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Chapter XI: The Vision of Non-Duality: Knowledge Yoga.

Devotional Experiences and Neuroscience

Relative Knowledge, Absolute Knowledge, Seeking Stops When the Knowledge Is Firm, Self-inquiry , The Real and the Apparently Real,Limitless Does Not Mean Big, It Is Ordinary Awareness, They Exist but They Are Not Real, Non-Duality Does Not Mean Sameness, The Key to Liberation: Understanding Awareness, Jiva and Isvara, Freedom from or Freedom for Jiva?, Limitless Bliss , The Five Sheaths, The Three StatesThe Waker, The Dreamer, The Sleeper, The Opposite Thought, The Three Gunas.

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Devotional Experiences and Neuroscience

Postby georgschiller » Sat Feb 06, 2016 11:16 am

Hello everybody,

during my recent visit to India I had experienced some devotional experiences. These experiences could be described as appearances of God and deities. Ever since these appearances have been with me (just like vivid memories). It is like a constant reminder to smile and be content, secure and optimism :)

Anyways, I was curious to understand how this came about. After all religions worldwide have deities.
I found a nice article on neuroscience explaining that appearances of God and deities can be explained in terms of brain activity :o If certain parts of the brain have been developed by spiritual practise, life events (stress, depression or accidents) or maybe just a gift by birth then appearances of God and deities are very likely to happen.

Apparently, these appearances can also be triggered by electronic charges with the help of computer devices. They can also be influenced by locations close to earthquake-regions since the tectonic strain produces electric charges (explaining the locations of temples and pilgrimage routes). A certain part of the brain (frontal lobe or so) is responsible for such vivid appearances of God and deities.

Furthermore, the reward (likes) and aversive (fears) center of the brain can be changed by electrical charges. This implies that moods can be changed by electronic devices but also by practises (such as meditation, praying, etc.).

I wondered if liberation can also be measured by brain science. As the Jiva understands that he/she is actually awareness does this imply a change in the brain? I mean there is certainly a change in perception. With liberation the feeling of being imprisoned in the head disappears and life is experienced more openly, isn't it? I wonder if this implies a change in how the brain operates?
http://www.innerworlds.50megs.com/God_H ... helmet.htm
http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-enter ... 89465.html
georgschiller
 
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Re: Devotional Experiences and Neuroscience

Postby Mira » Sat Feb 06, 2016 6:25 pm

Hi Georg,
All mental states, spiritual states, divine visions, moods etc have a neural substrate. It's been a while, but as I recall the temporal and parietal areas of the brain have been implicated in spiritual experiences.

I wondered if liberation can also be measured by brain science. As the Jiva understands that he/she is actually awareness does this imply a change in the brain?

Yes, indeed. The underlying changes in the brain are due to neural plasticity. As the jiva develops new habits (discrimination, dispassion etc..which are necessary for moksha) the underlying neural pathways get re-wired to reflect the new 'state of mind' as it were. Changes in the default mode network are a likely candidate. There are some nice EEG studies that have been done on Buddhist monks who have thousands of hours of meditation practice. These monks show very high levels of activity in the frontal cortex. On the other hand, people who have started a meditation practice relatively recently show significantly less activity in the same frontal areas.

Thus, from the Vedantic perspective and from the neuroscience perspective the answer is: Sadhana, sadhana, sadhana or practice, practice, practice! That is, even after one has the clear knowledge that one is awareness, nidhidhyasana is necessary otherwise it's easy to fall back into old habits of duality and old ways of thinking (since the pathways underlying the old patterns are still there--they just have been masked by the pathways underlying the new habits).

I often feel that if we learned the Vedantic truth as children, then our brain would be wired to reflect that knowledge in the first place and it would be so much easier for the jiva. I'm trying it with my daughter :D
Mira
 
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Re: Devotional Experiences and Neuroscience

Postby georgschiller » Sun Feb 07, 2016 3:44 am

Thank you Mira for your reply! Much appreciated! Yes, sadhana has definitely an impact on the brain.
Probably the event of awakening and even the full assimilation of the nondual knowledge has to do with certain areas (frontal cortex, etc.) of the brain.

Well, it is not a surprise to see that appearances such as God and deities have an impact on different parts of the brain. After all the brain is just a machine, an instrument for thoughts. It is an instrument to know objects. God and deities are objects too, although very subtle ones.
The brain by itself is just insentient matter.
Awareness illuminates the machine (brain) which then processes incoming data, compares it with memories and determines what actions to pursue.

Coming back to the original question: Does liberation have an impact on the brain? Well, I think in the end it does not matter.
The brain just continues to function. It is very likely that the anxious, negative and depressive areas of the brain are not very active. This is most likely due to all the qualifications that had to be met for liberation. But in general the brain will not show any major changes! Why?
Because knowing that I am awareness does not change the brain. Maybe certain parts of the brain are more activated. But, so what? It does not make a big difference.
georgschiller
 
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Re: Devotional Experiences and Neuroscience

Postby Mira » Sun Feb 07, 2016 11:18 am

Coming back to the original question: Does liberation have an impact on the brain?


Hi Georg,

I think it would be good to consider the definition of liberation (moksha) first. My understanding is that it is the clear knowledge that you are awareness AND rendering the vasanas unbinding.

You are correct that the knowledge that you are awareness will not change the brain much by itself. However, as this knowledge is used to render the vasanas unbinding, that process will gradually re-wire the underlying neural circuitry of the brain.

All behavior is dependent on neural networks and when the behavior changes so will the underlying networks. But these changes, although measurable, will not be dramatic, as you said. So your brain won't increase in volume or suddenly have a halo around it ;).

And ultimately, it's the behavior that matters--no one (except nerdy neuroscientists) care about the relatively small underlying changes in the brain. However, I do want to make the point that the re-wiring of the brain takes place gradually and so self-assimilation, rendering the vasanas unbinding, creating new habits--these are all relatively slow, gradual processes that will continue to get fine-tuned with practice.
Mira
 
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