Can Buddhists transcend mental reservations?
By Steve Connor
Buddhists who meditate may be able to train their brains to feel genuine happiness and control aggressive instincts, research has shown.
According to Owen Flanagan, professor of philosophy at Duke University in North Carolina, Buddhists appear to be able to stimulate the left prefrontal lobe - an area just behind the forehead - which may be why they can generate positive emotions and a feeling of well being.
Writing in today's New Scientist, Professor Flanagan cites early findings of a study by Richard Davidson, of the University of Wisconsin, who used scanners to analyse the active regions of a Buddhist's brain.
Professor Flanagan said the findings are "tantalising" because the left prefrontal lobes of Buddhist practitioners appear to "light up" consistently, rather than just during acts of meditation.
"This is significant, because persistent activity in the left prefrontal lobes indicates positive emotions and good mood," he writes. "The first Buddhist practitioner studied by Davidson showed more left prefrontal lobe activity than anyone he had ever studied before.
"Buddhists are not born happy. It is not reasonable to suppose that Tibetan Buddhists are born with a 'happiness gene'. The most reasonable hypothesis is there is something about conscientious Buddhist practice that results in the kind of happiness we all seek," he writes.
Another study of Buddhists by scientists at the University of California has also found that meditation might tame the amygdala, the part of the brain involved with fear and anger.
Professor Flanagan writes: "Antidepressants are currently the favoured method for alleviating negative emotions, but no antidepressant makes a person happy. On the other hand, Buddhist meditation and mindfulness, which were developed 2,500 years before Prozac, can lead to profound happiness."
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