What does it mean that disturbing emotions are raw material for enlightenment?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Christianity considers disturbing emotions to be sins, and in other religions they are also seen as negative. In Diamond Way Buddhism, however, disturbing emotions are raw material on the way to liberation and enlightenment. You draw energy and power out of them and make them useful.

The symbol for this is the peacock. The Tibetans say that the peacock eats poison to produce all the beautiful colors in its feathers. Similarly, one takes all the disturbances, suffering, and difficulties in oneself and converts them into energy and strength. See the disturbing emotions as organic waste: if you work with them well, you get compost and new seeds will sprout.

But it is important that you first have enough distance and stay in control. Only then can you see that disturbing emotions are not so real—that they appear, change, and dissolve again. Then, you go one step further to observe how an emotion comes and goes. You are like an empty house which it enters without being able to cause any trouble.

This last level is very useful for Westerners, but in the Tibetan imagination it doesn’t exist. Here, you catch the energy of the disturbing feeling and use it to do something useful—like wash the dishes. As soon as you’ve gotten over the peak, the emotion can’t hook you anymore, you don’t react the way you did before. In that moment, you can use its power to dig in the garden or whatever. This way of channeling the energy is bit of practical advice from me; I didn’t get it from my teachers. But it is very useful to put the energy of the emotion to use to achieve something.

How can we avoid jumping into every disturbing emotion and instead use them in a meaningful way?

Lama Ole’s answer:

New ideas come to my mind all the time for this. At the moment, I think the most meaningful method is to consider disturbing emotions as half-finished products. If something in the furnace is still burning, dirty, or botched, then don’t take it out yet. Instead, wait for the completely polished, chrome-plated product.

We can deal with disturbing emotions in the same way. We become aware that anger is the preliminary stage for the experience of mirror-like wisdom. Why should we forgo this radiant experience and indulge the anger? That would be stupid indeed. It is better to wait until the berries are ripe; otherwise they give you a stomachache. If we truly know that every disturbing emotion is the precursor for an enlightened state, then we just wait until the fruit is ripe instead of picking it before.

So if you are angry you can think, “As soon as it is over, I will be extremely insightful, so I will be patient now.” And if you are proud you think, “Very soon I will see the world as exceedingly rich.” Then you won’t act in an angry or proud way. If the attachment is strong then tell yourself, “Soon I will be able to distinguish everything clearly, so I won’t spoil that by acting now.” Or with jealousy you can think, “I will soon be able to recognize many connections into the past and future, so I won’t give in to the emotion now and make a scene.” If you feel stupid, don’t take it seriously—thinking, “I’ll never learn anything”—but instead wait until the clouds of confusion dissolve again, and you will then shine stronger than ever.

This way, everything complements everything else, and there is a lot of development. One has to realize that each disturbing emotion is a kind of wisdom in its true nature, and then wait until this wisdom shows itself.

What are the antidotes against disturbing emotions?

Lama Ole’s answer:

If anger is the biggest problem, then we should really force ourselves again and again to wish all beings everything good and to develop compassion.

If attachment is strongest, we should always remember that everything is impermanent, that we can’t take anything with us, and that instead we should let all beings take part in our joy.

And if confusion is strongest, then we should rest in whatever is there—we should go beyond concepts and simply rest in our center.

If pride is strongest, we should look at how everything is conditioned and falls apart again.

And if jealousy is strongest, we should go through with the experience completely to see that it is actually like a stream of awareness, like a stream of water in the ocean.

How can I strengthen my self-confidence?

Lama Ole’s answer:

It is important to put your energy into solving your problems instead of thinking about them. This also applies to sicknesses—they don’t pass more quickly if you think of them constantly.

In the moment a situation gets difficult or you become sick, it is good to put all your energy into the goal—that is, into the solution of the problem or into your recovery. Your mind and thoughts shouldn’t dwell on the problems. Then you will get through it in the best way, and the karma dissolves.

Otherwise, it is simply stupid not to fight something that has to be fought! But if the karma still doesn’t dissolve, then observe what is there. In fact, in the moment depression, sickness, or other difficulties appear, the original cause is gone. Then it is only a question of time until the negative karma has been removed—until the effect is gone. And there one should do whatever is possible with one’s body, speech, and mind! Non-Buddhists try to avoid difficulties wherever they can and to constantly experience something beautiful instead. This is why the many ups and downs in life appear.

All “trips” you experience are like images in the mirror. Behind everything that happens—behind every grimace, every devil—is a clear mirror that doesn’t change. This is your buddha nature! So try to act as normally and meaningfully as possible while you work through the difficulties on your way. Then everything you do will have long-term effects and great strength. Work with this attitude: “I am a buddha who just hasn’t recognized it yet.”

What can we do against pride?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Here, there actually might be only one way: transform the exclusive pride into an inclusive pride. That is, instead of thinking, “How great I am,” one thinks, “How great we all are.”

Life becomes very complicated if you think you are better than others. You always find yourself in bad company and you act accordingly, making everything difficult. But if you think the other way around—that we are all great—then you are in good company; you can learn from everybody and be truly beneficial right here and now with your mind, thoughts, and actions. And this is why I strongly advise you to shape your environment as positively as possible—not to emphasize mistakes and negativity, but to learn to perceive beautiful and interesting things. After a while, good experiences arise and it becomes easy to think in a positive, fully engaged way.

The opposite of this mental attitude—that is, the perfected pecking-order culture—is one you can experience, for example, in a Chinese monastery. There are seven classes of tea: the one in the uppermost drawer has been harvested by certified virgins on the full moon, while the bottom drawer has grass. And when you enter, the monk looks at you and pulls open the second drawer from the bottom. If one constructs such a system, one will have a very complicated life.

How can we avoid developing pride?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Actually, pride is very important for development in the Diamond Way. However, it must not be the exclusive type pride that degrades others, but rather the inclusive kind—the ability to experience the beautiful, exciting, and fantastic aspects of everything and everyone. This is the positive, useful kind that we call vajra—or “diamond”—pride.

The exclusive, negative pride is where one judges others, thinking, “I am good and the others are not good.” It narrows the situation and difficulties arise. And those difficulties are usually one’s own problems, which arise again and again because they are the projections of one’s own mind. The world is a mirror for one’s own face. If you can see a lot of good things in your fellow human beings, then it is a sign that the negative pride has been removed from your mind to a great extent. But if instead you mostly see others’ mistakes, then you know you still have some work to do. Try to see everybody as a Buddha—to always discover something good in them. Then there will also be good feedback for your own mind.

Development starts when we meet people and are able to give them something—in the sense that we put happiness, beauty, and meaning into the encounter, anticipating a good connection. Thus we reach a level where a relationship of mutual learning begins. People start to learn from each other. They grow, new possibilities develop, difficulties fall away, and in the end there is a pure mandala. Also on the relative level, it is so easy: those who give are always rich and experience heaven, but those who have to hold on to everything and can never get enough experience hell.

What can we do when our grief over someone’s death lasts too long?

Lama Ole’s answer:

You should try to get over the grief as soon as possible, because while grieving you simply don’t have any surplus. Instead of grieving for people who are dead, you could do a few good things in their name.

Do it like the old Germanic peoples: they get together three days after the death and drink a fair amount to the noble exploits of the one who has died. In this way, they let go of the dead.

When my parents died, I could help them get to the pure lands, where they are protected and doing well. My experience with this is that I still feel them, that they are there and doing good things. Let go of the grief; it doesn’t benefit anybody.

If we don’t let our anger out, then won’t it direct itself inward and cause problems there?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Under all circumstances, anger has to flow through the system of body and mind. If you keep it inside, then you get sick. But if you let it out, it isn’t any better. If one isn’t very strong mentally, then one should go to a therapist and talk with him or her about the situation.

But if one has a strong mind, then one clarifies the situation in meditation: One sits there and discovers, “The anger wasn’t there five minutes ago; in ten minutes it won’t be there either. And if I get caught up in it for the next quarter hour, then I’ll have problems.” You sit there the way someone who is drowning holds on to a log of wood without letting go. In the same way, you hold on to this attitude.

If anger has appeared in mind, has been understood by mind, and has dissolved back into mind—without catching or blocking anything—then it will be much harder to take it seriously the next time. And the third time it will already be quite thinned out. And someday it won’t come back at all, because it only lives on the energy we put into it.

If we don’t take anger seriously, if we see it as an interesting show—yesterday a sentimental flick, tomorrow the “Rocky Horror Picture Show”—then it won’t disturb us anymore. It only gets difficult when one identifies with the shows. Both the good and bad movies come to an end, but the space-clarity in which the movies come and go—that which is aware of the movies, which experiences the movies—that is permanent; that exists.

I am a psychotherapist and usually tell angry, blocked people to let their anger out. Would you advise against this in all cases?

Lama Ole’s answer:

I completely stand behind my advice that we shouldn’t do this. Mind is a creature of habit. If you allow yourself to be angry once today, then you will be angry twice tomorrow. And the day after tomorrow, you’ll be lonely because our fellow human beings don’t like angry people.

We have already created a whole generation of singles because everybody takes their own trips and feelings too seriously and thinks that they are so important and meaningful. Buddha’s and my own advice is to treat anger as a completely embarrassing, unpleasant, and slightly too clingy customer. Don’t put any energy into it. If the anger comes back, then try again not to put any energy into it.

It is important to remove the conditions that might cause anger. Always remember that the anger wasn’t there before, it won’t be there later, and if you live it out now it will lead to a lot of suffering afterwards.

Don’t create dramas; keep a stiff upper lip and put on a presentable face. Then work it off and let go of the things inwardly during meditation.

It is also important to know that Buddhism starts where psychology ends. Some people who are on a Buddhist path need a good psychologist, and that is all right. But if you have reached a level where you can stand behind yourself and your vision of the world, then just let things pass by without putting energy into them.

I always thought that it was quite good to live out one’s anger from time to time. Do you have a different opinion about this?

Lama Ole’s answer:

I boxed for four years and I can tell you: If you want to win, you just need to make the opponent angry. Then he moves like a combine harvester through the ring and only makes mistakes.

Anger is like adrenaline poisoning. You get the same outer signs like red eyes; your hands break things, and your voice becomes hoarse and unclear. You sweat and experience adrenaline sickness caused by yourself. On the other hand, when we stay cool, we do exactly what we want and have complete control. We are grown up when we have control over life—when we can decide to take part in the comedies and stay away from the tragedies. I would definitely consider anger an enemy. It can look powerful if one stands there and rolls one’s eyes, but it is totally ineffective and only causes one to make mistakes.

If one is greatly disturbed by the behavior of another person, how can one deal with it without getting angry?

Lama Ole’s answer:

When anger is triggered by habits, then it is important to be aware of what is happening there. Generally speaking, I am not against powerfully intervening in situations, as long as when you do it you don’t exclude the other people from your good wishes!

You can’t draw a line, saying, “Humanity is there and I am here.” Instead, bring in something positive and work with it. Then you’ll move forward. Of course you should show if you feel disturbed, otherwise you will become neurotic. You should just show it in a controlled, friendly way.

So if there is something that strongly disturbs you—if, for example, you see that your relationship with your boyfriend is about to end because he is always leaving his socks on the table when you two are about to eat—remember that he doesn’t do this to tease you. He does it because he didn’t learn any other way, maybe because he was raised badly. You tell him that it disturbs you and that it damages your relationship. Then, if he changes his habit, it is an act of love. And if he doesn’t change this habit, then you can use the energy of your anger to build up as much strength as you need to be able to move out.

But in the long run, one shouldn’t make a martyr of oneself. The following example illustrates this: A married couple had lived together for a long time and used to have rolls on Sundays. The husband would eat the upper half and his wife the lower. But there was always something about this that bothered both of them. After a long time, they realized that the man actually wanted to eat the lower half and the woman the upper half.

It is not good if one is so thin-skinned that one cannot talk to fellow human beings. It is better to find a good way of communicating and to keep in contact.

I have understood that one can use violence if needed but should do so without anger?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Yes, that’s right. For example, if people are severely disturbing my lectures, then I sometimes carry them out personally. As long as one isn’t angry but does what is needed, then it is completely all right.

Sometimes it is simply important to take drastic measures. If we only have shirkers—who don’t risk anything, look away, and don’t take any responsibility—then our culture will disappear after a while.

If one must use violence, it should be without emotion. Rather, it is imperative that it be done with compassion. One should work like a doctor who knows, “If I don’t operate now, then there will be more suffering and difficulties afterwards.” The purpose must be to benefit others and ultimately to help them on their way.

Here is a funny example. My mother was about five feet tall and was from the pre-vitamin generation, but she was also a physical education teacher. We had a summer cottage in Denmark close to a meadow where horses used to graze. As a five-year-old boy, I once stood there with my back to the fence lost in thought, petting a horse that had its mouth above my shoulder. My mother saw that the horse suddenly flattened its ears; it somehow became aggressive and showed its teeth. My mother jumped over a fence that was as high as she was and drove her head against the horse’s belly with full power—just as the horse wanted to bite. The horse jumped three feet in the air. My mother had nothing against the horse but wanted me to continue on in life with two arms.

In situations like this, one experiences a completely new dimension, as if in slow motion. One acts very precisely, and most of the time one succeeds without harming the opponent too much.

Are there situations where one has to act with an angry appearance in order to create something good?

Lama Ole’s answer:

If you act with anger, then the result can’t be love, peace, and harmony. Anger is toxic. It is only when the ego doesn’t trust itself that it thinks it has to act with anger.

You act much more effectively without anger. Your actions are stronger and better when you act out of compassion. Then you are much smoother; you see precisely what is there and you get your results. Outwardly, you can put on a powerful, angry appearance, but inwardly you must not be angry.

Many young people come to me asking for a certificate that says that as Buddhists they cannot become soldiers. I cannot support this; I was a soldier myself. If there are no soldiers, then who will protect our society and our freedom? We actually have our freedom only because we had enough soldiers. You can very well be a Buddhist and protect your country. You just mustn’t be angry while you do it.

Sometimes I manage to fight anger quite well, but often this feeling turns into a strong sadness. What does that mean?

Lama Ole’s answer:

It is a sign that you have strong purifications. You jumped into this with deep interest and full of openness. You walked the way of the Buddha and have seen that there is suffering, that suffering has causes, and that perhaps there is an end to suffering.

You are strongly interested in bringing suffering to an end. And the more energy, openness, and trust you put into the practice, the more challenges will also come up. There can actually be situations where one goes through all kinds of things and thus cannot have much meaningful contact with many people. That is why we have retreats. There you can dump everything on the table without people constantly criticizing. You can silently go through many inner processes. It is best to do this with one’s teacher or in a group retreat. When the difficulty is gone, then one comes out and can be sociable again.

You are gifted and have really understood that the mind cannot be destroyed. Everything difficult that happens—that comes from the inside—is a purification. In these cases, you can be certain of three things: it won’t be too much, you will learn something from it, and you will always get rid of something.

It is important that you say a lot of mantras, a lot of KARMAPA CHENNO, and that you stay focused. You should also think about the emptiness of things: that everything appears, changes, and dissolves again, that things are not as real as you want to make them. The ego also likes to hide in the drama of the purification process. If you meditate, the energy channels will open up, you’ll go through purifications, but then get back to work. Don’t get absorbed with the drama too much.