Some thoughts on “Bhava”, “Saṅkhāra”, “Habit”, and Basil Ganglia: Part 1, Untangling the Knot

Sometimes ideas get all wrapped up and around and through each other and a clever theory, when gently prodded, reveals itself a writhing, gnarly mess.

Maybe this doesn’t happen to you? It totally happens to me. I think I understand a thing, I get all excited about it, I try explaining it to someone, or writing about it, or heaven forbid doing something about it, and what shone in my mind lucid and crystalline falls out of my mouth entangled and chaotic and incomprehensible.

Sneaking up on an idea brewing since May:

Recently Akincano Weber and John Peacock were talking about Bhava. And what they said got me thinking about Charles Duhigg describing rats running mazes and the function of basil ganglia in habit formation (The Power of Habit). And that led to Dharma PhD (the podcast) EP 5 where Jeff and I riffed on Saṅkhāra and habits and I claimed that one kind of Saṅkhāra is an automatic-pilot kind of habit that may be linked to functioning of the basil ganglia that we can witness via neuro-imaging.

So the thing I want to write about, I think, is that maybe one aspect of this concept “Bhava” could be correlated to a neural process involving the basil ganglia and this neural process might also be a part of the concept “Saṅkhāra”. And maybe it is interesting that there is overlap of these two aspects of Buddhist Psychology that can be detected via neuro-imaging.

But maybe we’ll get to the end and find out it’s not interesting. Hard to say from here.

With friendliness!

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