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Buddha’s Brain - The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom

I have finished the book “Buddha’s Brain - The Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom” at the beginning of this year, but in the mist of the busyness of life I have forgotten its wisdoms.

A brief message from a friend and an early morning inspiration made me check some of the notes I have taken in the past and I have come across the notes made while I was reading this book.

Book that was part of the curricula of the meditation course, Beyond Asana, under the guidance of Kino McGregor founder of and MiamiLifeCenter, through which I have been initiated in the technique or Anapanasati ( mindful breathing) and Metta ( compassion and kindness) meditation

I have read somewhere that Buddha’s Brain is ” a practical guide to attaining more happiness, love and wisdom in life.” , but I think it is much more than that. It provides understanding on how the brain and emotions are working. If we understand how it works, we understand how to be in better control, how to identify and how to accept our mental patterns.

In, Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, like Buddhism, the mental obstructions (Kleshas) are the cause of pain and unhappiness.

These causes of pain are : Ignorance (Avydia), Egoism or I am- ness/self-centeredness (Ashmita),

Attachment or liking (Raga), Aversion or repulsion or dislike (Dvesa) and Fear of Death ( Abhinivesha)

Ignorance is the root of all the rest – the divine illusion. It is the In other words knowing (being informed) means removing that veil of ignorance, if we study, practice curiosity and practice open heartedness/mindedness.

In the same book of Patanjali, it is said that the only way to remove disturbances is to practice their opposites : Vitarkabadhne pratipaksabhavanam (sutra 2.33). In other words, when feeling heathread or aversion in one's heart, practice love and compassion.

The authors, Rick Hanson (neuropsychologist) and Richard Mendius (neurologist) have combined scientific proven data with an easy-to-read language to provide understanding and tools to release challenges and stress.

The book is a great read and a starting point for those who rely on science and have a high focus on the logical mind to understand how meditation works and that is not a “hocus-pocus” practice.

My personal experience is that for most of us is difficult to start and sustain a self – practice and I would always recommend find a group and a teacher to guide you at the beginning, but continue searching until you find the right technique that clicks with your structure.

As previously, here are the unaltered notes, from Buddha’s Brain - The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom

They do not represent the full book, but just the parts that have resonated with myself in the moment of reading it.

“Virtue, mindfulness, and wisdom are supported by the three fundamental functions of the brain: regulation, learning, and selection. Your brain regulates itself--and other bodily systems- through a combination of excitatory and inhibitory activity enlights and red lights. It learns the forming circuits and strengthening or weal existing ones. And it selects whatever experience has taught it to value; for example, even an earthworm can be trained to pick a particular path to avoid an electric shock.

These three functions- -regulation, learning, and se-lection- -operate at all levels of the nervous system, from the intricate molecular dance tip of a synapse to the whole-brain integration of control, competence, and discernment. All three functions are involved in any important mental activity.

Nonetheless, each pillar of practice corresponds quite closely to one of the three fundamental neural functions. Virtue relies heavily on regulation, both to excite positive inclinations and to inhibit negative ones.

Mindfulness leads to new learning since attention shapes neural circuits and draws upon past learning to develop a steadier and more concentrated awareness.

Wisdom is a matter of such as letting go of lesser pleasures ake or greater ones.

Consequently, developing virtue, mindfulness, and wisdom in your mind depends on improving regulation, learning, and selection in your brain.

Everything changes. That's the universal nature of outer reality and inner experience. Therefore, there's no end to disturbed equilibria as long as you live.

But to help you survive, your brain keeps trying to stop the river, struggling to hold dynamic systems in place, to find fixed patterns in this variable world, and to construct permanent plans for changing conditions.

Consequently, your brain is forever chasing after the moment that has just passed, trying to understand and control it.

It's as if we live at the edge of a waterfall. with each moment rushing at us and then zip, it’s over the edge and gone. But the brain is forever clutching at what has just surged by.

Just in case, your hippocampus in lately compares the image to its short list of jump-first-think-later dangers. It quickly finds curvy shapes on its danger list, causing it to send a high-priority alert to your amygdala: "Watch out!" The amygdala-which is like an alarm bell- then pulses both a general warning throughout your brain and a special fast-track signal to your fight or flight neural and hormonal systems (Rasia-Filho,Londero and Achaval 2000)

Meanwhile, the powerful but relatively slow PFC has been pulling information out.

Throughout this episode, everything you experienced was either pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. At first there were neutral or pleasant sights as you strolled along the path, then unpleasant fear at a potential snake, and finally pleasant relief at the realization that it was just a stick. That aspect of experience -whether it is pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral is called, in Buddhism, its feeling tone (or, in Western psychology, its hedonic tone). The feeling tone is produced mainly by your amygdala (LeDoux 1995) and then broadcasted widely.

In the Simulator

In Buddhism, it's said that suffering is the result of craving expressed through the Three Poisons: greed, hatred, and delusion. These are strong, traditional terms that cover a broad range of thoughts, words, and deeds, including the most fleeting and subtle. Greed is a grasping after carrots, while hatred is an aversion to sticks; both involve craving more pleasure and less pain. Delusion is a holding onto ignorance about the way things really are-for example, not seeing how they're connected and changing.

Virtual Reality

Sometimes these poisons are conspicuous; much of the time, however, they operate in the background of your awareness, firing and wiring quietly along. They do this by using your brain's extraordinary capacity to represent both inner experience and the outer world. For example, the blind spots in your left and right visual fields don't look like holes out there in the world; rather your brain fills them in much like photo software shades in the red eyes of people looking toward a flash.

In fact, much of what you see "out there" is actually manufactured "in here" by your brain, painted in like computer-generated graphics in a movie. Only a small fraction of the inputs to your occipital lobe comes directly from the external world; the rest comes from internal memory stores and perceptual-processing modules (Raichle 2006). Your brain simulates the world-each of us lives in a virtual reality that's close enough to the real thing that we don't bump into the furniture.

Inside this simulator- -whose neural substrate appears to be centered in the upper-middle of your PFC

(Gusnard et al. 2001)-mini-movies run continuously.

These brief clips are the building blocks of much conscious mental activity (Niedenthal 2007; Pitcher et al.2008). For our ancestors, running simulations of past events promoted survival, as it strengthened the learning of successful behaviors by repeating their neural firing patterns. Simulating future events also promoted survival by enabling our ancestors to compare possible outcomes in order to pick the best approach--and to ready potential sensory-motor sequences for immediate action.

Simulations Make You Suffer

The brain continues to produce simulations today, even when they have nothing to do with staying alive.

Watch yourself daydream or go back over a relationship problem, and you'll see the clips playing little packets of simulated experiences, usually just seconds long. If you observe them closely, you'll spot several troubling things:

  • By its very nature, the simulator pulls you out of the present moment. There you are, following a presentation at work, running an errand, or meditating, and suddenly your mind is a thou sand miles away, caught up in a mini-movie. But it's only in the present moment that we find real happiness, love, or wisdom.

In the simulator, pleasures usually seem pretty great, whether you're considering a second cupcake or imagining the response you'll get to a report at work. But what do you actually feel when you enact the mini-movie in real life? Is it as pleasant as promised up there on the screen? Usually not. In truth, most everyday rewards aren't as intense as those conjured up in the simulator.

Clips in the simulator contain lots of beliefs: Of course, he'll say X if I say Y.... It's obvious that they let me down. Sometimes these are explicitly verbalized, but much of the time they're implicit, built into the plotline. In reality, are the explicit and implicit beliefs in your simulations true?

Sometimes yes, but often no. Mini-movies keep us stuck by their simplistic view of the past and by their defining out of existence real possibilities for the future, such as new ways to reach out to others or dream big dreams. Their beliefs are the bars of an invisible cage, trapping you in a life that's smaller than the one you could actually have. It's like being a zoo animal that's released into a large park--yet still crouches within the confines of its old pen.

  • In the simulator, upsetting events from the past play again and again, which unfortunately strengthens the neural associations between an event and its painful feelings. The simulator also forecasts threatening situations in your future.

But in fact, most of those worrisome events never materialize. And of the ones that do, often the discomfort you experience is milder and briefer than predicted. For example, imagine speaking from your heart: this may trigger a mini-movie ending in rejection and you feeling bad. But in fact, when you do speak from the heart, doesn't it typically go pretty well, with you ending up feeling quite good?

In sum, the simulator takes you out of the present moment and sets you chasing after carrots that aren't really so great while ignoring more important rewards (such as contentment and inner peace). Its mini-movies are full of limiting beliefs. Besides reinforcing painful emotions, they have you ducking sticks that never actually come your way or aren’t really all that bad.


Each person suffers sometimes, and many people suffer a lot. Compassion is a natural response to suffer including your own. Self-compassion isn't self-pity. is simply warmth, concern, and good wishes--just like compassion for another person.

Because self-compassion is more emotional than self-esteem, it's actually more powerful for reducing the impact of difficult conditions, preserving self-worth, and building resilience (Leary et al. 2007).

It also opens your heart, since when you're closed to your own suffering, it's hard to be receptive to suffering in others.

The root of compassion is compassion for oneself ( Pema Chodron)”

Hopefully this offered you some food for thought and maybe it even opened your appetite for further exploration.


Hi, thanks for stopping by!

I am a business IT consultant  and a certified Yoga Instructor from Bindusar Yoga, Rishikesh India.

I relate to both the business world and the peaceful practice on the yoga mat. I’ve been lucky to learn from wise and inspiring individuals both in business, mindfulness and yoga.

Having the chance to share those lessons and experiences fills me with joy. Everyone could use constant joy in their lives.

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