6.6 Experience of Zen Masters

We had the privilege of training a Zen Master from Japan, Ryuho Yamada Roshi, who had a temple in Japan and a large following. ‘Biocybernaut training doubled my understanding of the dimensionality of consciousness,’ he told us in an interview eight months later. It wasn’t that his consciousness became twice as big, but the number of dimensions of his awareness had doubled. If you go from a plane to three dimensions, the increase is more than 50% by adding the extra dimension. He also said, ‘Biocybernaut Alpha One training corrected aspects of my practice of Zen. It confirmed other aspects, and overall deepened my practice of Zazen.’

We already know that feedback is effective because it is accurate, immediate, and reasonably aesthetic. Even under the tutelage and guidance of a master, feedback is never accurate or immediate and is rarely obvious in any meditation practice. With the Biocybernaut Process, feedback is always there. As Yamada Roshi explains, ‘For me, Biocybernaut technology is better than having your own Zen Master because it is always there and checks your meditation every second. Any Zen Master is busy with many students, and only if you have major attainment you get, maybe, a smile or a nod of the head from the Master, and that may be hours later, long after attainment. Biocybernaut’s brain wave feedback training is better meditation teacher than working directly with Zen Master.’

Yamada Roshi related to us his experience with the training, which is quite interesting. On his first day, he was starting to meditate, and he heard the tones going louder and louder. He told us, ‘I heard lots of alpha! Oh! I was thinking; maybe I’m a great Zen master! Ohhhh . . . then all alpha come down!’ As soon as he took pride in the fact that he was making this entire alpha and how it reflected on his Zen abilities, alpha immediately and dramatically diminished. This is a lesson he would have known intellectually-any amount of pride would interfere in his spiritual practice-but. Even the most advanced person might be subject, from time to time, to a little pride. Pride goeth before a fall, especially a fall in alpha!

6.6.1 Brain Wave Patterns Predict Zen Roshi Attainment

Many people will be very excited to learn a brain wave pattern that may be a marker for the state of consciousness of a Zen master, a Zen Roshi. I first found that pattern on Christmas day in 1974, though I did not know at the time what it was. Here’s how it happened. I was working on a study of 31 Zen meditators, including a very famous Zen master. They came to Dr. Charles Yeager’s EEG laboratory at Langley Porter Neuropsychiatric Institute, a part of the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF). As each of them had sat for EEG recordings while doing zazen meditation in a soundproof chamber in the lab, we had tape-recorded their brain waves: Left and right occipital, temporal and central referred, not to linked ears, but ipsilateral centrals. This variant montage was used to enable the calculation of true coherence measures and the EEG amplitude measures because we were going to perform power and coherence spectral analysis on the EEG data from these meditation sessions.

My first job after taking my Ph.D. in 1974 was to read and write documentation on the DEC PDP-15 assembly code of a power and coherence spectral analysis program that had just been written by Alan Gevins, who worked in Dr. Yeager’s lab. Once I had read the assembly code and written the documentation, I knew the program’s operations as well as the guy who had written it. I was in a perfect position to run all these meditation tapes through the analysis program, but I would need a lot of time, about 36 hours, and the machine was in heavy demand, both day and night.

On Christmas Day 1974, with most UCSF shutdown, I went into the lab and began this analysis. I tried many different analysis parameters and finally settled on a threshold coherence measure and a power spectrum analysis. In a threshold coherence spectrum, the coherence measures are set to zero unless the amplitudes of the underlying pairs of EEG power scores both exceed a set percentage of those same power scores in an appropriate baseline condition. By trial and error, I had to discover what the ideal percent was to use in thresholding the coherence measures. Having this cutoff threshold in the amplitudes underlying the coherence measure means a lot of the visual ‘noise’ of coherence measures was suppressed. The coherence spectral graphs only showed the coherence scores when there was meaningful amplitude in the underlying EEG activity. In other words, I wanted to ignore any coherence that was based on ‘noise’ in the EEG. That way, I could more easily learn what was really going on in the coherence spectral data.

Once I had the analysis parameters set to deliver what I thought was the most useful data, I systematically ran all 31 of the tape-recorded meditation sessions through the computer. I started very early on Christmas morning and mounted, played, and demounted the FM tapes all of Christmas Day and into the next night and the next morning and well into the next day. When I was playing a tape into the computer for the power and coherence spectral analysis, I printed out the multichannel data graphs for each of the 30 meditators plus the Zen Roshi, who had rated each of his people as beginner, intermediate and advanced. When I had generated graphs for each of the meditators, I packed up this treasure trove of data and took all the tapes and the entire graphs home with me (and then I slept for over 15 hours).

Later, after organizing the graphs, I put them into poster format for each of the meditators. Each poster had the power spectral graphs for left and right occipital, temporal, and frontal sites. And there were also the coherence spectral graphs for the following pairs of power channels: O1 vs. O2, T3 vs. T4, F3 vs. F4, O1 vs. T3, T3 vs. F3, O2 vs. T4, T4 vs. F4, and O2 vs. F3. An example of one of the posters is given below:

Figure 6.2.: Coherence Spectral Graph
Figure 6.2.: Coherence Spectral Graph

When I had completed the posters, there was suddenly an enormous amount of data displayed graphically in a very organized way. I began to study the 31 posters to see what patterns I could discover. First, I put all the beginner posters separately from the intermediate and separate from the advanced Zen meditators. With this grouping, I could immediately see the same patterns in the power scores reported by Kasamatsu and Hirai in their study of Zen meditators in Japan. But they did not have coherence measures, which made a huge difference in what I was able to see. Some of the coherence results were perhaps predictable. For example, the beginner Zen had less coherence than the intermediates had less than the advanced Zen meditators. There were interesting patterns. Coherence, like power, began to develop at the back of the head, and as the monks became more advanced, the coherence also spread forward on the head.

It was fascinating to see that in the most advanced Zen monks, the alpha range was coherent all the way from the back of the head to the front of the head. And the left side alpha was coherent with the right side alpha. In advanced Zen, the whole head’s alpha was oscillating together in huge (wow, wow, wow) pulses of coherent alpha waves.

But some of what I saw was absolutely unexpected and absolutely incredible. In this famous Zen master, there was a bi-modal coherence pattern in alpha and theta frequencies all over the back of his head. There were simultaneous alpha and theta coherence between the occipitals: O1 and O2, and there were simultaneous alpha and theta coherences between the temporals: T3 and T4. And there were even simultaneous alpha and theta coherence between the temporals and occipitals on both sides of his head: O1 and T3 showed this pattern, as did O2 and T4. Nothing I had ever heard or read in the literature suggested such a simultaneous coherence was possible. I was amazed. But then I was even more amazed to discover that one of the advanced meditators, and only one of them, showed a little bit of this same bimodal coherence pattern, but only between his two occipitals: O1 and O2. I knew this was statistically significant because it was only 1 out of 30 who showed this pattern, and you only need 1 out of 20 to reach statistical significance. So it was highly significant, but I wondered, ‘What does this mean?’

I asked everyone I knew for their insights and even for their guesses.

I presented these results at a scientific conference and asked the audience for their guesses as to the meaning. But it remained a mystery as before. So I carefully put the data into secure storage and went on with designing and building technology for doing brain wave feedback training and continued my university research work building toward my large federal grant, Anxiety and Aging: Intervention with EEG alpha Feedback.

Seven years went by, and then I heard from my dear friend and advisor, Dr. Rolf von Eckartsburg, that the famous Zen master had died. Rolf had been a graduate student at Harvard under Timothy Leary, who had been on Rolf’s dissertation committee. Then Rolf had lived at Millbrook and had been very involved with the consciousness exploration community. He was now a professor of Phenomenological Psychology at Duquesne University. He was very connected with all aspects of consciousness expansion movements in the US.

Rolf said that many people had been present when the famous Zen master died and had actually been invited for the event of his passing. Rolf said that people in the room could feel a palpable sense of something leaving the dying Zen master and going to the Roshi designate. This is called ’giving transmission.’ That man who was given ‘transmission’ by the dying Roshi was the very same man who, 7 years earlier, had been the only one out of 30 monks to show a little bit of the bimodal coherence pattern that predominated in the famous Roshi. So now I was really excited. I had found a marker for Zen Roshi-hood. But deep in my heart, I was still questioning because I still did not know, ‘What does this mean?’

There were Zen political issues related to this ‘transmission,’ especially as the years passed because some of the Roshi’s followers thought that the Roshi designate was not worthy of this gift. There were scandals and more Zen politics. But to my way of thinking, the famous Zen master may not have had much of choice. Out of all of the monks around him, only one man had even a little bit of the bi-modal coherence pattern that was so strongly characteristic of the famous Zen master.

Perhaps a metaphor would help: If you and your baby are in a sinking ship, you will be more likely to throw your baby to a nearby leaky lifeboat rather than let the baby go down with you on the big ship. The famous Zen master was on his way out of his body. Of the many monks around him, there was only one who had any chance of receiving and maybe, hopefully, to sustain the consciousness, the energy that he was generating in his remarkable brain. Statues of him that were later placed in Zen centers were to depict him wearing a halo.

Deep in my heart, I was still questioning because I still did not know, ‘What does this bi-modal coherence pattern mean?’ That questioning went on for another 10 years until I found myself at a conference in Florida on ‘Chaos Theory’ as applied to brain waves analysis. Many of the papers presented were morasses of mathematical equations. Geeks vied with wonks to see who could be more abstruse and opaque in their presentations. I loved it, enthralled with the mathematical extravaganzas. Then a remarkable man stood up to speak. His name is Dr. Arnold Mandel. He was quite a Renaissance man, having been the Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at UC Davis, only to retire to become a mathematician.

This talk by Dr. Mandel led to an explosion in my brain as I was shortly to discover that I knew the brain wave patterns underlying halos, one of the most powerful symbols of ethical purity and spiritual advancement. But I did not know this was coming when Dr. Mandel started to talk.

He began by saying that brain waves follow Fibonacci scaling. I knew that Fibonacci numbers are an intriguing infinite series of numbers in which the next one is calculated by adding together the previous two. And except for the first few, 0,1,1, and 2, the ratios of all the other adjacent Fibonacci numbers are always irrational. That is, they never resolve to a whole number when you divide one by the other for adjacent Fibonacci numbers. And Fibonacci numbers are deeply embedded in nature. For example, when a little plant sprouts with just one leaf, there is no guarantee that the plant will make it. It has to capture sunlight, perform photosynthesis, make its own food, draw up water through its roots, and try to grow. When it has grown enough to put out its second leaf, the little plant is ‘smart’ enough not to put the second leaf directly above its first leaf. That would be dumb because the second leaf would shade the first leaf, which would be a waste of resources. Instead of having two leaves to capture sunlight and make its food, the resources invested in the first leaf would be wasted if the second leaf were directly overhead, shading that first leaf. So the plant is ‘smart’ enough to have the second leaf offset around the stem by a certain number of angular degrees. And Fibonacci numbers tell us how many leaves up the stem you have to find one leaf directly above one below. So plants know Fibonacci numbers. Very cool!

But here was Dr. Mandel saying brain waves follow Fibonacci scaling, meaning the center frequency of two adjacent brain wave bands could be added together to give the center frequency of the next higher up brain wave band. Now from what I knew about brain waves, this was not true. So I was a little on edge as Dr. Mandel spoke. But then he delivered, what for me was, a mind-boggling piece of news. Delta waves are not a monolith. I knew delta to be 0-4 cycles per second, but Dr. Mandel said, NO. There are two different brain waves in that delta range, and for convenience, he called one low delta and the other he called high delta. They can overlap in their ranges. He said they had different generators in the brain, and they should not be confused as being parts of the same thing. They were as different as alpha waves and beta waves.

Suddenly, his claim that brainwaves follow Fibonacci scaling started to make a little more sense. If you add the center frequency of low delta plus the center frequency of high delta, you will get theta’s center frequency. If you add the center frequency of the high delta and theta center frequency, you get the center frequency of alpha. And if you take the center frequencies of theta and alpha, you get the center frequency of beta, so brain waves follow Fibonacci scaling.

Why is this important, and how does it relate to halos? That comes in just a moment, further into his talk. For starters, this means that the center frequencies of adjacent brain wave bands would have irrational ratios, just as ratios of adjacent Fibonacci numbers have irrational ratios.

Then Dr. Mandel sketched a monkey brain on his overhead transparency and began to talk about having coherent brain waves, with center frequencies ω1 and ω2, which could be the center frequencies of theta and alpha. Then he drew a little circle with radius ω1 and then revolved that little circle around an external point, a distance ω2 away from the center of the first little circle. Revolving a circle around a point outside the circle sweeps out a volume that is called a torus. You might describe it as a donut or a bagel, but the mathematical name for that volume is a torus. All of a sudden, I froze in my seat. Dr. Mandel was talking, but I was hardly listening. I saw astonishing pictures in my mind—mind-boggling pictures.

Dr. Mandel was saying that if these two frequencies ω1 and ω2 were brain wave center frequencies of adjacent bands of brain waves, they would, of course, create this torus in phase space over the monkey’s head and further that, because the brain wave center frequencies follow Fibonacci scaling, the ratios of these two frequencies would, of course, be irrational, and that would mean that the torus would resist mode-locking at the borders of chaos and so it could actually be a stable feature in phase space. A stable torus over the head in phase space?!?

The second I heard that news, I could no longer keep quiet. I had never before in my life done this in a professional talk. Still, I leaped up out of my seat and waved both arms and shouted to Dr. Mandel, “I’ve got two people in my database that shows that pattern, and one of them was a Zen master who gave transmission to the other person when the Zen master was dying.”

Of course, what I had seen was the bi-modal coherence patterns in the famous Zen master and the advanced monk to whom he gave transmission 7 years after the brain wave recordings were made that showed that one monk out of 30 had a little bit of the famous Zen master’s bi-modal coherence pattern. What rocketed me up out of my seat and into a fit of shouting to the speaker was a vision of luminous halos rocking gently over the heads of these two Zen meditators. Halos! A torus in shape with the halo’s size and orientation is determined by the underlying pattern of brain waves in the meditator’s head. As those bi-modal coherence patterns ebbed and flowed as I had seen them do in my data, the halos would have gently rocked back and forth and from side to side, and they would even have expanded into larger sizes and then shrunk back to smaller sizes as the underlying brain wave patterns changed. And looking at my data in my mind, I realize that there were times during the meditations where the halos would have briefly disappeared and then reappeared as the underlying alpha and theta coherence patterns formed, changed, disappeared, and then reformed. It was a shocking, exciting, and exhilarating moment as nearly 20 years of work came together into one moment of super high alpha illumination. My alpha was sky-high as this happened, and I was flying.

Dr. Mandel was most gracious in the face of this sudden outburst from someone in his audience. He expressed genuine interest and asked me to come up after his talk to explore this revelation further. He and I talked for about 4 hours, and the first thing he said to me as I walked up after his talk ended was this: ‘You must be a physicist and a psychologist.’ And indeed, I confessed that I was both. We smiled and laughed and then talked for 4 hours with excitement and animation.

That conversation took place in April of 1991, and I was high for months to discover the brain wave patterns of halos. Of course, it became my immediate objective to incorporate some aspects of the halo pattern into my brain wave feedback training programs. But my company, MindCenter, was going under (a long story there for another time), and the staff, including my technical staff, was disbursing. MindCenter closed its doors on July 31, 1991. I worked weekends with my favorite computer programmer to implement elements of the hemicoherence measures in my brain wave feedback algorithms and computer codes. As I have described elsewhere, New Year’s day 1992 was not until I had an early crude and buggy version of the software to try out the hemicoherence feedback. 30 minutes of that feedback was neither enough to rocket me into the Peace That Passeth All Understanding, so that I was feeling blissed out and outrageously happy for months. Thereafter, even though my company, MindCenter, had just folded, and I had neither a job nor any tangible prospects for the future. Happiness is an internal state and need not be related to what is going on in the world around you.

I then went for three years with all my technology in storage, living on credit cards, and helping friends like Rick Odell. Finally, in October of 1995, I once again had a lab and place to do my brain wave training again at Agnew State Hospital. In the first training there, I introduced the alpha hemicoherence feedback, which approximates half of the halo pattern. The other half would be theta coherence feedback. As noted previously in this book, the hemicoherence feedback produced an astonishing increase in the rate of profound spiritual experiences. When I first began this work at Carnegie-Mellon University, I got about one person in 20 to have profound spiritual experiences. In 15 years of university research, where I improved the quality of the feedback and the training protocols and became more skilled in leading the alpha training, I succeeded in doubling that 1 in 20 rates of profound spiritual experiences to about 1 in 10. But then, when I introduced the Hemi-coherence feedback in October of 1995, there was a huge step-function increase in that rate to about 3 people out of every 5 who were having profound spiritual experiences.

So I KNEW I was on the right track. If this bi-modal coherence pattern I had seen along with big alpha waves spreading forward on the head and slowing in frequency had anything to do with spiritual advancement, then training people to reproduce it should rocket them into advanced spiritual states. And that is exactly what was happening as I introduced the bi-modal coherence pattern into the Alpha One training.

6.6.2 Neurofeedback Democratizes Spiritual Discovery

So I KNEW I was on the right track. If this bi-modal coherence pattern I had seen along with big alpha waves spreading forward on the head and slowing in frequency had anything to do with spiritual advancement, then training people to reproduce it should rocket them into advanced spiritual states. And that is exactly what was happening as I introduced the bi-modal coherence pattern into the Alpha One training.

It’s important to understand that the Biocybernaut Process puts control into the trainee’s hands, which is very different from the experience many people have had with gurus or spiritual teachers. One time we had a woman in the Alpha One training that was a devotee of Swami Muktananda, who had recently died. When Muktananda was alive, she had lived at his ashrams in India and also in the US. Swami Muktananda was a yogi who had ‘shaktipat’; this meant he had ‘powers,’ and he could make a gesture and ‘throw’ energy to people who would put them into various profound altered states of consciousness. She had had many of these experiences from him personally, and she had witnessed other experiences that he had given to other people but not to her.

However, once Muktananda died, she explained that she and his followers had no further access to these altered states of consciousness. Her yoga meditation practice did not allow her to reach those states on her own-Muktananda had transmitted those experiences to her using his power, his shakti.

The good news is that in the course of the standard 7-day Alpha One training, she was able to give herself every single one of those experiences that Muktananda had given to her plus every additional experience she had seen him give others but that he had not given to her

This is why I say Neurofeedback profoundly democratizes the process of spiritual discovery.

You no longer have to depend upon a guru or a priest or someone to be an intermediary between you and the divine source. You get to establish your own personal link to the divine.

6.6.3 More Powerful than TM

There can be aspects of meditative spiritual practice that are dreary and life suppressing as people shut themselves down to appear calm, centered, and holy. Here’s an example of what I am talking about. Around 1991, my business partner and I met someone for a business discussion at a big convention center in Santa Clara. It was a huge building, and we didn’t know where we were going, so we became lost and were bumbling around. We noticed a set of double doors just off the hallway, and we opened them.

We almost fell forward on our faces; it was like a vacuum in there. There were probably 5,000 people in the room, and it was the deadest space I have ever encountered. Some people were up on the stage, and there were all these people in there wearing reasonably colorful things, but it was a dead space. It lacked life energy. We backed out and closed the doors, and we asked an attendant what was going on in there.

It turned out that we had stumbled upon a conference of TM people (Transcendental Meditators), and it felt like they had literally suppressed their energy! It was as though their life energy had been turned off. Now, this is not the stated goal of TM, but absent any accurate feedback, many people trying to meditate will shut themselves down into the egoic illusion of emptiness rather than discovering ‘the alive emptiness.’ At one point in the late 1970s or early 1980s, there was an EEG study of TM done by a TM meditator who found that 60% of those who thought they were doing TM meditation were actually in stage I or stage II of sleep; they were taking a nap. There are genuine benefits to naps, but napping is not meditating. The problem is a common one for anyone who meditates in any tradition: No feedback! If you are getting feedback on your brain activity, you know what you are doing. If you do actually fall asleep in a Biocybernaut feedback chamber, the technicians will see the sleepy theta waves and will call in to wake you up. Or if you miss opening your eyes to view your scores at the end of any of the 2 minutes epochs with the feedback tones, then again, the technicians will call in on the intercom to wake you up.

We had an Alpha One trainee one time who had been a 20-year TM meditator, and he left the TM organization in disappointment or maybe something stronger than that about unfulfilled promises they had made to him about states of consciousness that he would attain if he did their advanced TM programs. Because the promises had not been fulfilled (for example, he had been told to do certain things to achieve a particular level of consciousness) and the results he was seeking hadn’t happened, he began searching for other methods.

After several years of searching, he showed up at the Biocybernaut Institute. On the third or fourth day of his training, he came out of the chamber with this big glow and a huge smile, and he said, ‘What happened to me today was more powerful than anything that happened in 20 years of TM.’ Then you could see a little shiver run through him, and he smirked a little and then revised what he had just said, ‘No! Even if you added up everything that happened in my 20 years of TM, it wouldn’t equal what happened here today.’

Such reports are heartwarming and mind-expanding! If you are a gardener, you take endless delight in seeing the flowers bloom. When people come in here for Biocybernaut training they are functioning at far below their potentials, and here they just open and open, and they become these radiant beings, and this transformation always warms my heart and brings smiles of joy.

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