More About the Book and the Author

Richard S. Ellis is a father, a grandfather, and a teacher, and he is married to Alison, who taught first grade and is now retired. Besides his family, the loves of his life are many: mathematics, the Torah, Jewish and Buddhist spirituality, literature, bicycling, jazz, strong coffee, the music of Bach. The subject of his book, Blinding Pain, Simple Truth, is the wisdom that he learned by suffering from chronic headaches and by healing that suffering through Buddhist meditation. Many of us suffer, whether from physical pain or from emotional pain or from the dissatisfaction and sense of lack that, as the Buddha taught, are pervasive in our lives. Richard's goal in writing the book is to inspire readers to reexamine their experiences with suffering and pain and eventually to embrace their lives with equanimity, gratitude, and joy.

As a teacher of Biblical texts, Richard is aware of a great hunger for spiritual nourishment that the Bible, as it is traditionally taught, does not universally provide. Blinding Pain, Simple Truth uses Buddhist teachings as a new lens for reading the Bible, yielding fresh insights into fundamental questions of birth and death, ego and enlightenment, sickness and health — insights that speak in surprisingly relevant ways to spiritual seekers and to those who want to heal themselves.

Blinding Pain, Simple Truth is not an interreligious, Jewish-Buddhist book in the narrow sense of that term, exploring the similarities of the two religions. While it will appeal to the readers of such books, it is intended for a wide audience and has a different aim. It addresses the question of how to alleviate suffering via the teachings of the Buddha and the wisdom of the Bible, which Buddhist teachings decode and clarify.

There is an extensive literature on pain management and the alleviation of suffering from a Buddhist perspective. By sharing the wisdom of Buddhist teachings in the context of the author’s experiences — how his successful career was nearly destroyed by incapacitating headaches in 2000 and how daily meditation enabled him to heal himself from the suffering caused by the headache pain — Blinding Pain, Simple Truth goes beyond most books on pain management and the alleviation of suffering by empowering readers to face the suffering in their own lives and ultimately to transform it into insight and peace.

Richard grew up in Boston and attended Harvard, where he majored in mathematics and German literature. In 1969 he married Alison, whose smile had so captivated him when they were 16 that he immediately fell in love with her. After earning his Ph.D. at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences at New York University, Alison and Richard spent three years in Evanston, IL, where he taught at Northwestern University and their daughter Melissa was born. They moved back East in 1975 to Amherst, MA, and Richard joined the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he is now a professor. Their son Michael was born four years later.

In 1982 Richard and his family spent half a year living in Haifa, Israel, a visit that changed their lives. The Torah discovered him there, leading him to the treasures of Jewish spirituality. During this visit he also began work on a research-level math book that was published in 1985 by Springer-Verlag. While Richard and his family were spending six months in Jerusalem in 1986, he discovered an unknown branch of his family living in Israel. This discovery closed a circle that had been broken 63 years earlier when his mother and her parents left Poland for America. Richard’s experiences in Israel inspired him to teach the Torah and to lead a Jewish faculty group at UMass Amherst. These activities eventually led to his appointment as an adjunct professor in the Department of Judaic and Near Eastern Studies at UMass Amherst, where he has taught courses on the Book of Genesis, the Book of Job, and the writings of Franz Kafka. He has also published poetry and articles on the Torah, literature, art, and anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. In 1997 John Wiley & Sons published a second research-level math book, which he wrote with Paul Dupuis.

Both of Richard’s math books explore the theory of large deviations in probability theory. Mathematically, a large deviation is a random event having small probability and often significant effect; for example, being dealt a royal straight flush in a high-stakes poker game. The theory of large deviations has been the perfect research topic for him because his life has been a large deviation in numerous ways, Jewish, literary, spiritual, and mathematical. In his research Richard has applied the theory of large deviations to statistical mechanics, which uses probabilistic models to analyze physical systems consisting of large numbers of particles, including statistical models of turbulence.

Richard has lectured widely on his work in the U.S., Europe, and Israel. He has also had extensive experience with Buddhist meditation, having led a number of meditation groups and participated in retreats at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts and the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies. His university website has detailed information about his work and his interests and can be viewed at http://www.math.umass.edu/~rsellis.

Richard’s wife, Alison, teaches first grade. Both of their children, Melissa and Michael, live in New York City with their families. Melissa married Kenneth Glassman in 2000, and they are the parents of Alison’s and Richard’s beloved grandchildren, Noah and Lilah. Michael married Lauren Popper in 2006, and they are the parents of Alison’s and Richard’s beloved grandson, Isaac.