Research on Zen Buddhism and the Unconscious

Research suggests that Zen meditation allows the practitioner greater access to the contents of his own unconscious mind, which may promote superior ability to focus, improve their creativity and help them become more aware of what they need to do to accomplish their goals. A 2012 study looked at a group of experienced Zen meditators and had one group meditate for 20 minutes while the other read magazines. They were then instructed to link 3 words presented on a screen with a fourth word as quickly as possible. Those who had meditated prior to linking this word completed the task more quickly.

In another study, one group was asked to meditate for 20 minutes while the control group simply relaxed. All the volunteers were then asked 20 questions. Each of the questions had 3–4 correct answers. During this exercise, prior to seeing the question on a computer screen, a potential answer flashed for 16 milliseconds. The meditation group gave 6.8 answers that matched the subliminal words while the control group matched only 4.9 words. The researchers concluded that meditators were better able to access the part of the brain responsible for paying attention than those who had not meditated. This led the authors of the study to suggest that Zen meditation might be able to provide insight into the brain’s background activity.

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