Summary of Altered Traits

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Altered Traits book summary

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  • Comprehensive
  • Analytical
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The Dalai Lama challenged authors Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson to examine yogis scientifically, and to report to a broad audience, if these traditionally spiritual methods might help others. The two friends undertook a decades-long personal and scientific quest in the growing field of contemplative neuroscience. Their findings will intrigue science buffs and the meditation-curious alike.

About the Authors

Daniel Goleman, PhD, is a psychologist and best-selling author of emotional intelligence books and Richard J. Davidson, PhD, is a Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry and founder of the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Summary

The Visuddhimagga, is the blueprint for “insight meditation,” also known as “mindfulness.”

A fifth-century Buddhist text, the Visuddhimagga lays out the progression of meditative states through to “nirvana.” In the normal waking state, thoughts rush about and you react to them; this is the “monkey mind.” By focusing on the breath, the practitioner focuses the mind. Concentration gets stronger and one’s attention “rests in the stillness of a lake.” This leads to positive sensations of joy and calm. Concentration deepens and the meditator feels bliss.

The Buddha said this path alone would not liberate the mind. He followed the “path of insight.” Instead of focusing on one point, the meditator remains open and observant, “mindful” of what comes up, but doesn’t react. Eventually the practitioner sees past the torrents of thoughts into the nature of mind itself. The Vissuddhimagga describes a lasting transformation of being, where compassion, kindness and joy replace negative traits like anger, selfishness, and greed. But like drug-induced highs, meditation highs also fade. The “deep path” in meditation practice transforms who people are. The “...


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