Center for Contemplative Research

One of the central concerns of the Buddhist Study Foundation is the promotion of science and research, in particular the promotion of research work on Buddhist religion worldwide. For this reason, she has been supporting the Center for Contemplative Research (Center for Contemplative Research - CCR) in Tuscany since February 2019.

The Center for Contemplative Research (CCR) currently under development near the town of Castellina Marittima in Tuscany, is dedicated to contemplative and scientific research to address two closely-related questions pertaining to human existence:
(1) what is the nature of genuine well-being and
(2) what is the nature of human consciousness?

Shamatha, literally meaning “quiescence” is the specific meditative discipline that will be the primary, initial focus of such research. Shamatha includes a range of methods for cultivating exceptionally refined states of attention, concentration, mindfulness, and introspection, which can then be used for exploring the inner space of the human mind, much as a telescope is used for exploring outer space. In this endeavor, the CCR will be exploring the mind as a natural phenomenon, observing it directly with the greatest possible rigor, sophistication, and thoroughness in accordance with the principle of radical empiricism that characterizes scientific and contemplative inquiry at their best.

This research is an extension of the scientific study known as the Shamatha Project conducted in 2007 by a team of cognitive scientists led by Dr. Clifford Saron, with sixty participants meditating full-time for three months under the guidance of Dr. B. Alan Wallace. This study proved to be a resounding success, resulting in the publication of numerous research papers published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

The Center for Contemplative Research (CCR) will provide a unique facility, including 18 self-contained meditation cabins, an optimal setting for highly qualified individuals to devote themselves full-time for months or years to meditative practice under the direction of Dr. Wallace and other qualified instructors. Such sustained, professional meditation practice culminates in the full achievement of shamatha, in which the mind becomes single-pointedly focused inwards, withdrawn from the physical senses, and immersed in a state of bliss, luminosity, and inner stillness. This state can be sustained for hours on end. By accessing this primal flow of consciousness that proceeds from one life to the next, one taps into an inner source of genuine well-being and discovers the essential nature of consciousness, characterized by luminosity and cognizance.

While the achievement of shamatha is not unique to the Buddhist tradition and does not require acceptance of any religious belief system, Buddhism does provide an exceptionally clear presentation of the stages of attentional and emotional development that lead to this state. The CCR is committed to training individuals in the practices of shamatha in collaboration with cognitive scientists, who will map these stages using the objective measures of modern sciences, while the contemplatives themselves map them in terms of their own first-person experience. The impact of such unprecedented contemplative and scientific collaboration could trigger a paradigm-shift in humanity’s understanding of the nature of genuine well-being, the potentials of the mind, and the role of consciousness in the natural world.

The CCR is intended to provide professional education in contemplative inquiry, requiring years of full-time training in conjunction with scientists and philosophers, so that when contemplatives have completed their training, they can share the benefits of their experience in the fields of mental health, education, business, athletics and other fields. Thus, rather than focusing on research in which scientists investigate the effects of meditation on the physiology and the behavior of meditators, the CCR will provide a unique and unprecedented forum for truly collaborative, cross-cultural, interdisciplinary research by contemplatives and scientists to gain insights that will be of benefit to society as a whole.

Governing Institute

The Santa Barbara Institute (SBI) for Consciousness Studies, founded in 2003 by Dr. Wallace, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to research and education in the field of cross-cultural and interdisciplinary studies on the nature and potential of the mind. SBI will raise the funds for building and operating the CCR in Italy and will retain ownership of the Center in Castellina, which will be managed by an Italian-based non-profit foundation.

Education and Scientific Partners

SBI has previously conducted similar research with multiple campuses of the University of California, Emory University, the University of Arizona, and the University of Vienna, and has collaborated with scientists around the world. A close relationship presently exists with Lama Tsong Khapa Institute, particularly in relation to its development of an academy of mind science which will focus on the interface between Buddhism and science. Researchers from the University of Pisa, the Sant’Anna Institute, the University of Trento, as well as other international scientific institutions have already agreed to participate in this collaborative research.

The Facility

The facility will consist of a main administrative office with accommodations for resident staff, visiting scientists, philosophers, and contemplatives. Meditators will be housed in 18 individual retreat cabins constructed to obtain maximum levels of sustainability using natural materials with low environmental impact. The goal is energetic self-sufficiency, with systems fed by solar energy and integrated with batteries to increase their efficacy. Moreover, the wooden structures will be in harmony with the landscape, reducing visual impact and shortening the construction timeline.

Castellina Marittima is located in the heart of Tuscany, the birthplace of Leonardo da Vinci, who epitomized the Renaissance ideal, and of Galileo Galilei, the founder of the Scientific Revolution. This is the optimal region in which to catalyze a renaissance in contemplative inquiry and a scientific revolution in the study of the mind, uniting in unprecedented ways the strengths of the humanities and the natural sciences.

The territory of Castellina Marittima is ideal for this purpose as it is characterized by:

  1. The natural beauty and rich culture of Tuscany, known throughout the world.
  2. Proximity to Lama Tsong Khapa Institute, a premier center of Buddhist studies in Italy, in association with which we anticipate being able to acquire long-term, renewable visas for meditators from around the world to train at our center for years on end.
  3. Proximity to the two airports of Pisa and Florence.
  4. Proximity to the Universities of Pisa and Florence, and of the Istituto Superiore S. Anna.
  5. A history of contemplative cultures and religions in the region of Tuscany.
  6. A combination of quiet isolation and proximity to connecting roads to urban centers.

The idea of creating such a research facility in this region has already aroused a high level of international enthusiasm, in part due to the fact that it has been inspired and endorsed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

If you would like to support this project, you can do this either directly by sending an email to ccr@sbinstitute.com or info@sbinstitute.com, or indirectly through the Foundation. Since donations coming from Germany are tax deductible, you will receive a corresponding donation receipt from us.

Read Article on “Rationale for the Establishment of a Network of Contemplative Observatories" by B. Alan Wallace.