The experience of absorption : comparison of the mental processes of meditation between emic yogic and etic neuroscientific perspectives on Ishvara Pranidhana meditation
Modernity has seen the exchange of ideas about cognition between western science and eastern meditation traditions. In particular, western ways of thinking about the natural world have infiltrated Indian theories of yoga. This intersection of ideas in the twentieth-century has resulted in a problematic trend to theorize yogic phenomena, including meditation, in scientific terms. These translations converge on explicating yogic processes within a context of advancing knowledge about the brain. This translational approach to bringing etic and emic perspectives together in the same framework results in interpretations of meditation that succumb to problems cognitive science faces at a broader level in theorizing cognition and mind-body interrelations. In this study, I take a different approach to bringing emic and etic perspectives together by placing a phenomenologically interpreted emic account of absorption (the meditative shift in consciousness) into dialogue with current scientific understandings of three central mental processes of meditation. Specifically, I analyze ways of conceptualizing attention, memory, and emotion, and their underlying mechanisms as posited in yoga and science, focusing on the problem of how each system interprets the reality of absorption. This comparison suggests a basic similarity between the two systems: theorizing cognition and meditative absorption in terms of embodiment. This finding emphasizes the dual nature of embodiment as both experiential and physical. Finally, I consider this dialogue from an embodied mind perspective, an emerging way of thinking about and theorizing the mind-body in cognitive science, because this perspective challenges longstanding theoretical problems in western understandings of how the mind works. This analysis suggests that theorizing meditation in these dual terms of embodiment potentially solves the reductive challenges of dualistic and materialist philosophy that have plagued both religious and naturalistic attempts to explain absorption. This interdisciplinary dialogue provides a framework with which to think more critically about translational and cross-disciplinary efforts that have previously confused the goals of yoga and science and their respective foci on practice and mechanisms. I conclude that bridging ideas in this dialogical way reveals a complementary perspective between phenomenological and biological ways of understanding the mind that both hinge on embodied cognition.