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Happiness — a Science of Mind

Alan Wallace

     ... scholar of science, Buddhist teacher and practitioner. With degrees in physics and the philosophy of science from Amherst College and a Ph.D. in religious studies from Stanford University, Dr. Wallace spent 14 years training as a Tibetan Buddhist monk. He was ordained by His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. Dr. Wallace's several influential books include Genuine Happiness: Meditation as the Path to Fulfillment. He founded and is President of the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies and is on the Board of Directors and Scientific Advisory Board of the Mind & Life Institute.


A revolution is upon us, says B. Alan Wallace, founder of the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies. We could all be extraordinary people with extraordinary hearts, minds and states of consciousness, as well as talents and skills.

The revolution's source? The exploration of consciousness and the mind, using direct, immediate, first-hand observation -- meditation. This is the serious meditation in the Sanskrit sense of "cultivation" -- not meditation's cute or trivial impersonators -- and the world's many wisdom cultures offer a wide variety.

What's between us and extraordinary?  Being stuck in the modern, Dr. Wallace says, specifically modernity's obsession with all things external and our "imagination deficit disorder." That and our overwhelming lack of balance.

With this revolution comes, Dr. Wallace hopes, a new Renaissance. He sees enormous possibilities for an unprecedented fusion of the East and the West. How? Maintain the strengths, beauty, depth and acuity of modernity while tapping into the deep wisdom cultures of the world.

This is not a garden-variety revolution Dr. Wallace sees coming. It will call for a radical re-orientation of our way of life, our way of being present in the world. It will come when we cultivate our heart and mind to develop exceptional states of mental balance -- what Dr. Wallace calls genuine happiness -- instead of the empty rituals and hollow symbols of pseudo-happiness rapidly killing our spirits and our planet.

Modernity is now a global phenomenon, and Dr. Wallace finds it embarrassing how parochial the West can be. Fundamentalism infects philosophers and scientists (their detractors call them advocates of scientism) as it does religion. The common denominator of this fundamentalism is also modern: rigidity and outward orientation; and, in the case of science, hostility to the introspection championed by William James, one of the great pioneers of Western psychology.

"Balance" is key, Dr. Wallace reiterates. And there are guiding stars. Start with non-violence, he insists, reminding us of the calamitous 20th century and humanity's current suicidal path. Where possible, be of service. Cultivate the seeds of happiness and well-being in ourselves, other people, other species and the environment. And use meditation. Its foundation is ethics, sorely needed by science.

Take inspiration for the Renaissance from the one in the 15th and 16th century out of which modernity itself was born, Dr. Wallace urges.  Once again, two essential catalysts can liberate us from ossification. Challenge authority (the power now held by institutions including universities, government and business.) And learn from other, long neglected cultures. No one group, institution or world view -- not even science -- that has all the answers.

There's no need to reinvent the "wheel” of introspection, Dr. Wallace says. Meditation techniques of introspection using our sixth door to experience have been fine-tuned over thousands of years by the great contemplative traditions including, but not restricted to, Buddhism.

Why start with meditation?  Because, says Dr. Wallace, it is based on sorely needed ethics and it seeks the balance of a cultivated heart and mind. Then, all in good time, we can strive for that which all great traditions offer -- the possibility of transcendence.  

Turns out, Dr. Wallace concludes, William James was right. "For the moment, what we attend to is reality."

[This Program was recorded October 11, 2006, in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.] 

Conversation 1

We're on the brink of a new world we can access using largely unexplored inner resources, Dr. Alan Wallace tells Paula Gordon and Bill Russell. Genuine happiness is not contingent on the external things he links to humanity's current suicidal course.

Conversation 1 RealAudio6:02       

Conversation 2

Modernity, now global, is limited by its focus on the external, Dr. Wallace shows. He offers William James' long-dismissed insight about introspection as a path toward actual feelings of flourishing and well-being. Using the 20th century as a stark reminder of humanity's conflicting capacities for wisdom and violence (how we address that anomaly will decide the fate of civilization but we do not have the right take all other species down with us, Dr. Wallace hypothesizes an alternative vision:  A Renaissance of wisdom, catalyzed by challenging authority and taking inspiration from earlier civilizations.  The one in the 15th and 16th centuries did and can be our inspiration.

Conversation 1 RealAudio11:07         

Conversation 3

At the best of times, practitioners of the world's wisdom traditions were empiricists using our sixth door of perception -- James' long-neglected "introspection" -- pursuit of genuine happiness. Dr. Wallace describes the wide swath of mental phenomena of this domain (for which the modern West has no name, but the ancient Greeks had several). Cognitive sciences, especially psychology, focus on people who are normal, mentally ill or brain-damaged, Dr. Wallace reports, urging us beyond this “imagination deficit disorder.” Balance is the key missing ingredient in our time, Dr. Wallace says, demonstrating how a Renaissance and a fusion between East and West can allow us to flourish.

Conversation 1 RealAudio12:09         

Conversation 4

Dr. Wallace proposes ways to go beyond all kinds of ideological hegemony or imperialism. The Renaissance he anticipates will be sparked by tapping into wisdom cultures all over the planet, he says, because no one group, institution or world view (including science) has all the answers. We should be embarrassed by the many ways we are parochial, he says, pointing us instead to an urgently needed consideration: What are our internal resources which could give us a sense of flourishing, not only in times of felicity when things are going swell, but also in times of cataclysm, personal and environmental disaster?

Conversation 1 RealAudio13:34         

 Conversation 5

Meditation is explored as the key to finding fulfillment, being vividly engaged with the reality we are and that surrounds us. First, Dr. Wallace says, comes ethics -- which must inform science. Ethics' guiding star must be non-violence, he insists, and explains why. Then comes the cultivation of the heart and mind.  And, all in good time, transcendence.  While Buddhism over centuries has flown best on its two "wings" of wisdom and skillful means (compassion,) Dr. Wallace explains why the Dalai Lama uses the more fundamental term -- caring.

Conversation 1 RealAudio6:42          

Conversation 6

Instead of stifling your imagination with dire warnings and tragedies, Dr. Wallace counsels opening up to possibilities for flourishing under all circumstances. He celebrates possibilities ahead for todays' young people, calls us to explore what it means to be human, and proposes the missing link to the very nature of consciousness.

Conversation 1 RealAudio7:29         


We admire Dr. Wallace's intellectual rigor, appreciate his groundbreaking work and thank him for his cordiality. He cheerfully added this Conversation to an extremely full agenda during a recent visit to Atlanta, and we look forward to the time when we can continuing our Conversation.

A very special "Thank You!" to Dr. Paul Ekman (emeritus professor of psychology & former Director, Human Interaction Laboratory, University of California, San Francisco) for the beauty with which he introduced us to Dr. Wallace.

Thanks also to the Emory Tibet Partnership, the East Asian Studies Program and the Institute for Comparative and International Studies at Emory University for hosting Dr. Wallace in Atlanta and Martha Shockey, their wonderfully able Program Coordinator, for being midwife to this Conversation.

Additional Links:

Genuine Happiness: Meditation as the Path to Fulfillment, with a forward by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, is published by John Wiley & Sons.

The Attention Revolution: Unlocking the Power of the Focused Mind is published by Wisdom Publications.

Both Contemplative Science: Where Buddhism and Neuroscience Converge, part of the Columbia University Press series in Science and Religion, and Buddhism and Science: Breaking New Ground, edited by Dr. Wallace, are publications of Columbia University Press.

The Drepung Loseling Institute is the "North American Seat of Drepung Loseling Monestery."

Historian of science Anne Harrington has studied the relationships among body, mind and medicine including the effects of meditation.

Thomas Laird has written a very useful history of Tibet:  The Story of Tibet: Conversations with the Dalai Lama.

Over the years, this program series has looked at what Dr. Wallace characterizes as "religion" (from the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea) and its impacts on life today.  These programs include (in no particular order):  James Carse,  Alan Dershowitz, Robert Funk, John Shelby Spong, Robin Meyers, Cornel West, Robert Franklin, Bruce Feiler, Reza Aslan, Geneive Abdo, Kevin Phillips, Leonard Shlain and Jim Wallis.

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