James H. Austin, M.D. discusses 'Zen and the Brain'

Q. You came to Zen as medical doctor and a practicing scientist. What
attracted you to it?

Thank you for this opportunity to respond to your questions.
I encountered Zen during my first sabbatical in Japan. What first
attracted me to it? I think it was the natural beauty of the Zen temples
in Kyoto. I was also drawn to it because I saw that Zen had shaped the
cultural life of Japan in many influential ways.
Finally, there was the crucial factor: the opportunity to learn from
Kobori-roshi, a remarkable master whose presence communicated the
essence of Zen, and with whom I could also converse in English.

Q. Did Zen largely challenge or corroborate what you knew from science?
It did both, at different times. At the outset, nothing in my previous
medical or neuroscience training had prepared me for Zen.

The challenge stimulated me to learn more -- both about Zen and about
the rapidly expanding frontiers of brain research.

Before long, it was clear that whenever I could interrelate Zen and the
brain, each field was capable of illuminating the other.

So the challenge then became: which few facts among the many in this
explosive field of the neurosciences are relevant to Zen, and vice


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