Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Zen


Buddhist-derived meditation practices are currently being employed as a popular form of health promotion. While meditation programs draw inspiration from Buddhist textual sources for the benefits of meditation, these sources also acknowledge a wide range of other effects beyond health-related outcomes. The Varieties of Contemplative Experience study investigates meditation-related experiences that are typically underreported, particularly experiences that are described as challenging, difficult, distressing, functionally impairing, and/or requiring additional support. A mixed-methods approach featured qualitative interviews with Western Buddhist meditation practitioners and experts in Theravāda, Zen, and Tibetan traditions. Interview questions probed meditation experiences and influencing factors, including interpretations and management strategies. A follow-up survey provided quantitative assessments of causality, impairment and other demographic and practice-related variables. The content-driven thematic analysis of interviews yielded a taxonomy of 59 meditation-related experiences across 7 domains: cognitive, perceptual, affective, somatic, conative, sense of self, and social. Even in cases where the phenomenology was similar across participants, interpretations of and responses to the experiences differed considerably. The associated valence ranged from very positive to very negative, and the associated level of distress and functional impairment ranged from minimal and transient to severe and enduring. In order to determine what factors may influence the valence, impact, and response to any given experience, the study also identified 26 categories of influencing factors across 4 domains: practitioner-level factors, practice-level factors, relationships, and health behaviors. By identifying a broader range of experiences associated with meditation, along with the factors that contribute to the presence and management of experiences reported as challenging, difficult, distressing or functionally impairing, this study aims to increase our understanding of the effects of contemplative practices and to provide resources for mediators, clinicians, meditation researchers, and meditation teachers.

Concepts: Buddhism and psychology, Experience, Psychology, Anapanasati, Zen, Buddhist meditation, Meditation, Buddhism


This work aimed to determine whether (1)H magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS), diffusion-weighted imaging (DWI) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) are correlated with years of meditation and psychological variables in long-term Zen meditators compared to healthy non-meditator controls.

Concepts: Brain tumor, Zen, Brain, In vivo magnetic resonance spectroscopy, Diffusion MRI, Medical imaging, Nuclear magnetic resonance, Magnetic resonance imaging


Zen Buddhist meditative practices emphasize the long-term, mindful training of attention and awareness during one’s ordinary daily-life activities, the shedding of egocentric behaviors, and the skillful application of one’s innate compassionate resources of insight-wisdom toward others and oneself. This review focuses on how such a comprehensive approach to training the brain could relate to a distinctive flavor of Zen: its emphasis on direct experience, with special reference to those major acute states of awakening that create deep transformations of consciousness and behavior. In Japanese, these advanced states are called kensho and satori. Ten key concepts are reviewed. They begin by distinguishing between the concentrative and receptive forms of meditation, noticing the complementary ways that they each train our normal “top-down” and “bottom-up” modes of attentive processing. Additional concepts distinguish between our two major processing pathways. The self-centered, egocentric frame of reference processes information in relation to our body (our soma) or to our mental functions (our psyche). The other-centered frame of reference processes information anonymously. Its prefix, allo- simply means “other” in Greek. Subsequent concepts consider how these useful Greek words-ego/allo, soma/psyche-correlate with the normal functional anatomy of important thalamo ↔ cortical connections. A plausible model then envisions how a triggering stimulus that captures attention could prompt the reticular nucleus to release GABA; how its selective inhibition of the dorsal thalamus could then block both our higher somatic and psychic cortical functions; so as to: (a) delete the maladaptive aspects of selfhood, while also (b) releasing the direct, all-inclusive, globally-unified experience of other. Two final concepts consider how the long-term meditative training of intuitive functions relates to certain kinds of word-free spatial tasks that involve insightful creative problem-solving.

Concepts: Buddhism, Psychology, Kensho, Buddhist meditation, Satori, Cerebral cortex, Meditation, Zen


Bodily training typically evokes behavioral and perceptual gains, enforcing neuroplastic processes and affecting neural representations. We investigated the effect on somatosensory perception of a three-day Zen meditation exercise, a purely mental intervention. Tactile spatial discrimination of the right index finger was persistently improved by only 6 hours of mental-sensory focusing on this finger, suggesting that intrinsic brain activity created by mental states can alter perception and behavior similarly to external stimulation.

Concepts: Perception, Zen, Index finger, Somatosensory system, Mind, Meditation, Sense, Psychology


Breathwalk is a science of combining specific patterns of footsteps synchronized with the breathing. In this study, we developed a multimedia-assisted Breathwalk-aware system which detects user’s walking and breathing conditions and provides appropriate multimedia guidance on the smartphone. Through the mobile device, the system enhances user’s awareness of walking and breathing behaviors. As an example application in slow technology, the system could help meditator beginners learn “walking meditation,” a type of meditation which aims to be as slow as possible in taking pace, to synchronize footstep with breathing, and to land every footstep with toes first. In the pilot study, we developed a walking-aware system and evaluated whether multimedia-assisted mechanism is capable of enhancing beginner’s walking awareness while walking meditation. Experimental results show that it could effectively assist beginners in slowing down the walking speed and decreasing incorrect footsteps. In the second experiment, we evaluated the Breathwalk-aware system to find a better feedback mechanism for learning the techniques of Breathwalk while walking meditation. The experimental results show that the visual-auditory mechanism is a better multimedia-assisted mechanism while walking meditation than visual mechanism and auditory mechanism.

Concepts: Religion, Buddhist meditation, Experiment, Zazen, Learning, Science, Zen


Modern exponents of mindfulness meditation promote the therapeutic effects of “bare attention”-a sort of non-judgmental, non-discursive attending to the moment-to-moment flow of consciousness. This approach to Buddhist meditation can be traced to Burmese Buddhist reform movements of the first half of the 20th century, and is arguably at odds with more traditional Theravāda Buddhist doctrine and meditative practices. But the cultivation of present-centered awareness is not without precedent in Buddhist history; similar innovations arose in medieval Chinese Zen (Chan) and Tibetan Dzogchen. These movements have several things in common. In each case the reforms were, in part, attempts to render Buddhist practice and insight accessible to laypersons unfamiliar with Buddhist philosophy and/or unwilling to adopt a renunciatory lifestyle. In addition, these movements all promised astonishingly quick results. And finally, the innovations in practice were met with suspicion and criticism from traditional Buddhist quarters. Those interested in the therapeutic effects of mindfulness and bare attention are often not aware of the existence, much less the content, of the controversies surrounding these practices in Asian Buddhist history.

Concepts: Anapanasati, Mahayana, 20th century, Buddhist philosophy, Buddhism, Zen, Buddhist meditation, Meditation


This paper explores a debate that took place in Japan in the early twentieth century over the comparability of hypnosis and Zen. The debate was among the first exchanges between psychology and Buddhism in Japan, and it cast doubt on previous assumptions that a clear boundary existed between the two fields. In the debate, we find that contemporaries readily incorporated ideas from psychology and Buddhism to reconstruct the experiences and concepts of hypnosis and Buddhist nothingness. The resulting new theories and techniques of nothingness were fruits of a fairly fluid boundary between the two fields. The debate, moreover, reveals that psychology tried to address the challenges and possibilities posed by religious introspective meditation and intuitive experiences in a positive way. In the end, however, psychology no longer regarded them as viable experimental or psychotherapeutic tools but merely as particular subjective experiences to be investigated and explained.

Concepts: Psychotherapy, China, Philosophy of science, Japan, 20th century, Buddhism, Meditation, Zen


Over the past several years meditation practice has gained increasing attention as a non-pharmacological intervention to provide health related benefits, from promoting general wellness to alleviating the symptoms of a variety of medical conditions. However, the effects of meditation training on brain activity still need to be fully characterized. Sleep provides a unique approach to explore the meditation-related plastic changes in brain function. In this study we performed sleep high-density electroencephalographic (hdEEG) recordings in long-term meditators (LTM) of Buddhist meditation practices (approximately 8700 mean hours of life practice) and meditation naive individuals. We found that LTM had increased parietal-occipital EEG gamma power during NREM sleep. This increase was specific for the gamma range (25-40 Hz), was not related to the level of spontaneous arousal during NREM and was positively correlated with the length of lifetime daily meditation practice. Altogether, these findings indicate that meditation practice produces measurable changes in spontaneous brain activity, and suggest that EEG gamma activity during sleep represents a sensitive measure of the long-lasting, plastic effects of meditative training on brain function.

Concepts: Buddhism, Zen, Gamma wave, Binaural beats, Sleep, Buddhist meditation, Electroencephalography, Meditation


Abstract Objectives: The objectives of this study were to determine the effects of the novel Buddhism-based walking meditation (BWM) and the traditional walking exercise (TWE) on depression, functional fitness, and vascular reactivity. Design: This was a randomized exercise intervention study. Settings/location: The study was conducted in a university hospital setting. Subjects: Forty-five elderly participants aged 60-90 years with mild-to-moderate depressive symptoms were randomly allocated to the sedentary control, TWE, and BWM groups. Interventions: The BWM program was based on aerobic walking exercise incorporating the Buddhist meditations performed 3 times/week for 12 weeks. Outcome measures: Depression score, functional fitness, and endothelium-dependent vasodilation as measured by the flow-mediated dilation (FMD) were the outcome measures used. Results: Muscle strength, flexibility, agility, dynamic balance, and cardiorespiratory endurance increased in both exercise groups (p<0.05). Depression score decreased (p<0.05) only in the BWM group. FMD improved (p<0.05) in both exercise groups. Significant reduction in plasma cholesterol, triglyceride, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and C-reactive protein were found in both exercise groups, whereas low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, cortisol, and interleukin-6 concentrations decreased only in the BWM group. Conclusions: Buddhist walking meditation was effective in reducing depression, improving functional fitness and vascular reactivity, and appears to confer greater overall improvements than the traditional walking program.

Concepts: Buddhist meditation, Meditation, Zen, Buddhism, Low-density lipoprotein, Cardiovascular disease, Atherosclerosis, Cholesterol


Given evidence of the benefits of mindfulness for women’s sexual difficulties, we investigated the relationship between meditation experience and women’s sexual function. Women (n = 451) answered online survey questions about meditation experience, sexual function and desire, interoceptive awareness, health and mood. Women who meditated scored higher than non-meditators on measures of sexual function and desire, however there was no significant correlation between frequency/length of meditation experience and either of these domains. Global mental health was a significant predictor of both increased sexual function and desire in women who meditate. These findings suggest that, compared to women with no meditation experience, women who meditate to any extent have, on average, improved sexual function associated with better overall mental health.

Concepts: Zen, Mantra, Spirituality, Meditation