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Dzogchen and hypnosis similarities - Daniel P Brown

An old Buddhist tradition has similarities to a modern mind management approach: hypnosis

Hypnosis certificate of Till Gebel

I say this from two perspectives :

  • Attending a "hypnosis-enhanced" Mahamudra retreat of the now apparently defunct Pointing out the Great Way organization with Daniel P Brown.

  • My training background in hypnosis. I do not claim extensive experience here, it was more of an interest. But this background made very clear to me what was happening in the retreat.

Hypnotic states in the meditation traditions

The magic of switching the mind into a trance state is much older than the 200 years normally attributed to it in the West.

Tibetan and Zen meditation teachers 1200 years ago already had a pretty good idea of how to shift students into trance states for insight. Some examples follow.

  • Japanese Zen Koans owe their effectiveness to techniques similar to that of hypnotic rapid induction, eg the confusion technique (such as the handshake induction) that was much liked by Richard Bandler (the man ultimately behind my certificate)

  • Tibetan Mahamudra / Dzogchen teachers lead students through pointing out instructions into views (perspectives, vantage points, basis of [mental] operation) that allowed insights into the constructed nature of the experience of reality. These pointing out instructions often required unusual mental operations and thus can have the effect of surprising the mind. The element of surprise is a hypnotic element. .

In other traditions, such as the Sufi tradition, specific movement patters might have had the same trance-effect.

I believe that professional hypnotic trance induction techniques used by the Mahamudra/ Dzogchen teacher Daniel P Brown in my very first meditation retreat in 2021 played a huge role in how my experience unfolded for me in the space of a short 6 days. In classical Tibetan literature, the state I experienced is often metaphorically described as "Lion's View"(the mind becoming aware of itself). This is a metaphor for mind recognizing itself, for "reflexive awareness" (Tashi Namgyal). Listen to it here.

It is well possible too, that my hypnotic experience from the past may have facilitated entering a "mystic" experience in a meditation retreat. This is a thesis by Shinzen Young (Guru Viking 2022b, December 2).

An experience of a self-induced hypnotic state through language 30+ years ago

However, I should not have been totally surprised by the mystic state in the Mahamudra retreat. I had had prior experiences, also with self-induced altered states.

Ca 1995/96 I had a self-induced physical/mental whole-body extraordinary bliss state. I had then navigated myself into it through memorising and speaking to myself multiple times a hypnotic script from the book "Hypnotherapy for Health, Harmony and Peak Performance".

That script is intended to create a mystical state. Its title is "The Prince's Journey. A metaphorical search for cosmic awareness". The Prince is - of course - the Buddha, although at the time I did not know that. Neither was this knowledge required for the script to have an effect. I had no idea of Buddhism or meditation at the time.

The script belongs to the set of scripts

designed to evoke approximations of intense alterations in consciousness referred to variously as peak experience, satori ,enlightenment and cosmic consciousness"

Read it again: Hypnosis is here presented as a tool as to reach enlightenment

For illustration, I quote a few lines from the middle of the induction. This text has to be spoken in a particular way to have its effect.

The princes´ palace (I read it here in the style of the authors)

Going within

to that calm, still place

where all is


and there is no need

to make an effort

to pay close attention

to the position of the arms,

or the legs,

or the entire body,

and even the effort it takes

to pay close attention

to thoughts

or sensations

is too much effort

to bother making.

Just drifting down

and entering that inner palace

meeting that inner self


that quiet core

of being there

where the self continues,


even when all else

drifts away from awareness

and there is nothing left

but the silent self

a self

that has no form

no shape

no sound

no thoughts,

no reasons

to do one thing or another.


And it worked, although it didn´t get me to enlightenment but "only" to a wonderful mental/physical bliss state.

The experience of self-induced full-body bliss through self-administered hypnotic language alone left me stunned. I never succeeded in repeating it, even though I tried it multiple times. But, hey like awakening - if you chase it, you won´t get it!

Much later in 2021, my online Mahamudra meditation retreat confirmed the 1990's experience of precise languaging leading into an altered state.

The author and teacher of that retreat, the deceased Daniel P Brown, has co-edited a book on hypnosis, and has taught courses in peak performance at Harvard University. He has publicly stated, that he learned from hypnosis, how important absolutely precise languaging is to achieve specific effects. He describes his fine-tuning of language in the same way as the "father of modern hypnosis", Milton Ericsson.

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 (Dan Brown, Retreat Material Feb 2021)

Having applied absolute rigour and testing to his languaging of pointing out instructions, he considers the exact formulations used in the retreats as his intellectual property, to be protected from any use outside of the buyer's personal meditation through heavy fines.

Dzogchen and hypnosis similarities

Shortly after beginning to draft this post, I came across a work by Wickramasekera on the overlap of hypnosis and Dzogchen. The article summarises:

"Dzogchen meditation has been practiced by Bonpo and Buddhist yogis for at least 1,200 years. Dzogchen uses methods of meditation and yoga exercises that are said to help fully awaken from self-illusion and self-reality that cause suffering in the world. The philosophy and experiential practice of Dzogchen are very similar to hypnosis. Dzogchen techniques use hypnosis-like practices of selective attention, visualization, and posthypnotic suggestion to help yogis experience advanced insights into the nature of mind. The experience of Dzogchen can be compared to the experience of hypnosis in terms of its phenomenological and psychophysiological effects. Finally, there are also many theoretical similarities between aspects of ego state therapy, neo-dissociation, sociocognitive and Ericksonian theories of hypnosis and the tradition of Dzogchen meditation.

(Source: Wickramasekera, German summary).

Below, find his Venn Diagram depicting the overlaps: