ISBN: 9780262321150 | 296 pp. | August 2014

Zen-Brain Horizons

Toward a Living Zen

In Zen-Brain Horizons, James Austin draws on his decades of experience as a neurologist and Zen practitioner to clarify the benefits of meditative training. Austin integrates classical Buddhist literature with modern brain research, exploring the horizons of a living, neural Zen.

When viewed in the light of today, the timeless wisdom of some Zen masters seems almost to have anticipated recent research in the neurosciences. The keen attentiveness and awareness that we cultivate during meditative practices becomes the leading edge of our subsequent mental processing. Austin explains how our covert, involuntary functions can make crucial contributions to the subtle ways we learn, intuit, and engage in creative activities.

Austin begins by looking back at ancient Buddhist narratives. He then weaves together the major themes of self, attention, emotion, language, and insight. He goes on to examine Zen and psychology as cultural developments, including recent information about how a clear, calm awareness can change the meditating brain. He considers the pathways through which intuitions develop on their way to becoming realized, exploring the phenomena of the spontaneous color imagery that arises during meditation.

Looking out even further into the future, Austin discusses the universal themes of creativity, happiness, openness, and selflessness. Along the way, he bows in homage to William James, explores “Buddhist Botany” and “Avian Zen,” demonstrates why living Zen means much more than sitting quietly indoors on a cushion, and provides simplified advice that helps guide readers to the most important points.

Table of Contents

  1. List of Illustrations
  2. Preface
  3. Acknowledgments
  4. By Way of a Personal Introduction
  5. I. Looking Far Back into the Distant Past
  6. 1. Two Old Men Consult the Buddha
  7. 2. Neuropsychological Aspects of the Attentive Self
  8. 3. Neural Correlations of Meditating Selflessly
  9. 4. Buddhist Botany 101
  10. II. Looking Back into Earlier Centuries of the Common Era
  11. 5. A Glimpse of "Just This" in Tang Dynasty China (618-907)
  12. 6. Avian Zen
  13. 7. Homage to William James
  14. III. Sampling Recent Reports
  15. 8. Recent Clinical Information
  16. 9. Mindfulness Starts as Present-Moment Awareness
  17. 10. Subconscious Background Qualities That Can Infuse Awareness
  18. IV. Looking Out into the Distance above the Horizon
  19. 11. Reprocessing Emotionally Traumatic Imagery While Elevating the Gaze
  20. 12. Spontaneous Color Imagery during Meditation
  21. 13. A Way Out of the Grand Delusion
  22. V. Peering into the Future
  23. 14. New Research Horizons
  24. 15. Resources of Enduring Happiness; Opening to "Just This"
  25. In Closing
  26. Appendix A: The Forest as a Sanctuary for Re-creation
  27. Appendix B: Potentially Useful Words and Phrases
  28. Appendix C: Common Acronyms Used in Brain Research
  29. Appendix D: Elephants in the Living Room
  30. References and Notes
  31. Index
  32. Color Plates