Scientists’ Views on Meditation


The physiological and psychological benefits

The physiological and psychological benefits of meditation derive from concentrating the mind, either on an abstract or concrete object. This is best accomplished through seated meditation.

There have been many studies of the benefits of seated meditation in general and Chan specifically. According to Zen no susume (The Recommendation of Zen) by Dr. Kōji Satō, Professor of Psychology at Kyoto University in Japan, regular practice of Chan meditation produces the following ten psychological and physiological effects:

1. Increased patience
2. Curing of various allergies
3. Strengthening of willpower
4. Enhancement of the power of thought
5. Refinement of personality
6. Rapid calming of the mind
7. Mood stabilization
8. Raised interest and efficiency in activity
9. Elimination of various bodily illnesses1

Furthermore, Usaburō Hasegawa, M.D. writes in Shin igaku zen (New Views on Medicine and Zen) that Chan meditation proves effective in the treatment of some of the following diseases:

1. Neurosis
2. Gastric hyperacidity and hypoacidity
3. Insomnia
4. Chronic constipation
5. High blood pressure

In recent years, studies at Harvard University and the University of Wisconsin, Madison have shown that meditation boosts the immune system and increases the activity of the frontal cortex—the area of the brain associated with positive emotion. Meditation produces a variety of psychological benefits, including reduction of anxiety, enhanced sense of well-being, increased empathy, and a greater sense of self-actualization.

In the 1970s and 80s, most scientific study focused on concentration meditation. Herbert Benson, M.D. had many researches showing how concentration can enhance one’s physiological response regarding stress.

Meditative concentration can be achieved in any posture: walking, standing, sitting, or lying down. Whether engaged in contemplation, silent prayer, prostration, recitation, or even close observation or attentive listening, whenever we are single-minded, there is the possibility of attaining meditative concentration.

Most people, beginners and more experienced practitioners alike, will find that achieving deep concentration in the midst of daily life is very difficult. Deep concentration may happen, but it cannot be sustained or regenerated at will. It is for this reason that the specific Chan methods of seated meditation and instruction from a qualified Chan teacher are necessary.

Physiological and psychological benefits can also come from insight or mindfulness meditation. Current scientific studies tend to focus on this type of meditation. Studies show that mindful meditation helps people be aware of their thought patterns and negative habits. As a result of developing awareness, many people become less influenced by these thoughts. The most well-known researchers in this field are Jon Kabat-Zinn and Daniel Goleman (who borrowed Buddhist ideas and developed the concept of Emotional Intelligence)

To those who have personally experienced the benefits of Chan meditation, these scientific reports are not necessary. To beginners who would like to try meditation, these reports are encouraging.

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