Tantra and Neuroscience – Time to Explore the Connection
Dr. VR Anand, Harvard Univ, Boston, MA
Although caricatured as something eerie, Tantra is actually a rational investigation of how to achieve both worldly success and Moksha, without renunciation. To achieve these aims Tantriks developed a sophisticated understanding of the nervous system – while neuroscience describes neurological structures in others’ bodies, Tantra describes the subjective experience of the functioning of the same structures within your own body.
Tantra describes two Nadis running along the spine. The Ida Nadi is described as cooling, relaxing, while Pingala is activating, warming. Modern neuroscience reveals that from the brain to the bottom of the spinal cord runs the Autonomic Nervous System. It has two parts. The Parasympathetic causes cooling and calming, whereas the Sympathetic causes activity and warmth.
There are seven chakras, each of which control bodily functions as well as aspects of personality. Science shows that the part of the nervous system that controls the heart is closely related to interpersonal social behavior, and that which controls defecation is closely related to anxiety and depression – these are strikingly similar to the Tantric description of the Anahata and Muladhara chakras.
The highest form of Tantra is called Sri Vidya, a complex practice involving ritual, meditation and Nyasa. Scholars have suggested that this generates a state where various senses blend together, known as synesthesia. Synesthesia is thought to be associated with creativity and verbal ability.
Scientific study of the Tantric texts can be of value in understanding the inner workings of the nervous system, and to improve cognitive ability in the youth.
About the presenter…
Dr. VR Anand is a neurologist in Boston. While training at various top institutions including AIIMS New Delhi and Harvard Medical School, he developed an interest in the parallels between modern neuroscience and Tantra. Dr. Anand was awarded a KVPY Research scholarship by the Government of India and was a Gold medalist at the International Biology Olympiad.