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How did the Buddha stay mentally fit

By Shuvendu Sen

My first meeting with Walter Jackson Freeman III took place in October 1999, under a cloudy Brooklyn sky on the premises of Long Island University. He was a semi-retired theoretical neuroscientist, biologist and philosopher who worked in the labs of the University of California at Berkeley, pioneering research in how brains generate meaning … Freeman talked about his landmark article, ‘Consciousness, Intentionality, and Causality’. In it, he had defined consciousness as “a global internal state variable composed of a sequence of momentary state of awareness”.

This conclusion takes on tremendous importance when considering the art of meditation. Unlike a pharmaceutical drug that is swallowed with little personal initiative, meditation is an individual process that requires one’s own motivation and commitment. You are challenging your mind, thus repairing it.

Freeman had often quoted British mathematician Roger Penrose, who in his 1994 book titled ‘The Emperor’s New Mind’ argued that known laws of physics are inadequate to explain the phenomenon of consciousness. He based this on claims that consciousness transcends formal logic. He took refuge in the principles of quantum theory as an alternative process through which consciousness could arise.

In a grand coincidence, thousands of miles away across the Atlantic Ocean, anesthesiologist and University of Arizona professor Stuart Hameroff was investing all his intellectual and creative energy on the essence of microtubules – subneuronal and vital cytoskeleton components that he believed could be the cradle of our information processing system. He reasoned that the mystery of consciousness might lie in understanding these microtubules in brain cells, functioning at both the molecular and supramolecular levels.

In undeterred audacity, they dumped mainstream ideas to demonstrate that consciousness was based on computable quantum processing, and hence, cannot be reproduced by computer logic performed by qubits, a unit of quantum information, formed collectively on cellular microtubules, a process significantly amplified in the neurons.

“Did consciousness evolve from complex computations among brain neurons, as most scientists assert,” a euphoric Hameroff and Penrose asked the world, “or has consciousness, in some sense, been here all along, as spiritual approaches maintain?”

Science had suddenly stumbled into the backyard of a beyond that is also infinitely close. In an instant, microtubules smelled like the grass where Buddha and his consciousness once sat and all this became infinitely relevant to sufferers of Alzheimer’s. The terrifying spectacles of amyloid plaques wrecking these very microtubules confronted us in unblinking stare.

Can meditation, with its potential for neuroplasticity, alterations of nerve cells, replenish the dwindling quantum energy of the microtubules plagued by the onset of Alzheimer’s?

Can meditation prevent degeneration, with its boundless capability to crystallise energy, before Alzheimer’s arrives?

Can meditative electrical waves be preserved in the microtubules?

The possibilities are endless, and going by the outpourings of positive research, we have every reason to be hopeful.

We have seen this process before. Ancient sages advocated practices that rigorous scientific study later found immeasurably beneficial. Siddhartha lived in an age where nerve endings, let alone microtubules, were unknown. Yet the calm and increased focus of sitting alone and concentrating for long periods produced results that performed better than any laboratory produced compounds.

It is time to prescribe meditation.

The writer is vice-chair, Research, Jersey Shore University Medical Center, US

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Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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