Why are break-ups so painful?

Lama Ole’s answer:

We mostly think of space as something that separates us—as a distance, a vast nothing between us. In this case, it is logical to experience separation as something unpleasant. My advice to you is to change this perception and experience of space.

Buddhists see space as a container. This is illustrated in a simple experiment: Imagine your eyes weren’t on the front of your head but rather on the back. You would notice that there is always much more space behind you than between you and others. Space is expanding around you by light-years, limitlessly and in all directions. And if you don’t just perceive the space between you and others but also experience the space around you, then there is no separation between you and the others anymore. Space is a container with both you and them inside it.

I myself work like this with my students, with our Buddhist centers, and with everything I am connected to. Every now and then, when I have time, I visualize landscapes and cities as though they were on a map in front of me. I perceive these locations around me. I cannot see exactly what people are doing, but I feel the vibrations and I know what they experience. I make use of space in this way. Space connects. Space is information.

What does Buddhism say about fidelity in a partnership?

Lama Ole’s answer:

First of all, it is important to understand that Buddha isn’t a creator god or a wrathful god wagging his finger at us with some type of moral judgement. Buddha simply wishes us well—that we live, die, and are reborn in a better way, and that we develop. To a very large extent, the Buddha stayed out of people’s bedrooms. This was the smartest thing he could do.

As a matter of fact, there is a lot of variation among people. From a cultural standpoint, there are many approaches to fidelity. In the West, the one-to-one model prevails: one man with one woman, one woman with one man, and they have a few kids. This model has generated the most solid society in the West. And indeed, it looks like it fits best for most people. But often, it can become a bit too tight; there is too much pressure and too many expectations, like a pressure cooker. In other countries, polygamy is practised, where the man has various women partners. But there are also countries, like Tibet, where women have several male partners.

In Greenland, the code of hospitality entails that the host allow the visitor to spend the night with his wife. That’s because the visiter has often travelled over ice for a few weeks, whereas the husband is always around. Of course it is a precondition that the wife agrees to this.

In Arab countries, by contrast, the women have to cover up their bodies since the men don’t want other people to see how beautiful or how ugly they are. Unfortunately, as a consequence, women’s mobility is limited to a high degree, and a lot of traffic accidents happen because they can’t see properly.

Between these models of freedom and limitations, different people find their way. To a large extent, this depends on karma. In most cases, we probably have the strongest karma with the one or two partners we were already together with in former lifetimes.

Incest was the only thing that the Buddha resolutely opposed. On this point, he was absolutely clear. But apart from that, one can live well as a Buddhist in nearly every society without getting into trouble. A sexual relationship that doesn’t cause harm is a good sexual relationship.

However, the moment that children join in, true responsibility emerges. Then we have brought beings into the world who depend on us. In this case, we should try to be a good family or at least have a good relationship with one another.

Which is better, a long-term relationship or a lot of casual encounters?

Lama Ole’s answer:

There are a lot of different opinions here. For instance, the Danes say, “Why make one person unhappy if you can make many people happy instead?” That was a good option before AIDS appeared. As soon as that happened, the days of making love easily and happily belonged to the past. Since then it’s become riskier, and we should watch out and protect ourselves.

We should also take care not to break too many hearts. By that I mean that you should send clear signals straight away. If you only want a brief encounter, be honest and make this clear from the start to avoid burdening yourself with false promises or other unpleasant things. Love should create joy and not difficulties.

Why do men and women so often feel that they are not understood by the opposite sex?

Lama Ole’s answer:

We simply experience some things differently. For example, a man has problems recognizing that a woman has a 24-hour rhythm: if she is not met with understanding during the day, there won’t be much going on in the evening—no warmth. With a man it is different. He can compartmentalize his day quite well. During the day, he can be discriminating and a bit curt, focused on survival, while at night he is nice and wants happiness and love. It is important for the man to know that the woman experiences this 24-hour thing, and for the woman to understand that the man is not a hypocrite even if he seems soberly organized during the day but is an enamored prince at night.

Let me give an example that shows how differently things are experienced. A couple goes out in the evening. The dinner is good, the film is lousy, but the sex is good. The next day, when the man asks how she liked the film, the woman will say it was good, because she sees it as part of a whole. Then he thinks, “Doesn’t she have any taste?” And when the woman asks him how the day was, he’ll say, “The film was lousy,” and she thinks he also means the dinner and the sex. So it is good to know that you are experiencing things differently. Be nice to each other and enjoy each other; this may be the best advice.

Life is too short for a battle of the sexes!

Sometimes a relationship only comes about because the person fits our patterns—for example, they represent a mother or father figure. How should we handle this? Should we try to analyze it or just ignore it?

Lama Ole’s answer:

As soon as we give something a name, we make it small. If we say, “that is like this,” we define the thing and don’t give it the chance to be anything else. In this way, we take space away from the situation and rob it of all other possibilities. It is best to stay in the flow. My advice here would be for both people to see for themselves how to best complement each other, how they can best come together. Analysis is a good approach for dead things. If one begins to cut something up to investigate it, then it’s in slices—it’s dead.

But a relationship is always in motion, and we shouldn’t paralyze it. We simply aim for what we want to achieve. This doesn’t mean being dishonest or not wanting to see something. But in every situation, we give an advance—we give space so that the best thing can develop. I call this “dynamic truth.” Each person looks more at the possibilities than at what has already been achieved. It is like water: it flows; it’s alive!

I experience my physical needs very strongly as attachment and as really unpleasant. How can I deal with that?

Lama Ole’s answer:

In the Diamond Way, we practice as lay people and yogis because we see disturbing emotions as the raw material for enlightenment. This distinguishes us from the Hinayana or Theravada level of monks and nuns.

The good thing is that one can open up to the Buddha with everything, even with our sexuality. The Buddha teaches that the body is a temple with 72,000 energy channels. The female parts are a lotus flower and the male parts a diamond. Everything experienced is seen as pure, as full of wisdom and meaning. And if we ourselves feel pure, we can open up to the Buddha and learn from him; we can work with these energies. In everything that happens, purity, excitement, and freshness appear in every moment.

It is a real obstacle if one has been raised to see the body as an enemy and everything below the belt as bad. Often a Catholic education is the cause. In my opinion, a lot of Catholics need therapy to restore a reasonably healthy relationship with their bodies.

It is important to open up to the buddhas completely, also with our desires and feelings. This way we can ask them to reach out to us, especially if it is about love. Women are more aware than men in this regard. They understand the importance of love much better than men do.

If a man goes to a woman, he should open up to experience her wisdom and to understand the deep importance of love and the significance of openness.

What’s the purpose of the tantric union practices?

Lama Ole’s answer:

In tantric union practice, the main focus is to bring the male and female together to become “complete.” Of course we maintain our outward appearance, but on the inner and secret levels, we can quickly adopt the other gender’s qualities: men gain the intuition inherent in the women, and women obtain the strength of the men. On the deepest level, the man receives the space that transforms everything into something beyond personal, while the woman obtains the joy that rounds everything off.

The practice is very good if one is truly capable of doing it. Men and women can really complement each other that way. Women have certain energies in their bodies that contain different wisdoms and insights: There is a mirror-like wisdom which shows everything the way it really is. There’s an equalizing wisdom that shows the complexity of things. There is also a discriminating wisdom, a wisdom of experience, and an intuitive, all-pervading wisdom. If the man goes to the woman as if he is going to a temple, full of respect and dignity, if he opens up to her and is able to see her on a very high level, he will receive these wisdoms. If the woman approaches the man in same way, she will receive the four activities: the pacifying activity, the enriching activity, the fascinating activity, and the powerfully protecting activity.

On the deepest level, the female is like a lotus flower—warm, open, and happily holding something—while the male is like a diamond which enjoys radiating on its own. But a lotus that doesn’t hold anything and a diamond that doesn’t radiate for anybody are of no use. This is why it is important to bring the female and the male together. On the inner and secret levels, this encounter brings forth a complete human being.

But even if one has accomplished this, one still has desire for the other. Actually, once one has become liberated from hindrances and veils, one’s physical appearance might become more distinctly male or female and one’s ability to love becomes stronger. And on the inner and secret levels, there is great enrichment.

If we fall in love with someone who is in a relationship, what is the best way to handle it?

Lama Ole’s answer:

If the existing relationship is going well, if both partners enjoy each other’s company and are doing well, then I would certainly look for another lady or gentleman. Even if there are obvious signs that things aren’t working anymore, I would wait until the karmic connection between the partners has dissolved.

If two people come together too soon, while the former partner is completely unhappy about the separation, then the new couple is creating negative karma. One should wait for the relationship to fall apart by itself. And then, when it is over and the old partners are able to wish each other well, the new connection will be good too.

When we have a sudden feeling of attraction for someone, it is because we have a bond with the person who has crossed our path. And it is not possible to make any moral judgement about it. I would never judge this. Nevertheless, it is advisable not to follow this feeling immediately; it might be strong, but it also might pass by again quickly.

One reason to take your time when going into a new relationship is that both good actions and bad actions in the past can be the cause for people to come together. Within a short period of time, one can feel whether something positive or negative is approaching. In a situation where things become more and more difficult, that which ties you to the other person is something bad, and you still have the chance to move apart again. This is why you shouldn’t throw away what you already have too quickly, just to get into something you are not sure about. That’s my advice. Be a bit mindful—both good actions and bad actions have their glue and bind us together.

Sometimes a partnership might have simply become a bit boring. In that case, the relationship may actually be strengthened and revived again by having a new player join the game for a short while. That advice is important for laypeople. But keep in mind that the purpose is to preserve the relationship, in particular if there are children.

For yogis, something else is important. Here the point is to use one’s sexuality to create the maximum amount of joy—so as to develop as quickly as possible. For the yogis, it is crucial to get to know people to practice with, and to experience a great amount of space and bliss. And here, one isn’t necessarily limited to one person. One can let oneself be inspired by a few partners.

I once heard you say that when a woman has an affair, it is more alarming for a partnership than when a man does it. How exactly did you mean that?

Lama Ole’s answer:

I am always in close contact with people. They come to me and write letters asking me for advice. Hence, I can deduce certain patterns. They might not be valid for everybody, but I would say that they are valid in most cases.

Based on what I’ve seen and heard, I do think that for the woman, the mental level of a relationship is more important, whereas for the man it’s the physical relationship. As long as the man doesn’t build up a relationship of trust with another woman, women don’t feel too disturbed if their partner has fun somewhere else from time to time. On the other hand, a woman can have her five movie stars pinned up on the wall, and it doesn’t bother the man as long as dinner is cooked when he comes home. But he doesn’t want her to go to bed with other men. The physical level is more important for the man, while the mental level is more important for the woman.

Quite often, an affair has a different meaning for a man and for a woman—there is certainly a difference there. If a man has an affair, it might just be because he was in a good mood. A man goes out, has some fun, wakes up in another bed, checks whether she’s a blonde or a redhead, and then goes home and forgets about it. But if a woman does this, in most cases it’s because her relationship is somehow in bad shape. When a woman has an affair, it reveals more about the state of a relationship than when a man does it. That’s why there is the saying, “What Caesar does is not so important; look instead at what Caesar’s wife does to discover the true state of the nation.”

It is said that one should avoid causing sexual harm. However, if one doesn’t want to be monogamous, this happens rather quickly, doesn’t it?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Yes, that’s true. Sexuality also means suffering. It’s a very strong thing. Desire is the strongest of the emotions; it’s the cause for our human rebirth.

People take their emotions seriously. That’s why we should be careful and shouldn’t break hearts for no reason. Breaking hearts is not a good sport! At first, one might consider oneself someone special, above the drama of broken hearts. But then one day somebody comes along and breaks one’s own heart. It can happen that one partner in the relationship falls in love with somebody else. One should always try to handle it as responsibly as possible.

Are there forms of partnership that work well other than a monogamous relationship?

Lama Ole’s answer:

I would say that if there isn’t any jealousy, it can work very well with more partners. In Tibet, for instance, it was more likely that a woman had more than one man and not the other way around. Nevertheless, in most cases, a one-to-one relationship as the core family with a certain degree of openness is the best solution—though there are also cases where it can work well with several partners.

But one always has to take care that nobody suffers or is taken advantage of. Every time people come together, it should be based on the idea of helping another being to grow and to develop.

If I’m aware that my partner is suffering when I’m together with somebody else, don’t I create negative karma?

Lama Ole’s answer:

It depends. If you really think that this is your partner, then you have a certain responsibility to make him or her happy as best you can. On the other hand, you have a responsibility to help him or her grow and develop as a human being too. Ultimately, you need to weigh these two things against each other in such a situation.

It depends on one’s attitude, the way one thinks and experiences things. It depends on whether the partners have met on the level of “only you from now on to the grave” or if instead they have thought, “from now on, we are going to grow and develop side by side and manage the maximum possible part of the way together.” All this varies person to person. It is impossible to set fixed rules there.

With a jealous partner, for instance, one should indeed think seriously about whether an affair is of any use. On the other hand, if one’s partner thinks, “he knows what he’s doing” or “she knows what she’s doing” or “if she’s fine, I’m fine too, and if she falls in love with someone else, she’ll take more home and make everything new and fresh again.” In this case, it would be quite OK—always subject to the condition that the partners are healthy. But to do this, there must be a lot of trust between the people involved. If one goes to bed with somebody else, one goes to bed with all the partners that person has had since there’s something of all of them present. It is certainly a bigger thing.

One should always find grown-up partners and not small, dependent people with little surplus. It is not a question of morality, where we should think “bad” or “must not”—not at all. In Buddhism, the body isn’t considered something fundamentally bad, like in a few other religions. The body is considered a palace of light with 72,000 energy channels, all made of the nature of wisdom. The body is a tool to benefit and help others, to give them happiness and love.

There are many cultural differences concerning partnership and sexuality, and each culture has its own standards.

Is it possible to simply disregard these norms, or does the cultural context play a central role in how we should behave?

Lama Ole’s answer:

My advice on this is similar to that of our other teachers who have spent some time in the West and become acquainted with something other than the narrow cultures they come from: Live your life without stepping too far out of the frame your society has set up. Live in a way that does not make problems for yourself or others and that naturally brings joy.

But if you do some practice that especially sticks out from the norm and alienates you too much from others, then suffering will emerge. And the only thing that really counts is whether what you do causes happiness or suffering in the long run. That’s simply how it is.

What’s the difference between love and attachment in relationships?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Disturbing emotions like attachment originally arise from confusion. There are only three emotions that do not result from confusion and are therefore absolute: fearlessness, joy, and love.

Fearlessness arises when mind recognizes its space nature—when mind discovers that it isn’t a thing, but indestructible like space itself. Joy emerges when mind recognizes its clarity nature. This happens when, on the basis of fearlessness, mind experiences its free play—its potential and its richness. Then one becomes joyful and happy.

Love arises when mind recognizes its unlimited nature. If you realize that the nature of mind is space-clarity and boundlessness, and that all beings are like us—that they want to be happy and to avoid suffering—you’ll notice that you cannot separate your own feeling from those of others. There is simply nothing else you can do but become a loving and caring person. Only these feelings have the true nature of mind as their cause, and thus they really are of a permanent nature.

The mind of normal people is like an eye: it looks outward but cannot see itself. All phenomena in space can be measured and described, but the question of the size of mind, of its length, width, form, or taste—nobody can answer these. We know everything about the outer world but nothing about the one who experiences it. This is bad since the outer images are constantly changing, whereas mind always remains the same.

From mind’s inability to see itself, two fundamental emotions emerge. The first is attachment or desire. We experience ourselves as being less than the totality of all phenomena and long for something we think we don’t have. The second emotion is aversion. We think that we don’t like all those people out there, that they are dangerous.

Many people tend to mistake desire for virility and think that without any desires we would be impotent. This misunderstanding is based on a misinterpretation of words, but it is the reason why many don’t want to meditate. This is why we use the term attachment instead.

If we take a closer look at love and attachment, we can clearly distinguish between two things. The first one only has positive aspects; it is the giving type of love. This love manifests itself through a direct exchange with someone or through a general feeling of compassion, sharing with others whatever one has. It also appears as sympathetic joy, meaning that we are happy about things that don’t have anything to do with us personally—simply because we consider them to be meaningful. And finally, with this kind of love we are balanced; we know that everyone has buddha nature, no matter how much this clear light may be hidden.

The other, bad kind of love doesn’t take place in the here and now, but instead happens in the past or future. It doesn’t set others free but rather limits and confines them. This kind of love cannot rejoice if the partner learns and develops but rather worries that he or she is becoming smarter than we are and might run away soon. We should really make sure to get rid of this jealous, narrow-minded, envious, and expectant kind of love the moment we see it approaching. Restrictive control isn’t beneficial to anybody. We should give freedom to people and let them go. If they come back, they belong with you; if they leave for good, they will be happier somewhere else. Everything clingy, sticky, and full of expectations isn’t good. Everything liberating is good.

Sometimes men become quite clingy and attached to me although I only wanted to be friendly. How should I handle this?

Lama Ole’s answer:

It’s best to explain to them how fantastic it would be to share something on many levels—to have a brother or a friend. This way you lead them out of the sexual attachments. And one should tell them in particular, “What you are looking for in me is in yourself. Why don’t you try to meditate a bit?”

Simply meditate on the level of highest wisdom, again and again, and make people aware of their strength and potential. If people want something they cannot get, if they want something in an unhealthy way, it is best to send them on. It’s best to use the energies and help them become independent. Then you can work together later on.