Each Center for Contemplative Research is designed to provide an optimal environment for individuals who are committed to undergoing the necessary years of training to become true professionals in contemplative science. These practitioners are willing to do what it takes to turn their own minds into suitable instruments of technology: to go from being star-gazers to astronomers, with their own minds as the highly-refined telescopes.
While it requires significant personal preparation and study to be ready to embark on such a path of rigorous contemplative training, one must also finally have the opportunity to practice in a conducive, supportive environment. According to traditional Buddhist descriptions, such an optimal place for practice is one in which:
- Basic necessities like food and clothing are easily obtained, without having to travel outside the Hermitage.
- One feels safe and protected from intrusions or danger.
- The retreat setting is beautiful and good for one’s health.
- One shares in companionship with other ethical, like-minded practitioners, focused on essentially the same goals.
- The environment is quiet and set apart from busy places, so that one is not distracted by regular visitors or excessive noise.
The all-important inner prerequisites that a dedicated contemplative must cultivate to succeed in developing a sublimely balanced state of mind are as follows:
- Having few desires for things one doesn’t have.
- Being content with what one does have.
- Having few concerns and activities that may distract from single-pointed focus on practice.
- Maintaining pure ethical discipline.
- Utterly dispensing with rumination involving desire and so on, not only while in formal meditation but also between sessions.
Beyond these, one’s practice of generosity, ethics, patience, and enthusiasm are necessary preconditions for achieving firm meditative stability, or shamatha. This in turn is understood as the final preparation for cultivating deep insight into the nature of reality through the practice of disciplined inquiry known as vipashyana.
It is this process of penetrating investigation that is true contemplative science, since it can lead to discoveries about the nature of reality. But without the highly refined tool of unwavering meditative attention, one would not be able to make reliable discoveries about the nature of the mind and its role in Nature, any more than a star-gazer makes scientific discoveries about the stars and planets without a telescope.
It is said in Buddhist contemplative tradition that if one has fulfilled all the outer and inner prerequisites for achieving shamatha, it may be achieved, irreversibly and with stability, within one year of full-time practice in a suitable environment. But if such prerequisites have not been met, shamatha may never be achieved, no matter how long or how hard one may try. So the right environment is essential.
Finally, since many inner and outer challenges, or “upheavals,” are bound to arise in the course of intensive shamatha practice, it is imperative to have guidance from skilled teachers who have been through such intensive training before, and are knowledgeable about the immense body of instructions passed on by accomplished contemplatives of the past.
Thus, a Contemplative Research Observatory requires three essential components:
- A quiet, beautiful environment, set apart from towns, cities, or major roads, with individual retreat cabins in which a meditator can practice in solitude for weeks or months on end, voluntarily withdrawn into the isolated laboratory of their own minds and bodies, and supported by a sensitive caretaker
- An ethical, loving community of practitioners following similar schedules and practices, with similar goals and a sense of deep mutual respect
- Qualified, compassionate, experienced teachers who are well-versed in ancient methods and contemporary applications