became apparent that this link between mind, brain and energy really is central to who we are and what we do.  
You suggest often that neuroplasticity is settled fact.  That doesn’t seem to me to be the case in the medical profession and certainly not beyond it…  
Within the lab, within science, within neurophysiology, neuroplasticity is established fact – nobody is challenging it.  
If it were to become accepted beyond the lab, the implications are obviously enormous, not least in the hope that it might give to people who suffer some of these conditions.  What are the limits?  
We don’t know the limits, but I could describe a little of how the world will look if people are actually able to integrate this finding.  The whole idea of the patient as the passive recipient of medical intervention would be overturned.  With learning disorders, for example, a tremendous amount of human suffering could be avoided if schools did some very simple assessments and gave children some of the very simple interventions that I describe in the two books when they are very young.  
The forces ranged against that position, not least from the drug companies, are powerful ones.  How would they be overcome?  
Well, the first thing I should stress is that I am not in any simple-minded way anti-drug.  Half of my own patients are on medication.  The difference is that everyone also gets some kind of mind-based intervention as well, be it psychotherapy or some of these other therapies.  Too many of our interventions are based on looking at symptoms and not nearly enough on what we might call pathogenesis – underlying causes.  Some of these neuroplastic interventions actually work well on pathogenesis.  There are people in the book who managed to get off medication.  Some of the people in the book who had learning difficulties actually managed to get off the medication and ended up completely cured.  
Still a sense of “miraculous” attends much of this, such as Mr Webber restoring his sight. Did that trouble you?  
When people hear this story they feel that it is miraculous, but at the same time I knew that this could not be a miracle.  I knew that there must be something in nature that allowed this to happen.  I really think we have come through an age where science is funded by government and granting agencies and you get a grant by doing the bidding of those bodies.  I am not contemptuous of that.  But truth be told, the real scientist begins not with a particular task but a sense of wonder at how the world works.  I became comfortable with wonder, writing both of these books – it triggers curiosity and pulls you towards it, but it triggers anxiety at the same time because you don’t know what is behind it.  I have tried to explain over and over again how mind changes brain structure and function but nobody alive has yet properly defined mind and no one has explained properly how so-called ethereal thought can change so-called material structure.  The whole subject is filled with wonder.  
Have you applied some of these things to yourself?  
I came to plasticity from these very western problems.  I do physical exercise.  I do tai chi to get into that flow state.  I do the brain exercises that are most rigorously backed by science.  Then there is the question of attitude changes.  I don’t know what will happen in the future: I could of course be struck down by any one of these terrible things in this book.  But my sense of what is possible for a person cognitively in the second half of life is much expanded.  
There is the danger that false hope can be raised by your reports and stories.  How heavily does that responsibility weigh?  
I think I might be more aware of it than anyone on the planet right now.  I’ve been exposed to a lot of stories that cannot be explained by the usual paradigms.  In my world, false hope and false pessimism are evil twin brothers, each worthy competitors for doing harm.  Because we’ve had this machine metaphor for the brain, and machines can’t fix themselves, there’s a lot of false pessimism in this area.  I try to be extremely careful in the book to never give guarantees but to say in this situation this or that is worth a try.  
There are four new interventions in the book just for traumatic brain injury alone.  There are stories about people improving with the use of low-intensity lasers for traumatic brain injury.  There is good evidence for sound-based interventions.  There are a number of different things we can try.  The patients who end up in the clinics of neuroplasticians at this early point in the history of the science are almost always people who have tried and failed at all the conventional treatments.  They are not easy cases.  
Are you confident that this is the beginning?  
I sincerely believe that.  Michael Faraday was doing work on electromagnetism in the mid 19th century and the implications are still being studied and developed today.  This is very early.  It is about the interface between mind and brain and this is a huge topic.  Because mental acts have the ability to trigger specific circuits that subserve those acts there is a possibility of developing specific interventions for certain problems using the mind or the mind coupled with various natural forms of energy to stimulate the process.  
The other hopeful element is that such interventions appear fairly inexpensive…  
They are, though almost all require a lot of the patient’s time.  One reason neuroplasticity hasn’t been translated from lab to clinical practice more quickly is that it is hard to beat the business model of using medication when you see a patient.  Nothing is faster than a red-hot prescription pad.  On the other hand, think of the children described in the book who would have been on medication for life for ADD but instead maybe have the equivalent of 40-60 hours of these therapies.  I have seen they really take responsibility for their health and their cognitive function.  
The obverse of that, you suggest, is the way children are staring at screens and giving themselves different “neuroplastic” problems…  
I started to write about that in 2007 and Susan Greenfield picked it up at the same time.  Techie people didn’t like it.  They said: “Show us the data.”  Well, the data is overwhelming at how sedentary life is changing everything about our brains.  
Students no longer have to go to a library, they can sit at home and have the library come to them.  That’s another two hours walking and carrying books and opportunities for exercise and interaction taken out of your life.  In America, children are spending 11 hours in front of one screen or another – anyone who thinks that does not have an effect is dreaming.  
I liked your idea that, as far as the brain is concerned, the most interesting things happen in peripheral vision and that by literally focusing too much on what’s in front of us, we risk missing the accidental and serendipitous, where new connections are made…  
Yes.  Novel things happen when you are concentrating on what you think you know and something occurs in left field.  That’s how we evolved, how our brains evolve.  

This article originally appeared here  

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Friday, January 16, 2015

Harvard Unveils MRI Study Proving Meditation Actually Rebuilds Brain’s Gray Matter In 8 Weeks

Contemporary allopathic practitioners have finally come around to exploring and, finally, acknowledging the efficacies of meditation and related practices, all be it rather grudgingly by myriad "scientists".  Approaching human evolution maturely, intelligently, rationally, intuitionally, and with practicality in a progressive manner has always been germane to tantra and tantric practice around the world.  

Tantric practice, both old and modern, has been developed through trial and error, and by sharing among mature practitioners in subtlety and rapport.  Actually doing tantric practices proves to the practitioner what Western medicine has gotten around to exploring and discovering.  Even at the moment of certain meditation techniques, practitioners experience escalations in neuro-activity they can feel in parts of their brain involved with such specific meditation practices.  

The Harvard study bellow confirms what meditators have known for thousands of years from actual personal experience.  

Guest article

Test subjects taking part in an 8-week program of mindfulness meditation showed results that astonished even the most experienced neuroscientists at Harvard University.  The study was led by a Harvard-affiliated team of researchers based at Massachusetts General Hospital, and the team’s MRI scans documented for the very first time in medical history how meditation produced massive changes inside the brain’s gray matter.  “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,” says study senior author Sara Lazar of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program and a Harvard Medical School instructor in psychology.  “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.”    

Sue McGreevey of MGH writes: “Previous studies from Lazar’s group and others found structural differences between the brains of experienced meditation practitioners and individuals with no history of meditation, observing thickening of the cerebral cortex in areas associated with attention and emotional integration.  But those investigations could not document that those differences were actually produced by meditation.”  Until now, that is.  The participants spent an average of 27 minutes per day practicing mindfulness exercises, and this is all it took to stimulate a major increase in gray matter density in the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection.  McGreevey adds:  “Participant-reported reductions in stress also were correlated with decreased gray-matter density in the amygdala, which is known to play an important role in anxiety and stress.  None of these changes were seen in the control group, indicating that they had not resulted merely from the passage of time.”  
“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,” says Britta H√∂lzel, first author of the paper and a research fellow at MGH and Giessen University in Germany.  You can read more about the remarkable study by visiting  If this is up your alley then you need to read this: “Listen As Sam Harris Explains How To Tame Your Mind (No Religion Required)”  

This article originally appeared here  

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Monday, December 29, 2014

A Place for Doubt

Guest article

By Robert Buswell  
Distinguish Professor of Buddhist Studies, UCLA

The 9/11 terrorist attacks were fostered in no small measure by the certitude of a handful of religious zealots that their religious beliefs alone were right and all others wrong.  In early Buddhist texts like the Atthakavagga (The Octets), the Buddha bemoaned the pernicious hold that extremist views, and especially religious blind faith, have on people.  By presuming that only my beliefs, practices, and perceptions are correct and unassailable implies that all others ipso facto are incorrect and controvertible.  

As the tenth anniversary of this heinous act of religious terror approaches, it is perhaps refreshing that an eminent figure in a tradition that places doubt at the very core of religious teaching and practice will be visiting New York City.  He is Ven. Jinje Seonsa, the leading Korean Zen (Seon) master of his generation.  

In Buddhism, by abandoning the personal point of view that is the self (atman), the Buddhist experiences a state that transcends dichotomies such as enemy and friend, orthodox and heretical, and thus clings to nothing from this conditioned world.  Even attachment to "Buddhism" itself, the Buddha says, must ultimately be abandoned to truly understand Buddhism.  Attachment to views is considered to be the root source of the disputes that separate one group from another and lead to conflict, a position certainly taken to the extreme by the 9/11 attackers.  

But it doesn't take a terrorist to operate from viewpoints of prejudice, hate, or misunderstanding.  We are all impeded by thoughts and emotions that affect our understanding and actions.  But if we are willing to cut through those value judgments by deploying the tool of doubt, we can experience that fundamental nature that transcends all dichotomies and inequalities.  

The Korean Seon tradition places pride of place in doubt rather than faith and the teachings of Seon Master Jinje epitomize the sense of questioning that, he insists, is at the core of authentic religious practice.  

Remember those colorful if not blasphemous sayings of the Zen masters?  
"'What is the Buddha?' 'A dried sh** stick.'" (Yunmen) 
"If you meet the Buddha, kill him!" (Linji). 

"'Why did Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen, come from the West?' 'A cypress tree is in the courtyard.'"  (Zhaozhou)  

These kinds of enigmatic statements of the masters of old are specifically intended to help overcome the attachment to views, even the view of what constitutes "Buddhism" or the "Buddha" himself.  The Korean Seon tradition uses these kinds of statements as "topics of inquiry" (hwadu) in order to raise that sense of questioning, which the Koreans call technically "the sensation of doubt" (uijeong).  

This Korean technique is akin to the Japanese Rinzai Zen training in koans (Zen "cases"), which is better known in the West, but Korean Ganhwa Seon developed prior to, and completely independently from, the Japanese Zen traditions.  In Seon Master Jinje's presentation of Ganhwa Seon, this questioning component is paramount and is what distinguishes this Korean style of meditation from other forms of Buddhist meditation such as vipassana (insight meditation).  

Such hwadu challenge one's most deeply held beliefs, including those about religion, by engendering questioning.  This sensation of doubt eventually becomes so intense that the mind becomes utterly absorbed in the topic of inquiry.  The meditator becomes oblivious to everything in one's life except this questioning, which becomes so second-nature that it flows effortlessly and continuously in one's mind, like water running downstream.  

Seon Master Jinje commonly teaches neophytes to Ganhwa Seon practice to contemplate the hwadu "What is your original face before your parents gave birth to you?"  By asking this fundamental existential question about what "we" were before we were even conceived, this question opens up a whole series of further questions about what constitutes ourselves if "we" are not our physical bodies, thoughts, emotions, and experiences.  The intensity of this questioning eventually creates such pressure in the mind that the doubt shatters, removing the limiting point of view that is the self and leaving the mind receptive to the influence of the unconditioned and open to the boundless perspective that is enlightenment.  

On the heels of the tenth anniversary of 9/11, I think it is fitting that we all open our minds to the value of doubt.  By challenging our own fundamental beliefs, challenging our own understanding of self and other, right and wrong, orthodoxy and heterodoxy, and enemy and friend, Korean questioning meditation thus opens the possibility of a entirely new way of perceiving the things of this world, a new way of thinking in which clinging to our own views alone does not hold sway.  

According to Korean Seon teachings, this is the ultimate paradox of religion: to truly have certitude one must first have doubt.  

This article originally appeared here

Do the mysteries of and about shamanism, meditation, tantra, yoga, mindfulness, intuition, and consciousness seem, at times, to be more confusing than you can grasp?

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Instructor in Tantra Psychology, presenting rational articulation of intuitional science with cogent practical exercises bringing greater personal awareness and cultivation of subtler realms, imbuing new and meaningful talents into participants' lives.  Explore further bringing such capabilities into your realm, both personal and at work.  Contact HERE

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