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PDF The Treasury of Knowledge: Book Five: Buddhist Ethics: Buddhist Ethics v. 5

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Category Religion portal. Categories : Tibetan Buddhist texts. Hidden categories: Articles containing Tibetan-language text. Namespaces Article Talk. Views Read Edit View history. Languages Add links. By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Part of a series on. Indeed, research revealed that volumetric oxygen consumption VO 2 , which is considered to be a measure of RR elicitation, was negatively related to NO, where the decrease in VO 2 associated with the RR was accompanied by an acute increase in the presence of NO [ 20 ].

Research on genomic changes reported that the RR led to specific gene expression changes in both short and long term practitioners, suggesting that such changes may relate to long term physiological effects [ 21 ]. More specifically, Bhasin et al. This research indicates that meditation activates neural structures involved in attention and the control of the automatic nervous system e.

1. Introduction

This was most pronounced in older participants, raising the possibility that meditation might offset age-related cortical thinning. Hence, there is structural evidence for experience-dependent cortical plasticity associated with meditation practice [ 10 , 23 ]. In considering these findings together, Dusek and Benson have provided a conceptual model, which integrates physiological and molecular level changes in relation to the RR and SR [ 28 ]. The aim of the model is to help guide mind-body research, specifically with health outcomes in mind. Not only did Benson's early research start out by investigating physiological effects of transcendental meditation, but also later work looked at other religious meditation practices.

These studies provide further evidence that meditation practices do lead to measurable physiological changes, where previously there had only been anecdotal accounts. It could be argued that studying these physiological changes in meditators is similar to studying effects on free divers many of whom use relaxation or yoga techniques to prepare themselves.

In the case of studying free divers, understanding oxygen changes in the blood can help us understand how free divers achieve their goal by holding the breath for such a length of time that they are able to dive so deeply [ 29 ]. But do physiological changes in meditators reveal anything about the spiritual goal of meditators? The concept of remembered wellness is a way to harness the potential of the placebo effect, and the description of how a person's spiritual beliefs can enhance the RR mirrors what Benson and Friedman describe as being the three components that bring about the placebo effect [ 4 ].

Even with these considerations given to the role of spirituality, it can appear that positive physiological changes are the primary goal of the meditation practice, and this is often true for secular practice, especially in therapy. Yet for many practitioners of meditation these physiological effects are secondary gains, with the primary gain being spiritual transformation.

However, without an operational definition of what spiritual transformation is, it is arguable whether it can be meaningfully measured.

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It might even be the case that the body in a state of near-perfect homeostasis equates with spiritual or existential satisfaction. Although the focus on health benefits in past and current research may be partly due to funding implications, where health research is more likely to be funded than spiritual research, it is too easy to dismiss the possibility of investigating the spiritual aspect in any greater depth.

Highlighting the importance of considering meditation practices alongside the spiritual traditions and textual sources that they are drawn from, Britton et al. However, there is now a growing body of work that has focused on cognitive aspects of alertness through considering the role of attention in mindfulness practices. Not all research has emphasized the relaxation aspect of meditation, with many studies investigating practices that fall under the umbrella term mindfulness.

Initially, his program was called stress reduction and relaxation but was changed to mindfulness based stress reduction MBSR in order to reflect the awakening aspect [ 32 ], and in both his definition and other researchers attempts to operationally define and model mindfulness, attention has been identified as having a key role [ 32 — 34 ]. There is further elaboration of the role of attention in Shapiro et al. They discuss a cyclic process where attention, intention, and attitude are interwoven and occur simultaneously [ 34 ].

The inclusion of intention overlaps with Benson's emphasis on the potential to harness the placebo effect where outcomes of mindfulness practice have been shown to correlate with the original intentions of the practitioner e. A variety of techniques and methods have been used to investigate the role of attention in mindfulness meditation practices [ 4 , 6 , 7 , 9 — 11 , 13 , 23 , 35 — 46 ]. This includes behavioral data that supports the hypothesis that mindfulness practice leads to efficiencies in the dorsal attention system involved in voluntary top-down attentional selection, as well as indicating that retreat practice develops and encourages the emergence of receptive attention i.

While having more of a focus on the physiological rather than the cognitive, Benson's research also includes evidence for the role of attention, with findings indicating that there are changes to structures of the brain involved in attention, including increased cortical thickness with meditation experience [ 10 ]. This finding was most pronounced for older adults and suggests that meditation might offset cortical thinning. Similarly, a study of Zen meditators found that there was no correlation between age and grey matter volume, nor age and attentional performance [ 42 ]. This was despite significant negative correlations being found for the control group.

It was noted that this effect was most prominent in the putamen, which is implicated in attention. These attentional effects may also have implications for emotional processing and affective control, where research has shown that meditation reduces habitual responding [ 13 ], and Lutz et al. However, effects of meditation experience are not all linear. For example, in one study that showed decreased activation of the amygdala associated with emotion with meditation experience, there was also an inverted U-shape curve regarding experience and attention related activation i.

The group of meditators who had an average of 19, hours of practice showed greater activation than nonmeditators. However, when a group with an average of 44, hours practice was compared with the less experienced group of meditators, the more experienced group showed less activation. Other research also indicates there are nonlinear changes in activation with increased meditation experience [ 6 , 7 , 47 — 49 ], with Britton et al.

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One explanation for this finding is that brain areas that were not previously coactivated come to have increased connectivity [ 7 , 49 — 52 ]. Britton et al. Moreover, there is only weak evidence that mindfulness meditation and MBSR promote sleep [ 54 , 55 ], leading Britton et al. It is interesting that even when mindfulness meditation is placed in a secular context, reference to spiritual traditions, such as Buddhism, can act to illuminate the practice and guide research investigations. Other issues relating to attention-based aspects of meditation could also benefit from similar considerations of spiritual and contextual practice.

A further example is the classification of meditation. A common categorization is to divide meditation into focused attention FA and open monitoring OM [ 11 , 56 ]. Generally, beginners will be introduced and establish a practice using FA techniques, where there is a particular object to focus attention on e. In the case of FA there is an effortful commitment to sustain attention that helps to still the active mind. Once a student has established this in their practice they are then better able to practice OM. Lutz et al. Differences have been found between FA and OM practices; for example, OM practitioners have been shown to have superior responses to unexpected stimuli compared to FA practitioners, reflecting a more distributed attentional focus [ 46 ].

However, care needs to be taken in making sure this division of meditation styles is not taken out of context of actual practice. There are overlapping features to the two types of meditation, and often a practice will deliberately and systematically include both aspects.


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  • For example, in the Vajrayana tradition associated with Tibetan Buddhism many students engage in deity meditation. This involves visualization, mantra chanting, and OM. Typically, a practice will begin with the reciting of a text that describes the visualization that is to be focused on.

    This recitation arrives at a completion stage where the visualization is held as an object of focus, while a mantra is chanted. This involves sustained attention and fits the description of a FA meditation practice. However, the practice always moves on to a dissolution stage, where the visualization is dissolved, the mantra ceases, and the practitioner remains in a state of OM.

    A beginner may spend more time on the FA aspects compared to a more experienced practitioner, but both are practiced together to some degree. Hence, it is important to consider the context of the practice and to refer to traditional texts that might provide insights. Note that a somewhat similar division has been made by Tomasino et al.

    SOR: Religion, Values & Ethics 10 Buddhist Ethics

    Another complicating factor is that meditation practices, such as the one described above, potentially involve other important cognitive processes that have been neglected by researchers in comparison to the focus on attention. Such findings support the view that instead of adhering to strict categories, such as FA and OM, meditation should be viewed on a spectrum, which allows for consideration of techniques that are self-transcending in the sense that they aim to change their own activity and experience [ 58 — 60 ].

    Many practices are also designed to increase feelings of loving-kindness, compassion, and equanimity and are likely to involve affective processing. Understanding the spiritual aims behind the evolution of these practices can help guide research questions and may offer a way to assess spiritual aspects of the practice alongside material health benefits. Currently, the author's lab is investigating physiological changes in relation to emotional and moral content, in order to get an impression of how meditation practices may affect moral appraisal, with a view to considering the potential for societal benefit as emphasized in Mahayana Buddhism , as well as individual benefit of the practices.

    In considering the physiological study of meditation in the context of spirituality, it is important to reflect on the role given to meditation. Many religions use some form of contemplation. However, it is rare for meditation to be the only element of focus for the spiritual practitioner, as the practice is usually accompanied by both an ethical and philosophical system.


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    • This is true of Buddhist traditions from where these secular mindfulness programs have borrowed their techniques. Yet, in terms of historical practice, Sharf has argued that it is unclear how many Buddhists meditated maybe less than supposed and it was uncommon for people to write about their own meditational experience [ 61 ]. Regarding contemporary accounts, Bronkhorst highlights a number of Buddhist traditions where meditation seems to have a limited role [ 62 ].

      In a qualitative study of experiences of committed meditators, Lomas et al. However, these negatives were also seen as part of the journey, and as challenges they led to spiritual transformation [ 64 ]. Just as the investigation of the alert, attentional aspect of meditation has been prompted by the Buddhist concept of awakening, further textual understanding of spiritual traditions involving meditation may help in guiding research and offering new hypotheses and insights.