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Awakening and biochemistry

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Awakening and biochemistry
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1/30/18 7:00 PM
I have been puzzling over a few questions about how awakening relates to the biochemistry of psychology. I would be grateful if anyone could answer them.

The questions are:

Does being awakened mean you don't experience the fight or flight response?

It seems like some emotions are due to thinking and some are due to biochemistry. For example if your food at a restaurant is not to your liking and you get angry - that would be due to thinking. But if you had a genetic or developmental disorder (for example, low levels of glucocorticoid receptors due to stress during childhood) that caused anxiety or depression, that would be something entirely different. 

So I am also wondering if someone has depression or anxiety due to biochemical factors that cannot be altered through mental techniques, can that person be awakened? If yes, can you explain how that is consistent with "the end of suffering" which is often used to explain what awakening is, or is that a misunderstanding or mistranslation?

I guess it really boils down to ...

With respect to the context of the above:

What is it like to be awakened - are you free from all unpleasant emotions or are you non-attached unpleasant emotions? 
What is "the end of dukkha" - Is "suffering" an adequate translation of dukkha?
I think I understand how you can have pain (physical sensation) without suffering (mental anguish) but I'm not sure I see how that could work for psychological states which are forms of mental anguish.


Thanks in advance.

RE: Awakening and biochemistry
Answer
1/30/18 10:41 PM as a reply to Jim Smith.
What is it like to be awakened - are you free from all unpleasant emotions or are you non-attached unpleasant emotions? 
This is a debate that rages on to this day. There are some who think that Full Awakening requres freedom from all unpleasant emotions (this is the more traditional view), and there are some who think this is impossible, and the best you can get is being non-attached to the unpleasant emotions that arise. 

RE: Awakening and biochemistry
Answer
1/30/18 11:20 PM as a reply to Jinxed P.
Jinxed is correct, I would just add that to my knowledge, no one is or ever has (convincingly) claimed the free-from-all-unpleasant-emotions version of awakening at least on this forum. A number of years ago there was a trending topic called Actual Freedom (AF) where a number of DhO contributors, including the DhO founder himself, drank loads of AF-flavored Kool-Aid, and a number of people bought hook-line-and-sinker into the idea that AF practice (these days as in ‘woke AF’) led people to that supposedly desirable goal of being free from all negative mind states, right down to the fight/flight mechanistic instincts. Lots of argument and even more weird claims and philosophies ensued, and I believe everyone was pretty much just left with an exhausted hangover when the smoke finally cleared. So in reality, being free from all ‘fetters’ (the ultimate goal of Buddhism actually) is just a nice idea, so the whole debate, if there still is one, is hypothetical at best.

RE: Awakening and biochemistry
Answer
1/31/18 2:41 AM as a reply to Jim Smith.
Hi Jim, you sound like you are perhaps frustrated with the path and your mind is demanding to know if the whole shebang is worth it. I know it because I am pretty addicted to trying to know and fighting with it often. I have settled on:

1. There are many ways up the mountain, everyone is unique after all. Some top-down (Direct), some Vipassana. Some jumping around like me.
2. I will not dismiss the Buddha's clear words on being free from fetters, I will be open to it and work towards it. Only by smelling or reaching it, can one dismiss it rightfully, not by failing to do so (the mind would love to steer you to give up).
3. From studying reliable sources carefully, there are so many levels of enlightenment and many settle for the 1st landing (wherever that is) as THIS IS IT - until later to realize there is more to go OR to walk back their claims (no shame in that at all). I do believe that the perceptual non-dual shift is not it and subscribe to that as being Sotapanna but over here I use the word Stream-entry freely as it is refering specifically to MCTB Path 1 and encourage it as it is very beneficial to motivate people towards their own liberation.

I find it far more fruitful to watch how my monkey mind tricks me into trying to be funny, laugh it off and go back on track... I hope this helps and I am not barking nonsense and if I am - just laugh at me emoticon

I find Thusness & AEN reliable sources - this is what 1 type of path looks like.

 This is my monkey mind escaping to reading stuff about Kundalini and how it relates to awakening. : Excerpt that sounds like some 4th Pathers are experiencing (I am not sure; perhaps you can make more sense of it WRT to your question):
The period of transformation from pure nothingness-being to non-dual lovebliss can last a long time and cause many frustrations. It is the real Dark Night of the Soul. I lived in this state 23 years and suffered a lot because of it --also because nobody could tell me, what was going on and nobody respected my state and I was very lonely in a spiritual sense. So there was a lot of social frustration and loneliness. Ironically you are also free from suffering since you are no longer identified with the sufferer. You are of course a permanent witness, much as in the witness-state, though now there is no sense of being a witness.

RE: Awakening and biochemistry
Answer
1/31/18 3:05 AM as a reply to Jim Smith.
Such an interesting question ... I believe you can still be enlightened and experience mental illness. One of the most incredibly insightful and awake people I know also has schizophrenia. It’s managed incredibly well (given how debilitating this condition is), and when he’s well, he’s great. When he’s sick (which is still a lot of the time), he’s delusional (in the conventional sense) but also still seems pretty “awake”. It’s complex. 

E.g. if someone had depression caused by a brain lesion or from inflammation due to an autoimmune disease, would you expect them to be able to “train” their mind out of it? It might be possible to lesson the effects, definitely. Is a complete cure possible? I’m not sure. As Kenneth Folk once told me: meditation is not magic. I prefer the pragmatic approach of employing whatever effective tools we have available to reduce suffering - meditation, medication, therapy, coaching, alternative medicine, diet. It’s all useful. 

Also, did you see this: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2017/07/25/a-buddhist-yogi-taught-others-to-live-a-meaningful-life-he-died-with-fentanyl-in-his-system/?utm_term=.de9aaa11bb12

RE: Awakening and biochemistry
Answer
1/31/18 5:10 AM as a reply to Yilun Ong.
Yilun Ong:
Hi Jim, you sound like you are perhaps frustrated with the path and your mind is demanding to know if the whole shebang is worth it. I know it because I am pretty addicted to trying to know and fighting with it often. I have settled on:

I'm not sure I would put it like that but I wouldn't dispute it if someone wanted to put it that way.

To a large extent my questions were academic. I have noticed that diet and exercise influence my mood and also influence what I experience in meditation and that highlighted to me the difference between emotions caused by thougths and emotions caused by biochemistry. I was wondering if Buddhism recognized this difference and what the implications were for awakening. I think a lot of people don't recognize this difference and they don't understand why meditation isn't helping them. There is research that shows meditation helps with anxiety and depression and that is misunderstood by many people because what they don't hear is that "help" means reduced need for medication not a total cure. Another motivation for my question is that I've noticed that certain states might have a different flavor depending on my mood but there is also something discrete and repeatable that is independent of mood. (I described how I meditate here: https://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/5823529#_19_message_5823529 )

I started meditating at a young age because I liked the inner peace it produced. And that is still why I meditate. The meditation I do today benefits me today.  I took the five precepts and consider myself a Buddhist, but I am not really seeking any attainment. I never studied with a teacher. I don't have the inclination to spend a lot of time on retreats but I have no argument with those who do. 

Since you bring up the subject, I will say that the lack of consistency between schools and teachers within schools makes me wonder if any of them are teaching what the Buddha taught. (If they are not, that doesn't mean any particular school bad or wrong - they might have a better system.) I never understood the sutras until I would experience something during meditation that made sense of something in them and I haven't seen anyone who has the same understanding I do. And many people are attracted to Buddhism because they read the books for beginners that discuss the end of suffering. But if they continue to study, they learn that awakening isn't the end of suffering, it is "seeing things as they really are" and then you have to integrate that into daily life and the end of suffering is not a realistic expectation for the average person. It's like a bait and switch scam. But it produces exactly the kind of attachment (attachment to enlightenment) that the practice claims to eliminate. It seems like a poor design to me. (Some people do have a natural in born desire to see things as they really are and I am not denigrating that.) So when I explain Buddhism I try to say the practice helps me to feel peaceful and develop equanimity - which is consistent with my experience. I think that approach to spreading the dharma will do the most good for the most people. If that isn't Buddhism, then ... okay ... it isn't Buddhism. That is just my opinion, my focus of interest. I don't have any dispute with people who have different opinions or different interests.

RE: Awakening and biochemistry
Answer
1/31/18 7:19 AM as a reply to Jim Smith.
There you go. You should have just stopped at laughing at me hahaha.

The only thing I know of is:

 ‘I do not eat in the evening and thus I am free from illness and affliction and enjoy health, strength and ease’ (M.I,473)

Not sure what you mean by mood but Mind conditions Body and vice versa. IME, most people do not get to the point of seeing that outer smile becomes a natural inner smile when done long enough, and thus drop it from their practice. Similarly, I find that it doesn't matter which method is used to relax the body, once it is recognized that the relaxation repeatedly succeeds, getting into the rhythm to relax happens very quickly. I do something similarly to what you wrote but emphasize on fully letting go at the end of the out breath into the pause before the In.

Another neat thing is to "make" the point at the nostril, THE location for Joy. Done long enough, it becomes automatic Joy. Pretty irrelevant to your questions, sorry I can't help! emoticon 

RE: Awakening and biochemistry
Answer
1/31/18 7:54 AM as a reply to Yilun Ong.
Modern, western meditators have a love/hate relationship with their human nature. They love that they can awaken but they hate that awakening doesn't change the fact that they're still human beings.

emoticon

RE: Awakening and biochemistry
Answer
1/31/18 8:57 AM as a reply to Yilun Ong.
Yilun Ong:

 ‘I do not eat in the evening and thus I am free from illness and affliction and enjoy health, strength and ease’ (M.I,473)


https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.036.than.html
"I thought: 'I recall once, when my father the Sakyan was working, and I was sitting in the cool shade of a rose-apple tree, then — quite secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful mental qualities — I entered & remained in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from seclusion, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. Could that be the path to Awakening?' Then following on that memory came the realization: 'That is the path to Awakening.' I thought: 'So why am I afraid of that pleasure that has nothing to do with sensuality, nothing to do with unskillful mental qualities?' I thought: 'I am no longer afraid of that pleasure that has nothing to do with sensuality, nothing to do with unskillful mental qualities, but that pleasure is not easy to achieve with a body so extremely emaciated. Suppose I were to take some solid food: some rice & porridge.' So I took some solid food: some rice & porridge. Now five monks had been attending on me, thinking, 'If Gotama, our contemplative, achieves some higher state, he will tell us.' But when they saw me taking some solid food — some rice & porridge — they were disgusted and left me, thinking, 'Gotama the contemplative is living luxuriously. He has abandoned his exertion and is backsliding into abundance.'

RE: Awakening and biochemistry
Answer
1/31/18 4:09 PM as a reply to Jim Smith.
That's the Buddha ending the ascetic's extreme way of starvation, to the middle way of eating sufficient food daily, no?

RE: Awakening and biochemistry
Answer
1/31/18 4:58 PM as a reply to Yilun Ong.
Yilun Ong:
That's the Buddha ending the ascetic's extreme way of starvation, to the middle way of eating sufficient food daily, no?

The link goes to the full sutra. I think of it as the one where he decided that jhana was the path to awakening.

RE: Awakening and biochemistry
Answer
1/31/18 10:40 PM as a reply to Jim Smith.
Couple things on your OP Jim.
There have been credible members of this forum that have claimed that Buddhist practices brought them off their medication completely over time for deep psychological issues. Not to say it’s a given by any stretch. Meditation directly cured me of both mental and structural physical pain, and I’m gunning for more of the same. The Buddha said he simply teaches suffering and the end of suffering. Being humans we have to obviously deal with the two arrows, pain and suffering, but I have experienced temporary cessation of attachment in the context of somewhat intense physical pain, and that experience leads me to lean toward one, yes, Buddhist practices absolutely affect biochemistry (as stress reduction would) and two, my growing faith that the goal of the path is full 100% release from suffering, aka attachment. No question that’s a tall order.

RE: Awakening and biochemistry
Answer
2/1/18 12:44 AM as a reply to Jim Smith.
Jim Smith:

...
( I described how I meditate here: https://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/5823529#_19_message_5823529)

I started meditating at a young age because I liked the inner peace it produced. And that is still why I meditate. The meditation I do today benefits me today.  I took the five precepts and consider myself a Buddhist, but I am not really seeking any attainment. I never studied with a teacher. I don't have the inclination to spend a lot of time on retreats but I have no argument with those who do. 



I don't know if I need to say this here but it might be of interest to some readers:

When you repeatedly go into a peaceful relaxed state in meditation it causes you to notice what disturbs that state after the meditation session is over and you get back to daily life. Over time you begin to see how your reactions that make you upset are optional because in meditation you develop the skills and attitude needed to be peaceful and relaxed. When you see they are optional, you start to chose not to become upset (without suppressing or repressing anything). Over time you notice and let go of reactions that are increasingly subtle. In this way, bringing the practice into daily life is natural and automatic. And it provides insight into your own mind. I'm not saying this is the same as body scanning or noting or that it has the same results. But there is an aspect of insight in it, and it is also natural and automatic because it feels good. The technique provides positive reinforcement so you don't need as much will power. 

RE: Awakening and biochemistry
Answer
2/1/18 6:03 AM as a reply to Jim Smith.
I think of it as the one where he decided that jhana was the path to awakening.
Interesting how people read differently hahaha. I read it as he ate to regain strength to stop ascetism, used the 4th jhana as a springboard to access his Super-Powers of reading the past to discover the 4 Noble Truths emoticon

Oh and I found something very useful to use out-of-context if I get caught sleeping in the day!
"That is credible for the Master Gotama, as would be the case for one who is worthy & rightly self-awakened. But does the Master Gotama recall sleeping during the day?"

"I recall, Aggivessana, in the last month of the hot season, after the meal, returning from my almsround, setting out my outer robe folded in four, lying down on my right side, and falling asleep while mindful & alert."


RE: Awakening and biochemistry
Answer
2/1/18 7:13 AM as a reply to Yilun Ong.
I read it as he ate to regain strength to stop ascetism, used the 4th jhana as a springboard to access his Super-Powers of reading the past to discover the 4 Noble Truths emoticon

Why yes, that's exactly what he meant. That was a major insight the Buddha had - no need to starve yourself or sacrifice your health and your body to awaken. In other words, it's the mind, stupid  emoticon

RE: Awakening and biochemistry
Answer
4/4/18 5:58 PM as a reply to Jim Smith.
Jim Smith:

...
Does being awakened mean you don't experience the fight or flight response?
...


I recently read an interesting article on the parasympathetic nervous system - the part of the nervous system that functions to turn off the body's response to stress. The article helped me put together a few things I already knew but somehow was not really taking advantage of. What I learned surprised me: it is not too hard to turn off the stress response. The article describes a few different ways to do it. What works well for me is to do some type of exercise like easy yoga postures or simple tai chi or qi gong movements and breathing so that I exhale slowly while counting to ten. This combines four different methods of activating the parasympathetic nervous system: Deep breathing, muscle relaxation, body awareness, and meditation. I tried it for about 15 minutes in response to specific situations that I was familiar with which caused a stress response and it worked very well, better than other techniques I've tried (which just made me feel sleepy). I am somewhat astonished at how well it worked. I've done this type of practice before but somehow I didn't notice how effective it was. Maybe using it in response to specific situations that I was familiar with helped me see the before / after effects more clearly.

Anyway, I thought people who are interested in meditation might also be interested in this.  It is useful as a way to prepare for a mediation session because it calms the mind faster than meditation so if you are meditating for the purpose of insight, jhanas, metta or anything beyond relaxation, you can get more out of a meditation session by starting with a quieter mind.

The article is here:
http://healthvibed.com/relaxation-101-how-to-activate-the-pns