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Neurochemistry of the Jhāna States

Copyright © 2023 Tomás Morales y Duran. All rights reserved

The principle of the jhānas is simple. Since the goal is to free consciousness from the continuous work of experiencing a human mind, we simply turn it off, thus ceasing its functions. This is accomplished by cutting off the oxygen supply to the brain. That is, if the brain does not breathe, it does not receive oxygen, if it does not receive oxygen it stops operating, when the functions of the human mind cease to operate, when these functions cease, consciousness is freed from the human mind.

As the Buddha experienced, you cannot stop breathing without further ado, so we will have to use the method of the jhānas, whose purpose will be to preserve the brain disconnected from the mind while the trance lasts without, furthermore, suffering any neuronal damage. no matter how long it lasts.

As we have seen, the meditator will direct the mind and keep it concentrated by directing the mind sequentially on different forms in movement in order for pleasure, happiness and joy to arise without being stimulated by the senses, but directly induced.

Pleasure, happiness, joy, pleasure, excitement, love, absorption, etc. They are emotions that result from the action of different neurotransmitters in the brain that act like endogenous drugs. We can therefore say that the different previous states are induced by the drugs that the brain itself generates.

The Buddha realized that they were not harmful at all:

MN 36. Great Discourse with Saccaka

This occurred to me: "Why should I be afraid of this pleasure, since it has nothing to do with sensory pleasures or harmful defects?".

This occurred to me: "I am not afraid of that pleasure, since it has nothing to do with sensory pleasures or harmful defects."

If we review the neurological research bibliography, it indicates that after four or five minutes of cerebral anoxia, neurons are affected, and many die, causing permanent sequelae and even death. There is no study that contradicts the above, and the scientific literature drifts towards possible cognitive rehabilitation treatments.

However, we know from the same literature that certain neurotransmitters function as neuroprotectors, such as endocannabinoids, dopamine and serotonin. We also know that the generation of enkephalins, which are ultimately responsible for trance, is facilitated by the prior production of anandamide.

The first Jhāna requires five drugs: dopamine, serotonin, anandamide, epinephrine and enkephalin, generated from the corresponding exercise. However, the second differs from the first in that no exercise is needed anymore: you enter jhāna spontaneously, without further ado. The third Jhāna makes no use of dopamine, and the fourth, none.

At this point it is important to understand that the training is aimed at the brain learning to enter each and every one of these states by itself and to do so without effort. That is why the successive states are deeper, have less protection, but have fewer requirements. This is achieved when the brain is trained and knows how to enter these states by itself.

The state of Jhāna functionally involves the disconnection of various brain functions, leaving the sense of hearing, attenuated but active. It is interesting to note this, because the ear, contrary to the rest of the senses, does not go first to the limbic system but to the neocortex, because a high-level evaluation is necessary to know if a sound represents a serious and imminent threat. To determine the size of a possible animal nearby and its aggressiveness, it is necessary to process a lot of data. In the event that this evaluation is positive, it alerts the amygdala, putting the limbic system on alert and with it the rest of the body.

The rest of the senses, such as sight or smell, first go to the amygdala and immediately respond if necessary, and later the signal is sent to the neocortex to reassess the situation... but we will already be on alert. This tells us that in the jhāna state the limbic system is damped.

The centers of speech and conceptualization cease. This is observed when the meditator is unable to articulate a word after coming out of absorption and has a hard time conceptualizing. It is when the brain is restarted that the meditator verifies that he has cleared himself of reactive thoughts and that he only thinks if he wants to think, exactly as the Buddha describes it to us:

AN 4.35. With Vassakāra

—Brahmin, I neither agree nor disagree with you, but when someone has four qualities I describe him as a great man with great wisdom.

—What four?

—When someone practices for the welfare and happiness of the people. He has established many people on the noble path, that is, on the basic principles of benevolence and merit.

He thinks what he wants to think and doesn't think what he doesn't want to think. He considers what he wants to consider and does not consider what he does not want to consider. Thus he has achieved mental mastery of the ways of thought.

He gets the four jhānas when he wants, without any trouble or difficulty.

The jhānas have obvious uses beyond the cognitive ones. It is evident that in order to act wisely it is necessary to dominate our limbic system, our primitive amphibian brain in a physical-chemical way, which is what it understands.

Trying to reason with him from a frog-dominated neocortex is as absurd as wanting to reason with a hungry crocodile that has you trapped.

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