Mindfulness of the brain?

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Mindfulness of the brain?

Postby Awarewolf » Fri Aug 02, 2013 11:54 pm

Has anyone here tried spending time aware of the brain? As a body part? Like you would the feet in walking or the nostrils in breathing?

Does anyone have thoughts on this?
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Re: Mindfulness of the brain?

Postby chownah » Sat Aug 03, 2013 3:48 am

Other than headaches probably not. Sensations at the head can be focused upon but I have never been able to distinguish if it came from the brain or something else. I don't have sensations in the head that enables me to clearly delineate exactly the extents of the brain.....I think it would be sort of like being aware of the gall bladder; unless it has pain from some malfunction it generally provides no sensation or at least not enough for most people to be aware of.....if you thought that you were being aware of the gall bladder how would you know it was actually your gall bladder and not just the bile duct or some nearby tissue?
Of course being aware of the mind is something the Buddha recommends....is this the kind of thing you are asking about?
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Re: Mindfulness of the brain?

Postby mal4mac » Sat Aug 03, 2013 10:41 am

Awarewolf wrote:Has anyone here tried spending time aware of the brain? As a body part? Like you would the feet in walking or the nostrils in breathing?

Does anyone have thoughts on this?


From what I've read, the brain has no pain receptors, which I think means you can't feel any physical sensations associated with the brain (check this with a brain surgeon, if you really want to know for sure!)

In breathing you are moving the breath against your nostrils, in walking you are moving your feet against the ground. I can't see a circumstance in which you would want, or be able to, produce a "cyclic movement" involving your brain, even if it could feel things.... remember Buddhism is a "middle way" and extreme practices are ruled out!

:console:
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Re: Mindfulness of the brain?

Postby Aloka » Sat Aug 03, 2013 12:09 pm

Awarewolf wrote:Has anyone here tried spending time aware of the brain? As a body part?


Hi Awarewolf,

I wonder if this might be helpful, its from a talk by Ajahn Chah called: "About Being Careful"

The Buddha taught to see the body in the body. What does this mean? We are all familiar with the parts of the body such as hair, nails, teeth and skin. So how do we see the body in the body? If we recognize all these things as being impermanent, unsatisfactory and not-self, that's what is called 'seeing the body in the body.' Then it isn't necessary to go into detail and meditate on the separate parts. It's like having fruit in a basket. If we have already counted the pieces of fruit, then we know what's there, and when we need to, we can pick up the basket and take it away, and all the pieces come with it. We know the fruit is all there, so we don't have to count it again.

Having meditated on the thirty-two parts of the body, and recognized them as something not stable or permanent, we no longer need to weary ourselves separating them like this and meditating in such detail. Just as with the basket of fruit - we don't have to dump all the fruit out and count it again and again. But we do carry the basket along to our destination, walking mindfully and carefully, taking care not to stumble and fall.

When we see the body in the body, which means we see the Dhamma in the body, knowing our own and others' bodies as impermanent phenomena, then we don't need detailed explanations

Continued : http://www.ajahnchah.org/book/About_Being_Careful.php


With kind wishes,

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Re: Mindfulness of the brain?

Postby mal4mac » Sat Aug 03, 2013 12:55 pm

Thanks Aloka, I liked that quote from Ajahn Chah, but it perhaps need unpacking for my unsatisfactory brain :)

In regard to nails, do we just have to consider them for a few moments until we see how they are impermanent, unsatisfactory and not-self? So ... nails are impermanent, obviously, we need to cut them, unsatisfactory... it's hasstle cutting them, cut badly and it hurts! They are about obviously not a part of your essential self, cut them and is there any loss of self?!

So do you just go through the 32 body parts in this way, once, and that's it, job done? Can you now get on with anapansati and forget about doing "body scan" meditation?

Is brain one of the thirty two body parts?

Problem... you never see or feel a brain, unless you go to an autopsy!

Is watching CSI a good idea? You see a lot of unsatisfactory, impermanent brains on that programme, and you see any possible "essential" self is gone after the shooting, or whatever...

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Re: Mindfulness of the brain?

Postby reflection » Sat Aug 03, 2013 1:08 pm

Funny thing to know is that the brain is commentarial addition to the body parts. The suttas contain 31 body parts, correct me if I'm wrong.
But it is not a bad addition. Other parts are things like oil in the joints, where we obviously have no direct perceptions of either.
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Re: Mindfulness of the brain?

Postby Aloka » Sat Aug 03, 2013 1:21 pm

reflection wrote:The suttas contain 31 body parts, correct me if I'm wrong.


The Khuddakapatha, 3. Dvattimsakara - names 32 body parts, which include the brain.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/khp/khp.1-9.than.html#khp-3


.
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Re: Mindfulness of the brain?

Postby reflection » Sat Aug 03, 2013 1:30 pm

I think that is also considered a later addition to the canon.

But I don´t think it matters too much if brain is one of the original body parts or not because there are other parts missing as well. I think the parts are just mentioned as a general idea on what to contemplate.
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Re: Mindfulness of the brain?

Postby Majjhima Patipada » Sun Aug 04, 2013 2:51 pm

As a life-long student of the brain (academically, professionally, and recreationally), "mindfulness of the brain" is something I do practice. It takes a thorough knowledge of functional anatomy and the biochemical basis of neural activity in order to practice it in the way you may be thinking. This can include "mindfulness of amygdalic activity and noreprinephrine release at synaptic terminals" as a simple example with which others are likely to have some familiarity due to the connection to anxiety and the fear response. In fact, this type of mindfulness exercise is on occasional taught in psychiatric/therapeutic settings and in MBSR courses. This, of course, is a modern development and is not taught in such a way in traditional Buddhist circles.
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Re: Mindfulness of the brain?

Postby mal4mac » Wed Aug 07, 2013 8:59 pm



The intro. says that "Passage 3 gives preliminary guidance in the contemplation of the body, a meditation exercise designed to overcome lust." But all I see is a list of body parts.

Is there any more specific guidance on contemplation of the body in the canon?

Kabat-Zinn is very keen on the body scan meditation where you focus on different areas of the body; but you aren't asked to focus on "unfeeling" parts, like the brain, or nails, or oil... only on things that can have some sensation... like your feet (itchy?...), your neck (might be a bit stiff?...), and are encouraged to move on if you don't feel anything. The "list of 32" seems more "conceptual" or, maybe, "imaged based". Is it expecting you, for instance, to meditate on the concept of nails or hair, or a mental picture of them, as you can't feel them (except, maybe, where they join to nerve centres on the finger).
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Re: Mindfulness of the brain?

Postby Samma » Wed Aug 07, 2013 11:52 pm

The Visuddhimagga suggests the enumeration of the 31 body parts implicitly includes the brain in aṭṭhimiñjaṃ, which is traditionally translated as "bone marrow".[20] (wikipedia)

I remember hearing somewhere that 32 parts is essentially a foulness contemplation, as those are the parts that tend to break down, get diseased, etc.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patikulamanasikara

Visuddhimagga also mentions this contemplation is sutible for concentration, which is interesting. Does contemplating the foul give rise to some of the delightful and bliss of concentration or mainly equanimity which would make sense.

So whether you include the brain or not, the purpose seems to be for cultivating concentration as equanimity, or perhaps seeing things as they are, not just getting caught up with craving on the good aspects, and dispassion towards the body.
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Re: Mindfulness of the brain?

Postby Samma » Wed Aug 07, 2013 11:59 pm

Is there any more specific guidance on contemplation of the body in the canon?

See the above wiki link for suttas.
Well here is commentary. Only way I've done a bit of is repetition of part mentally with spatial location:
According to the post-canonical Pali commentary to the Mahasatipatthana Sutta, one can develop "seven kinds of skill in study" regarding these meditation objects through:
repetition of the body parts verbally
repetition of the body parts mentally
discerning the body parts individually in terms of each one's color
discerning the body parts individually in terms of each one's shape
discerning if a body part is above or below the navel (or both)
discerning the body part's spatial location
spatially and functionally juxtaposing two body parts[23]
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Re: Mindfulness of the brain?

Postby mal4mac » Thu Aug 08, 2013 8:23 am

Samma wrote:... 32 parts is essentially a foulness contemplation, as those are the parts that tend to break down, get diseased, etc.


Good point, that's something Kabat-Zinn avoids talking about - doesn't want to scare his patients off on the first day :) His approach seems to be concentrating on "no self"... "the pain is not you"... and impermanence... "the pain won't last for ever'... But I can see how meditating on foulness might break down the attachment to self!

Thanks for the fascinating link, Samma. I found the following section most useful to this discussion:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patikulama ... templation

The 'sack of beans metaphor' is a difficult one for me to process. The human body is not open at both ends (at least not in a way in which the 'beans' can pour out for your inspection!) It seems to me that by forcing you to pour out the beans, the Buddha is asking you to *really* see them, it's no use just feeling them in the sack, or (worse) just looking at the sack and imagining the beans in there. So, in regards to your body organs, I don't see that it's any use vaguely seeing them ... you need to *really* see them. The only way to really "see" them is through some kind of sensation. For instance, the sensation of pain or discomfort is as immediate and clear as the sensation of seeing. The quote from the Mahasatipatthana Sutta (DN 22) seems to support these surmises, and Kabat-Zinn's general approach.

Visuddhimagga also mentions this contemplation as suitable for concentration...


I just don't see it... In anapanasati you have 'something obvious' to concentrate on. You don't have to 'go looking' for the breath, or wonder what to do if it stops or changes 'cause it doesn't stop or change (in a drastic way...) With a body sensation, think an itch, or a sore knee in meditation, you are dealing with something infrequent and random, how can you, consistently, concentrate on these?

Kabat-Zinn asks you to systematically focus on different parts of the body, "toes, now ankles, now calves..." But you are then doing a lot of work, moving attention, seeing if something is there, disappointed if there isn't, excited if there is... all this seems to mitigate against concentration, there's too much going on! It seems more useful as a vipassana exercise, for 'seeing things as they are'.

Unless you consider mental events... any old thoughts... as brain events, I don't see how you can include the brain in meditation. In fact, I don't see how you can "always and for certain" include any internal organ in your meditation. There is pain in your stomach - is it really in your stomach, or in your kidney, intestine, oesophagus, or what? A superb doctor might be able to pin-point the organ every time, but even then isn't it the *sensation* and not the organ that should be subject of meditation?

The brain doesn't feel pain, doesn't feel discomfort, doesn't feel anything, so how can it be a part of meditation, unless you define it as the "organ of the sixth sense" and say that thoughts are its feelings, but I think it's more usual, in Buddhism, to calls these mental events, isn't it?

Does the Buddha distinguish the mind from the brain? Did he think that mental events occurred in the brain?
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Re: Mindfulness of the brain?

Postby daverupa » Thu Aug 08, 2013 3:54 pm

mal4mac wrote:The 'sack of beans metaphor' is a difficult one for me to process. The human body is not open at both ends (at least not in a way in which the 'beans' can pour out for your inspection!)


Sure it is - stuff goes in the top and out the bottom. In the meantime it moves and sways around, making noises and smells, and eventually it falls down and rots. It's certainly not worth taking up as related to core selves and essences, that's for sure!

I don't get much use out of the lists of body-parts because I don't really see the use of parsing subjective part-boundaries, such as that between the foot and the ankle, or teasing out the brain as a specific part among parts. Guarding the senses and satisampajanna have offered better results than body-part thinking, in my case.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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