Born in Pasadena, California in 1950, Alan Wallace was raised and educated in the United States, Scotland, and Switzerland. In 1968, he enrolled in the University of California at San Diego, where for two years he prepared for a career in ecology, with a secondary interest in philosophy and religion. However, during his third year of undergraduate studies at the University of Göttingen in West Germany, his interests shifted more towards philosophy and religion; and he began to study Tibetan Buddhism and the Tibetan language.
In 1971, he discontinued his formal Western education to go to Dharamsala, India, where he studied Tibetan Buddhism, medicine, and language for four years. During his first year in Dharamsala, he lived in the home of the Dr. Yeshi Dhonden, personal physician of H. H. the Dalai Lama. Throughout his stay in Dharamsala, he frequently served as interpreter for Dr. Dhonden, and under his guidance he completed a translation of a classic Tibetan medical text. In 1973, he began training in the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics, in which all instruction, study, and debate were conducted in Tibetan.
In 1975, at the request of the Dalai Lama, he joined the eminent Tibetan Buddhist scholar Geshe Rabten, in Switzerland, first at the Tibet Institute in Rikon, and later at the Center for Higher Tibetan Studies in Mt. Pèlerin. Over the next four years, he continued his own studies and monastic training, translated Tibetan texts, interpreted for Geshe Rabten and many other Tibetan Lamas, including the Dalai Lama, and taught Buddhist philosophy and meditation in Switzerland, Italy, Germany, France, and England.
At the end of 1979, he left Switzerland to begin a four-year series of contemplative retreats, first in India, under the guidance of the Dalai Lama, and later in Sri Lanka and the United States.
In 1984, after a thirteen-year absence from Western academia, he enrolled at Amherst College to complete his undergraduate education. There he studied physics, Sanskrit, and the philosophical foundations of modern physics, and in 1987 he graduated summa cum laude and phi beta kappa. His honors thesis was subsequently published in two volumes: Choosing Reality: A Buddhist View of Physics and the Mind (Snow Lion: 1996) and Transcendent Wisdom: A Commentary on the Ninth Chapter of Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life(Snow Lion, 1988).
Following his sojourn at Amherst, he spent nine months in contemplative retreat in the high desert of California. Then in 1988, he joined the Tibetan contemplative Gen Lamrimpa to assist in leading a one-year group contemplative retreat near Castle Rock, Washington, during which ways were explored for refining and stabilizing the attention.
In the autumn of 1989, he entered the graduate program in religious studies at Stanford University, where he pursued research in the interface between Buddhism and Western science and philosophy. These studies are closely related to his role as an interpreter and organizer for the “Mind and Life” conferences with the Dalai Lama and Western scientists beginning in 1987 and continuing to the present. In 1992, sponsored by the Mind and Life Institute, which he helped to found, he traveled widely in Tibet, conducting a preliminary survey of living Buddhist contemplatives. In 1995, he completed his doctoral dissertation on attentional training in Tibetan Buddhism and its relation to modern psychological and philosophical theories of attention and consciousness. A modified version of his dissertation has been published under the title The Bridge of Quiescence: Experiencing Tibetan Buddhist Meditation (Open Court Press, 1998).
During the period 1992-1997, he served as the principal interpreter for the Venerable Gyatrul Rinpoc