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Is delusion hardwired?

BuddhadragonBuddhadragon Ehipassiko & Carpe DiemSamsara Veteran

Several threads lately have dealt with the inability to feel metta towards your enemy, with some people feeling that Buddhism sets too high a bar for the average person to follow, or with mindfulness being a luxury.

I have often quoted books from the Mind & Life Institute, which works closely with HH the Dalai Lama.
Because if Buddhist cosmology's asseverations cannot always be backed up by science, in the realm of psychology and sciences of the mind, the rapprochement between Buddhism and Science has been astonishingly close, to say the least.

A while ago, Wendy Hasenkamp, PhD, from the Mind & Life Institute, wrote a very interesting article published by Tricycle magazine entitled "Brain Karma: Is Delusion hardwired?"
The article can only be read in its entirety by supporting members, so the link will be incomplete for those who aren't, but I am quoting some of its most salient points here:
http://www.tricycle.com/new-buddhism/karma/brain-karma

"We often assume that happiness can be achieved by changing something in our external environment. But this assumption overlooks the fact that much of our suffering is perpetuated by our minds. Our mental patterns can shape the way we respond emotionally to others, the way we perceive events, and whether we view the world and others as basically good or inherently flawed. [...] Mental behavioral habits underlie the vast majority of our experience, and most operate without our awareness. Under the influence of such patterns, we can end up living on autopilot."

She adds something we long penitents in the path already knew: that "our actions leave a trace in our minds, making it more likely that similar actions will occur in the future."

Her article deals with Neural Plasticity: the ability of the brain to change through experience.

"To the extent that these specific patterns of activity are repeated, the neural connections are facilitated -the mental grooves deepen. As a result, engaging in any particular thought or behavior will make us more likely to engage in the same action in the future, as every act reinforces the neural connections that are associated with it."

Hasenkamp's conclusion is What we think, our brains become

So, the glad tidings are:

"With repeated practice the brain can be changed, and to a surprising degree. Because neural plasticity is always operative, the brain is continuously being 'rewired' based on our experiences. The key is to put some conscious intention into what those experiences are.
Through repeated meditation practice, we can build awareness of our existing mental habits. With awareness, there is space -allowing us to interrupt habitual response patterns and bring intention to our responses, choosing to form a different association."

I was reading about the "Brahma Viharanas" on this quaint 1928 book I have from the Buddhist Lodge (now Society).
As we know, the Brahma Viharanas are Loving-kindness, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity.
Without much fanfare and rigmarole, their description echoes Modern Science's findings:

"These four Brahma Viharanas are more accurately translated as the Divine States (of mind) or Sublime Moods. They represent a constant attitude of mind rather than a subject of thought, and are outward rather than inward-turning exercises."

So: our brains can change. Our attitudes and outlook on life can change.
We can programme ourselves to cause that change to happen.
It takes effort and hours of sweating on our cushion.
But we knew that already, didn't we? :)

personVastmindzenguitarmmoDandelionToshlobster

Comments

  • BuddhadragonBuddhadragon Ehipassiko & Carpe Diem Samsara Veteran

    @Tosh said:
    For example when I see a woman I find looks attractive, my mind really believes that if I 'had her' she would make me happy. I've married two of these women and they didn't.
    I heard (somewhere) that spiritual paths go against nature (they certainly go against mine), and that's why we can find them difficult.

    I don't think neural plasticity in any way contravenes other natural laws.

    For example, what if you were to learn from your past experiences, @Tosh, that maybe it is not up to something external to make you happy?

    What if you realized that it is up to you to cater to your own happiness and choose to share this happiness with the women in your life, rather than expect the women in your life to provide you with that happiness in the first place?

    We have evolved.
    We are not just mating machines.
    We can choose our mates and our relationships.

    If spiritual paths initially seem to go against nature, that has not deterred Man from trying to find in the spiritual alternative some sort of solution to his personal suffering since time immemorial.

    If it is possible to become an excellent cello-player by rehearsing 200 hours a week, we can change negative mindsets into positive ones by training the right brain parts through mindfulness and meditation.
    Matthieu Ricard has been declared the happiest man on earth, and it was the result of a rigorous scientific test, so there has to be something to it.

    silverlobster
  • DavidDavid A human residing in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Ancestral territory of the Erie, Haudenosaunee, Huron-Wendat, Mississauga and Neutral First Nations Veteran
    I chalk it up to growing pains.

    I don't think we are hard wired for delusion otherwise there would be no escape from it. It would also imply some kind of plot or plan and I really think we're playing it by ear here, figuring it out as we go along.

    I mean, how are we supposed to know we are all a part of the same cycle with the information we had going in? There's bound to be confusion and fear when a being figures out they too will come to pass and feels separate from the rest.

    We need each other. Without somebody to care for us as infants, we simply won't survive. We need to feel we belong and so we form little groups of like-minded individuals but there is always a breaking apart... A difference in views (no matter how hard we want to see through another's eyes) will naturally occur in a group of unique individual vantage points.

    Vantage points of what?

    There is no "other". We are more than kin and yet we search for belonging (some of us to the point where we will gladly give up our individuality) in a world we couldn't not belong in. It's as if the universe is just a place we live instead of the other way around.

    I think it's more conducive to our growth to label this confusion as ignorance instead of delusion.

    To borrow from Christianity, when Jesus asked what he called his Father to forgive them for they know not what they do, I think he was spot on.

    I don't think any thing or being made us delusional in order to thrive. I think as we grow, we learn.

    We've made bad choices, we've done every atrocious act we could perpetrate on one another but yet, if we are short on hospitals there is an outcry.

    We are a strange little bunch of whatevers.
    JeffreyVastmindTosh
  • BuddhadragonBuddhadragon Ehipassiko & Carpe Diem Samsara Veteran

    The article does not propose that we are determined for delusion.

    Rather, that our present suffering is perpetuated by the indulgence in deluded actions that get reinforced in our brain, the more we act in the same way.

    And that it is a scientifically proven fact that by choosing to programme ourselves to act in a different way, we can obtain different results.
    There is a way out and we can be the key.

  • DavidDavid A human residing in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Ancestral territory of the Erie, Haudenosaunee, Huron-Wendat, Mississauga and Neutral First Nations Veteran
    edited December 2014
    Oh, sorry... I did understand what the article was saying and I don't disagree except for it all due to deluded actions. That's only a part of it. We are works in progress.

    I just took that as a given and took the initial point and ran with it.
    Buddhadragon
  • BuddhadragonBuddhadragon Ehipassiko & Carpe Diem Samsara Veteran

    Sometimes people feel powerless over the circumstances in their lives and believe life is simply something that runs over them.

    I tend to separate the things that depend on me and those that don't.

    Acceptance will help me in the event of a natural disaster, but not choosing an abusive partner, not taking an extra glass of alcohol, doing drugs...
    I find it is good news that it is scientifically proved that we can choose to not perpetuate our own suffering by actively and consciously putting in some effort to change our mental mindset.

    I feel the article is telling us that we can take responsibility for our life.

  • silversilver In the beginning there was nothing, and then it exploded. USA, Left coast. Veteran
    edited December 2014

    @DhammaDragon‌ said: She adds something we long penitents in the path already knew: that "our actions leave a trace in our minds, making it more likely that similar actions will occur in the future."

    >
    >

    Her article deals with Neural Plasticity: the ability of the brain to change through experience.

    >

    "To the extent that these specific patterns of activity are repeated, the neural connections are facilitated -the mental grooves deepen. As a result, engaging in any particular thought or behavior will make us more likely to engage in the same action in the future, as every act reinforces the neural connections that are associated with it."

    >

    It brings to mind the coincidence that some-thing out there is making grand efforts to deepen those violent tendencies in the young by making violent video games and movies and such, the latest greatest thing since sliced bread. Is it paranoia on my part or what? With the money that's made hand over fist, any kind of movies and games could be created. But violent war-like ones seem to be the cream of the crop...

    Buddhadragon
  • lobsterlobster Veteran
    edited December 2014

    @Tosh said:
    Interesting post, thanks. I think our minds are wired for survival, not to see reality.

    Reality is there, so is lizard brain, monkey mind and our emotional and physical needs.

    Equanimity in the face of biology is not natural. For example animal fear/anger/lust etc.

    . . . however Mr Cushion informs me real calm does exist when the animal is still.

    BuddhadragonJeffreyVastmindTosh
  • BuddhadragonBuddhadragon Ehipassiko & Carpe Diem Samsara Veteran

    @silver said:
    It brings to mind the coincidence that some-thing out there is making grand efforts to deepen those violent tendencies in the young by making violent video games and movies and such, the latest greatest thing since sliced bread. Is it paranoia on my part or what? With the money that's made hand over fist, any kind of movies and games could be created. But violent war-like ones seem to be the cream of the crop...

    Young people who pass their time playing those games tend to be very casual about violence.
    My son and his friends have a very non-plussed way to refer to death when they play their soldier games.
    I always try to remind him that killing, people dying, war, is not as "romantic" as their childhood fantasies make them out to be.

  • silversilver In the beginning there was nothing, and then it exploded. USA, Left coast. Veteran

    @DhammaDragon said:Young people who pass their time playing those games tend to be very casual about violence. My son and his friends have a very non-plussed way to refer to death when they play their soldier games.

    I always try to remind him that killing, people dying, war, is not as "romantic" as their childhood fantasies make them out to be.
    >

    I was thinking about what I posted afterwards and recalled how I grew up with two older half-brothers who played war, cops n robbers, cowboys n Indians with the 6 brothers who lived next door, so in a basic sense, things haven't changed too much, I suppose...

    But still, I also think about the boomers who had peace rallies and sit-ins and all that, and while the 'opposition' watched this sea change, I can't help but wonder about all these ideas intermingling and what it has become, and what has been brought about.

  • anatamananataman Who needs a title? Where am I? Veteran

    @DhammaDragon‌ I long ago decided not to subscribe to anything that required a subscription, unless it was voluntary, or if I offered to make a personal contribution (I have contributed to wikipedia and other worthy onlinr reference sources ) - and have offered to do so on this site previously; and that is what makes this site great, no contributions as it's provided by an oligarch called @Linc‌; abide by the rules (and as long as @jason, @linc and @federica are happy you are playing by their rules - which mean behave yourself and don't be a fuckwit), sadly I cannot comment on the article you provided.

    It is IMHO very sad that if something is not offered and given freely in buddhism, then someone is seeking profit, and that means getting one up on other members of the BDS who might benefit from certain instruction or other advice from "buddhists' - but buddhism is really about self-discovery, it's not LET ME LEAD YOU DOWN THIS OR THAT PATH for a guidance fee! Although guidance is necesesary at time - why did I feel the need to justify that comment?

    There is much free literature out there, and much of it is really good, if you know what you are looking for; but one needs to know where the path begins - and that's basically the 4NT. All other commentary is just commentary. And if you post comments that require the NB community to subscribe to a subscription service for further information, thats wrong, in my opinion.

    `you can't understand 'LED's' without first understanding how electrical circuits might produce light (OK light bulbs require vacuums but these are analogous to learning meditation).

    Also do not present 'scientific proven fact' as buddhist dogmas'.

    As a clinical scientist who sees changes to medical practice based on 'scientific proof' (which is often disproved or invalidated within weeks or months of publication) which can sometimes be seriously detrimental to the welfare of people depending on the conclusions of the publications, then stick to what you can verify.

    I cannot verify very much btw in terms of buddhism, but as I am my own master, and master of none, my words should be taken with a pinch of salt...

    LOM

    ...\lol/...

  • BuddhadragonBuddhadragon Ehipassiko & Carpe Diem Samsara Veteran
    edited December 2014

    @anataman said:
    Also do not present 'scientific proven fact' as buddhist dogmas'.

    First of all, I never use the word 'dogma' because it carries negative connotations that I don't think apply in Buddhism.

    Second, the article was written by a scientist who backs up scientifically certain notions of Buddhist psychology.
    It is her, and before her, Daniel Goleman, Richard Davidson, Paul Ekman and Jon Kabat-Zinn, among other scientists, who in several Mind & Life books find coincidences between science and Buddhism, not me.
    I am not a scientist. Just a reader.

    Third, I have transcribed the parts of the article that were relevant to the point I was trying to make. The rest of the article expands with scientific evidence the points I have quoted.
    I read the article, found it to be interesting, and thought I'd share those points.

    Fourth, I am not forcing you to subscribe to anything. I have only pasted the link for those who would care to read it in its entirety, or just to show that I'm not inventing the thread out of the blue.

    Here are other links that deal with emotion-rewiring and can be read in its entirety for free, though many more will crop up if you do some googling:
    http://mind-revolution.org/2014/08/01/rewiring-your-emotions-2/
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3290768/
    http://www.investigatinghealthyminds.org/pdfs/davidsonBuddhaIEEE.pdf
    http://www.wildmind.org/tag/neuroplasticity

    Where do these virulent reactions on your part come from, @anataman?

    lobster
  • HamsakaHamsaka goosewhisperer Polishing the 'just so' Veteran

    Yeah dude :) you 'read a lot' into this subject that . . . well, I don't see. It's an opportunity to have your 'stuff' on the table. If defensiveness comes up, put that on the table too :) hope you know I'm not picking on you or hinting around I never do this myself. I'm doing it right now.

    As for delusion being hardwired, after taking that course some of us took on Evolutionary Psychology and Buddhism . . . what I took away was some thoughts that perhaps in SOME ways, it is.

    Our brain doesn't perceive in a completely unhindered way. We can't see ultraviolet light waves or heat waves, which our machines can. We can't see the edge of the known universe like the Hubble could (well, you know).

    On top of our brain being an 'imperfect' lens for reality, then we have our personal stuff. Attitudes and beliefs bestowed upon us by our parents, culture, society, education, good and bad experiences. Our brains seek to the the least amount of 'work' to get the most accurate or useful deductions. I don't consciously experience all my deep seated attitudes and beliefs with every decision I make.

    To me that sounds a lot like 'hard wiring'.

    That it is plastic is some of the best news I've heard in years. The idea of neuroplasticity is a huge part of how I ended up studying Buddhism and incorporating it into my life. How I went from neuroplasticity to Buddhism is a direct function of the underlying attitudes and beliefs that characterize 'me'. It would take other people other places.

    I tried to listen to a talk Sam Harris gave (its on Youtube) about how we really don't have free will. My underlying attitudes and beliefs were such that I barely listened and part way through, changed the channel :D . This . . . frightening . . . idea we don't truly have free will popped into mind when I read the title of this thread. Would it pop into everyone's mind? No. Due to the underlying attitudes and beliefs (yawn) being somewhat different in different persons, they would have different associations.

    Very thoughtful topic, I'm coming back later to see what I think then :D

    Buddhadragon
  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    edited December 2014

    There is much free literature out there, and much of it is really good, if you know what you are looking for; but one needs to know where the path begins - and that's basically the 4NT. All other commentary is just commentary. And if you post comments that require the NB community to subscribe to a subscription service for further information, thats wrong, in my opinion.

    Actually the 4NT relate to only one turning of the wheel of dharma

    http://www.rinpoche.com/teachings/jkrnature.htm

    The Second Dharmachakra

    The second cycle of teachings Lord Buddha presented is known as “being without signs,” “being without characteristics.” It deals with what our experiences are actually made of, what all the things we experience are, how they really are.

    When we look at how experiences are, we see that the way they are is fundamentally different from the way we perceive and conceive of them as being. If we look at any particular phenomenon we experience - even the smallest and most insignificant object or event - we see it is made up of many, many factors which have come together to make that particular object a possibility of experience. This statement strongly suggests that there is no object present, whereas objects do exist as a coming together of many conditions. However, we do not see objects as the product of many conditions - we simply see things as independent objects. We are particularly predisposed to seeing things as independent objects, because we feel we ourselves have substantial existence. This is what is known as “clinging to a sense of an individual self.” We see ourselves in opposition to the world and consequently turn ourselves into an “own thing.” We then proceed to turn everything that makes up the world into “other things,” what is known as “the self of phenomena,” “the self we impute on all experiences.” However, when we look at what we actually experience, we see that we simply experience the coming together of many, many different factors, many different conditions, and that nothing has any existence in its own right. This is the essence of the second cycle of the teachings.

    We have to be very careful here because many misconceptions can arise at this point. One might feel that saying there is no actual object present means that nothing exists. This would be quite a serious mistake. These teachings do not say that nothing exists nor do they imply that something exists. In Buddhism, we call the view believing nothing exists “nihilism” and the view believing something exists “eternalism,” the notion that things exist forever while they don’t. The view according to the Second Turning of the Wheel of Dharma or cycle of teachings does not adhere to eternalistic nor nihilistic ideas. We feel that something really exists, but when we look, we see that all experiences are simply the product of many different factors, so it can’t be the case that something really exists. On the other hand, when we say nothing exists, we are immediately confronted with our personal experience that something is going on, so we can’t say nothing exists. The point is to come to an understanding that the designations “existent” and “non-existent” are not accurate descriptions of the world, which is the reason why the second cycle of teachings is termed “the great middle way” - the great middle way goes beyond all philosophical postulates and extremes.

    The way we practice the great middle way is to generate and develop what is known in Buddhism as “awakening mind,” awakening to our relationship to the world and awakening to the way the world is. Awakening to the way the world is means awakening to emptiness and awakening to our relationship to the world means awakening to compassion. So, we have the principles of loving kindness, compassion, and the awakening mind as the key principles in the second cycle of teachings. Many of you may have heard the term “emptiness” and wonder what it means. It is a key principle that needs to be understood exactly in how it works and its role in the cycle of teachings.

    We cannot understand a concept such as emptiness merely through intellectual reasoning or study in any way. No matter how much we may reason philosophically, no matter what logic we may be able to come up with, the way we see and experience the world will still be in terms of existents, and just this contradicts the way the world actually is. On the other hand, we may feel emptiness refers to nothing, there being nothing, like the emptiness in a box - for instance, there is no “thing” in the box. We feel emptiness means there is nothing going on and we try to understand the world that way, which would be an even greater mistake, because it directly contradicts our own experiences in every instant.

    Emptiness refers to “a middle way” and doesn’t simply mean absence or nothing, because there is a very wonderful capability or quality that arises in conjunction with the understanding of emptiness. This is what we know as Bodhichitta or, to translate it, as “awakening mind” or “awakening heart.” Bodhichitta is the natural manifestation of compassion and concern for others, which comes with the appreciation of the ineffable nature of all phenomena. So, the main theme of the second cycle of teachings is not that nothing exists or that something exists, it is that our experience is beyond any conceptualization. When we actually begin to experience the world and ourselves from that angle, then we find ourselves awakening to a very rich and wonderful engagement in the world, one that is characterized by compassion and gentleness.

    In the first cycle of teachings it was taught that life is unsatisfactory. The Four Noble Truths help us understand the nature of this dissatisfaction and how to resolve it. In the second cycle of teachings it was taught that our experiences cannot be characterized, they are free of the extremes of eternalism and nihilism. The third cycle speaks about the Buddha nature.

    link includes third dharma chakra of Buddha Nature

    Buddhadragonlobster
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