What is “mind“?
Philosophy generates vast libraries of words to describe it. “Mere religion” uses Iron Age (mostly Middle Eastern) myths and rules to judge and control it – – a repressive blind man painting schizophrenic pictures in the dark. Zen uses terse, true and direct means to point directly at it — complete arrival without relying on words and speech.
But what are the material grounds (evidence) for mind and its physical substrates? For meditators these days, I believe that gaining such kinds of material “knowledge“ and insights can really complete the way we structure and maintain our everyday practice in the world. This is made especially true and urgent due to the presence of mood-influencing pharmaceuticals such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs as normal aspects of so many peoples’ everyday lives. Some people can’t just sit in silence, staring at the floor – – they might have neurochemical imbalances that make such an experience of stillness and silent observation overwhelming, even damaging. New discoveries about the “gut/brain axis“ reveal the strong role of our micro-biome in influencing the moods, the rhythms and mental apparitions that can strongly influence our lives. Without those bodily-instantiated dimensions being addressed, in so many cases, meditation practice can be — for a great many people, especially those involved in bad dietary habits and conditioning – – hindered unnecessarily when practical solutions are more readily available than they might imagine. What to do for these people, then? With minds these days so constantly overfull due to the ubiquity of our information glut, today’s distracted minds can be super-challenged just to get through a few sittings in the day, much less an intensive retreat.
On several occasions, His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said that Buddhism is not a religion, rather, a “science of mind“. I have also believed that point very, very much, from direct experience, long before I ever heard this statement of the Dalai Lama. It is especially incumbent on meditation teachers of today to access the best material aids to guide practitioners. On so many occasions, I have been approached by people with bipolar disorder or chronic depression who have asked about sitting retreats. I could not safely give them advice about transitioning from powerful drugs into a “purer” reliance on meditation regime or not. Frequently, people with long reliance on anti-anxiety medications ask about the appropriateness of using meditation safely without these medications influencing the meditative experience. Since I do not experience these inveterate conditions, it is impossible to offer my own meditation experience reliably to them, as an answer. Merely quoting old words from a Zen classic will also never be fully sufficient.
On top of this, there is the recent growing acceptance of the use of psychedelics to deal with PTSD, depression, addiction, etc. I believe very much in the targeted use of such instruments, especially in conjunction with a responsible, professional, and ethical therapeutic context. In the future, ever more people will find marriage of psychedelics and meditation to be an option that they wish to explore on their path to self realization. I get asked this question many, many times these days. It was due to my first LSD experience, in 1985, that I began to search in earnest for a meditation technology which could “access“ that “infinite-now” that I had experienced while tripping, without needing to rely on obtaining a drug to do that.
Childhood trauma and suffering may have been the engine that brought me to the path of waking up to my true nature; but a simple chemical addition to my nervous system, one cold winter night on the campus of Princeton University, turned the key in the ignition for that journey, and perhaps led me more directly to a Teacher who could show that that experience of transcendence could be accessed right here, in the just-now mind. I sometimes wonder if that LSD experience, so profoundly etched in my mind, perhaps “primed” me for the sudden, infinite, indescribable “letting go” breakthrough that burst my mind open in that one-week solo retreat at Temenos, in February 1992, and which “persists” to this moment. That forever life-altering experience in a hut in the woods absolutely confirmed, clarified, super-deepened, and stabilized — through a time-and-space shattering experience in meditation — the insights provided by a tiny tab of blotter placed under my tongue one night while visiting a friend during a semester break in college.
It is extremely important for meditation teachers, these days, to educate themselves as to the science of the material aspects of mind. Then we can better guide people using the ultimate tool of meditation, tailored more specifically and appropriately towards the myriad conditions that minds endure in an overcrowded, complicated, ever-changing modern world.
I have admired Andrew Huberman for a long time, having encountered him in several podcast discussions. Upon his recommendation, I read The Molecule of More, and this book has provided truly impactful insights into aspects of my own life and might have better equipped me to serve better the lives of others.
He really is a living bodhisattva, not merely sharing information but offering meticulous insight into the biological roots of what we call “mind”. Right off the bat, you feel yourself in the “presence“ of a person offering his insights and skills only for the betterment of humanity. He is obviously not only a great scientist, but also a profoundly humane and loving human being.
We are so fortunate to have access to such a true and genuine teacher, a Stanford University-level course available freely right from our phones, donating real tools for use in our everyday lives. I’ve been taking many of his insights from interviews he has done elsewhere, and having recommended him to several of my closest friends, and even posting about him on this blog previously, just today I begin going through his whole course more systematically, from the first episode. It is really quite natural to notice the emergence of a genuine love for the movement and function of this Being in the world. Scientist-Kwan Seum Bosal!
I have already directed several of the most senior meditation practitioners of the Zen Center Regensburg community to go through this course. In the future, if any formal curriculum appears, people who teach meditation in this lineage will need to complete this set of videos, giving them science-based practical tools which will more fully empower bringing the mind-hack tech of Zen teachings into the modern world.