Zen and the Brain

Uploaded by GoogleTechTalks on 14.10.2011

>> Good morning friends. We are delighted today have our--to host our friend, Dr. James
H. Austin. James is America's professor of neurology in the University of Colorado Health
Sciences Center. He is one of the oldest and most respected experts on the links between
the neurological workings of the human brain and meditation. He is the author of the book
"Zen and the Brain" which is, as far as I know, one of the earliest and most influential
books on the topic. He is also the only real neuroscientist I know who is also a profoundly
deep meditator. And he's going to be very shy as in now, but he's--but he's quite enlightened,
and so making him a very rare master both in neuroscience and meditation. James' other
books include "Selfless Insight" and "Zen Brain Reflections". He is the only friend
I have who doesn't use email. Or he and the Dalai Lama. So, the two of them. And he's
the--and he's the only friend who writes me letters by hand, because the Dalai Lama doesn't
do that. So before we come here, he asked whether he should be doing the advance or
the--or the geneta--the version of his talk. So I asked for the advanced technical version.
So if it's too older, blame me. But if it's good, it's his credit. And with that, please
welcome our friend, Professor James Austin. Thank you.
>> Austin: Thank you, Meng, for your generous, hospitality and generous welcome to this group.
I have a very easy or very difficult job talking to this group at Google. The difficult part
of my job relates to your high level of intellect, which paradoxically makes it more difficult
for you to understand unless you remember how important it is to have moments of insight.
If you can remember the moments when you've had insight, when all you intellectual knowledge
has failed you but your intuition has given you a burst of understanding, then I have
an easy job. So try to keep in mind those moments of insight at your desk or any out
of doors when a moment of insight has clarified a problem that remained impenetrable to your
high level of intellect. Meng tells me that many of you in this group have taken the course
on meditation and consciousness, and so I think it's appropriate that we all start with
a moment of meditation. You've already worked hard all this morning. You've gotten here.
You've come here on time to this lecture. So let's start with a brief moment of meditation.
The first slide is the old Taoist yin yang symbol, and the purpose is to point out that
their two aspects, the black and the white, the male and the female, this into that are
complementary, not antagonistic. They're both necessary to be part of the cosmic whole.
You might wonder how a seemingly orthodox neurologist and academician would ever--would
ever be involved in anything as esoteric as Zen Buddhism. It stared when I was on sabbatical
in Kyoto, Japan. I was introduced, fortunately, to an English-speaking Zen master. And this
is the gate through which I entered this Rinzai Zen temple, Daitokuji, in 1974. It's an ordinary
gate of the kind that we use in the west and elsewhere in the world. It operates as a unit
so that the top and the bottom open simultaneously. What I'm about to describe to you as a theme
throughout this talk is something that may seem unfamiliar, but here's the theme. The
theme is that when we turn on our self-centered attention, we exert in a reciprocal opposite
fashion our external kind of attentiveness. And contrary-wise, when we turn on our attentiveness
into the external world, we dampen our resources that go into our self-centeredness. And with
this introduction, let's turn to the two different kinds of meditation, the attentive art of
meditation. For those of you who have handouts, this will be on the handout so you need not
try to memorize it. But basically we start as we did a few moments ago by looking down
and usually at a spot in front of us in a form of what's been called concentrative meditation.
It's a more effortful kind of attentiveness. It's focused and it's exclusive. If we're
pointing down like this, were excluding the world all around us and focusing on one point
in a deliberate one-pointed manner. Now, this requires our voluntary top-down processing,
and so it is more self-referential; we're in there doing it. It's the kind of attention
that can evolve later on into the absorptions, and it does involve our paying attention.
This kind of attention, this kind of awareness is personalized. We're in there doing it ourself.
Now, later on, after we've trained attention in a top-down manner, we move into a more
receptive kind of meditation. By definition, this is more effortless. It's attentiveness
that is unfocussed and it is inclusive. It will take in everything around us; front,
back, top and bottom. It's a more open, universal, bare awareness and it expresses our involuntary--our
involuntary attentiveness to the world around us. So it, by definition, is more other referential.
If self is everything inside our skin, other is everything outside of our skin. And this
is the kind receptivity that can later shift into more insightful, intuitive modes of processing.
It's called a choiceless awareness because we are not choosing to do it; it happens.
So this is a more anonymous kind of awareness; anonymous awareness. Now, we have two ways--two
ways of processing reality. The one we're most familiar with and the one's that's easiest
to understand is this form, the egocentric, self-centered kind of processing. If this
is the person doing it and looking at an apple, these lines of sight from the apple are all
coming back into the general access of this person's attentiveness. And this person--this
person has a frame of reference looking at the outside world. This person is holding
on with both hands to this frame of reference and he's seeing only what he chooses to. There's
another kind of reality which is revealed to us without our being aware of it. And just
as the word "ego" stands for self, the Greek word "allo" stands for other. So allocentric
reality is that world that the brain perceives without our knowing that it's doing so. And
when it looks out out there and automatically identifies these apples and positions them
in three dimensional space in relation to each other, no lines of sight come back here
to the person who is doing this kind of attentive processing. This is allocentric processing.
Now, the two kinds of processing, egocentric and allocentric are on your handout. But the
important thing to realize is that they pursue different pathways in the brain. The egocentric
pathway is, in a sense, the northern pathway which proceeds in the upper part of the brain.
The allocentric pathway is pathway that proceeds from back to front through the southern part,
the lower part of the brain. Next topic on your handout, and your handout has these topics
arranged in a serial manner, so if you proceed from the top, you'll be getting the whole
outline of this presentation. The next topic we're talking about is attention itself. William
James, the American psychologist and philosopher, outlined the importance of attention, and
he called it "The faculty of bringing back a wandering attention over and over again,
over and over again, is the very root of all of our judgment, character and will." I'm
going to make a little different tack and also emphasize that not only is this a voluntary
process, but that attention operates involuntarily. So let's look at the attentive brain here.
And to get oriented, this is the back of the brain and you're looking down at the top of
the brain with the right hemisphere being on your right and the left hemisphere being
on your left. The nose is here. And let's look at the left hemisphere first and you'll
notice it has a lot of fine dots in it. This is to emphasize that the left hemisphere operates
in a discriminatory, fine-grain kind of processing. And when it looks out at the outside world,
and this outside world is on the opposite side of the environment because things are
crossed in the brain, it looks out and sees with discrimination, fine-grain discrimination.
It sees and hears with fine-grain discrimination. Now, you know that most--for most of us, almost
all of us, our language ability is centered over in the left hemisphere. Whereas, when
we're talking about attentiveness, the corresponding regions, very exactly in this right hemisphere,
are specialized for attention. Most of the training in Zen meditation involves the training
of attention; the training of attention, both top-down and bottom-up training of attention.
And here we see the reason why. Because this right hemisphere, you'll notice, has a lot
of spaces in between the lines. It's not a fine grain, it's more of a course grain kind
of processing. And when it looks out into the opposite visual field, there is plenty
of room between these lines for it to insert values, atmospheres of aesthetic appreciation,
and judgment. Then because it sends a message over to the left hemisphere through the corpus
callosum, it enters into a bargain with the left hemisphere. It's an age old bargain.
It's been going on for millenia. And it says, in effect, "Left hemisphere, you can take
over the responsibility of words, and language and speaking and understanding language. But
I'm going to co-opt everything that you see over in the right side of the world and claim
it as mine." And so the right hemisphere pays attention to both sides of the outside environment.
And this becomes very important because it means that the right hemisphere is poised
to be receptive to the whole outside world. Many years ago, it was theorized, with good
evidence, that these two pathways were organized into a where pathway and then to a what pathway.
It's now, I think, more reasonable to say that this northern root is a "where is it
in relation to me?" back in the center, and to say that the southern root is a "what is
it?" pathway that arrives at identification of the object that is seen out there. Those
of you who know some anatomy will notice an interesting point about this northern root,
because it goes through the angular gyrus here on it's way north into the parietal lobe,
and it misses the supramarginal gyrus which is more involved in the ventral kind of attentiveness.
This slide is a composite slide that shows the brain and what it perceives out there
as a--in a theoretical way. We'll start with two of these spots up in the top part of the
brain because one of them is intraparietal sulcus or the IPS. And the IPS is linked with
the frontal eye field which is in the frontal part of the brain, and the two together are
our two modes of top-down attentiveness. We spoke of top-down attentiveness earlier, and
it's on one of your handout tables. You'll notice that these two modes of attention are
in a position to be overlapped by the egocentric pathway of processing, so that the two together,
egocentricity and top-down attentiveness, are very easy to link together into one giant
function. On the other hand, lower down, is the temporoparietal junction which includes
the superior temporal gyrus here and the supramarginal gyrus. And it links up in the same network
and circuitry with the inferior frontal cortex which is farther forward in the brain. You're
looking here, by the way, at the brain where the occipital lobe is back here, the seeing
part of the cortex, whereas the frontal lobe and nose is way up here in front. Further
more, this lower ventral pathway for attention is closer to the allocentric or the other
centered mode of processing reality, and tucked into the undersurface of the temporal lobe
is a module called the FG or the fusiform gyrus. This is a gyrus that specialize both
for color perception and for the processing or facial features. Thank you. All right.
So here's this brain and it's looking up into the outside world, and what is it seeing?
Well, it's seeing four quadrants of vision, and let's look at them separately. Why, you
might ask, is there a red rim around the lower visual field? Well, that's because the egocentric
pathway, starting as it does in the upper part of the occipital lobe, is much more efficient
at processing things that are below the horizon. So, upper part of the occipital lobe, more
efficient at processing lower down. And ladies, there are several of you in the audience,
if you are balancing a baby on your lap, it's very important for you to be using the functions
that are up here, your functions of touch and proprioception, because they will help
you hold that baby accurately on your lap so the baby doesn't fall. And gentlemen, if
you are hammering a nail with your hammer and you'll hold the nail in your left hand,
it's very important for you have proprioception and touch so that you can come down with your
hammer accurately on the head of the nail because if you don't, your fingers are history.
So this pathway, the egocentric pathway, is highly specialized for action. And it depends
on the parietal lobe for its proprioceptive and touch skills. And notice that these objects
that it handles are down close to it in its very personal space in the envelope of space
right around it within reach; within reach. On the other hand, consider the allocentric
pathway starting in the lower part of the occipital lobe. Remember things are crossed
in the brain. So this part of the brain is most efficient at processing items that are
up here in the upper visual fields above the visual horizon. What is up here? Well, in
ages past, it would be very handy to detect the saber-toothed tiger by your sense of hearing,
audition, or your sense of color vision so that you could detect the difference between
the stripes on the tiger and the leaf patterns that are in the underbrush. And it's important
that the tiger be detected at a distance away from you so it doesn't wind up in your lap.
And having escaped the tiger, if you wanted to be in a contemplative mode and thank your
lucky stars, you could look out in the distance at the blue sky and the clouds and the mountains
and be in a more relaxed frame of mind. These are the differences between vision and audition
which are in the temporal lobe, and touch and proprioception, the circuitry of which
is in your parietal lobe. Now looking here at a functional MRI scan of the left--we're
looking at the right hemisphere from the outside, the nose is here by the inferior frontal gyrus
and the occipital lobe is back here in the back. And you see these same structures that
we've spoken about before, but the interesting point here is that the intraparietal sulcus
is right next to this blue spot which is the superior parietal lobule. What is the superior
parietal lobule? It's your somatosensory association cortex. And what does that mean? It means
that this is the part of your brain that understands that you have an arm, a leg, a head and a
trunk on both sides, and it puts these together so that you understand and know instinctively
that you have a body that you can act with which will be your agency for working as a
unit in the outside world. So this is where your sense of physical sense of self comes
together. So notice how handy it is to have your top-down attention mode right next to
this organizational principle that enables you to know you have a whole body scheme with
which you can operate in the outside world. What about the bottom-up attention and its
processing? Well, it's in the temporo-parietal junction and the inferior frontal gyrus. And
there are some yellow colors here and that's simply to remind us that our top-down attentiveness
and our bottom-up attentiveness have to be merged in a very sophisticated manner in order
for us to put together the kinds of attention that we need to operate in our daily lives.
So the medial frontal gyrus and the inferior frontal gyrus operate particularly on the
right side to arrive at this merger of functions that enables us to operate. In your handout
is a table that simply summarizes the responses of the ventral, the lower, and the dorsal
kind of attention systems, and I won't dwell on that any further. It is important, however,
to make a distinction, a visual distinction, between top-down attention which is a sharply
pointed, remember, exclusive kind of attention. It operates on a foundation of bare awareness.
It has a pre-attention mode which is entirely involuntary and which is right out there at
the point. And the point here is simply to illustrate that top-down attention is the
vanguard that is out at the tip of all of our processing. In computer programming, there
is also, I gather, something that is out at the forefront of the processing, and in the
brain, it is a sharp point of attention that impales the topic that we wish to pay attention
to so that the rest of our processing can come in and know where to operate. Think how
important it is to this pen which has lots of ink in it to be able to have a point in order to write with, and you'll understand
the pointing function of attention, and you'll understand why William James regarded it as
so crucial to our operations. So this is the kind of top-down attention and the contrasting
form is our bottom-up attentiveness which is a more global kind of receptivity. It also
functions at the level of bare awareness and it has a subconscious processing also, and
everything above its threshold of consciousness it does have the potential of entering on
our consciousness. But most important, everything below this level operates at a subconscious
level. So the bottom-up attentiveness much of what goes on is not within our conscious
understanding. It goes on subconsciously. Farther down on your handout is the issue
of the difference between our physical sense of self and our psychic sense of self. Zen
training, in particular, emphasizes doing away with the disadvantageous aspects of our
self-centeredness. And to understand how this is so, you need to know the difference between
the physical body which is your physical sense of self, the Greeks called it your soma and
your--and your cognitive and your affective and your instinctual forms of self which are
your psychic sense of self which the Greeks called our psyche. So soma and psyche are
very different. I know because I can feel my arm that I have a somatic sense of self.
But can you touch a thought? Can you reach out and touch your thought? Your thoughts
are intangible. So our soma deals with tangible things and our psyche deals with cognition
and emotion and instincts, and these are intangible categories of functioning. Now, let's look
at the self in operational terms and try to see how it operates in our daily lives. And
to do so, it helps to divide the self into three operational sub-compartments. The most
obvious one is the I, the part of ourselves that we know exist, we can feel it, we know
that it's there and we can watch it act. And these are all very adaptive functions. Similarly,
the Me is that part of our self to which things happen. If I don't look carefully when I'm
crossing the curb and going out in traffic, I'm going to be hit by an automobile and something
very bad is going to happen to me. So this is an adaptive part of the self or Me. And
similarly, the Mine helps us identify our thoughts, our body parts, and our possessions.
If we're going in the parking lot at Googleplex and trying to find our automobile, it helps
to know which automobile is mine and where we parked it because otherwise we'll be lost
without our car. So these are all the adaptive good parts of having an I, Me, Mine, but there
are disadvantages, there's a downside. There are cons to being a self. There are maladaptive
aspects of the self that we should like to do away with. The first and the easiest to
identify by our friends are our aggressive self; our aggressive, arrogant self. We have
another self. Here I am trying to get rid of myself and I have this other self that
is somehow in the circuitry. And this tells us how difficult it is to get rid of our self.
We have this echo self which seems to have subsided. No. It needs to meditate more. So,
our friends know that we have an arrogant and aggressive self, but this part is sort
of hidden from us. But the Me part of our self, this we recognize because this is our
battered and our fearful and our anxiety- ridden self. This is the part that gives us
high blood pressure and all kinds of physical and mental ailments. And how about the mind?
The mind, of course, is also clutching its captured self-indentured, it craves things,
it overeats, it wants too much. And these are the, in short, the ABCs of the I, Me,
Mine, the aggressive, besieged and clutching parts of the self that we can do without.
Now, as the new century dawned, a group of investigators at Washington University in
St. Louis, Deborah Gusnard and Marcus Raichle, looked over a bunch of PET scans--PET scans
that had been done in the past and discovered something interesting. In here, you're looking
at a summary of what they found, because we're looking now at the inside of the brain. Previously,
we've been looking at the outside of the brain. Now we're looking at the brain from the inside
and you recognize that it's the inside because it's the right hemisphere and here is the
corpus callusom that has been cut, the bridge between the two hemispheres. And what they
found was that there were two hotspots in this inner part of the brain at rest; at rest.
Their subjects were trying to relax, not do anything mentally or physically. And here
was a hotspot in the medial posterior parietal cortex. Front of the brain here, back of the brain here. Notice,
by the way, the other centered, allocentered pathway coming along here through the under
part of the occipital and medial temporal cortex. And similarly, the other major hotspot
was here in the angular gyrus which is we've noticed is the longest egocentric pathway
that leads up to the superior parietal lobule. So here at rest are three hotspots. What happens
when the subjects are then given a task which requires them to be introspective and to look
into their self? These hotspots become even hotter. And various lines of evidence suggest
that these hotspots in charge are engaged, at least partially, in generating our sense
of psychic self-identity and in relating this identity to our environment and to ways to
navigate through our environment. So if you ask, what are these hotspots doing anyway?
One might suggest by way of speculation that this is how you remember where you were born,
what your bedroom look like in your early formative years, where you went to high school,
who your friends were in high school, where you went to college, and what your office
looks like at Googleplex. This is where you fit in to your long narrative history and
then to that part of your environment which you laid down with circumstantial details
so that you know how to find your way around your environment. But now, what happens when
the subjects are given an acute task--an acute task that requires them to be very attentive
to their external environment? If you remember the first slide with the self and external
environment, you'll know and can anticipate that these hotspots become cooler. These self
hotspots become cooler when attentiveness is required and demanded by events in the
external environment. And this has since been borne out by functional MRI. You're looking
here at the top side at the functional MRI scans. In here, you're looking at the left
hemisphere with the frontal lobe here and the occipital lobe here. And here is the posterior
cingulate cortex back in the medial parietal lobe, and here is the medial prefrontal cortex
and here's the angular gyrus, so that this is a resting functional MRI scan and we still
have these three major hotspots. But now, the subjects are inside the functional MRI
scanner for 300 seconds or five minutes. And we see something fascinating. Because we see
that when the cool spots get hotter, the hotspots get cooler. And when the hotspots get hotter,
the cool spots get cooler. And this is happening in this subject about three times a minute.
Now, this is a very, very slow cycle. It's endogenous, intrinsic cycle of the brain.
It's not clear exactly what the mechanism is but it's probably a combination of some
metabolic cycle and some bioelectric cycle. It's much slower than the breathing rate of,
say, 18 per minute because this is only three per minute. Where could such a basic rhythm
come from, and that, of course, is an interesting problem for neuroscientists to settle. And
if you're wondering about the IPS which is cooler and the FEF which is cooler and the
TPj and the inferior frontal cortex which is cooler, rest assured that 20 minutes--20
seconds later things will be different. In here, 20 seconds later is the evidence of
a spontaneous reciprocal shift in the other direction. As the hot spots get hotter, the
cool spots get cooler. Question? >> Are the subjects doing anything during
this? >> AUSTIN: No, no. This is spontaneous. The
subject is not trying to do anything. This is an involuntary, spontaneous, endogenous,
reciprocal shift that's going on by itself. Thank you for your question. So here is the
cooler angular gyrus and the cooler medial posterior parietal and the cooler medial prefrontal
cortex. And here again, as a reminder, is a reciprocal function we've been talking about.
Now, the question then might be those of you who meditate and who go to a meditative retreat,
let's say you've gone through day-long retreat or on a weekend retreat and then you've gone
for a seven-day retreat, you're very relaxed and yet very receptive, very acute, very sensitized
to your environment. And you've been doing this for--not for a week or so but you've
been doing this for some years. What would happen if you're just there relaxed in a receptive
mode of attentiveness? Well, speculation here is a model to think about. Here is your allocentric
mode of other referential attentiveness going up and down maybe three per minute. And here
is your self-centered mode going up in a reciprocal fashion spontaneously. And then all of a sudden
a triggering stimulus comes from the outside; a triggering stimulus. A triggering stimulus
has been described in Zen terms and Buddhist terms for many, many centuries. For Zen Master
EQ who was meditating out in a boat, in a row boat out in the center of Lake Biwa in
Japan at night, the triggering stimulus was a bird that flew over and above him. A bird
that he was unaware of and the bird said [makes sound]. And Zen Master EQ dropped into a certain
extraordinary state of consciousness. Why? Well, we've seen that there is this reciprocal
arrangement that goes on spontaneously and we're speculating that is allocentric, other
referential attentive processing would be captured and very hyper attentive. And similarly
in the reverse reciprocal fashion, there would be a deactivation of his self-referential
processing, which is in red and down here. And after a variable but unknown period of
time because time would drop out, his allocentric processing would be at a higher level. And
as a residual during the--during the afterglow phase, his egocentric processing would be
at a very low level and much of his prior maladaptive self would have been cut off.
Cut off--question? >> How long will the [INDISTINCT] last?
>> AUSTIN: A variable period of time, but I would say anywhere from hours to a few days.
Thank you for your question. I've just come back from Beijing where I was given, to my
surprise, this ceremonial sword. I thought it might interest the audience as a curiosity,
but it also helps me explain how the sword cut that is describe in the old literature
which is the sword of the Buddha [INDISTINCT] of enlightenment and [INDISTINCT]. How it
operates and nicely slices off at that just the right parts, our sense of physical and
psychic self that is disadvantageous to our well-being and to well-being of others. Now,
you may think it odd that any quasi-religion or quasi-philosophical or any other system
of human endeavor would speak of a sword cut as a metaphor for a state of consciousness
that would supervene but this is the same way than my Zen master describe such a moment
to me. And the technique that he used with something like this. He said, "A cut will
open up in the mind and will strike the depths of the cut." He put both of his hands down
in this manner and touched his fingers to indicate a big long V-shaped cut in the mind.
So, we are talking there is--and there is a word in Japanese Kiri-e which describes
such a cut in the mind. Now, if the self vacates the center of consciousness which it does.
And then the setters and insight that comprehends all things in the outside world as they really
are and the absence of self. And if there is no fear at that moment and no time and
pro-perception, the physical sense of self is unregistered. And if perfection is registered
throughout the outside world at that moment, how is it possible that such a moment can
occur. Again, we're talking about a model explanation but the model begins with the
thalamus. But what are we looking at here? We're looking at the left side of the brain,
nose here, back of the brain here. We're looking at the thalamus which is a paired structure.
This is the left thalamus and we're seeing the largest nucleus in the whole thalamus
which is the pulvinar. And the pulvinar on that model that you have there is indicated
in a-in a yellow orange manner. If you see a yellow orange spot, you're looking at the
pulvinar. What does the pulvinar do? The pulvinar specializes in salience that's a quality that
enables the foreground item of interest to leap out and the background to subside and
become the background. So, the pulvinar is a very smart nucleus to have at the onset
of all of our perceptions. Now, what you're looking at in color is mostly the dorsal part
or the upper part or the northern part of the thalamus. And the other item of interest
is a lateral-posterior nucleus and it's connected with the superior parietal lobule which is
where we organize our physical sense of self. In front of that are the three limbic nuclei
of the thalamus. Through these three nuclei come all of the messages that rise up from
our hypothalamus, our hippocampus, our amygdale, all of our emotional life passes through these
three limbic nuclei and the front of the thalamus. And it's so happens that each of these three
nuclei are the passageway up to those three hot spots in the cortex which are our sense
of self. So, the way the circuitry is arranged in the brain, all of the information which
comes up from the limbic system and comes up in a bottom of manner, that comes up through
the limbic system and drives our cortex with all of our wants, all of our attachments,
all of our emotions first goes through these three limbic nuclei in the front of the dorsal
thalamus. So, we're talking about the dorsal tear first. But notice the ventral pulvinar
remains as those the rest to the ventral nuclei. And the ventral pulvinar goes up to diffuse
the formed gyrus and all of the other information that passes along the allocentric other centered
kind of processing. So, then, how is it possible to drop out all of these dorsal thalamus and
therefore rid ourselves of our anxieties and our sense of self. And the answer is that
it is not possible. It's not possible unless you pay attention to another nucleus in the
thalamus which is a reticular nucleus. Think of the reticular nucleus as a cap that fits
over the rest of the thalamus. And because it has many GABA, gamma aminobutyric acid
nerve cells in it, it exercises and inhibitory role on the rest of the dorsal thalamus. So,
because the thalamus and the cortex normally operate in an oscillating mode very quickly
back and forth, the reticular cap enables the thalamus to shut down it's thalamocortical
system and to cut off our sense of self. Now, you may say, "What is the evidence for this
in my own experience?" The evidence for this in your own experience is it what happens
when you go into your bedroom, turn out the lights and drop off to sleep in the evening
at night? Why do you fall asleep? Your vision drops out, your hearing drops out, your sense
of physical self drops out? All courtesy of your reticular nucleus in addition to other
circumstances. And why is the thalamus important? It's important because everything that you
have experienced since you first sat down in this chair this morning, all of your perceptions
have had to go through your thalamus in order for you to understand in the cortical level
what's going on, with the exception of smell. And if you smell the coffee or the onions
coming from over here, that's only because smell is the only exception. All the rest
has to go through your thalamus. Now, like the rest of the western world, the people
in Holland were used to a door that operates as a unit from the top to bottom until about
1600. And then some Dutchman said, "Hey, why don't we design another kind of door? Let's
design a door that is hinged at the top and then independently at the bottom so we have
more options. And if our wives are inside here and the kids are down here playing in
the door step, she can look down and watch the kids or if it's a very hot day and we
want to get some cool breezes from a distant source, we can close the top part and open
up the bottom part and let the cool breezes come in and sweep along the floor. And if
we want to close off to world at night in security, we can close both halves of the
door as we drop off to sleep. The Dutch door is a metaphor for the way the dorsal thalamus
opens and closes at different kinds of days. Now, there are some triggers of historical
interest. The first of course is the--is the moment the episode involving Siddhartha Gautama
about 2500 years ago, who is meditating the bodhi tree in the pre-dawn hours. When he
looked up and saw the morning star--what is the morning star? The morning star was well
known to the ancients. Morning star is the planet Venus. And this is the way the planet
Venus was painted in back of the early Chinese dynasties. She was painted as a white goddess.
And it's an indication of the harmony that was involved in her being. She has shown holding
a lute. And as further evidence that she was present in the early morning hours. If you
look up here, you can see that she has a rooster in her crown, evidencing what goes on in the
first part of the morning. And next time you go up north and visit Seattle, do visit the
Seattle Asian Art Museum. because in the Asian Art Museum, you will this statue which is
entitled 'A Monk at the Moment of Enlightenment.' You will notice the black Buddha who looked
up and saw the morning star. This monk is also shown looking up at the moment of enlightenment.
The technique of looking up as a meditated practice is well known in Tibetan Buddhism.
And when Matthieu Ricard was here in 2007, about that time he was also writing a book
about Shabkar and Enlightened Sage in Tibetan Buddhism in the 19th century. And what Shabkar
had to say is this: "I raise my head looking up and saw the cloudless sky. I thought of
absolute space free from all limitations. And then experienced a freedom without center,
without end. In translation, the cloudless sky is the sky that is free of all delusions.
Absolute space without limits, it is this space with stems around us as allocentric
space. The freedom is the liberation that is part of an enlightened state of moment.
Without center means, no self is in the center, without end meaning infinite. And so as we
go out the door through which we entered, I thank you for your attention.