Rick: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer. Buddha at the Gas Pump is an ongoing series of conversations with spiritually awakening people. I’ve had about 580 of these now and if this happens to be new to you and you’d like to check out some of the previous ones, go to batgap.com and look under the past interviews menu where you’ll see them organized in several different ways. This program is made possible through the support of appreciative listeners and viewers. So if you appreciate it and would like to help support it, there’s a PayPal button on every page of batgap.com. My guest today is Dr. Daniel Brown. Dan has been a clinical and forensic psychologist for almost 50 years. He has been at Harvard Medical School for almost translator for, and meditation master in the Indo-Tibetan and Bon meditation tradition for almost 50 years. He has the only Western neuroscience study identifying the brain changes in the shift from ordinary mind to awakened mind. And as usual I’ve listened to many hours of Dan’s other talks and interviews over the past week, and I think we’re going to have an interesting conversation. Dan wanted to say something in the beginning. He told me he has Parkinson’s and it makes his face a little bit immobile so he wanted people to know that so it didn’t freak them out or something. You want to elaborate on that any Dan?
Dan: No, just a loss of facial expression and therefore it affects my expressivity so it’s not a zombie apocalypse movie.
Rick: Okay, we’ll just assume that it’s Buddhist serenity, okay?
Dan: The mind still works.
Rick: Good, good. So Dan, as I was listening to your various interviews and talks, you mentioned a particular attainment in the Buddhist tradition, in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, where a master will kind of acquire the ability to function in multiple bodies at the same time on different levels and administering to people in different dimensions or something. It kind of reminded me of you in a way because of the interesting mix of professions that any one of which would have been a full-time occupation for most people but you have lived in several different worlds simultaneously. So maybe we should start about, you know, tell us a bit more about your background and the kind of diversity of things you’ve been doing.
Dan: Well, I’ve been a clinical psychologist for almost 50 years and I ran for 27 years my own continuing education program. So I offered training for almost every clinical diagnosis there was. I actually spent a day a week in the library for almost 40 years reading the outcomes literature and keeping up to date on that literature. So for almost any clinical diagnosis I can tell you what the best treatments are and how to go about it. Then I worked in the forensic context, mostly in cases around trauma and abuse. A lot of child abuse cases in the courts still do that. I did almost 200 priest abuse cases.
Rick: Priest abuse cases, yeah.
Dan: The Catholic Church has a bounty of unlimited funds to take me out as an expert. I have a certain perverse pride in pissing off the church that much. I was on a mission in Australia for two years to nail the archbishop for the cover up of the cases there.
Rick: I remember hearing that on the news, so you were involved in that, huh?
Dan: I was involved in most of the cases that are in the movie Spotlight.
Rick: Oh yeah, yeah, that was a great movie. Has there been anything like that in the Buddhist world? If not, what is it about the way the Buddhists conduct themselves?
Dan: The Buddhists are just as vulnerable to sexual misconduct around the issue of monasticism.
Rick: So it’s just about as common over there?
Dan: Well, I think what happens is you have a monastic tradition where people have the celibate and they come to the West for the first time and they have no preparation for dealing with relationships and sexuality. A lot of them lose it.
Rick: And how about in the East? I mean, the monasteries have young people in them and older monks and so on. Is there a similar kind of problem?
Dan: It’s less frequent, but it’s still a problem.
Rick: Is there something about the Buddhist training and ethics or some such thing or the techniques for managing energies and attachments in the body that makes them a little bit less susceptible?
Dan: No, I think it’s a trouble in both East and West.
Rick: So it’s kind of universal. Okay.
Dan: My first Lama was, I really respected him because he, at the age of 80, had a relationship for woman who was in the late 70s. And I said, “Why are you doing this?” And he says, “Well, it’s not time to be a monk.” He said, “I have to learn about why these relationships are so important to all these Westerners.”
Rick: And was he open about it or was it clandestine?
Dan: No, he was open about it.
Rick: Okay, good.
Dan: He said he needed to learn about relationships and why it was so important as an attachment with Westerners.
Rick: Yeah, and he was in, and the woman was in her 70s. He wasn’t, like, going after
Dan: No, they had a dear relationship together. She’d come for the weekend and spend a weekend with him.
Rick: Uh-huh, that’s great. Out of, just out of curiosity, if if you had been financially self-sufficient, would you have done all the psychology work and the legal stuff, or would you have just focused on Buddhism?
Dan: No, I like to do different things, so I would have focused on that. My passion for clinical psychology and forensic psychology is much as it is for Buddhism.
Rick: And do you feel that Western psychology and Buddhism are each lacking something which the other possesses and could actually complement one another through a closer relationship, maybe?
Dan: Yes, I think that’s true, particularly around the… in the Abhidharma, which is a theory of mind in Buddhism, they say that the techniques to work with negative techniques, negative states of mind, and the techniques to work with positive states of mind complement each other, but they’re not reducible to each other. So in the West we focus largely on negative states. Psychodynamic tradition focuses on conflict, interpsychic conflict. The developmental tradition focuses on developmental deficits. The cognitive behavioral tradition focuses on maladaptive thinking, negative behaviors, maladaptive behaviors. We focus almost entirely on negative states in the West. In psychotherapy tradition now we have, in the last 10 years, 15 years, the whole positive psychology research movement. And we’re seeing that positive states are important in mental health.
Rick: Yeah, I should think so. I mean, Maslow talked a lot about positive states, didn’t he, and the hierarchy of needs and so on?
Dan: Yes. Now we’re seeing that positive states are very important. In Buddhism there’s a stage where you get to eradicate all negative states. It’s called the exhaustion of all negative states. Technically it’s called Dharmadhatu exhaustion. And since those negative states mask the positive states, you get a flourishing of, depending on how you count it, 80 to 85 positive qualities all coming forth at once. It’s called sangé in Tibetan, the eradication of all negative states and the flourishing of all positive states. I think that has profound implications in mental health and we’re studying the neural circuitry of that at the moment. We have about 31 subjects who can do that in a stable way.
Rick: Who can manifest the positive states?
Dan: Manifest the positive states and have no negative states anymore.
Rick: Huh, in an abiding stable way, you say?
Dan: Yeah, right, in a stable way. So what we’re doing is looking at the sangé in the laboratory, what happens in the brain in that state.
Rick: So manifesting the positive states, does that mean that they don’t get angry, they don’t get jealous, they don’t get various negative emotions?
Dan: The tendency to get angry will still come up but it immediately erases, it immediately disappears.
Rick: Kind of like a line on air or a line on water or something.
Dan: A line on water, right.
Rick: Right. So they don’t register it, they don’t react to it.
Rick: Yeah, some people, I mean, people have funny ideas about what enlightenment is and I hope you and I can talk about that a lot today. But, I’ve had people argue with me, well, you could be an enlightened drunkard or you could be an enlightened bank robber. They don’t correlate it with ethics and with, you know, with emotional maturity and stuff like that. They just think it’s some kind of, I don’t know, disembodied realization that doesn’t trickle into your whole relative structure. Would you like to comment on that?
Dan: Yes, that’s wrong.
Rick: I agree.
Dan: The true first realization is the conduct, how you live your life. William James, the great American psychologist, was once asked when he wrote his book on the varieties of mystical experience, how do you test the authenticity of a mystical experience? And he said, “By their fruit ye shall know them.” “By their fruit ye shall know them.”
Rick: Sounds like Jesus.
Dan: The only way you test it in realization is through conduct.
Rick: Yeah, I’ve been studying with Swami Sarvapriyananda lately. He’s the head of the Vedanta Society Center in New York, and one of his favorite phrases is that you can have morality without enlightenment, but you can’t have enlightenment without morality.
Dan: That’s true.
Dan: I would agree with that.
Rick: Yeah, so let’s drill down on this a little bit more. I think I tend to not want to use the word enlightened because it has this sort of static, superlative connotation, and I kind of feel like people are always — they always have the potential for further growth, but if I were to use it, I would say that it’s a holistic development where, you know, all the various — like Ken Wilber’s talk of lines of development, where all the various lines have have flourished and have been fully developed in coordination with one another. Would you agree with that? Would you like to elaborate on it?
Dan: Well, enlightenment means something very specific in Buddhism. It means the threefold embodiment of enlightenment. That always right here there’s an infinite, limitless ocean of brilliantly alert, lucid, awakened awareness, love. That’s called the Dharmakaya, the embodiment of all the teachings. In that vast, limitless spaciousness, the world that you perceive is sacred. There’s no profane world anymore, no secular world. Everything is, and every one of the deities within the mandala. So you only live in a sacred world, you don’t see anything sacred, anything other than that sacred world. That’s the Sambhogakaya. It’s always right here. It’s not — Buddha feels out in some place remote you fly off to. You see them through your own eyes and always right here, all the time. So you live in that sacredness all the time. And then that plants the seed of aspiration. It breaks your heart and most people don’t see that. And then that heartbreak intensifies that you want so much for people to see that world. That intensity causes that aspiration to spread into thousands and thousands of emanation bodies, the NIrmanakayas, all helping people along the path. And then when you get all three of those at once successively, first the Dharmakaya, the limitless expanse, then the sacredness of the world, the Sambhogakaya, and then when you get the emanation bodies, then the NIrmanakayas, then you get all three at once, all three simultaneously. You never leave that state again. It’s usually accompanied by a great deal of awe.
Rick: Yeah, I’ve heard you use the Heart Sutra many times in the talks I’ve been listening to. Why don’t you tell us that just so people… it’s a good point here.
Dan: Well, the thing that… the first realization is about awakening. The second realization is the purification of all negative states and the flourishing positive states. The third and final realization is stable enlightenment, fruition enlightenment, it’s called. It starts with awakening. And usually we say that the seeds for awakening are always here, but you don’t recognize it. It’s like the sun is always shining, but we don’t recognize the sun until the clouds clear away. When the clouds clear away, we say the sun just came out. Is that true? No, the sun’s always out. The sun’s shining day and night all the time, but from our perspective we don’t see it because of the clouds. So the Heart Sutra is about the clouds. There are four clouds. The chant in the Heart Sutra goes like this. “Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha. Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha. Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha.” Here’s what it literally means. Gone, gone, Gate, Gate, gone way beyond, gone way, way beyond. Ooh, what a realization. So what it means is that we get caught up in our everyday life in thought, conceptual thought. We live in conceptual thought most of the time, but if you calm the mind through concentration training, you have long periods of time where there’s no thought elaboration. And then you realize that you’re operating in where you’re operating out of, not thought. You’re operating out of the field of awareness rather than out of thought. So you learn to operate out of the field of awareness. We learn to make that our basis of operation. That’s the first thing. Then you learn that you’re caught up in a sense of self all day long. I get caught up in Dan-ness. Dan becomes a central organizing principle in my life. If I do emptiness of self, I go beyond Dan-ness. I don’t get rid of Dan. But Dan becomes part of the field, but I step out of that, caught up in Dan-ness. I don’t make Dan my upper basis of operation. Instead, I see that I’m operating out of this field of awareness, cleaned up of Dan. That’s the second Gate. Awareness gone beyond self-representation to the field of awareness as my basis of operation. Then I get caught up in time. Things seem to come and go in the field of awareness. But if you look at the entirety of that field, the field doesn’t change at all. It’s timeless and changeless. I can step out of that field of awareness, out of the convention of time, go beyond it to an awareness that’s timeless, changeless, and boundless. It’s huge. Time and space are related. I change to that, what we call simultaneous mind. It’s limitless, ocean-like awareness. It’s absolutely timeless and changeless and non-dual. That becomes the foundation. That’s the third, and that’s a much bigger change. When I operate out of that bigger field of awareness and everyone is contained and interconnected within that field, and we all influence each other, when I appreciate that direct realization, then I’ve moved on to simultaneous mind, which is the foundation of Mahayana Buddhism. That’s the third Gate, the third cloud, time and space. The fourth cloud is our localization of consciousness in the operations of our information processing system. It’s like a video code that you have to figure out. My information processing setting is set up so that I don’t realize this unbounded wholeness is always right here, because I get caught up in partializing. Every time I conceptualize about something, if I conceptualize about this, it’s not about that. I can’t realize, I can’t think my way into awakening because it’s me becoming the unbounded wholeness. I’m making it my basis of operation. So as soon as I conceptualize about this, I miss it. As soon as I focus on my mind on something, and pay attention to something, and focus on this, I’m not focusing on that. So I can’t realize the unbounded wholeness by paying attention in any way, or engaging in any meditation strategy. But if I set up what we call automatic emptiness, so everything that arises, every residual tendency to conceptualize is immediately empty upon arising. Every residual attempt to strategize about meditation is immediately empty upon arising. I can move beyond all that, and I can realize my unbounded wholeness is always right here. Then there’s one final thing, the tendency to localize consciousness. In that, sometimes when I set up a certain view with the right instructions, I can move beyond the localization, the tendency of the mind towards something, to make something particular. I can move beyond all that to become the unbounded wholeness. Then I realize awakened awareness right here, that’s all the time. So it starts with a practice called ocean of waves, where you have beyond time and space in your view. Then you stabilize that, it’s what’s called a natural state, and then you have automatic emptiness. So you can clear away all the residual conceptualization and all kinds of doing. Then you set up a certain view where you take the unbounded wholeness, the oriented awareness towards the unbounded wholeness, and hold it every moment by moment. This shifts your basis of operation out of the ordinary mind to awakened mind. We did a study on that with Judd Brewer when he was at UMass Medical School. What we found was that we had three meditation conditions, ocean and waves, the stabilization of the natural state, and the adoption of the particular view called lion’s gaze, the shift from ordinary mind to awakened mind. Then fourth was stable awakening. In the first three meditation conditions we had activation of the anterior cingulate cortex, which is the center of deep concentration, focus on one thing and tune everything else out. So we interpreted that as holding the view, but what the unusual finding was that we had gamma activity in all the subjects in that study, which means that in the anterior cingulate cortex what’s happening is that all the cells are firing the same time synchronistically. TheyÕre all aligned. So awake means awake for that part of the brain. That was, we interpreted that as holding the view very intentionally and very stably. Once they had learned to do that, then the fourth stage, they shifted to awakened awareness, and they activated an area of the parietal system, which is usually associated with shifting from a more localized awareness to a more global awareness. And they had gamma activity for all subjects. So awake means awake for that part of the brain. They shifted to a, out of a localized consciousness to the becoming the unbounded wholeness, this ocean-like boundless, limitless, lucidly awakened awareness love. And that’s what we found with awakening, consistent with what the texts say. And usually we’ll find that you get gamma activity in that area, in that region of interest. We got it in all subjects. So awake means awake, but not for the whole brain. The area of global awareness is limitless, boundless, lucidly knowing, brilliantly awareness, awakened awareness love. That’s when you open up. Now we’re trying to do a study on Sangy, also with Jud Brewer. He’s now at Brown University and he’s sponsored by the Fetzer Foundation. We have identified 31 subjects who have completely purified all negative states. They’ve manifested in all the flourishing positive states, and they live in the perceived sacred world all the time now. And I think that what we’re going to see is activation of the gamma activity in the medial orbital prefrontal cortex, which is the positivity center of the brain and the social connection center of the brain. And I think we’re going to find that working hypothesis, we’re going to find gamma activity in that area of the brain.
Rick: I have about six points written down from what you’ve just said, things I want to go into more deeply with you. First of all, this emphasis on trying to correlate subjective states with brain activity I think is fascinating, because obviously brain activity changes significantly whenever our subjective experiences change significantly. Waking, dreaming, and sleeping are obvious examples. Brain activity is different. And you would think it should be that enlightenment, being as radically different a state of experience as it’s purported to be, would be correlated with a radically different style of brain function. And it’ll be interesting to see as time goes on how carefully defined that can become, and how identifiable it can be, such that we could even eventually expect to find some kind of neurophysiological test for higher states of consciousness or for enlightenment.
Dan: We have two subjects who have stable fruition enlightenment, two subjects who have unstable path enlightenment, and we’re going to bring them into the lab and see what the brain is doing. But the trouble is the pandemic has shut the lab down, so we’re waiting for the lab to open up beyond the pandemic. So we’re delaying our research findings because of that.
Rick: Well, it’ll happen. Another point I wanted, that you mentioned, I wanted to dig into a little deeper is seeing the world as sacred. I have an understanding from my orientation of what that means, and you know, some degree of experience of it all, I’m sure it could be much more profound. But what do you, maybe you could elaborate on what you mean by it, and what the subjective experience of someone who sees the world as sacred would be as compared to people’s ordinary experience?
Dan: Okay, I have to introduce a little background here, but in the Tibetan theory of mind, there are six sense systems. We have five in the West. Visual perception, auditory perception, the smells, tastes, body sensations, those are the five senses. In the theory of mind in Tibet, there are six sense systems. There’s what’s called the Ishe, the mind perceiver, the mind consciousness, and we use conceptualization to interpret sense data. So if I hold up my calendar here, I see color and form with the eyes, but if I integrate that with the mind consciousness, I see a calendar. There’s lots of written things on it. The difference is that we ordinarily use conceptualization to interpret sense experience, and that’s called trulwor, in Tibetan, “deluded perception.” It’s just wrong. We don’t see that it masks our seeing the sacredness of the world. If I purify all karmic memory traces, the outcome of that is I purify my perception, so I don’t see it through conceptualization anymore. I just see it through the pure sense systems, and therefore I start seeing the world as more and more sacred.
Rick: But you’re still going to know it’s a calendar, because you couldn’t function if you couldn’t identify the mundane function of things, right?
Dan: No, you start seeing the world as more and more sacred, so after a while it’s purely sacred.
Rick: Can’t you have both? It’s like, you’re seeing the sacred quality of the calendar, but you also, if someone says, …
Dan: In very advanced stages, you know conceptualization doesn’t delude perception anymore, and you can still operate simultaneously out of the calendar perception and the sacred perception simultaneously. ThatÕs true.
Rick: Yeah. You’d have to to function. I mean, police pulls you over and says, “License and registration,” and you say, “Sorry, it’s all sacred. I can’t, I don’t know what those are.” You’d be in trouble.
Dan: Well, that’s true, but it’s same with sense of self. In the older Buddhism, Theravada Buddhism, the sense of self was one of the three realizations was anatta, no self. And if you look at Burmese mindfulness, there are four studies that show that the medial prefrontal cortex, which is sense of self, in my case, “Dan-ness,” the felt sense of Dan-ness goes offline. In that kind of practices, it’s the first level of Buddhism. But in Mahayana Buddhism, it doesn’t go offline. It recedes into the field, and you become the field. So you have this ocean-like, timeless boundless awareness, and Dan is still there as part of that field. It’s like a wave in the ocean, but you operate out of being an unbounded wholeness. So we call that shifting your basis of operation, Churyul in Tibetan, where you’re operating out of, where you’re coming from. So you can operate out of the field itself and become that field. But if you’re in more advanced stage, you can become that field in a way that you can also become Dan at the same time, and there’s no contradiction.
Rick: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I’ve had conversations with people who insist that they’ve lost their sense of self altogether, and I don’t know how they would function. But it’s like, the wave can say, “Yeah, I realize I’m an ocean, but I’m also a wave,” and there’s no conflict in terms of being both.
Dan: No, once you open up that stable perception, there’s no conflict anymore. You can have the sense of self come and go, and it doesn’t interfere with your perception of the sacred world. It’s always right here.
Rick: So would you say the sense of self is like a faculty, the way seeing is a faculty, and it doesn’t necessarily occlude your universal nature if you’re properly realized?
Dan: Well, for most of us, it becomes a central organizer principle of daily life, so it’s useful.
Rick: Yeah, yeah.
Dan: Relative reality, so we don’t get rid of it in that sense. But you’re not blind to it, you’re not caught up in it.
Rick: Right, so it’s not overshadowing. Okay, I can’t even read some of my own scribbles here. All right, so one of the conditions for enlightenment that you itemized a few minutes ago was this development of multiple bodies simultaneously serving in different functions in different dimensions. So would you say that, I mean, can you give us an example like if the Dalai Lama, for instance, is supposed to be enlightened, is he somehow, we see his obvious body, but is he subjectively experiencing himself having other bodies that are doing things in other…
Dan: Well, he’s an emanation of Chenrezig, he’s the Buddha of compassion, Avalokiteshvara. So he is Avalokiteshvara in this lifetime. He’s the embodiment of compassion.
Dan: That Buddha of compassion.
Rick: So the thing in terms of other bodies, so are you saying that Lokiteshvara, if that was the right name, he’s just… Pardon? Avalokiteshvara in Sanskrit and Chenrezig in Tibetan. Avalokiteshvara, so you’re just saying that the Dalai Lama is one of Avalokiteshvara’s many emanations that are functioning simultaneously? Is that what you’re saying?
Dan: He’s Avalokiteshvara.
Rick: He is Avalokiteshvara. If you are fully enlightened, you can live in a waking Dhammakaya space forever, and then you can intend yourself to take a certain form in a certain plane of reality to teach or to manifest other certain teachings. So he’s intended to manifest himself as Avalokiteshvara, necessary for this given time in history. So that’s what he does.
Rick: An so is he doing other things simultaneously in other bodies, or is it more like one body at a time you do different things?
Rick: Okay, you never talked to him about that?
Dan: Never talked to him about that, no.
Rick: All righty, I’m just curious.
Dan: Tibetans don’t talk about attainments very much. They’re not getting into spiritual pride, they don’t talk about attainments much.
Rick: Right, yeah, they don’t want to toot their horn.
Dan: Years ago, we did a study on the speed of the mind with a tachistoscope. The Dalai Lama supplied us his best meditators for that. We couldn’t ask them about attainment. You’d say we had to imply a certain state and they would do it for us, and we couldn’t ask them about it.
Rick: Speaking of speed of the mind, I don’t want to get us off track because I still have a few catch-up points from what we’ve discussed so far, but I heard you tell a story about a baseball player who trained himself by having tennis balls fired across the plate at 150 miles an hour, which obviously he couldn’t hit, but it made him a much better baseball player when softball, when hardballs were pitched at normal What’s the teaching in that?
Dan: The teaching is that we confuse three things in our ordinary consciousness. We confuse thinking and paying attention and the intention of awareness. We see them all as thinking, but if you learn to separate them out, thinking is slow. Thinking takes about three seconds to a half a second to think, have a thought. Paying attention is about 400 milliseconds, or somewhere between three and 400 milliseconds. You can get paying attention down to But anything less than 200 milliseconds is the intention of awareness. So Tony Gwynn trained himself, he stood at his batting cage, and he would have tennis balls come in at and he couldn’t hit them. But if he trained himself to operate not out of thinking, not out of paying attention, but just to feel the operating out of the field of awareness, he could still see the position where the ball came in space at very high speeds. But if he was operating out of thinking, he wouldn’t hit the ball, he couldn’t see it. So he trained himself to operate out of that field of awareness, and he hit for the second highest batting average other than Ted Williams over his career. So he trained himself to operate out of awareness.
Rick: Did he have an actual Buddhist orientation, or did he just kind of get onto this trick through…
Dan: He got onto it by lobbing in tennis balls at
Rick: Interesting. And so how long does it take a fastball to get to the plate from the pitcher’s hand?
Dan: 400 milliseconds.
Rick: How many?
Dan: 400 milliseconds.
Rick: 400. And you said thought is about 500 or so?
Dan: Thought is about 500. So if you’re thinking, you can’t see the fastball.
Rick: Can’t do it, right.
Dan: But if you’re paying attention, you can still see it.
Rick: Right, because that could be as fast as 200 milliseconds, you said.
Dan: But if you’re operating at the lightning speed of awareness, you want to see it every time. So that’s what he trained himself to do.
Rick: Interesting. Okay, back to the sense of self. I’ve had some people say to me, “Well, reincarnation couldn’t be a thing because ultimately there is no person, and reincarnation implies that there is some kind of person or entity or subtle body or something which would reincarnate.” But the talk in Buddhism, as I’ve heard it, and most recently from you, seems to imply that there is some kind of sense of self, and you and I were just talking about that. It’s not ultimately what you are, but it’s a function, a relative function, and, you know, and therefore there could be reincarnation. And it’s actually, like you said, the Dalai Lama is the emanation of Avalokiteshvara, so there’s some kind of essence or entity of Avalokiteshvara that is now embodied in the Dalai Lama and that survived long after Avalokiteshvara’s physical body on earth died. So it seems to me that in Buddhism, as I understand it, which is obviously a very limited understanding, there are these other dimensions. There is some kind of personal agglomeration that we would call an entity or a self, and it carries on over the, over time. Is all of that on track or am I getting that only partially right?
Dan: So, it’s called an indestructible essence, which is a storehouse of all the karmic memory traces over lifetimes, and then there’s a unique signature like a fingerprint written uniquely for you. It doesn’t include the sense of self and my key is Dan-ness, but the storehouse of all the karmic memory traces goes from lifetime to lifetime, unless you purify that through the practice of sangy, and then this, you don’t have it anymore. Then you become, upon dying, you become a fully enlightened Buddha and use existence in a sense of dhammakaya space. You can intend to emanate any forms you want. In other words, you get voluntary control over the dying process and the reincarnation process through these practices.
Rick: So, if you’re a highly enlightened Buddha,
Dan: You can come back any way you want, any plane of reality, anytime you want, any time in history you want.
Rick: And so you don’t just drop into the ocean like a drop of water does and cease to exist in any way, shape, or form. There’s some kind of, what did you call it?
Rick: Indestructible essence, which is going to remain and could take another role later on, like you just said.
Dan: But you have, everybody’s born with enlightened intention, gongpa, in Tibetan. So you can intend to emanate in any form you want, any way you want, any number of copies of yourself you want.
Rick: Does everybody have this indestructible essence?
Dan: Everybody has enlightened intention, but they don’t realize it.
Rick: So the average person is pretty much compelled to take a birth according to their karma, but you’re saying that an enlightened person gets to pick and choose, they have that freedom.
Dan: There’s a process by which you look at the view of the limitless expanse, and you have uninterrupted liveliness of what arises within the expanse, and you do both of those views simultaneously, the expanse and the uninterrupted liveliness of what occurs in the expanse, and you look at it in such a way that you don’t engage anything that comes up. ItÕs just pure awareness. Mental engagement is what causes karmic memory traces to form. So if you hold this view in an advanced stage of practice in the right way, then whatever comes up is released because you don’t engage it. So it becomes an automatic process where you’re releasing every karmic memory trace, and it forces the mind to get into a rapid cycle of releasing all karmic memory traces. It takes about seven years to do that, and the end result of that is there’s no negative states left. You’ve exhausted all the negative karmic memory traces, and because they mask the positive states, you get a flourishing of 80 to 85 positive qualities of the Buddha mind. That’s what I was talking about earlier, that we’re studying in neuroscience now. So in that, you move beyond all karmic memory, all karmic influences. You’ve gone beyond it at that point.
Rick: So I presume, I mean, I know that we just discussed that Buddhists don’t like to proclaim anything about themselves, but you’ve been at this for 50 years, so perhaps we can infer that anything you’re talking about here, you’re talking about from your own personal experience.
Dan: Yes, and when we do the neurocircuitry, I usually come up with, because I read all the neurocircuitry journals, I come up with the ideas from my own experience. I tell them what regions of interest to look at.
Rick: And so the enlightened person’s body, their relative structure, is still influenced by karmic memory traces, correct me if I’m wrong, but they’re no longer gripped by it or overshadowed by it. Is that right or wrong?
Dan: No, you actually exhaust the karmic memory traces, it’s called Dharmadhatu. At some point there’s no karmic matrix anymore. It’s just a flourishing of positive states.
Rick: Okay, but like, let’s say in your own case, you mentioned that you have Parkinson’s, and that’s…
Dan: Then when you die you become a fully enlightened Buddha.
Rick: So let’s say if you have a disease or an accident or something like that, and yet you’re an enlightened being, and you’ve worked out all your karmic memory traces, what is causing that disease or that accident?
Dan: At some point you move beyond even the disease.
Rick: Your subjective experience is beyond it, but on the body level, the body’s going through it, right?
Dan: You can purify all the residual substantiality of the body so that you move beyond all disease influences.
Rick: So theoretically with your Parkinson’s you could somehow purify that out and move beyond it? Is that what you’re saying?
Dan: If I did that practice enough, I would do that, yes.
Rick: Well, that’s interesting. What’s the success rate of that practice, and are there examples of people having done that?
Dan: I don’t know the success rate of that. We haven’t studied that in Western psychology yet.
Rick: But there’s a specific practice that you know of that you could do?
Dan: In a fire practice with the central channels and ???, it removes the residual substantiality of the physical body. There’s another practice called namchak which is balancing the elements in the body. And by balancing the elements in the body you make the body healthy so it doesn’t get sick anymore.
Rick: That’s great. Is it hard to do? I mean, is it something that could be taught to people in the clinical setting if our culture understood that kind of thing?
Dan: I’ve done the namchak enough to learn how to do it, but I haven’t mastered it yet.
Rick: So it is kind of hard to do if you haven’t mastered it.
Dan: Well, it takes some time to learn these things. There’s so many other things that are more important than learning these things first.
Rick: Yeah, yeah, sure.
Dan: ThereÕs only so much time in a day.
Rick: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. I think I have a question here from somebody. Let me put my glasses on so I can read it. Oh yeah, this kind of relates to what we were just saying, I think. This is from a fellow named Lennon in Santa Barbara who asks, “Could you talk about your experiences with the rainbow body phenomena that occurs with Tibetan meditation adepts and how to fix the seeming lack of rainbow body with Western meditation adepts despite many devoted practitioners?” In other words, I think he’s saying, how come we’re not seeing examples of it despite all these dedicated Western practitioners?
Dan: Well, we have a book coming out on rainbow body. I actually translated all those texts.
Rick: And maybe you should define it because maybe not everybody knows what that is.
Dan: Rainbow body means that as you’re dying, you enter into meditation while you’re dying, and you clean up the substantiality, the residual substantiality of the physical body. And there’s two versions of that. There’s a trekch version of that, which in Dzogchen means thoroughly cutting through practice. In that sense, the body doesn’t completely disappear. It has a subtle particulate nature to it, but it appears to others as if the body disappears. And then there’s a bypassing practice, a tgal practice. There’s two versions of that, which you clean up all the substantiality of the body right down to the body becoming light. So after two or three days of this practice, all that’s left is a light body. So the physical body disappears, sort of like the resurrection. The physical body disappears and it changes to rainbow light, and the rainbow light hovers in the space above where the physical body was. All that’s left is the hair and nails, the inanimate parts of the body. But the physical body is completely transformed into rainbow light, and then it disappears after a number of days or weeks. It disappears into the atmosphere. So the highest achievement is to use your dying process to resolve the residual substantiality of the physical body. That’s called rainbow body.
Rick: Have you ever witnessed that happening?
Dan: When my teacher died, he appeared as a rainbow above his village. I’ve seen the film of that.
Rick: And what happened to his physical body? Was it just cremated or something?
Dan: It got cremated and it turned into relics. The other thing you can leave behind are relics.
Rick: Yeah, there was this exhibit that came around. It came to my town and I went and saw it, and there were all these glass cases with all these little things in them. They looked like resin or something like that, little bits and pieces.
Dan: The little balls are about a millimeter in size, brightly colored, and they have an influence on physical reality. So the tour that you talked about, they were studied, and they influence decay rate of radioactive material. They can activate enzymes in a test tube. They have an effect on physical reality still. And we got delayed by the pandemic, but His Holiness Manjari Trizin, who is my main teacher, died a year and a half ago. And he gave me his relics and we’re studying them in the laboratory. And we’re trying to find out what they’re made of, whether they’re made of something on the periodic table or whether they’re made of some unknown substance that we don’t know. We’re waiting to analyze the relics now.
Rick: And these relics showed up in the ashes of cremated bodies or…
Dan: They show up in the ashes of the cremated bodies.
Rick: Okay, and you just don’t see them in ordinary cremations, right?
Dan: No, we don’t see them in ordinary cremations.
Rick: Yeah, interesting.
Dan: That’s called rainbow body, or either the manifestation of the body as pure light as seen by others, or the manifestation of relics. For less capacity people who need to have faith, so the master leaves something behind for them.
Rick: Yeah, so you’ve mentioned the pandemic several times, and obviously that has a lot of ramifications and influences, but you’re still doing some online retreats despite the pandemic.
Dan: Yes, we were retreating in London and we couldn’t do it because we couldn’t travel there, so we had to do it online.
Rick: How’d that work out?
Dan: It worked out well.
Dan: We did a level two course online for a week, and we did a level one, the beginning course online for a week. We just finished that.
Rick: I have a hard time doing things like that because there’s always so much going on around here, you know? I mean, compared to getting away and…
Dan: Well, we have morning and afternoon classes for a week. It’s an intensive course, and we just do it online.
Rick: I heard you say an interesting thing. Actually, this would be kind of fun to get into. You’re a little bit not too enthusiastic about silent retreats, and I heard you give a riff where you’re talking about sort of how the seven deadly sins and maybe an eighth one kind of tend to bubble up during silent retreats. You want to talk about that?
Dan: Sure. It was a list put together by Johannes Cassian in the early Christian Desert Fathers, a movement that lasted from years. And there was a time when the Desert Fathers, people were going leaving the church and going to study with the Desert Fathers, so the church was threatened by that. So they decided to send out Lucidus Pladius to study with the Desert Fathers. With the sole purpose to debunk them. He lived with them for two years and he wrote something that reads like A Course in Miracles. It’s all about people flying through the air, and the church was terribly embarrassed by that, so they suppressed the publication of his book.
Rick: You mean he witnessed people flying through the air and wrote about it?
Dan: Yeah, he wrote about it. It’s all about miracles, raising people from the dead, things like that.
Rick: So he was supposed to debunk them but he ended up boosting them up more.
Dan: And then they brought in a second bishop whose name was Johannes Cassianus, or Cassian for short, and he lived with them for two years. Thank you. And he didn’t debunk them also. He wrote two books. One is called The Institutes, and in The Institutes he said that if you did these practices like the Prayer of Quiet, you became Jesus. So the church was terribly threatened by that theology, and they redacted his book. They actually rewrote the ending, the conclusion of his book for him, and said that he didn’t become Jesus, he became an archangel. So they preserved the historical figure that way. But he also wrote a second book which is about the seven deadly sins, or eight deadly sins, depending on how you count them. And he said that he thought that the times of extreme social and sensory isolation was actually harmful to the meditation. He was critical of the Desert Fathers in that. So the first one is gluttony. You can understand that if you go camping for the weekend. How do you spend it? You go camping, take your kids camping for the weekend. You spend the entire time preparing food and cooking food and cleaning up after, and then preparing food again and cooking food and cleaning up after. Or a certain version of that, you turn out the lights in the theater and you reach for the popcorn. So if you seriously shift the busyness of your sensory overload of everyday life, in terms of drastically reducing your sensory output, then it plays out around food. That’s the third deadly sin. The second is what he calls lust. We used to see that when we did the outcome studies. As a psychologist, I did 10 years of outcome studies on Burmese mindfulness. In the late 1970s and 1980s, we did that research when IMS, the Insight Meditation Society, was first popular with three-month retreats. So we go up the first day and we get a captive audience and we test and do some outcome measure. Three months later, they came out of the retreat. So we studied those subjects for 10 years. We did all sorts of different studies, from cold pressure pain to high-speed information processing with a t-scope, to lots of different things. Different personality questionnaires, things like that. And what we found was that a lot of them, in the extreme isolation, not talking for three months was difficult on them. So there was a thing called the Vipassana Romance, which is equivalent to Cassian’s Lust. In the third week in the retreat, you’re isolating yourself and not talking to anybody. You have all these fantasies about the love of your life and sitting three pillows away. And it goes on and on like that. You spin out in these fantasies because you’re lonely. And it interferes with the meditation. The third is anger. If you keep isolating yourself, you get pissed off and depressed. And the fourth is agitation of mind. The fifth is drowsiness of mind. And the next one is low self, selflessness, and pride. And you start, if you really continue in the meditation, the problem of who’s doing the meditation comes up. Whether it’s Dan in my case, or whether it’s the awareness doing the meditation. So those are the seven deadly sins. And then there’s an eighth one that’s reserved just for people who have spiritually advanced, and he called it spiritual pride. And the further along you get in the practice, the more that’s a problem, rather than less of a problem. I like that system. So what he did is, Cassian identified the problems of extreme social and sensory isolation, and how that interferes with meditation. We don’t do silent retreats. We have people talking in breaks, and we put the emphasis on doing emptiness practice in everyday life, so that we take it off the pillow right from the beginning. So we don’t emphasize extremes of social life. As a psychologist, I did research on sensory isolation earlier in my career, so we knew the negative effects of that. You dismantle the perceptual system that doesn’t do anything useful except destabilize you.
Rick: Yeah, I can vouch for that. I mean, I was on some long courses, six months at a time, and sometimes it went fine, even though we had, like, you take a walk after lunch and talk with your friends and all that stuff. But other times, I fell prey to quite a few of those different things that you just itemized. Your mind just gets into a state where there’s…
Dan: Yeah. So it may seem glamorous to do a silent retreat for months and months, but it actually has negative side effects.
Rick: Yeah, you hear about these cave yogis that get locked in a cave, and food is handed through a little slot in the door and all that stuff. I think, I don’t know if anybody contemporary has ever done that successfully, but the vast majority, I think, would just go stark raving mad if they tried it.
Dan: I had a lama, Mahamudra lama, that I studied with. He spent 40 years in isolation in his cave before he came home.
Rick: How’d he turn out?
Dan: Well, he came out at the age of 87. He had cancer, and he went to the Dalai Lama and said, “I think I have cancer now, so I’m teaching.” Dalai Lama said, “I need you to stay around. I need you to be 100 years old teaching until youÕre 100.” So he did that.
Rick: So it worked for him.
Dan: Worked for him.
Rick: Yeah. There’s a quote that I’ve used a lot of times, and I was told that it comes from Tibetan Buddhism, and if it does, you will have heard it, and if it doesn’t, you can correct me. But it’s something like, “Don’t mistake understanding for realization. Don’t mistake realization for liberation.” Have you heard that one?
Dan: Not in that form.
Dan: We have another one in the Bon tradition that I like a lot. So let me pose it on back to you. It’s not enough to hear the teachings. You have to listen to them. It’s not enough to listen to the teachings. You have to intellectually understand them. It’s not enough to intellectually understand them. You have to put them into meditation practice. It’s not enough to put them into meditation practice. You have to have the realizations that are part of the practice. It’s not enough to have the realizations. You have to have signs of progress that you’re integrating the realizations into your mind stream. It’s not enough to have the integration of the meditation experiences into your mind stream. You have to have the realizations that are appropriate for that level of practice. It’s not enough to have the realizations. You have to put them into practice and integrate them into your mind stream in a stable way. It’s not enough to integrate them into your mind stream in a stable way. You have to put them into practice in your conduct and how you treat people. That is a good, one of my favorite passages about it goes from hearing teachings, to listening to teachings, to intellectual understanding, to putting them into meditation practice, to getting signs of progress in the meditation, to have the meditation experiences, the full range of meditation experiences, to have the realization, to integrate the realization stably in your mind stream and translate that into conduct in terms of how you can be of benefit to other beings. That’s a good trajectory of what you’re talking about.
Rick: Yeah, that’s great. It’s more kind of a more detailed version of that quote that I was using. And the reason I was using it is that when I first started doing this interview show, I would run into people who, kind of what they call the neo-Advaita crowd, where apparently they had read a lot of books, read a bunch of Ramana Maharshi books and gone to some satsangs and had latched on to, as far as I could tell, had latched on to an intellectual understanding of non-duality and so on. But I really got the feeling it wasn’t in their bones, it wasn’t an actual realization. And so I’d have these little debates with them sometimes.
Dan: People conceptualize about awakening and not have it.
Dan: And the more you conceptualize about awakening, the further away you get from it.
Rick: And yet you can convince yourself that you have it.
Dan: Yeah, we call that narcissism in the West.
Dan: It leads to self-importance. And if you learn one thing in spiritual practice, the main lesson is self-importance isn’t terribly important.
Rick: Yeah. Are there some acid tests, kind of, litmus test earmarks of spiritual progress that people should sort of look out for? For instance, I’ve heard you talk about maintaining unbounded awareness or vastness during sleep. Now that’s hard to fake, you know. And would you consider that to be a necessary criterion of a certain level of awakening or enlightenment? And are there others in addition to that?
Dan: For every level of practice there are what are called “thog signs” of progress. And in the text it describes in great detail what those signs of progress are that you look for. And that tells you that you’re on the right track. But it’s also true that if you master and have stability at a certain level of practice and realizations, then there are certain consequences to that, which are usually manifested in terms of one’s conduct. But also in terms of how one understands the practice, what we call the realizations, the “tokpa.” So there’s signs of progress you look for, and then there are consequences that you look for. Both are true.
Rick: And is there also an emphasis in the tradition of a teacher kind of verifying or not verifying any realization that a student claims to have had?
Dan: Yes, the first thing is if you have a taste of awakening it should move your heart. So it’s usually accompanied by compassion, gratitude, or some version of moving your heart kindness. Secondly, if you have a taste of awakening. Rahab Togu, I used to teach with him, died last year. He was an emanation of Padmasambhava. He says that if you have a realization that is purely conceptual, it will fall apart in difficult circumstances. But if your realization deepens in difficult life circumstances, then it’s probably genuine. And the third test, and the only true test for realization, is conduct. It’s how you live your life, and how you deal with other people, how you treat other people. That’s the only true test of realization in my opinion.
Rick: That’s good. Well, like that Swami Sarvapriyananda quote that I gave earlier, I mean there are some people who conduct themselves very well in the world, and are very kind, and compassionate, and generous, and so on and so forth, who aren’t necessarily realized. But what I think what you’re saying is that if you are realized, then that kind of behavior is…
Dan: You are necessarily that way.
Rick: Right, right. Okay, a question just came in from Barbara in Portugal, and this relates to what I was just saying about witnessing sleep. She said, “Would it be possible to ask Dan about thoughts on witnessing?” So maybe there’s a number of different implications of that term, and we could talk about it for a few minutes.
Dan: In Tibetan it’s called “sheshin,” or we call it “metacognitive awareness.” So for example, in concentration training, in neuroscience terms, you train the ACC, the anterior cingulate cortex. That’s the center of the brain that’s active, and when you focus on one thing and tune everything else out, and sustain that concentration, and sustain that focus in a stable way. But there was a study done in Richie Davidson’s lab where he looked at beginning and advanced concentrators. Both beginning and advanced concentrators activated the ACC, but only the advanced concentrators activated the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, this piece here. The right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is metacognitive awareness. The left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is metacognitive thinking. So you can think about your state of mind and improve it, or you can just be purely aware of your state of mind and improve it. Of course, the superior mode of knowing is pure awareness of your state of mind, metacognitive awareness. So the ones who get the best practice are the ones who train the metacognition online so that they don’t just meditate. They’re always improving the meditation and looking at bad habits, and correcting for the bad habits, and looking for the best meditation and improving. So they’re always growing and changing in the meditation in a good way. And the difference is whether you put metacognition online or not.
Rick: I might need a little bit more elaboration to fully understand that myself, but in terms of…
Dan: You’re aware of your state of mind, you know it’s a good quality of meditation, and you know how to improve it. You know, you can identify the bad habits and not get caught up in the habits of mind.
Rick: Because you’re not gripped by them, you’re sort of… there’s a witnessing or a detachment from them, is that right?
Dan: Or you work with a teacher who tells you what to look for. So you can put your metacognition online along with what your teacher’s telling you, and you’re always improving your meditation and making it better rather than getting into bad habits. As somebody who did outcome studies on Western meditators for 10 years, we saw a lot of sloppy meditators out there. People get into bad habits and don’t even know they’re getting bad habits.
Rick: Yeah, I heard you talk about mindfulness, which is so popular these days, and how it’s not very well supervised, and maybe you could elaborate on that.
Dan: Yeah, it doesn’t train concentration very well. It trains a kind of an ordinary awareness of a continuous presence. But one could argue that ordinary awareness actually precludes awakening, because you can’t tell, you confuse the difference between ordinary awareness and awakened awareness. So all that work of being mindful actually makes it harder to awaken.
Rick: And I suppose if that’s true, then there aren’t really any, we’re not hearing about any examples of mindfulness practitioners awakening in the sense that you would define awakening.
Dan: In the way it’s taught in the West, it’s not emphasized. Awakening isn’t emphasized.
Rick: So that’s not even why they’re getting into it. They just want to be more peaceful or whatever.
Dan: Or more continuously aware, present. So they’re training ordinary awareness, not awakened awareness. So if you train ordinary awareness, it makes it harder to recognize the difference between awakened awareness and ordinary awareness.
Rick: Elaborate a little bit on that difference.
Dan: You have to recognize the difference between ordinary awareness and awakened awareness. There’s a number of adjectives in Tibetan that talk about That. “Nar,” Awakened awareness is intense. “Dampa,Ó Awakened awareness is sacred. “Krege,” Awakened awareness has sheer awakeness to it. It’s awake. “Trule,” Awakened awareness has sparkling immediacy. “Pule,” Awakened awareness is soft and gentle. As long as you don’t make these into things you’re looking for, you can use them as guidelines to recognize the difference between awakened awareness and ordinary awareness.
Rick: And would it be true to say that awakened awareness is not… if it’s genuine and if it’s stable, then it’s not something you have to hang on to through some force of will or something. It’s just kind of your default mode of functioning. It’s a natural continuum and it exhibits these qualities you just mentioned.
Dan: Once you open a pathway to awakening, it changes everything. It moves your heart. But then it’s unstable so it doesn’t last. So then you have to set up the view to shift from ordinary mind to awakened mind frequently, for longer duration, and more and more immediately. And you do that until you have it almost all the time on the pillow. Then you take it off the pillow and when you have a shift from ordinary mind to awakened mind on the pillow, you get up and you walk around in nature and you mix it into daily activities. Eventually you mix it into when you’re conversing with people, and eventually mix it into when you’re thinking. So you mix into all the activities and then you have it now all the time day and off the pillow, on the pillow. It’s no different. You have it all the time. Then you mix it into deep sleep and dreams. Now you have it all the time 24/7.
Rick: So having it mixed into all those different, increasingly challenging forms of activity, is that really a willful process at every stage of the way, or is it kind of a natural stabilization that occurs?
Dan: It’s an intentional process.
Rick: ItÕs an intentional process. Okay.
Dan: Not willful, intentional.
Rick: What’s the difference?
Dan: Will comes from sense of self. Dan’s trying to make something happen. The intention of awareness comes from the field of awareness.
Rick: Dog incident here, hang on. Okay, dogs are gone, you can continue.
Dan: I finished what I was going to say.
Rick: Okay, good. So let’s dig into that a little bit. When I hear concentration, what comes to my mind is a sort of an effort. I’ve actually heard descriptions of meditation where you’re advised to just sort of clench your teeth and just not allow thoughts to arise, whatever. That’s not something I would want to undertake and never have, but there’s also sort of much subtler ways of perhaps interpreting that word. There’s a verse in the Vedas someplace which says, “Be easy to us with gentle effort.” Gentle effort, I suppose, could be thought of as a form of concentration where you’re not just sort of sitting there daydreaming, but there’s an intention to keep the awareness where you want to keep it. So could you elaborate a bit about what you actually mean by concentration and how effortful or effortless it is?
Dan: The goal of concentration is in Tibetan le su drong wa – to make the mind serviceable. It means that whatever you focus on, the mind stays on that for as long as you want to stay on it with no interference and it just does whatever you want to accomplish. That’s the ninth stage of concentration. So when you concentrate, you focus on one thing and you tune everything else out. At first it takes effort.
Rick: How much effort?
Dan: Well, there are two tools you use, or three tools. The first tool is steering the mind ÒSamtenÓ so if I’m focusing on the rising and falling of the breath, for example, either I’m focusing on the rising and falling of the breath and I’m turning the mind towards the rising and falling of the breath as a concentration object or it’s chasing after something else, chasing after sense experience or thought. So I keep turning the mind away from the sensory experience and distracting thought back to the concentration object so it stays longer and longer on that object. That’s the first tool. The second tool is called “Tulpa” which we translate as intensifying but it doesn’t mean just doesn’t mean like that. It means more intimately engaging the object so that you notice all the subtle detail that would otherwise go unnoticed. So when my kids were young, I took them once to Yosemite. We were standing on the edge of a field and way across the field and I said, “Look, there’s a bear.” And they looked and they looked and said, “Oh yeah!” Whatever they were doing when I said, “Look, there’s a bear.” That’s intensifying. They look more closely so the subtle detail that they wouldn’t otherwise notice, they became intimately engaged with all that subtle detail. So it’s not so much putting in more effort. It’s looking in a way that you pick up the subtlety you wouldn’t otherwise notice. You call it the engaging detail. That’s the key to deep concentration.
Rick: Kind of a fine tuning.
Dan: But then there’s a certain point where the concentration gets automatic. Using a car analogy, it becomes concentration cruise control. All the variability in the concentration drops off and it stays in a steady state and at every moment you stay concentrated. And it unfolds in a nice orderly way. And then eventually whatever the mind is focused on, it stays on that. So that’s when thought elaboration drops off mostly. So you have long periods of time there’s no thinking going on. So that you back your way into seeing that where you’re operating out of isn’t thought anymore. Your calm is not enough that you’re operating out of the field of awareness. You’re operating out of the intention of that awareness. And that’s when you get the first sense of what it means to have a mind that’s serviceable. Whatever the mind’s awareness intends, it does just that with no interference and with lightning speed. And you learn to operate out of the intention of awareness. Why is that important? Because then you can go on to see how the mind constructs experience. If I went into a… We teach in Australia every year and I love the Outback. We go every year. Except this last year we were on the tarmac and we had to go to Australia and they turned the plane around and we got cancelled in March because of the pandemic. But if I went to look at the rock art and I went by myself and I held up a torch in the cave and the torch was flickering, I wouldn’t see very much of the detail. But if I went with a stable torch, I’d see the entire wall illuminated and all the rock art. I’d see everything about it. So concentration stabilizes our point of view. So we can hold the view. We could say the view is the meditation. The view is the meditation. I learned to take a certain perspective and open up what it means to go beyond thought, what it means to go beyond sense of self, what it means to go beyond ordinary convention of time, what it means to go beyond localization of consciousness, like the Heart Sutra. And I end up with awakened awareness that way. So concentration is the tool that gets me started on those stuff. But if you can concentrate long enough it gets easy. It’s not a hard work. Whatever the mind intends it just does that. That’s what we call making the mind serviceable. Or we won’t make it a mind pliant. It’s changing in Tibetan.
Rick: I was once taught that it’s natural for the mind to wander because it’s looking for greater happiness but it doesn’t generally find happiness in the places most people’s minds look. And so the wandering is kind of incessant and continuous. But that if the mind could be allowed to begin to turn within then it begins to find sort of genuine happiness that exists deep within Ananda. And it will do so, it will go in that direction effortlessly if it has the opportunity to do so. Do you agree with any of that?
Dan: I agree with that except that the wandering mind is something that needs to be trained. We say the mind is like a wild elephant. It runs, chases after sense experience and thought most of the time. So you have to train it out of chasing after those distractions. You have to discipline the mind and train it. So once you have the full strength and the intelligence the elephant mind is working for you rather than against you.
Rick: Right, but you could try chaining the elephant to a tree or you could just provide a big pile of elephant food and then without even restraint the elephant will stay with the food.
Dan: That’s what concentration is. You can say they tie the rope of concentration onto a certain object and every time it wanders somewhere you pull it back, pull it back or steer it, in the car analogy. And the cumulative effect of steering it many, many times over is it stays on the object for longer periods of time and stays completely on the object and continuously on the object. And the consequence of that is thought elaboration starts to wind down and eventually stops. So that’s how concentration works.
Rick: So concentration doesn’t use the elephant food approach, it rather uses the tie it up and pull it back approach.
Dan: Tie it up, yeah.
Rick: Okay. All righty, there’s a couple of questions that came in.
Dan: And when you go on to the inside practices, the view is the meditation. So there’s a whole series of views you take for every level of practice. You have to hold them in a stable way. If you don’t have a concentration background you fall out of the view easily. It’s not stable. So it gives you that stability like when you’re holding the torch and you can see the entire wall and the rock art in the cave. The concentration is the light that allows you to see it in a stable way by holding the view stably.
Rick: Yeah, a question came in from Dan in London. Dan asks, “Could you please ask Dan Brown to expand a little on the process of releasing memory traces and mental concepts from the mind?”
Dan: When you have awakening, your basis of operation becomes this limitless, boundless ocean of awareness. That’s the first view we call it. The view of expanse. After you have that stably, the mind shifts from the ground aspect of awakening to the appearance aspect of awakening. So the view becomes you become more interested naturally in what arises within that expanse. So everything that arises is what we call the liveliness of awakened awareness. All thought is lively awakened awareness. All emotions are lively awakened awareness. All sights, all sounds, body, body sensations, it’s all lively awakened awareness. So it’s a continuous uninterrupted flow of lively awakened awareness. You master that view. Thirdly, you master both views simultaneously. The limitless expanse and the uninterrupted liveliness of what arises in that expanse. That’s the third view you take. And the fourth view is to do that without mentally engaging anything. You let it be there in pure awareness without moving towards it to make more of it, without moving less to make less of it. You just let it be there in the shield of that expanse with no reactivity, no going towards it, no going away from it. And if you don’t mentally engage it, that’s what causes common memory traces. If you set that up as a stable view.
Rick: One impression I’ve gotten from listening to you over the past week is that… I’m sorry, you want to finish your thought? Yeah, I’m sorry.
Dan: If you set that up as a stable view, it starts an automatic process of dharmakaya release. So whatever arises in the field, if you don’t engage it every moment by moment by moment, it disappears. And it takes about seven years to release all common memory traces from the storehouse mind. You can accelerate that process by doing the inner fire practice with the central channel and by doing the bypassing visions practice and get the whole thing down to about two years. And that’s the maximum time it takes to do this. And then you have what we call sangye, the complete purification of negative states and the flourishing of all positive states. Depending on how you count, there are about 80-85 positive qualities that come out at once. That’s what we’re now studying in the laboratory in neuroscience of sangye.
Rick: They probably come out incrementally, right? Not all of a sudden darkness to full noon brightness, but just sort of a gradual…
Dan: Yes, exactly. Exactly.
Rick: One impression that I get in listening to all this and listening to you over the past week is that in this tradition, these traditions that you are expert in, there are so many different practices. I mean, it kind of sounds complicated to my simple mind, you know? It’s like, how would you possibly keep them all straight and know what to do and master them all? Is it simpler than I have kind of gotten?
Dan: No, there are many practices in there, but some are more important than others. About six years ago, I was working with my teacher, my root lama, his holiness Menri Trizin, who’s the lineage holder for all the Bon teachings, the indigenous Dzogchen teachings. And he brought out a text of Shardza Rinpoche’s work and it’s in 17 volumes, it’s collected works. He pulled out two volumes and said these are all the secret cave and hermitage yogi texts, the most advanced practices. And he says, “I have a favor to ask you. All these practices that very few people can do anymore, they’re going to all die out in this generation alone. I want you to translate them and put them in a form that you can teach for Westerners. Would you do that?” What am I going to do? Say, “No, I don’t feel like it.” So I cut down my teaching and my clinical, I suspended my clinical teachings for three years and stopped seeing patients for three years, or four years almost. And we published eight books of translations to preserve all that stuff. It’s all in one book. It’s called The Self-Arising Threefold Embodiment of Enlightenment. And that contains 11 texts of the most advanced cave and hermitage yogi teachings so we can preserve them in the West. Some of those we now teach like the Fire Practice and the Bypassing Visions Practice. We now teach those in the Balancing the Elements Practice that I talked about earlier. So we’re trying to preserve all these in the West and so they continue.
Rick: And so do we need so many practices? There must be hundreds of them all together because there are so many.
Dan: Some are more important than others. So in the limited time I have left in this lifetime, I’ve made choices about what’s best to preserve.
Rick: So how numerous are the most important ones? Are we talking about a dozen or a hundred?
Dan: Less than a dozen.
Rick: Less than a dozen. Okay, so it’s not unmanageable for the average person. They could find among those dozen something that would be appropriate for them at their stage of development.
Rick: Yeah, okay, good. Here’s a question. Incidentally, as we talk along, if there’s anything that comes to your mind that I’m not asking and you want to just say it, just start in on it and we’ll do it. But here’s a question that comes from Michael in Oregon. He’s saying how effective or important are traditional Tibetan, I don’t know if I can pronounce this, Ngndro, how is it pronounced?
Dan: Nun dro, preliminary practices.
Rick: Okay, how effective or important are these for Western students? What do you recommend for a Western student who wishes to be more committed to Dharma practice but cannot afford the typical cost of Western Dharma retreats and/or programs? So there’re two questions there really.
Dan: So there’s two questions. The first question is about doing the Ngndro takes about two or three years. I don’t favor that. With my teachers, I worked out a different arrangement. And what we did is for every beginning course, there’s no eligibility requirements for the level one course. But if anything beyond that, level two up to all the level three courses and level four courses that we have, there is a specific eligibility requirement. And then we do those instead of the Ngndro. So for the level two, they have to have a certain kind of skill in concentration. Because we teach Mahamudra concentration and concentration, if you don’t have a good background in concentration, it deteriorates rather rapidly when you do Mahamudra concentration. So each course has certain eligibility requirements for the 3A course, which stabilizes awakening. It’s all the teaching on stabilizing awakening. You have to have a taste of awakening. So the courses are not something you just sign up for. You have to have a relationship with the teacher in our tradition. And the teacher’s call is about who’s eligible for a certain course. So by working out these very careful eligibility requirements for all levels of courses, the Tibetans were satisfied that they’ll teach with me, even though we don’t do a tradition of At least some of those are more flexible like Rahab Tulku who I teach with and his holiness Menri Trizin and the lamas in the Bon tradition that I teach with. They accepted our eligibility requirements, which is somewhat West engaged.
Rick: So when you say 100,000 practices, did you mean actually 100,000 different practices or some practice you would do 100,000 times?
Dan: 100,000 times.
Rick: Okay, repetition of a thing.
Dan: About seven different things you have to do 100,000 times.
Rick: Okay, good.
Dan: Two or three years.
Rick: Yeah. But you don’t recommend that anyway?
Dan: No, we’ve made exceptions to that. Some Tibetans won’t teach with us because of that and some Tibetans are a little more flexible and agree that we’ve done a good job with that in terms of the eligibility requirements that meet the Westerners. So that’s what we’ve done.
Rick: Yeah, I guess that raises the question about accusations of watering things down for the Westerners versus distilling the most practical effective teachings in this tradition so that people actually get some benefit from it.
Dan: They’re both views, both views are legitimate. It’s well said.
Rick: Okay, so then his second question was, Michael from Oregon, what do you recommend for a Western student who wishes to be more committed but cannot afford the typical cost of dharma retreats?
Dan: We offer scholarships to people who take our retreats but they have to fill out a rather rigorous financial aid statement about what they’re actually doing with their life. We’re not in favor of people taking a vacation from life. We want them to have a meaningful livelihood to practice dharma because that doesn’t have meaning or in any way useful. On the other hand, if they’re legitimately working on the dharma and they have some concerns with finances, we’ll help them with that.
Rick: Okay, good. And since we’re on this topic, before I forget, your website is drdanielpbrown.com. I’m showing it on the screen right now. But is this, let’s see, does this have to do with your… This is more… Yeah, what website would they want to go to to find out more about your actual retreats and things?
Dan: Called Pointingoutway.org.
Rick: Pointingoutway.org. Okay, I’ll link to that on your page on Batgap.
Dan: Then if they want to learn the psychological stuff that we have made available, which is Western equivalent preliminary practices, there’s one called attachmentproject.org. Another one is called mindonly.org.
Rick: Yeah, I’m showing it on the screen here.
Dan: ThatÕs all emotional growth stuff.
Rick: Yeah, I found that quite fascinating, even though some of the things I listened to were conversations you had with other psychologists and some of it was over my head. But it’s interesting and I was impressed with the depth of Western psychology at its best. I felt like, wow, if that’s something I had gotten into…
Dan: We try to take the best of the Western tradition in psychotherapy and translate it into simple visualizations that one can do as Westerners and do it instead.
Dan: That’s what we put on these websites.
Rick: Yeah, we’ll talk about that a little bit more before we finish. Let me just… Okay, I think that’s all the questions that came in so far. So, here’s another kind of quote that I heard that I often use and you can tell me whether it’s authentic or not, but it’s supposedly from Padmasambhava, who supposedly said, “Although my awareness is as vast as the sky, my attention to karma is as fine as a grain of barley flour.” Have you heard that one?
Rick: Does that sound authentic? And we could elaborate a little bit on what he’s actually saying there.
Dan: He’s saying about being mindful of your karma. Your conduct matters in the view when it’s as vast as the expanse, what we talked about earlier. When you have awakened awareness and you live in that expanse all the time, that’s your basis of operation, that’s when you need to focus more carefully on your conduct and live a life that’s exemplary.
Rick: Right, so you don’t get a pass just because your awareness is vast. That doesn’t mean you’re going to be on autopilot, you know, perfecting your behavior. You also have to continue to be vigilant, right?
Dan: And those who rationalize that away are the ones that get in trouble.
Rick: Indeed they do. Yeah, I’ve heard people say, “Well, it doesn’t matter what I do because I’m enlightened and, therefore don’t judge me. It’s, you’re not capable of judging someone so enlightened as I.” That kind of thing.
Dan: That’s a statement that comes entirely from self-importance.
Dan: Enlightened. There’s nothing enlightened about that statement.
Rick: Yeah, I actually helped to found an organization called the Association for Spiritual Integrity because there have just been so many train wrecks in the contemporary spiritual communities of teachers getting in trouble for the way they’re behaving. And it really confuses a lot of students, because they think, “Well, geez, this guy’s supposed to be so enlightened,Ó And sometimes the students will think, “Well, maybe I’m wrong in judging him, because who am I to say, because he’s supposed to be in this great state?” And I think that they should have more confidence in their common sense and call a spade a spade.
Dan: In the early 1980s, the Dalai Lama asked me about this and I said, “Set up something like what we’re doing as psychologists from licensing boards, you know, we review if complaints come in. Have a committee who reviews the complaints and actually evaluates the evidence and makes a decision about them.Ó He said, “That’s a good idea.” So, we set it up.
Rick: You did set it up?
Dan: Yeah, we set it up.
Rick: Oh, cool. Does it exist today?
Dan: Still exists, yes.
Rick: Oh, I’d like to know more about that. I’ll email you later or you can even say something about it now if there’s a website or something.
Dan: If a complaint comes in, the teacher, he’ll, you send it to his office and he’ll investigate it.
Rick: But this is just in the Buddhist world that the Dalai Lama would have jurisdiction over.
Dan: Only in the Tibetan world, right.
Rick: I see, yeah. Yeah, we were trying to set up something a little bit more universal, but we weren’t presuming to have any kind of authority or anything. We wouldn’t really want to, given our limited resources, but the hope was to just kind of create greater awareness in the general spiritual community of what is or is not appropriate.
Dan: Well, our respective work has the same spirit.
Rick: Yeah, yeah. One question. I have a friend named Dana Sawyer, who actually is good friends with a Tibetan Lama that you may know. I forget his name. But Dana and I have had this ongoing conversation about whether there is some universal ultimate reality, which is what it is, regardless of whether or not people understand or experience it, or to whatever extent they experience it, versus sort of alternate ultimate realities, which doesn’t make sense to me, where different paths and traditions will lead to different realizations, like different mountains, as opposed to different paths going up the same mountain. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Dan: Both are true.
Dan: Same but different. My teachers always said, “Same but different.” So the configuration of enlightenment in Buddhism is different from that in say, the Yoga Sutras. But ultimately it’s all the same, relatively in terms of how you experience it and how you frame it. If you can’t get beyond perspectivism it appears slightly different. Those differences are important.
Rick: Well, let me ask it this way. As I understand it, enlightenment is not a thing where the individual is now perceiving some reality and you still have this observer-observed process of observation set up. Rather, it’s that the reality has kind of woken up to itself through the instrumentality of an individual mind-body system. If that is the case, then it seems to me that if Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Mohammed, or whatever, all got into a room together and had a chat, they would concur, “Oh yeah, we’re all experiencing the same thing,Ó just different languages and different ways of explaining it.
Dan: Well, actually, there are some differences in terms of how we experience it. For example, if you experience it as all middle path, that’s different from viewing it as the great self, like the Brahman in Hinduism. You experience it differently, but ultimately it’s all the same. But we can’t get beyond our descriptions and our perspectivism. So, it seems a little different in how we experience it. So, that’s the way I look at it.
Rick: And so, the path you have been on might color the nature of your experience when you reach the culmination, the termination of that path, is that what you’re saying?
Dan: Yes. So, for example, another important difference is whether the path is unfolding in a new personal way, but still brilliantly awake, or whether the path is more relational based, like a god.
Rick: Another way I’ve heard it explained is that different people have different constitutions, and so some people might experience the absolute as vastness and others more as bliss and, just different qualities according to their prakriti or their constitutional makeup.
Dan: According to their capacity, we’d say.
Rick: Capacity, yeah.
Dan: That’s true. But ultimately, there is an ultimate reality that goes beyond all those differences in experience.
Dan: And that’s all the same. So, it’s the same but different, both the two.
Rick: Yeah, and obviously another distinction is some people are more devotional and some more intellectual and some more just sort of activity oriented and so on. So, they’re all going to tap into…
Rick: I’m sorry, go ahead.
Dan: It’s more to do with the student rather than the nature of ultimate reality.
Rick: Yeah. Although, I imagine given that everything we’ve just said, despite the different flavors of realization of the ultimate reality, if you had a whole group of people who had aligned with that, who had tapped into that, they’d get along. You know, they wouldn’t be killing each other over doctrinal differences or anything.
Dan: Well, the Tibetans are notorious for debating their traditions and not getting along.
Dan: It’s only 200 years ago that this Rimé movement, non-sectarian movement, came up. Starting with Jamgon Kontrul and what he did was he did something very unusual. He did a thing called a Dandaksu, which is 12 volumes. And in the 12 volumes, according to the level of practice, he selected the best meditations across traditions and sect and school of thought. It’s never been done before. So there’s a joke about the Tibetans that they’re so competitive, fiercely competitive, they would have killed each other off years ago without the Dharma. The only reason why they survived is because they had the teachings. But it’s only recently that the Rim movement happened, we call it a non-sectarian movement. I’m strongly Rim, so we take the best practices for every level of practice, according to the whole tradition.
Rick: That’s great. Yeah, in Indian traditions there’s plenty of debate. Also, Shankara used to go around debating people who had different views and the tradition was actually, if you lost the debate, you had to become the other guy’s disciple. I don’t know if they do that in the Tibetan thing.
Dan: Yeah, this is a great debate tradition.
Rick: Actually, the other night I asked Swami Sarvapriyananda about this thing of the six systems of Indian philosophy, which modern scholars often regard as being competitive with one another and contradictory. And he said, no, actually, they’re complementary, they just pertain to different levels of spiritual development and different sort of facets of understanding of things. So, I wonder if, you mentioned..
Dan: Just different perspectives
Rick: Different perspectives, yeah, which is like, the blind men feeling the elephant thing there. Everybody’s perspective is true, it’s just not the all-inclusive totality of the thing.
Dan: That’s what I was saying about same and different before.
Rick: Yeah, yeah. So, these Tibetans fighting with one another over their different perspectives, I wonder if perhaps they were not fully enlightened people and therefore they had that narrowness that characterizes Western Christian sects, for instance, where each one thinks it’s the best.
Dan: Well, we have to remember that Tibetan tradition is strongly monastic, and in all honesty, the monastics are not the best meditators. They have a comfortable lifestyle, they do a lot of prayers during the day, they don’t spend most of their time meditating. The real tradition, the living tradition, is the cave and hermitage yogis, the ones who go on long retreats. Those are the ones that preserve the more advanced teachings. It’s always been the cave and hermitage tradition. That’s the one that’s dying out now. So, they’re learning, they are many monks, but don’t assume simply because they’re a monk they’re advanced as the advanced yogis, but most of them aren’t. Most of them are sort of mid-level yogis.
Rick: I know you’ve done a lot of work and are doing a lot of work still to help preserve these traditions that are dying out, and perhaps you could talk about that a little bit. I didn’t really mention at the beginning, but you, I don’t know to what extent you’ve mastered these languages, but you have studied Sanskrit, Pali, and Tibetan very deeply, and I think you’re quite fluent in at least Tibetan, maybe Pali also.
Dan: Well, I don’t speak Tibetan. The spoken language is different from the classical written language, so I can translate text well, but I can’t speak it and maybe you don’t hear it enough.
Rick: But anyway, you’re working to preserve a lot of these teachings that are in danger of dying.
Dan: Yes, we have eight books of two teachings that we’ve done in the last four years to preserve these teachings.
Rick: It’s amazing you can do all this. I mean, you’ve written what, 14 books or something?
Rick: 23 books, and golly, you’ve done so many things in your life. I want, when I, obviously you’re a smart guy, but somehow when I have been thinking about that, I’ve been thinking, you know, I bet you he would attribute that to a great degree to his actual spiritual practice. It’s made him more productive.
Dan: Yes, the concentration training helped a lot.
Rick: Yeah, yeah.
Dan: Because when I sit down, I don’t waste time, I just get it done. Like writing.
Rick: Yeah, they say that the average person, if if they’re working on something and an email comes in or something, it takes like 20 minutes to get back to the focus that they had, and obviously interruptions often come in more frequently than every 20 minutes. So people, some people are just bouncing around all day long from one thing to another.
Dan: There’s never an interruption. It’s a continuous awakened awareness of everything.
Rick: Do you find that, in more trying circumstances, such as, let’s say, the chaos of travel or something like that, it’s not only not compromised, but is actually perhaps enhanced because the contrast is clearer between the awakened awareness and the chaos of Logan Airport or something?
Dan: That means I have to put more intention to practice better at those times. It comes down to intention.
Rick: So in other words, you ramp up your intention a little bit if you’re in a chaotic circumstance?
Dan: All it takes.
Rick: Yeah. Here’s a question that came in from Imam in Missouri. Is non-doing a practice or a state of being? If it’s a practice, how effective is it and how do you do it when faced in a situation where you need to make a decision?
Dan: Non-doing is a precursor to awakening. In Mahamudra, it’s called non meditation meditation. In Dzogchen, it’s called the great state of non-doing. And the way you do that is by having automatic emptiness. And anytime there’s a residual tendency to do anything, to focus attention on something, to change something around, to engage in some meditation strategy, and immediately as it arises, it’s empty upon arising. So automatic emptiness becomes a clearing agent for all types of doing. You can’t do anything to get to non-doing.
Rick: Yeah, that would be a contradiction in terms.
Dan: So, but if you have a strong automatic emptiness, it’s a clearing agent for all types of doing. And for all reasons, doing conceptualization. And that’s setting up what we call natural state of the mind, which is the precursor to awakening.
Rick: Yeah, that brings me back to what we talked about earlier in terms of concentration versus effortlessness. I’ve always thought of concentration as a sort of introduction of effort, which it is actually. And it seems counterproductive if the whole point is to settle into a silent state. It’s kind of like if you had a pan of water and it had ripples in it, you try to stop the ripples by pushing on the ripples, you just create more ripples.
Dan: No, concentration takes a lot of work at the beginning with intensifying, as I said earlier.
Dan: And by concentrating, you eventually stop all the thought elaboration from happening, you prevent mind wandering from happening, and the mind stays focused and it is serviceable. Once you make it serviceable, you can separate that from the concentration training itself, and you hold the view. Meditation has a certain view that you take, a certain perspective. The view is the meditation, and you learn to hold the view in an absolutely stable way. So for example, you hold the view of emptiness, arising every moment by moment by moment, so that you have automatic emptiness, and that clears away residual conceptual thought, it clears away all types of doing, and it sets up the mind in the natural state so that you can cross over from ordinary mind to awakened mind. But the original question, it was about doing in everyday life, it’s not about that, it’s about in your deep concentration, in your deep practice, you focus on non-doing, the state, establish a state of non-doing. So awareness isn’t something you can make happen, it happens to itself, it shows itself to itself by itself if you set up the right conditions. Mind is programmed for awakening. We all have the seed of enlightened Intention. The path wants to show itself to itself, just set it up and get out of the way. So the Pith instructions, give you all the secret instructions for how to set up the mind in the right way so you can shift from the ordinary mind to awakened mind. You need to get those from the teacher. In the right state of mind you can get the instructions in the right way so that you can set up the great meditation of non-meditation, or the great state of non-doing, and then you can set up the view in the right way, you can cross over from ordinary mind to awakened mind. That’s how this works. It doesn’t have anything to do about daily life, it doesn’t mean doing anything in daily life. You don’t conduct as it matters in daily life. Off the pillow. The question originally was about non-doing in everyday life.
Rick: Yeah, so you and I are talking right now, and are you doing anything to hold the view or maintain any sort of state of awareness or anything, or is it just kind of natural spontaneous condition after all of your decades of practice and you don’t really have to sort of attend to it, it’s just built in.
Dan: All it requires is an intention to hold it. Like setting a thermostat with intention.
Rick: Set it and let it go.
Dan: Set it and let it go.
Rick: Right, and do you actually have to continue to reset that intention like every day when you get up in the morning or something, or after a while does it just become second nature?
Dan: Not much.
Rick: Pretty much it couldn’t go away if you wanted it to probably at this point.
Dan: Woops. It doesnÕt go away.
Rick: I mean even in terms of the neurophysiology it must be that after all these years of practice your whole brain structure has changed and you’re not just, that’s just not going to go away like just like that.
Dan: ??? and neuroscience has learned to make connectivity, so you learn certain pathways and they open up automatically.
Rick: Yeah, and they found that like certain areas of the brain get thicker and stuff, the frontal cortex or whatever in meditators, so this stuff it gets, seems to me it gets stabilized by virtue of a deep transformation of the nervous system.
Dan: That’s correct. Starts with neuro, increased neuro connectivity and then it changes the brain structure. So actually it’s sending down new pathways.
Rick: Yeah, I’ve interviewed Rick Hansen a couple times, he talks a lot about neuroplasticity. I lifted this paragraph from one of your websites, and maybe you want to talk about it a little bit. It’s “Pointing out the Great Way combines a strong grounding in the western scientific study of the contemplative experience integrated with the ancient Indian and Tibetan spiritual traditions and the wisdom of their direct transmission lineages. This provides westerners of all levels with simple profound and clear access to the deepest spiritual traditions.” Have we covered that adequately or is there something more you want to say about that?
Dan: No, we’ve covered that adequately.
Dan: I’ll tell you a story about that. I taught with, concentration with Den Malocho and his Lamas. He’s the Abbot of Namgyal Monastery in Dharamsala in the Dalai Lama’s Monastery. We taught together for 15 years. And I was once visiting the Dalai Lama and he said, “Stick around, thereÕs somebody I want you to meet.” He said he knows how to teach Westerners. Chgyam are around the age of down with me and he said, “Take your meditation posture, I’m going to show you something.” So the next six hours he went through the details of all eight stages of Inner Fire practice using the central channel and then he said, “I want you to promise not to teach this and not to practice it on your own.” I said, “Why are you showing me this?” He said, “I’m showing you a style of teaching and I want to teach you other things this way.” So I never heard anything quite like it. So we started teaching this pointing out style. We started, for every level of practice, there’s an overview to what you’re going to accomplish. We give a detailed explanation of that. Then all the meditations are guided. We walk you through it step by step. This is what are called Pith Instructions, which are direct immediate instructions for how to take a certain view. And then immediately after you talk about it, so you don’t create bad habits, so we can keep you on track with where we’re going to take you. So in a week’s course you can walk some people through the very beginning of practice up to a taste of awakening. If the students are motivated and don’t get in their own way. About one out of three people will get a taste of awakening within the week.
Rick: So this is something you taught with that guy for a while, but then he died and now you teach it as part of your retreats and all?
Dan: Yes, that’s true. But our great tradition of growth is psychotherapy in the West, which is strongly relational based. And the Dalai Lama realized that this really needed a relational based way of teaching, so you use the teaching relationship to give the Pith instructions and to explain it in great detail and to keep people on track so they don’t make mistakes with the practice and develop bad habits. So that’s what’s unique about this pointing out style. It’s the Dalai Lama’s gift to the West. He thought it was something that Westerners could use and it works for Westerners.
Rick: And a taste of awakening would be what?
Dan: Shifting to the boundless, unbounded wholeness of brilliant and lucid, awakened awareness, love.
Rick: For how long? Even a glimpse or…
Dan: A glimpse of that changes everything in your life.
Rick: Yeah, yeah. So about a third of the people get that within a week.
Rick: Okay, good. That’s great. Including on your online programs, not just the in-person ones, pre-pandemic.
Dan: Well, we’re trying to do it, we’re trying to do Zoom courses now, and we found the statistics about the same.
Rick: That’s great. I bet you a lot of people will be doing things online even when the pandemic is gone, just because they’ve discovered that it could be just as good and doesn’t involve all the travel and expense and stuff.
Dan: That’s true.
Rick: Yeah. Okay, we’re getting close to the end of our time. Now, it’s been about… when we’re recording this, it’s been about two or three days since there was an attempted coup in Washington, D.C., and it was fueled in large part by the fact that large numbers of people have fallen into conspiracy theory thinking and have lost the ability to discriminate, in my opinion, between reliable sources of information and unreliable ones and have shown themselves to be extremely impressionable. So, anybody can say just about anything on YouTube or somewhere on the internet and a person will say, “Well, that makes sense to me,” and it sort of builds a worldview that gets, in my opinion, farther and farther detached from reality and obviously has now lethal consequences. So, I’ve been a bit fascinated with this whole topic this year because it’s been growing and growing and I did an interview a few weeks ago with three guys who do a podcast called “Conspiratuality,” which is a play on words that conspiracy theories have kind of infiltrated spiritual communities and people and large numbers of people have bought into them and have ended up getting quite far right-wing in their political orientation and dismissing any kind of mainstream media information, and so I don’t know, I’m just, you’ve obviously been observing this too and with your whole background in Tibetan Buddhism, I wonder if you have any observations about what’s been going on and any advice for people.
Dan: Well, it’s the same kind of thing we see in cults. I’ve done a lot of work with exit counseling people in cults and then served as an expert witness for them in courts on a number of occasions as a forensic psychologist. So, we know a lot about how people can get extreme ideas and get caught up in those ideas. Ultimately, it’s leadership that’s responsible for creating that stuff. So, I hold Trump responsible for his inciting the violence.
Rick: And of course, he’s had a fertile field in terms of many people who are susceptible to indoctrination.
Dan: That’s true, but he’s still a leader and he has certain responsibilities in the code of conduct as a leader.
Rick: I agree, I agree.
Dan: HeÕs not done that.
Rick: Yeah, And, since there is a high incidence of people who’ve been on spiritual paths falling into, falling, being susceptible to this kind of indoctrination, is there anything you would advise that people could do as part of a spiritual practice in order to strengthen their powers of discernment or discrimination or separating truth from falsehood?
Dan: Don’t isolate themselves to a certain group. Get a diversity of opinions. That’s what prevents people from getting caught up in cults. When they get an outside opinion thatÕs different from what they’re caught up in. It’s the most important thing.
Rick: Yeah. I actually, I interviewed Dan Harris of ABC News a few years ago. He wrote a book called “10% Happier” about his meditation practice and all. I actually emailed him recently and said, “Why don’t you set up on television debates between a prominent conspiracy theorist and a doctor, or someone else who is qualified to parry with this person, debate with this person, and let them express their conspiracy views, if you want to use that derogatory term, but then let the other guy respond to it.” And he kind of said, “I donÕt know.” So, so far I haven’t seen that happening, but it would be interesting because otherwise, like you say, people silo themselves, they isolate themselves within a certain group, and that Netflix movie, what was it called? ÒThe Social Dilemma” explains how this is actually monetized by Facebook and so on, and they get, the polarities, they become more and more extreme and society becomes more and more fragmented.
Dan: Yes, I think it happens that way. One of the fields I work in, as a forensic psychologist, as an expert on suggestibility effects. So we watch how people develop these limiting beliefs and they get caught up in them completely. That’s what happens in all cults.
Rick: Yeah. So your primary recommendation is just to mix it up a bit to expose yourself to other viewpoints and so on.
Dan: Yes, yes.
Dan: And that’s what happens in exit counseling from cults. An exit counselor sits there and talks about the inconsistencies with their belief systems and gently points them out so they start to see the contradictions in them.
Rick: Yeah. And it works both ways, I mean, I’ve actually spent time reading the website of the flat earth people just to kind of say what makes them Tick? I’m not afraid to look at what they’re saying but it’s very easy to debunk this kind of stuff because there’s so much evidence to the contrary. SoÉ
Dan: Yeah, but with social media we’ve created a culture by which we don’t evaluate evidence anymore. As a forensic psychologist I’m trained to evaluate evidence.
Dan: We don’t do that anymore. The general culture just accepts everything at face value. And social media made that worse.
Rick: Does that concern you about where we’re going as a society?
Dan: It does concern me a lot.
Dan: But the country’s split right in half. We have half the people who are in extreme views and the other half of people are sane.
Rick: I know.
Dan: It’s divided right down the middle.
Rick: I know. The reason I’m laughing is that I’ve had people who have what you and I would call extreme views use that very same wording to characterize my perspective. It’s just so ironic that I really… there are some efforts actually by people to get together liberals and conservatives and so on in the same room and have them discuss hot button issues and try to see each other’s point of view and kind of…
Dan: Well, we have to create a dialogue, bipartisan dialogue.
Dan: So people learn diversity of views. We’re not doing that anymore. People live in their own world and they get more and more isolated. That’s where the danger comes.
Rick: Yeah, well maybe in light of this week’s events there’ll be a renewed effort to get that going because obviously we’ve seen how bad… we haven’t seen how bad it can get. It could probably get a lot worse, but we’ve sort of gotten a taste of what it can be like when there’s this kind of fragmentation.
Dan: Well, Biden has a history of being strongly bipartisan, so I hope for that.
Rick: Yeah, yeah.
Dan: We can return to that.
Rick: I hope so. Well I don’t know if we want to end on this note but is there anything else that you’d like to say before we wrap it up?
Dan: Yeah I teach a course at Harvard Medical School on leadership and performance excellence, and what we’re trying to do is talk about realized leaders. Trump is not involved at all as a realized leader. He’s the negative, opposite of that. He’s limited in his position as a human being. He should never be put in the position of that kind of power because he’s showing he can’t handle it.
Rick: Yeah I’ve seen situations where various groups of psychiatrists have put full page ads in the New York Times or something describing his condition, diagnosed from afar obviously, butÉ
Dan: I’m not going to do that. I’m just saying that he’s limited as a human being. Showing that over and over again. You don’t need psychology for that. Common sense will tell you that.
Rick: Well we’re all limited but we’re not all running for president. I don’t think I’d do a very good job at it. Well maybe we’ll learn from this too you know. My wife keeps saying there should be some kind of test before you get to run for president. Some psychological test, some educational aptitude test or something.
Dan: It all comes down to what model of leadership we have. Evolved leaders are the best leaders throughout history, realized leaders. I’d like to go back to that myself.
Rick: Can you name a few realized leaders? Who have been realized leaders?
Dan: Throughout history, Ashoka.
Rick: Oh yes.
Dan: He’s a good example of that. The ones that are responsible for ancient Greece.
Rick: Right. King Janaka it was said in ancient India.
Dan: Yeah. Those are good examples. Modern leaders Gorbachev.
Dan: He lived his vision. Whether you agree with it or not he lived his vision of Perestroika.
Dan: He had a clear model of where he envisioned and where he wanted to decide to go and he brought it there. It cost himself his job in the process but he did it. He lived out his leadership role.
Rick: Well, okay. Let’s hope that we within our lifetimes see more enlightened leadership rising to guide us. Seems to me that the leaders we elect depend to a great degree upon the collective consciousness of the people and yet it can really lurch back and forth quite a bit between administrations so perhaps each four or eight years we just kind of, a different faction of collective consciousness gets to express itself. So I think ultimately even you could put Jesus Christ in the Oval Office and if there’s still a lot of crazy people, I mean I’ve heard you talk, we haven’t gotten onto this, but I’ve heard you talk about how severely traumatized so many people are and you’ve worked a lot with that. If we have a traumatized populace deeply attached and blind, spiritually blind populace, you could put the most enlightened leader in the world up there and I wonder how much he could accomplish.
Dan: Thomas Jefferson said it takes an enlightened population to create a democracy.
Rick: There you go, yeah, which is why it’s important for education to be a priority and yet certain politicians always seem to want to undercut it which is concerning.
Dan: It’s true because we call it good and it requires dialogue with each other. It’s going to get us exposed and appreciate diversity.
Rick: Are you optimistic? I mean I have some friends who say, well there’s going to be a nuclear war or climate change is going to get so bad that everybody’s going to die and I keep…
Dan: I think we appreciate the effects of suggestibility. I participated in a think tank for three days in U.S. Boston in the early 1990s and they had a political think tank. They had all their campaign managers for the great presidential elections in the first 20 years, previous 20 years and the Republicans presented their research findings. They found that if they put a certain spin on things and they did three things they talked about that their candidate would make their world safe internationally, make the economy safe and make the streets safe domestically, economically and internationally and the other candidate would evoke fear, instability, international instability, domestic instability and economic instability. If you send out that message it doesn’t have to be accurate. You can catch it somewhere up to 12 percent of the vote and that’s usually enough to win. And the Republicans presented that at their convention and it was working and the Democrats were clueless about it and said, “Why would you want to do that? Don’t you think the issues matter?”
Rick: DonÕt you want to be honest?
Dan: And the Republicans were saying, “No, all that matters is you win, then you do what you want.” And they couldn’t talk with each other for three days, and now we’ve made that international by bringing in Russia and Ukraine and people like that. We can sway an election. It’s all about soundbites. I think the general public needs to be educated in terms of what the influence of this suggestive influence can be because right now it’s done intentionally on people and we need to be aware of that because it has a negative effect on everybody and it does sway elections. Remember Trump came from, his popularity came from reality TV. So we are bound by suggestive influence. I think we need to educate people more about the effects of that, the negative effects of that and how vulnerable. We want to preserve our democracy. That’s in my opinion as a psychologist and the suggestibility effects. And the same thing about cults, itÕs the same thing, just not suggesting, not looking at the evidence and evaluating critically the evidence, just accepting everything. It’s all about soundbites.
Rick: And it’s insidious too, if that’s the right word. It’s, you incrementally shift into deeper and deeper delusion or shift out of it into greater and greater clarity. You don’t shift from deep delusion to perfect clarity in a heartbeat. So you really have to kind of keep steering the course of your life in the right direction if you are serious aboutÉ
Dan: And that requires some sort of modicum of awareness of what you’re thinking, what you’re doing.
Dan: It requires dialogue with other people who have diversity to expose their variety of points of view and you learn to respect them rather than polarize them.
Rick: Yeah, very good. Yeah, I try to facilitate that kind of stuff myself. I have a friend who is very much, COVID is a hoax, vaccines are terrible, this kind of thing. And then I have this other friend who makes YouTube videos. He’s a molecular biologist, makes YouTube videos debunking all these kinds of ideas. And I’m trying to arrange a conversation between the two of them which they might record online. But just like I said, that thing I proposed to Dan Harris and actually I think they just agreed to it. So that kind of stuff I think is needed more and more so that you just don’t live in your own little vacuum bubble.
Dan: I think that’s true.
Rick: Yeah. Alrighty, I’ve taken enough of your time but I’ve really enjoyed this conversation, Dan, and I’ve really enjoyed the past week. We’ve had some snow here so I’ve been out cross-country skiing and listening to you every day, on my iPod. So I really admire the life you’ve been living and everything you’ve accomplished. It’s tremendous and, good going. You’ve really done a lot with your life and are continuing to do a lot. So I’ll set up a page on Batgap.com for this interview and we’ll link to everything that you want me to. I think I’ll email you because I think that that last thing you said about signing up for retreats, what was that one called?
Rick: Pointingouttheway.org. Okay, I’ll make sure to link to that one.
Dan: No, Pointingoutway.org.
Rick: Pointingoutway.org, I’ll make sure to link to that one too. So obviously people can get in touch and participate in what you have to offer. Thank you for doing this. I appreciate your kindness. Oh, it’s my pleasure. Thank you, Dan. I really appreciate your kindness and and the time you’ve you’ve given us today. So for those who’ve been listening or watching, obviously you know this is an ongoing series and if you’d like to see which guests are scheduled, go to the upcoming interviews page on Batgap.com and you’ll see what we have planned. But I’ve been doing this for 11 years now and totally enjoy it and I don’t see any end in sight. I hope to keep doing it as long as I can. So thanks for listening or watching and we’ll see you for the next one. Thanks again so much, Dan.
Dan: Bye everybody.