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Daniel P Brown, the CIA Operation Phoenix, and trauma: a forgotten part of US history as motivator for a fiercely protective Buddhist fighter

A picture of Daniel P Brown and a symbol of Operation Phoenix

The idea is to bring the nature of your realisation fresh, every moment, to the most difficult of everyday life experiences; to the coarsest levels of mind (Dan Brown)

This post highlights the "absolutely fiercely protective" character of a great deceased meditation teacher, Daniel P Brown (2048-2022).

If also highlights, that the current wave of violence exploding in Ukraine and Gaza is not an occasion to separate out the good from the bad: often, one country easily forgets their own history of utmost violence and brutality. History is no place for hypocrisy.

Daniel P Brown, the psychologist and meditation teacher in the Tibetan tradition, was a Buddhist and a fighter for those left behind, for the victims and the abused. Apart from his psychological practice and his teaching of meditation, as a trauma and memory expert he worked for victims of the Vietnam war, of the Catholic Church and of the CIA. He did not avoid conflicts.

His attitude was formed through several encounters with the violence and treachery of the state and institutions:

  • Through his childhood experience of being cheated by the Catholic Church for his first prize in a competition

  • Indirectly, the CIA´s program MKUltra for mind-control

  • The CIA´s program "Operation Phoenix" in Vietnam for training young "killer-machines"

  • The Catholic Church child abuse.

This post focuses on the CIA´s Operation Phoenix.

An absolutely fiercely protective Buddhist stance

One tends to associate "Buddhist" with someone peaceful and non-combative. But that´s how he was: he was a fighter, driven by compassion.

The term "fiercely protective" is used by Dan Brown in the comprehensive Sacred Sundays interview:

In the mind of a fully enlightened Buddha, there are 21 types of conduct. And that's in the metaphor of the 21 Taras. There's not 21 Tara deities out there. Each one of those is a metaphor for a certain type of what's called enlightened activity. And one of those 21 forms of enlightened activity is fierce protectiveness. Fierce protectiveness. Is that anger? You don’t want to be on the recipient end of that. It's absolutely fiercely protective. Like a lioness and her cubs. But it's fiercely protective of everyone equally.´My root lama was like that. He was Mongolian. 

And other people saw this in him, for example Terry Patton:

He's a regular guy, an Irish working-class son who still roots for the Boston sports teams and relishes a good meal as well as fighting the good fight against corrupt institutions  (Terry Patton 2013)

As a result, not all people liked him (he easily got the label of a "strong personality"), but many loved and admired him regardless for "the strength of his presence, penetrating concentration and the depth of his embodied realization of awakening". I met him only once, online in the pre-last of his retreats, where he already was strongly affected by Parkinson´s disease. But even so I can attestate for the strong effect he had on me, for example as meditation-teacher-hypnotist.

Daniel P Brown: exposure to trauma through killer-youth trained by the CIA Operation Phoenix

This is his most comprehensive account of his second encounter with the CIA´s brutal methods in the late 1970s. The first encounter had been his discovery of the CIA´s project "MkUltra" in the early 1970s. Daniel P Brown´s encounter with Operation Phoenix was equally shocking. His last encounter with the CIA´ was his defence of the Bobby Kennedy assassin Sirhan Sirhan. Sirhan - in Dan Brown´s view - was likely a CIA setup as "The true Manchurian candidate" through hypnosis and mind control - just as he had learned about MUltra years before.

My first exposure to the trauma field was in the late 1970s. I had a woman take my hypnosis course.
Her name was Sarah Haley. She had worked for 10 years with Vietnam vets, a forgotten population in the 70s. They weren't treated in those days.
She took the hypnosis course so she could learn about how to treat trauma survivors. I didn't know anything about trauma at the time, so we made a deal after the course. And the deal was that I would teach her hypnosis, in exchange for which she would teach me about how to treat trauma survivors.
Only I wasn't so sure about the bargain I was making, because the first trauma survivors that she sent to me for treatment were kids who were in Operation Phoenix. Now during the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, we didn't care about the numbers of people killed, we wanted to make sure there was a balance in the numbers. We were losing the war.
And North Vietnam started to build up a huge offensive and sending more and more large numbers of troops from the north to the south, called the Tet Offensive. And Westmoreland, who was in charge of their troops for the US, kept trying to tell President Johnson that we were losing the numbers game. But President Johnson was prone to rage fits.
And every time Westmoreland told him that we were losing, he would go into a rage fit and trash with Westmoreland almost every day. It was abusive. So Westmoreland one day walked out of Johnson's office and said, I'll fix that bastard, I'll take care of it myself.
So he got together with the CIA and he formed Operation Phoenix. And what they did is they took 19, 18 and 19 year old kids and trained them to be little killing machines. We trained them to go into a village at night with either no weapons by hand or with no more than a knife and assassinate an entire village, men, women and children.
We didn't care who we killed, we just wanted body counts. And the next day the helicopters would fly by and count all the bodies. We could say, see, we're keeping up with the North Vietnamese this way.
These kids were trained killing machines and they were fully trained, efficient killing machines by the age of 19. That was my first population of trauma survivors. They were the most efficient, violent people that I've ever faced ever in my career.
And we knew we were getting somewhere after a number of years of working with them where they could start talking about what an utter thrill it was to kill. Because it was no longer dissociated. They could talk openly and honestly about it.

More information about MKUltra is here.

Path walking through cross-examinations on war trauma in courts

Daniel Brown integrated his fighter-personality into his view of the Buddhist path. In the Conscious TV interview of 2009, Dan explained his conclusion. about how to "walk the path":

So path-walking instructions… Or sometimes that word lumcar is translated as ‘enhancement instruction’: something will enhance or improve the likelihood of holding that awakening. The idea is to bring the nature of your realisation fresh, every moment, to the most difficult of everyday life experiences; to the coarsest levels of mind. And some teachers would recommend that putting yourself in life’s most difficult circumstances is a good practice to keep your awakening fresh [smiling]. Others recommend that compassion and activity is a good way of keeping it fresh. Personally, in my professional life, I’m a clinician, I’m a trauma expert, a trauma abuse expert - I do a lot of work in the courts so... being cross-examined as an expert is a good path-walking [laughing]. Good occasion to practise.


Brown, D. P. (2017, January 29). Living Meditation 2017-07-26 Dan Clearing Transgressions [Video]. Vimeo. 

Brown, D. P., & Patton, T. (2013, January 1). The Sun Beyond the Clouds of Self | A new republic of the heart. A New Republic of the Heart.

Brown, D. P., & Churchill, J. (2012, January 16). Living Meditation 2012-03-14 dan PART 2 [Video]. Vimeo.  

Brown, D. P. & conscioustv. (2009b, May 21). Daniel Brown 1 - “The Great Way” - Interview by Iain McNay [Video]. YouTube.

Gebel, T. (2024a, January 22). Daniel P Brown, CIA and LSD research: a meditation teacher´s involuntary involvement with program MKUltra. . . Till Gebel.

Gebel, T. (2022d). Daniel P Brown makes various enemies. Till Gebel.


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