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SANTHIP  KANHOLY

Graduate Research Assistant, Virginia Tech : Aerospace & Ocean Engineering

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Neuroscientific studies of Enlightened human beings

Enlightenment is an actual experience which changes the perspective and perception of the individual, which has been touted in all the ancient religious scriptures spanning all global cultures. Buddha is considered to be enlightened. So is Jesus. Thus all major religions have sprung from individuals who have experienced enlightenment.

There are individuals right now on the planet, who have experienced Enlightenment as well. There are many teachers who spread the non-dual philosophy, and are engaged in traditions which help guide individuals towards their own personal experience of enligthenment. These teachers have a radically different perception about the world, as in they do not see any separation between anything at all, to the extent that they do not have identify with an external ego/ personality but identify themselves as the silent awareness within the consciousness.

My core idea is to study brains of such individuals so as to learn how different their brain is from ours, and the reasons for the difference. These individuals have numerous students who would like to attain the same consciousness state as they have. Hence it would provide additional insights to the students as to how they could be open to enligthenment. I believe such a study would bring the debate between science and religion to a close once and for all.

I know atleast 5 individuals who have experienced enlightenment, and who would be open to such a study. If you have any further idea/ suggestion or if you are interested in participating or even conducting this study please email me.

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  • Mar 13 2011: Unfortunately, I have nothing to say,but I am highly interested to know and will fallow the topic closely. Thank you!
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      Mar 14 2011: Thank you for your encouraging words Natasha :)
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    Mar 12 2011: This is a wonderful idea if you are suggesting it as a fMRI type study. They have already done some work with monks and nuns. We are only just now able to do such work. I remember that we studied Einstein's brain when I was taking a neuroscience course and they were quite diasppointed to see that from the laboratory perspective it was much the same as any other brain.
    It would be great to know whether 'enlightenment' was a visible and measureable construct.
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      Mar 13 2011: Thank you for your kind encouragement Debra. Thank you for sharing your experience with Einstein's brain as well.

      The original idea I had in mind was a fMRI type study. I would love to see this happen. I would also love to see a biofeedback / brain wave type of study on these individuals also. It seems that enlightened individuals possess the same state of consciousness even when they are asleep. So theoretically they should be showing the sleep / delta brain waves even while they are awake or in their wakeful state as well. But yes, I believe its time for science to study the consciousness of these individuals to resolve the science vs religion debate once and for all. :-)

      If you do come across researchers who would be interested in this topic do shoot me an email.
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          Mar 14 2011: That is interesting... I will look into it .. I know for a fact that biofeedback measurement is done upon an enlightened being ( Guru Swami-G to be exact ) has shown that her active / wakefullness brain wave is that of sleep consciousness brain wave or the delta brain wave.. As of now, that is the only criterion I see , scientifically ie to distinguish between an individual whose living experience is enlightenment, from others who are still on the path..
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          Mar 14 2011: Yes.. would like to see that enlightened beings are studied by science regardless.. :-)
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      Mar 13 2011: WOW .. Thank you for all the links and information. I will look into what he has to say, and see if there is an opportunity for studying enlightened beings as well :-)

      Vipassana is a very useful technique. But enlightenment happens after the total annihilation of the subject object paradigm. :)
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          Mar 14 2011: Yes.. What you said about the grace aspect of enlightenment is absolutely true .. In the end one sticks to a path to truth and allows the grace to reveal itself in the opportune moment for it to happen ..

          It is interesting information that you have shared about Shinzen. I must definitely look into him now and see if he would be open to such a study or not :-) I am not sure if he is enlightened though or in the path though .. Seems like he should be enlightened...

          My teacher is Guru Swami G ( www.guruswamig.com ). The path she has to offer is based on the path of Kundalini. ( That is another aspect I would definitely love to look into in the future - effects of kundalini on consciousness i.e ) There have been many students who have experienced profound shifts in her physical presence . They were of course open to the transmission from her .. The path which she has to offer involves direct one-to-one guidane, and thus has a vajrayana element to it.. Her methodology has evolved to a more "online ashram" methodology, where there is no physical ashram, and she skypes with her students to see their progress ... And I have found that having access to an enlightened teacher tremendously increases progresses by making your blind spots more clearer ;-) I consider myself highly fortunate to have access to such a teacher as well..

          She has guided a handful of her students to the direct experience of enlightenment .. She would be open to any such scientific study that can be done on her .. I am sure there would be other enlightened beings who would also be open to such a study though :) Should also look into Shinzen Young..
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          Mar 15 2011: Mark .. there is only one enlightenment in the end.. the ultimate enlightenment of non-dual awareness.. It would be wise to stick to it as true enlightenment , as that is indeed the ultimate truth of awareness..

          Yes.. the path to enlightenment is very different.. However the ultimate end of all paths would be the end of the "me" . No amount of insights altong the way can compare to that ultimate truth ... That is the sad truth for many along the path .. including myself :)

          Once again, thank for elaborating on the path of mindfullness :)
  • Mar 8 2011: Santip, read The Tell-Tale Brain by VS Ramachandran (UC, San Diego). Offers some interesting clues and some pioneering methodological examples.
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    Mar 5 2011: Dear SANTHIP KANHOLY,

    Everything that you are searching for, will be revealed to you on the day when the money stops its journey. Already, all over the world this change has begun. Brainwaves are deeply integrated with the electromagnetic circuitry of the universe that moves in a definite direction with a definite plan. Indeed, the enlightenment is very small thing in this big journey where most of the enlightened minds also represents nothing but the heavenly desire which cannot understand the cosmic secret associated with the flow of time, the Kala-Gnana. The scientific waves of the brain is sub-merged with the collective unconsciousness of the cosmic universe which is spiritually getting ready to sweep human psyche immediately after the final collapse of the international monitory system. Indeed, most of the true spiritual minds of history (not all) realized that only the death of money could become the beginning of character and they have given enough precaution about this great day of judgment.

    "The love of money is the root of all evil" - The Bible
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      Mar 11 2011: It is an interesting opinion that you present with regard to how the collapse of international monetary system could open up a lot of possibilities with regard to science and individual progress. If the money element was removed out of the present world, then any scientist wouldn't need to be worried about funding for their research, which is one of the main factors controlling scientific research at this point, especially in developed countries. The whole eco-system surrounding research funding has probably made some of the scientists tailor their research towards the need of the funding agencies, rather than the spirit of true enquiry.

      However, I am not an economist, and cannot possibly make an informed opinion on your ideas on a money-less economy, nor can I claim any validity in what you have stated about the economics of such a scenario.

      I would not overtly prioritize on the demolition of money (which is nothing more than economic convenience) over true and pure scientific reason. I believe true scientific enquiry and reasoning should be independent of money, and should be able to stand on its own independently. The idea that I propose above, I believe would be such an idea in my opinion.

      Enlightenment, even if you claim it to be a small thing, is touted in all the scriptures as the highest state that can be attained by any individual in spiritual traditions all around the world, and I believe it deserves some true scientific investigation so as to progress neuroscience.
  • Feb 26 2011: Why don't you experience it yourself first? It will just take 10 days of your time to take the first step.
    Just register for a course at a center near to you. http://www.dhamma.org/en/bycountry/na/
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      Mar 4 2011: I am sorry to break it to you... But I do not think enlightenment can be obtained as a result of "studying" a "college course" ... which is what makes these enlightened individuals a rarity ... Hence this idea to study them to progress our scientific understanding ..

      Vipassana is useful to a point .. but ultimately surrendering into the face of death is something only an enlightened teacher can point one towards it .. It would be really difficult for an individual to do it on its own without the guidance of one who has walked the path before... Can point out the reference of Tripura Rahasya, and Vivek Chudamani for it ...
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    Feb 16 2011: This is already under way (see Mind and Life Institute for example), but I totally support any extra efforts in that direction!!
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      Feb 16 2011: Thank you for sharing information about Mind and Life Institiute. But it seems or appears as if Mind and Life Institute is focussed only on Tibetan Masters. There are Enlightened masters right here in United States, who can be good subjects to be studied as well., This would be a great thing if it could lead to a brain criterion for enlightenment.

      LIke you have said, I believe there needs to be more initiatives in this direction. As this would be extremely helpful for many spiritual aspirants. I am extremely interested in understanding the effects of Kundalini on consciousness as a result of such a study, as there are more individuals who end up with awakened kundalini because of incorrect guidance for their spiritual practice, and such a state of kundalini is associated with progressing towards enlightenment.
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    Feb 16 2011: is only related to the brain or also to the body and soul?
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      Feb 16 2011: As a start, brain studies would be more valuable. As they can point to body investigations, And ultimately , studies of the soul as well.. But it needs a start, and I believe brain would be a good place for it to begin.
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        Feb 17 2011: it can be because we all have affective domains and also pyscho-motor which can lead to action-based studies.
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    Feb 16 2011: What a phenomenal question. I know one person who has achieved this. When she stayed in my home as a guest, I was blown away by her 24/7 "openness," unconditional love, and just how fun and amazing it was to drop vigilance, drop limiting beliefs. I'm curious to know more about how you would study this. Agree that this is VERY different from mindfulness studies. Mindfulness meditation can be a path used to move in this direction. Non-duality, embodiment of pure love -- this type of enlightenment -- I've not seen studied and would be so curious to learn more as to the ways it might be studied. Thank you for the question. It's a lovely one.
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      Feb 16 2011: Thank you for your honest and sincere appreciation Linda. I have been fortunate enough to be around such an individual and bear witness to the down to Earth simplicity about them, and their absolute presence in the moment.

      I have been trying to talk with scientists and trying to get attention of neuroscientists for this study. It is indeed a big challenge for them to study, or to measure the vastness of scientificially awareness claimed by the enlightened individuals. I have also been talking with couple of scientists such as Dr. Dani Bassett ( physics post -doc engaged in brain study for I/P ), Dr. Bill Tiller ( of TIller foundation ), and have exchanged emails with Susan Smalley ( UCLA prof scientist ). I have also talked with Dr. Montague, ( neuroscientist at Virginia Tech ).who talked about fMRi usage to study blood flow in brain's active regions.

      Dr. Bassett says that for any such study to be statistically relevant, there needs to be atleast 20 individuals in the sample. Dr. Smalley is of the opinion that studies of mindfullness meditators point to physical residue of meditation. So my extended reasoning is that the physical residue of an enlightened individual should be very strong and clearly evident.

      I hope some people from the Institute Of Noetic Sciences could be interested in doing it, as they do some research which is parallel to these ideas.. But I have no internal contact there.

      I am trying to contact neuroscientists who would be interested in tackling such a problem. If you do know anyone who would be interested, please do let me know Linda :) I hope I am able to find some neuroscientist who would be upto this challenge, and would be interested in pursuing a fMRi study of the brain of these individuals, or atleast EEG studies.

      If I don't find anyone, then my plan is to invest in the e-motive headset shown in Tan-Le's video, and then conduct my own research based on EEG studies using the headset :) But I do hope to find some researchers.
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    Feb 16 2011: I do not think being enlightened is that significant.

    When I discovered Father Christmas was not true I became enlightened.
    When I discovered Jesus Christ was not any more God incarnate than anyone else I became enlightened.
    When I discovered that culture was more important in governing my destiny than reason I became enlightened.
    Just as i do not go round telling children that Father Christmas does not exist I also still go to church and do not tell people that praying is a waste of time.
    Father christmas is a very healthy way for children to learn the value of giving and recieving.
    God and Jesus Christ are very powerfull tools for making life meaningfull.
    Children only give up believing in Jesus when they want to.
    Adults are afraid of dying and rather than admit that it will happen they convince themselves about the supernatural.
    A human being consists of millions of living cells that have come and gone since the individual was born.
    therefore the living person has forgotten half of the events of his or her life.
    So an old man has lost touch with his childhood just as he has lost touch with his parents and grandparents.
    Many people in old age are getting tired of life. Just as a person gets tired of a day and goes to sleep so an old person can get tired of living and just fade away.
    So enlightenment is merely a matter of letting go of the cultural props that are no longer needed to make life bearable..
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      Feb 16 2011: @ Chris

      The enlightened individuals whom I refer to in my idea, " do not think ". They do not use thoughts as we do in our daily lives. Whatever you said above can be reduced to thoughts within awareness. Truly enlightened people are thus free of thoughts, and it is my contention that their brain and consciousness is priceless for neuroscience to study.
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          Feb 17 2011: These "delusional" individuals are fully functional in the society, and display a state of mind that is best described as "constant meditation". How would I know that ? Because meditation is the act of making one's mind still without any thoughts. Advanced meditators are capable of attaining such a state by years of practice. Enlightened individuals however the same meditative mind effortlessly. That is my claim by direct observation and experience with them.

          No one is accepting the idea of enlightenment here on faith. I find the brains of such individuals worthy enough to be studied. And let's be honest about how much neuroscience has to go before a solid theory about consciousenss can be put forth. Hence my idea would further the science a little more by studying what can be considered to be anomalous individuals, rather than using a narrow-pointed term such as delusional.

          Life has survived with or without mind. Hence your argument that mind is a primary tool for survival needs more solid evidence, rather than evidence which "appears" to be so.

          No one is using "faith" here. Perhaps that is your personal projection to certain religions. That doesn't deal with the fact that such individuals who have a constant meditative state of mind exists. I say, use them to progress science.
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    Feb 16 2011: @Ignas Yes .. the idea of investigating "mindfullness" and other simple meditation effects is not new. However the idea of studying the consciousness / brain of enlightened individual in a scientific manner is new, and haven't been done before. My contention is that the brains of enlightened individuals should display a sharp contrast to brains of ordinary individuals because of the fact that they are "enlightened" in a higher degree compared to longterm meditators who haven't experienced the radical shift in consciousness which comes along with enlightenment. It will be difficult to investigate, but that challenge shouldn't be put aside citing the difficult nature of the problem.

    I agree with your second point that neuroscience can learn from advanced meditators. And my reasoning is along those lines. All advanced meditators meditate to experience enlightenment and total dissolution of the ego. My thesis is that neuroscience could benefit greatly by studying the brain of enlightened individuals.
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    Feb 16 2011: The broader idea of investigating meditation techniques and effects on brain activity is not at all new, Mind and Life Institute, for example, has been doing this for years ( www.mindandlife.org ). However, neuroscience is a rigorous science, and even simple meditative practices produce complex and holistic changes in the brain which are difficult to investigate. Not to mention highly realized meditators who tap into the level of experiential metaphysics by their practices.

    Another thing is that it will be long before neuroscience could possibly benefit somehow the meditative practices, although the reverse is not true - there are numerous benefits that study of meditators provide to the understanding of human brain.