So Are You Your Brain?

Nov 2008 we met at the Tai Pan Hotel for lunch and video. The topic was The Nirvana Neuron. About 30 of us went for lunch, and some more came later for the videos.

In case you were there, the Monastics were:

  • Phra Bhasakorn (author of a popular book on Karma)
  • Mae Chee Brigitte (German meditation teacher)
  • Mae Chee Amphai (Secretary for the International Buddhism Course at MCU University)

First video was a now famous clip of Jill Bolte Taylor which can be found on the TED website

She claims to have found Nirvana during a prolonged stroke experience, and describes what happened in terms of left brain-right brain operations.

But did she have anything to offer ? Her ‘bliss’ and ‘nirvana’ can easily be equated to some kind of euphoria that comes from drugs, rather than anything spiritually real. Several people wondered if perhaps drug experiences are in fact the same as ‘spiritual’ experiences. We meditators did not think so, but Holly pointed out that perhaps a drug experience, or near death experience, can be a gateway leading to a more disciplined spiritual quest. It seemed unchallenged that Jill Bolte Taylor was referring to some kind of bliss by the word nirvana, rather than coming from the Buddhist meaning of the term.

The whole right brain/left brain explanation did not really hold up. She described the ‘I’ being in the left or right as two different experiences, but did not give any indication of how she equated the experience with the brain hemispheres. Will and others felt that she had an ‘experience’ that she later formulated into an explanation based on her life as a neuro-scientist. This is a common phenomenon in fact. If someone experiences something strange (such as can be induced by illness, drugs, or even magnets) they will describe the experience using the constructs they are familiar with. Thus you talk about ‘devas’ or ‘angels’ or ‘lights’ or even ‘aliens’ to try and make sense of your experience.

On the other hand JBT did seem to have some kind of experience that was more than just a heroin-like euphoria. It was pointed out however, that no indication was given to her audience of how they could replicate such experience, or even if she could do so herself. In short, she did not offer much to us meditators. Not mentioned was the fact that Buddhist meditation is designed to change and grow in your daily experience rather than being thunderbolt(e)s and lightning. A daily meditation practise is concerned with the stuff you experience daily rather than extremes.

Nonetheless some high level meditators can experience far more lucid, far more in depth experiences both in Buddhism and other religions. Yet they are not championed in the same way as JBT, who followed up the TED talk with a book and an Oprah spot. A lack of spiritual marketing ?

the nirvana neuron, with Mae chee brigitte