on Contemplative Science

B. Alan Wallace, lecturer, scholar, writer, translator and the president and founder of The Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies, discusses how the contemplative methods of Buddhism and the scientific methods of enquiry need to come together in order to obtain a deeper understanding of the mind and consciousness.

contemplative science

Richard Bright: What are the aims of The Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies?

B Alan Wallace: I think this is best answered in the mission statement for the Institute: The Institute’s research emphasizes the integration of scientific approaches with contemplative methods adhering to equally high standards, radically expanding the study of the mind to explore its potentials more fully than ever before. Its practice and education focus is on the cultivation of human flourishing and genuine happiness through exceptional mental health and balance, bringing the physical and psychological benefits of training awareness to ever-broader segments of the population and all areas of life.

RB: How did your background in science inform your experiences as a Buddhist monk, and visa versa?

AW: I was trained in biology before temporarily suspending my western education for 13 years while I immersed myself in Tibetan Buddhism, and during my final years as a monk I studied physics. This scientific background encouraged me to put to the test of experience Buddhist theories about the nature and potentials of the human mind. I was never content to treat them simply as philosophical speculations or religious beliefs. My 14 years as a Buddhist monk and the subsequent 26 years as a dedicated Buddhist contemplative and teacher have inspired me to investigate both the common grounds and the points of divergence between modern science and Buddhism. The consequence of this dual background is that I take a “radically empirical” approach (to borrow a phrase from William James) to the study of Buddhism and science.

RB: What is consciousness? Can you give us a basic sense of the different ways that this word is understood by scientists and Buddhists?

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