Sometimes we help others, but when we need help ourselves nothing comes back. What should we think about that?

Lama Ole’s answer:

That is a question of style. You must simply decide whether you are in kindergarten or among adults. If people act so childishly, they are emotionally immature and should not be taken seriously. Or perhaps you only believe that you helped, just like the people who believe that they are helping their lama by doing the opposite of what he told them because they think they are smarter than he is. Perhaps people are not thankful because you acted based on your own ideas and not based on their situation. There is often too much ego involved in helping. One comes in with a box full of ideas, and that makes everything really complicated.

In my experience, people who you help without an ulterior motive will be thankful and develop good qualities. At the beginning, they want to see if you’re trying to make them dependent. But if you shine on them like the sun, again and again; if you are kind no matter what they do, in the end they’ll also give you something back. It’s also very difficult to help with money. I myself do not lend money; rather I give money if people need some. But I would never bring them into a relationship of dependency.

There are people who always want to help but aren’t really very helpful. Can you say something about this kind of helper syndrome?

Lama Ole’s answer:

If people want to help, without having helped themselves first, they are usually pushed away. No one likes these attempts to help that are sticky and too personal. Many people have a good sense of what is unhealthy—when the helpers want to hide from their own problems and throw themselves onto others instead. Other people might not do so much, but they stand there broad-shouldered and everybody wants a share of their vibrations. These people are more helpful than you might think.

This is also a reason why people laugh at the many relief organizations and religious institutions, even though they’re helpful. The drunks go there as long as they are hungry, and get a cup of soup and a sermon. But as soon as they’re doing a bit better, they go a little farther down the road to get the soup without the sermon. We can indeed sense what is healthy and what is unhealthy. Even dogs sense why they are being petted—whether a person really likes them or is just trying not to get bitten.

When is it right to tell someone that you don’t want to help them any longer?

Lama Ole’s answer:

When you think that they are no longer working with their situation and progressing. As long as you feel that they are really engaged and doing what they can, helping is good. But as soon as they make themselves into victims and only expect something, then leave them alone, because in that case they’re not moving forward.

This may sound harsh, and it doesn’t follow the style of the sixties—when our new humanism took shape—but one has to truly think of the person’s wellbeing. The social and psychiatric institutions in Western Europe are now very good. Many of my students work in such places, and I am sure that they do very good work and that others are doing the same. You don’t have to have a bad conscience when you leave someone to the professionals.

We should also not be too soft on people who want to commit suicide. If the candidate starts to get evasive, if he no longer wants to explain or prove anything and says everything sweetly with a fine little smile—from that moment on, you cannot save him anymore. As soon as he has fallen in love with the idea of suicide, there is nothing more you can do. But as long as there is a bit of resistance, as long as there is an inner struggle, you can shock him and say, “You will certainly be reborn in a war zone in Africa!” If the person is a bit intelligent and knows what’s going on in the world, then you can say, “Think about the Hutus and the Tutsis and what’s going on between them!” If they have seen what’s happening there on TV, you might be able to shock them out of their trip.

If we’re just nice all the time, then they fall even more in love with the idea of suicide since everyone is taking it so seriously. Then they commit suicide because of the others and not because of themselves. In the end, they have talked about it so much that they have to do it.

How much can we give without making people dependent on our help?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Modern psychology has many ideas on the subject, but for me it is much simpler: you help as long as it is practical and as long as people don’t become opportunistic. Help them as long as there is a natural exchange. If they become dependent or don’t achieve anything themselves, you can happily sit out a round and say, “I’ve given you my idea, and if you don’t like it then go somewhere else.”

For example, if I were to give good lectures only when rich people who might donate something were there, and bad lectures when just a few old hippies were listening, then I would be neither a good teacher nor an honest man. I have to give everything I can in every situation. Then, if something doesn’t come across the right way, it is the karma of the people.

I don’t think it’s a good idea to measure out one’s love. I would rather give it all: in love, full throttle and hug whoever gets close—and if someone keeps his distance that’s also OK. But go through with all the strength you have and give what you can. That’s my formula. If people can receive everything, then they get one hundred percent, and if they only have the karma for five percent, then that doesn’t mean we give any less.

What should we do with friends who constantly get themselves into difficult situations but are not open to being helped?

Lama Ole’s answer:

If someone really needs to hit his head against the wall, you shouldn’t always be there to hold up a pillow. Act like a bullfighter instead, who shouts “Olé” and lets the bull run into the wall! Before bad habits become too deeply rooted, people should quickly feel that the consequences really hurt—that they hurt so much that the ego can’t sugarcoat things anymore. Perhaps this way they’ll get the idea to change something.

Of course there are a few things that must not happen: for example, one must do everything possible to make sure a person doesn’t get or spread AIDS. We must not let anyone seriously harm the health of others, but it is completely OK for people to get a bloody nose on a personal level! Often it has to really hurt before the ego is ready to give up territory.

Buddha’s teachings are something very, very precious. One should not run after people with them! You let them know that you have the teachings, and they can run around until they discover that they need them. Then you can share what you have. But no one can expect you to run after them.

I often feel pressure from my family’s expectations of me. How can I reduce this stress without disappointing anyone?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Either you give people fish or you teach them to fish. As Buddhists, we should teach people to fish and make them independent. We play with our children until they have learned to play by themselves. Then we can be with them sometimes, and other times do something else. If we always consciously aim to help people become autonomous and independent—to develop themselves and stand in full mastery of their capabilities—then we can achieve a lot.

If we look at things from this perspective, it is not difficult to invest a half-hour in the family sometimes, even when you come home tired. Then afterwards you can say, “Now the news is on and I’d like to watch it”; and later you give a bit of attention to your family again. The fact that the generations are growing apart right now is the real burden. In all societies, the children used to be raised by the grandparents while the parents were out working. It’s a shame the older generation is now sitting in old people’s homes while the strong ones—who should be working hard and producing—have to spend the whole day taking care of the children.

How can one help people who always complain—who are always dissatisfied but don’t really want to do anything about their problems?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Let them see that such behavior doesn’t interest you. Don’t respond to them! When you call people’s attention to their wealth, they become rich. If they pay attention to their weaknesses and mistakes, they become poor. Basically, highest truth is highest joy.

It is also good to show people what is going on in the world to put their problems in perspective. That also helps them a great deal.

How can we help someone who is always depressed?

Lama Ole’s answer:

First, show him that his trip is not interesting. Show him that you put up with it because you’re friends, but that he doesn’t win anything with it and that it doesn’t make him more interesting. Then maybe you can mentally tickle him—if you can’t tickle him any other way. Simply be stubbornly friendly and only respond to positive things. I do that myself. I know that I sometimes get on your nerves with that. You come to me and think you have a big problem, but actually the point is to recognize the mirror behind all the reflections that appear in it.

While you only see the many images in the mirror and the black wash water flowing from it, I see that more and more of the mirror itself is beginning to shine. That is what interests me. The veils and hindrances pass by and change all the time. Who takes that seriously anyway? It’s not important.

The important thing is the buddha nature behind the veils. That is what’s true. That becomes stronger and is what you will see and experience more and more. I’m not teasing you or being superficial when I say, “You look good!” Actually, you look better the longer you are in the dharma—you really learn something and develop.

If somebody comes to us and wants to talk about their problems, how can we avoid getting pulled into their bad trip?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Don’t accept any of it. A higher level of joy is a higher level of truth! A disturbing emotion is something negative in itself—something that brings suffering, a bug in the program. You give them your trip instead. That is called realism: you make the good things real.

Sit there with the Lama in your heart laughing and shining light out to everyone. Then they can tell their stories until it becomes too much and they go away again. It’s a mistake to strengthen people’s bad trips. That would be a misunderstanding of bodhisattva activity. Real bodhisattva activity is telling people, “It’s all a dream! The trip is not important! It was not there before, and it will be gone again soon!”

What advice can we give non-Buddhist friends when we notice that they are hanging on to their disturbing emotions too much?

Lama Ole’s answer:

There is an old Person saying to remember in such situations: “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” You can remind them that a great many people have it much, much worse than they do. They may not like you afterwards; you might get rid of some difficult people this way. But when things are going better for them, they’ll come back and like you again. Then they might even appreciate your honesty.

If I’m trying to help someone who has difficulties but I see no progress, how long should I be patient and keep trying and when is it better to withdraw?

Lama Ole’s answer:

If people are willing to learn, then we can stick with them. But if they’re only looking for a place to live out their bad habits, then we should stop them. You simply check whether they are developing and progressing through the space you make for them or whether they are merely using it to let their bad habits solidify. It is idiotic compassion if one allows people to strengthen negative or stupid habits. That is not good for them at all.

Actually, the old German saying is the best: “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” The hardest school is the best school, and sticking it out to the end is definitely the best and fastest way to develop.

If we notice that a friend is living in a fantasy world, should we destroy his illusions or is that dangerous?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Would he jump out of the window if you destroy his fantasy? If he would, then you don’t have a friend, you have a patient. You have to check whether people can handle it when you tell them what is really happening. If they can take it, then you can destroy their illusions. Afterwards, you should stay friendly, keep your distance, but be there protectively and make good wishes.

If you can’t say anything, then in the end you can only wish them the best. Try to help them two or three times, and if that doesn’t work, then simply be nice and make good wishes.

What can we do for people who are very confused or even suffer from psychoses?

Lama Ole’s answer:

In a case like that, I would work with mantras. Give them the good, sturdy om mani peme hung mantra, and get them used to saying it. A mantra works like a protective oil film. Disturbances usually make scratches on our mind, creating habits that we fall into again and again. But when we use a mantra, the disturbances slide back and forth and then fall away without creating habits. A good dose of om mani peme hung for everybody would be good. You just have to watch out that they don’t think you are trying to convert them by force.

How should one handle difficult people?

Lama Ole’s answer:

When people are difficult, it’s usually best to let them do their own thing. Just keep your distance! You are not being paid to educate them. But if you can’t avoid them, then think, “I can learn patience here! Without patience, no enlightenment; without difficult people, no patience. Thank you!”

In any case, the best thing is simply to do what’s in front of your nose and not pay attention to anger. There is a story about Buddha himself. Someone came to him and really wanted to stir up trouble. Buddha listened for a while and then said, “If someone wants to give you a gift but you don’t take it, who does it belong to?” “To the giver!” the man replied. “So take your trip with you,” Buddha said. “Sorry, but I don’t need it or want it.”

You can very calmly examine whether you want to have the trip or not. If the troublesome person isn’t bothering you much, just see him as an exotic animal from the zoo. It’s different when someone is clearly disturbing many people. If they are harming others, then to some degree you have responsibility to deal with them. Then you have to check whether they are difficult because they are unable to act any other way, or whether they just want to be difficult. It’s probably best to praise them highly and then send them somewhere else. If that’s not possible because they dig their claws in and seek your constant attention, then try to make it clear to them that you don’t have much time and have to see what is possible.

But we should always have patience and also see such people as a mirror for our own mind. It also depends on our view whether we constantly meet difficult people or not. If a teacher comes into the classroom and thinks, “Oh no, what are these thirty gorillas doing here?” then he will not be able to teach the children much because you can’t teach gorillas much. But if he comes in and thinks, “Wow, what are these thirty Einsteins doing here?”—then everything becomes possible.

If you provoke difficult people, ignore them, and block them from getting what they want—making them angry—then you’ll build up negative Karma for yourself. But if you act with good motivation, if you want to help people, then things will work out well. It really depends on the motivation.

How should we act towards people who never see anything good in us and only criticize?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Maybe send them away and meet other people, if that’s possible. On the one hand, we shouldn’t be so slippery as to always think other people are to blame when they have a problem with us. We should listen closely.

But if people have the habit of nagging, then you can surely find other company. Life is too short for such trips. If people always want to be difficult and grumpy, then they can do it by themselves, too. We don’t have to be with them. Think of life like a play in the theater: take two roles in the comedies and avoid the tragedies.

It is funny to see the drama people produce—for example, in families. It’s a very small audience and nobody likes the piece, but they play it every day. There you can only shake your head…

We must insist that things stay interesting, that there is growth, that it’s fun. If things get silly, then you can get out of there. You can always go and meditate, read a book, visit people, and so on. You have many possibilities. Then you can return when the situation is reasonable again.