Open Buddha

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Bay Area, California

Alan Wallace Meditation Weekend

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I just got home a short while ago from the teaching weekend at Orgyen Dorje Den with B. Alan Wallace (you can see the flyer for this weekend if you wish). The official topic for the weekend was “Balancing the Heart & Mind.”

I must say that I found Wallace to be one of the clearest and most inspiring meditation instructors that I’ve had in quite a while. I really wish I’d met him ten years ago. He was also, very clearly, one of the warmest hearted people that I’ve met in a long time. No smugness or arrogance, just warmth and compassion in both his presentation (including the various stories within it) and in his interactions during questions and answers. This is a man who I think could compassionately field just about any question, whether or not he could answer it.

The work of the first day was largely Shamatha meditation with one brief session drawing from some instructions by Dudjom Lingpa. The meditation sessions were brief at 24 minutes (1/60th of the day, which is traditional) and were each followed by a teaching session before continuing again. During the teaching sessions, Wallace would teach on Shamatha drawing from both his personal experiences from having been a monk for 14 years and from his study of meditation with a variety of teachers over the years (including the Dalai Lama). The second day focused on the Four Immeasurables (Brahmavihara), which are Loving Kindness, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy, and Equanimity. Meditation techniques for cultivating each of these were discussed as well as the theory of these four and why they are so important. This discussion alo included meditation sessions as well to put the theory into practice. I appreciated that Wallace made clear that he drew from Theravadan techniques and understandings for some of what he discussed and showed us and credited his Theravadan teachers by name. This is the first time I recall having been at a Tibetan Vajrayana center and having someone offer teachings that also drew from Theravadan teachers. I know that Wallace studied for a while with Theravadan teachers as well as spending many years with a variety of Tibetan lamas.

Much of the discussion of the first day was on “Genuine Happiness” (which also happens to be the topic of one of his books, as are the Four Immeasurables). Along with quoting from the Buddha and then later teachers, I found it both interesting and heartening for Wallace, who was speaking largely without notes, to quote St. Augustine, Aristotle, and William James as well. For Aristotle, he specifically discussed the concept of “Eudaimonia” from his work. Wallace constantly referred to William James during the weekend and, as someone who has been empressed by James’ writings, I found that very interesting. This is one of the things that I expect to see in a Western teacher, a familiarity with Classical or Western learning as well an ability to relate it, when appropriate, to topics from Buddhist (or Indian) thought.

Overall, I came away from this weekend interested in continuing to work with the Four Immeasurables as well as my own meditation practice. I’ve been a fan of Wallace’s work for quite some time and he did not disappoint me when he taught.

My only regret in interacting with him is that the weekend was set up in such a way that when he wasn’t teaching, he very quickly was off in private areas of the building so no one ever got to chit chat with him one on one until the very end when people gave dana. While I can understand the desire not to have 50 people asking questions during breaks, it would have been nice to have gotten a chance to say “Hello” to him or to casually talk without interactions being formalized. This is a very minor issue, all things said, and I am glad that I attended.

Update: I just found out that Wallace has been making a podcast available recently. It would be worth checking out if you are interested in him or what he has to say.