Buddhist Meditation & Science

By Percy Nanayakkara

At this point, let us see what modern researchers have done in the field of meditation. 

First of all modern researchers have recognized that the meditator's brain functions are distinct from that of the non-meditator. 

In addition it has been discovered that the meditator's brain is not subjected to habituation process, whereas all the others live as victims of habituation of their brains. See the following two experiments. in Electroencephalographic (EEG)Analysis of Meditation 

In 1963 a fascinating and unique report on Zen meditation was presented by Dr Akira Kasamatsu and Dr Tomio Hirai of the Department of Neuro-Psychiatry, Tokyo University. It contained the results of a ten-year study of the brain wave or electroencephalographic (EEG) tracing of Zen masters. 

The EEG tracing revealed that about 90 seconds after an accomplished Zen practitioner begins meditation, a rhythmic slowing in the brain wave pattern occurs known as alpha waves. This slowing occurs with eyes open and progresses with meditation, and after 30 minutes one finds rhythmic alpha waves of seven or eight per second. This effect persists for some minutes after meditation. 

What is most significant is that this EEG pattern is notably different from those of sleep, normal walking ,consciousness, and hypnotic trance and is unusual in persons who have not made considerable progress in meditation. 

In other words, it suggests an unusual mental state; though from the subjective reports of the practitioners, it does not appear to be a unique or highly unusual conscious experience. 

It was also found that a Zen master's evaluation of the amount of progress another practitioner had made correlated directly with the latter's EEG changes. 

Another finding of the same study concerned what are called alpha blocking and habituation. 

“To understand these phenomena let us imagine that a person who is reading quietly is suddenly disturbed by a loud noise. If the same sound is then repeated with a few seconds later his attention will again be diverted, only not as strongly nor for as long a time. If the sound is then repeated at regular intervals, the person will continue reading and become oblivious to the sound. A normal subject with closed eyes produces alpha waves on an EEG tracing. An auditory stimulation, such as a loud noise normally obliterates alpha waves for seven seconds or more; this is termed alpha blocking. In a Zen master the alpha blocking produced by the first noise lasts only two seconds. If the noise is repeated at 15 second intervals, we find that in the normal subject there is virtually no alpha blocking remaining by the fifth successive noise. This diminution of alpha blocking is termed habituation and persists in normal subjects for as long as the noise continues at regular and frequent intervals. In the Zen master, however, no habituation is seen. His alpha blocking lasts two seconds with the first sound, two seconds with the fifth sound, and two seconds with the twentieth sound. This implies that the Zen master has a greater awareness of his environment as the paradoxical result of meditative concentration.”
 The above quoted EEG experiment has proved that the non-meditator's mind becomes insensitive to the environment and his mind functions on habituation while the meditator's mind remains alert to the outside world. This is paradoxical to meditative concentration. Simply because the sensitivity becomes sharper in the meditative mind, the meditator becomes more and more sensitive to the condition of the world. 

REFERENCES 2. “Elements of Buddhist Meditation” Prof Shantha Ratnayake 

Excerpted From : 

Also Check out:
The Institute For The Scientific Study Of Meditation


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