B. Alan Wallace
B. Alan Wallace is president of the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies. He trained for many years as a monk in Buddhist monasteries in India and Switzerland. He has taught Buddhist theory and practice in Europe and America since 1976 and has served as interpreter for numerous Tibetan scholars and contemplatives, including H. H. the Dalai Lama. After graduating summa cum laude from Amherst College, where he studied physics and the philosophy of science, he earned his MA and PhD in religious studies at Stanford University. He has edited, translated, authored, and contributed to more than forty books on Tibetan Buddhism, medicine, language, and culture, and the interface between science and religion.
Alan is also the founder of the Contemplative Research (CCR, http://www.centerforcontemplativeresearch.org/) near the town of Castellina Marittima in Tuscany, Italy. The CCR is dedicated to researching the role and methods of the ancient contemplative practices of Shamatha and Vipashyana, and their involvement in mental health and wellbeing and to fathoming the nature and origins of human consciousness.
The program builds on the results of the Shamatha Project (http://www.shamatha.org). It is guided by a Scientific Advisory Board that includes the Nobel Prize-winning biologist Elizabeth Blackburn (Director, Salk Institute), neuroscientist and clinical psychologist David Presti (UC Berkeley), theoretical physicist Marcelo Gleiser (Director of the Institute for Cross-Disciplinary Engagement at Dartmouth College), and philosopher Michel Bitbol (Director of Research at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique). Cognitive scientists at the University of Pisa, the University of Trent, and the Sculoa Superiore Sant’Anna in Pisa are committed to conducting research in collaboration with the CCR. The Nature of Reality: A Dialogue Between a Buddhist Scholar and a Theoretical Physicist: In this public dialogue, Alan Wallace and Sean Carroll, a world-renowned theoretical physicist and best-selling author, discussed the nature of reality from spiritual and scientific viewpoints.
A Special Message from Alan — March 30, 2020
Amidst these turbulent and cataclysmic times, I have some very special news to share with you. We have come to a point of potential crisis, and at the same time an extraordinary opportunity has arisen with respect to the future of the Center for Contemplative Research.
As many of you know, since I first began negotiating in December 2014 with the local authorities and later indirectly with the regional Tuscan authorities about procuring rezoning and building permits for the property in Castellina Marittima, the most important, irreversible decision I’ve had to make has been to spend virtually all the donations offered by hundreds of my students on the purchase of the 5 hectares of land and the Pellati house. Feeling the gravity of this decision, I made it clear that before making these purchases, I needed absolute assurance that we had been granted both the rezoning and the building permit for the 18 cabins. I was assured that this was the case, and then authorized the purchases last May. So, you can imagine my profound dismay when I was informed on March 18th of this year that we have not in fact been granted the permit for the 18 cabins from either the local or regional government. And with the current lockdown in place throughout Italy, all government meetings have been indefinitely postponed. There is now no way of predicting when the actual building permit will be granted, much less when actual construction could begin.
By next month, SBI will likely have raised $800,000 toward creating the first Center for Contemplative Research, but even if we were able to spend that on the first phase of construction—leveling 18 sites, laying the foundations, and digging the septic systems—we would still need to raise another $1.9 million to construct all the cabins. Of course, that’s assuming we will be granted the permit to do so, which we must now admit is still not certain. Furthermore, the prospects for creating the CCR in Tuscany have to be viewed in light of the disastrous impact of the coronavirus on Italy and the entire world, resulting in a catastrophic decline of the global economy and severe limitations on international travel. Since it can also be much more difficult to raise funds during times of economic hardship, there’s simply no telling how long it would be before we could actually finish even a few of the cabins, let alone all 18 of them.
At the same time—and I can only regard this as a blessing from the buddhas—due to the emergency changes in my travel plans, I’ve been in self-quarantine/retreat for the past two weeks at the Nada Carmelite Hermitage in Crestone, Colorado. This stunning retreat center has been on the market for more than a year, initially offered at $1.8 million. It is a 110-acre property set beneath spectacular mountain peaks, with 11 retreat cabins in excellent condition, as well as 6 older cabins that can be rebuilt on essentially the same footprints, and several large structures that could hold Dharma teachings for an audience of at least 50 people. The Nada Hermitage property can now be purchased at a significantly reduced price, even below what is listed on the website. Unlike the Castellina property, which has zero growth potential once the proposed 18 cabins are built, we could easily build another 20-25 cabins on the land here at Nada, in addition to the 17 sites that have cabins already. The realtor’s website linked above offers a clear idea of the enormous potential for this land, which was zoned “Institutional” from its inception 30 years ago for exactly the kind of retreat center we have planned for all along.
For all these reasons, I have a very special request for all of you who have donated toward the $800,000 that we have raised since the purchase of the Castellina land last May. I would like to ask if you would allow SBI to redirect this offering so that, once we have added a substantial portion of SBI’s assets, we will have sufficient funds to purchase the Nada property outright in the near future, with no mortgage. If we are able to acquire the Nada Hermitage within the next few months, it is reasonable to say we could have aspiring yogis meditating in 17 cabins by next year, and could also begin our scientific research without further delay.
For this to take place, however, I will need to rely upon a groundswell of active support from our community so that we may bring our dream to fruition, quickly. I am only one person with two hands and a very limited set of skills. But to develop and maintain the contemplative center of our dreams will require the loving care of many people, with many hands and diverse skills. Only with the help of full-time volunteers stepping forward to help can we create the pure land we have been envisioning for so long. The land here is exquisite, 11 cabins are ready to be occupied, and 6 need to be rebuilt in the near future so that they can house retreatants in comfort for years to come. We are already preparing to draw up long-term architectural plans for cabins of various designs on many more sites, as well as a much larger residence hall in which we could eventually hold 8-week retreats. There is already a substantial maintenance complex here, with a fully-equipped carpentry shop and pottery wheel, as well as an adobe-walled vegetable garden and several greenhouses. To enable this center to flourish in a sustainable way, we must call upon those who have a wide array of skills—from organic gardening to woodworking, pottery, building, land and auto-maintenance, and more—to help support a long-term community of retreatants devoted to reaching shamatha and the Mahayana path in this lifetime.
Of course, the one major drawback here is that we do not presently have a way of acquiring long-term renewable visas for non-American meditators. But I have already enlisted the help of an immigration lawyer in Los Angeles who has enthusiastically agreed to help us explore every option. However, even if we find no way to acquire such long-term visas—which we knew we could get in Tuscany thanks to ILTK—I still envision that non-U.S. citizens could come here to meditate under close spiritual guidance for six months, then return to their homelands to a retreat facility they have arranged in advance, and there continue in retreat with ongoing long-distance guidance from the teachers under whom they have already trained here in Colorado. The advantage to this is that many more non-U.S. citizens could have the opportunity to practice in the same number of cabins, even while some cabins would of course be occupied by Americans for sustained multi-year periods.
Despite this momentous change of emphasis right now, I am still as committed as ever to developing a CCR on the 5 hectares of land in Castellina, raising the required money and building as many cabins as are eventually permitted. All the reasons for settling on that land—very much including the blessing and encouragement from Khandrola—are still as compelling for me as they were from the beginning. But as many of you know, I’ll turn 70 next month, and after waiting for more than 5 years on rezoning and building permits, there is still no clear end in sight to the bureaucracy there. In our current global crisis, the imperative is stronger than ever for us to support yogis in long-term retreat so that they may achieve shamatha and vipashyana, identify pristine awareness, and reach the path as soon as possible. We must also begin the scientific research without delay, so that our contemplative and scientific discoveries can be made public. This is no time to simply wait for the global pandemic to subside. As you know, I feel it is crucial for modern meditators to reach such realizations soon, precisely amidst the crisis, both for the revitalization of the Buddhadharma and for the benefit of all beings.
I thank you for all your efforts over the years to help us realize our vision and hope that we will all continue working together to create not just one, but eventually a global network of centers for contemplative research. We need to make a formal offer for the Nada Hermitage property quite soon, so if for any reason you do not wish your previous donation toward the building of cabin foundations at Castellina to be redirected toward the Nada property, please write to Sangay at <[email protected]> by Monday, April 6th. Though it may now be years before we can put those donations designated exclusively for Castellina to use, we will honor your decision and hold those funds until the many difficult situations in Italy have shifted sufficiently for us to resume our CCR project there.
However, if indeed you support my request to redirect your donations toward purchase of the Nada Hermitage property, no answer is needed; I will take your noble silence as a warm affirmation of the marvelous opportunity that has risen up to meet us in this difficult time.
Meanwhile, if you can envision yourself moving to the Nada Hermitage land in the near future as a skilled volunteer—even taking into account the current restrictions of the coronavirus—please write to Sangay as soon as possible. I need to know I have your full support in this newly formed vision of a Center for Contemplative Research in the United States at last. We hope to begin work as soon as the 8-week retreat is complete.
Once again I would like to invite each one of you to consider participating in the coming 8-week retreat online, whether by audio- or video-stream, or both, especially if you would like to be involved directly or indirectly with the CCR in the months and years to come. These teachings, practices, and the realizations to which they lead are the foundation and goal for everything we wish to achieve here.
To honor the sacred lineage of these teachings, I do ask that anyone who registers for this retreat listen to my oral commentary to the Vajra Essence in its entirety, though you may take as much time as you wish to do so. Also, please know that you may register for this particular retreat at any time, even after it is over. We want these teachings to be available to you for the long term.
I am praying for each of you and for all the world, that we may all be blessed with good health, safety, and genuine well-being in these tumultuous times,
Books, Courses & Podcasts
Tibetan Buddhism from the Ground Up
As long as our minds are dominated by the conditions of the external world, we are bound to remain in a state of dissatisfaction, always vulnerable to grief and fear. How then can we develop an inner sense of well-being and redefine our relationship to a world that seems unavoidably painful and unkind?
Many have found a practical answer to that question in the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism. Here at last is an organized overview of these teachings, beginning with the basic themes of the sutras—the general discourses of the Buddha—and continuing through the esoteric concepts and advanced practices of Tantra. Unlike other introductions to Tibetan Buddhism, this accessible, enjoyable work doesn’t stop with theory and history, but relates timeless spiritual principles to the pressing issues of modern life, both in terms of our daily experience and our uniquely Western world view.
This fascinating, highly readable book asks neither unquestioning faith nor blind obedience to abstract concepts or religious beliefs. Rather, it challenges us to question and investigate life’s issues for ourselves in the light of an ancient and effective approach to the sufferings and joys of the human condition.
In life and in death, in meditation and in sleep, every transitional stage of consciousness, or bardo, provides an opportunity to overcome limitations, frustrations, and fears. The profound teachings in this book provide the understanding and instruction necessary to turn every phase of life into an opportunity for uncontrived, natural liberation.
Like the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Natural Liberation is a terma, a “hidden treasure” attributed to the eighth-century master Padmasambhava. Gyatrul Rinpoche’s lucid commentary accompanies the text, illuminating the path of awakening to the point of full enlightenment. Natural Liberation is an essential contribution to the library of both scholars and practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism.
Inspired by years of scholarly training and decades of solitary retreat, Tibetan monk Gen Lamrimpa offers a concise overview of all phases of the Kalachakra practice: the preliminaries, the initiation, and finally, the stages of generation and completion. With remarkable clarity, he makes the Six-Session Guruyoga practice accessible to all practitioners, and deepens our understanding and appreciation of this sublime teaching of the Buddha.
Gen Lamrimpa begins this eminently practical explanation by emphasizing the importance of a compassionate motivation for spiritual practice. He then explores the nature of suffering and the cycle of existence that traps all living beings, and concludes with a detailed account of the Six-Phase Yoga, which is meant to be recited and contemplated three times during the day and three times at night. Alan Wallace’s introduction illuminates both Kalachakra’s rich history and Gen Lamrimpa’s unique contribution to our understanding.
This book provides a clear explanation of Kalachakra as set forth within the context of the Six-Session Guruyoga, a daily meditation practice for initiates. Transcending Time presents all phases of Kalachakra practice—the preliminaries, the initiation, and finally, the stages of generation and completion.
The Attention Revolution
As featured in Psychology Today.
Meditation offers, in addition to its many other benefits, a method for achieving previously inconceivable levels of concentration. Author B. Alan Wallace has nearly thirty years’ practice in attention-enhancing meditation, including a retreat he performed under the guidance of the Dalai Lama. An active participant in the much-publicized dialogues between Buddhists and scientists, Alan is uniquely qualified to speak intelligently to both camps, and The Attention Revolution is the definitive presentation of his knowledge.
Beginning by pointing out the ill effects that follow from our inability to focus, Wallace moves on to explore a systematic path of meditation to deepen our capacity for deep concentration. The result is an exciting, rewarding “expedition of the mind,” tracing everything from the confusion at the bottom of the trail to the extraordinary clarity and power that come with making it to the top. Along the way, the author also provides interludes and complementary practices for cultivating love, compassion, and clarity in our waking and dreaming lives.
Attention is the key that makes personal change possible, and the good news is that it can be trained. This book shows how.
Stilling the Mind
In his previous book, The Attention Revolution, bestselling author Alan Wallace guided readers through the stages of shamatha, a meditation for focusing the mind. In Stilling the Mind, he uses the wisdom of Dzogchen—the highest of all the meditation traditions—to open up the shamatha practice into a space of vast freedom. Here, Wallace introduces us to Dudjom Lingpa’s Vajra Essence, one of the most cherished works of the Nyingma school from which Dzogchen stems. With his trademark enthusiasm and keen intelligence, Wallace makes obscure concepts intelligible to contemporary readers and allows us to glimpse the profound realizations of a great nineteenth-century spiritual adept.
Read Dudjom Lingpa’s biography at the Treasury of Lives.
Dudjom Lingpa’s Visions of the Great Perfection
Runner-up for 2017 Shantarakshita Award for Excellence in Translation from the Tsadra Foundation
From the preeminent Tibetan scholar B. Alan Wallace comes the much-anticipated Dudjom Lingpa’s Visions of the Great Perfection.
This limited-edition set includes elegant clothbound editions of all three volumes, beautifully presented in a slipcase.
Düdjom Lingpa (1835–1904) was one of the foremost tantric masters of nineteenth-century Tibet. This new series includes Düdjom Lingpa’s five visionary teachings on the Great Perfection (Dzogchen), the pinnacle of practice in Tibet’s oldest Buddhist school, along with three essential commentaries. The teachings in this series have inspired generations of Tibetans.
Volume 1 contains four works, beginning with The Sharp Vajra of Conscious Awareness Tantra, considered the root distillation of Düdjom Lingpa’s wisdom. Unpacking these quintessential verses is the Essence of Clear Meaning, a definitive commentary based on Düdjom Lingpa’s oral teachings recorded by his disciple Pema Tashi. In The Foolish Dharma of an Idiot Clothed in Mud and Feathers, Düdjom Lingpa narrates the essential Dharma teachings from the perspective of an old man rejecting superficial appearances. Finally, The Enlightened View of Samantabhadra is a masterful exposition of the Great Perfection revealed as a dialogue between wisdom beings who bestow a treasury of pith instructions and specific advice for practitioners.
Volume 2 includes Düdjom Lingpa’s most widely taught work, Buddhism Without Meditation, and two complementary works by his charismatic female disciple, Sera Khandro, who is accomplished and well loved in her own right. Her Garland for the Delight of the Fortunate spells out the implications of the root text’s highly condensed verses.
Volume 3 contains Düdjom Lingpa’s magisterial Vajra Essence, his most extended meditation on the path of Great Perfection, in many senses a commentary on all his other Dzogchen works.
Buddhahood Without Meditation
The practice of Dzogchen, the Great Perfection, is the pinnacle of the nine vehicles of practice taught in the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. The highly influential mystic Düdjom Lingpa (1835–1904) and his disciple Sera Khandro (1892–1940), the most prolific female writer in Tibetan history, here illuminate the methods to discover our own primordial purity and abide in uncontrived awareness.
Buddhahood Without Meditation: This is Düdjom Lingpa’s most widely taught visionary text. In it wisdom beings and historical figures in the Great Perfection lineage emphasize the view of cutting through (trekchö) to the original purity of pristine awareness via the four special samayas, or pledges, of the Great Perfection: nonexistence, oneness, uniform pervasiveness, and spontaneous actualization. At each stage of his spiritual progress, Düdjom Lingpa’s doubts are dispelled and his realizations enhanced by pithy advice.
The Fine Path to Liberation: Sera Khandro establishes the necessary motivation and conduct for receiving teachings such as Buddhahood Without Meditation. This sublime Dharma is to be seen in the context of the five perfections of the sambhogakaya: the teacher, place, time, disciples, and Dharma are fully perfected and must not be reified as ordinary.
Garland for the Delight of the Fortunate: Sera Khandro fills in the gaps of Buddhahood Without Meditation, explaining the metaphors, and spelling out the implications of the root text’s highly condensed verses. This is an essential key for unlocking Düdjom Lingpa’s profound wisdom.
Heart of the Great Perfection
Düdjom Lingpa (1835–1904) was one of the foremost tantric masters of his time. This new series includes his visionary teachings on the Great Perfection (Dzogchen), the pinnacle of practice in Tibet’s oldest Buddhist school. Volume 1 contains four works explaining the view and practice of the Great Perfection, the signature style of meditation of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism:
The Sharp Vajra of Conscious Awareness Tantra: This work is considered the root distillation of Düdjom Lingpa’s wisdom.
Essence of Clear Meaning: This definitive commentary, which unpacks the quintessential verses of The Sharp Vajra, is based on Düdjom Lingpa’s oral teachings recorded by his disciple Pema Tashi.
The Foolish Dharma of an Idiot Clothed in Mud and Feathers: Düdjom Lingpa narrates the essential Dharma teachings from the perspective of an old man rejecting superficial appearances.
The Enlightened View of Samantabhadra: A masterful exposition of the Great Perfection is revealed as a dialogue between wisdom beings who bestow a treasury of pith instructions and specific advice for practitioners.
While the teachings in this series have inspired generations of Tibetans, few have been published in translation—until now.
Lerab Lingpa (1856–1926), also known as Tertön Sogyal, was one of the great Dzogchen (Great Perfection) masters of the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries and a close confidant and guru of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. This volume contains translations by B. Alan Wallace of two works that are representative of the lineage of this great “treasure revealer,” or tertön.
The first work, composed by Lerab Lingpa himself, is The Vital Essence of Primordial Consciousness. It presents pith instructions on all the stages of the Great Perfection, which is the highest form of meditation and practice in the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. In this practice, the meditator comes to see directly the ultimate nature of consciousness itself. The work guides the reader from the common preliminaries through to the highest practices of the Great Perfection—the direct crossing over and the achievement of the rainbow body.
The second work, Selected Essays on Old and New Views of the Secret Mantrayana, is a collection of seven essays by two of Lerab Lingpa’s close disciples, Dharmasara and Jé Tsultrim Zangpo. Dharmasara wrote six of the essays, providing detailed, erudite explanations of the compatibility among the theories and practices of Great Perfection, Mahamudra (a parallel practice tradition found in other schools), and the Madhyamaka view, especially as these are interpreted by the Indian pandita Candrakirti, the Nyingma master Longchen Rabjam, and Tsongkhapa, founder of the Geluk school of Tibetan Buddhism. The one essay by Jé Tsultrim Zangpo (a.k.a. Tulku Tsullo), “An Ornament of the Enlightened View of Samantabhadra,” contextualizes the Great Perfection within the broader framework of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism and then elucidates all the stages of practice of the Great Perfection, unifying the profound path of cutting through and the vast path of the spontaneous actualization of the direct crossing over.
This volume will be of great interest for all those interested in the theory and practice of the Great Perfection and the way it relates to the wisdom teachings of Tsongkhapa and others in the new translation schools of Tibetan Buddhism.
Fathoming the Mind
Fathoming the Mind continues the commentary to Düdjom Lingpa’s Vajra Essence that appeared in Stilling the Mind, daringly contextualizing Buddhist teachings on the Great Perfection as a revolutionary challenge to many contemporary beliefs. This companion volume stems from an oral commentary that B. Alan Wallace gave to the next section of the Vajra Essence, on the cultivation of contemplative insight, or vipaśyanā, that fathoms the nature of existence as a whole. Düdjom Lingpa’s revelation consists of a fascinating dialogue that occurred during his pure vision of Samantabhadra, personification of primordial consciousness, manifesting as the youthful form of the Lake-born Vajra emanation of Padmasambhava, in dialogue with an entourage of bodhisattvas symbolizing various aspects of Düdjom Lingpa’s mind.
In continuing to reflect on Düdjom Lingpa’s writings and their relevance to the modern world, Wallace was inspired to elaborate extensively on his original commentary. This book includes introductory essays and an afterword, which explore how the insights discussed here might contribute to yet a new “contemplative revolution,” one that would be as far-reaching in its implications as the scientific revolutions triggered by the discoveries of Galileo, Darwin, and Einstein.