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Zen and the Brain Paperback – 30 Jul 1999

4.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 870 pages
  • Publisher: MIT Press; New Ed edition (30 July 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262511096
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262511094
  • Product Dimensions: 17.8 x 3.8 x 25.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 671,718 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description

Review

" This is a book written with passion and seriousness." -- "Psychoanalytic Books"

" . . . remarkable in its synthesis of the mystical point of view with the scientific." -- "Bodhi Tree Book Review"

& quot; This is a book written with passion and seriousness.& quot; -- Psychoanalytic Books

& quot; . . . remarkable in its synthesis of the mystical point of view with the scientific.& quot; -- Bodhi Tree Book Review

"This is a book written with passion and seriousness."--"Psychoanalytic Books"

." . . remarkable in its synthesis of the mystical point of view with the scientific."--"Bodhi Tree Book Review"

About the Author

James H. Austin, clinical neurologist, researcher, and Zen practitioner, is Professor Emeritus of Neurology at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and Clinical Professor of Neurology at the University of Missouri (Columbia) School of Medicine. He is the author of Zen and the Brain, Chase, Chance, and Creativity, and Zen-Brain Reflections, all published by the MIT Press.

Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a most remarkable work, of interest both to the practicing Buddhist and to those with an interest in the workings of the brain, by an author who is highly experienced in both areas.

The publishers briefly describe the work as a "Comprehensive text on the evidence from neuroscience that helps to clarify which brain mechanisms underlie the subjective states of Zen, and employs Zen to 'illuminate' how the brain works in various states of consciousness".

Zen Unbound have said of this book "This new book is surely THE most important zen book of the decade..".

The Journal of the American Medical Association (the most widely circulated medical journal in the world) said of this work "Zen and the Brain is well worth reading by those interested in cognitive brain function, especially the mechanics of consciousness. However, it is far from a dry scientific text and would be enjoyable to someone more interested in the philosophical implications"

Zen and the brain also won the 1998 Scientific and Medical Network Book Prize.

The work is written in a most engaging style and is divided into 158 chapters, which makes it very easy to read for such a large work. The work also includes a number of interesting appendices, a very useful glossary and a section containing copious references and notes.

There are also a number of subsequent/follow-up works Zen-Brain Reflections and Selfless Insight, both of which are also excellent and Meditating Selflessly which is due to be published in November 2011.
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Format: Paperback
An enormous but immensely rewarding tome, written just as neuroscience was beginning to take the first steps in the ongoing dance with Buddhist practice and theory. The brain science in the book is rigorous and thoroughly referenced (although naturally there have been many developments in the nearly twenty years since the book was written, meaning some of the information has a somewhat dated feel to it) and the explanations of zen practice and understandings are clear and occasionally inspired. The book is well structured by being broken down into many small chapters, making the length of the work less intimidating.

As with any such work there are weaknesses - sometimes the scientific processes are described too densely. However the author has a keen eye for a telling anecdote or illustration and seldom allows the theory to continue unrelieved for more than a couple of pages. Although always uncomfortable to read about the suffering of animals in experiments designed to increase our understanding of the brain this is at least acknowledged and recognised as an issue rather than being glossed over as is the case in many works of this nature.

The sections of the book that deal with zen directly, either through descriptions of personal experience or through an intelligent synthesis of traditional literature are perhaps the better half of the work, being both insightful, extremely well-expressed and occasionally very moving. The author comes across as both an enthusiastic and a serious guide to both his science and his journeys into zen 'experience' (for want of a better word!). This is a fascinating and unusual book which deserves to be better known (indeed, an updated edition taking into account the recent advances in neuroscience would be very welcome... and I look forwards immensely to reading the two sequels...) and makes a thoughtful and thought-provoking companion for anyone interested in the relationship between human behaviour, experience and the brain.
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Format: Hardcover
Written from the inside of two lifelong practices : Zen (zazen) and neuroscience, this book is to my eyes a living proof that science and spirituality can really walk together on the same path, hand in hand. As a Soto Zen practitioner myself, it filled my heart with profound joy. Thank you, James Austin, and gasshô.
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Format: Paperback
This is quite a book to read by a doctor who is looking at the Brain

from a western perspective and trying to align it to an eastern model.

He goes on a journey to Japan and undergoes his own zen path, full of doubt

and fear a good thing and comes up with an greter understanding of zen and the brain.

It is a book that you can read time and time again, and it is a great lesson on how little we know of the brain and our acceptance if at all of what we do not fully understand /comprehend.

It is a real eye opener and each one who reads will have a differing perspective, but we will have gained whatecever it is we need to know at that moment.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program)

Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars 51 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Detailed insight from a brain doctor who also happens to be a practitioner of Zen 23 Mar. 2016
By Bernie Gourley - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Dr. Austin’s 900-page book looks at what the brain does during (and as a result of) the practice of Zen, and is a great resource for those interested in the science of meditative practices. It’s easy to sum up the strength and weakness of this book. With respect to the book’s greatest strength, it’s that the author—like the book—straddles two widely divergent worlds. He is at once a scientist and a practitioner of Zen. This gives him rare insight into both halves of the equation. This isn’t one of those books written by a spiritual seeker who uses the word “science” and “scientific” very loosely (and in a manner that shows a lack of understanding of the central premise of science.) On the other hand, it’s not one of those books by a scientist who got all of his understanding of meditation from other books.

As for the weakness, it’s that the book was written in the late 1990’s. Ordinarily, I would say that wouldn’t matter much, but concerning our understanding of the brain, it might as well have been the Stone Age—hyperbole duly noted. One doesn’t put together a book of almost 1000 pages overnight, and so much of the references for “Zen and the Brain” are actually from papers from the 1980’s and earlier. The fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) machine didn’t even come out until the early 1990’s, but—of course—it took a while for the studies featuring this powerful technology to reach publication.

The book is arranged into a whopping 158 chapters divided amongst 8 parts. Some of the chapters are pure neuroscience, and there are detailed descriptions of the brain and the functions of its various parts. Other chapters are designed to give one an insight into the practice of Zen and aren’t technical at all. The author has a reasonably engaging writing style when he’s not conveying the minutiae of brain science. He tells stories of his experience as a practitioner of Zen, and passes on the wisdom of past Zen masters.

I have an unconventional recommendation for this book, which I got so much out of. I recommend you first check out the book “Zen-Brain Horizons” put out by the same author and press (MIT Press) in 2014. While I haven’t yet read that book, it seems to hold three advantages. First, it’s only one-third as long and seems to cover similar material. Obviously, it goes into far less detail. (But you may find that a plus.) Second, the 2014 book is reasonably priced. “Zen and the Brain” is one of the most expensive books I’ve bought in recent years. I’m not saying I regret paying as much as I did, because it was a useful book, but cheaper would be better. Finally, the 2014 has the benefit of access to a lot of great research from the past couple decades. If you read the 2014 book and think you need more detail about the brain, then—by all means—get this book.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not necessarily for Zennists only 25 Nov. 2012
By Laurence Chalem - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I very much wanted to like this book as a Zennist friend of mine highly recommended it. Well, now I know why. ZEN AND THE BRAIN, written by an American MD who traveled to Japan, tries to align the physical with the ineffable. While he does manage to bring out many studies about some parts of the brain, including one with real versus imagined bananas in which the real ones somehow aren't noticed, the general theme seems to be "Zen is a good way, and here is the proof." Unfortunately, for me anyway, I wasn't convinced. I think the reason why is because of the book's selection bias; that is, it starts with a supposition--Zen is good--and then goes about showing why. For folks concerned only with reason, this book won't work, though there are many neat sentences and thoughts that will enlighten you. But if you are a Zen practitioner, or are interested in learning more about the subject, and why Zen is useful and "good," then this quite thick book is probably your cup of tea. I'd recommend it... - lc
5.0 out of 5 stars Tour de force 14 Nov. 2013
By vokitok - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is a real tour de force. To unite deep scholarship in the field of neuroscience with profound insights into the nature of meditation and Zen training based not on hearsay but on first-hand experience of training with a master is an outstanding achievement indeed. The book is also written in a very accessible way, in human language free of patronizing. As a companion to it, I strongly recommend "Understanding our mind" by Thich Nhat Hahn.
5.0 out of 5 stars This text is dense, but be not afraid. ... 28 April 2016
By BaguanAmazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This text is dense, but be not afraid. Weather you are in the neuro fields or interested in learning more about the working of the brain and/or zen, keep this book around and take your time with it.
5.0 out of 5 stars Odyssey of the mind 10 July 2016
By Jack Island - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Massive, overwhelming at times, the perfect intersection for neuro and Buddhist geeks.
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