The Center for Contemplative Research is a project of the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies, founded in 2002 by Alan Wallace. The Santa Barbara Institute is dedicated to interdisciplinary research and education to advance understanding of the nature and potentials of consciousness. It was established as a nexus for advancing interdisciplinary and cross-cultural understanding that joins scientific knowledge and spiritual practice. It is a non-sectarian organization that reaches out to the scientific and academic communities, a variety of contemplative traditions, and the general public.
About Alan Wallace
Alan Wallace is a prominent voice in the emerging discussion between contemporary Buddhist thinkers and scientists who question the materialist presumptions of their 20th-century paradigms. He left his college studies in 1971 and moved to Dharamsala, India to study Tibetan Buddhism, medicine and language.
He was ordained by H.H. the Dalai Lama, and over fourteen years as a monk he studied with and translated for several of the generation’s greatest lamas. In 1984 he resumed his Western education at Amherst College where he studied physics and the philosophy of science. He then applied that background to his PhD research at Stanford on the interface between Buddhism and Western science and philosophy.
Since 1987 he has been a frequent translator and contributor to meetings between the Dalai Lama and prominent scientists, and he has written and translated more than 40 books. Along with his scholarly work, Alan is regarded as one of the West’s preeminent meditation teachers and retreat guides. He is the founder and director of the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies and is the motivating force behind the develop of the Center for Contemplative Research in Tuscany, Italy.
After years of planning, in 2007 the Shamatha Project was launched, and it remains the largest scientific study of meditation conducted to this day. This research was initially conceived by Alan Wallace, who then recruited the neuroscientist Dr. Clifford Saron (University of California, Davis) to serve as its Principal Investigator. The researchers included an expert team of psychologists and neuroscientists from multiple universities. Co-sponsored by the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies, this project entailed two three-month retreats in which 30 people engaged in a residential retreat under the guidance of Alan Wallace. The great success of this study, for which peer-reviewed scientific papers continue to be published, provided the inspiration for the creation of our Center.
Equal respect for contemplative and scientific insights
While hundreds of other scientific studies on meditation had been conducted prior to the Shamatha Project, and hundreds more have been since, they are all conducted by scientists performing physiological and psychological measurements on the meditating subjects. But the insights into the nature and potentials of consciousness on the part of meditators—even highly advanced ones—have been largely overlooked. Moreover, the metaphysical belief that all mental processes and states of consciousness are nothing more than functions of the brain has virtually never been questioned in the course of previous research, even though this assumption runs counter to the insights of many generations of contemplatives, East and West. Research in our Center will depart from this Eurocentric and materialist bias and treat both contemplative and scientific insights with equal respect. At the same time, we will maintain the highest standards of intellectual rigor by exposing all subjective and objective evidence to critical evaluation, never relying simply on the authority of religious or materialist beliefs.