Paths to Perfection: Contemplative Practices in Christianity and Buddhism / B. Alan Wallace
Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies / (
Recorded at Unity Church, March 12, 2008

The Sources of Suffering

St. Augustine (354 – 430): The two real causes of the miseries of this life are “the profundity of ignorance” and the “love of things vain and noxious.”

Buddha: The origin of suffering lies in ignorance and craving.

A Christian View of Liberation

Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa (1401 – 1464):

“Finally, there is still a path of seeking God within yourself: the path of the removal of limits…When…you conceive that God is better than can be conceived, you reject everything that is limited and contracted…“if you seek further, you find nothing in yourself like God, but rather you affirm that God is above all these as the cause, beginning, and light of life of your intellective soul…You will rejoice to have found God beyond all your interiority as the source of the good, from which everything that you have flows out to you.”

A Buddhist View of Liberation


“Shariputra, this very Dharmakaya is called the realm of beings when it is concealed by a sheath of boundless afflictions, wandering repeatedly through births and deaths in beginningless samsara, buffeted by the waves of samsara… Shariputra, this very Dharmakaya is called the Tathagata, Arhat, Samyak-sambuddha when it has become free from the veils of all the afflictions, has passed beyond all sufferings…”

Christian Renunciation

St. Symeon (11th century):

First of all seek three things: (1) to free yourself of all anxiety regarding both real and imaginary things, (2) to strive for a pure conscience, with no lingering sense of self-reproach, and (3) to be completely detached, so that your thoughts are not drawn to anything worldly, not even to your own body.

Buddhist Renunciation


“Do not engage in any vices whatsoever. Devote yourself to a bounty of virtue. Completely subdue your own mind. This is the teaching of the Buddha.”

Calming the Mind in Christianity

St. Gregory Palamas (14th century):

“Since the intellect of those recently embarked on the spiritual path continually darts away again as soon as it has been concentrated, they must continually bring it back once more; for in their inexperience they are unaware that of all things it is the most difficult to observe and the most mobile. That is why some teachers recommend them to pay attention to the exhalation and inhalation of their breath, and to restrain it a little, so that while they are watching it the intellect, too, may be held in check.”

Calming the Mind in Buddhism


“Shariputra, take the analogy of a potter or a potter’s apprentice spinning the potter’s wheel: If he makes a long revolution, he knows it is long; if he makes a short revolution, he knows it is short. Shariputra, similarly, a Bodhisattva, a great being, mindfully breathes in and mindfully breathes out. If the inhalation is long, he knows the inhalation is long; if the exhalation is long, he knows the exhalation is long. If the inhalation is short, he knows the inhalation is short; if the exhalation is short, he knows the exhalation is short. Shariputra, thus, a Bodhisattva, a great being, by dwelling with introspection and with mindfulness, eliminates avarice and disappointment towards the world by means of nonobjectification…”

Observing the Mind in Christianity

Hesychios the Priest (7th century):

“One type of watchfulness consists in closely scrutinizing every mental image or provocation. A second type of watchfulness consists in freeing the heart from all thoughts, keeping it profoundly silent and still…this inner stability produces a natural intensification of watchfulness; and this intensification of watchfulness gives contemplative insight into spiritual welfare.”

Observing the Mind in Buddhism

Panchen Lozang Chökyi Gyaltsen (1570-1662):

“Whatever sorts of thoughts arise, without suppressing them, recognize what they emerging from and what they dissolve into; and stay focused while you observe their nature. By doing so, eventually the motion of thoughts ceases and there is stillness… each time you observe the nature of any thoughts that arise, they will vanish by themselves, following which, a vacuity appears. Likewise, if you also examine the mind when it remains without movement, you will see an unobscured, clear and vivid vacuity, without any difference between the former and latter states. That is well known among meditators and is called ‘the union of stillness and motion.’”

Awareness of Awareness I

St. Symeon (949 – 1022) :

After withdrawing your awareness from all worldly concerns, focus your attention on your heart. “To start with you will find there darkness and an impenetrable density. Later, when you persist and practice this task day and night, you will find, as though miraculously, an unceasing joy. For as soon as the intellect attains the place of the heart, at once it sees things of which it previously knew nothing. It sees the open space within the heart and it beholds itself entirely luminous and full of discrimination.”

Awareness of Awareness II

Padmasambhava (8th c.):

“Having nothing on which to meditate, and without any modification or adulteration, place your mind simply without wavering, in its own natural state, its natural limpidity, its own character, just as it is. Remain in clarity, and rest the mind so that it is loose and free…Occasionally inquire, ‘What is that awareness of the one who is focusing the interest?’ Let the awareness itself steadily observe itself. At times, let your mind come to rest in the center of your heart, and evenly leave it there. At times, evenly focus it in the expanse of the sky and leave it there. Thus, by shifting the gaze in various, alternating ways, the mind settles in its natural state.”

Contemplative Insight I

St. Gregory Palamas (1296 – 1359):

“Through grace God in His entirety penetrates the saints in their entirety, and the saints in their entirety penetrate God entirely, exchanging the whole of Him for themselves, and acquiring Him alone as the reward of their ascent towards Him; for He embraces them as the soul embraces the body, enabling them to be in Him as His own members…the intellect, because of its freedom from worldly cares, is able to act with its full vigor and becomes capable of perceiving the ineffable goodness of God.”

Contemplative Insight II

Düdjom Lingpa (1835-1904):

“Once you have recognized all phenomena included within samsara and nirvana as the play of your own appearances alone, you will actualize the great, all-pervasive realm of pristine space, which is self-originating, spontaneous, primordial consciousness…due to the unceasing power in the nature of primordial consciousness, there is total knowledge and total awareness of all phenomena, without its ever merging with or entering into objects. Primordial consciousness is self-originating, naturally clear, free of outer and inner obscuration; it is the all-pervasive, radiant, clear infinity of space, free of contamination.”

Converging Paths to Perfection

Panchen Lozang Chökyi Gyaltsen:

“If these are examined by one who is well-versed in the scriptures and reasoning by which one distinguishes between provisional and definitive meanings, they are seen, not as mutually incompatible, like hot and cold, but as coming down to the same point.”
The Epistemological Hierarchy of Medieval Scholasticism

Supernatural Revelation

The Epistemological Hierarchy of Scientism

Natural Revelation

Scientism Over Empiricism

Neil deGrasse Tyson, Director Hayden Planetarium: “As a scientist, I need something better than your eye-witness testimony. Because if even in the court of law eye-witness testimony is a high form of evidence, in the court of science it is the lowest form of evidence you could possibly put forth.”

Michael Shermer, Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine: “Everybody has eyes and ears and a brain that perceives and so on. I think they’re all equally unreliable as eye-witnesses. We’re very bad at recounting things we think we saw.”

A Return to Religious Empiricism

William James:

“Let empiricism once become associated with religion, as hitherto, through some strange misunderstanding, it has been associated with irreligion, and I believe that a new era of religion as well as philosophy will be ready to begin... I fully believe that such an empiricism is a more natural ally than dialectics ever were, or can be, of the religious life.”

A Contemplative Renaissance

A synthesis of rigorous first-person and third-person, inter-religious means of experientially investigating essential features of human existence and the potentials of consciousness

Conducted by accomplished contemplatives from different traditions in collaboration with cognitive scientists


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