Introduction to the Heart Sutra

The earlier Sanskrit versions of the Prajna Paramita Sutra were translated into Chinese as early as the year 172 of the Christian era.1 In this sutra, Buddhism forged an irrevocable link between the direct experience of emptiness, sunyata, and prajna, the basic insight of indivisible oneness. Fortunately, the sutra's long early versions were later condensed. In English, the short form can be entitled The Heart of Great Wisdom Sutra. It has also been called The Sutra of the Great Wisdom Gone...

Reducers and Augmenters

Researchers blindfold their subjects when they test for these opposing tendencies. First, each subject estimates how wide a block is, focusing on the width of the gap between thumb and forefinger of the right hand. Then, with the left thumb and forefinger, the subject next feels along a long, tapered measuring bar. The question Where on this separate measuring bar lies that very same width which had been perceived earlier with the fingers of the right hand Thereafter, the right thumb and finger...

Zazen at Ryokoin

In this world of ours, who lasts forever Today let us cross the last mountain range of life's illusions. No longer to dream shallow dreams nor succumb to stupor. Our first two long interviews are highly stimulating. But the roshi has given no hint of an invitation to join the Zen group. Our third interview is blessed by the weather. It is such a beautiful, clear summer day that we dwell first on the seasons. Kobori-roshi explains that Japan has many seasons. Even if one starts with the four...

Conditioning Learning and Unlearning

If we could look through the skull into the brain of a consciously thinking person, and if the place of optimal excitability were luminous, then we should see playing over the cerebral surface a bright spot with fantastic waving borders, constantly fluctuating in size and form, and surrounded by a darkness, more or less deep, covering the rest of the hemispheres. In the pursuit of knowledge, everyday something is added. In the practice of the Tao, everyday something is dropped. Those outside...

Gaba

Glutamate is a key excitatory amino acid transmitter. It is converted to gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), an inhibitory transmitter, with the aid of the enzyme glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD). be some afterthought. For here is the simple demonstration that unity prevails whenever two naturally opposing processes each depend on, and counterbalance, the other. How do GABA and glutamate serve the nervous system As yin and yang. Some would estimate that GABA is involved in one third of all the...

The Death of Fear

When you were born, all you had was the unborn Buddha-mind. There wasn't any fear. Your fear is an illusion or figment of thought that you have created on your own after Every little yielding to anxiety is a step away from the natural heart of man. Bad things do happen in life, and people find reasons to fear what is loosely called bad karma. Karma is the subtotal of cause-and-effect relationships. It begins with the events which caused us to be born with certain kinds of DNA. Soon, it includes...

The Mondo

Meanwhile, one reads about the old masters' many bizarre answers and behaviors. We encounter the story about the earnest young monk who asks old Joshu about the real meaning of Buddhism. And promptly hears this non sequitur The Cyprus tree in the courtyard. What is one to make of these old, incomprehensible replies Such questions, and answers, are termed mondo. If we permit them to, they can help us interpret where the masters of old and the roshi of today are coming from. One begins by...

The Unified Field of Distributed Functions

Let us suppose, further to illustrate the point above, that the attributes of all things can be assigned into the ancient yin and yang categories of opposites. So any pair might stand for good and bad, warts and beauty, hot and cold, high and low, whatever. Humans have been conditioned to go one step further. We polarize our two conceptual extremes. Therefore, let us represent such symbols as now bearing a charge, either positive ( + ) or negative (-). What does our usual discriminating brain...

Tidal Rhythms and Biological Clocks

Everything passes Everything ends After every December There's always a May. Once every eleven years in the solar cycle, sunspots reach their peak. When their high-energy particles finally reach our atmosphere, we witness the luminous bands of the aurora borealis, or northern lights. Living things also undergo cycles of illuminating activity. These cycles are as regular as clockwork, as dramatic as hibernation. A century and a half ago, Linnaeus found that certain flowers open, and close, at...

The Orienting Reflex and Activation

All the quadrupeds emphasize their direct forward gaze by a corresponding movement of the ears, as if to supplement and aid one sense with another. Our spaniel dozes on the rug, muzzle between forepaws. A footstep falls outside, and his head lifts. Pointing toward the noise, his eyes open wide, his nostrils flare, and his ears prick up. Watching his own dogs orient, Pavlov discerned that this reflex went beyond the simple act of being startled. He thought the brain was asking a more basic...

Ryokoin Kyoto 1974

Don't worry about attaining perfect knowledge. This summer, I have come to Kyoto on sabbatical leave. My project is to study the brain with my friend and colleague Professor Shuji Takaori. Shuji acquired his fluent English when he trained at the University of Michigan for his doctorate in neuropharmacology. His major research interest is the locus ceruleus. This fascinating group of nerve cells releases norepinephrine throughout the brain (see figure 9). The question we are asking seems...

Reflections on Kensho Personal and Neurological

In this non-dual world all is one, nothing left out. In this unmeasurable truth one instant is ten thousand years. Master Seng-ts'an, Affirming Faith in Mind Zen Master Sengai (1750-1837) was famed for his calligraphy.1 Once, stroking boldly with only one brushload of ink, he drew three simple symbols. First came the circle, then a triangle, finally a square. They are abstractions, interpretable at many levels, like old rocks rising from the raked gravel at Ryoan-ji in Kyoto. Some might...

The Miracle of Marsh Chapel

We may be trying against insurmountable odds to communicate what is incommunicable and requires to be experienced. The question now to be addressed is, What effects do psychedelic drugs have, not in some artificial laboratory or other setting, but in religious rituals In keeping with a new field which seemed already to have mushroomed overnight, Hof-mann went on to make his second chemical contribution. He purified psilocybin, and then identified it as the active agent of the special magic...

Physiological Changes during Meditation

All that is clearly established by the data on autonomic-metabolic measurements during meditation is the hardly surprising conclusion that meditators are in a state of relaxation. Many reviews have now clarified what kinds of changes meditation produces in the body.18 The consensus meditation causes secondary physiological and biochemical changes that are appropriate to how much relaxation is involved.8-9 Readers interested in the secondary changes can find a four-page list of them in Shapiro's...

How Do Psychedelic Drugs Affect Amine Receptors

It is not easy to establish relationships among psychedelic drugs, neurotransmitters, brain activity and states of consciousness. The brain is complex and inaccessible to delicate experimental manipulation by chemical means. A true statement. But the normal brain can function well only when its own chemical signals are being delivered by the most delicate means available. This leads us to consider receptors. A receptor is a long chain of many peptides which loops repeatedly in and out of the...

Is Mysticism a Kind of Schizophrenia in Disguise

All power of fancy over reason is a degree of insanity. True, the chapter title may seem to have put the question too bluntly. But laypersons and professionals will become concerned when Harry or Jane develops hallucinations and delusional preoccupations about religion. Yes, a few otherwise normal persons do forge useful insights during intense periods of psychic crisis, and they can go on later to adapt and to mature. But still other disturbed individuals descend into what William James called...

Desynchronized Sleep

Don't tell me what you dreamed last night, for I've been reading Freud. Dreams are mere productions of the brain, and fools consult interpreters in vain. This chapter emphasizes not the content of dreams, but what our capacity to dream implies. Dreaming means that, while still sleeping, we reactivate many of the mechanisms of awakening. In overview, desynchronized sleep, D-sleep, enables our brain (a) to reactivate itself during its otherwise drugged stupor of slow-wave sleep, but (b) to...

The Ambient Vision of Meditative Absorption

Above, there is not a tile to cover his head below, there is not an inch of ground for him to stand on This is that state of total empty solidity, without sound and without odor, like a bottomless, clear pool. It is as if every fleck of cloud had been wiped from the vast sky. Considering how much ambient vision implies about the brain, it is curious how little scientific attention it has drawn. Yet many meditators have certainly experienced unbounded circumspatial sight when they entered an...

Lateralizable Functions and the EEG

When we are in our usual resting state, the EEG amplitudes on the two sides of the brain resemble each other. But when one hemisphere becomes more activated, it adds more low voltage fast-wave frequencies. Now, its average EEG amplitude is reduced. And at that same moment, the EEG amplitude on the opposite side also decreases some 70 percent of the time. However, if you deprive human subjects of sensory input for only twenty to thirty minutes, the brain waves of their two hemispheres become...

Promethean Hyperpraxia

The sole reason for introducing this new phrase is to focus attention on an aspect of Zen which has been relatively unappreciated in the literature of the neurosciences. A person's normal ability to perform skilled movements is called praxis. A very few patients, when they lose this ability, do so for reasons which truly justify the diagnosis of apraxia. In the hospital, you don't require elaborate equipment to test for a disorder of skilled movements. You can hand an apraxic...

Major Characteristics of Insight Wisdom in Kensho

I saw and heard, and knew at last The How and Why of all things, past, And present, and forevermore. Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950)1 One can now begin to define Zen enlightenment, kensho. It is an expanded, wnself-consciousness. The word kensho means seeing into one's true nature. Ken is seeing into something sho means one's true nature. It is a term derived from the Chinese, chien-hsing, to see the essence.2 What is a person's true nature To Sekida, it is the living realization that You...

Opioid Types and Their Receptors

Why do poppy plants make opiates Who knows But many simple creatures were also manufacturing opioids and using them to their advantage millions of years before humans learned how to extract opium from poppies. The brain's own opioids are called endogenous opioids. Even as far back as the earthworm, nerve cells were making two different classes of them.5 They are the two peptides called beta-endorphin and leu-enkephalin. Perhaps, it is speculated, these opioids were released during times of...

Absolute Blackness

Suppose you enter a lighttight closet and close your eyes. In the dark, you'll still see some grayness. Grayness represents the background noise in the visual system. One might think of it as comparable to the faint hum in the background of your hearing. Internalized absorption penetrates beyond this, reaching absolute blackness. Absolute blackness is eye-catching, and it commands attention in itself. The Apollo astronauts, in their quest for the moon, looked out and were awestruck by the...

Taste of Kensho London 1982

Master Hakuin, Chant in Praise of Zazen It is the next sabbatical, from 1981 to 1982. My wife and I are spending most of the year in London, at the cradle of British neurology, the National Hospital, Queen Square. I have joined the London Zen Centre led by Irmgard Schloegl, known now by her Buddhist name, Myokyo-ni. Having trained for 12 years in Japan, she is genuinely wise in the ways of Zen and is a most effective teacher. The event now recounted takes place on the second morning of a...

Lower and Upper ACH Cell Clusters

The lowermost grouping of ACH nerve cells extends throughout the brain stem. It is called the caudal ACH column figure 5 .3 7 In a book about Zen, there are several reasons for considering it first, even though it is lower anatomically. For these ACH cells of the brain stem, through their long axons, play vital roles in governing our levels of consciousness and in shaping our sensory perceptions.7 The top of this lower ACH cell column begins where the midbrain joins the pons.2 Here, in one...

The Zen Mirror Beyond Narcissism and Depersonalization

Human understanding is like an irregular mirror, which distorts and discolors the nature of things by mingling its own nature with it. The wild geese do not intend to cast their reflection. The water has no mind to receive their message. A mirror reflects. Water reflects the geese flying overhead. Instantly, unsentimentally. Reflection does not change the mirror, the water surface, or the geese. It is an optical process, a fact of life. When waves no longer ripple the water's surface, it...

Brief Outline of Zen History

The nature of Zen does not lie in scholarship, philosophy, in the Buddhist Doctrine, and not even in zazen It lies in one thing alone, namely seeing into the Buddha nature that is in each person. The power of true center must be the most frequently mislaid artifact of human wisdom. It is as if the same message keeps washing ashore, and no one breaks the bottles, much less the code. When I first encountered Zen in Kyoto, I understood little about its origins. Buddhism goes back a long way, two...