Book Review - Siddhartha's Brain - Unlocking the Ancient Science of Enlightenment

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Meditation Hello all and bear blessings.

My smart buddy Tom loved this book and his review is below. A snippet, "Kingsland argues that the brain has two major modes - the narrative mode and the being mode – and that mindfulness meditation can help turn one off and the other on.

Meddy deep reading approved. 



In his non-fiction work Siddhartha’s Brain, James Kingsland, an established science and medical journalist, applies a modern eye to the teachings of the Buddha. Imagine if one could go back in time and scan Siddhartha’s brain before and after he attained enlightenment. Would the results reveal some part of the brain that mankind, in its rapid advancement, has failed to nurture? Despite the quality of life of the digital age, Kingsland presents alarming statistics revealing the vast prevalence of addiction, depression and other mental illnesses worldwide. Yet it was some 2,500 years ago that Siddhartha presented his system for ending the cycle of suffering and attaining well-being and enlightenment. What have we missed?

siddhartha's brain

In Siddhartha’s Brain, Kingsland applies knowledge garnered from anthropology,
 neuroscience, and genetics to one of the world’s oldest religions in the hope of discovering the scientific basic for “optimum psychological well-being.” The work, despite heady concepts, is not too difficult a read. Kingsland employs unique scenes from the Buddha’s life to set the tone of his chapters. He then applies relevant scientific theories and accompanying studies to the lessons presented in those stories.

One of the most informative parts of Siddhartha’s Brain is Kingsland’s analysis of research conducted with fMRI scans, which reveal electrical activity in various parts of the brain. Using contemporary theory and the results of tests on a host of subjects from mindfulness practitioners to college students to the chronically depressed, Kingsland argues that the brain has two major modes - the narrative mode and the being mode – and that mindfulness meditation can help turn one off and the other on.


The default, or narrative mode, which Kingsland also calls the “Self App,” is where rumination occurs. The parts of the brain involved help develop our idea of our ‘self’ and play a role in determining what we are going to do tomorrow, reflecting on what we did yesterday, and wondering about what others are doing in their lives. The being mode is quite the opposite. Have you ever been so caught up in an activity that the time flies by? An invigorating hike, a great book, a yoga class when you didn’t have to look at the clock and wonder how many more vinyasas the instructor could squeeze in? In those moments, your Self App is off and the being mode is on. You are not concerned with the past, the future, or others. You are present to the utmost. Kingsland argues that dedicated mindfulness meditation practice develops the ability to turn the narrative mode off. He elaborates on this distinction throughout the work, drawing connections between the prevalence of the narrative mode in individuals who suffer from mental illness and addiction, as well as delving into the benefits of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy, Stress Reduction, and addiction programs versus their contemporary, standard competitors. The book is a wealth of digestible applied scientific theory.

kids meditation

I found my understanding of my own meditation practice clarifying with each chapter. The work also contains five guided meditations to be completed by the reader at home. The material in Siddhartha’s Brain is complex, but we are reading a writer writing about science, not a scientist writing about science. Kinglsand’s debut work is effective, entertaining, and a great tool for anyone looking to improve their understanding of mindfulness, Buddhism, neuroscience, or to try their hand at attaining optimum psychological well-being.

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