How can you tell whether you are wrong, the others are wrong, or everybody is wrong?

Lama Ole’s answer:

With couples or really small groups in close relationships, then surely everyone involved has a share of the problem. But when ninety percent of the people we know have the same problem with us, then we shouldn’t try to wiggle out of it by saying, “Oh, how strange, they’ve all built up the same illusion!” There we have to take a close look at ourselves.

As America’s Abraham Lincoln once said, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” This is a good rule of thumb to check oneself and to see how one is perceived by others. If one always has the same argument with people, then perhaps one has an old anger issue or something subliminal that disturbs others. I take it quite seriously when people tell me something.

Intelligence is described as the ability to adapt to new situations. It’s a good sign if one can change now and then and cut off a few kilos of useless behavioral fat.
We aren’t being true to our principles by hanging on to stupid habits. If we are always offending others, we can’t just say, “Well, I have a personality.”

And you should really be glad when people point out your shortcomings because then you can learn. That is the basic reason why every dictatorship falls: people discover that the boss can’t stand to hear anything bad about himself. Then his inner circle starts to shield him from what’s really happening, and suddenly the whole population has taken off in another direction. The boss is left with just a little pyramid of fifteen “yes men,” and the whole thing collapses.

We should be glad to get criticism. As long as people criticize, we can learn. When they give up on you and don’t say anything or talk behind your back, then you have a problem.

Does it make sense to discuss Buddhism with people who have a completely different point of view?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Everything I have told you about Buddhism I have said to strengthen your mind. It is not a weapon or a tool to help you win arguments or become a debate champion. When a discussion arises, it is enough to wish other people all the best while we enjoy our freedom to find happiness in our own way.

As long as people don’t try to put pressure on us or take away our freedom, we should wish them all the best and pay attention to what really interests us. But if they try to talk to us like missionaries, we should know where we stand and tell them that in a friendly way. It should happen in a calm manner and without trying to prove anything or “win” the discussion.

How can we help people who are so trapped in their difficult situation that they can’t help themselves on their own?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Instead of making the people into sinners, build a human bridge first. Perhaps you are the only one who takes a bit of time for that person. For example, when you go to the butcher, you are friendly to begin with. You don’t speak moralistically, pointing out how many animals had to die. That would just ruin everything. Then after a while, when you have established a good connection, you might be the only one the butcher can open up to a bit. Maybe he says, “Actually, I have a lot of bad dreams and am often afraid.” And you could say, “Maybe you are picking up some of the fear from the animals you kill.”

You keep it short so that he doesn’t think you are trying to educate him. And when he has digested that, you can give him a suggestion sometime, like, “There is a new position open at the post office. Wouldn’t you rather work there?” Helping others does not mean only being nice; it also means stopping them when they make mistakes. But even with difficult people, one mustn’t break the bond. Maybe you are the first person they’ve met who can help them somehow. Then you really need to have a lot of patience and build people up again and again.

The Bodhisattva Promise is about wishing to help all beings. How does one do this in a practical way?

In 1972, when Hannah and I were more or less the first to start, I also thought that I had to do everything for everybody. I tried it and quickly fell on my nose because when the hat doesn’t fit, it simply doesn’t fit. In the meantime, I’ve come down from my high horse of wanting to help everyone; now I stick to the ones who can understand what I’m saying. Fortunately, we are not the only people who do things for others. Among the socialists, Christians, Hindus, and the other Buddhist schools, there are also people who are there for those who aren’t drawn to my way of working or to our groups. We don’t need to take care of the mentally ill or the welfare cases because there are people who are trained and paid to do that. And we are happy about their good work.

We also contribute our part to this by paying our taxes—for example, with 80 cents on every liter of gas we pump and with 19% sales tax on everything we buy. This is why we don’t need to do anything more than to stay true to our own thing. We do what is right and what we ourselves have understood. There are other hats for other heads, so we don’t need to water down our teachings nor make them simpler. It is just not our responsibility to offer something that fits everyone. Instead, we want to convey what we have in a clear and sensible manner. This way everyone who has a head or heart for it can come into contact with a pure transmission and clear teachings.

We take care of the people who would otherwise find nothing anywhere else—people who are too critical and independent and who think too clearly to feel at home under a god or in a hierarchical system. We offer these people a field where they can grow and learn.

How can we know what is best for all beings in the long run? We want to act for the benefit of all beings, but we are not enlightened.

Lama Ole’s answer:

It can be a bit difficult to figure out what brings happiness and what leads away from happiness. So I would just use the old bit of folk wisdom: treat others the way you’d like them to treat you. I would start with what is self-evident, with what people like. Be nice to them and avoid harming them.

There are three different levels of benefiting others. On the first level, we can give them food and vitamins but maybe not a bottle of schnapps if they still have to drive home. We do what is in front of our nose; we give them the material things that will help them in the short run. The best thing you can do as a good Buddhist is to look far into the future and see the large-scale problems like overpopulation. Then you can look for the causes of those problems and remove them.

In Rwanda or Bosnia, for example, there are definitely too many people on too little land. Since they treat each other badly, they have no decent level of education, no decent standard of living. And you look far ahead and say, “Condoms instead of cannons to Africa!” Then you talk with friends, and maybe one of them knows a man in Parliament or Congress who might say, “We need to make sure the people from the warm countries don’t overrun us, making us all become poor. Then no one will be able to do anything in the long run anymore. Instead, if they have fewer children, they will be able to live better.” In this way, you gradually raise awareness of the problem. But I would not intervene in things you can’t directly influence.
On the second level, one can meet people’s needs for more enduring things. One can make people independent—for example, through training and education—and teach them to manage their own lives. But that still only helps until the grave. Rich men might be driven to the cemetery in a longer hearse or leave behind a larger debt, but they will still arrive at their graves in the end.

On the third level, the best gift that one can give others is to bring them into contact with the Buddha’s teachings, to make them aware of their own buddha nature. Everything that makes people independent is good, and whatever makes them dependent, whatever confines them and makes them weak is not good. Every time you give people confidence in themselves and their possibilities, you have done something good. This is what Buddha does. He doesn’t just say, “Ten percent more for the workers!” but he brings us to a level where there is less greed, avarice and jealousy.

We should strive to show people the timeless space-clarity of their own minds: that which is between the thoughts, that which knows what is thought, experienced and felt. If we can give people more space between their ears, or their ribs, or wherever they think their mind is, then we have really helped them. This way we act very practically, step by step. We learn through practice. If one always does one’s best for the good of others again and again, one seldom makes mistakes.

Can one always act for the benefit of others or shouldn’t one sometimes think of oneself?

Lama Ole’s answer:

If one thinks like that, there is some fundamental misunderstanding. To the extent that we work for others, they also do something for us. Of course, we should also act intelligently. One shouldn’t give free-loaders money or give difficult people the chance to be difficult. If someone is always hanging on your apron strings, you shouldn’t let them take advantage of you—that doesn’t help anyone. The best thing is a cheerful exchange with others, where everyone gives what they have.

The more you give on a human level, the more you get. The mind is like a well. If you always draw water from it, then it is always fresh. But if you don’t take any water, then at some point there are five dead frogs lying in the well and you can’t drink from it.

I wouldn’t think about myself so much. When we think of ourselves we have problems, but when we think of others we have important things to do! I wouldn’t bring this “I” into it at all. I would try to see what is most useful. Sometimes it might be more helpful to do something for oneself, and other times to do something for others. You might do chin-ups to make yourself strong, and then later you can carry a piano up the stairs for someone else. When you act in this way, you won’t have so many concepts involved. If you do what is in front of your nose and always have the feeling of “we,” then everything is big.
This way you will also experience that we are all mutually dependent on each other—that we all condition each other in a reciprocal way. If one starts with the attitude of doing things for oneself, one might have to change lanes to understand that it’s about a “we.” But if one doesn’t distinguish between “I” and “we” but just does what needs to be done—what is fun and what flows in each moment—then everything is a gift. Then power-fields and connections appear; possibilities condense out of space and you are always at home. The most important thing is to always be in one’s center, to rest within oneself, to trust oneself. Out of this center, we can then act from a position of surplus and power.

If we always act selflessly, don’t we run the risk of being passed over of misused?

Some people think that acting selflessly means making yourself small and supporting everyone else at your own expense. Coming from a Christian point of view, we are used to thinking in “either-or” terms, making one person small and the other big, but that is too simple. If you think you can do the best job in a certain situation, then acting selflessly can mean putting yourself forward. It means that in every situation one aims for whatever will bring the highest level of benefit to all.

The most selfless thing one can do is to not take other people’s bad trips seriously. Don’t put energy into them; don’t play along. See the trips as “rabbits with antlers,” as the Tibetans say—as something that doesn’t exist. Instead, put the best trip forward. If you commit yourself to the highest level of truth, you’ll cultivate the best thing that can happen in any situation.

Why is it that sometimes we aren’t well received by people even when we want to do something useful for them?

Lama Ole’s answer:

I always think that the karma of the people was not good enough, and then I happily go on to the next job. If you always do your best, then the rest is the other people’s karma.

Everyone has their own karma. One can only help others if a ring and hook come together—if openness is present. If this is not possible, one has to passively give them some positive energy, and at some point, when they forget to think about themselves, it will sink in.

Naturally, it is also a question of how skillfully you present things. There are people who could sell long underwear in the Sahara and others who couldn’t even sell it in Greenland. If you don’t manage to get through to someone, then chalk it up to experience and try to learn something. Maybe later there will be a situation where you are able to handle it better.

When I talk with people who have wrong views, I get arrogant quite quickly. And when they notice that, they accept what I say even less. Would it be better for me not to say anything at all?

Lama Ole’s answer:

At some point that simply stops. First try to understand that they are all buddhas and that it is actually fantastic that they can think at all and that you can share something with them. Then try to build things up from this level.

One should always try to focus on something beautiful about the other person. If his face is a bit strange, then perhaps his hands are nice, or his tie, or the car he drives, or his girlfriend—anything! Find something that interests you, and that sets him at ease as well, and make that the basis of the encounter. Then from this point of richness, you expand the connection more and more until you can really share something.

At the same time, one must also understand that the reason something disturbs us in others, making us arrogant and proud, is that we have a problem with these things ourselves. One must keep this in mind; it’s easy to forget. The world is just a mirror for ourselves. We only take issue with things on the outside if we still have a few thorny patches on the inside. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk with others until we are enlightened. We only learn by doing!

If you have a problem to clear up with someone, then you can start on a level where you see eye to eye. Then you can simply say, in a very matter-of-fact way, “Hey, yesterday I heard you say this and that. Did you really mean it that way? I think about it like this…” Start first from a level of surplus, and then it will go over well. When you really like people, they will accept anything from you! They’ll feel it.

You are a young bodhisattva, so it’s actually just a matter of time until the stiff style is gone and you can follow your heart completely. And you don’t lose wisdom in the process; you don’t get dull or unclear. You keep the clarity, and at the same time you are free to focus on what you want and to help beings in different ways.

How should we react when we are provoked?

Lama Ole’s answer:

It is always a sign of strength if you can be good-natured. Small dogs have to bark, but big dogs don’t need to—everyone knows they’re strong. It’s also like that with us. The protector practice helps make us strong, and in critical situations we can then stay good-natured and cool. This is what it’s about.

That’s how you can recognize your own development. How much space do you have? How do you view what people do? Instead of feeling attacked, do you simply think, “Why do they do that? Why do they jump up and down, roll their eyes, and make funny noises. Why on earth would they act like that?”

What I am telling you here carries great responsibility. This is also part of the Bodhisattva Promise. The fastest way to develop is to always act as nobly as possible. Try to behave like a bodhisattva, even when you can’t stop the habits of your speech and you hear yourself saying something you know you shouldn’t say; or when you can’t control your mind and you find yourself in a corner where you don’t want to be; or when you can’t control your body and you do things that you know will drive others up the wall.

But even if you can’t stop yourself, you should at least try to see that it is happening among buddhas. One can smile a bit, make a joke about the scene one is making so that it doesn’t get too serious and heavy, so that it opens up a bit. Try to see the situation from the highest possible level. Simply decide that it is happening among buddhas—that it makes sense, that it’s good the way it’s unfolding.

This is the essence of everything I am talking about here. The disturbing emotions and the stupid habits are strong, but they are also klutzy. We can develop more and more space around the habits to avoid an attack of emotion or to just let it pass by. There are so many possibilities. Start a mantra so that the disturbing emotion slips away as though on a film of oil, or suddenly say “pei!” inwardly and then concentrate on something else. There are so many ways to block these emotional packages and tear them apart.

It is part of Diamond Way practice to see these trips are a dream, as old remnants of habits that one must not take seriously. Ninety percent of all problems are quite stupid. But they are part of people’s growth process. And if one is not there in the moment and is not able to give others what they need, then they don’t develop.

Maybe their problem seems stupid to us if we have meditated a few years longer or done more in the last life, but for them it feels very real. Then we have to address it and do our best. This is hard sometimes if one is in a rush. In business life, we don’t always have to deal with the problem, but in our relationships with others as Buddhists, we do. That applies to all of you—in the centers, those who travel with me, and so on.

OK, if people just want to make problems, then send them away. But if they have a real issue, we have to deal with it and not think of ourselves as better. Instead, see yourself as a midwife and think, “Ah, a beautiful child is coming into the world.”

How can I see beauty in being a mother?

I have a baby and I haven’t slept well for eight months. I am totally exhausted and the child is often sick. I want to give him love, but I am so tired that I fear I’ll drop from exhaustion.

Lama Ole’s answer:

I am also working up to my limits all the time. Often I arrive at some place, meet all my friends, and am eager to talk to them. But I know that if I don’t lie down for an hour first, I’ll give a very boring lecture later because I would tell the same thing again and again due to fatigue.

But it is also possible to use pain as a source of energy. Several times I have only made it through a lecture because I had pain as a driving force. I remember that once I extended a lecture a lot because the police were standing outside and wanted to talk to me about the car I came with. And since they didn’t want to interrupt the lecture, I extended it more and more until they left. I was so tired that I could hardly keep my eyes open. But my boots were too tight and that pain enabled me to hold out.

I believe it was the actor Laurence Olivier who recommended always keeping a stone in your shoe when you have to learn something. This painful pressure was a point of reference for him from which he could gain strength. If your eyes hurt, then be aware of them and pull the energy of the pain out from them. If your back hurts, then be aware of it and use it as an energy source.

In your case, it would be best for you to use your motherly love as a source of strength. This is actually what two billion mothers in the world do in exactly the same way at this very moment. Try to draw strength from your motherly love and experience.

Always find whatever is strongest and get energy from there. Whatever thoughts appear, put them to use. Enrich yourself through your experiences. Start from a rich perspective and never from a poor one. We create our own lives; we ourselves determine what happens. Take the way of identification—it is the fastest and most direct.

On the outer level, avoid anything that could lead to difficult dreams and experiences. Avoid real hostilities and big problems, for example, by never borrowing a lot of money. Then, on the inner level, it is about developing compassion and wisdom. Compassion means thinking of others so much that one has no more time for oneself and that one also truly recognizes and experiences the wish for happiness for all beings. Wisdom means not taking things personally anymore: awakening to the fact that such things happen to everybody at some time.

And on the highest level, one identifies directly with the buddhas. All our meditations work in exactly the same way. After a twenty minute meditation, everything is not how it was before. When coming out of the meditation, one goes into a pure world: Everybody is a buddha whether they know it or not. Everything is inherently pure, with all qualities and possibilities. It is important to experience everything from a level of surplus. And that means not just meditating but also acting like a buddha as much possible. Also after the meditation, the partner is too chubby, the dog still barks, the children are still unruly, and the boss is still insufferable. But one experiences all this in a different way. It is important to experience a pure level when coming out of the meditation.

What should we do if we find ourselves with people who want to keep us small and dependent?

Lama Ole’s answer:

If people want to keep you small and dependent, then become a bit more powerful. Do some bodybuilding, learn a martial art, or seduce them. Confront them with the fact that you are not so little anymore, even though they won’t like this because most people have fixed ideas about how others should be. Be persistent, don’t react to it, and carry on living as you wish. This way the relationship can level off into a good coexistence over time, and you can share your ideas. But don’t let yourself be imprisoned. If nothing changes, just continue living as you do.

How can we recognize the type of person we are dealing with?

Lama Ole’s answer:

First, look at the body language. If they lean back in their seat and give the impression that they don’t want to listen, then these are anger types and it is better to hold back a little bit. If they come forward and cannot get enough, they are desire types and one can step into the situation completely. And if they look back and forth and don’t know what’s going on, then one is facing a confusion type.

You also see this in the streets: some people almost fall into the shop window because they want everything. Others almost get knocked over by cars because they want to have a lot of distance from everything. And some zigzag here and there, because they don’t know where they want to go. Also the clothing tells a lot—whether it’s form-fitting and shows skin or is instead a bit stiff or clumsy.

I myself am the best example of the desire type. For me it’s almost impossible to remember things I don’t like, and I constantly like everything I see. The anger types, on the other hand, are those who can always find something that they don’t like. There is more distance. Everyone has their box; they are more dignified and courteous. And then there are the philosopher types who have so many ideas and don’t really know what they want.

One should simply try to behave towards others according to their tendencies. The Dharma is good for everybody. The ways are different, but at the goal we are all one again. With this good feeling, one overlooks the differences and tries to use what is best in the moment.

What should I do if I often find myself together with people whom I don’t fit in with or whose company I actually don’t like?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Then wish them all the best, leave, and do what you are interested in. Build up your own power-field somewhere else. Humans emanate certain energies; some match well and others don’t. If others are disturbed by what you are doing, then part company with them in a beyond-personal way—because you know that they also want to have happiness and to avoid suffering.

Act according to the situation. If you think someone is treating you badly, then you can teach him a lesson. You have to be able to stand up for yourself. But your reaction should always be relative to the situation. So please do not crack a nut with a sledgehammer.

If someone is constantly causing trouble for me, how can I clear up the situation without both of us getting angry?

Lama Ole’s answer:

It’s best to say what one thinks in an honest and friendly way.

Just tell the person, without any anger, that you don’t like certain things, that they are unpleasant to you, and that you would like this behavior to stop. If the other person does not react even to repeated requests, then make some distance. Clarify the conditions under which you could live together, then, move out or throw him or her out if necessary.