Buddhist Brains – Are They Different?
Here’s What Compassion Does To Our Brains
We love this simple article on one of the major concrete benefits of the practice of compassion. Compelling evidence in favor of starting to practice now!
Mario Anzuoni / Reuters
In 1992, the neuroscientist Richard Davidson got a challenge from the Dalai Lama. By that point, he’d spent his career asking why people respond to, in his words, “life’s slings and arrows” in different ways. Why are some people more resilient than others in the face of tragedy? And is resilience something you can gain through practice?The Dalai Lama had a different question for Davidson when he visited the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader at his residence in Dharamsala, India. “He said: ‘You’ve been using the tools of modern neuroscience to study depression, and anxiety, and fear. Why can’t you use those same tools to study kindness and compassion?’ … I did not have a very good answer. I said it was hard….Davidson and his colleagues ran a simple experiment on eight “long-term Buddhist practitioners” whose had spent an average of 34,000 hours in mental training. They asked the subjects to alternate between a meditative state and a neutral state in order to observe how the brain changed. One subject described his meditation as generating “a state in which love and compassion permeate the whole mind, with no other consideration, reasoning, or discursive thoughts.”
“When we did this, we noticed something remarkable,” Davidson said. “What we see are these high-amplitude gamma-oscillations in the brain, which are indicative of plasticity”—meaning that those brains were more capable of change, for example, in theory, of becoming more resilient…. “The systems in the brain that support our well-being are intimately connected to different organ systems in our body, and also connected to the immune and endocrine systems in ways that matter for our health…”