Welcome to Mondo Samu - Questions and Answers about my self-work.

Mondō: "questions and answers"; a recorded collection of dialogues between a pupil and teacher.
Samu: Work service; meditation in work.


Saturday, January 22, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom

Being a tech-head, and professional problem solver, I tend to enjoy knowing how and why things work the way they do.  A friend of mine, who has a blog called Dharma Loss, is also in a similar line of work and has written a two part post on the very subject (Check his posts out here: Hacking The Brain & Hacking The Brain Part 2).  He has specifically mentioned that he has an interest in "re-wiring" his brain, and that Buddhism is helping him with that.  He enjoys knowing how his brain is wired.  Here's a quote from his posts on the topic that I liked: 

"I don’t know about you, but the thought of rewiring my own brain to change the way it operates is exciting. This may be because my brain has some great things going for it that I’d love to improve and its got some patterns that really aren’t healthy and need to be changed for the better. Either way, those are some pretty good motivators to want to rewire myself."
        ~ The Dharma Loser

So when I saw "Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom" on the shelf, and read the back cover, it appealed to my thirst for knowing how things work, but also because it sounded very similar to some of the things I've read on his blog.  My thought was "I know at least two guys with these issues, so chances are "Buddha's Brain" will not only be helpful to us, but others might find it helpful as well!"

Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom

I snagged it on audio, and began listening.  The only nice thing I can say about the audio version of this book is that it piqued my interest enough that I rushed out to buy the print version.  I try always to be positive and I try, really hard, to only blog about items I LIKE.  I try never to blog about my dislikes because my goal is positivity.  So...suffice it to say that I very much LOVED the print version of this book, and will not be discussing the audio any further in this review! ;-)

The authors, Rick Hanson (also a Ph.D., Neuropsychologist, and Teacher) teams up with Richard Mendius (board certified Neurologist with a subspecialty in the neurobiology and practice of meditation) and produced "Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom" to show us that the path of the Buddha can actually reveal ways that understanding the science of happiness can help us re-wire our brains to make us happier!

I won't kid you..."Buddha's Brain" is not light reading for the average person, but if you are at all interested in how the human brain works, and how you can re-wire your thoughts to reach a happier state, then it's definitely some interesting stuff.

The author explains how our brains have evolved toward keeping us safe from external threats.  Due to this evolution. our inherent negativity leads to suffering. They postulate that by using meditation and the ways of the Buddha, you can cause the reactions in the brain that create neural pathways to actually become more positive.  Essentially saying that if we act positive, we will become positive.

The constant mindfulness and attention to "Right Action" and Right Thinking" and other precepts of Buddhism naturally and organically lend themselves to this pursuit. 

I'm no neuroscientist, but I can tell you from experience that mindfulness and positive thinking vastly improve ones' disposition, so it all makes perfect sense to me. 

While "Buddha's Brain" didn't reveal any major mysteries to me, I did find it to be very interesting.  Perhaps the most interesting thing about it, for me, was that it puts Buddhism in a scientific perspective.  It shows that you can use the ways of Buddhism to achieve quantifiable scientific mental health benefits, whether you subscribe to the tenets of Buddhism or not.

Because of this, I would feel this book is best for those who might not yet be terribly familiar with Buddhism, but are looking for help with happiness, or for those who are considering Buddhism but find it all a little mystical for their tastes.  I say this because I think a lot of people hear "Buddha" and think "esoteric".  If you were one of those people, or more likely if you KNOW someone like that, then this book might remove that veil of mysticism some people can't see past and put things in much more concrete scientific terms.  Telling someone to recite a meditation such as "Breathing in, I am grateful to my body.  Breathing out, I smile at my body" might sound a little strange to those unfamiliar with Mindful Meditation.  Explaining to them that if they do, it will scientifically increase their happiness and how…well, some might find that very helpful.

While "Buddha's Brain" probably isn't for everyone, I would say that it's extremely valuable for those who want to understand the science of happiness a little better.

Mondo Samu

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