I want to share with you—the loyal reader—some of the exciting events that have taken place over the past month or two. It all began when I emailed Alan Wallace—a Buddhist teacher and writer with a B.A in Physics and a Ph.D also—to thank him for his wonderful presentation at the Mind and its Potential conference, which some of us monks and nuns attended in the same week as His Holiness Dalai Lama teachings held in Sydney last year. You can hear the panel discussion which included HH Dalai Lama at the ABC radio show All in the Mind here
Here is Alan’s reply:
Dear Clarke, Thank you for your kind words of appreciation. I see that you, too, are devoting yourself to bringing the full vitality of the Buddhadharma into the modern world. I believe one of the most important things we can do is establish “contemplative observatories,” where people can spend years in full-time practice, deeply probing the inner resources of the mind. In that regard, you might like to know of the efforts of (name removed for privacy reasons) to create such a retreat center in Tasmania.
While I do not want to go into the details as to what this all entails—this will come later—in order to get a general feel for it; what Alan is proposing—actually he has already begun such a project—is a project which combines first-person and third-person investigation into the nature of consciousness and experience. As you can imagine Alan’s email got me thinking. I started to think more deeply about things such as: what is the best way for me to help others—a university Professor? What am I going to do after my PhD? Am I even capable of doing such things? What is it that I really feel will make the greatest contribution to the West? And so on.
Now, you may think that this is all a little premature? After all I still have two years on my PhD to go. Although this is true, I do think it is worth contemplating this now, as decisions made now, may potentially, take me down a track in which it is difficult to change later. And given that Alan has in effect offered me a job of sorts, I really needed to mull this over now, not later.
For those that may be wondering or even worried about the utility of presenting the ancient teachings of the Buddha in modern contemporary terms, take the time to listen to Alan answering a question on the meaning of emptiness by combining dependent-arising—a concept originally presented by the historical Buddha—and quantum physics here. It is short and pithy and definitely worth a listen.
So, I got in touch with this scientist, which for brevity let us call this person Jo. Jo and I had a short email exchange in which Jo detailed he/her thoughts. And I have a meeting with Jo tomorrow to begin getting into the nuts and bolts of the project. I also emailed my teacher, then spoke with him when I was in Melbourne over Christmas. Suffice to say, I got the go ahead. Thus, below is part of an email I sent to Alan affirming my commitment to the project and my commitment to the long term goal of the overall cause.
I am emailing you before my meeting with (name withheld for privacy reasons) on Monday in order to affirm my commitment to a contemplative observatory project, regardless of what happens moving forward. You may also be interested to know that although I was planning on joining a University religious department to teach Buddhist philosophy after my PhD— in fact this was the very purpose of leaving the monastery after 14 years, a decision that did not come easily I might add. As it turns out, I believe becoming a so-called hybrid is a better outcome for it will allow engagement with Western culture, while remaining a monk—something I dearly want to continue—and in a way that is arguably of greater benefit. There are, after all, brighter people than I, already teaching Buddhist philosophy within the academy. I would, therefore, simply be adding to the noise.
Thus, this directional change, I think—and so do my teachers—is a perfect fit. It will allow me to write, engage people by attending conferences/workshops/retreats, actually practice the path full-time and by the combination of all three, make a contribution to modernity—which was the very purpose of leaving the monastery in the first place. So, I want to let you know that by hook or crook I am committed to becoming a full-time contemplative, writing about that experience, helping those wishing to do the same, and establishing the means for such. In that regard, I am thinking about setting up an organization similar to SBI—perhaps in collaboration with SBI or affiliated in some way and for want of a better name calling it the Tasmanian Institute for Consciousness Studies.
Moreover, I believe a retreat center in Tasmania would be the perfect location for a contemplative observatory. Land here is very cheap (and I feel we may need land that is owned by the Institute rather than by any one person—just my opinion). The environment here is very clean, pristine in fact. It is not too hot or too cold in either summer or winter. There are less than 500,000 people on the whole island. And therefore the Institute could easily purchase good, cheap and quiet land—perfect for meditation—which is close enough to the city of Hobart in order to fly in interstate and international people such as scientists and meditators. Tasmania in a lot of ways is unique. There is, perhaps, no other place in the world like it. While not being Tasmanian, I am Australian so perhaps, I am bias. I guess the only down side is its distance from the U.S and Europe. There is also the potential for open group retreats, as many people I believe would want to visit Tasmania as a meditation type holiday. I could also see the retreat land becoming popular among mainland Australians, as Tasmania is a place that many wish to visit.
As a side note, one of my teachers Geshe Loden’s heart son and scribe—a yogi; not a scholar—when hearing of this opportunity told me a story about a nephew of Geshe Loden’s. This nephew is a Rinpoche and apparently of the same continuum as Rahula—the Buddha’s son. This Rinpoche cried when telling the story of how the Chinese burned all the books in his monastery, which was famous for first-hand accounts of meditative experiences. Not just from high lama’s but, first hand accounts of meditative experiences written by ordinary monks. He believes it would be useful to write from a personal point of view just as these monks did. He feels that many Western Buddhists will benefit from detailing the experiences of meditation as it deepens over time and by an ordinary westerner. I’m not so sure I am the right person to do this. We will see what happens.
And just when I thought that life had thrown me enough curve balls—a new project is born.
Below is a video from the Mind and Life Institute. It captures, I believe, the motivation behind and potential benefits of such a project. (if you are reading this is an email, you may need to follow the link here to view the video). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5o6_KB7tDbc
And so, I am hoping to setup such a contemplative observatory here in Tasmania. One in which collaboration between contemplatives, scientists and other academics such as philosophers and psychologists can further our collective understanding of consciousness and the human condition. After all, the ideal of the Bodhisattva—something I take very seriously—is to directly help alleviate the suffering of all beings regardless of creed. And given that UTas has a world class center for cognitive science—the Menzies Research Institute—perhaps such a collaboration is not all a sky-flower. Moreover, I see the establishment of such a center as a place where people from around the world—not just Australians and not just Buddhists—can come to Tasmania to learn meditation and participate in group retreats.
Now, obviously this is a very large undertaking. It is not something, if indeed it is even possible, that will happen over night. And moreover there are no details as yet, just lots of energy.
However, regardless of whether such a center can be established here in Tasmania, in future articles I will outlining the concepts of cognitive neuroscience. How, I believe it can make a contribution to the modern world—including real data from previous studies of the positive affect of meditation.
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UPDATE: I just received an email an Alan Wallace agreeing to the proposed that an Tasmanian center for consciousness be affiliated with the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies. So, now, in principal the Australian Institute for Consciousness Studies has an older sibling.
UPDATE: I have registered a domain for the proposed institute AustralianInstitute.org
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