Episode 264 :: Shinzen Young :: The Science of Enlightenment: How Meditation Works

| December 4, 2016 | 3 Comments

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Shinzen Young

Shinzen Young joins us to speak about The Science of Enlightenment: How Meditation Works.

Hi, everyone. Before we begin today’s episode, I would like to mention that this podcast and the supporting website, discussion forums, our live, online Practice Circle and other services provided by the Secular Buddhist Association are supported by you. If you find this episode or any other offerings helpful to you in some way, I ask that you take a moment and visit secularbuddhism.org, and click on the Contributions button. There are many ways you can help which are listed on that page, and if you make a donation, it’s tax deductible and it helps ensure the SBA is able to continue the exploration of secular Buddhism. Thank you; we’re glad to have you join us in the conversation.

What does enlightenment mean to you? Opinions may vary from a traditional view of the complete extinguishing of samsara, to a more secular interpretation about the attenuation of reactivity. And to make it more complex and interesting, these are not necessarily mutually exclusive concepts, though of course the devil’s in the details. But the fact remains if you’re on a Buddhist path, enlightenment has pinged your radar, and what that means to you is a valid question.

Shinzen Young became fascinated with Asian culture while a teenager in Los Angeles. Later he enrolled in a PhD program in Buddhist Studies at the University of Wisconsin. Eventually, he went to Asia and did extensive training in each of the three major Buddhist traditions: Vajrayana, Zen and Vipassana. Upon returning to the United States, his academic interests shifted to the burgeoning dialogue between Eastern meditation and Western science. Shinzen is known for his innovative “interactive, algorithmic approach” to mindfulness, a system specifically designed for use in pain management, recovery support, and as an adjunct to psychotherapy. He leads meditation retreats throughout North America and has helped establish numerous mindfulness centers and programs. He also consults widely on meditation-related research, in both the clinical and the basic science domains. He often says: “My life’s passion lies in exploring what may arise from the cross-fertilization of the best of the East with the best of the West.”

So, sit back, relax, and have a nice Asura’s Enlightenment tea.

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Music for This Episode Courtesy of Rodrigo Rodriguez

The music heard in the middle of this podcast is from Rodrigo Rodriguez. You can visit his website to hear more of his music, get the full discography, and view his upcoming tour dates.

Category: The Secular Buddhist Podcast

Ted Meissner

About the Author ()

Ted Meissner is the host of the podcast Present Moment: Mindfulness Practice and Science. He has been a meditator since the early 90’s, has been interviewed for Books and Ideas, Mindful Lives, and The Whole Leader podcasts, spoken about mindfulness with various groups including Harvard Humanist Hub, and has written for Elephant Journal and The International Journal of Whole Person Care. He is the Executive Director of the Secular Buddhist Association, host of the SBA’s official podcast The Secular Buddhist, and is on the Advisory Board for the Spiritual Naturalist Society. Ted’s background is in the Zen and Theravada traditions, he is a regular speaker on interfaith panel discussions, and is interested in examining the evolution of contemplative practice in contemporary culture. Ted teaches Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) at the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care & Society, where he is the Manager of Online Programming and Community Development.

Comments (3)

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  1. Mariehtp Mariehtp says:

    I don’t know why I had never read about nor heard Shinzen Young. Just knew his face and name. This podcast was a total revelation. What a jewel of a man. By the end of the podcast, I had downloaded his book. And I am watching all his videos. He is digging a little deeper than our honorable Massachusetts teachers, just when I needed a little boost to get me out of my rut. Thank you, Ted, for bringing him in.

  2. Jennifer Hawkins Jennifer Hawkins says:

    I’m practicing for a transcriptionist test. Here are the first nine minutes and 30 seconds.

    you are listening to episode 264 of The Secular Buddhist.

    [music]

    Welcome to The Secular Buddhist; I’m Ted Meissner. The Secular Buddhist is the official podcast of The Secular Buddhist Association, a grassroots-driven effort to answer the needs of secular teaching and practice for contemporary society. The podcast has interviews and roundtable discussions pertaining to Engaged Buddhist training and practice. The SBA website has show notes for each episode along with resource materials. Though the podcast focuses on the core practices from a secular viewpoint, more traditional teachings are welcome and openly discussed. Shinzen Young joins us to speak about the science of Enlightenment and how meditation works.

    [music]

    Hi, everyone. Before we begin today’s episode, I would like to mention that this podcast and the supporting website, discussion forums, our live online Practice Circle, and other services provided by The Secular Buddhist Assocition are supported by you. If you find this episode, or any other offerings helpful to you in some way, I ask that you take a moment and visit secularbuddhism.org and click on the contributions button. There are many ways you can help, which are listed on that page, and if you make a donation, it’s tax-deductible and helps ensure the SBA is able to continue the exploration of Secular Buddhism. Thank you. We’re glad to have you join us in the conversation. What does “Enlightenment” mean to you? Opinions may vary from a traditional view of the complete extinguishing of samsara to a more secular interpretation about the attenuation of reactivity and, to make it more complex and interesting, these are not necessarily mutually exclusive concepts, though, of course, the devil’s in the details. But the fact remains, if you’re on a Buddhist path, Enlightenment has pinged your radar and what that means to you is a valid question. Shinzen Young became fascinated with Asian culture while a teenager in Los Angeles. He later enrolled in a PhD program in Buddhist studies at the University of Wisconsin. Eventually, he went to Asia and did extensive training in each of the three major Buddhist traditions. Upon returning to the United States, his academic interests shifted to the burgeoning dialogue between Eastern meditation and Western science. Shinzen is known for his innovative, interactive, algorithmic approach to mindfulness, a system specifically designed for use in pain management, recovery support, and as an adjunct to psychotherapy. He leads meditation retreats throughout North America and has helped establish numerous mindfulness centers and programs. He also consults widely on meditation-related research in both a clinical and basic science domains. So sit back, relax, and have a nice [Asura’s?] Enlightenment Tea. Our guest today is Shinzen Young. Shinzen, welcome back to the podcast.

    Thanks.

    Very nice to be having you here. For those who recall and have been listening to the podcast for a while, or if you haven’t, Shinzen first joined us in episode 119 to talk about meditation, pain, and science, and again in episode 176, along with [inaudible] Mark Knicklebine to talk about community in the virtual world, and I’ll be linking those in the episode page, but right now we’re here to talk with Shinzen about something new and something I, personally, have been waiting for for a long time. He has a new book coming out, and I want to, just before we dive into the book, itself, talk a little bit with Shinzen about your approach to meditation, how you would describe it, because it’s perhaps a little different than other teachers. Tell us about that.

    Well, the book is called The Science of Enlightenment, and there are sort of two sides to how science can be of benefit to the meditating world. One is that, as time goes on, neuroscience will tell us new and important things about how meditation works on a biophysical level. So that’s sort of one aspect of the science of enlightenment. And that’s something, as you know, that I have great enthusiasm and optimism, that given enough time, science will not only come up with things that are new about how meditation works, but will come up with things that are very useful that will accelerate the process and perhaps democratize the deeper experiences that, at present, take decades of work by a dedicated small group. Well, maybe it’ll be just a couple years and by most humans because we’ve found a way of accelerating the process. That I’m not saying will happen, but that’s one thing that could happen, say, in the next century or so. So that’s one sort of science of enlightenment. But the other side to the science of enlightenment, and what the book is mostly about, is the issue that you brought up. You said what’s distinctive about the way that I like to teach mindfulness. What’s distinctive is that I would say that my approach is informed by the spirit of science. So there’s a kind of spirit of science. It’s a way to think about things that is rigorous; that’s precise. It pays a lot of attention to clear definitions and well-defined procedures that have the form of an algorithm that loops and branches. There’s a kind of spirit of science. And because I’ve studied science, it is second nature to me to think that way. And I’ve developed a style of teaching meditation that is informed by the spirit of science. The idea being that, if we’re willing to pay the price of being careful about our language and mastering a certain amount of terminology on some concepts that may have a bit of subtlety, if we’re willing to pay that price upfront, then we can work smarter with our practice and get industrial-strength effects without necessarily exposing ourself to the intense and sometimes brutal practices that would be associated with traditional monastic training. So the idea is to bring that spirit of clarity and rigor into the formulation so that

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