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Alan Wallace: Contemplative Science: Fathoming the Human Mind and the Nature of Consciousness



Guest: Alan Wallace
Host: Pavi Mehta
Moderator: Richard Whittaker

Welcome to Awakin Calls. Every Saturday, we host a conversation with an individual whose inner journey inspires us and whose work is transforming our world in large and small ways. Awakin Calls are an all-volunteer-run offering of Service Space, a global platform founded on the simple principle that that by changing ourselves, we change the world to create a more compassionate and service-oriented society. Thank you for joining us.
Pavi: Good morning, good afternoon, good evening!. My name is Pavi Mehta and I am really excited to be your host for our weekly global Awakin Call -- welcome, and thank you for joining us! The purpose of these calls is to share stories that help plant seeds for a more compassionate society while fostering our own inner transformation. We do this by holding collective conversations with guest speakers from all walks of life -- speakers who inspire us to live in a more service-oriented way. And behind each of these calls is an entire team of ServiceSpace volunteers, whose invisible work allows us to hold this space.
Today, our special guest speaker is Alan Wallace. Thank you again for joining today's call! Let us start with a minute of silence to anchor ourselves into the space.
Welcome again to our weekly Awakin Call -- today, in conversation with Alan Wallace. As an all-volunteer offering, each Awakin Call is a conversational space that is co-created by all participants on the call, and we invite your active involvement in the conversation. In a few minutes, our moderator Richard Whittaker, will begin by engaging in an initial dialogue with our speaker and by the top of hour we'll roll into Q&A and circle of sharing -- where we invite all your reflections and questions. I've opened up the queue right now, so at any point, you can hit *6 on your phone and you'll be prompted when it's your turn to speak. You can also email us ask@servicespace.org or submit a comment or question via the webcast form, if you are listening online via the webcast. We invite your active co-creation of this space through your shared reflections and direct engagement with our guest.
As mentioned, our moderator today is Richard Whitaker. Richard is founding editor of works and conversations, a magazine that's been in publication for roughly three decades and that features original in-depth interviews with artists from all walks of life. Utterly distinctive in its approach and masterful in its quality, Richard's body of work is an unhurried labor of love the returns readers to that place of mystery and power that lies at the heart of all true craft. Richard is also the West Coast editor of Parabola magazine and a dear friend. It's a deep joy and pleasure to have him here with us today. Richard, it's over to you now.
Richard: Well, thank you so much, Pavi. Well, it's a real pleasure to have Alan Wallace with us today. I'm just going to read a brief introduction here I took off of the website of the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness studies. And I know all of you on the call have read this more extensive, wonderful introduction to Alan.
So here's a brief introduction. Alan Wallace is a prominent and important voice in the emerging discussion between contemporary Buddhist thinkers and scientists who question the materialist axioms 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 his Holiness the Dalai Lama. And over 14 years as a monk, he studied with and translated for several of this generation’s greatest llamas.
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 at the Mind and Life conferences at which the Dalai Lama and prominent scientists exchange views. 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 development of the Center for Contemplative Research in Tuscany, Italy. So welcome Alan. We're so glad you're joining us today.
Alan: Thank you, Richard. It's an honor and a pleasure to join you.
Richard: Now from the introduction that we were reading on the ServiceSpace site, the Awakin site, it mentions that in 1970, you had quite an unusual experience. You were 20 years old and hitchhiking alone in Norway. And according to my notes, you said to the universe -- I need to meet a wise old man, and I need it quickly. Would you tell that story? Tell us what happened?
Alan: That is true. Yeah! This is towards the end of a two months backpacking, hitchhiking trip all over Western Europe that I participate in primarily with, mostly with my college roommate. But he had just headed off to his third year of College or University in Scotland. It was a day of partying and I was heading back south from Bergen. From Bergen, Norway down to Göttingen, Germany where I was going to have my third year of University.
But during this hitchhiking trip, I had encountered a book on the very nature of awareness itself. Nature of mind, nature of awareness, its role in the universe from Tibetan Buddhism. I picked this up in a youth hostel in Grindelwald, Switzerland. I read it and it just resonated with me at the deepest level. I thought -- this is it. This is what I'm looking for. And that same time, I was intermittently reading The Krishnamurti Reader. Krishnamurti was a very brilliant thinker, something of, in a very positive way, an iconoclast, who encouraged people to challenge and question their assumptions, religious and otherwise. So I had this dynamic of these two influences. And so by the time I was heading back south for the first time, heading off to the university, I just felt this great yearning to find greater meaning, to find a path of Awakening, of Enlightenment, of Clarity and Liberation. And the books had inspired me. But I really wanted to have some personal guidance. So for me, iconically, it was a wise old man.
But I'm out there in the middle of the wilderness, literally, in the middle of the wilderness between Bergen and Oslo, heading towards Oslo, waiting five hours for somebody to pick me up, hitchhiking now for the first time solo, and no one picked me up. So I gave up and I was walking against the grain of traffic back to the nearest train station. So I could take a train out of that area and find another place where people would more likely pick me up. So I'm walking against the grain of traffic with my right thumb dangling, as you do hitchhiking, and I'd pretty much disengaged from my thumb because I'd given up. And then I looked over my shoulder and I saw a little black VW Bug pulled over to the side. And there was a little old man, beckoning me, as in, would you like a ride? And then I kind of looked down at my thumb and said -- oh, yes, you were inviting, weren't you? And so I brought my big Kelsey backpack and my guitar, classic American, and put it in the backseat of his little black VW Bug and got into the passenger seat.
And he, from the hitchhiker's perspective, he took me for what was basically a completely useless ride. Because I was maybe 200 miles to Oslo, and he took me 10 minutes. But during the 10 minutes, as he and I conversed, I learnt he was fluent in English. I learned in this 10 minutes that he was a Buddhist monk, who lived in Nepal, lived with Tibetans. And during the winters, he would lecture on Indian civilization and Buddhism all over Europe. And then during the summer, he was an artisan, an artist living in a little chalet, up high in the mountains in Norway, just off the road that I was traveling.
So I learned that he was a Buddhist monk. He learned that I was interested in Buddhism. And so it was just this -- too remarkable to call it a coincidence. It was the first time that I thought -- aha, maybe this universe is not simply indifferent to such calls -- "I'm looking for greater meaning. I need guidance." So he and I got immersed in our conversation and after 10 minutes, we clearly weren't finished. And so then he said, "Would you like an ice cream?" I said, "You betcha. Let's have an ice cream." And so then we continued the conversation. I was really looking for just some core guidance. Just something to set me on the next path of my journey. And he gave me just what I needed. In a very short phrase, it was extremely simple and just what I needed. And then I headed off, got another ride down to Oslo, and down onto Göttingen, and began my year of studies there. But he and I corresponded for years after that. And about 20 years ago, he's passed away now, of course, because he was a wise old man, about 47-48 years ago. But he came and visited my wife and me in Half Moon Bay, in the San Francisco Bay Area, about 20 years ago. So we connected again. It was a very long-term friendship, a very seminal meeting.
Richard: Gosh, wow, thank you for sharing that! That sounds really extraordinary. I wanted to ask you a little bit about your earlier life. Just if you would share just some of the sort of things from your earlier life that might have helped lead you to the path that you've been on now for so long?
Alan: Sure, I'm happy to do so. Well, I was raised, really I must say, in a really truly wonderful family. My father who is still alive at the age of 94 was a Baptist Theologian. He taught in a seminary, is a very good scholar. My mother was simply a loving mother. I guess all my memories of her are literally quite golden. I don't have a single negative memory of my own mother. So they were both very devout Christians and my family tree is filled with missionaries and theologians and pastors and so forth and so on. So I was raised in a very devout family and virtues and morality was central.
At the age of 13 I had an utterly marvelous science teacher who instilled in me, and I think many of the students in her class, really deep and genuine and lasting love of nature, a yearning to know the natural world, to befriend all sentient creatures, all animals, to love the natural world and preserve it. And inspired by her more than anybody else, I decided at the age of 13, I want to pursue a career in science and specifically in ecology and environmental activism. I wanted to be a wildlife biologist. That was something that really spoke to my heart.
So that was my vision of what my life would be until I got into college at the age of 18 to the University of California, San Diego. And I continued there. I was a good student. I thought I was basically running on just steam, that is just by sheer momentum. But I was looking for greater meaning. I just had a kind of passionate yearning. In science, I found a lot of truth, but I did not find a really deep meaning in my own life that would lead to greater wisdom, compassion, inner transformation. And there were simply elements of Christian doctrine that I just couldn't make sense of. So this is not a criticism of Christianity, it was just elements -- “I can't make sense of this.” So it was this yearning to live a life that is true, in accordance with reality, and a life that is filled with meaning and opening onto a path of greater and greater meaning, and fulfillment. Those are the deep roots of that stray seminal meeting with this old Buddhist monk in Norway.
Richard: Hmm. Well that's a very strong wonderful background that you're describing. I'm really struck by the way you described your science teacher and the effect that she had on you. It was a woman, right?
Alan: That's right. And by the way, I just received an email from her recently. We're still in contact! So when I find a really good friend they tend to be really long friendships. And she's still very much the environmental activist, full of life, full of vision and full of love for the natural world.
Richard: Well, when I was listening to you describe her and and how she inspired you, I couldn't help feeling -- here is science being presented in a way that opens one to the wonders and mysteries of the world and opens one to the feeling that it's possible to know something really true. And at the same time I got the feeling from the way you were talking about her, that she also had this reverence for life, reverence for the environment and I felt there was something spiritual in that. Maybe that's just me, but I've always thought why is it that spirituality and concerns for the environment aren't more central to the way people think about this whole situation and in current ways of looking at it. You follow what I'm saying there?
Alan: I do, and I couldn't agree more. I still embrace many many of the ideals of virtues, aspirations of my Christian upbringing. And as you very well now, it's often said in Christianity -- God is love. And so insofar as we embody, we express, we bring into the world, our love for our fellow human beings, our love for our fellow creatures, for the environment as a whole, is that not following traditional Christianity, is that not God's spirit working through us? And so the whole spirit of environmental activism and the scientific ecology, which is really fundamentally a science of interdependence of how we as a species of human being are in constant interaction, inter-relationship, interdependence with the entire eco sphere as other sentient beings are interrelated with us, or we are inter-related with all others, and if that awareness, that wisdom of a profound interdependence is suffused with a sense of caring, of love, and compassion -- I see no reason not to call that a spiritual way of looking at the earth, with or without any particular affiliation with any particular religion. At the same time this, what I just mentioned, is clearly compatible with every religion on the planet, despite the great diversity of their world views and beliefs systems.
Richard: Yes. Yes. Yes. Let me take just a little side-step here into another little sentence that I read in your bio notes. You had some encounters with really nasty diseases in your mid-20s. I think hepatitis, typhoid and other ailments. Now that sounds really awful. And at the same time there was an indication that, I think it was in the write-up, you said that, that was, for you, a rich experience. I wonder if you could talk about that and what you learned from these very difficult, what sounds like terrible, experiences?
Alan: This is referring to my four years of my first visit, my first stay in India from 1971 to 75. So this follows the year of studying at the University of Göttingen where I dropped all my other classes and focused only on studying Tibetan, classical Tibetan, spoken Tibetan, and learning as much about Buddhism in particular, but more broadly the mystical traditions of the world, during my one year of living in Göttingen. And by the time I was finished there, I had a vision, not a vision, but an aspiration that what I wanted to do was go off to India and become a monk and spend 10 years there and become enlightened. That was my 20-year vision; not a mystical vision, but I just got an idea.
So I left there after one year and spent a couple of months in a monastery in Switzerland, and then went off to India. I went directly to Dharamsala because that is where the Dalai Lama was and he started some classes that I attended, because he had started them. I was living in a refugee community and I had almost no money. And the refugees with whom I was living had almost no money. So things like diet and hygiene were, let us say, extremely poor.
So during my four years there, I got hepatitis three times, there were indications I had typhoid. I had three different types of parasites. I remember one time, a month or two months went by, without any serious disease, and I thought -- wow wasn't that fantastic? So the third time I got hit by hepatitis. I was really on death's door. I'm six foot two and my weight dropped down to 135, I think. I was really on death's door and that was very helpful. Very helpful in the sense that it really brought very vividly to mind how extremely precious this life is and what tremendous potential we have in this lifetime for purifying our hearts and our minds our souls, and for knowing reality. At the same time, human life is like a flickering candle flame in a wind. That is, we can be snuffed out at any time.
So it was the Dalai Lama's personal physician that saved me, quite clearly, he saved my life, from the third hepatitis, where I was almost out for the count. But as I was recovering, and it was clearly his herbal Tibetan medication that did it, I had a very visceral sense, a very deep sense that he did not save my life; he postponed my death! And for that, I'm deeply grateful.
So those four years in Dharamsala, my first stay there, as Charles Dickens says in The Tale of Two Cities - "that was the best of times and it was the worst of times". That is, I was living there, and the Dalai Lama and so many other Lamas, they just opened their doors, opened their hearts, offered me all the guidance, the instruction, meditative guidance. And from the Dalai Lama's own physician, I learnt about Tibetan medicine. It was a bounty, it was a feast. And it was just utterly glorious. It was a magnificent time. Living in an extraordinary refugee community! So on the one hand -- psychologically, spiritually, existentially, it was just my heart's desire come true; and physically it was really, really awful. But I survived, I survived, and I'm still here to tell the story.
Richard: Wow, that is really something. Thank you for sharing that! Now in my notes, it's like after 14 years, you were ordained as a monk, I take it. Is that correct?
Alan: Yes. I received my knowledge ordination from another outstanding Tibetan Buddhist monk in 1973. In 75, I received the full ordination from his Holiness and I remained a monk until 1987. So that was 14 years total.
Richard: Okay, that was one of my questions. So you're not a monk today, at least not officially?
Alan: No, I'm not a monk in any way, officially or unofficially. But, frankly in terms of lifestyle, what I'm doing from day to day, there’s really not much difference. I'm happily married now for 30 years. My wife is my closest spiritual friend. But I’m meditating, nowadays meditating about 9 hours a day. I've spent a great deal of time translating, teaching and writing books and so forth. Had I been a monk over these last 30 to 32 years, I think there would not be a been a great deal of difference.
But I did give back the precepts, just because in 1987, having lived here in my homeland America, I just felt like a fish out of water. There was no context for being a monk, and I simply had my robes, but I was an isolated and rather alienated monk. And I thought it would be more meaningful for me to return to a lay life and be a full-fledged layperson, while at the same time equally devote myself to my spiritual path, every bit as much as I had, during the years that I was a monk.
Richard: Let me ask you briefly about Sanskrit. I know nothing about Sanskrit, but I've heard some things and it sounds so interesting that I can't resist asking you. One of the things I've heard about Sanskrit is that there's a voice in Sanskrit that obliges the speaker to vocalize a word or sentence in a certain way. It's not just like active or passive. It requires that the the speech be done in a certain way that creates an impression on whoever hears it. The speech is supposed to embody something of the meaning. Does this, does this ring a bell with you, or am I just imagining something?
Alan: No, I think there's a deep truth here. I want to first of all confess that I am definitely not really fluent in Sanskrit. I did study it for three years, while I was at Amherst College, and before. I've had a good nodding acquaintance with Sanskrit. But the Asian language I'm really fluent in is Tibetan, classical and spoken.
But there's something really utterly extraordinary and unique about Sanskrit. It's understood within the context of one of the five major fields of knowledge of Classical Indian Civilization, which is called “Shabda Vidya”, the science of sound; and there's something in the very nature of the Sanskrit alphabet, its grammar, its articulation, that I think really resonates deeply in the very nature of reality itself. Among great pundits of Sanskrit, people who have already mastered it, I think they would affirm this -- that the resounding, very loud and clear voice, that this is a very deep language. And it's kind of rooted in reality itself. It's quite extraordinary. That's about all I can say.
Richard: Yeah, that's amazing. Just that phrase -- “the science of sound.” I mean, I don't suppose that other languages actually have a relationship with the meaning of sound, and that's intriguing. Probably not much more that can be said, except that sound itself can have an influence on us, and so the idea that there's a science of sound, to me, is very interesting. I can't help but think about music. Any further reflections along this line?
Alan: Absolutely. Yeah, be the art of music, the science of music, the technology of music -- this also fits within exactly, this one out of five major fields of knowledge, this shabda vidya, the science of sound. And they understand music within that context, they understand Sanskrit grammar within that context. But also, if I'm not mistaken, I think the classical Indian cultures, they were the first to formulate what we now know in English as mantras. And the repetition of sacred phrases in the Sanskrit language, sometimes it is just syllables, sometimes they are words that have meaning. These are, these are vibrations.
I mean it's a simple statement, it is a factual statement. Whether it's music, whether it's the sound of the voice, whether it’s reciting mantras, reciting passages, the sacred scripture and so forth. It is vibrations originating from body sent out into the world and these vibrations do have an impact on the nervous system, or in classical Indian thought -- the prana system, which is the energetic flow, of energies within the body. And so mantras often together with the visualization, have a direct influence on, in Western terminology, the nervous system. And the nervous system, of course, is very closely related to the mind. So it is a very deep science and I think largely unexplored in the modern world, but I think it has very, very deep roots.
Richard: Oh, yes, I agree and that can take us very directly into this whole huge question of let's just call it ‘first-person knowledge’. I was thinking about this and thinking about Western philosophy and there is a little sort of background in Western philosophy about...I mean, you go to Bishop Berkeley and subjective idealism, and then Kant and transcendental idealism, and even Schopenhauer -- there's a quote from Schopenhauer, something to the effect that: “the one thing that I know without doubt, is that there's no truth more certain than that the whole world is an object, in relation to a subject.” And so there is this, even in Western philosophy, there was this sort of recognition that the subject, which I think you could call the first person, is a central reality. And then that got dropped somehow. I know this is something that's central to your vision and thinking. And that is sort of trying to honor, to bring back some honor, I think of it as “honor”, to the realm of direct experience.
Alan: Well, certainly, I couldn't agree more. And there's a continuation from Kant and from Schopenhauer into the 20th century, Husserl and Heidegger, the whole movement of phenomenology. It's once again coming back to the primacy of what the Germans call Lebenswelt. That is, what we actually know is the lived world.
Whereas from the time, especially from Galileo, the rise of modern science, it had very deep theological roots -- Galileo himself was trained as a monk as a youth. Newton was a theologian. Many of the great founders of modern science including Kepler, they were all theologians. Copernicus was a theologian. And so they were moved by a very profound religious impulse to know the mind of the creator, by way of his creation. So they're looking outwards to know the mind of God, as you would look at a clock to try to understand the mind of the clockmaker.
So this then marginalizes first person experience of human beings. Trying to understand, to infer by mathematics, and technological research, experimentation, and observation -- what the universe looks like from God's perspective. So that was a driving impetus for the rise of modern science, from the early 17th century right through the middle of the 19th century. In which case then, the first person experience -- after all, human beings were created on a single day, everything was a done deal by the time the human species came along, according to a literal reading of Genesis; and so our first person experience isn't all that important to understand God's universe!
And then with the rise (it's hard for me to be brief here), but with the rise of scientific materialism, with Thomas Huxley, Darwin's Bulldog, in the old 1865, around then, the late latter part of the 19th century, then materialism started becoming more and more dominant. After a brief phase of emphasis on introspection during the first three decades or so of modern psychology, that was suppressed by behaviorism. And nowadays, it is marginalized by modern cognitive science altogether.
But first person experience, where it's coming back in, is not so much from Neuroscience or Cognitive Psychology, where it continues to be marginalized. But interestingly enough, where the first person, by the role of consciousness, the role of the measurer, the observer, is coming back in, is not from the Mind Sciences or the Life Sciences -- it is coming back in, by way of Quantum Mechanics, Quantum cosmology of John Wheeler. And a fascinating new development in Quantum Mechanics called QBism -- and a man named Christopher Fuchs is doing brilliant work, and suggesting that this first-person experience, the role of the observer is utterly fundamental to the nature of reality as a whole, and is not merely an accidental by-product of complex activities in the brain.
So I think we're right on the cusp here -- of a fundamental, really radical paradigm shift, where we need to question the materialistic, metaphysical beliefs that have been at the foundations of modern science for the last hundred and fifty years. I think we're on the cusp of something very exciting.
Richard: Yes. Yes. That is, I'm really I'm glad to hear this from you, and I sort of feel something like that. I think you're in a better position than I am to get a feeling for this moment in terms of the scientific community and so forth, and that's definitely an area that I want to talk more about.
You brought up Heidegger. Heidegger, and one has to be careful when you talk about Heidegger, because unfortunately he sort of threw in with the Nazis and a lot of people want to sort of disregard all of his thought, because of that very upsetting thing. But nevertheless if you read Heidegger, to me he is the most amazing guy to read, to the degree that I can understand. But I cannot always understand him, but because no one ever that I have run across, can talk about “being” and open up this word “being” in such an amazing way. And this English word being, we don’t have many mental associations, hardly any associations. Okay, “being.” The word can be said -- “being”. And next? People can’t even think about it. I can’t even think about it. It is very difficult to think about it and yet Heidegger opened that word up to bring us into this realm of dwelling, of existing.
I mean it is a very real thing. Since you mentioned Heidegger, it is a relatively, contemporary sort of person, in the line of honoring, in a way, the realm of experience. So I thought I would just go back to that and see if you have any thoughts about “being” itself, the way in which this realm of existing is the basic realm and it is the human realm. It is the realm of our experience. If no one had any experience, we don’t know what...Do you have any thoughts along these lines?
Alan: Too many! But I will go back to Schopenhauer's brilliant and rather insightful comment that you cited earlier, which is there would be no third person perspective and therefore no Universe known by way of third person perspective, if there were no first person perspective -- because the third person perspective is simply a consensus of multiple first person perspectives. And so, I would add this as a kind of footnote or an addendum to Schopenhauer. And also a step further beyond Descartes, who very famously said, "I think, therefore I am," and he was looking for indubitable knowledge. A statement of fact that could not possibly doubted.
Well, I think there is something deeper than "I think" because thoughts often occur involuntarily with not anybody really thinking them -- just stray thoughts come up. But just this. That it is my very firm conclusion, which means that, if I'm wrong, I'm quite flamboyantly wrong, is that the most indubitable knowledge that I have -- is the knowledge of being aware, of being conscious. That is there is no evidence that could ever be presented to me that can persuade me that I'm not conscious, because I couldn't be aware of that evidence without being conscious. And there is no reasoning that could ever be presented to me to persuade me that I'm not conscious, because I would have to be aware of that reasoning to make any sense of it. And so when we come back to simply the experience, the unelaborated, unadorned experience of being aware -- this is something that cannot be doubted. Robots don't have it; computer programs don't have it. But we and our fellow sentient creatures do, and I believe all animals are conscious, so there is nothing unique about this.
But yet coming back to “being” is coming back to consciousness, and this is where the great contemplative traditions of the world have the deepest insights, of any field of inquiry that human beings have ever devised. And I'm not referring just to one: Buddhism is tremendously rich, but so is Hinduism and Taoism, the early Christian tradition, the Neo-Platonic tradition, and mysticism within Christianity, the Kabbalah within Judaism, the Sufi tradition within Islam. I am persuaded utterly that the deepest insights into “being” and the very nature of consciousness and multiple dimensions of consciousness are found not in modern science, which is so fixated, ever since the rise of materialism, on the outer objective quantifiable world; that we tend to overlook, marginalize, or even dismiss that dimension of reality that is not objective, not quantifiable, and not physical. And that quintessentially is consciousness. And consciousness, and being conscious is “being” consciously.
Richard: Yes, yes, that is beautiful how you have laid that out. And you brought up Descartes, and I wanted to ask you about this, because Descartes famously said "Cogito, ergo sum"-- “I think, therefore I am.” I like your formulation much better because I suspect you are going to have some knowledge around this thing. But this kind of "thinking" and our language, the English language, where I'm constantly conditioned by the language. There is always ‘I’ this, ‘I’ that. For instance, I changed my mind. One hears that. But a careful look at what takes place, one would have to admit that this ‘I’ didn't change my mind. What happened is something changed in me, and now I call it "I changed my mind."
In regards to "I think, therefore I am," this ‘I’ that we sort of unconsciously acquire, this identification, it is not really the real thing. There is something problematic about that. I think it could be called ego. Not bad ego, I'm all puffed up. But this kind of identification with this self, in a way. Would you talk about that?
Alan: Happy to, sure! As you were saying, "I changed my mind," you know I think of the phrase, "It's raining." Let's find the ‘it’, and let's ask ‘it’ if it will rain a little bit more because we are going through a drought here. Let's stand around and ask it, "Please rain more." [laughter]
It's meaningful language: "It's raining," "It's snowing," and so forth. And yet likewise when you are looking for that “it,” of course, you don't find "it." You find a large concatenation of causes coming together to give rise to precipitation. And in a similar fashion, it is not to say that "I don't exist."
And Buddha never said, "I don't exist. The self doesn't exist at all." That is a fundamental misunderstanding, unfortunately a bit common. He never even challenged that; whether we exist or not. If I don't exist, who just drew that conclusion? It gets into logical problems rather quickly.
But the notion of there being an autonomous CEO -- separate, autonomous, calling the shots of my body and my mind -- if we look for that ego, that autonomous, independent, controlling entity, I think you stand as much chance of finding that isolated, independent ego, as much as you find the "it" in "It's raining."
So this I think is one of the great insights in the Buddhist tradition, tracing back to the Buddha himself. And that is challenging our very notion of existing as ego, a personality, a controlling self that is in charge of the body and mind as an autonomous entity. Looking for that in the body and mind matrix, looking for that outside the body matrix, one finds not only that it can't be found, that it is unfindable; just as "it" as in "it's raining."
So it's to see how we do not exist as isolated, independent entities; and then we come back and say, "how do we exist?" Because I exist. You exist! There are a whole bunch of individuals listening, participating and so forth. We exist in inter-dependence. So I think of myself as an individual, and with my wife, I arise as a husband; to my grandson, as his grandfather; on an airplane I'm a passenger; in a store, I'm a customer; when I'm teaching Dharma, I'm a teacher. To some people, I'm regarded as a Lama. If any of those quintessentially "I" -- is there an ego that has all of those facets, and an ego that manifests in all of those ways, but is separate from and autonomous? That is exactly what doesn't exist.
And the realization of that is actually remarkably liberating and it also then opens the doors of empathy and compassion, because if my existence is not one of independence, it necessarily is one of interdependence. And therefore, as I care for myself, it is only realistic to care for all of those around me, with whom I exist in inter-dependence.
Richard: Wonderful. I'm reminded of another line in the bio that we read for this Awakin Call, that says, that in 1979, feeling saturated with unassimilated knowledge, you felt the need to meditate. Now, I just thought that's an interesting thing. It's easy for me to think of science, materialist science, that it's all “knowledge,” that has nothing to do with assimilation.
That's a human feeling, from the world of my experience, that there's something that knows when I have knowledge, but it isn't in anyway integrated in myself. So there's something we could call understanding -- that's a very human thing, which I don't think science has anything to do with, that division between knowledge and understanding. But, what is it to understand something, that is, to assimilate it? And I wondered if you might reflect on this -- knowledge and understanding?
Alan: I think we can draw on the great wisdom traditions of the world here, in East and West, ancient and modern, going back to Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato. And then the great contemporary traditions of East and West. The notion that we don't find in science, we don't find it really much in modern philosophy or psychology -- that is a type of knowing that fundamentally transforms the knower. This is the heart route of contemplative inquiry that one seeks deep inside, within the very nature of reality. For a theist, it is coming to know God, not merely believe or have faith in God, but knowing, of which profoundly purifies, and transforms the knower.
So, this notion that we can understand. In a way, that shifts our whole axis. Shifts are fundamental perspective on reality. This has occurred in science. That is when Galileo made it quite clear, with empirical observations, that the earth is not the center of the universe. The sun, moon, and planets do not all revolve around; that does shift our perspective on our place in the universe. Darwin's insight that we’re not all by ourselves as a separate, independent species, but we're within the fabric of evolution. This doesn't deny religion. That doesn't refute God, but it does place in the deeper context, that we are brothers and sisters with all of our fellow sentient creatures on the planet, rather than uniquely, as Descartes believed, uniquely conscious, while catastrophically viewing all animals as unconscious, because they don't have a mortal soul.
So, this I think, is really what I was looking for when I was 20. And that is already I’d studied science quite a bit, focusing on that. From junior high school, to high school to college, focusing on biology. I studied physics, chemistry, mathematics, and so forth, and found it had no transformative effect on my mind at all. I was in a desert in terms of meaning, of finding fulfillment.
But now we jump forward to 1979. I’d just spent about the last ten years immersing myself, and studying Buddhist philosophy and psychology, and meditation and so forth. And I had been meditating a good deal, probably three hours a day, but I’d learned so much about the Buddhist world view, about nature of mind and so forth, that I kind of felt I was saturated. And I just wanted to then not learn anymore, not acquire any more information, but just go into deep assimilation.
So, I wrote to the person who had, by then, had been my primary spiritual guide and mentor for the last eight years. That was the Dalai Lama, and I told him -- what I’d like to do now is just go to experiential, and try to realize these truths that I've been persuaded of the veracity (of), through study, through debates, through analysis. But I’d like to experience them for myself, by transforming and purifying, and refining my own mind. So I said: Where shall I go? Should I stay here in Switzerland where I've been in a monastery? Head back to my homeland -- no visa problems. Or shall I come back to India? And he said -- “Come back to India. I will guide you personally.”
So this is towards the end of '79. He'd come to Europe, for the second time and to America for the first time, that same year in 1979. I translated for him on his first teaching trip to Europe in 1979. So it just brought me closer to him. So I leapt at the opportunity. I wrapped up my affairs in Switzerland and headed back to India. This time, just to meditate. So, I moved into a hermitage high in the mountains above Dharamsala, and he guided me in my first long meditation retreat.
Richard: That brings up for me, the whole issue of empiricism in the realm of experience, which I think is a very, very interesting topic. I know this is something that you've talked a lot about. So, would you talk a little bit about the possibility of empiricism in the realm of experience, something that as you said William James did not think was possible -- that the attention couldn't be trained.
Alan: William James was pessimistic simply because he didn't have data to the contrary, with respect to the possibility of developing our attention skills, developing what is called as, in Sanskrit, samadhi, developing concentration. He never went to India. He never went to Asia. He knew a little bit about it from afar, but he was really a creature of his times, very Euro-American. And his knowledge was pretty much confined, when it came to the mind, to Western science.
There was no evidence at that time, at least, in recent times, that introspection, attention, concentration could to be developed. At the same time though he wrote with brilliance, about the theme of radical empiricism. And that is retraining the experience, questioning even one's most cherished and fundamental assumptions and beliefs, tapping this all the time, not abandoning them, but letting everything be up for very close inspection of the actual nature of the immediate content of experience. So this is something rather modern -- radical empiricism. I think he probably coined the term.
But if we go back to Buddhism, right back to the roots, at the time of the Buddha himself, there was a phrase that was very common in these opening decades of the Buddhist era. And that's called Ehipassiko and in the Pali language, it's “come and see.” So, Buddhism from the very outset was not about “come and believe” or “come and have faith” or “be obedient or follow” or etc. etc. It is come and see for yourself what is true.
But rather than developing technology, as has been done since the time of Galileo to enhance our observational powers of the external Universe, Indian civilization going back thousands of years has developed a type of technology of the soul, one could say. And this is the technology of samadhi, developing one's introspective abilities, mindfulness, attention, concentration with the primary focus and aspiration to explore experientially from a first-person perspective, in a spirit of radical empiricism. What is the nature of the mind? How can you observe it? Can you probe through the outer shell of the human psyche to a deeper dimension? And from a deeper dimension, really fathom the very nature of consciousness all the way down to the great ground?
So, this sounds very subjective and it is, but my favorite parallel here is: pure mathematics. And that is, we have Andrew Wiles, who proved Fermat's Last Theorem. Brilliant, pure mathematician. And he did, after one false start and some problems, he did solve what was widely considered among mathematicians to be an insoluble problem, the Fermat's Last Theorem. He proved it. It was something like a hundred page proof that a lay person like myself couldn't even fathom the first line of reasoning. But highly, highly trained mathematicians went through every line of his proof. Then one by one, they nodded, they acknowledged, you did it, you did it. He received accolades and awards and the knighthood and so forth. So, to follow that proof, it is 100% subjective, that is, there's no empirical evidence, there's no physical evidence, that it's true or not. But if you receive sufficient training and you’re brilliant enough, you can follow every line of his proof and you can see for yourself. Yes. He did it. And so this is an inter-subjective collaboration among highly trained mathematicians. And they all agreed, you nailed it. After I think of something like 250 years of mathematicians trying that, he did it and would say this with a lot of confidence.
There are similarly inter-subjectively corroborated discoveries, truths, and knowledge that have been achieved by contemplatives in multiple traditions, East and West, and they've been inter-subjectively validated, even though you don't see any outward, physical, objective corroboration. It is inter-subjectively corroborated. And when all is said and done, every corroboration of all evidence, whether it's in physics, chemistry, biology or psychology, is all inter-subjective corroboration. There is no third person, who doesn't have a first-person perspective. So even all scientific proofs, are all proven by way of inter-subjective, first-person evaluation.
So I think, it's really high time now, to bring the subject back into the Universe, where its always been. That we've been ignoring it, to a large degree. In fact, when I was at Stanford, I wrote two dissertations, one for my satisfaction and the other for my dissertation committee. The one that I wrote for my satisfaction, is called: The taboo of subjectivity -- toward a new science of consciousness. And that is to fully embrace subjectivity rather than treating it as a contaminant that needs to be shovelled off to the side, so the research can be pure. But it does require that we go beyond folk psychology, folk observation, untrained attention to the heights of samadhi, of deep concentration and introspective inquiry, that have been achieved by contemplatives the world around.
So this again, I think we're on the cusp of what I like to call a ‘Contemplative Renaissance’ together with a true revolution in the Mind Sciences, where we do not limit our understanding of mind to studying brain and behaviour, which is largely the case. And really take first-person perspective seriously and refine it to the utmost limits.
Richard: Yes and this, you know, for me, this brings up -- I have just a little experience in the difficulty of me struggling to find, some sort of freedom, some sort of attention that isn't attached to my grasping sort of ego, to arrive at a quality of attention that arises, that's, it's like, it's from somewhere else. And I find this very difficult, very difficult, because the habits of mind are very deep. And yet to have a moment, when there's a kind of impersonal awareness, that is actually observing.
That's just an amazing moment and, I think, this thing about verifying for oneself, is such a key -- come and see for yourself! This is what has to happen, but it is a very deep...I mean this is not an easy, in my experience, this is no small thing. Would you agree with that?
Alan: I couldn't agree more. I know that I’ve studied philosophy a lot, both at Amherst and at Stanford. And I studied the branches of science and so forth. And, you know, you can be a scientist, you can be a technologist, you can be a mathematician or what have you, without really altering your way of life in any significant degree. You could be an accountant or a plumber. And nobody is calling for you to shift fundamentally, shift your whole orientation of reality, shift your values, shift your way of life. It's kind of something that you do, you know, independently of your way of life. And frankly, this is troubling that scientific inquiry can also be done, and philosophical inquiry can be done, unconnected to getting at any kind of ethics. So this is a concern, as you pointed out, with Heidegger; it is a concern when you come to Physics and weapons of mass destruction, and so forth.
Whereas when it comes to contemplative inquiry, and this is a broad universal statement here. Dalits Buddhists, Christian, you name it. If you're engaging, if you're devoting your life to contemplative inquiry, to knowing the nature of the mind, of consciousness, the nature of reality, the role of mind and nature, and you were seeking to do this from the inside-out, there must be a fundamental shift in one's way of life. It must be rooted in ethics, meaning non-violence and benevolence. It must entail a cultivation of the mind that's not just during office hours. But a cultivation of the mind and refinement, a balance in the mind -- it is a full-time job.
And then finally, when one really wants to go professional, to become a professional contemplative, then -- as in for one wishing to become a professional astronomer, you need an observatory; a professional neuroscientist, you need a laboratory -- so do contemplatives, especially when one is setting out on the path and is not already highly realised, so do contemplatives need a nurturing environment. So they were called hermitages, they were called monasteries, they were called meditation cells and so forth. A place, that is optimally in a place of natural beauty, in nature, quiet, serene, simple; often it's in the desert.
I spent years in retreat, in solitary retreat in the desert. There are reasons why the desert comes up. And then in a place like Tibet, it is high desert, where you bring… As Henry David Thoreau said, when he was writing about his experience on Walden Pond, coming to a place as he did, for two years, Henry David Thoreau, to utter simplicity, that at least for a while, you set aside all the secondary concerns, all peripheral concerns, you strip your existence back to its raw naked core. And then you develop, as you were saying, I think so clearly and eloquently, a emotive awareness that's beyond the personal, tapping into a deeper Dimension and learning how to sustain that, and explore consciousness as something deeper than that. That which is conditioned by brain, by ego, personal history and so forth. This opens up a vast, a vast panoramic vision of what consciousness is in the universe?
Richard: You know, it occurred to me that the problem, some of the problems that we have today, huge problems and problems that science, the knowledge of science can lead us towards, has something to do with this the assumption that, what the ordinary mind can think of” is true. And it lacks this integration with the entire deep reality of ourselves, as sentient beings. And I'm just, it just struck me, that if one were to be connected so deeply with oneself, with the deepest, deepest nature, some of these things that the science comes up with, there would be less damage, much less damage, unintended consequences from assuming, “Oh, I thought about it and this is true. And let's do it”, because this ordinary mind is disconnected from ourselves.
I mean that the term sentient being, I mean we as human beings, we are something amazing. But so much is missed by this sort of narrow lens of just the thinking” mind, the ordinary thinking mind of Descartes so to speak. And empiricism, which leaves out the great parts of ourselves as human beings, and the wisdom that's possible there.
I'm not exactly, sort of, speaking (sense) but I don't know how to frame that as a question. I know that you understand very well what I'm saying, but this idea, that science, by missing this human dimension, can be led astray or things can go wrong more easily. Does that make, what do you think of that thought?
Alan: I think you're very right. And I think this is, especially again since the time of Darwin and Thomas Huxley, the great biologist that was also, what I call, the founder of the Church of Scientific Materialism, a way of viewing reality -- that the only truth that really means anything, that is significant and needs to be taken into account, are objective, physical, quantifiable truths. And anything that is not physically quantifiable and objective, doesn't count. It just slips off the screen. It is, as William James stated, “for the moment, what we attend to is reality.” And if the only reality we’re attending to, really focusing on, are objective ones, that the whole world of our subjective experience, our innermost experience tends to be overlooked, marginalised or simply discounted all together.
And so we are in the throes here, I think of the long-term repercussions of this worldwide embrace, not homogeneous, but very large-scale embrace of a triad. I call it the triadic juggernaut of materialism, hedonism and consumerism. And if your worldview is materialistic, then the only things that are real are physical. Then naturally, you're going to look outwards and not inwards. And if the only realities are objective and they are physical, then when you pursue happiness, and want to be free of suffering -- if you have a depression, you look to the drug companies; if you want to find happiness, you may also look to the drug companies or you'll look at entertainment. You will look to the great triad of wealth, power and prestige.
But the vacuity of these, in terms of really delivering any genuine sense of well-being, were known since Socrates. He wrote about this, he spoke about this eloquently. And so this, I think this triad of materialism, hedonism and consumerism has alienated ourselves from ourselves, from our fellow sentient beings, from the environment.
And we're seeing now what are the long-term consequences when science is divorced from ethics, technology is divorced from ethics, divorced from basic human or spiritual values. And we're seeing right now an unprecedented destruction of the natural environment, decimation of other species, undermining of human civilization and using the tools of science and technology to do it. But driven by greed, when greed is obstructed by hatred and fundamentally from delusion. And so this is where I think, I'm not only thinking, I'm absolutely convinced, that we need to come back to the roots of the environmental crisis, of the social crisis, the military crisis that we're facing -- they're not out there in the objective world; they are in the human spirit.
Buddhism has identified three impulses. I think it's an insight, not simply Buddhist dogma. And that is one -- fundamental ignorance and delusion, getting reality wrong. Thinking all of reality consists only of material, I think is simply idiotic. And then -- craving and greed, looking always outwards for our happiness. And then -- retaliating with anger and violence, when our ego-centric, greedy desires are obstructed. These are the roots of human distress, human conflict, and our impact in the environment. So we are at a point of tremendous urgency now, right now in this 21st century. Over the next 50 years, we will determine whether we are sowing the seeds for the preservation and the nurturing of human civilization in relationship to the rest of the ecosphere, or the destruction of the ecosphere and the fundamental undermining of human civilization. So we are living at a time of great crisis, which I'm sure you know, is also a time of great opportunity.
Richard: Well, very powerfully put, very powerfully put. This is such a powerful conversation, Alan. And I want to keep asking you more. I know that we've come to that point in the call that we need to open it up. Right, Pavi?
Pavi: We do, we do. And it is hard to interrupt the dialogue stream here. But in the interest of bringing in our listener’s voices, I'd like to share that if you have a question that you'd like to ask live, please dial *6 and you'll be added to the queue. If you'd like to send in a question through web form, which several people already have, you can write in to ask@servicespacedotorg.
Thank you both for this utterly fascinating dialogue here. I'm going to transition to some of the questions that came in to the web form. Here's one from Toria in the UK who asks with regard to all the recent evidence of certain misconduct among certain Rinpoche's, what safeguards would you like to see written in stone within large Tibetan Buddhist organizations, to prevent abuse of students by Lamas who incorrectly believe they are practicing with crazy wisdom?
Alan: Yeah, this is a very serious problem and it needs to be dealt face on with total honesty and transparency. I wish in a way, as a Tibetan Buddhist, I wish these were confined only to Tibetan Buddhism. Unfortunately, it's not. You can find this elsewhere. Without needing to elaborate, it is simply misconduct and there's no way to justify it. It doesn't matter who the person is, whether they have a high ecclesiastical position, or whether it's in Buddhism, and so forth, and so on. So, to solve this I would, as a Buddhist, go right back the Buddha's own teachings where he said we are relying not on the individual, but relying on the teaching. That is -- the individual, the lama, the guru, the priest, the rabbi, whoever that maybe, in the role of a teacher, in the role of a lama, a spiritual mentor, our task (I am one of these people) our task is to convey the authentic teachings, to guide people on the spiritual path out of compassion, offering our best wisdom, and offering the most authentic teachings we can. But we as teachers, as lamas, as gurus, priests and so forth -- we are servants to the teachings that we are transmitting. We're making it personal by offering personal guidance to help people on the path and insofar as we failed to do so, we are betraying the very teachings that we pretend to be conveying.
So it always comes back to the teaching. To test the lama in accordance with the teaching. And if the lama, the teacher, the priest, the rabbi, whoever it maybe, fails to live in accordance with the teachings, then that person has a responsibility to share, and that must be stopped. It must be made public and stopped. But we always come back to the teaching.
We find all the great religious traditions, I think, in the world, have been on occasion, here or there, have been perverted by people's own mental afflictions, their own ego, their own greed, their own sense of self-importance or the sense of being above the law. Or some such and such a person is a Rinpoche, therefore this person is beyond judgment. That notion in any religious tradition has to be banished. It has to be banished in the realm of politics as well. There is no politician who is above the law. And within spirituality, our fundamental responsibility is to live in accordance with the teachings that we’re passing on. The Rinpoches, the Lamas who fail to do that sabotage and betray the teaching, the tradition, that they have the responsibility to preserve.
Pavi: Thank you for that critical insight, Alan. I'm going to transfer onto our next live caller in the queue.
Caller 1: Hello. Yeah, Hi. Yeah, the question that I had was -- I was reading on your bio and you had asked a question to the Dalai Lama which was -- how do you cultivate all the virtues without feeling superior to others? And what was his response that made you feel like you found home?
Alan: I think it was the most memorable conversation I've ever had in my life.
Caller 1: Right, and the moment I read that I'm like, I really want to know that response. What was that? And that's the question that keeps coming up in my mind.
Alan: Sure, I'm very happy to respond. I'll give you a tiny bit of context. And that is I’d just moved Dharamsala. By the time I had my first audience with the Dalai Lama, I had been living in Dharamsala for maybe two or three months. And so I'm really a beginner. I was studying, receiving teachings six days a week and was learning as much as I could and practicing. And the whole point, of course, of following the Buddhist path is to cultivate virtue, cultivate greater compassion, wisdom, generosity and so forth. And then this qualm really hit home.
When I saw that on occasion, newcomers/visitors to Dharamsala where I was living, came and asked me a question. I've been there for three months and they just arrived a couple of days earlier and I saw a bit of pride coming up in me, "Oh, I know something you don't know". I felt a bit of superiority coming up and I thought, “Oh my goodness. If I'm already feeling superior, and I'm basically in diapers here, and I've hardly began my path. How is this going to turn out 10, 20, 30 years from now? If I do grow in understanding and wisdom and other virtues, how do I avoid feeling superior, when I'm cultivating qualities that are in fact superior qualities?” So that really struck me as a dilemma. And I waited. I had an opportunity to meet with the Dalai Lama before then, but I wanted to wait until I had a really pressing question and that was the question I posed to him. And his response was -- this will take a little bit of time, but it's really very memorable, I think.
So the Dalai Lama was only, what was he, 36 years old time at that time?! I was 21. And he responded, "Okay Alan, imagine that you are a beggar, a homeless beggar. And you come to some home, quite a nice home, and you smell the fragrance of really tasty food being cooked indoors and you come and knock on the door. And say -- oh, could you please give us some scraps of food? I'm hungry. I have no home. Anything you could spare? And instead of throwing you some scrap, they invite you in, treat you like a member of this family, sit you down at the dinner table and invite you with seconds and thirds until you've eaten to your heart's desire. He said when you finished your meal, would you feel proud? And I said no. What would you feel? Gratitude?”
He said, “You’re the beggar.” And it was true. I came to Dharamsala not because I was knowledgeable or smart or had money or fame or anything like that. I was really a beggar in search of spiritual guidance, spiritual wisdom and a path of Awakening. And the Dalai Lama and so many other lamas opened their hearts, opened their minds, and shared with me a banquet of spiritual guidance. And then I tried to practice as well as I could. So he said, “You're the same. So to feel in any way superior makes no sense, because any qualities you develop are arising in inter-dependence upon the kindness of others.” And then he pointed to a fly that had come to a drop of honey, or maybe he just gave this as an example, “If there is a fly that is drinking honey, and then another fly comes over, the first fly might be very aggressive in trying to scare it away, so it can have all the honey for itself.” He said, “You know when it comes to the fly, we don't blame the fly, because it's a fly, what does it know? It has very limited choices,” but then he said, “If I, Tenzin Gyatso should behave with the same type of self-centered aggression and greed as the fly, that would be shameful.”
And so then he summed this up -- the more understanding, the more intelligence you have, the greater the responsibility you have. And so those two points -- they've stayed with me ever since. I cannot say I've never experienced any sense of pride or superiority, it crops up once in a while, but the greater blessings I received, the greater benefit I received, it just brings me back again and again to my many teachers and guides and friends and supporters who have enabled me to follow the spiritual path. I think my understanding has grown. And therefore the responsibility has grown. That was the quintessential advice he gave me, and having received that, I knew I had found what we call in Tibetan Buddhism, my root lama. My principal spiritual guide. And he has been ever since. And I hope he will be, until I've achieved Enlightenment myself.
Pavi: Beautiful. Going on to a question from Sandy in Colorado, “You said you meditate nine hours a day and also work on several translation and teaching projects. Could you give me an example of how you organize your schedule to fit all of this into your day? And can you suggest a way I can move gradually to a similar lifestyle?”
Alan: Well, right now, I’ve just taken out two months. I am normally traveling 8 or nine months a year. I have a very special relationship with my wife. She's very independent. I'm very independent. We're very committed to each other but we also allow each other to do what we each find most meaningful. So for right now, I have taken off two months, for February and March. Two months I just set aside all invitations. I decided that I'm staying home, I'd really like to be in semi-retreat, having conversations like this, answering emails, but then I have very few obligations from the outside. So nowadays about nine hours a day I’m meditating. When I'm leading retreats I'm often meditating eight or nine hours a day, but if I'm lecturing at a university or participating in a conference then it needs to go down to probably three or four or five hours a day. This is not a boast. It's simply a statement of fact, but I give so much emphasis to it for a very simple reason, and that is the activity of immersing myself in my contemplative practice in devotions, in meditation, this is of tremendous importance to me. So I find time.
I can say everybody is equally busy. We all have 24 hours a day and we're all busy with something. Whether it's loafing or lounging around or going to parties or whether it's doing scientific research or creating art, but we give time to that which we prioritize. And having said that, there are many, many people on the planet, and their priority is merely to survive and for them I have only compassion and caring. But I am not one of those, probably like many of the listeners on this program, I have the great blessing of having leisure. And when I have leisure, as I have right now, then I make it a priority -- there are many ways I could kill time but killing time is killing life. And when I have leisure, then I want to devote that time to the most meaningful type of activity I can -- to study, reflection, devotional practice, and then being of service, as I can, as in participating in this call.
Pavi: Wonderful. We have a series of questions here. The next is one from Mindy: “I just learned about the self-doubt as a hindrance. Can you speak a little more about this?”
Alan: Doubt can be wonderfully transformative, rejuvenating, revitalizing, because sometimes we don't doubt that which should be doubted. As Mark Twain said, “It ain't what you don’t know that gets you in trouble. It's what you do know that isn’t quite so.” We can hold assumptions and beliefs that we never question. It's very easy to do, especially when the people around us carry the same assumptions and beliefs. And so doubt, healthy doubt, critical doubt, constructive doubt can be very, very useful.
But in Buddhist psychology, we also speak of afflicted uncertainty. Afflicted doubt and this is where we keep on pulling the rug out from beneath our very feet. And sabotaging ourselves and especially when we set out to do something really meaningful. So we have this nagging doubt coming in. Maybe I'm not up to it. Maybe I'm not worthy and maybe I'm not, maybe I'll fail, maybe I'll crash and burn, and so I think the first point here is -- when doubt comes up, face it squarely.
I mean it's like calling up a person who’s right in front of you. “Ok Doubt, what's on your mind?” And then ask with your most discerning intelligence -- is this a doubt that is useful, that is constructive, that can lead to greater insight and could be really productive? Or is this just something that will undermine me and sabotage my most meaningful efforts? So see what type of doubt it is and either way address that doubt with intelligence. That's a Buddhist approach. I’ve found it very useful over the decades.
Pavi: Alan, here's a question that I had for you. From your perspective what are, if any, some of the insidiously detrimental simplifications or misconceptions of the Buddha's teachings in the West?
Alan: Well, probably the easiest one that comes to mind is what I mentioned earlier with Richard and that is that the Buddha taught that there is no self. Well, then we can say, “Who said that?” And it doesn't make any sense actually. He never said that, “I the Buddha, don't exist,” or, “You don't exist.” It never came up. So it's a gross oversimplification -- the notion that there is no thinker, that there's no agent, there's no person, is simply silly. And so this is a fundamental misconstrual of Buddhism.
And as I mentioned again in the earlier conversation, I do exist, but not as an autonomous separate independent entity, I exist in interrelationship with the body and mind, in inter relationship, and in a way, I'm rebirthing, I'm reincarnating from moment to moment to moment, as I arise right now participating as an interviewee in this conversation. This will be over. Then I'll go back my meditation, and I'm a meditator. So that's the first one.
I think one that concerns me more than any other is I've heard it said on occasion that after all in Buddhism there's really no good or evil, and this is really, really catastrophic. We get this in science -- that good and evil, that morality is just what we make up. That morality and ethics is simply a subjective construct that is superimposed upon an objective, mindless amoral universe, and that catastrophically is the vision of reality that is widely promoted under the umbrella of Science. But there is nothing scientific about it at all. And Buddhism is emphatically not this! And simply stated here, when we act in accordance with non-violence, with benevolence, in the spirit of service, which I know is really the mission of this whole program here, we are acting in accordance with reality. Because we do not exist as independent individuals, we exists in interdependence and therefore attending to our fellow sentient beings in the spirit of caring, offering our wisdom, our compassion, our kindness, our service to the world is acting in accordance with reality, and that is ethical.
Whereas when, if I for example if I should act out of ego, out of self-centered attachment and greed, act out of resentment, anger, and violence, then I'm acting out of accordance with reality, where my mindset and my behavior are rooted in ignorance and delusion, and that's unethical. So ethics in the Buddhist world view is embedded in the very fabric of reality itself.
When we act ethically, non-violently, and benevolently, we are acting ethically. When we act out of greed, out of hatred and malice, we're acting unethically. And this is right in the fabric of reality and it's not merely a subjective superimposition upon the nature of reality. So those are the two things that come to mind here.
Pavi: Hear Hear! Thank you so much for that. Going to the next caller in our queue here.
Caller: Hello, you've been working for several years now on developing a ‘Center for Contemplative Research’ and I'm wondering what the status of that project is right now?
Alan: Oh, thank you for the question. I am very happy to respond. This came up implicitly in the earlier conversation with Richard, and that is -- neuroscientists need laboratories, as artists need studios, as astronomers need observatories. If one wants to at least for a while, whether it's months or years, or even days, really devote oneself full-time to contemplative inquiry, to the contemplative exploration of the mind from the first-person perspective, then it's ever so helpful, especially when one is a relative novice on the path, to have a conducive environment.
So after years of searching, literally about 12 or 13 years of searching on multiple continents for a suitable environment, about, what was it now, close to five years ago -- I learned of this property in Tuscany, about 40 minutes outside of the city of Pisa, on a hillside overlooking the ocean. It's exquisitely beautiful. It's just a natural environment and nearby there's a Tibetan Buddhist center with which we have a close association, by which we can get long-term visas for years on end for people who come to this environment, that we are very close to purchasing and then raising funds to build 18 individual meditation cabins. And I'll be there at least half the year. We'll have other teachers coming in from the East and West to create a community of contemplative inquiry working in close collaboration with scientists, with psychologists, with neuroscientists, philosophers, even physicists, to integrate the third person methods of modern science and the first person methods of contemplative inquiry. And the practices we are focusing on are really first of all training the attention, it’s called Shamatha in Sanskrit and then actively engaging in contemplative inquiry, probing into the very nature of mind and Consciousness.
These methods are drawn from Buddhism but they can be practiced by anyone, religious or not religious, or following any type of religion. They are just extraordinary methods of contemplative inquiry. So this will be an environment created to sustain this, provide financial support for those needed, provide spiritual guidance for those devoted to this path, and really try to bring together the scientific and the spiritual, the contemplative and the scientific, and then with profound implications for understanding mental health and well-being, and the really the roots of mental distress. And the roots of mental well-being. The tremendous implications for Education, for Mental Health, for Psychology, and even Physics.
We have raised enough money to purchase the land, and the adjacent building that will be our headquarters for this year. Then we are seeking to raise sufficient funds to build the cabins, invite the scientists, and get the show on the road. So we're hoping to start, if funds do come in, in the year 2020. And hopefully, we'll have a very clear vision of how to even integrate these worlds and offer our very best to the world in desperate need of greater wisdom and compassion.
Pavi: Exciting developments. Thank you for that update. Ron in San Francisco asks -- does the Tibetan Buddhist tradition have an equivalent to St. John of the Cross' "Dark Night of the Soul" on the spiritual path?
Alan: I can't say equivalent because I have to know the 'Dark Night of the Soul' so much more, in much greater detail than I know right now. I know it only kind of broadly. But the answer is yes, the short answer is yes. But not only once.
And that is, as one ventures into this initial training of really developing one's attention, one's introspection, one's mindfulness, focusing inwards, observing the mind, as Richard was saying, from an impersonal perspective; observing thoughts, emotions, desires arriving -- as one does so, and I've spent thousands of hours doing this practice myself, often in strict solitude for sustained retreat, it's like opening a Pandora's box of the mind. It's opening up whatever's there. What Freud called the subconscious. And the demons will come up. And to be able to face them and not cringe from them, not get absorbed and sucked up by them, to be present with, but not identify with, is very challenging and that could be a dark night.
As you go deeper, really fathoming the nature of consciousness itself right down to the ground, this can start even deeper impulses, and another dark night can emerge. And so there are bound to be times on a spiritual journey, where the sun is shining and the breeze is gentle and flowing, and you're really feeling the blessings, you're feeling Grace, you're feeling something truly, deeply spiritual. And then, on occasion, there are going to be times that are bound to be very dark and stormy. But learning how to be totally present with both, the times of felicity, of spiritual felicity and spiritual adversity, being totally present with both, attending to both, learning from both, then make even 'The Dark Night of the Soul' itself a great blessing. And a great basis for deep, deep and potentially irreversible spiritual transformation and liberation.
Pavi: Alan, you've written many books over the years on complex and compelling subjects, and I was wondering which one of your books, do you feel, demanded the most of you and which one at this stage is closest to your heart?
Alan: There are a lot of them, but I think I have my favourite child, in the way that they are all my children. About half the books I've written were my own compositions; about half were translations from Tibetan and a few from Sanskrit. But the one that really comes to mind, with that question is a book I wrote several years, maybe eight or nine years ago, and it was at the request of my step-daughter. Her name is Sarah, and she was undergoing a time of really deep quest, a deep search for greater meaning, and so forth. And she asked me, "Alan, would you, I would like you to give me a birthday present. I'd like you to write me a book and respond to these questions. What can I do with meditation? What's the nature of the mind? How does science relate to spirituality? What's the path?” And so forth. She had these fundamental existential questions, all of which were marvelous. And so I said, "Sure. I'd be happy to do that!"
And so this resulted in a book called "Mind in the balance: Meditation in Science, Buddhism and Christianity". And it was basically a whole book published by Columbia University press. So it is an academic publication, but it was all in response to my stepdaughter's question. And so I would write a chapter, send it to her and then she would critique it. She said, "I didn't understand this part. This was really useful. I don't agree with this." And I'd go back and forth, until she was satisfied. And so chapter by chapter, it was all written in this kind of dialogue form, with my very dear stepdaughter. And when it was finished, I was just so happy with it because it brought together, I think, all of the major strands of my path.
There are many elements of very deep contemplative insight from Christianity. I draw also from the Kabbalah, from the Vedanta tradition in Hinduism, I draw from modern neuroscience and philosophy of mind. I studied a lot of physics. We find Quantum cosmology in there as well. Its core theme is Buddhist meditative practice. And so bringing it all together, it was a great synopsis and an integration of the many themes of my own life. So it's very personal in a way and it was triggered in a very personal way, as a request from my step-daughter. So it's ‘Mind in the balance: Meditation in Science, Buddhism and Christianity’, published by Columbia University.
Pavi: Beautiful. What a lovely backstory to that. Our friend Liam in Spain asks: what is one of the most inspiring stories of integration between spirituality and social change that you know of?
Alan: That's a big one. That's a big one. There are so many! You know, I will just go to familiar ground. And that is I admire many, many people across many disciplines and many religious traditions. Nelson Mandela and so many others around the world, many famous names, but the one I know the best is the Dalai Lama. And when I first met him, it was very easy to have access to him. It was 1971. So his Nobel Peace Prize and all of that was in the future.
But here's a man who gets up regularly at 2:30 in the morning, devotes the first five hours or so of his daily life to his own meditative practice in solitude, meditating, devotional prayers, devotional practices and so forth. And in the morning, he's off meeting with people. He's, even at the age of now 84, still traveling extensively and so out there offering his very best, and reaching out with both hands. Not just the right hand, but the left hand, reaching out to the secular world. He's written two books on Ethics in the secular world. That's ‘Ethics for the New Millennium’ and ‘Beyond Religion’. How to understand, how to make sense of ethics without reliance on any particular religious creed, because we need to understand ethics in a way that transcends all ideologies.
So he's a man of very profound spiritual experience. He embodies everything he says. He reaches out to people of other faiths. He has friends among religious leaders in all the world's religions. He reaches out to world-class scientists in all disciplines. And yet when you meet him, one-on-one, you have this sense that he really means it when he says, "I am simple Buddhist monk." When you meet him one-on-one or you see him from afar, you have a sense of a person who is utterly, in a beautiful way, simple and humble, ever so human. And so to my mind, this is why I so profoundly admire him for embodying the truths that I aspire to realize myself.
Pavi: Thank you for that answer. We are close to the end of our call. I'd just like to ask a couple more questions, if we have time to go a couple minutes over? Natalia from Germany had a question about the renunciation of ignorant views on the path. Would you say the inability to really renounce these habits is a karmic condition?
Alan: There are! I'll give a Buddhist answer. And there are misconceptions, ways of misapprehending reality that we bring from the past and that is, fundamentally, it is clinging to Ego, the clinging to "I am" autonomous, independent. "I am", "I am" -- this is a delusion. And we can't attribute this to our parents or society or anything else. Grasping at other things so they could be more stable and enduring than they actually are, where everything is in a state of flux -- we're born with this. Misapprehending that which is not a true source of Happiness as being a true source of Happiness -- we're born with this tendency, to misapprehend, misunderstand what are the true causes of suffering and the true causes of Happiness. But on top of it, we, especially here, living in the 20th and 21st century, we have compounded our innate ignorance and delusion, misunderstanding of reality with learned ignorance.
And I'll come back to something that I think -- it is my impression and people are very welcome to disagree with me. But the notion that the whole of reality consists of only what scientists can measure, the whole of reality consists only of the physical and emergent properties of the physical is misguided. It's fundamentally misguided, and it is catastrophic when people equate mind with brain, human beings with brains. They are conflating, identifying our very existence, our "being" as Richard said, with a biological entity, a brain that operates under the laws of Physics, Chemistry, and Biology, where there's no morality. So the reduction of human beings to matter, to brains, to organic robots -- it is dehumanizing, disempowering, demoralizing. And this is learned delusion with catastrophic consequences.
We need to doubt. We need to question, investigate closely with the inner spirit of radical empiricism, and the delusion, the delusional status of these beliefs will become more and more apparent.
Pavi: Thank you, Alan. Our final question, which we ask all of our guests is simply, how can we as the extended Awakin Call and Service Space community help further and serve your vision and work in the world?
Alan: There is so much division in the world. We Americans are very aware of this now, where we see such profound divisiveness within our own beloved homeland. But there's division elsewhere, in so many areas -- between religions, among religions, divisiveness; science and spirituality, divisiveness; ethnically divisiveness, and so forth and so on. And that's not how reality is. Reality does not partition itself, reality does not divide itself into competing factions, reality as we learned in ecology, is one of profound interdependence.
So the more that we can seek common ground, while embracing and even celebrating the differences between science and religion, from one religion to the next, one ethnic group to the next, celebrating celebrating the differences, with the sense of inner security, of inner safety that the difference does not mean threat, because it's underlying a common ground of our existence on this beautiful planet.
A common ground of being sentient beings, where every one of us wants to find happiness. Everyone wants to be free of suffering, every sentient creature, and to shed a clear light on what are the true causes of suffering? What are the true causes of happiness? And let's explore this together, to heal ourselves individually, as a community of human species, as an ecosphere, underlying, focusing upon the underlying Common Ground, while feeling at ease and even celebrating the diversity. I think this is a way to heal ourselves individually and our planet.
Thank you, Alan, for the tremendous generosity and compassion in that response. And in the many many decades that you've spent pursuing your truth and sharing that with the world, the rigour, the discipline, the commitment is truly humbling and inspiring. And we are so honored to have had you on this call today. We will end as we began with a minute of silence, this time anchored in gratitude for all the gifts that we have received and for the web of infinite interconnection that allows those gifts to to be transferred into the world. A minute of Silence.
Thank you, Alan and to all our listeners.
Alan: Pavi, thank you.
Richard: Alan, what a wonderful experience. Thank you so much.
Alan: I wasn't aware of the richness of your own background until Pavi mentioned earlier. So Richard, thank you for all you've been doing for 30 years. It sounds utterly marvelous.
Richard: I've got a couple of questions for you. I think I'll email you. Do you happen to know Lobsang Rapgay?
Alan: (laughs) He's one of my oldest friends. We were in the monastery founded by the Dalai Lama, back in 1973. So our friendship goes that far back. His wife is the primary health provider for my wife and me. We go down and see her. We're in Santa Barbara. She is, the two of them are down in Los Angeles. Lobsang has been one of my oldest and dearest friends, and again a profoundly bicultural man with a PhD in Clinical Psychology. And yet, he, like myself, at the same time, was a Buddhist monk. He also studied Tibetan medicine much more than I did. So yes, he's a very dear and old friend.
Richard: Oh my God, how wonderful. I I love him. I don't know him well, but I had the great good fortune to interview him about a year ago.
Alan: Wonderful. Yeah, he is a remarkable human being. His wife also. My wife is quite an exceptional person. His wife, she is like a seventh generation traditional Tibetan doctor. And she's the person my wife and I both most rely upon, for, you know, health maintenance. If we had you know, an automobile accident, of course, we'd do the sensible thing. But for just general health maintenance, and dealing with chronic problems and so forth, she's really outstanding. So they're quite a couple. And you know, and he is just a couple of years younger than I. And she's a bit younger. I don't know how much younger, but they just had a baby within the last year or so. Beautiful baby. So quite, quite remarkable, both of them.
Richard: Wow. Well, that's wonderful. It's just -- thank you so much again for taking time for this. Your work is truly inspiring. Thanks.
Alan: Anything else I can do for you today?
Richard: No...
Pavi: I have one question that I wanted to quickly ask and we didn't get to it in the call. And there were so many questions from callers, that I didn't want to ask too many of my own, but I wanted to ask a little bit about your relationship to Yoga. It goes back to what was it -- 1980?
Alan: You noted that? This is a weakness of the Buddhist tradition generally and including Tibetan Buddhism. There's so much emphasis on the mind, that the body can be kind of bit marginalized or overlooked. And sometimes, very unfortunately many of the greatest lamas, really really outstanding lamas, you know, don't take care of their health. They don't diet, they don't exercise and they wind up overweight and then having diabetes and high blood pressure and so forth. So overall it's not a strength of Tibetan Buddhism. So when I was searching, I had been.... So when I was 30, in 1980, I'd gone back to Dharamsala, India to meditate. And then my visa ran out after six months. They said -- "Get out. You have to apply for another one." I went down to Sri Lanka. And then I had this, I was meditating in a hermitage outside of Kandy in kind of the midlands of Sri Lanka, and this kind of a big trauma explosion occurred in my body. I didn't see it coming, but it really threw me off, and it came out of nowhere and I didn't know what it was.
And so, I thought hmm, I think I need... It wasn't because I was doing something wrong either. I was a monk and living very simply, living in a little kuti in the hills outside of Kandy. But I thought I think I need to pay greater attention to my body. To make sure that as I am cultivating my mind, my body is also keeping up. And so I went directly from Sri Lanka to Pune. And spent about two or three months there, training very intensively, as I said, with Iyengar. And then I made my way back up to Dharamsala and managed to get visas again, long-term visas. But I spoke with one of my llamas, actually the Llama that gave me my novice ordination when I was 23. And I said, "Geshe Rabten, this is my path. I'm a Buddhist hundred percent, but I really find it very helpful to also practice yoga from the Hindu tradition. And I asked him, do you see any kind of incompatibility there because I'm finding this very helpful." And he said, "Alan, if you're a Buddhist if you practice yoga, it's going to be Buddhist yoga. Don't worry about it." And so I've been practicing with various teachers, Iyengar and I practise Yin-yoga with another teacher. I practise with various teachers.
The latest was actually learning some yoga from Mongolia. And that's the one that I've already done, my 15 minutes early morning. So I've already done my 15, mostly yoga and stretching and then prostrations, as in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, which is a little bit like, one set of yoga asanas. Can't remember...
Pavi: The sun salutation?
Alan: A little bit like sun salutation -- not the same, a bit similar. But I'm 60. I'll be 69 in a couple of months. And just overall, you know old age does not smile on the body. So I do watch my diet very carefully, try to eat very healthy. And about 15 minutes -- that's with my yoga and frustrations. And then also I like to go out for a good half-hour rigorous walk every day. So that's what I do. But I think there is a profound compatibility there. It's an area where Buddhism I think can learn a lot from the Hindu tradition. And, you know, there's been a co-mingling, like a brother-sister relationship between the multiple strands of the Hindu tradition, it's internally quite diverse, and the Buddhist tradition, going back to the time of the Buddha.
So they've learned from each other over the last twenty-five hundred years and of course the roots of the Hindu addition predate Buddhism by a couple of thousand years. So Buddhism already, from the time of the Buddha was deeply indebted to the great samadhi tradition, which I think really was uniquely Indian. The Chinese, the Mayans, Europeans, the Jews, and the Greeks -- none of them develop samadhi, like the Indians did. And Buddhism is a great beneficiary of the Indians discovery of samadhi.
Pavi: Beautiful. Go ahead.
Alan: And then, of course, the ashtanga yoga of Patanjali starts -- many people overlook this, with the popularization of Yoga. They overlook the first two phases -- Yama and Niyama. It is ethics. Every authentic spiritual tradition in the world -- I'm being very dogmatic here -- every spiritual tradition is rooted in ethics. If it's not, it's not a spiritual tradition. And of course, Patanjali yoga sutras are profoundly spiritual. So it starts there, but then going from coarse to subtle -- from the asanas to the pranayama, that's coarse to subtle. From pranayama, then on through ashtanga yoga, it's going subtle, subtle, subtle into really fathoming to a very deep level, the very nature of Consciousness itself. So there's a profound, very simply put, there's a profound compatibility. And a lot of people in the mindfulness movement, which is inspired by Buddhism, but is not really Buddhism per se, but it's inspired by Buddhism, a lot of these teachers of mindfulness are also then integrating this with mindful yoga, and this is all for the good.
Pavi: Thank you for that. I feel like the the effortless and really beautiful way that your life and its work provides this bridge between so many different strands of spirituality, in a way, that, you know, that hasn't been precluded by your going so deep into one tradition.
Alan: This has been very important for me, because being raised in California and Switzerland and Israel and Scotland,. I was exposed to a lot of diversity and multiple influences, from the Judeo-Christian tradition, from the Greek Roman tradition of Science and so on. So integrating has been very very important for me, all the way along. So yeah, very close to my heart.
Pavi: And just -- I'm sorry to be extending the time like this.
Alan: No, not at all!
Pavi: One question, on behalf of Richard as well. I feel like Tibetan Buddhism has a very special relationship to Beauty and the Arts and I was wondering if you could speak to that?
Alan: I can certainly say yes. But the first thing I want to say after yes is to also consider the Renaissance, consider Michelangelo and DaVinci, considered Bach, consider Gregorian chants, consider the cathedrals and the statues and the paintings of the Christian tradition. And then go to the Indian tradition -- the music of classical India is your course profoundly interwoven with spirituality. And a great deal of the art, the Gandhara art was influenced from Greece. And then you go to East Asia, and the sublimity of East Asian, the Zen, the Chung the paintings, the gardening, flowers and so forth. So it is true. I'm happy to come back to Tibetan Buddhism, but also just to point out that while in an era where so many people are just reveling in bashing religion, as being bad and delusional and superstitious and so forth, and just blithely overlooking the tremendous contributions to humanity. Not only in the spiritual domain, but in terms of music and art and architecture and poetry and literature and so forth.
So yes, it's there in Tibetan Buddhism. And so then coming back to my home ground, because it is the tradition with which I have the strongest connection. Yeah. I mean, I must say I just love Tibetan (art) . The paintings, the thangkas and so forth, many of them bringing in strong elements of natural beauty.
And then if you look at virtually any hermitage or smaller monasteries throughout the whole of Tibet and there were 6,000 of them before the Chinese Communist Invasion. Six thousand monasteries and hermitages for 6 million people. So one monastery for every thousand people. And I've been to Tibet four times and you know spent years in Northern India and the locations of these places -- they're almost invariably in places of tremendous natural beauty. And then you see the monasteries themselves and they are ornaments to the natural beauty that's already there.
Now we're seeking to create the Center for Contemplative Research in Tuscany. Look at the hermitages and the monasteries in Italy, in Greece and elsewhere in Spain and so forth. And they generally number one -- they find places where there's already tremendous natural beauty, exactly like the place where we're focusing on there in Tuscany for our own center. But then also what they construct there is not something that mars the natural beauty of the landscape, the seascape, the mountain scape, but actually adorns it. And this is our aspiration, my aspiration that whatever we construct on the land there, outside of this little village Castellina Marittima in Tuscany, that it will adorn the landscape. And not simply be a housing development that has been superimposed upon and mars the natural beauty that was already there.
So one of my teachers is.... Among my many lamas, two are women. And one is a woman lama who has been my lama since I was 31. And her name is (unclear) and she's still alive. Still very much one of my lamas. And also when she was younger, she is now well into her 80s, but when she was younger, she was ravishingly beautiful.

She was a princess. And she was incredibly beautiful. And so she knows about Beauty from the inside and the outside. And I asked her as my lama, years ago, I said, "What do you see as the role of Beauty in spiritual practice?" And her face lit up with this beautiful smile. She said, "Oh, beauty is so important. It brings Joy to the heart."

Richard: Wow, what a great story.
Alan: I have a lot of great stories.
Pavi: Wonderful. Well, thank you very much Alan. We will send out a follow-up email to -- there was tremendous interest in this call. I think 380 people tuned in, so we'll send out links to your at various sites and a thank you note to everyone, so that people can continue to be in touch should they wish through your...
Alan: And thank you, and also a quiet apology. As I'd mentioned earlier in our conversation prior to the formal interview, I do tend to sometimes get carried away and give a longer answer than was anticipated or even wanted. And so I know I'm afraid, I'm certain it's true that a lot of questions that people wanted to pose, they never even had the chance because I gave longer answers. So if that was, if I was going a little bit overboard, I do apologise for that.
Pavi: I think that no one was shortchanged in the end.
Alan: Yeah. It was a feast. I received the feast and it's just my job to pass on the feast and not pollute it in the process.

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