Balancing the Mind by B. Alan Wallace

B. Alan Wallace. Balancing the Mind: A Tibetan Buddhist Approach to Refining Attention. Foreword by H.H. the Dalai Lama. Ithaca, N.Y.: Snow Lion, 2005. Paperback, xvi + 336 pages.

Over the past thirty or so years, B. Alan Wallace has gifted Western students of Buddhism with a series of wonderful books. The present in-depth study of the great Je Tsongkhapa’s invaluable reflections on quieting the mind and cultivating pure awareness, is another of his priceless offerings.

Lama Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism, is counted among the greatest masters and scholars of Tibet. There can be little doubt that his intellectual legacy is one of the most important contributions to the world’s spiritual heritage. Wallace modestly states that he does not “claim to have penetrated the core of his [ Tsongkhapa’s] vision.” Yet, his grasp of the learned master’s teachings is obviously formidable. His 66-page portrayal of Tsonkhapa’s “vision of reality” (which makes up the bulk of Chapter 1) is a truly masterful overview.

Quiescence ( shamatha) is one of the pivots of the spiritual path by which the practitioner’s mind is converted from restlessness to ever-deeper stillness. A controlled mind will not give rise to negative actions and their underlying negative psychological forces (anger, fear, jealous, greed, etc.). To be mentally healthy means to be whole and to have the capacity for actions that contribute to the wholeness and health of society.

Chapter 2 is a translated excerpt from Je Tsongkhapa’s brilliant Small Exposition of the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment accompanied by Wallace’s illuminating commentaries. The focus here is on the means of cultivating quiescence and insight. The discussion gives one a good sense of the complexities of the Tibetan Buddhist path. Under Lama Tsongkhapa’s reliable guidance, it becomes clear that not all high states of contemplation necessarily will give the practitioner a glimpse of reality. Careful discernment is essential. He also shows why quiescence and insight need to be cultivated together. Je Tsongkhapa’s text covers in characteristically systematic fashion all the subtle aspects of this dimension of the spiritual process.

The final, third, chapter goes into various approaches to quiescence—notably from the perspectives of Atiyoga and Mahāmudrā—and then examines theoretical issues connected with introspection in Tibetan Buddhism and Western psychology. Wallace rightly characterizes the objectivism of modern science as both a “cult” and a “superstition.” He expresses his hope that the states of sustained voluntary attention pursued in Tibetan Buddhism may shed significant light on the nature of consciousness and that this kind of Yoga practice may become as important to cognitive science as mathematics has been to the physical sciences.

This important book will be of interest to both serious students of Buddhism and researchers into the nature of consciousness.

Copyright ©2006 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in any form requires prior permission from Traditional Yoga Studies.

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