Spirituality and the Brain

Questions about Enlightenement


Your paper on 'enlightenment and the brain' is a fine piece of work and makes absolute sense. At the end you say that one's enlightenment is not that of the other; are you aware of that the two most recent 'Enlightened' Masters, J. Krishnamurti and the controversial Osho, promoted this personal process of 'seeking' enlightenment. Osho's method was to utterly confuse people with logic, much like a Zen Buddhist koan would. Perhaps utter confusion (which is a common thing for anyone) would also elevate the brain's activity over a certain threshold and would allow for a personal explosion. What are your thoughts on this?


I think that "utter confusion" would only activate certain parts of the brain.

The Zen Koan Method does not involve 'utter' (total?) confusion. Rather, it would involve only the breakdown of logical thinking, and dramatic changes in the brain's function will involve much more than that.

Although there are many famous stories about people becoming enlightened using it, there are no instances recent enough for the enlightened person to leave much of a legacy.

Enlightenment, as I see it, is a process very likely dominated by the temporal lobes. The search for cognitive strategies (which is failing when person is confused) is one that will involve the frontal lobes. When the frontal lobes' activity crosses a threshold, such that there is no possibility of thinking of a solution, it's possible that the activity could spill over into the temporal lobes. The layout of "Cortico-cortical" pathways would make the temporal lobes the most likely place for it to go.

The result would be a sudden and dramatic activtion of the temporal lobes, so heavily implicated in religious and mystic experiences.

However, this alone would not result in enlightenment.

You see, there are many pathways within the temporal lobes that could be activated in this process, most of them having nothing to do with enlightenment.

The sudden de-activation of the frontal lobes could leave the person feeling that their problem had been solved (The Koan resolved), and with that, the sense that the issue was resolved, but not through logical processes.

In other words, they might see that the 'truth' was beyond 'thought'.

But the process would have nothing to do with either thought or truth.

The Koan method is a valid one, insofar as it would make for sudden and dramatic experiences, but it works with conscious thought and it's failure.

Enlightenment, defined by the bliss that happens with it (or at least the end of suffering), would require particular limbic/temporal pathways to be involved. Specifically, the amygdala, with it's uniquely emotional functions. The Koan method, relying on thnking (and the breakdown of thought), is much more likely to involve cognitive structures (such as the hippocampus), so that the moment of breakthrough for a Koan will only cuminate in an episode of 'Satori' - a temporary experience with only some of the features of enlightenment.

Not surprisingly, Zen does not teach that Koans are the
best way to enlightenment. It places it's emphasis on "Just Sitting", sometimes called "choiceless awareness".

Another point is that the process of completely confusing people is unpleasant, and can offer a justification for inflicting a painful process on people. I do not see that Osho or Krishnamurti used that method (outside of a retreat in Osho's Ashram where people asked themselves, repeatedly, "Who am I?", and endlesly rejected the answers that appeared. But then "Who Am I?" isn't a nonsense question, while "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" is.

J. Krishnamurti taught that there was nothing one could do to become enlightened, while Osho taught that the utter calm of enlightenment was best found after a storm. In fact, he based his most important practice, "dynamic meditation" on that idea.

To answer your question (paraphrased):

Could utter confusion elevate the brain's activity over a certain threshold and allow for a personal explosion?

Yes, but the explosion would probably not be in the direction of enlightenement for any but a very, very small percentage. For most people, it would be a waste of time.

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