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An analysis of the buddhist concept of this moment - A way to the future

By Dr Janaka Goonetilleke, Asian Tribune, May 16, 2010

Colombo, Sri Lanka -- Buddhism in a nut shell can be expressed as This Moment, This Moment, This Moment. In a world that is always in flux the only reality is only at this moment, The basis to the Buddhist philosophy of impermanence. This is also expressed as the Law of Insecurity.

In a world that is changing there is no security. A concept much in agreement with Einstein’s theory of relativity. This of course is very different from the western philosophy of objectivism. At this moment of time when western concepts are blindly followed this article is only meant to titillate that Asian mind to further analyse our own native rich philosophies be it Indic or Confucian.

‘This Moment’ is an opportunity to practice the eight precepts of Buddhism condensed into three in the form of wisdom, morality and mental discipline in one’s actions. Neuro scientific studies with neuro imaging have now given us an opportunity to analyse the precepts. In the understanding of the brain one has to accept the evolution of the brain. The Primitive Brain is represented by the amiglyda whose function is based on the fright and flight and the neo cortex which is the part of the brain that has grown since we split from our primate cousins which is geared to the activities of the humans.

The picture of the Brain that emerges can be classified into three themes -

1) The main function of the brain is automatic. This is true of most bodily functions but also conscious thought, decision making, forming altitudes, opinions and even moral judgements. Reality takes a back seat.

2) Neural ‘Plasticity’ Not only does the brain respond to the lifelong experiences but also in terms of user hypertrophy and disuse atrophy of the different areas, the physical shape and makeup of the brain changes. There is also some evidence that these changes can be inherited.

3) The social Brain. It is suggested that we owe our complex large neo cerebrum to the evolutionary history of living together.

Morality And The Social Brain

Morality although subject to vast diversity, is secondary to nature and nurture; Humans share an innate moral code. Experiments done on our ancestors the chimpanzees have even shown them to have a primitive sense of fairness. It is this sense of morality that Buddhism appeals to. This innate sense of compassion and morality liberates the human mind from conflict. It was this sense of social justice in which the great King Asoka found salvation in spite of his great military victories. This emphasis of morality and compassion in Buddhism was most aptly expressed by Okkakura the great Japanese nationalist and philosopher in his book Ideals Of The East when he said

‘Compassion of Buddhism that elevates a dumb beast to a human proclaiming equality and brotherhood to all that made Buddhism acceptable to Confucian China’

The Buddha’s acceptance of the moral diversity is reflected in Kalama Sutra, The sermon of Free Thought. When questioned as to the truth of sermons preached by many ascetics and priests that passes through the village the Buddha said when you yourself know that a certain teaching is skilful, blameless, Praiseworthy, conducive to happiness and is praised by the wise, should one accept it as true and practice it.

This innate sense of fair play and morals of a social brain questions the present trend of individualism.

From a neurological percept the thought of empathy, compassion and morality stimulates the sub frontal lobe of the brain to secrete 5 HT which in turn suppresses the Amiglyda the remnant of the primitive brain, the site of fear and flight. The site of conflict. This leads to equanimity. This feeling of compassion as we all know is more widespread going beyond humanity even to animals. This is expressed in the compassion for our own pets. From neurological percept compassion, empathy and morals liberates the individual and is natural. It is the Me and the I that traps you into the eternal conflict that is prevalent in the present society that is unnatural.

The social brain and modern society

If Buddhism is about this moment the present western philosophy is about objectivism. A realistic objective to be achieved driven by self interests. This self interest though claimed by the west to be the driving force to achieve, causes conflict with in oneself between success and failure. In addition the drive for success is open to abuse as well proven in the present economic crisis. It is this conflict with in oneself that has created the epidemic of mental diseases and other stress related illnesses. Unfortunately self gratification has ultimately led to the destruction of social cohesion that has been developed over millions of years as reflected in the social Brain. The first victim of this is motherhood and the future generations. A mother is defined as the person who looks after her children.

A study done by Rowntree foundation of London according to the Guardian newspaper has revealed the following Data which is concerning. Children of mothers who worked for 18 months during the child’s preschool period had a 64% chance of passing the GCE Adv Level . If the mother worked 1 year extra the chances fell to 52% , increased the chances of unemployment by 3% and Stress related illnesses by 6%.

The realms of this article does not allow an in depth analysis of the social, economic and environment of the present concept that westernisation is modernity.

Creativity And The Asian Mind

A mind without conflict in harmony is an essential element for the freedom of thought and creativity. To achieve harmony, compassion and morality are essential elements. From a neurological percept harmony is achieved by the stimulation of the prefrontal lobe of the cerebrum and suppression of the Amiglyda. This is quite contrary to the belief in the western world that the drive to creativity is self interests or the stimulation of the amiglyda the centre for fright and flight. In his book Okkakura the famous Japanese artist’s gives credit to the Buddhist philosophy of compassion and morality giving him the freedom and liberality to practice his profession. It was yet again he who introduced the famous Indian nationalists Rabindranath Tagore to the concept of an Asian Mind. It is to this Asian mind that he gives credit for the great achievements of the Asian Civilisations. He differentiated this from that of a European mind that was based on the philosophy of Might is Right.

In 2006 according to a recent article in the magazine Prospect a study was carried out between Chinese and English speakers. It was found that the neurological responses were different in the two groups to a stimulus. This has been attributed to the differences in reasoning between the Asians and the Westerners. Quite logical, taking into account that the Asians who have inherited a civilisation based on great Indic and Chinese philosophies may have evolved differently from the westerners. It is best reflected in our art . If you compare the statue of Kali the Hindu goddess and that of Mona Lisa you see a distinct difference. Goddess Kali with her big breasts, small waist with wide hips is expressions of fertility compared to Mona Lisa which is a replica of a beautiful woman the most celebrated work of art in the west. This is also seen in the Indian Dances with the various mudras.

These expressions give credibility to the concept of an Asian Mind. Creativity attributed to the Asian cultures acquired from her great philosophies. It is logical to believe that the compassion and morality of the Indic and Chinese philosophies created a innate sense of harmony and freedom of thought that gave the artists the freedom and liberation to express themselves.

Neural Plasticity And A Way To The Future

It is now accepted that the law governing neuronal activity determines Human behaviour. It is also proven that the grey matter or neuronal cells grows and also the interconnections between specialised centres, which is called the white matter. Although it is easy to specify the areas of stimulated on any given activity but very little is known as to what really goes on in these areas. What is important however is that whatever centres that are stimulated can grow and at same time increase the connectivity between centres. This helps in the control and coordination of any specific activity. Thus actions based on reality and mental discipline well encapsulated in meditation gives birth to excellence. For maximum stimulus your motives must be pure and without conflict. Young children without any experience of life do not have any conflict and are able to develop their talents. This is the basis for the Buddhist theory of no fear. If the motive is money as is the case in the present environment your ability to concentrate on the activity is reduced thus development of talent is compromised. It is activity at the moment which is realistic, moral with mental discipline that can cause maximum development.

It is also recognised that all activity are reflex and automatic the response generally involves a emotional element. If the response is mindful at that moment then the stimulation of the amiglyda is minimised. It is the stimulation of the amiglyda that leads to the secretion of adrenalin that is related to the modern diseases of hypertension, stress, diabetes, cancer etc. The key to prevention is suppression of the amiglyda. Meditation thus is used in the treatment of stress related disease s but in the future has a place in the management of hypertension etc. Meditation can also be used as a key to the control of the pain pathway. In the early 1960s a Buddhist priests burnt himself to death protesting against Vietnam war in the meditative position. Not once did he flinch until he fell down dead. This reflects the power of meditation.

The great Asian philosophies thousands of years ago has shown the way to the development of the human mind. The scope is incomprehensible. The road is still open to venture. Realistic actions at the present moment with mental discipline free from conflict and in harmony is the answer. The key to harmony is morality and compassion.



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