Great Article on Personal Growth

I came across a really great article the other day in the May/June ’06 issue of Utne Magazine, reprinted from Science and Spirti (Jan/Feb ’06). In the article, scientists and Buddhists faced off on a discussion of the definitions of craving, suffering, happiness and well-being.

The Buddists explained that they feel that craving “is a kind of desire in which one falsely superimposes agreeable qualitied upon an object, cognitively screening out it’s disagreeable qualities, and then desiring the object as a true source of pleasure and well-being”. The most common things we might crave include wealth, sensuality, sex, food, praise, power, or the esteem of others.

The problem, says the Buddist, is that true happiness or well-being, does not come from an outside stimulus, but from “a healthy and balanced mind”. The challenge: learning to cultivate desire that leads to genuine well-being for oneself and others, while at the same time minimizing cravings.

In contrast, the scientist defines craving by what happens in the brain cells when there is a motivation to reach a goal. The scientist would say that the neurobiological view is that cravings arise from chemical changes in the brain that lead to activity in neuroons that are connected to the sense organs and muscles. The various activity of groups of these neurons can lead to unhealthy actions or cravings for drinking alcohol, using tobacco, addictive drugs, overeating or sexual addictions.

In the Tibetan language, the Dalai Lama says that the word for craving is “an afflicted state of desire.” The Dalai Lama says it is not desire iitself that is wrong, nor is it an affliction. Desire can be a neutral state of mind, even a virtuous state. For example, a desiire to improve others life by alleviating suffering, would be considered virtuous.

Scientists and Buddhists agree that the type of craving that leads to an unhealthy life is a mis-apprehension of reality — desire taken to the extreme of destructive behavior is obviously unhealthy for anyone.

Buddhist believe that the correct view of reality comes through meditation, contemplation and introspection. Scientists beleive that the correct view of reality can be created by identifying and localizing the specific brain activitiy associated with various desires and behaviors, and then manipulating these specific brain functions. It is not quite as simple as meditation versus medication. In fact, many people use both as tools in their lives.

According to Mathiew Ricard, a Buddist monk and the Dalai Lama’s private secretary, suffering has may causes, some of which can be controlled and some which cannot, and that unhappiness is the way in which humans experience this suffering.

In other words, according to the Buddist, unhappiness is often due to physical or moral pain inflicted by external condition, but unhappiness is not always directly linked to it. Sometimes the mind creates unhappiness by interpreting suffering and discomfort as bad or negative. But in reality, it’s the mind’s responsibility to master it’s perception and interpretation of the data coming into it’s field.

But the scientist says that suffering is “an activation of the neural subsystems that trigger emotions associated with distress, whether that is pain, fear, sadness, depression, anxiety, etc. These neural subsystems in the body can be stimulated by external sensory stimuli and made worse by reverberating circuits involving internal stimuli, such as anxiety or depression.

The scientist would say that suffering stems from either external input or from the brain mechanisms that perpetuate and reverberate with the external input. This suffering would be labeled as pain, depression, anxiety, etc.

The Western scientific approach to eliminating pain and suffering and unhappiness is to either remove the external “causes” or “inputs” or to block the inputs as they enter and reverberate through the nervous system. But even the scientists will acknowledge that there are more neuronal connections in one person’s brain than there are stars in the universe and that focusing on compassion, love, or equanimity, for instanse, as the Buddhist would encourage us to do, might make it possible for those connections to “reset” the brain. The scientist will acknowledge that it is possible to change the neural pathways, connections, and to reset the brain so to speak, by practicing this “reset” behavior.

The method for how those circuits get “reset”, as it where, is where Buddism and Science differ.

Dr. Martin’s comments:

It would seem to me that Science and Buddhism come together in Holistic Medicine. What I see in my patients, is that by using amino acid supplements, taking Chinese herbs to stabilize the mood, and receiving acupuncture and homeopathic treatments, that is very possible to create balance and a greater sense of happiness and serenity.

So practice your meditation when you have time, do your exercise to increase your endorphins, take your herbs and natural supplements, get your acupuncture!!!! You will feel better for it.

A patient said yesterday after her acupuncture: “I feel like I’m floating up and off the table”. Another woman said: “Do I have to get up now?”

Happiness? Science of Buddhism? Which is Better?
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