top of page

Dr Daniel P Brown´s Level 1 Mahamudra Retreat

A roller-coaster, high-intensity, hypnotic scientific introduction to Mahamudra

These are notes of what I consider the best introduction to Buddhism and meditation I could have got.

(Note April 2023: this post must be updated with the material by Blaschke 2017, and cleaned up )

Daniel P Brown
Daniel P Brown, deceased 2022

It got it through a 6-day online retreat with Dr Daniel P Brown.

Dr Daniel P Brown (deceased 2022) was a highly unusual and somewhat controversial meditation teacher with many other roles in society. His obituary in the Americal Journal of Clinical Hypnosis gives an overview.

I attended one 6-day online retreat with him in February 2021, and I received a very unexpected, intellectually and emotionally moving introduction to Mahamudra and Dzogchen. I was privileged. I believe there was only one further retreat that he could support, having more and more problems through Parkinson's.

This is a very grateful review of the 6-day Level 1 retreat given by what was then the Pointing Out the Great Way foundation.

I attended this retreat as a beginner. My knowledge of Buddhism and meditation was limited to Culadasa´s "The Mind Illuminated". Thus, my perspective was that of a novice. If you want further impressions on Daniel P Brown´s teaching by participants with different viewpoints, check out

  • Dharmaoverground reviews. These are fairly general, but all of them positive

  • a excellent and complementary alternate review . The author is a sceptical scientist, and his notes are very useful in their completeness and brevity. That review is structured linearly, day by day, with a lot of teaching detail, while mine is structured by topic and focused on the method. It is also less enthusiastic than mine, so don´t take my word alone for it. My and his review are complementary.

  • An emotional impact centered description of the retreat by the author if the About Meditation podcast, M. Dix

On Dr Daniel P Brown

This is a very short overview. You can read more about him in my post describing how he made enemies of the Catholic Church, the CIA, the IRA and the Kennedy family.

Dr Brown (deceased in April 2022) was an extremely impressive personality and teacher with over 40 years experience and involvement. in the Tibetan culture. Apart from that he taught at Harvard, acted high performance coach, as therapist, researcher, and legal expert for abuse cases.

As expert in Buddhism he gained the trust of the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan leaders, one of which tasked him to preserve the Tibetan culture through translations and other documentation of dying culture.

Unlike many other spiritual teachers of his generation such as Jack Kornfield who by now is a kind of media celebrity, he has not been highly visible in this function. That is not astonishing. He had spread his energy over many types of welfare activities, often with a a ruthless energy.

He worked for Tibetan children, for abuse victims of the Catholic Church, for the Bobby Kennedy assassin, and of course for the many retreat participants.

On a surprising hypnotic roller-coaster HIT meditation experience

My interest in meditation had been created through a particular wondrous and mentally revolutionising psychedelic experience with the entheogen Ayahuasca.

Since 2019, I have been trying to follow up the significance of this so-called mystical or non-dual experience for my mental models and my personality. At the time, I did not even know that it was a mystical experience, since I had never had any major contact with the broad field of spirituality.

I therefore had never heard of Mahamudra or Dzogchen before I made acquaintance, again by chance, with a Facebook acquaintance who had been in Tibet as monk. Through him (thank you Tom!), I found the Pointing Out the Great Way retreat.

My familiarity with meditation at that time was limited to Culadasa´s book on concentration meditation, "The Mind Illuminated". I had come across this book praised as "meditation for geeks" (which I was at the time) through the ravishing review by Peter Attia, the US health guru. This book was my first attempt to understand the Ayahuasca experience.

So I attended the Mahamudra retreat more or less with a beginner´s mind. All I had was some knowledge, but without context, of concentration meditation (shamata).

The Mahamudra retreat is announced innocently like this:

Level 1 retreats present a full set of instructions for Mahamudra practice in a highly condensed manner, from the beginning up to a taste of awakening.

I was not (and am not) pleased, that this Level 1 course at 1500 USD must be taken "at least" 2-3 times before one is admitted to the next level. Initially this looked like a Scientology ploy to me. After all, I had gained some proficiency in concentration meditation through an investment of 50$ in the various editions of Culadasa´s "The Mind Illuminated". And, as the alternate reviewer of the retreat concludes:

"If you just want to start a meditation practice, you could do worse than just opening The Mind Illuminated. "

But this precondition also intrigued me. What could make meditation training so difficult, that the student has to repeatedly do the same thing again at such high cost?

I have a better understanding now, even if I am still somewhat sceptical of the validity of the intentin "to preserve the precious tradition" - by making it inaccessible? In pre-Covid times it would have had to include travel and accomodation, and made it unavailable for many (in particular when repeated).

So, why the characteristics hypnotic roller-coaster HIT meditation?

Roller Coaster

My naivete may have helped me to "survive" the sharp reversals of direction along the stages of Mahamudra meditation, and take them in as very surprising sudden insights. For example, one spends most of the time in the retreat learning meditation technique and strategies, and at the end one learns that they are no longer needed, and all meditation effort is to be dropped.

High Intensity Training (HIT)

I experienced the retreat like fitness sessions for the mind. It included repetitions, an increasing load, highly detailed instructions to do this and not that, and the possibility to have meditation errors corrected through feedback. This retreat was not a meandering narrative flow or explanation, but a sharply focused beam of mental precision coaching.


As I have a certificate in hypnosis, I recognised immediately, that the language of some teaching instructions included standard hypnotic techniques to deepen receptivity, and to circumvent the rational mind.


Each single element of the 6-day retreat is grounded in contemporary science. Some of it goes back to Dr Brown's dissertation from 1981, which linked Mahamudra meditation to cognitive psychology. In addition, elements from attachment and trauma therapy, neuroscience, Freudian and Jungian science are included.

I found the retreat extraordinary, and now am utterly grateful to have had the opportunity. Dr Brown recently died (2022), and as of 4/2023 the tradition of the Pointing Out the Great Way organisation and teaching is unknown. No more courses are announced for 2022 or 2023. All that is left is a description of the retreat levels. In case the website is taken off-line, here a copy.

Retreat Levels _ POGW
Download PDF • 478KB

The goal

In the first neurologival study of the "awakened" state with Judson Brewer (1999), Dan Brown described the aim of his method as such:

Experientially, the ultimate “aim” of the essence of mind technique is to experience a brilliantly awake, limitless, non-localized unified (non-dualistic) state of awakened awareness and compassion.

This is the end-point: the meditator has had a taste of a field of "awareness-love", as he calls it later, replacing "compassion" with "love".

Overview: Elements of effective meditation teaching in the retreat

So, what makes the Pointing Out the Great Way retreats so effective? It is the combination of content elements, delivery, and setting.

Content (tbd need to re-link)

  • Dr Brown's analytical foundation

  • Modernized "preliminaries"

  • Compression of content

  • Adapting old techniques to modern environments

  • The unified phase model of stages of meditation

  • A logical progression of meditation skills

  • Use of neuroscience and cognitive science

  • Use of therapeutic concepts (attachment theory, traume, the unconscious)


  • Pointing out style of teaching

  • High precision language

  • Use of hypnotic techniques

  • Use of metaphors

  • Use of sound/music


  • Aligned teaching team

  • Sangha

  • Online

Dr Brown's analytical foundation

If one encounters Dr Brown for the first time through his Level 1 retreat, one has no idea of the width and breadth of theory on which those 6 days rest.

Only when one dives deeply into his writings it becomes clear that, for example, already in 1981 he foresaw what in 2021, 40 years later, is accepted knowledge: many aspects of Buddhist teachings are analogous to contemporary Western theories in cognitive science and neuroscience.

There are essentially two lines of his investigation into Tibetan Buddhism:

  • The 3 works on meditation stages in Tibetan Mahamudra Buddhism

    • 1981: Mahamudra Meditation-Stages and Contemporary Cognitive Psychology (Doctoral Dissertation)

    • 1986 (With Ken Wilber): Transformations of Consciousness: Conventional and Contemplative Perspectives On Development (New Science Library).

    • 2006: Pointing out the Great Way. Stages of Meditation in the Mahamudra Tradition.

  • The forewords to the 7 books in the Bön tradition that he co-translated with Geshe Sonam Gurung.

Modernised "preliminaries"

The term "trust element" is widely used in web design for commercial sites. When there is no trust there is no sale. Thus, websites include references, customer stories, certifications etc.

This is similar to the broad approach of meditation teaching in Tibetan Buddhism. As Daniel P Brown has described in his books on Mahamudra, it is important to create trust in the student the elusive goal of "awakening" is actually achievable. There is no guarantee. And it is impossible to experience what the curriculum pre-announces before being there. Dan Brown uses two approaches: modernised guru-yoga imagery, and science.

Modernised guru-yoga

In classical Mahamudra Buddhism, it was the lama/guru student relationship that carried much of this trust-building effort. Trust could be built through the meeting with what today might be called mentor; through mandala gift ceremonies; through the "gift waves of influence" (an imaginary skills transfer); through guru-yoga etc.

In any case, it often equated an imaginary and instantaneous skill transfer from guru to student, or even from the entire lineage of gurus, that is from a community.

In the retreat, some of these old ceremonial visualisation techniques "in which the disciple visualises his root lama in front of him, surrounded by the many lamas of the lineage...all of whom stand to witness the formal acknowledgement of refuge" (MMS, p. 160) were used.

An example is a visualisation where the guru dissolves into light and this light is absorbed into the body of the student.

Some of these traditional visualisation methods were nearly identical to techniques I once learned in a management seminar for stage performance: eg stepping into the imagined body of an admired person; or working with an imagined protective and powerful light dome.

I found a very similar approach in a therapist training by the famous couple therapist Terry Real. He encourages one of this students who said that "the automatic thing for me is feeling of being looked at and judged". This is spoken during an online training.

Yeah, I'll tell you what. I want to give you a little energy exercise if I may. I want you to close your eyes. And there are about 350 people on this call right now, and more will be watching. I want you to feel the community of goodwill that is surrounding you right now in this moment. And I want you to feel that everybody in this community is rooting for you and supporting you. You are not alone. You have your issues. I have mine. The persons to the left and the right have theirs. Feel them wishing you well.

In the retreat, the specific wordings of guru yoga were kept as closely as possible to the original texts, while carefully aligning vocabulary and terminology with contemporary terms and concepts. For example, the group of well-meaning persons is called "retinue" - a term out of use today.


A second trust-building element is the extensive reference to Western science. Of course, we moderns believe and trust in science. Thus, science can substitute the personal trust in the wisdom of the lama.

Referring to science is the more believable, as Dr Brown himself has been involved as researcher in contemplative science studies with Judd Brewer. See my blogpost on the ocean and wave metaphor.

Compression of content

In the early sixties I learned to program in the computer language Assembler. The teacher, after some very basic instructions, started to explain how Assembler worked by letting us build, under his supervision, a program that listed the results of a football game from some input.

You may think that this was easy, but for programming novices it was a giant challenge. But we all made it. At the end, he explained that he trusted in overwhelm and in the natural capability of the brain to ingest information at a high speed when the teaching is good. Using this approach, he said, he could compress even Assembler teaching into a very short time.

Daniel Brown´s approach uses the same compression technique for content. He is very confident about the possibility to learn very fast: he often quotes a one-day session with his most impressive teacher to who he was personally introduced by the Dalai Lama.

CANI - Constant and never ending improvement

He began the development of his teaching material in the 1970s. The body of knowledge and techniques has since been continually streamlined, tested, and improved in many retreats. In particular the constant improvement of specific standardised phrases, words, intonations etc has resulted in a high-efficiency teaching approach.

Adapting old techniques to modern contexts

Here I want to give just one example. It describes how Dr Brown instructs to counter drowsiness and excitation during meditation through light / darkness visualisations.

  • Drowsiness: combat with the mental representation of, or direct experience of light (e.g. meditating outside, or imagining a light-flooded environment)

  • Excitation: combat with the mental representation or direct experience of darkness (e.g. meditating in the cave, imagining a black environment)

These instructions go back a long time. Originally, they are given in the context of "seed meditation" which is not taught during the Level 1 retreat, and involve intricate visualisations of emanation of dark and light structures from and back into a "seed".

Here is an original instruction:

With regard to drowsiness and stupor, you should have Reflected, in Clarity, on all the outer and inner [aspects] of your own body with the light of the Seed. When Excited, direct the mind to a black seed emitting light, and it will be removed (quoted in MMS, p. 277)

Brown continues:

... drowsiness and excitement will face quickly, when setting up the right light and color

In the retreat, the instructions on the use of light and darkness are provided as a general means to deal with under- and overstimulation of the nervous system during meditation, caused by too little or too much mental movement.

The instructions, though, are highly simplified basic representations of dark or light space.

In this way, Dr Brown retains the original technique of that has been tested with thousands of students over hundreds of years, reformulates it in modern ways and adapts them to the context in which they are given.

A comprehensive set of meditation skills

During the retreat, the student is taught, in condensed form, all of the foundational meditation skills defined by Brown. Below an illustration by Blaschke (2017).

  • Steering is directing focused attention to a meditation object (sich as the breath), and if necessary, redirect to it after a distraction.

  • Intensifying and easing up: increasing or decreasing the mental energy brought to attention in order to not exhaust mental resources, and avoid dullness and flightyness

  • Pliancy: this skill is required for working intentionally and fluidly with "views" or inner awareness perspectives from which attention is directed. In order to understand the following, check the post about mind view and event view.

  • First, it reflects practitioners’ abilities to hold onto a specific perspective (view) at the mind view despite marked changes in content at the event view.

  • Second, practitioners learn to hold attention on a specific object in the event-view while at the same time shifting their mind view to a different level of awareness.

  • Meta-cognitive awareness (vigilance, intelligence). This higher-level skill allows the practitioner to monitor in real-time and if necessary adjust the quality of the meditation, for example the recognition of having been "lost in thought".

Unified model of meditation stages that build on each other

The content and structure of the retreat is built around the model of meditation stages that Daniel P Brown has distilled from the Buddhist traditions, up to the point of "a taste of awakening". In stage terms, this includes the meditation of non-meditation.

The sequence illustrated below represents a generalised model of levels of awareness, that Daniel P Brown has distilled from all the Buddhist traditions.

When appearing publicly, Daniel P Brown liked to explain the entire path to awakening by quoting the Heart Sutra's concluding concluding mantra. I have written a blog post on the Heart Sutra as being a source of Dr Brown´s stage model.

Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha
Brown´s translation: Gone, Gone, Gone Way Beyond, Gone Way Way Beyond: Uh what a Realisation

Essentially, the sequence drops one after the other of what are obstacles to recognising what is called "the nature of the mind" in many Buddhist teachings:

  1. Dropping thought

  2. Dropping self

  3. Dropping space and time

  4. Dropping localisation

  5. (Dropping information processing)

Here is a description, largely by Brown, in terms of the Heart Sutra:

  1. Gone: I get caught up in thought - I go beyond thought through learning how to use awareness

  2. Gone: I get caught up in Self - I go beyond Self through realising the emptiness of Self [added: and of objects]

  3. Gone way beyond: I get caught up in space and time - I go beyond space and time through realising space and time as fabrications

  4. Gone way way beyond: I get caught up in localisation and consciousness, I go beyond that. And now I am operating out of this limitless huge boundless bright awareness love. That's my true nature. That's my way home. [Added: here the student goes beyond all concepts and all activities of the mind, including meditation itself].

  5. Ah, what a realisation!

What remains is a single unified field of "awareness-love". This term is specific to Dan Brown - I have not found it elsewhere.

Overall, the pointing out instructions follow this sequence as well throughout the entire retreat, as in individual longer meditations that are given in the later days.


The same content and its progression may be interpreted through the lens of the 4 yogas of Mahamudra:

  • One-Pointedness (concentration)

  • Non-Elaboration (emptyness)

  • One-Taste (ocean and wave)

  • Non-Meditation (dropping all doing an non-doing)

Funneling attention through levels of awareness

The above sequence can be understood as a shifting of levels of awareness, through which attention is "funneled" at its objects.

(Note: this paragraph follows the reconstruction of Daniel P Brown´sorel by Blaschke (2017). This is a dissertation on the phenomenology of Christian Centering and Contemplative prayer, where the author uses Daniel P Brown´s implied model as part of his research framework.

To be completed. Preliminary explanation here.

A logical progression of basic skills

It seems to me that the retreat teachings aim at building up meditation micro-skills in a fixed sequence that takes account of dependencies between skills. The following are some examples:

  • Being able to focus, keep, intensify, re-steer and relax attention

  • Being able to differentiate awareness from attention, ground from appearances, mind from events

  • Being able to quickly alternate between event view and mind view

  • Being able to "seal" with high speed and range

  • Being able to do emptiness meditation on the self

  • Being able to do emptiness meditation on time and space

  • Being able to "operate as awareness" (the non-dual view)

Above all is the skill of

  • Meta cognitive awareness (called "full awareness", or "intelligence" in Pointing Out..)

Neuroscience, contemplative neuroscience, cognitive science as integrated elements

Neuroscience is used in two ways.

  • The teaching parts of the meditation retreat often includes explicit references to the cognitive sciences. An example is his own collaboration with Judson Brewer, investigation the correlations between specific deep meditative states and brain states. The explanations accompanying meditation instructions thus broaden the student's basis of comprehension. They also act as a "trust element".

  • Cognitive science informs much of the teaching content. As a key concept, Daniel P Brown sharply distinguishes between the mental faculties of (focused) attention and of awareness. This is in line, although not exactly identical, with a similar neuroscience based approach by Culadasa (in "The Mind Illuminated"). And it is in contrast to many meditation teachers who use these terms and others as synonyms or homonyms (with other teachers, the terms attention, awareness, consciousness, cognition,meta-cognition, meta-cognitive awareness, mind are often used interchangeably, letting the student wonder what the teacher is talking about. For example, awareness is used interchangeably with meta-cognition. Or, an expression like "sharpen your awareness" is used, which gives awareness the character of focused directedness. Or, the student is asked to simultaneously hold 80% of attention on foreground objects and 20% on background objects in an impossible split attention approach.)

Thus, Daniel P Brown belongs to the class of teachers of who Scott Alexander makes a bit fun of in the now defunct "Slate Star Codes" blog on Culadasa´s "The Mind Illuminated":

"At this point I would be more impressed to meet a Buddhist meditation teacher who wasn’t a neuroscience PhD. If I ever teach Buddhist meditation, this is going to be my hook. “Come learn advanced meditation techniques with Scott Alexander, whose lack of a neuroscience PhD gives him a unique perspective that combines ancient wisdom with a lack of modern brain science.” I think the world is ready for someone to step into this role. But Culadasa is not that person"

Neither was Dr Brown.

Neuroscience: from tachistoscopes to pointing out instructions

As I have described in my post on my psychedelic/mystic experiences under Ayahuasca, one phenomenon was the perception of mental events in the visual field as a rapidly flickering series of luminous very short events.

In Brown's dissertation he gives considerable space to discussing this meditative phenomenology, providing an analogy in experiments with high-speed perception using tachistoscopes.

The discussion in Brown's chapters on tachistocopic research and yogic training is also the basis for some of his particular modernized pointing-out-instructions. These incorporate knowledge and derived presuppositions about the retreat participants' capacity to perform high-speed search operations.

A particularly good example is the Emptiness of Self meditation. Here is an original version from "The Flight of the Garuda" (Dowman 1994)

Answer the question : where is the mind now? Is it in the upper or lower part of your body, in your sense organs, in your lungs, or your hear? If it lodges in your heart, in what part of the heart? What is its color and shape? Thoroughly investigate the present location of the mind and its characteristics until you are certain that they are not to be found.

Dan Brown applies two "tweaks" to this instruction

  • tachistoscope research for speed : the student is instructed to use their high-speed awareness to search Self in the entire body.

  • hypnosis for effectivity : he uses a classical hypnotic "binding instruction" to create a trance state and make the internal search more effective. A binding instruction uses the form "the more, the less" etc. A well known example from movies with hypnotists is "The more you try to keep your eyes open, the heavier the eyelids will get".

Thus, the rough tweaked form goes like this:

Using your high speed internal search, try {trying implies failing} whether you can find the Self anywhere in the body. The more you search, the less findable it will be {binding instruction}.

Therapeutical concepts (Freud, trauma, attachment theory)

Daniel Brown switches seamlessly between the perspectives of Eastern spirituality and Western therapy. For example, when needed he may provide explanations of attachment styles and their impact on personality. Inthis area too, Dr Brown is a recognised expert since a long time. He has developed a model that integrates mediation/Buddhism, hypnosis and attachment theory (the "Ideal Parent Figure Protocol" - IPF ), and wrote an award-winning book (Brown 2016)

His expertise in Western therapy and psychology, going back to Freud and others, is a real asset for his retreats. He always recognises the level at which a student asks a question: psychological questions and topics are not forcibly squeezed into an Eastern perspective, that may not provide answers at the right level. His collaboration with Ken Wilber in "Transformations of Consciousness" is the early theoretical starting point for chosing the right perspective.

The majority of students in his retreats may never have heard of attachment styles. For many, the detailed and relevant overviews or individual explanations are very helpful at a deep personal level.

Pointing out style of teaching

The following high level description of the pointing out style is from the website

The pointing out style is an ancient way of teaching meditation passed down directly from teacher to student for thousands of years. The teacher shares detailed explanations of the way to practice, common experiences and obstacles – as the student practices – providing a step-by-step guided path responsive to the specific needs of the student.

It is in contrast to many teachers where the student is essentially left alone with vague instructions, letting them do what they understand it to mean.

The pointing out style is an interactive style, where the teacher guides the student(s) through precise mental instructions during the entire meditation session. These sessions are usually short , e.g. 20 minutes.

Not only is the meditation session compact. That is also true for the pointing out instructions.

“Pointing-out instruction…means that all the teachings have been condensed into just a few essential lines of text which contain the vital point, the key point regarding the nature of mind.” (POGW, p. 428)

My own description of characteristics of pointing out instructions is here.

After the session, the students talk about their experience with the teacher, and the teacher has opportunity to explain or correct the practice on the spot. It is thus interactive and relational. With an experienced teacher, this style is enormously effective.

Obviously, traditionally this was 1:1 teaching. Today, in an online retreat, there may be 100s of participants. This is of course a dilution, and it is hardly possible to meet each participant where they are.

In addition, as stated, Daniel P Brown is recognised author and expert for the topics of trauma and attachment. Regarding the feedback part of the session, this adds a further level of relevance. It is feedback at the level or dimension at which it is required. For example, issues of "growing up" are not mixed up with issues requiring an answer at the "waking up" level, in Wilber´s terms. If necessary, Dr Brown would replay from a therapist point of view.

High precision language

Daniel P Brown takes core teaching instructions of used by various masters (Garab Dorje, Longchenpa, Milarepa, Tilopa, Tashi Namgyel and more). He draws in particular on the Bön lineage of which he has translated several major books.

He then formulates their essence in a precise, short and modernized way as instructions. These instructions are sequenced so that every instruction presupposes some practice with the previous instruction.

Daniel Brown, in retreat material sais

I have spent 40 years learning the textual tradition and the technical language, and the last 20 years refining the wording for each of the meditation instructions.

Daniel P Brown describes his process of arriving at his copyrighted formulations in a way that is reminiscent of Milton Erickson, the father of modern hypnosis:

"Early in his career, Erickson wrote out scripts for upcoming sessions. He then spent hours reducing many pages of suggestions to one or two, all the while attempting to amplify the essence of his original message.... He also recommended this process to his students, stating that it would sensitize them to the associative content and implications of each word, phrase, or pause they might employ during the trance process" (Walters/Havens, p 173.)

This is one reason why Daniel P Brown tried to IP his material, threatening legal consequences for any use of structure and language of the retreat.

The simplicity, and many repetitions, that allow the student to follow the instructions closely and without the student having to interpret what the instructions mean.

As example, check out my post on space yoga how this works, as well as the post on hypnosis and meditation.

Hypnotic elements (trance, high precision language, metaphors)

Dr Brown, in his public videos and podcasts, explicitly mentions his use of hypnosis in his retreats. Also, there is a link between traditional Dzog Chen and "hypnotic" techniques


This goes back to his 1981 dissertation where he considers meditation to be a type of altered state of consciousness, with similarities to hypnotic states, or states under "hallucinogenic drugs" (which was the 1981 term for psychedelics). In fact my own experience confirms this.

Here is a standard hypnotic trance inducing technique used by Dan Brown that I learned in my hypnosis-course (repetitive eye closure and opening using the breath):

"As you breathe in, open your eyes. As you breathe out, close your eyes...".

I am highly susceptible to hypnotic influence. Once, after a few repeats of these instructions my eyes fell shut and I could not consciously follow any more. Only at the end I remember a phrase approximately saying "..father and mother of the world". However, the entire hypnotic meditation was accompanied by a feeling of deep compassion.

Hypnosis, in my personal experience, provides an additional pathway for not only therapeutic, medical and coaching effectively.

To give another example: a typical hypnotic linking formula is: "The more (less) you do X, the more (less) Y happens". As in: "The more you try to keep your eyes open, the heavier your eyelids become".

In the retreat, this formula is used to support the emptiness-of-self search operation:

"The more you search, the more it becomes unfindable".


A key technique of hypnosis is the use of metaphors. This is also the case for Buddhist teachings.

Mystic experiences are notoriously difficult to communicate to those who are not familiar with them, if only through a single experience. This is called ineffability, or the difficulty of using conceptual language to communicate, for example, no-self experiences. Check out my blog-post on Buddhist teaching metaphors.

Here, I want to focus on a particular student task: achieving a state, and being meta-cognitively aware of, that in the retreat is pointed out as "awareness showing itself by itself to itself". In essence, this is the awakening or realisation moment.

Here are some metaphors used in traditional Buddhist teachings, for example Garab Dorje in "The Last Statement of Garab Dorje" (read by Samaneri Jayasara here:

  • A mother and son meeting after a long separation

  • A person meeting another person after a long separation

  • A man and a woman meeting secretly in solitude to make love

  • A mirror held up to another mirror

Other metaphors for, essentially, awareness meeting awareness, or turning attention to attention:

  • Pouring water in water

  • Pouring melted butter into butter

  • Merging space into space

  • Washing dirt with dirt

  • Cracking rock with rock.

I have dedicated an entire blog post to the metaphor of the ocean and its waves.


Sound has always accompanied traditional ceremonial and mystical events.

During the retreat, key meditation instructions were supported by music. Dr Brown had selected one piece by Steve Halpern only, which, in particular, supported the "Ocean and Wave" meditation practice (see my blog post).

An interesting point: music/sound is today scientifically proven to be a core element of the new psychedelic therapies. Music is seen as the guide to steer emotional and cognitive processing during states of altered consciousness. In fact, for this reason music and sound have been an integral part of all traditional shamanic processes in Africa, Asia and South America.

One example: latest research by Mendel Kaelen (who worked as researcher at the center for psychedelic research at Imperial College of London) , has led to his startup "Wavepath. Experience as Medicine". The underlying business model is the provision of preselected playlists to the new generation of psychedelic therapists who are currently being trained under, for example, the auspices of .

When we listen to specifically designed sound, we can go into a transcendental state where we lose awareness of the self, or we become that which we're observing, and we no longer are aware of the observer. We become the sound that we're listening to (Tannous).

Another example: the sound researcher Alexandre Tannous has researched the effect of specific types of music (classical music vs traditional gong and sound bowl instruments) for psychedelic research at Johns Hopkins University and for the psychedelic healing centre Synthesisretreats (private communication). The overall result: gong and sound bowls have a slight advantage, as reported by Matthew Johnson in a Lex Fridman podcast.

Setting: Aligned teaching team

The small teaching team (3 teachers in this retreat) are highly aligned in their precise style of teaching. In this retreat, I got to know George Haas and Dustin Diperna.

Thus, it is possible for the team that Teacher 1 starts a meditation, gives it up to a specific point, and then teacher 2 takes over without interruption or change of style and content.

This is in contrast to the usual teaching, where each teacher is highly idiosyncratic and more or less does their own stuff.

Setting: Group / sangha setting

In a group setting, it has elements of sharing in modern Western psychedelic ceremonies. Students become the witness of the group's experience. This experience usually includes practical, conceptual and emotional topics.

The group setting can be a huge booster to shared learning.

My personal "Setting": primed through psychedelics

Or, maybe I was primed through a preceding mystical Ayahuasca experience two years before the retreat. After all, deep meditative and psychedelic experiences can be very similar.

Shinzen Young, one of the most famous Western meditation teachers who links neuroscience to meditation, believes that it is possible that his easy access to deep meditative states had been prepared through his psychedelic experiences, at the level of the 5-HT receptors through which most psychedelics work.

This post tries to find an explanation how Dr Brown´s retreat success rate could be possible: through a hyper-precise method of teaching meditation.

How to learn about Daniel P Brown´s work

If one is an enthusiastic fan of Buddhist teachings, and wants to get a deep view of his work in the area of meditation, there are difference access paths. One should chose according to one´s level of familiarity and personal experience.

For those steeped more deeply in Buddhist traditions, in particular those with deep meditative experience, his 1981 dissertation is a most profound and learned introduction into the mind of a yogi. This volume is 700 pages written on a typewriter!

Dr Brown has later reworked this academic work into a more accessible and updated book "Pointing Out the Great Way - The Stages of Mahamudra Meditation".

And then, just select any of his media I have assembled here.

Maybe you initially want to listen to the Sacred Sundays event. Please remember, that every word is backed up by his 40 years of writing and teaching.

A complete Youtube playlist is here

Preserving teaching traditions

One word regarding the disclosure of very specific formulations (or as he calls it in his 1981 dissertation linguistic tricks / devices), used in the retreat: I don´t extensively reproduce them here.

I don´t do it because Dr Brown has tried to copyright his approach since 2018, and he has made clear that he regards the use of his languagings as IP violations.

Whether this is legally tenable I don´t know. But I want to respect his wish. I do not see it based not on his selfish greed, but on the desire to continue a lineage of extremely effective teaching and protect it from dilution or misuse due to a simple 'cut and paste' approach without the lineage tradition.

However, my reconstruction should show that and how meditation teaching can be optimised in the interest of efficiency and effectiveness.

I now perceive other, more rhapsodic styles of meditation teachings, such as those by James Low or Rupert Spira, as comparatively ineffective regarding the teaching efficiency for hard core meditation. Of course, that does not diminish their value. For example, I like the humor of James Low.

Other people´s notes

The following link is a much more detailed content driven summary. It apparently relies on prior knowledge that I did not have, so it is a good complement.

Pointing Out the Great Way Level 1 retreat notes. (n.d.). Nonlinear Function.


Brown, D. P., & Dix, M. (n.d.). OM104 – On a Mahamudra Meditation Retreat with Vajrayana Master Daniel P. Brown. Google Podcasts. Retrieved April 23, 2023, from

Daniel P Brown (Pointing Out the Great Way)

Brown, D. P., & Thurman, R. (2006). Pointing Out the Great Way: The Stages of Meditation in the Mahamudra Tradition (Annotated ed.). Wisdom Publications.

Daniel P Brown (Dissertation)

Brown, D. P. (1981). Mahamudra Meditation-Stages and Contemporary Cognitive Psychology (Dissertation).

This dissertation is a free download. It is a massive, highly technical volume that nevertheless gives an unparallelled insight into the education of a yogi. It draws on the knowledge of cognitive science as of the late 1970s, so it is not the newest in this regard. As compensation, Daniel P Brown gives some insight into the experiments with tachiscopy. to which he still referred in his retreats in 2021. The Universits of Chicago library entry:

Brown, D. P., & Elliott, D. (2016). Attachment Disturbances in Adults: Treatment for Comprehensive Repair.

Winner of the 2018 International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD) Pierre Janet Writing Award.

Daniel P Brown, Six Lamps

Tapihritsa, G. N., Brown, D. P., & Gurung, G. S. (2022). The Six Lamps: According to the Zhang Zhung Oral Transmission Lineage of Bon Dzogchen. Mustang Bon Foundation.

Daniel P Brown on the Sacred Sunday

Sacred Sundays with Daniel P Brown. (2019). Sacred Sundays.

Daniel P Brown w Michael Taft

Taft, M. W., & Brown, D. P. (2020, May 20). Awakening and the Path of Liberation, with Dan Brown. Deconstructing Yourself.

Daniel P Brown, Elephant Path

Bissanti, M., Brown, D. P., & Pasari, J. (2022). The Elephant Path: Attention Development and Training in Children and Adolescents (2. ed.). Mustang Bon Foundation.

Daniel P Brown, Ken Wilber

Wilber, K., Brown, D. P., & Engler, J. (1986). TRANSFRMTN OF CONSCIOU: Conventional and Contemplative Perspectives on Development (New Science Library) (1st ed.). Shambhala.

Culadasa (John Yates)

Yates (Culadasa), J., & Immergut, M. (2017). The Mind Illuminated: A Complete Meditation Guide Integrating Buddhist Wisdom and Brain Science for Greater Mindfulness. Hay House Uk.

Dharmaoverground Forum posts on Dan Brown´s book

Dharmaoverground. (n.d.-b). RE: Has anyone trained with Daniel P.Brown? - Discussion. Www.Dharmaoverground.Org.

Dharmaoverground Forum posts on Dan Brown´s retreat

Dharmaoverground. (n.d.-a). Has anyone trained with Daniel P.Brown? - Discussion. Www.Dharmaoverground.Org.

Dowman, K. (1994). The Flight of the Garuda: The Dzogchen Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism (2nd Revised ed). Wisdom Publications.

Gebel, T. (2022d, June 21). Pointing out instructions in Mahamudra meditation. Till Gebel.

Gebel, T. (2022n, August 11). Sealing and nailing in Mahamudra - and emotional triggers in Western psychology. Till Gebel.

Till Gebel, Heart Sutra Post

Gebel, T. (2020d, July 16). The Heart Sutra as a complete spiritual development project. Till Gebel.

Gebel, T. (2022s, September 5). Staring into space yoga - don´t move! Till Gebel.

Gebel, T. (2023k, April 16). Mental Pliancy: gear-shifting through levels of awareness in meditation- Daniel P Brown and Culadasa. Till Gebel.

George Haas

Haas, G. (n.d.). The Ideal Parent Figure Protocol. Attachment and Meditation Podcast.

Hoover, E. B., Butaney, B., Bernard, K., Coplan, B., LeLacheur, S., Straker, H. O., Carr, C., Blesse-Hampton, L., Naidu, A., & LaRue, A. (2022). Comparing the Effectiveness of Virtual and In-Person Delivery of Mindfulness-Based Skills Within Healthcare Curriculums. Medical Science Educator, 32(3), 627–640.

Matthew Johnson

Matthew Johnson: Psychedelics | Lex Fridman Podcast #145. (2020, December 14). YouTube.

Charly Morey on Guru Viking Podcast

Viking, G., & Morey, C. (2022, May 6). Ep148: Wake Up To Sleep - Charlie Morley. YouTube.

Nonlinear Function Retreat Notes

Pointing Out the Great Way Level 1 retreat notes. (n.d.). Nonlinear Function.

Alexandre Tannous

Tannous, A. (2022, January 1). Soundmeditation. Sound Meditation.

Catherine Walters, Ronald A Havens

Walters, C., & Havens, R. A. (1993). Hypnotherapy for Health, Harmony, and Peak Performance: Expanding the Goals of Psychotherapy/Helping Clients Discover the Pleasures of Trance (Har/Cas ed.). Brunner-Mazel Inc.

Consciousness Hacking: Psychedelics, Technology ..

Consciousness Hacking. (2018, October 28). Psychedelics, Technology, and the Future of Meditation w/ Michael Taft and Vincent Horn. YouTube.

Ken Wilber (Consciousness Hacking)

Consciousness Hacking, C. (2016, July 15). Integral Technology | Ken Wilber & Dustin DiPerna @ Consciousness Hacking SF. YouTube.

(On Dr Brown)

Dharmaoverground (On POW Retreats)

Dharmaoverground. (n.d.). RE: Has anyone trained with Daniel P.Brown? - Discussion. Www.Dharmaoverground.Org.


A thought on...

bottom of page