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Publisher's Summary

A groundbreaking exploration of the "science of enlightenment", told through the lens of the journey of Siddhartha (better known as Buddha), by Guardian science editor James Kingsland.

In a lush grove on the banks of the Neranjara in Northern India - 400 years before the birth of Christ, when the foundations of Western science and philosophy were being laid by the great minds of ancient Greece - a prince turned ascetic wanderer sat beneath a fig tree. His name was Siddhartha Gautama, and he was discovering the astonishing capabilities of the human brain and the secrets of mental wellness and spiritual "enlightenment" - the foundation of Buddhism.

Framed by the historical journey and teachings of the Buddha, Siddhartha's Brain shows how meditative and Buddhist practices anticipated the findings of modern neuroscience. Moving from the evolutionary history of the brain to the disorders and neuroses associated with our technology-driven world, James Kingsland explains why the ancient practice of mindfulness has been so beneficial to and so important for human beings across time. Far from a New Age fad, the principles of meditation have deep scientific support and have been proven to be effective in combating many contemporary psychiatric disorders. Siddhartha posited that "our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think". As we are increasingly driven to distraction by competing demands, our ability to focus and control our thoughts has never been more challenged - or more vital.

Siddhartha's Brain offers a cutting-edge, big-picture assessment of meditation and mindfulness: how they work, what they do to our brains, and why meditative practice has never been more important.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2016 James Kingsland (P)2016 HarperCollins Publishers

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Wonderful!

This book is worth four stars based solely on the skillful summary of scientific evidence on the benefits of mindfulness. The author is an experienced science writer and it shows.

The book earns a fifth star for the surprising, ambitious, thoughtful chapter on "The Fall," which claims that mental illness and suffering evolved in the African Savannah, when humans diverged from chimps. It is a fascinating theory that puts the book's claims in a much broader perspective. As I listened to the final chapters on the mindfulness studies, I found myself anxious for this chapter to arrive.

Any drawbacks are minor: The summaries of the science are repetitive at times, but the author breaks up the parade of data with interesting and illustrative anecdotes. The speculation about the biology of "Siddhartha's Brain" feels a little clumsy and forced at times—but it's a small part of the book, and it helps to emphasize the secular and scientific dimension of the book's argument. (I.e., the Buddha had a brain, too, like the rest of us.)

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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An Excellent Book.

The author did an excellent job of comparing Science and Buddhism. One of my all time favorite 100 books. Well written and read.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Brain Science, Not Buddhist History

This is a well-researched book that relates how the brain is effected by "mindful meditation." The reader would do well to review the dozen-or-so figures in the accompanying on-line references, though they are not critical to understanding the thread of the text. Overall it was an interesting read.

That said, I was hoping for a bit more of the biography of Siddhartha and Buddhism. There is certainly a Buddhist flavor to the text, though it focuses on effects of mediation on the physical human brain.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Best book I have ever listened to

This book is definitely worth listening to. In fact I will buy the hard copy for future reference. The story is magnificently told around fact based research regarding the effects of meditation both psychologically as well as physical affects of the brain. This book is recommended for anyone studying meditation. I will listen again i

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Scientific review of the benefits of mindfulness

What did you love best about Siddhartha's Brain?

This book walked a fine line between religion and science and walked it well. It used the stories in Buddhist theology as an effective narrative tool to explore the effects of mindfulness on the very structure of the human mind. James Kingsland neither proselytizes the religion nor does he dismiss it. Rather, he invites us to embrace the benefits of practiced attention in our daily lives through a critical review of numerous scientific studies on the effects of mindfulness.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Siddhartha's Brain?

A common theme in many areas of the book is that mental “illness” could be a trait of the human condition rather than a something which afflicts only a few. Depression, as one example, is something that many people struggle with, even without the number of symptoms that would qualify as diagnosable in clinical psychology. This book cites research showing that a specific type of mindfulness intervention was particularly effective over active controls at preventing depressive episode relapse. By simply learning to pay attention, without grasping or aversion, subjects in similar studies were able to suppress activity in a part of the brain associated with automatic thought. This was able to help some people stop the cycle of negative thoughts and emotion that would lead to this kind of depression.

What does Steven Crossley bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

The performance was great. I was particularly impressed by how Steven Crossley was able to bring out the comedic timing implied by the text at several points. As there were also several Briticisms in the writing his British accent allowed the reading to sound cohesive.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

I was particularly impressed by the author’s humility of understanding in that he made repeated efforts to present counter points and highlight where the scientific evidence is still inconclusive. However, the story that the research is starting to tell will emerge in the context of the tenants of one of the world’s major religions. Because of this, I also salute the author’s bravery in not ignoring Buddhism as would have been the easier choice for this kind of book. Instead this book weaves them together beautifully. I was most impressed by the books objectivity toward the benefits of practices that were, until very recently, cast aside by the novelty of scientific thought.

Any additional comments?

I deeply enjoyed listening to this audio-book and I feel like it brought me a deeper understanding of the phenomena of life. I would compare this to one of my favorite books, Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, as it alternates between scientific lens and narrative storytelling to explore the complexities of one of the most simple things that humans do. I look forward to listening to it again and again.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Entertaining and Educational

Absolutely brilliant and beautiful work. The narrator kept my attention and the Buddha's story, interspersed within the modern scientific findings, was composed well. An excellent book for any skeptic, secular, scientific or spiritual person alike.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Very good book about mindfulness meditation.

Most people got stuck and have never reached the other sides. One of the main problems is their method of mindfulness medication is not effective, not easy, not simple enough.

I had similar experience when I was 18. Until I ran into a stupid Thai monk. Okay, he was more of an uneducated monk since he can not read nor write. Buddhist monks generally needs to know how to read and write. He could not.

Maybe because of his inability to read, it frees him to see through too much bullshits and get straight to what really counts.

I tried his extremely easy mindfulness meditation for 5 minutes. I knew he got it. The catch? You have got to do it with your eyes open.

No, seriously.

It was the best approach
and go against practically all other meditations. The idea is to not take it seriously. Meditates like we are playing around.

It is not the body movement that matters. It's the brief silence of the body movement that counts.

See Mahasati dot org for his method. Yeb, as free as in beer. No strings attached.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Great book - new insights

Definitely worth the listen. Mindfulness is not overrated. The style of reading and flow of ideas was easy to follow.

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Both Eastern & Western approaches to meditation

If you could sum up Siddhartha's Brain in three words, what would they be?

Enlightening<br/>Enjoyable<br/>Encouraging

What was one of the most memorable moments of Siddhartha's Brain?

Learning about the brain and meditation

What does Steven Crossley bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

His accent is very pleasant to listen to. And his engagement with the material makes for easy-listening.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No, too much information for me to consider in one sitting. I listened in bits. Set it aside to digest. Then listened more and again, digested.

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  • drgardner
  • Leesburg, VA, United States
  • 05-15-16

Disappointing, covered better by others

Acceptable for those with no familiarity with the topics, although it's all been done better before by others. Particularly disappointed in the author's unquestioning acceptance of the role of anti-depresessants in the treatment of depression. He holds them out as a panacea, relegating mindfulness to a secondary role in maintaining the "cure" the medications offer. The reality is such medications "work" on well less than half of patients, who then find themselves at greater risk of relapse after the medications have altered their brains. Individuals seeking relief from the pain of depression and mental illness would be better off skipping the "science" and going directly to the works of someone like Jack Kornfield, who is able to present helpful practices without either overt reliance on the tenets of Buddhism (which, while they would likely be helpful for some might be off-putting for the faithful of other spiritual traditions) or the baggage of the worse than useless pharmaceutical industry.

2 of 4 people found this review helpful