Dr. Viveck Baluja, a neurologist at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, has begun a study on the effects of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra on the brain that has already yielded exciting findings and impressed hospital staff.
Dr. Baluja (Vinaya Gauracandra Das), was inspired to embark on the project by his guru Jayapataka Swami and siksa guru Nidra Dasi. He is also working with his wife Padmaksi Sri Devi Dasi, as well as members of Jayapataka Swami’s medical team headed by Dr. Achyutananda Das.
Vinaya Gauracandra began his study by observing the effects of the maha-mantra on the brain of one test subject – himself – using MEG, a neuroimaging technique for mapping brain activity.
First, the subject’s brainwaves were observed while in a peaceful, resting state. Next, the brainwaves were remeasured after the subject chanted four rounds of the Pancha Tattva mantra, followed by half an hour of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. Then the difference was recorded.
The findings were incredible.
“The data showed that the brain is not actually restful in the so-called resting state,” Vinaya says. “Your brain continues to constantly give you information. After chanting, however, the data showed almost no cortical activation, or brain activity. This is very interesting, because it shows that you’ve actually been able to calm down the brain.”
This data shows the brain at rest. Notice that it does not actually look so restful. There is activation of sending areas (red) and receiving areas (green)
What’s groundbreaking about this is that according to Vinaya, the only method doctors currently have of decreasing such brain activity is anti-epileptic medication. This is used as a therapeutic measure to treat patients with anxiety, schizophrenia, and other such mental disorders.
“Voluntarily decreasing your brain activity is unheard of,” he says. “But our findings show that we can create the same therapeutic effects of medication by chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. That’s very exciting.”
Here we see the brain after four rounds of the Pancha-tattva mantra and 30 mins of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. Notice the decreased activation in the brain, and more rest than in the ‘resting state’
Vinaya Gauracandra says that the findings also correlate with the model Lord Krishna gives in the third chapter of the Bhagavad-gita, where He says “one should steady the mind by deliberate spiritual intelligence.”
“The data showed that in the back of the brain in the area of the Cerebellum – which is associated with fine tuning and balance, and is under more automatic activation – there was more control and more stimulation after chanting,” he explains.
During chanting, lower amplitudes are seen in the central and frontal regions of the brain. But higher amplitudes are seen in posterior channels, which may reflect more activity in the cerebellum.
Vinaya says that all this has piqued the interest of members of the Director of the MEG Program at Henry Ford Hospital, who have approved the study of ten more subjects to gather more data and further validate his findings.
The subjects will all be devotees of Krishna who have been chanting for five years or more. “It’s key that they already have a taste for chanting, because it may not be so easy to get someone to chant for half an hour who hasn’t chanted before,” Vinaya says.
This study will develop baseline scientific proof of the effects of chanting on the brain.
The Institutional Review Board at Henry Ford has also approved an anonymous survey of 95,000 participants to gain their retrospective views on chanting. This next step, currently underway, will conduct an online survey of initiated devotees across the globe – or any devotees who have been chanting for some years – on their experience with chanting the maha-mantra.
“We’re asking subjectively, has it made them feel better? What has it done for them?” Vinaya says. “Is there any fluctuation? Do they feel different on days that they chant and on days that they don’t? This is to gather data on what effect chanting has on anxiety, depression, addiction, and just on your mood on a day-to-day basis.”
These ‘big data metrics’ will be used to show medical institutions the efficacy of chanting. The final phase of Vinaya Gauracandra’s project will then be to try therapeutic chanting in a hospital setting with patients who have not chanted before.
“The ISKCON Movement will benefit by metrics of success,” he says. “This data is crucial to being able to point to the effect of Srila Prabhupada’s intervention on the world in a scientific way. We’ll use it to establish the basis for clinical trials, and to point us in the right directions for where chanting is effective in increasing quality of life and where it is not.”
“For the movement to really be able to prescribe the Hare Krishna maha-mantra,” Vinaya concludes, “We need to simply collect our data in an organized fashion, so that it will no longer be viewed as a pseudo-scientific process. Then we will have unbiased data to move forward in our preaching movement, in a systematic and metric-based fashion. And we will be able to ethically approach the scientific community as Srila Prabhupada wanted.”
To take the survey on your experience with the Maha-mantra and help gain support for Dr. Baluja’s study, please click here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/Mahamantrasurvey
Aug 06, 2022
Brahmatirtha das Director, Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies