About B. Alan Wallace

B Alan Wallace


Born in Pasadena, California in 1950, Alan Wallace was raised and educated in the United States, Scotland, and Switzerland. In 1968, he enrolled in the University of California at San Diego, where for two years he prepared for a career in ecology, with a secondary interest in philosophy and religion. However, during his third year of undergraduate studies at the University of Göttingen in West Germany, his interests shifted more towards philosophy and religion, and he began to study Tibetan Buddhism and the Tibetan language.


In 1971, he discontinued his formal Western education to go to Dharamsala, India, where he studied Tibetan Buddhism, medicine, and language for four years. During his first year in Dharamsala, he lived in the home of Dr. Yeshi Dhonden, personal physician of H. H. the Dalai Lama. Throughout his stay in Dharamsala, he frequently served as interpreter for Dr. Yeshi Dhonden, and under his guidance he completed a translation of a classic Tibetan medical text. In 1973, he was ordained as a novice Buddhist monk and began training at the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics, in which all instruction, study, and debate were conducted entirely in Tibetan.


In 1975, he received full Buddhist monastic ordination by H.H. the Dalai Lama and at his request joined the eminent Tibetan Buddhist scholar Geshe Rabten in Switzerland, first at the Tibet Institute in Rikon, and later at the Center for Higher Tibetan Studies in Mt. Pèlerin. Over the next four years, he continued his own studies and monastic training, translated Tibetan texts, interpreted for Geshe Rabten and many other Tibetan Lamas, including the H.H. Dalai Lama, and taught Buddhist philosophy and meditation in Switzerland, Italy, Germany, France, and England. He also translated and edited Geshe Rabten’s autobiography, published under the title, The Life and Teachings of Geshé Rabten (George Allen & Unwin 1980).


At the end of 1979, Alan left Switzerland, and the following spring began a four-year series of contemplative retreats, first in India, under the guidance of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and later in Sri Lanka and the United States.
 During most of his six-month stay in Sri Lanka, from the autumn of 1980 to the spring of 1981, Alan was in retreat under the guidance of Balangoda Ananda Maitreya Thero, at the latter’s home temple in Udumulla, receiving instruction in the Theravada tradition of meditation.

In 1984, after a thirteen-year absence from Western academia, Alan enrolled at Amherst College to complete his undergraduate education. There he studied physics, Sanskrit, and the philosophical foundations of modern physics, and in 1987 he graduated summa cum laude and phi beta kappa. His honors thesis was subsequently published in two volumes: Choosing Reality: A Buddhist View of Physics and the Mind (Snow Lion, 1996) and Transcendent Wisdom: A Commentary on the Ninth Chapter of Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life (Snow Lion, 1988).
 Following his sojourn at Amherst, he spent nine months in contemplative retreat in the high desert of California’s Eastern Sierras.

Later in 1988, he organized a one-year meditation retreat near Castle Rock, Washington for twelve people led by the Tibetan contemplative Gen Lamrimpa. Alan assisted Gen Lamrimpa in guiding the meditators through this intensive year-long shamatha retreat, during which they were trained in methods for refining and stabilizing the attention. He also translated several lecture series by Gen Lamrimpa, later published under the titles Shamatha Meditation: Tibetan Buddhist Teachings on Cultivating Meditative Quiescence (Snow Lion Publications, 1992) Realizing Emptiness: Madhyamaka Insight Meditation (Snow Lion Publications, 2002), and Transcending Time: The Kālacakra Six-Session Guruyoga (Wisdom Publications, 1999).


In the autumn of 1989, he entered the graduate program in religious studies at Stanford University, where he pursued research on the interface between Buddhism and Western science and philosophy. These studies were closely related to his role as an interpreter and organizer for the “Mind and Life” conferences with the Dalai Lama and Western scientists, beginning in 1987. Alan returned to meditation retreat from September 1993 through March 1994, before writing his dissertation.

In 1995, Alan Wallace completed his doctoral dissertation on attentional training in Tibetan Buddhism and its relation to modern psychological and philosophical theories of attention and consciousness. A modified version of his dissertation was published under the title The Bridge of Quiescence: Experiencing Tibetan Buddhist Meditation (Open Court Press, 1998), later published as Balancing the Mind: A Tibetan Buddhist Approach to Refining Attention (Snow Lion, 2005).

During his years at Stanford he wrote a second work entitled The Taboo of Subjectivity: Toward a New Science of Consciousness (Oxford University Press, 2000). During the period 1992-1997, he served as principal interpreter for the Venerable Gyatrul Rinpoche, a senior Lama of the Nyingma Order of Tibetan Buddhism. During this time, he translated five classic Tibetan treatises on contemplative methods for exploring the nature of consciousness together with Gyatrul Rinpoche’s oral commentaries.

From 1995-1997, he was a Visiting Scholar in the departments of religious studies and psychology at Stanford University. During this time, he and his wife, Dr. Vesna A. Wallace, produced a new translation from the Sanskrit and Tibetan of the classic text A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life (Snow Lion, 1997).


From 1997-2001, Alan Wallace taught in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he held classes on Tibetan Buddhism, culture, and language, as well as on the interface between science and religion. After leaving UCSB in June 2001, he once again spent six months in a solitary contemplative retreat in the high desert of California.

In 2003 he established the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies, and during the decade that followed, he gained international renown as a teacher of Buddhist meditation, psychology, philosophy, and the interface between Buddhism and science. During this time he published Buddhism and Science: Breaking New Ground (Columbia University Press, 2003), Contemplative Science: Where Buddhism and Neuroscience Converge (Columbia University Press, 2007), Hidden Dimensions: The Unification of Physics and Consciousness (Columbia University Press, 2007), Mind in the Balance: Meditation in Science, Buddhism, and Christianity (Columbia University Press, 2009), and Meditations of a Buddhist Skeptic: A Manifesto for the Mind Sciences and Contemplative Practice (Columbia University Press, 2011). He returned to solitary retreat from December 2012 through June 2013 in Santa Barbara, California.

Beginning in 2010, he began teaching eight-week retreats once or twice a year, first in Phuket, Thailand, then in Araluen, Australia, and later at the Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa in Pomaia, Italy. These retreats have gained international following, and most are still available online from the Santa Barbara Institute.

2018 – Present

In 2018, he established the Foundation for Contemplative Research in Castellina Marittima, Italy; in 2020 he founded the Center for Contemplative Research in Crestone, Colorado, and in 2021 he founded a third such center in the Matiri Valley on the South Island of New Zealand.

His most recent books include Open Mind: View and Meditation in the Lineage of Lerab Lingpa (Wisdom Publications, 2018) and Fathoming the Mind: Inquiry and Insight in Düdjom Lingpa’s Vajra Essence (Wisdom Publications, 2018).