17 Apr 2016

Alan opens the afternoon session quoting professor Paul Davies and the emphasis that is commonly given in science to search for meaning outside ourselves:

"Whatever strategy is used, searching for ET is still a huge shot in the dark. There may be no intelligent life out there, or even life of any sort. But to not even try would be hugely disappointing. Part of what makes us human is our sense of curiosity and adventure, and even the act of looking is a valuable exercise. As Frank Drake, the astronomer who began SETI on a shoestring budget in 1960, expresses it, SETI is really a search for ourselves, who we are and how we fit into the great cosmic scheme of things.” – Time Magazine, July 23, 2015

Inspired by our retreat environment, he reminds us that we should do more like Galileo: if we want to understand a phenomena, then we should look the phenomena itself, and not outside it. That was the approach taken by William James and his emphasis on introspection. Unfortunately, as he points out, the introspection movement died and one of the reasons for it is that people had no means of training attention or introspection. Besides that, even the scientists themselves did not practice.

After a short commentary about dealing with impediments in the Shamatha practice, he returns to the topic of objectivity – as of being free of subjective bias – in science. He recalls that this is as important in Buddhism as in science. As in the example above from the SETI project, the point here is that we would need to know (phenomena) objectively, independent of the system of measurement. As far as the study of the mind is concerned from the Buddhist perspective, there is no way to do this objectively, because there is no mind there objectively. Alan explores this topic further in the book The Taboo of Subjectivity.

To overcome the problems related to understanding the nature mind, Alan starts drawing on a vision and common practices used for example in the Shamatha Project, like developing a common vocabulary, common observations to then arrive at a “consensual body of Insight”, a similar approach to that used by mathematicians. This would be a way to overcome the problem of the subjectivity.

Meditation is on Settling the Mind in the Natural State.

After meditation, Alan returns to the text by Karma Chagme on shamatha (page 3) and moves back on to explore again the section on the development of paranormal abilities or siddhis by way of shamatha – presented yesterday. Many of these abilities, he states, can be similarly explored in the dream state, the perfect lab for the mind he says.

He finishes further exploring the topic of making objective observations about the mind and recalling that all these siddhis described in the text are a form of “technology” (of the dhyānas), and not to be seen as something “supernatural”. He adds that this is greatly described in the works of Buddhaghosa.

The Podcast ends with a brief celebration for Alan’s birthday.

Meditation starts at 27:50

Please contribute to make these, and future podcasts freely available.

Download (MP3 / 59 MB)


This lecture does not have a text transcript. Please contact us if you’d like to volunteer to assist our transcription team.


Ask questions about this lecture on the Buddhism Stack Exchange or the Students of Alan Wallace Facebook Group. Please include this lecture’s URL when you post.