A groundbreaking exploration of the "science of enlightenment", told through the lens of the journey of Siddhartha (better known as Buddha), by Guardian science editor James Kingsland.
In a lush grove on the banks of the Neranjara in Northern India - 400 years before the birth of Christ, when the foundations of Western science and philosophy were being laid by the great minds of ancient Greece - a prince turned ascetic wanderer sat beneath a fig tree. His name was Siddhartha Gautama, and he was discovering the astonishing capabilities of the human brain and the secrets of mental wellness and spiritual "enlightenment" - the foundation of Buddhism.
Framed by the historical journey and teachings of the Buddha, Siddhartha's Brain shows how meditative and Buddhist practices anticipated the findings of modern neuroscience. Moving from the evolutionary history of the brain to the disorders and neuroses associated with our technology-driven world, James Kingsland explains why the ancient practice of mindfulness has been so beneficial to and so important for human beings across time. Far from a New Age fad, the principles of meditation have deep scientific support and have been proven to be effective in combating many contemporary psychiatric disorders. Siddhartha posited that "our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think". As we are increasingly driven to distraction by competing demands, our ability to focus and control our thoughts has never been more challenged - or more vital.
Siddhartha's Brain offers a cutting-edge, big-picture assessment of meditation and mindfulness: how they work, what they do to our brains, and why meditative practice has never been more important.
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- C. Rosky "poker novice"
Scientific review of the benefits of mindfulness
This book walked a fine line between religion and science and walked it well. It used the stories in Buddhist theology as an effective narrative tool to explore the effects of mindfulness on the very structure of the human mind. James Kingsland neither proselytizes the religion nor does he dismiss it. Rather, he invites us to embrace the benefits of practiced attention in our daily lives through a critical review of numerous scientific studies on the effects of mindfulness.
A common theme in many areas of the book is that mental “illness” could be a trait of the human condition rather than a something which afflicts only a few. Depression, as one example, is something that many people struggle with, even without the number of symptoms that would qualify as diagnosable in clinical psychology. This book cites research showing that a specific type of mindfulness intervention was particularly effective over active controls at preventing depressive episode relapse. By simply learning to pay attention, without grasping or aversion, subjects in similar studies were able to suppress activity in a part of the brain associated with automatic thought. This was able to help some people stop the cycle of negative thoughts and emotion that would lead to this kind of depression.
The performance was great. I was particularly impressed by how Steven Crossley was able to bring out the comedic timing implied by the text at several points. As there were also several Briticisms in the writing his British accent allowed the reading to sound cohesive.
I was particularly impressed by the author’s humility of understanding in that he made repeated efforts to present counter points and highlight where the scientific evidence is still inconclusive. However, the story that the research is starting to tell will emerge in the context of the tenants of one of the world’s major religions. Because of this, I also salute the author’s bravery in not ignoring Buddhism as would have been the easier choice for this kind of book. Instead this book weaves them together beautifully. I was most impressed by the books objectivity toward the benefits of practices that were, until very recently, cast aside by the novelty of scientific thought.
I deeply enjoyed listening to this audio-book and I feel like it brought me a deeper understanding of the phenomena of life. I would compare this to one of my favorite books, Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, as it alternates between scientific lens and narrative storytelling to explore the complexities of one of the most simple things that humans do. I look forward to listening to it again and again.