Something led me this morning to take a look at a book I'd already read, James Austin's Meditating Selflessly: Practical Neural Zen.
Austin is a clinical neurologist, researcher, and long-time Zen practitioner, so his background is right up my reading alley. And I enjoyed re-reading the first few pages of his book.
But the Great God Google, whose presence I feature in a search box in the right sidebar of this blog, led me to a couple of posts I wrote in 2011, when I bought this book.
Turns out that I didn't resonate all that much with it, according to "Selfless Insight" -- intriguing, yet disappointing, Zen book.
I didn't enjoy neurologist James Austin's book about Zen and neuroscience as much as I thought I would.
My reading of "Selfless Insight: Zen and the Meditative Transformations of Consciousness" may show, of course, that I'm neither selfless nor imbued with enlightened (or kensho'ened) insight -- both of which I plead guilty to.
Regardless, I expected that Austin would provide a clearer and simpler analysis of how Zen meditation and brain science relate. He's written two other books on this subject, this being the most recent, so perhaps "Selfless Insight" is more complicated than his earlier works.
I was left with just a few Memorable Impressions after reading each of the book's often-dense 269 pages.
The detailed descriptions of brain functioning and anatomy didn't resonate much with me, as I was looking for something other than a neurology text for the layman. Ditto with the many summaries of research on how this or that in the brain results in X sorts of awareness under condition Y.
Eventually the stylistic medium of the book became a main message for me, albeit a familiar one. Namely, whatever we experience in (or as) our consciousness is produced by certain states in the physical brain.
I like Zen philosophy and literature because it is grounded. Heaven, the supernatural, God, soul, spirit -- all this airy-fairy stuff is meaningless to a Zen Buddhist like Austin, which enables him to easily meld his scientific bent with his meditative practice.
One of the things I did like about the book was a simple meditation approach, which is described in James Austin's "Just This" meditation practice. I tried it out this morning for a whole 15 minutes and felt pleasingly Zen'ish. I'm entitled to my Enlightenment Diploma now!
And I enjoyed what Austin had to say about the Zen notion of "no-mind," which I came across in the few pages I read today.
Zen keeps reminding us to focus on more than the psychological problems caused by the way the Self has been conditioned. We also need to be alert to the huge problems caused by the way we use words. Zen itself has introduced some confusing words.
Consider the Zen phrase mu-shin, meaning "no-mind." It doesn't mean a vacuity, a mental blank, a state of unconsciousness.
Instead, it refers to the basic clarity and receptive nature of our mind once we liberate it from discursive thoughts driven by unskillful emotional reverberations. The Korean Zen Master Chinul (1158-1210) devoted fifteen chapters to his "Straightforward Explanation of the True Mind."
Chinul carefully explained what this no-mind was. It was a mind not deluded by errant thinking. This mind could still access its full range of subtle discriminative mental functions.
Thus, "no-mind" refers, not only to our being keenly aware of each present moment in a calm, clear manner, it can also include our normal allied capacities for calm, clear, objective mindful introspection.