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Awakening and the Path of Liberation—FULL TRANSCRIPT

awakening

A complete transcript of the interview with Dan Brown on the Deconstructing Yourself podcast

Here is the original audio interview

Michael: Welcome to Deconstructing Yourself, the podcast for metamodern mutants interested in meditation, hardcore dharma, Jewish Kabbalah, awakening, liberation, and much more. My name is Michael Taft, your host on the podcast, and in this episode I’m speaking with psychologist, translator, and meditation teacher Dan Brown.

Daniel P. Brown, PhD, has been Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology at Harvard for 38 years. He trained and taught with the top Indo-Tibetan Bön and Buddhist Lamas for more than 48 years. He is the award-winning author of 24 books and winner of the 1999 Guttmacher award from the American Psychiatric Association. Dan trained with the Dalai Lama throughout the 1970s and is one of only a few Western individuals trained in the Tibetan Bön tradition. Dan runs meditation retreats around the world to help the average person achieve awakening. And now, without further ado, I’m pleased to give you the episode that I call Awakening and the Path of Liberation with Dan Brown.

Michael: Dan, welcome to the Deconstructing Yourself podcast.

Dan: My pleasure to be here.

Michael: Yeah, it’s great to have you on the show. I’ve actually been following your work a little bit since like the 1980s, because of that book you did with Ken Wilber. I think it’s called Transformations of Consciousness. Yeah. The articles you had in there were just absolutely fascinating! I bet I haven’t read that in 30 years, but I remember you saying, it’s not that all paths lead to one goal—these different paths lead to one goal, but it’s as if the paths are all the same but the goals are different.

Dan: Somewhat different, right?

Michael: Yeah, I thought that was such a wonderful and non-intuitive inversion. So since then, I’ve just always been a fan of your work. So it’s great to have you on the show. 

Dan: Nice to be here. 

Michael: So what are you doing now?

Dan: Oh, I’m working on a number of translations, there’s eight books I’m translating. So the thing that changed my life the most was about 12 years ago, I met His Holiness Menri Trizin, the lineage holder for the Bön. 

Michael: So this is Tibetan shamanic Buddhism, correct? 

Dan: No, there’s also Tibetan Dzogchen.

Michael: Oh, okay. 

Dan: Bön have been doing Dzogchen for seven, eight hundred years. It’s a long time.

Michael: And so this is mainly a Dzogchen tradition.

Dan: Mostly Dzogchen tradition. 

Michael: And so, tell me about that meeting.

Dan: Well, we met somewhat by accident, but there’s nothing accidental. I’ve always worked with Tibetans, for almost 50 years now. I met Shinzen in, we took a class in Tibetan, University of Wisconsin together, and I knew him for the last almost 50 years now. So I stayed with the Tibetan tradition and tried a number of things, mostly from Mahamudra over the years, Kagyu tradition, and then I started working with an old lama who was Nyingma and learned Dzogchen from him. He was my roommate in the 1970s. And he came over to the US and we started teaching together about 15 years ago, and then I met His Holiness when retracing the spiritual direction of the Bön mainly by accident. I was having dinner with a good friend of mine who is a owner of a hedge fund, an investment company, and he and his wife were at dinner and my younger son Gabe was there. He was 16 at the time, and they were lamenting that they had just lost all their money because all their hedge fund was under Madoff. He had lost everything. 

Michael: Yeah.

Dan: And I asked him what it was like to lose three houses and all his entire wealth for his friends and all his family, and his wife said the hardest thing for her was that she had promised Menri to bring clothing to the orphanage he runs in India, in Dolanji, India, where the monastery is. And Gabe, my youngest son at the table piped up and said, I’ll do it. So being a good dad, we collected 2000 pounds of clothing, mostly down jackets and jeans and things like that, because most of the refugees were boys whose parents were killed, and then they made Tibet refuse any refugees. So he took them all in, 450 kids without winter clothing, and my son collected enough clothing to supply them to get through the first couple of years of the winters. 

Michael: Wow.

Dan: So being a good dad, we went over there and as someone once said, “Indian bureaucracy is such that they left behind an impossible bureaucracy as an anchor for India’s independence.” And so we stood in, clothes got hung up in customs, even though we had nonprofit status to get the clothes free. So it took two days and 26 lines and signatures—meaningless signatures—to get the clothing free. And then we brought it up to the monastery and the kids unloaded the boxes and then all chaos broke loose, and they tried everything on and…two hours later, the dust settled and they had enough clothing for the winter, and that fit them. So we finished our mission and then the monk who came down to bring the papers from the monastery that the customs people wanted said, “You have to meet His Holiness.” So walked in to see His Holiness. He said, “You know awakening”—it was the first thing out of his mouth. And I said, “If I said I know anything about that, I wouldn’t know very much would I?” and he laughed. He said, “That’s a good start. Come study with me, I’ll show you how to deepen it.”

So I studied with him for 12 years, and it was the most profound teaching I’ve ever gotten from any teacher, I had a lot of Tibetan teachers over the years. But in the Bön tradition, one of the teachings is how to read minds of others and so he always would read my mind, knew exactly what I was doing, and what I was thinking any given time. That was at first weird, but then after a while it got very convenient because I’d show up in his room when I was on retreat, he said, “Now do this.” Knew wherever I was. [Michael laughs] I’ve never gotten so detailed instructions before in anything. And about four years ago, he said to me—he brought out a lot of old texts and he said, “I have a favor to ask you.” He said, “These are all the teachings of the advanced cave hermitage Yogi teachings, and they’re all going to die out. Would you help me? I want you to translate all these texts.” There’s 11 texts in that set of all the advanced practices. And he said, “I want you to put them in a form that works for Westerners. And I’ll show you how to do it.” So what am I going to say? No, I don’t feel like it? 

So I’ve been on the faculty at Harvard Medical School for 38 years, 39 years now as a psychologist, so I stopped my clinical work and my forensic work for three and a half years and did nothing but translation for three and a half years. And I had a benefactor match my salary so I didn’t go broke in the process. And I put out eight books, I’m on the last one right now. And we learned to do inner fire practice. And we now teach that, we have a complete set of recordings on all the stages of inner fire practice. And we’re now teaching to Westerners, the advanced Dzogchen teachings like the bypassing visions, we have translated all that. And we have taught that a number of times, we’ve worked out the bugs in how to teach that to Westerners. We’re now doing the preparations for people who can do solo practice with a consort, inner fire practice with a consort. We filmed all the advanced yogic exercises, and I have several people who’ve mastered those now. So we’re trying to preserve all the cave yogi teachings before they die out, just as they asked me to do it. That’s what I’ve been working on. 

Michael: That’s amazing. And did you learn this in a traditional setting with him, or was it at, like…

Dan: It’s all in the relationship to him. 

Michael: Yeah, yeah.

Dan: The clarity of the pith instructions, they’re like nothing else I’ve ever received before. He died last year. Just before he died, he sat down with me and said, “Here’s all the detailed pith instructions for full enlightenment. I want you to have them all and bring it to the West.” So my goal is to bring all the instructions at all levels of practice. There are three levels of practice: the first level of practice is from the very beginning to practice up to a taste of awakening, however unstable that may be. The second set of practices is how you cultivate that awakening, so you have it all the time on and off the pillow, so you have it all the time. And the third set of practices is how you take that awakening and bring it to full enlightenment. So we’re trying to teach this at all levels of practice and look at the neurocircuitry of all levels of this practice. If I get that done before I die, I think I’ve left something behind that’s useful for people.

Michael: Yes, sounds beyond amazing. For you, what do you see as the biggest difficulty in making this material clear for a Western audience?

Dan: Well, it’s all in the wording of the pith instructions. The pith instructions are usually kept secret, so they don’t get disseminated widely, so they don’t get distorted or misused. If you get the right pith instructions at the right level of practice they work. We’re just trying to put them in a form that works for Westerners. I’m a psychologist with a background in hypnosis, I wrote four textbooks on hypnosis. And one of the things in hypnosis that we learned is the wording of suggestions matters a lot. So we’re always changing the wording of the meditation instructions to get them to work the best way for Westerners. Mostly, we’ve succeeded for the first two levels of this practice and now we’re trying to open up the third level of practice, practice that leads to full Buddhahood. And we haven’t got the wording worked out for that yet, just, we don’t have enough students that are that far along, but some of them are.

Michael: Let’s back up a little to the first one, the taste of awakening. Would this be a glimpse of “natural mind” as it’s often described, or is this taste of awakening something different than that?

Dan: No, natural mind includes everything from timeless, boundless awareness up to full Buddhahood. It’s a generic term that covers the advanced practices.

Michael: And so how would you describe to someone this taste of awakening, this first level?

Dan: Well, there are four things that are necessary for the taste of awakening. The first is opening up to a field of experience that’s timeless, it doesn’t come and go in time. Events within that field still come and go in time, but the field itself is absolutely changeless, it’s timeless. And since time and space are related that field of awareness is boundless and infinite, limitless. So when you open up that field of boundless, changeless awareness, that’s what the beginning of the gateway to the Mahayana teachings are, which is very different from Theravada Buddhism because it doesn’t open up in timeless, boundless, what’s called “simultaneous mind” in Tibetan.

Michael: That’s true.

Dan: So once you open that gateway, then the next step is to see that that field of awareness you’re operating out of is nondual, so that there’s no inside, there’s no outside, and the place that you’re looking from and what you’re looking at is not somewhere else in the field. The knowledge and awareness of it co-emerges with the event that arises wherever the location is in that field. So it’s nondual perception. And the next is non-localized. And that’s the shift between ordinary mind and awakened mind. Because you are the unbounded wholeness at that point. There’s no particular point where you’re looking from. You’re looking from being the unbounded wholeness, it’s limitless, timeless awareness, and it’s huge. And it’s also because that awareness is not conceptual: It’s bright and vivid and lucid and loving. So when you open up that nondual, boundless, non-localized, loving, brilliant, knowing awareness, then that’s different from ordinary awareness. And then you found your way home. 

And we found that when we studied this, with Jud Brewer in his neurocircuitry lab, Jud had done a lot of work on mindfulness, and I said, “Look, why don’t you try looking at some Mahayana teachings, and see that they’re very different.” And one of the things that Jud found with mindfulness is two things. When people are operating out of mindfulness as it’s understood in the West, then they have a continuous set of awareness, which means that what they do is at that point is they’ve put offline the posterior cingulate cortex, which is the categorizing part of the brain, the one that makes events good or bad or evaluates them in one way or another. Categorizing shuts down, that’s part of nonjudgmental awareness in the way mindfulness is taught in the West. But the other thing that happens in mindfulness is that the medial prefrontal cortex, which is sense of self, goes offline.

Michael: That’s the essence of most of the research I’ve seen from Jud. 

Dan: Yeah, that’s true.

Michael: Dials down the PCC.

Dan: I wanted him to see that this is very different than Mahayana in two respects. One of the major differences between Theravada Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism is, Mahayana Buddhism still unfolds in temporal information processing, we call it in the West—events unfold in time, but in the Mahayana, you get a timeless, boundless awareness as the foundation of what’s called simultaneous mind, you can open that up by using something like Nagarjuna’s instructions, or direct pointing out instructions to open up the field of changeless, timeless, boundless, limitless awareness and operate under that. That’s very different than what you see in the Mahayana. In Western terms, we’d say you’re shifting from temporal processing of information to parallel processing. We measure everything in terms of degrees of all-at-onceness rather than what happens over and unfolds in time. Everything is contained within that field and you are that field. That’s a huge difference. And everybody contains and participates in that same field of “big mind.” And that’s where the idea of Bodhisattva ideals come from and how your act affects everybody else in the field. We all influence each other.

Michael: Yeah, I always found that fascinating, that the Mahayana starts out with this. You may have a little bit of Shamatha with an object stabilization or something to get you going, but this is still sort of step one.

Dan: It’s the foundation of what’s called simultaneous mind or all-at-onceness mind. So that’s different from Western perspective and information processing is profoundly different in both traditions. They’re not the same. 

Michael: And so what did you and Jud find when you look into this?

Dan: Well, we found that when people were holding the view of “ocean and waves” practice, where you’re being the unbounded wholeness of awareness, and it’s nondual—it’s not awakened but it’s localized—that when they held that view or the refinement of that, which is called the “natural state,” or setting up the view of what’s called “lion’s gaze” for awakening, those three states where we found that in 29 subjects, all of them had activated cingulate cortex, the anterior cingulate cortex, which is the concentration center of the brain. But the unusual finding was that all of them had gamma activity, that is the frequency of the bandwidth of activation was in the high, high, high, frequency. Highest we could find,

Michael: I was going to ask about the gamma activation because that is always the key point. 

Dan: So what it meant is in that region of interest, the anterior cingulate cortex which is the concentration center of the brain, is all the cells are activated and they’re all put online synchronistically, which is a highly unusual finding. So that means that they were intensely holding the view. We say in Dzogchen, the view is the meditation. How you look at things makes all the difference in the world. The perspective that you have on things. So they were holding the view very stably, but it’s not awakening. When they shifted from ordinary mind to awakened mind, they activated an area, the parietal system that’s usually associated with shifting from a more local to a more global awareness and much bigger awareness, consistent with the idea that they are the unbound wholeness at that point. That unbounded wholeness is loving and knowing, wisdom and compassion are the same thing. So that’s what we found. And we found that when they opened up that area, the parietal system that’s usually associated with shift to a larger perspective, a much larger perspective on awareness. And again, we found gamma activity in all 29 subjects. So that area of operating out of the huge expanse is, all the cells of that region that do that are online synchronistically. So it’s an unusual finding, very specific.

Michael: And do you think that besides teaching us something about the brain, is this helping feed back to teaching at all?

Dan: Just to remind us of what the goal is. A lot of meditation teaching is about teaching skills. You learn to concentrate, you learn to be mindful. If there’s no end point, how many teachers of mindfulness in the West actually talk about awakening? 

Michael: Not very many.

Dan: Almost none of them. Except for Shinzen and his students. 

Michael: Yep.

Dan: And the reason for that is because we’ve secularized it, we’ve made it into something, a technique that Westerners can use, that’s now very popular. It may actually be harmful. Because if you don’t talk about awakening, and you practice ordinary mindfulness, you’re hardening the mind. You’re training ordinary awareness over awakened awareness as the dominant mode you’re operating out of and you don’t know there’s anything else to look for. So it actually may be harmful. 

Michael: And so for you, what’s the answer?

Dan: The answer is to teach people how to wake up.

Michael: I had a very good experience because of the teachers I’ve worked with, but—

Dan: Because you worked with Shinzen and he knows how to do that. 

Michael: That’s right.

Dan: He’s the only mindfulness teacher who actually is not teaching mindfulness, he’s teaching awakening. 

Michael: It’s true. 

Dan: He’s done that for years and he’s totally consistent about it. He’s a pest about it, he’s single minded about getting people there, as I am.

Michael: And so what would you recommend someone begin with?

Dan: To think that the goal’s beyond just meditating as a technique. You have to think of the larger perspective, why you’re doing this at all, and you’re doing it to become awakened. And as we find that awakening to the full Buddhahood, that’s why we do the practice.

Michael: If I said, “Okay, well, what is that awakening?”, would you repeat that list of timelessness and boundlessness and nonduality and nonlocality? Or would you say it in some other way?

Dan: No, that’s the way it’s said. But most people find that when they have an experience of awakening, it changes everything in their life.

Michael: Yes.

Dan: They found a way home, they know this. And that changes everything. Then they are on the right path. We say that awakening is the confluence of all 84,000 teachings of the Buddhas. No matter what technique it is, if it’s not about awakening, they’re not teaching the heart of it. You’ve lost the heart of it.

Michael: Alright, so that covers the taste of awakening. And then the second thing was to cultivate that glimpse or the taste, so that you can experience it continuously. How does that work?

Dan: It usually works by setting up the same view, which is called a lion’s gaze—you take a view of the vast expanse and it has to be limitless awareness that you operate out of. And you wait and hold that view. And if you hold that view without doing anything, without conceptualizing about it, the path shows itself to itself and awakens itself to itself. Just get out of the way. So a lot of the instruction at that point is how to get into doing nondoing, and to have a state of mind that’s completely nonconceptual, that you’re operating out of knowing awareness rather than operating out of thinking. And if you get that right, then you set up that view repeatedly. Awakening becomes a learned pathway, so that on the pillow you set up the same set of procedures, the same views until you shift from ordinary mind to awakened mind. And your task is to shift more frequently, for longer duration, and more and more immediately. And the sign of progress is that after a while, you leave the steps out—just by setting the intention to shift to awakening your ordinary shift is just automatically a shift to awakening. Do that many times frequently and easily. Then we mark the progress in terms of the percentage of time that during the sitting practice you’re actually staying in awakening as opposed to being in ordinary mind. And once you get to the point that you’re there most of the time on the pillow, then you take it off the pillow. You set it up on the pillow, you shift ordinary mind to awakened mind, and then you go out and engage and walk in nature and see how long you can sustain awakening. And then when you lose it, you go back and try and do it again, see if you can sustain it longer, and then after a while you’re trying to sustain awakening, during hard things to do. Like how to do it while you’re thinking and composing, or texting, and how to do it when you’re conversing with somebody, until you have it all the time, including dreaming and deep sleep. And then when you finish having awakening all the time, on and off the pillow in all situations and all times, then you’ve mastered the second level of this practice.

Michael: And so you then have a third step that you said, bring to full enlightenment or full— you even said full Buddhahood.

Dan: The third step is the path of liberation, it’s called. And it has to do with purification of the mind. And what it means is that you set up the view of the vast expanse, shift your basis of operation out of ordinary mind to awakened mind, make it nice and stable. And when you’re operating under that stable expanse after a while, you do that frequently, you don’t need to do it anymore because the mind will shift from what we call the ground aspect of awakening to the appearance aspect of awakening. And what that means is that you start looking naturally at what comes up in that vast expanse rather than what’s the vast expanse itself. And we call that the view of uninterrupted liveliness, and everything that arises, all thoughts are lively, awakened awareness. All emotions are lively, awakened awareness, all perceptions, visual forms, a lively awakened awareness, all sounds of body sensations, a lively awakened awareness. The body itself is lively, awakened awareness. So you get a continuous uninterrupted flow of lively awakened awareness. And when that’s automatically going on, and you’ve mastered the automaticity of that, then you take both views simultaneously: the vast expanse of the liveliness and what arises within it. You hold both views simultaneously until that’s stable.

And then, something interesting happens. If you hold a view of the vast expanse and you see everything is a liveliness of awakened awareness uninterrupted, what arises within that expanse? Then you find that either you can engage things that have come up in the field or not engage them. If you let them just play out in the awareness without engaging them, then they disappear immediately. Because a mental engagement is what causes you to form common memory traces. If you set up, if you’re just right with the right instructions, then what happens is an automatic release of all the common memory traces, you’re just not engaging anything so everything releases itself automatically, like writing on water. As soon as something arises it disappears, something arises, it disappears again, and you watch the show of everything disappearing. If you do that, what we call self-arising, self-liberating automatically, and you do that all the time on and off the pillow for seven years, you’ve exhausted the bin of all common memory traces, and you’ve completely purified the mind of all residual common memory traces.

Now you can speed up that process by doing two other practices. One of the hardest things to clear is the residuals of the physical substantiality of the body. If you do inner fire practice, which is working with the central channel, you can do that in about two years. And if you’ve cleaned up ordinary perception with bypassing visions and Dzogchen, then you can get the whole process down to about two years rather than about seven years, and then you have completely exhausted all negative states. And the karmic impressions that drive those negative states, they’re all gone. And since those negative states mask the positive states you have, depending on who you read, somewhere between 80 and 85 positive states flourish all at once. I happen to think that the flourishing of positive states and the lack of all negativity has profound implications for mental health, and that’s what we’re going to study next. We have enough students who are far enough along this process of what’s called {Sange}, complete eradication of negative states and the flourishing of positive states. So we can test them in the laboratory. We have a grant from the Fetzer Foundation, that Jud’s going to test them to look at what the brain is doing when there’s no negative states and only positive states left. So we started to run studies just before the pandemic stuff, so we have to delay it for a little bit, but we’ll get there.

Michael: That’s really fascinating. Thank you for taking us through that whole process,

Dan: I suspect what’s going to happen is we’re going to find, we’re going to get gamma activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, which is the positivity center of emotions in the brain. In the social connectivity center of the brain, that part of the brain is fully awake.

Michael: And so you would be equating these high frequency gamma waves with awakened activity.

Dan: Awakening in that region of interest. And the functions of that region of interest are completely different from the area of the parietal system that opens up to limitless awareness. It has to do with positivity and the lack of negative states and social connection, compassion, things like that. 

Michael: Would you say that the goal of quite a number of meditation practices is to increase gamma activity in some area of the brain?

Dan: Seems to be the emergent finding, yes.

Michael: Yeah. I think it’s fascinating. The study that occurred—I think it was even in the, maybe very early 80s or 70s, late 70s, where they found the gamma activity in Tibetan meditators but sort of dismissed it as noise. It was unclear what that was. Yeah. But now we’re coming back around to understand that it’s very, very significant. 

Dan: It’s very significant. But it also depends on the region of interest of where you get the gamma activity. And there’s different functions at different levels of practice, so that different levels of practice open up completely different levels of experience. That’s what we’re finding. 

Michael: Now when you’re describing this work that your students are doing that can take anywhere from, let’s say, two to seven years or longer. Is this like long silent retreats? Or are they doing this at home? 

Dan: No, I don’t like silent retreats. And the reason why I don’t like them is as a psychologist, I spent some time in the early 70s doing research on sensory deprivation, and you get an overlay of sensory deprivation effects from silent retreats and from lack of social connection to others. So I think it interferes with the practice. Well, in Mahayana, the emptiness practice is meant to take off the pillow, you do it in daily life. If you can’t live your daily life doing these practices, then there’s something wrong with the practice. I think many years ago, William James, the great American psychologist, wrote a book called The Varieties of Mystical Experience [ed—actually it’s The Varieties of Religious Experience]. And in one of the lectures he gave on the book, somebody asked him, “How do you tell the authenticity of a mystical experience?” And he said, “By the fruits, you shall know them.” It’s all about conduct. The only way you can really tell a person who is awakened is not how they talk about it, but how they live their life. It’s all about conduct, if you don’t live it then it’s not real. 

Michael: Yeah, we’ve just been, a co-teacher of mine, Michael Owens and I, have been teaching from the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra. And so this, you know, idea of bringing it out into every part of life is sort of the central idea there, right.

Dan: It’s also a way that Shinzen has always taught, also. So we’re very similar in that sense.

Michael: Yes. Is there any part of Theravada practice that you think is extremely helpful for moving into this kind of work?

Dan: I think it’s a mixed blessing. I think the fact that mindfulness is so enormously popular in the West and has introduced lots of people to meditation that they wouldn’t otherwise have gotten without that introduction—so in that sense, its heavy marketing is useful in terms of having people have an introductory experience of what it’s like to meditate and be aware of their experience. So that’s useful. 

Michael: Maybe getting a little good at concentrating and so on. Yeah, that’s powerful. 

Dan: I did 10 years of outcome study on mindfulness meditators in 1970s, and 80s. 

Michael: What did you find? 

Dan: We didn’t find the data very concentrated. Every year the three month retreat in Barre, Massachusetts, for 10 years, we did an outcome study of one sort or another. I got to know the students there. And we found that of about 120 students a year, there’s one three month course a year, we found that about 24 of them got deeply concentrated—most of them did not, because the methods and teaching for concentration are not that strong in mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation is taught in the West as a hybrid, it has some concentration and some mindfulness, but neither has done it in the pure type. There are much better, more intensive ways to concentrate, that we’re not being taught in mindfulness. And that was even true when I was in Burma, because I went to Burma in the 1970s and studied directly with Mahasi Sayadaw. But after he died, U Pandita came in as his successor, and he was upset with the Western students for not teaching concentration deeply enough. So he pulled all the Western teachers and had them learn to concentrate all over again in a more deep way. I agree with that. I think the way that mindfulness is taught in the West is not very good for concentration. There are much better methods for concentration. The “shamatha path” and the elephant path, which we call it the nine stages of state concentration, the shi-ne in Tibetan, is the best in Buddhism. It’s used by all the Buddhist sects. And the other great system of concentration is the Patanjali Yoga Sutras in the Hindu system. But most of the people in mindfulness we’ve found in the West, nine stages of concentration, they only learned the first two, they’re not giving the tools for the rest of them. So we teach all nine of them.

Michael: So Dan, what’s the next book you have coming out?

Dan: There’s eight books coming out. Some of them are now out. There’s three books by Shardza Rinpoche, who was the great Bön master in the last thousand years. The first, the short one, is a trilogy of books. The short one is called The Heart Drops of Kuntuzangpo. There’s another version of that translated in English but not a full translation. So we did the full translation—that’s short. Then there’s the middle length book, which is 11 yogi books and teachings of the cave and hermitage yogis, and it has the inner fire practices and fasting practices and the advanced yogic exercises and the bypassing vision practices. It’s a remarkable collection of works, that’s now out. It’s called the Self-Arising Three-fold Embodiment of Enlightenment

And the third that I’m working is Shardza’s opus on Dzogchen. It’s very big, it’s about several thousand pages in Tibetans, an overview of everything you want to know about Dzogchen and the profundity of that. So I’m just about finishing that, I’ll finish it this summer. Then we have another Bön Dzogchen book called the Practical Guide to Ati. Ati means a practical guide to the final state of “Ahh.” It’s a step by step 14-session lesson plan for full enlightenment. It’s a remarkable set of teachings. So that’s available, we’ve offered a number of courses on that which we filmed. Then have a book on training concentration in the school system for kids, because we think most kids are not learning to concentrate enough anymore. So it includes how to concentrate, all the exercises that we use, divided by developmental ages. It’s called The Elephant Path. It’s using our sangha’s work on concentration and making it available according to developmental age and wording it in ways that kids can understand it. So we have four versions of it. There’s one for early pre-operational kids from four to six, late pre-operational kids from six to eight, concrete operational kids from eight to 12, and then adolescence. So there are four developmental ages depending on level of intelligence. And that book will be out in three weeks.

Michael: What’s it called? 

Dan: It’s called The Elephant Path: Attention Development and Training for Children and Adolescents. That’s the subtitle. And then the last one I have coming out is, I got interested in some of the advanced Dzogchen teachings in the Bön when I was with His Holiness Menri Trizin and one of the advanced teachings is how to transform yourself when you’re dying into rainbow light, like the resurrection for Jesus. This is a series of teachings on how you transform yourself during dying into rainbow light. So I was always curious about those teaching and Menri would tease me about finding them. He said here’s where they are. It was in Shardza’s collected works. And I got to look carefully to find them. And he said, “You haven’t found them yet?” I said, “No.” So he gave me a couple of hints. And I said, “I found them.” He said, “You’re very proud of yourself, you found them.” So he said “You can translate them, but don’t practice them, because you’ll take years off your life.” So I translated them and then he gave me the full explanation of them. And they’re profound, and they’ve never been shown before to the West. So then there was a section of that about relics, where a great master dies and leaves his body, if you burn the body and cremate it, there are little round pellets about a millimeter in size and bright colors that have an influence over a physical reality, so those are the relics of great Buddhas. There was a relics tour of Shakyamuni Buddha’s relics and Milarepa’s relics in the West about 15 years ago. And at Stanford Research Institute, they did a study of the influence of relics on physical matter, like changing the decaying rate of radioisotopes or activating enzymes in the system and they’ve shown that these relics had an effect on physical matter, which is quite remarkable. So when Menri died he gave me some of his relics, I’m repeating that stuff at Stanford Research Institute right now to see that relics have influence on physical reality.

Michael: What kind of influence? 

Dan: Activate enzymes in a test tube, changes to trajectory of release of light, activate radioactive decay rates, change the decay rate of radioactive materials, things like that? So from a scientific point of view, we’re looking at the next stage of this, which is to find out what relics are made of—whether they’re made of some substance that we could identify from the chemical periodic table, or a non-ordinary substance, I don’t know that yet, so we’re trying to find that out now. And when we finish that we’re publishing a book on the relics and dying processes, secret dying teachings and rainbow body,

Michael: Now you have clearly a huge background in psychology as well as an encyclopedic knowledge of Dzogchen and Mahamudra teachings.

Dan: I do two things in psychology. I work as a clinical psychologist, I’ve worked at the medical school for 39 years now. And I’ve worked in continuing education for 25 years, so what that means is I have to update all the research. So I spend one day a week reading outcome literature in all areas of psychiatric diagnoses. And I used to teach in continuing education for 30 years. So what I do is upgrade all the rest of what we learned about outcome studies and treatment in the West. So I got paid to read all the research, which is a wonderful job. 

Michael: Yeah, that’s fun. 

Dan: And the other job I have is I work as an attachment and abuse specialist with kids. So I spent a long time in the courts.

Michael: So my question for you is, this path you’re describing of Dzogchen, is it a complete path psychologically, as well as spiritually, or?

Dan: Well the preliminary practices, 100,000 preliminary practices, would take two or three years, are designed to do what Western psychology does in terms of psychotherapy. They cover similar ground: motivational issues, working with negative states and conflict, developing positive states, things like that. Getting a perspective on yourself. Working with sense of self as an interference, things like that.

Michael: And do you feel like they’re pretty in alignment with the goals they’re trying to achieve? 

Dan: Yes, they’re sometimes in alignment, but they do it in different ways. Like if you look at motivational practices there’s a whole literature on what’s called stage of change in psychotherapy, and how to motivate people to use therapy effectively. There’s similar research in Tibetan Buddhism on that, but they just approach it with doing visualizations differently than we do in the West. But they cover the same ground, just in a different way. So each informs the other, of different ways of doing the same thing. For me that’s exciting.

Michael: That is exciting! What do you see as the future of this type of teaching, you know the Dzogchen teachings, Mahamudra teachings in the West? I mean, currently they seem harder and harder to find.

Dan: Well, we’re trying to make them easier to find, where everything I’ve done, all the retreats we’ve either audio recorded and sound edited them or video recorded them. So 80 percent of the entire path we’re now leaving behind for Westerners. Just before he died His Holiness gave me all the secret pith instructions for full Buddhahood in great detail because he wanted me to have them. So now opening up all the teachings on that, so two years from now we’ll have 100 percent of all these teachings for all three maps and levels of practice ready for Westerners to use. If I left that behind before I die and leave this form body, then I’ve done a good job of things is the way I look at it. These teachings, they’re not going to last in their indigenous context, they’re gonna come to the West. We have to make Western Buddhas now.

Michael: And is this something a person could learn from, you know, watching these videos? Or is it absolutely important to have a one-on-one teacher relationship?

Dan: One-on-one teacher relationship is important because in lineage traditions you have to have the transmissions. 

Michael: You bet.

Dan: In the transmissions are heart-to-heart pith instructions, which are very detailed about what to do in your practice. So they come from a relationship. You can’t just get it from the media. Once they get it from the media, we can use the media as a guideline to follow the practice, to follow it up and deepen it. Menri was very creative with me because he felt that the Westerner is not going to do 100,000 preliminaries, but what he did is he agreed that he’d open up all the advanced teachings in a way that most Tibetan lamas don’t do. And the deal that I had with him was that if we made eligibility requirements that work for Westerners, then he would trust me on that, so for example, you have to have relatively frequent experiences of awakening in order to be able to get the very advanced teachings to unify a practice of the bypassing visions. So rather than using an outdated, old set of 100,000 preliminaries which may not get to the right criteria anyway, we made very specific criterion for each course. In order to do this level of practice you need this, it’s very specific to that set of teachings. So there’s a much more refined and streamlined set of eligibility requirements and they can largely work. So that’s how we did it. And he supported me, developing this trust that I would do it in the right way, which I greatly appreciate. I know that capacity gave us all levels of teaching, all the advanced teachings, nothing is held out, nothing secret. He gave us everything, even the rainbow body teaching which is amazing. The only thing he didn’t give me was the secret teachings on reading minds because he said, I already knew it from a previous lifetime. And it would come back to me at some point, but it hasn’t done that yet.

Michael: And so as you finish these two books and bring these teachings online, what are you looking forward to in terms of your own journey and your own creative unfoldment?

Dan: Well, I have advanced Parkinson’s, so I’ve just started staying with my form body long enough to see these teachings come to fruition and take hold so solidly in the West. That’s what I want. And I may or may not get to do that. I don’t know that.

Michael: All right, Dan. Well, it’s been really wonderful to talk to you today. Thanks for coming on the program.

Dan: My pleasure. Thanks for asking such good questions.

Many thanks for the transcription done by Elliott Ge—MT

4 thoughts on “Awakening and the Path of Liberation—FULL TRANSCRIPT”

  1. Wow… This is Dr. Oliver M. Williams, and I am a humanistic scientist, therapist and holistic life coach from the greater Chicago area. This work reminds me so much of the work taught by Dr. Bruce Lipton and the Biology of Belief. The awakening process seems to resonate well with operating in the conscious creative mind, and eventually moving toward hemi-sync, which is the total integration of the conscious and subs conscious process as a way of living a totally enlightened life. Thank you so much for this, and I look forward to hearing more about it.

  2. Thank you Michael for introducing me to this fascinating guest. I am particularly interested in the perspectives of people who are practitioners of both the objective realm (e.g. a scientist) and the inner subjective realm (e.g. a meditator/yogi). Your podcast is a feast, and there’s much I take away.

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