This month we continue the Comprehensive Survey of Buddhist Meditation chapter with Meditation’s popularity in the Medical Science domain.
May you be well, happy, and peaceful.
1.1. Popularity of Meditation within the Domain of Medical Science.
Researchers have learned that meditation has been used since antiquity as a component of numerous religious traditions. It is compelling to note that great precedence is given to meditation in the modern world for the healing process of psychiatric disorders as well as for physical sickness apart from religious practices. Several studies on meditation have yielded concrete evidence that meditation is a safe and effective way to counteract the effects of emotional stress and nervous tension.
David Midgley, a freelance philosopher and founding director of the Jamyang Buddhist Centre Leeds, rightly claims that “meditation is a natural part of the human experience and it is increasingly used as a therapy for promoting good health and boosting the immune system.” Thera Piyadassi, one of the world’s most eminent Buddhist scholars affirms that through meditation, one can overcome one’s “psychological or psychosomatic problems and anxiety disorders, emotions and impulses, and gain mental calm and peace.”
Today, people regardless of faith increasingly come to realize that to lead a happy and healthy life, meditation plays a crucial role in addition to medication. In the words of Osho, one of the most inspiring spiritual teachers of the twentieth century, medication enables one to be free from diseases at the physical level of the body. However, even when freed from all his diseases, man does not become free from the basic disease of being a human. Osho convincingly argues that the disease of being a human is a ‘perpetual desire’ and the cure for it may only be possible through meditation. He also points out that while medications naturally depend on their chemical constituents to alter the physical matters in the brain; meditation hinges upon consciousness.
Remarkably in this Advanced Technological Age, the study of meditation has entered research labs throughout the United States. Scientists are exploring the states of the brain associated with meditation practices as well as other physiological effects and major changes in the body. Numerous studies have proved that various methods of meditation have been linked to changes in metabolism, blood pressure, brain activation, and other bodily processes. Meditation, thus, has been widely used in clinical settings as a method of stress and pain reduction. Research studies show that hundreds of youths who were addicted to narcotic drugs gradually recover after joining some meditation courses.
Numerous Electroencephalogram (EEG) readings have proven that the meditation on Mindfulness of Breathing is capable of synchronizing the working of the two sides of the brain. “This reduces the patient’s oxygen needs, reduces the heartbeat, blood pressure, and breathing rate.” It is noteworthy what Visuddhacara, an avid meditation practitioner, has stated in the book entitled ‘Invitation to Insight Meditation’. He indicated:
“Western doctors have found that the state of mind has a bearing on the physical health of a person. Diseases are sometimes caused by unhappy states of mind. Prolonged depression, anxiety, fear, unhappiness, etc. can lead to chemical imbalances and other disorders which can even cause diseases such as cancer and heart ailments. Studies showed that anger or agitation causes the production of the chemical, epinephrine, which increases blood pressure, heartbeat, and oxygen consumption. Fear and anxiety cause the secretion of far more than the normal amount of acid which attacks the intestinal membranes resulting in ulcers. Prolonged states of nervous tension are known to impair the autonomic nervous system in such a way that it affects the digestive function and elimination of waste products. This results in constipation and self-poisoning.
On the other hand, it is found that peaceful states of mind are conducive to physical health. Because diseases have a relation to the mind, doctors have encouraged patients to take up meditation which can have a healthy effect on both body and mind. According to the scriptures, when there is samādhi, we experience mental rapture (pīti) and bliss (sukha). This brings about the production of healthy cells or matters in the body (cittajarūpa i.e. matter born of mind). Thus, in addition to mental well-being, meditation is conducive to physical health.”
These findings confirm that meditation is of great help both for physical and mental fitness. Moreover, they validate the claims made by the Buddha in the discourses on Sickness (Gilāna-suttas). This discourse speaks about the recovery of the Blessed One from severe sickness just by contemplating enlightenment factors (bojjhaṅga). During meditation, the superb values of the seven enlightenment factors arise in the mental stream of a practitioner. Because of these superb values, ailments, and illnesses, even chronic diseases have been eliminated and thus a practitioner becomes apparently energetic, both physically and mentally. They also verify the central claims of the Buddhist Philosophy (Abhidhamma) that mind (citta) and matters (rūpa) are completely interdependent and closely interrelated. Remarkable findings from several research works on meditation have elevated meditation’s popularity within the domain of medical science.
In the next Dhamma Journal, this chapter with continue with “Various Interpretations of the term ‘Meditation”