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.