Can you say something about the significance of money?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Money is a form of energy, something we can work with. I myself was born in 1941—the war generation—and I remember my first piece of white bread up to this day. My handling of money was shaped by my childhood and the post-war period. So in financial matters, I am rather conservative. This is why I advise all my students to never get into debt. The Tibetans say that if you die with debts, you will be reborn as a horse. And all your former creditors ride around on your back treating you badly.

Once you’ve checked out the situation, you can also take a risk sometimes. It’s just important that you never end up in a weak position where you’re unable to feed yourself and are dependent on others. Freedom lies in keeping your daily needs small. The less you need for yourself, the more surplus you will have for others. If you need a luxurious house, an expensive Mercedes Benz, and designer clothes, you’ll then need to put enormous effort into finding something you can still experience as special. But if you also like to drive a used car, go shopping for clothes at second-hand stores, buy food from the supermarket, and occasionally sleep in the car instead of a hotel room, then there is also something left for others.

Everyone has some things they consider particularly important. For me, it’s moving fast in a car or on a motorbike. If you fulfill a few of your own wishes—the ones you find particularly important—you’ll easily come into a state of surplus where you can do all sorts of things. This is my advice. To become a big consumer is really not a goal—that I can tell you. You’ll just end up around snobs and difficult people, and you’ll be bored all the time.

Can you say something about marriage and parenthood in the modern world?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Like in other areas of life, the partners in a marriage want to have happiness and avoid suffering. In this respect, the marriage is no different from any other relationship between a man and woman—with or without the marriage certificate. Both partners are always free to do as they wish. But this changes as soon as children are born because they depend on their parents. When kids are involved, a couple should try to stay together, even though it might be difficult to find a common language at times. In this case, it would be better for the children to sometimes spend more time with the mother and sometimes more time with the father, as the children like.

Our attitude is what matters: we should support the other person’s growth and development, which means giving instead of taking or exploiting. To do this, we basically need to see our partner as something very precious, as somebody who is able to develop.

Can you say something about the other types of relationships between men and women that are not love relationships?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Observe people closely and you will often see what sort of relationship you could have with them. You can see whether attachment arises and what kind of connection it could be—more sexual, more emotional, and so on.

There are four roles a woman can take on for the man and vice-versa. A woman can be like a mother who tries to parent him. Or if the man and woman simply have a lot of fun together, she’s more like a sister. If she is protected by him, she is like a daughter. And if there is physical attraction, she is rather like a lover.

The woman can perceive the man in the same way. He is like a father if he is a protector, giving security. If being together with him is fun but doesn’t involve too many emotions, then he is like a brother. If he is someone who needs to be protected and nurtured, he is like a son. And if he is physically attractive and the relationship flows well, he is like a lover.

Everybody wants to be the lover, of course. This is more exciting and special. But I can tell you, in my experience—and through the blessing of all Buddhas—ten years later, it no longer matters whether someone was like a sister, a daughter, or a lover to me. No matter how close it was, in long-lasting relationships this is not important at all.

Of course one gives more and is more open towards a person one makes love to, since this is a close relationship. But the lasting qualities are much more important, the qualities of the dharma and the quality of trust. What is really important is to grow, to develop ourselves, and to work together.

There is great blessing in being together, but if there is too much attachment, then suffering and difficulties arise too. The most important is to share the dharma—the development and the growth.

If parents separate, which parent should the children stay with?

Lama Ole’s answer:

When taking a human rebirth, a person will be female if the karmic bond is stronger with the father or male if it is stronger with the mother. That basically means that girls feel more drawn to the father and boys to the mother.

This can change throughout one’s life due to other karmas. I believe that the simplest solution is for the children to live with the parent who has found a new partner with a good connection to the children. This is especially true if one parent doesn’t find a new partner. A family is certainly better than a single parent, unless the bond with that parent is particularly strong.

In most cases, I recommend having an extended family, the way the Nepalese live, for example. In their culture, former partners and their new partners create two families out of one, where the children can maintain a good bond with both parents. In this situation, it is important that the former partners do not feel anger towards one another for being left. Both have to be satisfied when they separate.

How should one react when other people behave impossibly?

Lama Ole’s answer:

The first thing is to check whether it’s your issue or not. With us, the big judge is named cause and effect. As a Buddhist, one does not have to interfere in things for the sake of morals or justice. People do negative things if they are stupid, and they themselves will also suffer through what they do.

But if one feels responsible for the situation and has a connection to the person who is making trouble, then it is all right to do something. One can say, “Hey, you idiot, do you see what you’re doing there?” But there should not be any anger in it. If anger is involved, then it always looks stupid. People take it personally and one destroys good connections.

It is good to stop someone who is doing something negative, but if disturbing emotions are there, then it is better to watch out and hold oneself back. In general, it is better to give advice than to tell people pointblank that they shouldn’t do this or that, because if they continue to do it, the connection is damaged and one can’t help anymore.

Over time, you learn to deal with situations like this. You become totally non-moralistic and understand that it is only about the greatest possible human happiness. It is about benefiting beings as well as possible and seeing that everyone is as good as he can be.

You don’t judge but rather try to see if a behavior fits in a given structure. And there you often have to hammer a few bent nails into a piece of wood which itself doesn’t quite fit. That’s just life. You deal with things in a way that brings as little suffering as possible and that—if possible—everyone learns from what happens. Everything is the art of the possible; this means flowing with and being open to all possibilities.

It is like a huge card game, like super bridge. One has half the cards up one’s sleeve the whole time. One sees what the others play, checks it out, and reacts, but the point of the game is that the others win. That is the special game of the lamas: the others should win. And it is best when they think they have figured it out themselves; otherwise, they may easily become proud or angry.

One should always see the best in people. But if they really make trouble, what then?

Lama Ole’s answer:

You should think that they are buddhas who don’t know it themselves. And then you grab them and tell them off so that they can better get to where they can recognize their buddha nature. If people didn’t have buddha nature, there would be no reason to work with them. That said, even if a teacher has thirty little geniuses sitting in the classroom, he still has to exert some pressure sometimes and say, “Stay in your chair! Stop chewing your pencil! Don’t pull her hair!”—things like that. But it is meaningful because you see that something can come out of it.

On the one hand, you must keep an eye on the relative level or else you won’t know what has to be done. But if you don’t see the absolute level, which is above the relative level, then you’ll make mistakes.

If someone always causes problems and we think we should intervene, what is the best way to do that?

Lama Ole’s answer:

In situations like this, there are two kinds of people: those who know they have a problem and are ready to change, and those who must be convinced that they have a problem and should change. If a person has already discovered that they have a difficult character and that things are not going so well for them, then we can work with them. We have a responsibility to them, and we try to keep them out of difficult situations.

That is what I always say when someone comes to me with relationship problems and says, “I give all the time and I get so little in return.” Usually, they are women. And I tell them, “Look, it is great to be able to give, but does he know what he is getting and does he also wish to give something?” If he does, then it doesn’t matter how closed off the boy is; when he gets good things for long enough, he will also give—because he is full of good impressions. So, if we work with people who are open, it is easy.

But if you work with people who disturb others and don’t admit it, then stop them so they see that the world does not agree with their trip. If they become reasonable at that point and want to learn something, then you can help them. And if they don’t want to understand anything and the ego keeps coming up again and again and becomes disturbing, then leave them outside for a while. Work around them or past them and protect others from them until, at some point, they discover that it was better before—that the ego might not be worth it. Then they are ready to learn.

As long as you are not angry, the method you choose will be right. If your own attitude is good, then what happens is the karma of the others. Then they have good karma if they meet you on one of their reasonable days and bad karma if they meet you on a difficult day. Whoever always does his best will have no difficulties.

Should we intervene if we witness a fight?

Lama Ole’s answer:

That depends on how many of them there are, how serious it is, and what one can do oneself. But in a brawl, under no circumstances should one judge who the good guys and bad guys are, even if a couple of brutes are running off with an old lady’s purse. Of course you should try to stop them and give the lady her purse back. But you cannot judge because the old lady certainly did something to them earlier. Everything is cause and effect.

What you can do is try to calm the situation down and bring in your abilities where you can. Look at the situation: Are a couple of drunks beating each other? Are they about the same size and strength, and does neither have a knife? Then you don’t necessarily need to throw yourself in between them.

But if one of them is clearly at a disadvantage and the other is a brutal sort, or if there are weapons involved—then call the police as quickly as possible. You pay taxes so that help comes in such cases. Whoever is strong enough can pull the people apart himself and push them up against the wall a few times until they calm down. If there is no anger involved, then people become like wax in your hands. You will be amazed. Even the most brutal guys will give in if you act without anger. They know that it is a higher power and they disappear. And you don’t only help the weaker person through intervening; the stronger one also won’t be happy if he flattens the weaker one.

By the way, as a woman one can always stand nearby and scream really loudly. That helps surprisingly well.

How can we get rid of an aggressive person who simply won’t leave us in peace?

Lama Ole’s answer:

You should realize that aggressive people are actually in a weak position. A man who is doing well doesn’t have to bother anybody because he has enough power and security within himself.

So, in your case, the man has a problem and it is not your problem. Maybe you stepped on his tie in some previous life, but for you that is over. Now you’re standing in front of a person who is disturbed. There you are the doctor and have to decide how to treat him. He has come to you with his problem, and now you must decide how you want to help him.

There are various possibilities, but one thing must not happen: you must not get angry. If you get angry, you are on the same level as he is. Then you are also weak and will make mistakes.

Instead, you can talk with him directly and say, “Hey, listen, do you have a problem? Can I help you somehow?” Probably the best way to get rid of him is to be overly friendly and psychologically helpful: “You have this problem. I’ve heard all about it. How can we help you with it?” You talk about his problems until he has enough of you and finds someone else he can bother. If you say, “I talked with my Lama about your problem,” then you will be rid of him right away.

I like my parents and look forward to our visits, but we often end up fighting with each other. How can I avoid this?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Don’t visit them too often, but try to always stay friendly while you are there. Every generation has its own lifestyle, and when they encounter each other they each do their best to bridge the gap. When the visit isn’t going well, you go home again and try it later by phone.

From a certain age on, people fall under monument protection anyway; you have to behave yourself with them and not shake them up too much. Check whether they are still able learn something new or whether you can only round off what is already there and give them a few good impressions to take with them into the next life.

Our parents have done so much for us, and they rebuilt Europe after the wars. So, we really owe them something. We should see how we can bring them happiness and try to treat them well. But sometimes treating them well means not visiting them too often and calling them on the phone instead. When that also leads to arguments, then it’s better to write postcards: “I’m doing well and thinking of you” and so on. And each generation can do its own thing.

I have a very close circle of friends whom I’m strongly connected with. But now I realize that I have to get away from this group. How can I dissolve the connection with goodwill?

Lama Ole’s answer:

The best is to think that everybody benefits the most this way. You can think, “If they disturb me then they will also get bad karma, and I can only help them after I have gotten some distance.” You only need to justify it to yourself. To them you say something that can emotionally pass as a reason, and then you happily walk away. And the flimsier the explanation is, the more they will be forced to examine their own situation.

If you come in with a big, extensive explanation, with points and sub-points, and whys and wherefores, then they can address it on a conceptual level. Instead of this, the best thing is to say something like, “I often got headaches when we were together”—something completely subtle and feminine. Then they’ll start to ask “Why?” But by then you are nowhere to be found.
A gnawing feeling will remain with them. They’ll ask themselves, “What was that? Why headaches? Why would someone get headaches from us?” So you leave something that will keep on scratching and digging for a long time. Then you have left them a good gift. You have set something in motion with them.

How can we help a friend who has gotten himself into big trouble? He is not aware of what he is doing and rejects any good advice anyone offers.

Lama Ole’s answer:

There are direct and indirect ways to work with this. We may tell people directly, “Listen, do you know what you are doing to yourself?” We assert ourselves as well as possible. Apart from that, we make wishes to the buddhas and say, “Please, before all his capital is used up, just give him a good one on the nose, fast and hard so that he realizes that it was not a good idea and can get out of it.” We have good experiences with Tara in this type of situation, the female buddha principle. She can help in a motherly way. Mahakala may be a bit rough there, but we can use him too.

I would make wishes that they get into difficulties quickly so that they can stop quickly, instead of torturing themselves for a long time. Because the longer they keep on, the more strength they lose and the deeper they get into trouble. If people want to run head on into the wall, it is important that those who would usually hold a pillow in front of them pull it away from time to time and say, “Olé!”—because when it hurts, people may start to think. They really should be confronted with their actions.

My brother worked with people in withdrawal. He was very tough with them and provoked their pride. He really treated them like dirt, always pointing to their situation and saying, “Look at what you are now. Look at what you’ve done to yourself!” And in many cases, he was able to find a shred of pride and could then say, “Come on, now show me how you can do it differently.” He got them out like that, but it is difficult. Bad company is like honey—it sticks to your fingers.

How can we help friends who have started to take drugs and become rather arrogant and exclusive?

Lama Ole’s answer:

We should simply explain to people who take drugs that even though they feel better subjectively, objectively they function worse. Drugs decrease one’s ability to think critically. Although objectively their abilities continually decrease and they accomplish less and less in school, work, and life, they think they are good and are becoming better and better because their ability to think critically decreases so rapidly.

The ego avoids situations in which they could have developed. One can always point out the facts very clearly: exams they didn’t pass, work they didn’t do, personal issues they couldn’t cope with, and so on. They might feel good, but they are in their own personal dream. Seen objectively, life is not going particularly well for them. Actually, one can only help drug users once they have already discovered that their lives are going down the drain.

The reason why we don’t let people who take drugs into our centers is simply that it is a waste of time: you won’t be talking to them but rather to the drugs. If a heroin user walks in, he’ll be sentimental. If a cocaine addict comes, he’ll be callous and want to check everything. If someone on ecstasy comes in, he won’t understand anything. A person on amphetamines will run around the table three times and then out again. A pot smoker will sit there and have a lot of emotions, but the next morning he won’t remember anything.

Because our lives are so short and time is so scarce, we can say: “Thank you for coming and thank you for leaving. Come again tomorrow when you can understand what we are saying.

How can one help without seeming patronizing?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Don’t make your compassion into a thing! Don’t go around saying, “Here is my compassion” or “I am humbler than you!” like some Buddhists from other schools do. Do what is in front of your nose and stay cool as you do it! Act in the moment that compassion is there. If you let go as soon as the task is finished, then you always have clean hands. Then you are like the wind that simply blows the dust out the window; then, when the window is closed, the room is warm again.

If you make a big deal out of compassion, it becomes sticky. You act and do what you can because humans are basically nice. Afterwards, forget about it and move on happily.
There is a nice story about this: Two monks from a wild sect, who were not allowed to have anything to do with women, came to a river which a lady also wanted to cross. One of the monks carried her across, set her down on the other side, and went on. The other monk swallowed his tonsils five times and was completely mixed up. After three days, he finally managed to ask, “How could you touch her?” The first monk replied, “I set her down already, but you are still carrying her!”
It is mentally healthy to act in the moment. A truly right action is like drawing on water: Before there was nothing; afterwards there is nothing; and in the moment everything fits! There is nothing sticky—no expectations, no fears, no yesterday or tomorrow. That is the level of the Diamond Way, the level of Mahamudra.

I am often unsure whether I should take action in a certain situation or whether I should keep out of it. Can you give me some advice?

Lama Ole’s answer:

This is a question of type. I am an action type; I jump into everything. It is natural for me to take part in everything that is happening around me, in one way or another. If it is about growth or the direction of the lineage—things that are beyond personal—then I act immediately. That is my responsibility. Karmapa gave me that responsibility and I take action immediately in those situations. But if people want to ram their heads through the wall and need to find out for themselves that this doesn’t work, then I keep out of it. On the level of personal growth, I only intervene if people want that—if they come to me and say, “Lama, I have a problem.” Of course I always give signs, but if they are not interested and want to do something else, then I don’t push it on them.

This way one can see that we are not a cult, because cults keep their people in line. If they haven’t been there for a few weeks, then first they get a letter, a few weeks later a telephone call, and two weeks after that the visits start. We don’t do that at all. People can come and go as they wish. It is fine if they stay away while they’re going through something difficult and come back when they are open again. With us everything works on the level of independence. Of course we are friends and help when we know that someone is sick. But when someone needs a bit of time without Buddhism, we don’t run after them.

We have to develop an instinct for recognizing for the situations we’d like to get into. We get a sense for whether a comedy or a tragedy is taking shape—something helpful or something harmful—and then we take two roles in the comedy and let the tragedy go by. Depending on our function and inner attitude, we’ll notice whether we should take drastic measures to protect beings or not. If something really disturbing is happening, it is good to intervene—for example, if a big guy is hitting an old lady. You can interfere if there is no doubt that whatever you’re stopping is wrong and would bring lasting negative results. However, at the same time one should try not to judge the situation, because the old lady might have let the guy starve to death in the last life or have done something else to him.

If the situation lasts longer—harassment on the job or difficulties between people—then try to see whether you’re caught in it yourself, and whether you have fixed ideas of like and dislike. If you have these then keep some distance, because otherwise you’ll make mistakes. But if you are not caught up in it, then do what will help people learn the most in the long run. That way you are a mirror for the people, and you direct their attention to their possibilities and qualities. If someone in the office is behaving impossibly, you can confront him and say, “Don’t try that with me!” Everyone will see it; he has taken a knock and you can counter him better in the future. Or you can try to work with his power and make a joke out of his behavior.

We all have many different qualities and abilities. Some people are rather pacifying. They always feel the need to calm everything down and produce a jovial atmosphere. Others think, “Everyone is just sitting around doing nothing!” They bring in the increasing, enriching qualities. With these first two kinds of activity, one can hardly make mistakes. When you pacify, just make sure that people don’t fall asleep. If you show what is possible, try to not give too much too fast.

If people have accomplished something and are sitting there with surplus and feeling good, then comes the third, fascinating or inspiring activity. Here, people fall in love and feel enamored; they experience something wonderful and make the people around them feel rich. When working with inspiration, the teacher must watch out because he runs a very high risk of becoming proud. The more he works with inspiration and direct openness, the more he must make sure that he is still able to act like anyone else, that he is not playing any games and is completely normal when he steps down from the throne or is finished with his work. He has to check that others can truly count on him.

If we can inspire and awaken people without creating stickiness, then we can stand there with a mirror and say, “Actually, you only see your own face. Actually, you can only see something beautiful in me because you have it in yourself!” If as a teacher one steps aside like that and shows people their own abilities, then one can work with the inspiring activity.

The fourth activity is when we take drastic action and protect powerfully when we simply know that something cannot be allowed to continue. This is the most difficult but often the most important function—to stop things that are going wrong. For those with this protective instinct, you must be careful that you’re not angry while following it.