45 THINKING  OF  LIFE  THROUGH  DEATH; BUDDHIST PERSPECTIVE ON DEATH

Thứ năm - 09/05/2019 04:24
by Thalpe Ge Indika Piyadarshani Somaratne


 

THINKING  OF  LIFE  THROUGH  DEATH; BUDDHIST PERSPECTIVE ON DEATH



 

by Thalpe Ge Indika Piyadarshani Somaratne*




ABSTRACT

The modern world accepts the fact that learning about death equals to learning about life. Death counseling is an excellent example to show that the modern world has paid attention to learning about death and consoling someone at death. The objective of this study is to point out how to care about a person who is about to die through an ethical philosophy such as Buddhism. Theravada Pali cannon is utilized as the source and the descriptive method is adopted as its research methodology.

Buddhism focuses on death deeply. According to Buddhism, Buddhas emerge to find solutions to the three questions of birth, aging and death. In other words, Vimukthi in Buddhism is related with going beyond above conditions. That is why Nibna is recognized as aajarämara. Buddhism classifies death broadly. And it is ethical for every human being to assist someone at death not only in professional practice but also as a responsibility.

A counselor has a great role in death counseling. According to Pali cannon, what a person sees at death is important guidance to handle his further spiritual support on him. In Petakopadesha explanation, death itself can be considered an investment for the comprehension of reality, Dhamma.  Moreover, the counselor is responsible for calming down the mental status  at some ones


*Visiting Lecturer,Sabaragamuwa University of Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka
 


death. The trustworthy discussion on the lifestyle of living beings after death introduced by Nakulapitu Sutta explains the way in which it helped to calm down the mind of a dying person.

This study highlights Buddhist teaching is related with how a person should overcome the sorrow of death. It leads to go beyond or transcend from death to the maximum and attaining minimum peaceful death. Therefore, the conclusion is Buddhism contains a great spiritual assistance profound clarification for the dying.

INTRODUCTION TO THE DEATH COUNSELING

According to the modern science, death means a permanent cessation of all vital functions; the end of life  (Merriam Webster Dictionary (1993). In the modern society, the problem of life and death is a decisive fact of human being and we all must confront it’ Actually, it is a spiritual problem rather than a materialistic problem. Even we are living in a very sophisticated society, death is inevitable. So there is a great necessity to learn how to accept death and get ready for that in advance. Specially, with patients who are incurable such as patients with cancer, AIDS and other illnesses death counseling plays great role to console them. How to these people feel during the final stages of their lives? How do they cope with death as terminally ill patients? As I mentioned, death is must in everyones life should be confronted. Therefore death counseling provides spiritual support for that. Moreover, with the developments of world, death counseling must be implemented or else this development will be meaningless. Education is self- reflection needs to be taught of people will have to unwillingly live their lives, denying death.

WHAT IS A DEATH COUNSELOR?

A death counselor is one who has learned both spirituality and psychology to help another person accept death (Buddhism and death counseling, (2004), p 33). This is through the perspective of Buddhist teachings, which have always been a part of our lives and our culture. In this regards, the caregiving is not limited to those who are ill. It is an education about life. However this counseling process gives more emphasis on those who are already facing death.
 


It is important to learn the sufferings of life, old age, sickness and death from a person who is facing death and be able to sympathize with them. The techniques and training for the death counseling are same for the nursing and medicine is indispensable. Of course, having the energy and the compassion is important but these skills should be acquired to be able to effectively help people in need.

BUDDHIST DEFINITION ON DEATH

The death is an important incident in ones life because when being die, they are led before him to be judge according to their deeds ( Dictionary of Pali Proper Names, Malalasekara, p680). The Buddhist concept of death is twofold as momentary death and con- ventional death. The person comprises with composition of aggre- gates of clinging continues through the process of re becoming as a flux in every moment(Karunadasa, (1998) The Dhamma Theory, p
4) . This happens uncountable time even within a period of blink- ing. This is called the momentary death. Sharpness of flux goes be- yond the sensory perception. On the other, ending of life faculty is called conventional death. Cessation of name and form in the range of sensory perception happens in this process. It is considered as the death. Terminology is just a usage. In convention this is recog- nized as the end of life. This demarks the end of this life and start of next life. Because, the death does not mark the cessation of clinging aggregates. Reasons of death phobia explained in Buddhism thus;

1 Animosity for physical affliction


Being victim of ailments of is general in human life. There is a fluctuation of suffering in order to the different diseases. There is no reason to link this with the death. Because life is no free of ailments as human we have to experience vivid physical and mental afflictions in our life due to various reasons. Some are afraid of the fact that at the time of the death person has to go through the severest pain in his life. But modern researches in this regard analyses the past death experience of human through the process of hypnotization. Many of those researches prove the fact that at the death moment or when the last conscious arise as a resistance process automatically they become unconscious not to suffer from the severe pain.
In hypnotization researches it was proved that, in coming out
 


from the mothers womb people are subjected to undergo through the severe pains. But the moment of death is not explained in that way which means that death is a natural consolation in which things happen when the victim is unconscious. The term used in Buddhist texts as Suttappabuddhoviaya might have used in this sense.

2 Skepticism in Life after death


In death counseling, the counselor should understand about the natural fear arise in victim about life after death. Though it is prom- ised that, they reborn in heaven after death, doubts can be arisen whether it seriously can be happen or not. Also though it is said that there is not life after death still the doubt is there. It can be assumed that, for the goal of keeping away people from ill practices religions have encapsulated ample of statements which generate fear in hu- man mind. This in a roundabout way helps to train and discipline the ordinary people.

But in investigating Buddhism in depth new ideas can be emerged in this regard. Buddhism that motivates people to un- derstand the reality in the worldly phenomena admires the moral guidance than perilous methods of punishments. Cyclic -journey of people should be in a progressive way not in regressive way. Our experience in childhood on good and bad surely help in ensuing period to make moral judgments in social level. And also teaching of developing mind life after life should be accepted. Which means the knowledge that we cultivate will surely beneficial in next life. At present we are holding the knowledge that we cultivated through- out our cyclic existence. For an instance child becomes a youth but not a youth becomes a child.

In order to the aforementioned universal doctrines you should try to achieve a certain development after death in your spiritual process but not to downgrade it. This is truth but again there are some exceptions. Down streaming of river is the nature but as a result of constructing dams we can stop the flow of the river tem- porally. In the same way people might go through some punish- ments in their life such as imprisonment and physical pain etc. Lat- ter tendencies of religion try to flourish the idea that the person can be fallen in hell because of a very small demerit which cause
 


to make a great fear in human mind. The Buddhas respond in this regard is relevant to a stage of a person who is regressing about his past action at his death bed. Detail analysis about the point can be seen in Anguttaranikāya. Sutta explains in nutshell that if person regress even about a small action he did he will never be able to at- tain nibna. Further it mentions that, unless you have an undevel- oped mind you are not supposed to suffer in hell because of a small action you have committed. Buddha uses a smile of salt crystal in explain this. “Monks now suppose that a man were to drop a salt crystal into the River Ganges. What do you think? Would the water in the River Ganges become salty because of the salt crystal, and unfit to drink?” “No, lord. Why is that? There being a great mass of water in the River Ganges, it would not become salty because of the salt crystal or unfit to drink.(lonaphala sutta ) in the same manner person with cultivated mind will not suffer in hell because of a small action he committed in this life. The Sutta proves that fact that, in contemplating about death person should not be agitated about his next life (Saracchandra, E.R.(1993) p82).

Experiences of near death reveals some ones future life as well. Dhammika Upasake was a devoted follower of the Buddha. Along with his relatives he used to practice the Dhamma’ Once he fell ill and when he felt that he was nearing death, he sent to the Buddha for a number of monks to recite Suttas by his bedside. The monks were accordingly sent and they started chanting the Satipatthana Sutta. When they had chanted half the Sutta he abruptly shouted Stop! stop! Hearing this, the monks were surprised. Thinking that the Upasaka had asked them to stop chanting, they stop and went back to the Buddha.

The Buddha asked them why they had returned so early. They said that the Upasaka asked them to stop, and that was why they had come back early. Buddha told them that they must have misunderstood what the Upasaka had said. The real cause, the Buddha explained, was otherwise. The Upasaka had asked gods, who had come to take him to the heaven in their chariot, to stop their attempts to get him to come along. He had not asked the monks to stop their chanting. This story says that appearance of gods or evil spiritsat the moment of a persons death, in accordance
 


with his Kamma or action in his worldly life. According to the Buddhist thought those who will go to hell see the vision of a mass of fire, those who will go to the world of the petas see darkness and gloom all-around, whose who will take birth as lower animals and other creatures, those who will take birth as human beings see the vision of their dead relations, and those who will take birth in the celestial worlds have the vision of the heavenly palaces. These are five visions which usually appear before a dying person.

HAVING LIVED A LIFE ENDOWED WITH CRIMINALS

When we are going to counsel to a person who in extremis to death, usually it can be seen that they have lived a life endowed with bad acts (Akusala) and repentance. Understanding and observing the offence and after that, developing or cultivating the mind with good thoughts can be covered the birth of this type of persons in wrong and pathetic places or which are not worthy to live. There are certain offences that have to do according to the social state or position. In accordance with the advices of him master, Aṃguli- la had to kill thousands of peoples. There are some wrong things or offences which couldn’t be left because of the position which he or she is attached. As an example, the government or king should be rough on the wrong actions of the people. If they didn’t care the wrong actions of the people it will be harmful for the whole society. If they considered the punishment as an offence the social system will be collapsed. Anyhow, One, who have made lot of offences also can be achieved to a peaceful death if have been developed the good qualities of the mind when he or she is going to be die.

SEPARATING FROM THE BELOVED ONE AND THINKING ONESELF LONELY

To be separate from what is dear is suffering. When one feels that he is supposed to die, therefore, thinking of separating from ones wife or husband, children and other close people, the fear arises. It is not necessary to be depressed with such thoughts for the one whom knowledgeable in Buddhism. One could have the responsi- bility regarding the present life. Their relationship exists physically. But when the spirit leaves, the body no more belongs to him.
Together with the death, a person having considered the aggre-
 


gates of clinging as ‘Ireveals, a path to associate with another body. Perhaps, it is the formation of concretion as holding in present. If not, it could be a subtle thing which is invisible to the naked eyes. No matter how it is arisen, a person is not alone. Therefore, there is no reason to be afraid of being alone. Because, new relationship will be built up. If a counselor could build up such an awareness in a dying person, probably, the dying one would remain his mind peaceful.

THE FEAR OF LEAVING ONE’S PRECIOUS BELONGINGS

This is a common mentality. One proclaims something is due to the desire. The desire increases when one utilizes and associates it. Here, it is important to convince the person about the universal truth. when you do not belong to yourself, how the sons, wealth etc. would belong to you, thus the Buddhas preaching is remarked. The Buddha has stated that in the samsara, one has come here hav- ing left the various happiness experienced in many ways. It is said when you see a person who lives extremely happily, you should come to a conclusion that you too had such lives in the previous births. (SN, Anamatagga samyutta)

It is due to taking unowned things as mine, people live in fear of departing the world. We could see that a big part of the teaching of Buddha is related to the no-self ’ concept which is taught to make realize the human beings that nothing follows us after the death. One who has realized this has no fear of death. if there is nothing that belong to us, there is no reason to fear of loss. The Tanhasankhaya sutta remarks that it is not proper to take as mine’ the things which exist in the world. Death is to be understood as a state of restand renewal. Buddhism believes that the body is a cap for mind, which is supposed to leave just as the snake leaves its old skin. There is nothing wrong to give up a thing which is useless for us. If one has this awareness, it could be lessening the depression when the death is approaching.

UNHAPPINESS WHICH IS CAUSED BY SEEING OTHERS FREELY CONSUMING THE WEALTH WHICH WAS EARNED BY ONESELF WITH EFFORT

The above could also be one of the reasons for the fear of death. The sources in the world are commonly belong to all just as the
 


fruits in a tree are for all the birds. But human beings personalize whatever things come to their hand. Though it is legal, when the death comes, he is supposed to give up all the things. Thereupon, his belongings will be claimed by others according to the law. It is unfair to be jealous for that.

THE THOUGHT OF ‘WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO CLOSE PEOPLE AFTER SOMEONE’S DEATH

This is also the reason for the depression of deadly person. However, one could get rid of this with the understanding of truth. For instance, we could see the people who have gained to a high position in the society without any help or support from the parents.

There are some parents who have taken all types of efforts to educate their children. Even though, we can see that there are some persons who have destroyed all the properties given by their parents and having becoming a pathetic condition. In accordance with that, it is clear to understand that there should be a thing which effects to the development of the person than the help of the parents. Then the parents have tried to build up a person endowed with all qualities it will be un-useful without the help of such a power. The Name Jivaka is one of famous name in the canonical texts specially in Sutta Pitaka. He was cleaver in medicine and well known all over the country. His life-story can be found out from the Cīvarakkhandhaka in Vinaya Piaka. He was born from the womb of a harlot and he was left by her when he was in childhood. He was fed by a certain person and later, he was the most famous doctor in India.

We have shown in above discussion the usual mental obsessions and phobias of a person who in extremis to death. If we can live with the understanding about these facts the death of, he or she will be a peaceful death and minimize the harmful effect of the rebirth. In Buddhist literature, we can find out several examples which helped to make a balanced concentration at the door of the death. Nakulapitu Sutta is an example for that. It is difficult to dear the separation of the beloved husband. Both of them Nakulamātā and Nakulapitu had been practiced the Dhamma and endowed with high mental development. When her husband was at the pathetic condition, he was advised by her and those instructions are useful for a person how are at the door
 


of the death. In this sutta she tries to develop the mental condition of her husband instead of crying and uttering painful words. If you will die then the relatives will be taken care by me” Thus, she informed to the husband with reasons. The unbelievable thing is that after the words of the wife the Nakulaputu has stand up from the death temporary and lived a short time with good condition. From these facts it is clear the effectiveness of the counseling.

The Buddhist theory of causality paves the way for understanding the death in wise manner. According to that teaching, we are not born into this world through our own power and our own will. And death is the same thing as birth. Moreover, reflection on the death (in pali anussati) ( Trevor, A dictionary of Budhism,(1981)
p. 20) is highly recommended for disciples nor only for detachment in worldly matters but also for making mind outset pleasant. As mentioned in the Visuddhi Magga, how great and useful is the contemplation of death can be seen from the following beneficial effect enumerated The disciple who devotes himself to this contemplation of death is always vigilant, takes no delight in any form of existence, gives up hankering after life, censures evil doing, is free from craving as regards the requisites of life, his perception of impermanent becomes established, he realizes the painful and soulless nature of existence and at the moment of death  he  is devoid of fear, and remains mindful and self-possessed. Finally if in this present life he fails to attain Niravana, upon the desolution of the body he is bound for a happy destiny. Thus it will be seen that mindfulness of death not only purifies and refines the mind but also has the effect of robbing death of its fears and terrors, and help one at the solemn moment when he is grasping for his last breath, to face the situation with fortitude and calm. He is never unnerved at the thought of death but is always prepared for it. It is such a person that can truly exclaim O death, where is thy sting?.

With considering above discussion it can be concluded that Buddhism focuses on death deeply. According to Buddhism, Buddhas emerge to find solutions to the three questions of birth, aging and death. In other words, Vimukthi in Buddhism is related with going beyond above conditions (Piyadassi, The Buddhas Ancient Path. (1970) p 70-71). That is why Nibna is recognized
 


as a ajarämara (Selfless, (1982) p42,43). Buddhism classifies death broadly. The fundamental task of Buddhism is realizing how to accept and transcend the death, old age, sickness, and death. This task is not accomplished be seeking miracles. It is accomplished by eliminating the illusion that causes suffering. Thereby, awakening us to truth. And it is ethical for every human being to assist someone at death not only in professional practice but also as a responsibility.

REFERENCES

Karunadasa, Y. (1960) The Dhamma Theory, The Wheel Publications, BPS Kandy.

Griffith, P, (1986) On Being Mindless, Buddhist Meditation and the mind body problem, Open Court Publication, USA
Malalasekara” Dictionary of Pali Proper Names Merriam Webster Dictionary (1993) 10th edition ,USA .
Saracchandra, E.R.(1994) Bhuddhist Psychology of Perception, Second Edition. Buddhist Cultural Centre,

Steven Collins, Selfless Persons, Imaginary and Thought in Thearavada Buddhism, 1982

Trevor Ling, ( 1981) A Dictionry of Buddhism, K.P.Bagachi & Company , Culcutta- New Dilhi

Piyadassi, ( 1995) The Buddhas Ancient Path.. Reprinted and donated by the Corparate Body of the Buddha Educational Foundation, Taiwan.

Gunaratne, V.F. Buddhist Reflection of death, The Wheel Publications , Kandy.

Hiriyanna, M. (1994) Out lines of Indian Philosophy, India, Motilal Banarsidas Publications, Deilhi.
 
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HEALTHY BRAIN: COGNITIVE TRANSFORMATIONS AND ASSOCIATED NEURAL DYNAMICS OF VIPASSANA MEDITATION

 

by Jyothi Kakumanu*




ABSTRACT

Meditation is a complex neurocognitive process inducing changes in Brain and Behavior. Long term meditative practice is reported to alter cortical activity of the brain and further influencing cognitive behaviors. Studies have reported changes in two facets of cognition - sustained attention (ability to focus attentional resources on specific stimuli for a sustained length of time) and attention switching (ability to intentionally switch attentional focus between stimuli). These changes facilitate brains regulatory processes fostering heightened awareness, cognitive control, flexibility and emotional balance. Nuances of brainwave patterns associated with these cognitive transformations are yet to be identified. To understand Vipassana meditation induced cognitive transformations, we carried out electro-encephalographic (EEG) studies in three groups of Vipassana meditators (practitioners trained in the tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin as taught by Acharya
S.N. Goenka) who differed in terms of their meditation experience both in duration and quality (novices, senior practitioners and teachers). EEG data was acquired using sophisticated technology (Geodesic EEG System 300 with 128 channel Hydrocel Sensor Nets and Net Station software version 4.5.6) while the meditators


* Doctor, India
 


performed a cognitive task. We observed meditation proficiency related distinct brain wave patterns pertaining to attention, information and error related processing in the meditator groups. These findings indicate meditation proficiency related brain activity differences in the meditator groups and are suggestive of meditation practice related higher order cognitive transformations.

Such studies would provide insight into the neural changes associated with meditation proficiency and pave way for the understanding of neural correlates of higher states of consciousness and well-being.

VIPASSANA MEDITATION

Vipassana meditation as expounded in the P±li literature is based primarily upon the experience of the Buddha Himself and upon the method adopted by him in the attainment of enlightenment (Vajiranana, 1975). This ancient Buddhist practice is a means to transform the mind. It improves and develops concentration, clarity, emotional positivity, calmness and peace of mind. Conscientious practice sharpens perceptual processes and heightens awareness ensuing in a calm view of the true nature of things. The practitioner develops insight into the fundamental characteristics  of  the way things are and such an insight is the key factor in mitigating unhappiness and suffering.

VIPASSANA MEDITATION IN THE TRADITION OF SAYAGYI UBA KHIN

Vipassana Meditation is the process of cultivating insight’ into the fundamental characteristics (Impermanence, Insubstantiality and Suffering) of mind-body phenomena. To cultivate insight, Vipassana meditators training in the tradition of Sayagyi UBa Khin (as taught by S.N. Goenka) employs a set of three inter-related meditative states. The outcome of long-term Vipassana practice is collectively influenced by all three meditative states. The following are the three meditative states.
Anapana Sati (known as Focused Attention-FA)

Vipassana Bhavana (known as Mindfulness/Open Monitoring Meditation-OM)
 


Metta Bhavana (known as Loving Kindness/Compassion Meditation)

We have employed the technique of EEG to identify the distinct neural correlates of each of these practices in proficient Vipassana practitioners and their functional significance.



Figure 1 Outline of Vipassana Meditation Practice (in the tradition of Sayagyi Uba Khin)

The salient features and the outcomes of each practice have been represented. (Note: The outcomes are never strictly isolated).

SCIENTIFIC STUDIES ON VIPASSANA MEDITATION

The technique of Vipassana meditation has resurfaced in modern times as a way to cultivate Well-Being” in mind and body and has received considerable attention in neuroscience research over the past two decades. In recent times meditation is also the most researched psycho-therapeutic discipline worldwide, with hundreds of millions of people turning to meditative practices for health reasons. People adopt meditation techniques for a wide variety of health reasons ranging from emotional distress to chronic diseases. There is convincing amount of research on the wide- ranging health benefits of Vipassana practice. New experimental studies show meditation to have powerful protective effects on the grey matter of the brain and its connections. Studies showed meditation alters brain functions and capacities in ways that actually
 


rewire the brain with improved cognitive functioning. Vipassana practice in particular, enables practitioners to strengthen and re-orient their cognitive capacities. It does this by directing their practitioners attention towards the physical and mental phenomena they and enables them to experience the mental phenomena as impermanent and unsubstantial. As a consequence, with continued practice the meditators may reframe the mental  phenomena such as dysfunctional attitudes, moodiness, unwarranted and harmful emotional reactivity in a meta-cognitive perspective, and experience them as series of arising and passing phenomena instead of allowing  them to  occupy fulattention (Wallace, 1999; Teasdale et al., 2002). An earlier study of the Vipassana Meditation course in a prison population in India found evidence of reduced recidivism, depression, anxiety and hostility (Ivanovski and Malhi, 2007). Some studies provide convincing evidences to its efficacy in the regulation of sleep structure and endocrine functions (Pattanashetty et al., 2010). A variant of the technique of Vipassana meditation has come to be known as ‘Mindfulness’ in contemporary neuropsychology and has been adopted as a clinical approach for treating pain, depression, anxiety, OCD, addiction, emotional distress, maladaptive behaviors (Bishop and Bishop, 2004), chronic diseases and  psychosomatic ailments.

MEDITATION, EEG & EVENT-RELATED POTENTIALS (ERP’S)

Several investigations in recent times provided insight into the neurophysiology of meditation including evidence of resultant immediate and long-term changes in cortical activity (Aftanas and Golosheikin, 2003; Takahashi et al., 2005)individually determined δ -, θ -, α 1 -, α 2 - , and α 3 -frequency bands were studied by means of high-resolution EEG (62 channels. Meditation enhances oscillatory events in certain EEG (Electro-encephalography) frequency bands such as theta and alpha. Theta-alpha oscillations reflect the activity of neural networks associated with cognitive processes such as orientation, attention, memory and perception (Aftanas and Golocheikine, 2001). Altered emotional and cognitive experiences reported in meditators are found to be associated with enhanced theta-alpha powers (6-10Hz) (Takahashi et al., 2005)
 


but the psychophysiological properties and personality traits that characterize this meditative state have not been adequately studied. We quantitatively analyzed changes in psychophysiological parameters during Zen meditation in 20 normal adults, and evaluated the results in association with personality traits assessed by Cloningers Temperament and Character Inventory (TCI. Several studies carried out in recent times on electrical potentials generated by the brain such as P3-ERP (Event Related Potential) and ERN (error related negativity) show the influence of meditative practices on cognitive and error related processing mechanisms of the brain.

EEG AND EVENT-RELATED POTENTIALS (ERN-PE)

Electroencephalography (EEG) is the recording of intrinsic electrical activity in the brain, and is based on the propagation of electric impulses along a nerve fiber when the neuron fires using electrodes placed on the scalp. EEG represents dozens of different neural sources of activity and is a summation of several ongoing brain rhythms or oscillations which can be classified into various frequency bands called delta (0 to 4 Hz), theta (4-8 Hz), alpha (8-12 Hz), beta (12-30 Hz), gamma (30-100 Hz). It is typically analyzed in frequency bands that correspond to different mental states, e.g. is the alpha-frequency (8-13 Hz) associated with a relaxed mental state. By recording small potential changes in the EEG signal immediately after the presentation of a sensory stimulus it is possible to extract these the specific sensory, cognitive and other mental events (Kappenman and Luck, 2012) from the overall EEG by means of a simple averaging technique (and more sophisticated techniques, such as time-frequency analyses). This method is called Event-Related Potentials (ERPs) and is one of the classic methods for investigation of psychophysiological states and information processing. At the present time, research studies are applying ERP analysis to identify meditation induced cognitive alterations in meditation practitioners.
 










Figure 1 Panel A: Electrical activity in the brain is recorded as a wave’ and an EEG is a record of several brain waves (Adapted from https://www.healthgrades.com/procedures/understanding-your-eeg- results)

Panel B: Examples of alpha, beta, theta, and delta electroencephalography frequencies.   (Adapted                                    from             emedicine. medscape.com/article/1139332-overview)



The study of the brain in this way provides a noninvasive means of evaluating brain functioning.

Error-related negativity (ERN) and error positivity (Pe) event- related brain potentials (ERPs) are widely investigated neuro- physiological indices of cortical error processing. Error processing and corresponding behavioral adaptations in response to errors committed, involve the activity of higher cognitive control and performance monitoring system in the brain. Recent neuroimaging studies and neuropsychological studies suggest that error processing mechanisms may be implemented in a brain circuit involving the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and lateral prefrontal cortex (lPFC) (Carter, 1998; Nieuwenhuis et al., 2001). Meditation is known to modulate brain (fronto-central) networks implicated in the generation of both ERN and Pe - ERPs.
 


CURRENT RESEARCH STUDY

1 Methodology


To further understand nuances of brainwave patterns associated with cognitive transformations in meditators, we carried  out EEG and ERP (ERN-Pe) studies in three groups (novices, senior practitioners and teachers) of Vipassana meditators (practitioners trained in the tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin as taught by Acharya
S.N. Goenka) who differed in terms of duration and quality of their meditation experience. Fifty nine people were selected for the study in manner independent of factors such as age, gender, education, geographical origin and economic status. They were categorized into three groups: Novice practitioners (completed two or three ten-day courses with <2 years of practice), senior practitioners (completed at least one long retreat with daily practice for 7 years) and Vipassana Teachers (instructors of Vipassana courses at meditation centers with a daily practice of >10 years who have undergone several long retreats).

EEG/ ERP data was acquired using sophisticated technology (Geodesic EEG System 300 with 128 channel Hydrocel Sensor Nets and Net Station software version 4.5.6) while the meditators performed a cognitive task. All EEG recordings were carried out in the sound attenuated cabin of the Human Cognitive Research laboratory of the Department of Neurophysiology, NIMHANS Bengaluru, India. EEG/ERP data was analyzed using appropriate statistical tools.



Figure 2. Recording of EEG on the left. EEG and extraction of ERPs of the participant from the graph on the right.
 
 
  1. Selection Criteria

The participants in the age range 30-70 years from both genders with an ability to follow instructions in English and participate in electrophysiological assessments were included in the study. Participants with neurological/psychological disorders, history of substance abuse, on psychiatric/central nervous system medication or practicing any other form of meditation were excluded from the study. Subjects who fulfilled inclusion/exclusion criteria were recruited for the study after obtaining informed consent as approved by NIMHANS Institute Ethics Committee. Participants were all healthy, right handed, non-smokers and refrained from any caffeinated beverages on the day of the study. They were recruited from all over India. Food, accommodation and travel expenses were offered with no other kind of financial incentives.

Fifty-nine healthy Vipassana meditators participated in the game-based visual odd ball paradigm called ANGEL(Assessing Neuro-cognition via Gamified Experimental Logic) designed in the Cognitive Research Laboratory (CRL) at NIMHANS (Nair et al., 2016).
  1. Results & Discussion

Compared to novices, teachers and senior practitioners showed noticeable morphological differences with relatively large ERN amplitude for incorrect responses. ERN morphological differences in this context, indicate a trend in favor of meditation practice related heightened response awareness and monitoring capacities. The observed Pe behavior in proficient meditators with decreased processing time is a resultant of meditation induced fundamental alterations in theta-phase resetting mechanisms related to error processing. However, studies are sparse to understand the cognitive mechanisms underlying emotional regulation in general, and specifically following meditative experience.
 






Figure 3: Ern-Pe Plot At Fcz For All Groups

Top row shows ERN and Pe for correct trials across novices, seniors and teachers from left to right. Middle row from left to right shows ERN and Pe waveforms for novices, seniors and teachers for incorrect trials. Grey lines in the bottom row indicate significant ERN amplitude differences between conditions for Novices and Teachers. Right most column (Grey bands) shows statistically significant group differences at various pre and post response intervals in the incorrect condition. Statistical significance was done using two-way ANOVA with 2000 permutations; FDR corrected at p < 0.05.Grey bands when present in the bottom row or right most column indicate significant condition and group differences respectively. (Nov: Novice Practitioners; Sen: Senior Practitioners; Tea: Teachers.)

Further, as we see from the figure 3 above there are large activation differences in various brain regions across meditator groups during error processing.
 






Figure4. Shows brain activations differences across the meditator groups at 60ms of response for correct and incorrect trials. (Obtained using brainstorm). Mid-sagittal and ventral sections of the brain show large activation differences between groups.

CONCLUSION

Taken together, the findings indicate relatively improved efficiency of Vipassana teachers to engage and disengage from relevant target stimuli and indicates their discretionary capacities compared to senior practitioners and novices. These changes may be linked to meditation related improved awareness and reduced rumination on any single event and a fundamental tendency to not to hold on to but let go of phenomena.

FUTURE STUDIES

The study can be extended to understand the relation between ERN and Pe components of error processing. We also propose to identify the neural sources of performance monitoring along with the meditation related neural networks activity differences.
 





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