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,
Other books by B. Alan Wallace:
The Attention Revolution
Fathoming the Mind
The Vajra Essence
Heart of the Great Perfection
Buddhahood Without Meditation
Dudjom Lingpa’s Visions of the Great Perfection
Tibetan Buddhism from the Ground Up