James H. Austin

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James H. Austin is an American neurologist and author. He is the author of the book Zen and the Brain. It establishes links between the neurophysiology of the human brain and the practice of meditation, and won the Scientific and Medical Network Book Prize for 1998.[1] He has written five sequels: Zen-Brain Reflections (2006), Selfless Insight (2009), Meditating Selflessly (2011), Zen-Brain Horizons (2014) and Living Zen Remindfully (2016).


Austin has been an academic neurologist for most of his career, first at the University of Oregon Medical School, then as chairman of neurology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. He is currently Emeritus professor of neurology at the University of Colorado Medical School, Denver and visiting professor of neurology at the University of Florida School of Medicine. His publications number over 140 articles involving research in the areas of clinical neurology, neuropathology, neurochemistry and neuropharmacology.[2]

Experience with Zen

Austin has been a practicing Zen Buddhist since 1974. He began in Kyoto at Daitoku-ji as a student of the Rinzai roshi Kobori Nanrei Sohaku.[2]

After eight years of regular Zen meditation, Austin experienced the taste of what Zen practice calls kenshō. The chief characteristic of this experience was a loss of the sense of "self" which is so central to human identity, plus a feeling that "Just This" is the way all things really are in the world. While he was on a sabbatical in England, he was waiting for an Underground train when he suddenly entered a state of enlightenment unlike anything he had ever experienced. In Austin's words, "It strikes unexpectedly at 9 am on the surface platform of the London subway system. [Due to a mistake] ... I wind up at a station where I have never been before...The view includes the dingy interior of the station, some grimy buildings, a bit of open sky above and beyond. Instantly the entire view acquires three qualities: Absolute Reality, Intrinsic Rightness, Ultimate Perfection."

"With no transition, it is all complete....Yes, there is the paradox of this extraordinary viewing. But there is no viewer. The scene is utterly empty, stripped of every last extension of an I-Me-Mine [his name for ego-self]. Vanished in one split second is the familiar sensation that this person is viewing an ordinary city scene. The new viewing proceeds impersonally, not pausing to register the paradox that there is no human subject "doing" it. Three insights penetrate the experient, each conveying Total Understanding at depths far beyond simple knowledge: This is the eternal state of affairs. There is nothing more to do. There is nothing whatsoever to fear."

Austin writes that when his former subjective self was no longer there to form biased interpretations this experience conveyed the impression of "objective reality." As a neurologist, he interpreted this experience not as proof of a reality beyond the comprehension of our senses but as arising from the brain itself. This and other experiences and research led him to write Zen and the Brain.[3]


  • AUSTIN James H., 2016 Living Zen Remindfully: Retraining Subconscious Awareness. MIT Press.
  • AUSTIN James H., 2014 Zen-Brain Horizons: Toward a Living Zen. MIT Press.
  • AUSTIN James H., 2011 Meditating Selflessly: Practical Neural Zen. MIT Press.
  • AUSTIN James H., 2009 Selfless Insight: Zen and the Meditative Transformations of Consciousness. MIT Press.
  • AUSTIN James H., 2006 Zen-Brain Reflections: Reviewing Recent Developments in Meditation and States of Consciousness. MIT Press.
  • AUSTIN James H., 2003 Chase, Chance and Creativity: The Lucky Art of Novelty. MIT Press.
  • AUSTIN James H., 1998 Zen and the Brain: Toward an Understanding of Meditation and Consciousness. MIT Press.
  • AUSTIN James H., 1978 Chase, Chance and Creativity: The Lucky Art of Novelty. Columbia University Press.

Notes and references

  1. "Zen and the Brain: Toward an Understanding of Meditation and Consciousness [Paperback]". Amazon.com. Retrieved 1 September 2012. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Guest teacher: James Austin, M.D." Upaya Institute and Zen Center. Archived from the original on 9 April 2012. Retrieved 1 September 2012. 
  3. Begley, Sharon (May 7, 2001). "Your Brain on Religion: Mystic visions or brain circuits at work?". Newsweek, cited at Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics. Retrieved 1 September 2012. 

External links

  • Austin's website
  • Interview with Austin by MIT Press
  • Michael Haederle. This is Your Brain on Zen. Tricycle 19 (1) 58-61; 113-214, Fall 2009.
  • Richard Boyle. Realizing Awakened Consciousness,2015. Appendix pages 293-302. Interview with Neuroscientist James Austin.


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Ajahn Amaro Bhikkhu Analayo Reb Anderson James H. Austin Alan Ball (screenwriter)
Martine Batchelor Stephen Batchelor (author) Ezra Bayda Jan Chozen Bays Alexander Berzin
Bhikkhu Sujato Alfred Bloom (Buddhist) Bhikkhu Bodhi William Bodiford Sujin Boriharnwanaket
Tara Brach Shoryu Bradley Ajahn Brahm Arthur Braverman David Brazier
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Taisen Deshimaru K. L. Dhammajoti Phra Dhammavisuddhikavi Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche Zoketsu Norman Fischer
Charles Tenshin Fletcher James Ishmael Ford Francesca Freemantle Gil Fronsdal Stephen Fulder
Gary Gach Rupert Gethin Tetsugen Bernard Glassman Natalie Goldberg Joseph Goldstein
Richard Gombrich Oscar R. Gómez Henepola Gunaratana Ruben Habito Steve Hagen
Joan Halifax Shodo Harada Richard Hayes (professor) Steven Heine Dennis Hirota
Hsing Yun Cheri Huber Daisaku Ikeda Jeffrey Hopkins Thupten Jinpa
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David Loy Dan Lusthaus Vicki Mackenzie Robert Magliola
Master Lian Tzi Dennis Merzel Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche Phillip Moffitt Glenn H. Mullin
Rob Nairn Namkhai Norbu Katukurunde Nyanananda Thera Gedhun Choekyi Nyima Shōhaku Okumura
Erdne Ombadykow Tenzin Palmo Ajahn Pasanno Piya Tan Red Pine (author)
Prayudh Payutto John Myrdhin Reynolds Ringu Tulku Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche Tsenzhab Serkong Rinpoche
Larry Rosenberg Hiro Sachiya Sharon Salzberg Padma Samten Shozan Jack Haubner
Ajahn Sucitto Ajahn Sumedho Thanissaro Bhikkhu Soma Thera Chokyi Sengay
Tashi Tsering (Chenrezig) Tashi Tsering (Jamyang) Tashi Tsering (tibetologist)
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