Bohemian Buddhist Review

Buddha's Brain by Rick Hanson

The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom

I suppose I was hoping for a sort of virtual forensic dissection of the actual brain of the Buddha, even though I knew this would be physically impossible. Rick Hanson's title is what grabbed me first, but then even the description of the book was intriguing, something on the order of a neuro-meditative combination, which is a bit geeky but overall quite helpful. 

From the Foreword, Hanson tells us that we "can use the mind to change the brain." Meaning that, essentially, our thoughts create our reality. Back to the future on that one, I thought, but in Hanson's extremely well-documented research on neural pathways and neuroplasticity, we find out that this ancient truism is in actuality true. It's just still extremely hard for most of us to accept in its simplicity -- and enormity. As well as take in the personal and social responsibility it connotes. 


"Our social connections with one another shape our neural connections that form the structure of the brain. This means that the way we communicate alters the very circuitry of the brain . . . " This too, is overwhelming in its ramifications. You mean the way I talk -- as well as the people I talk to -- actually creates different pathways in the brain that then in turn create different neuro transmitters so that I am a walking, talking feedback loop? All I can say to that is YIKES. 

I did quite a bit of research into brain wave patterns when I was writing a story about Maxwell Cade, an English scientist in London in the 1970's who was the pioneer of neurofeedback. His breakthrough findings were that people could be shown their own brain wave patterns, have their personal peak moments pointed out, and then trained to replicate them. Cade based his work on research with yogis and meditators, who are now well-known to be able to access more of their happy brain bits than the rest of us. (Please forgive the technical jargon here.)


Here's a quote from Wikipedia: "Experiments on Tibetan Buddhist monks have shown a correlation between transcendental mental states and gamma waves." Particularly, it seems, when the monks were given instructions to dwell on compassion, which should show us where our happiness really lies. 

After I finished working on my story, predictably called "Brain Wave" (and hence copyrighted thereunder), the existence of brain waves called gamma waves was confirmed due to the increased sensitivity of measuring devices. Gamma waves apparently are the highest of the high and the best of the best and can lead to rapture, joy, and single mindedness. Meditation (not right away, of course, but eventually) can lead to increased gamma waves, assuming one has a properly functioning brain. This last item, however, is not to be taken for granted. Our brains, it turns out, can be pretty fussy eaters.

Hanson's Introduction says that his book is about "how to reach inside your own brain to create more happiness, love and wisdom." Is he talking about material happiness or romantic fulfillment? 


No. He's talking about using your mind to stimulate and strengthen one's positive brain states. This is the real meaning of his title, and his website, should also help us understand ourselves and our brain's inner workings. 

I would highly recommend Hanson's book for its insights into how the neural workings of our brain can actually help create and support joyful, caring, and deeply insightful states of mind. I need to read it again and see if I can remember the differences between serotonin and dopamine and how to amp one up and damp down the other.

To this end, Buddha's Brain has a handy appendix of Nutritional Neurochemistry written by one Jan Hanson, L.Ac., so see you at Ye Olde Naturale Pharmacologie Shoppe.

Paki S. Wright, February 2013

Buy Paperback Book

Buy Kindle Edition