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Scarcity of Knowledge

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Modern Science and Naturalistic Buddhism - Allies or Enemies?


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Human kind, in the course of history, constantly persevered with the idea that there is a gap between humanity and other species, sort of superiority that allows us, as people, to rule the roost. However, if one decides to research and take a closer look at this issue, it no longer applies to all aspects of human life and we are also subjected to conditions programmed into our minds, various predispositions which do not allow us to see the world in a purely objective way. It is said that Buddhism may be of help as a rebellion against natural selection since it gives its own explanations and ways of treating the predicament.






The First Noble Truth is translated into English language as The Truth of Suffering, although on many occasions scholars argue that this interpretation is not altogether accurate. Thus, they provided a broader description of the term dukkha (in Sanskrit) or duhkha (in Pali) introduced in Buddha's teachings as unsatisfactoriness. This theme returns in many Buddhist's texts and the main idea is that there is always an undercurrent of yearning and the transience of human life present in every pleasure that we strive to grasp. 


The cause of human predicament may be found in The Second Noble Truth in which Buddha clearly states that clinging to possessions and other external factors will eventually lead to dukkha. Even when there is a degree of completeness, it will fade with the passage of time and one will be left with a thirst for more. The oblivion of that fact seems to be ubiquitous for the majority, hence modern science provides further explanations.


Neurotransmitter dopamine, depending on the part of a brain in which occurs, as well as which neurons and receptors are involved, is responsible or at least correlates with the pleasure.

A research conducted by scientists from University of Fribourg on monkey's neurons involved in the release of dopamine reveals that, after the fruit was given to the animal, there was a dopamine spike which lasted about a third of a second.


In the same study, they trained the monkey that it would reach over and touch a lever and then there would be a fruit juice, thus made anticipation possible. It revealed that the pleasure is even greater in the anticipation process than in the activity itself. Furthermore, when there is anticipation and then the actual object is not delivered, there is a deficit of dopamine activity.





Although that is not human brain which was tested, it is sufficient to say that there is a fair plausibility that natural selection formed species so that they put an emphasis on hapiness without noticing the fleeting of the bliss. It may easily be figured out by acknowledging that in distant past there must have been attraction in order to help the species survive.






As mentioned before, the main idea of Buddhism, especially „naturalistic” one, is seeing the essence, the true nature of things. Meditation seems to be a trusted and reliable guide in this process, a step towards taking responsibility for our own states of mind and, therefore, altering human condition to the more objective worldview. One may unearth the patterns and habits of the mind through various practices and traditions,


There are different forms of meditation associated with Buddhism. Tibetan Buddhists, for instance, frequently use visualizations and images, Zen Buddhists meditate on kōans – provoking questions and statements that are used as a test for student's progress in Zen practice. In South Asia, Vipassana meditation is particularly common and puts emphasis on observing the mind. Mindfulness meditation, broadly speaking, consists of observing anything that the individual experiences. Studying the issue would plausibly provide more examples, albeit the top priority in this segment is to sketch the basic idea of this practice.


In recent years, there has been whole lot of information about the effects of meditation on brain such as increase of gamma wave activity or expansion in the amount of white matter in cerebrum, yet the core of meditative experience lies in the part of the brain called the default mode network.

It is culpable of all the thoughts that arise when an individual is not concentrated on any particular task. A paper published in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences verify that when people practice meditation, the default mode network gets more tranquil.



Fig.1. Experienced meditators demonstrate decreased DMN activation during meditation. Brain activation in meditators > controls is shown, collapsed across all meditations (relative to baseline).


This very fact is essential since quieter mind tends to be more peaceful and, in consequence, less judgmental. With a guidance of mindfulness meditation, for instance, if you think about a person whom you do not admire, you can choose not to be attached, just observe the feeling as it arises without negative prejudices. 





To conclude, various findings and scientific data proves that „naturalistic” or, in other words, western Buddhism, without all deities and additional beliefs, is accurate in identifying the human predicament and offers possible treatment which may help to reorganize lives, especially in present-day world when pursuit of career and obsession about possesions tends to cloud human's vision.



  • The term „naturalistic” refers to western tendencies in which people apply certain practices from Buddhism, albeit without deities and other elaborate beliefs.



References: (A study about monkeys and dopamine activity) (Meditation and the default mode network)


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