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"Just rest!" - the problem of bad teaching. Sam Harris, Daniel P Brown, Tulku Lopsang

The following is said with full respect to a teacher like Tulku Lopsang. However, respect does not imply an uncritical attitude to everything.

Even genuine realization in meditation doesn’t automatically translate  into talent as a teacher (Dan Brown).

Meditation texts by Sam Harris and Tulku Lopsang

Two types of teaching approaches: gradual and shouting

In my rather late introduction to Buddhism in my 60s through a Daniel P Brown retreat, I was quite perplexed to find that there seem to be two types of meditation teachers:

1. Methodists/didacticians: Teachers who meticulously plan what they are going to say, provide sequence and structure, and ideally take into account how the brain works, down to the neuroscience of learning. That´s the Culadasa and Daniel P Brown style. Sadly, both died.

2. Shouters: Teachers whose instruction basically consisted of repeatedly yelling "Just rest!", "Just be!", "Just relax!", "Don't do anything!" and making me feel bad when that didn't work. Maybe they mix in conceptual ideas about "the natural state". They may even get a bit emotional about it. At least, can detect quite a lot of "anger" and "disappointment" in Tulku Lobsang´s voice.

Later I figured out (or at least fantasized...) that this roughly corresponds to Mahamudra and Dzogchen.

  • Mahamudra provides a graduated "path" of increasing meditation skills, starting with concentration skills, and slowly leading the student through increasingly complex meditations on the "emptiness" of self, phenomena time, location, etc.

  • The old Dzogchen style relies on dramatic pointing instructions by a teacher, essentially telling the student to "do nothing."

So, how to take this?

The "Just rest!" shouting school is simply bad teaching

My current thinking is that the "just rest!" school is just bad teaching. At its worst, it's like yelling at a child, "Just do this multiplication!" while the child is struggling with basic addition.

On first encounter with such a teacher, I would have wondered from which planet this guy was coming, and scolded myself for not being able to "just be". Or, I might have walked away altogether. And thus, I would have missed out on a lot.

So, now I fully agree with Daniel P. Brown who said, "These guys have understood a lot about emptiness of self, but the mind needs certain operations". He also demanded explicit teaching skills from his teachers, not just knowledge of the tradition.

Talent as a Teacher. Even genuine realization in meditation doesn’t automatically translate  into talent as a teacher. There are a number of great Indo-Tibetan meditation masters, who are extremely accomplished as meditators, but who simply aren’t very good at teaching. In my case,  I went to graduate school as a Danforth Fellow, a fellowship given to a small number of young talented teachers in the country. As part of the Danforth, I was actually trained to teach (of course  in another area, not the dharma) (quote from Dan Brown´s teacher guidelines, spelling out requirements for his teachers. The other requirements were motivation, realisation, knowledge of the path, and character). (Source: Teacher Guidelines).

Two types of teaching: Sam Harris and Tulku Lopsong

The picture represents two AI-distilled approaches to teaching.

Sam Harris: the text is a condensation of 100 "Daily Meditations" in the Waking Up app. The abstract pattern is created by Google´s "NotebookLM". There is a logic of increasing complexity of mental operations in it. It starts with intention, then transitions to simple breath awareness, then awareness of awareness, etc.

Tulku Lobsang: the text is the condensation to one phrase by Claude 3 Opus of his "Rigpa" presentation on Youtube. There is no structure in it. It´s basically a number of repetitions of instructions, with some conceptual thoughts mixed in. But, my best guess is that this would gobbledigook to anyone who hadn´t a fairly good idea and some experience before listening to it.

Problems with the "Do nothing" approach

I am of course aware, that the "Do nothing" approach has a long tradition: basically, it goes back to Tilopa´s Six Words of Advice

But, from a teaching point of view, it may only work with some people. Definitely, it would not have worked with me.

I have to add, that the psychedelic approach DID work with me... but that´s another topic.

So where are the specific problems? Here are just a few:

Using the negative: don´t think of pink elephants

It´s known that one should not teach children by telling them what NOT to do: the mind will inevitably represent exactly what it should NOT do. It´s the old saying: "Don´t think of a pink elegant".

Just how am I supposed to not think ?!? Mahamudra´s advice

The instruction "don´t think", "just be!" does not tell the student's mind, how exactly to "not think". Given that the mind sort of always thinks, the student most likely either despairs or they are convincing themselves that they are already not thinking.

The following text refers to Dan Brown´s 1981 dissertation.

Even though the yogi in the "Yoga of Non-Meditation" stage should not actively construct or reject anything in meditation, there are still two "non-active means" that the yogi can employ to help set up the conditions for enlightenment to arise:

1. Protecting : this means protecting the attitudes and wisdom gained in the previous meditation stages through virtuous conduct and avoiding actions that could cause the meditator to "stray" from that wisdom. There is after all, still the seductions of real life (aka karmic triggers may set in).

2. Non-meditation itself: Though seemingly paradoxical, the very practice of not actively meditating or constructing anything is itself a means (an activity) to set up the conditions for enlightenment. By allowing the mind to rest in its natural state without interference, the yogi creates the space for enlightenment to spontaneously manifest.

Thus, and this is important: It´s not pure 100% not-doing or "resting": instead it is more like keeping a balance.

What the meditator does in order to not do: more detail

The meditator practices non-doing or non-meditation through a delicate balance of two key factors:

1. Letting go of all deliberate effort, grasping or mental activity. This includes:

- Not recalling, reflecting, anticipating, meditating, analyzing, or focusing on anything in particular (Tilopa's six negations)

- Not fixating on any particular object, not artificially constructing or fabricating anything in the mind

- Not accepting or rejecting, not hoping or fearing, not judging good or bad, not grasping.

- Completely letting go and "relaxing" into the natural state, free from all effort and conceptual imputations

2. While letting go of mental effort, continuing to maintain a steady, vivid mindfulness and alertness, which does not lose sight of the natural state. This includes:

- Sustaining a continuous, unwavering, undistracted awareness of the mind itself

- Carefully observing and allowing whatever arises to "self-liberate", without interference

The meditator´s practice therefore is to rest in a natural flow of continuous mindfulness, free from all doing, effort, grasping and mental fabrications. It's an effortless sustaining of the "view" introduced by the pointing-out instructions. Or, as Dan Brown expressed it in his retreat:

"The view is the meditation".

As said before, the meditator thus walks a fine line between being too tight (holding the mind too rigidly) and being too loose (losing mindfulness). The key is a continuous flow of pure awareness, without the slightest effort to direct the mind in any way.

So in essence, the non-doing or non-meditation is an undistracted non-grasping, while staying "in the view" (which still is a doing!). In this, the meditation does itself, or, as Dan Brown used to say

"The path shows itself to itself through itself".

In practice, it requires practice imho.

Relaxing: doze off on the sofa (?)

The often-used instruction "Relax!" invites the Western listener into the fantasy of a relaxing wellness place. There is a whole network of associations to "relax": a calm beach comes to mind, a sofa.

But, as Daniel P. Brown always pointed out, meditation is "hard work", it is not about mental or physical relaxation. In particular, meditation requires a finely tuned balance of tension (attention) and relaxation (awareness) as a way of managing mental energy in order to neither tire out nor to get distracted.

Regarding physical relaxation, Dan Brown equally referred to research showing that equally distributed muscle tension improved concentration.

Insufficient tools for the student

The original Dzogchen was indeed very simple. However, I suspect that it was that simple also for the reason that they tried to eschew any institutionalised teaching.

But, this is so far speculation.

Add this:

"Dzogchen sometimes seems easy but it is hard, very hard. We are always saying that we need to purify ourselves in many ways, but here we say there is only the Natural State, so although it sometimes looks easy, in fact the Natural State is very difficult to realize.

~ Yongdzin Lopon Tenzin Namdak ~

On the back lawn at Shenten Dargye Ling ...


The "pathless path" of 20 years meditation

Rupert Spira

Meditated for 20 years

Min 1:19


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 unparalleled 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 trichoscopy. to which he still referred in his retreats in 2021.The University of Chicago library entry:

Original URL of PDF:

Tulku Lobsang. (2016, April 23). RIGPA Tolku lobsang [Video]. YouTube.

Waking Up. (2020). [App]. Sam Harris.


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