Can too much happiness make you egotistical?

Lama Ole’s answer:

That depends on whether one is able to share the joy. At first one is probably a bit egotistical, but gradually one starts to share. If one is completely full of joy, it’s impossible to keep it for oneself. I myself literally explode with joy all the time. That’s how it is after twenty-five years of meditation. And I don’t think that I keep this for myself. During my first experience of the clear light of mind, everything exploded and I had tears in my eyes from joy.

Then when I told my wife Hannah about this experience, she reckoned that I would just become even more egotistical. It is possible that we don’t communicate this first experience of joy so well, but as soon as we have it deep in the marrow of our bones, we can’t keep it to ourselves. It’s simply not possible. An enlightenment where one looks unhappy does not exist for me.

How can one get rid of the ego?

Lama Ole’s answer:

You outsmart the thing by its own means. Buddhism is a method of constantly outsmarting the ego. You have to use the energy of the ego—the illusory, non-existent ego—in order to get to where it is no longer there. So you use this idea of a self to purify the veils until there is no more ego illusion.

The ego is very strong, but it is also stupid. There are some great teachers in the history of the Karma Kagyu lineage who worked directly against the ego. The story of Milarepa and his teacher Marpa is particularly well known—that was still a really tough school. But most of the time, one has to give people something sweet at first. The ego then thinks, “Ah, not only am I a good guy, but now I’m also getting spiritual.” One then keeps this good feeling as long as possible.

Later, the ego slowly discovers that it gets a lot of bread and potatoes but little meat and vegetables. One now belongs to a noble family. Especially with me as a teacher, it is clear that I like a “stiff upper lip” and good style, and that I don’t like to see drama and weakness. Suddenly, the ego can’t play all the games it used to. It can’t build itself up anymore through powerful feelings like, “I hate him,” “I am the best,” “I am the worst,” and so on.

Seeing that it’s not doing so well, the ego then tries to protect itself by all means. For example, it projects feelings, or a sore back, or thoughts like, “I am constantly getting worse!”—which is not true at all. It’s just that one can suddenly see how one has always been. In this difficult situation, we throw another piece of meat to the ego—for example, the bodhisattva attitude. We tell it, “You are here to help all beings.” At first, the ego thinks we’ve noticed how good it is and all the things it can do, but actually the bodhisattva attitude is complete poison for it. First, we have to think of others all the time and therefore have no more time to think of ourselves; and second, we always get those teachings on emptiness, which say that we don’t exist at all.

This is really fatal for the ego. Now it has already become so weak that it has only one place left to entrench itself. That’s when it starts to see what others are doing wrong. It has already given up trying to protect itself, since it knows that everything is actually an illusion. Now instead it tries to find faults in others—“He does this and she says that,” and so on. How do we conquer this final bastion? How do we make the ego smolder and finally snuff it out completely? Through the pure view! We think, “Even my doubt is my buddha nature. Even my most evil thoughts are spontaneous wisdom. My biggest problem is my best way out.” Then we’ve made it.

When I notice my disturbing emotions and try to let them go, at the same time I feel my own reluctance to do this. Where does this come from?

Lama Ole’s answer:

This is precisely the influence of the ego; that’s why one needs wisdom. The ego is enchanting and addictive, just like all other poisons. After some years of meditation it’s easy to make fun of the ego. But until then, it’s not so easy. I compare the ego with a military coup in a banana republic. A few gentlemen with mustaches and berets enter, shoot a few people, and rule the country.

The mind in all its abundance is like a radiant jewel with a lot of different sides and qualities. Some of those facets—like memory, pride, expectation, hope, and fear—are strongly emotionally charged. They try to control the rest of the mind—for example, its ability to think in a mathematical or political way, artistic creation, and all its other interesting talents. This way, those fat gentlemen leading the coup believe they are somehow vindicated.

So overcoming the ego is about getting the fat men down from the horse and keeping them there. That is the point. When you succeed, you become spontaneous and effortless. Then the jewel of mind shines in all its facets, because it is wisdom in itself. Without filters and obstacles, the mind produces whatever quality is needed in the moment—that can come forward unhindered.

Regarding those dictators who try to run the system, we remove them by all means—attacking with wisdom, with joy, with everything possible, until the mind trusts itself and can rest in its center, without hope and fear, simply in the moment itself.

One starts by removing neurotic behavior; that is the first level of the Hinayana or Foundational Way. When the neuroses are gone, then compassion and wisdom arise on the level of the Great Way. After one progresses with this and gains surplus, one comes to the final level of the Diamond Way. In the end, one rests in the here and now, with all antennas extended in all directions. Fearlessness, joy, and love have arisen by themselves and no longer need any outer cause.

What can we do against stubbornness and egotism?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Against egotism it helps to see that all people are in the same situation as we are. They all want to be happy and avoid suffering. They behave well when they are doing well and become unpleasant when they’re having a bad time. So we can see that they are not so different from us.

And against stubbornness? The best is maybe to say “PEI!” Every time you are totally stuck in your own fixed ideas, you can quickly say “PEI!” inwardly. It’s like a pile of peas being hit by a stick; they fly everywhere. A sharp “PEI!” is very good. Then when the elements of your stubbornness condense again, say “PEI!” once more, and then maybe they’ll stay away.

If people take themselves too seriously, tickle them. Just be careful of where you are standing in relation to them, because if they are angry they might try to hit you with the back of their head. So duck down a bit to the side and tickle from there. And then say, “Aren’t you happy today?” And even though they’re taking themselves incredibly seriously, they’ll start to laugh.

Can a big ego be useful?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Yes, if one transforms it. Normally it only blocks communication and is our worst enemy. But if one transforms the ego from thinking “How great I am!” to thinking “How great we all are!” then one’s experience goes straight from hell to paradise.

If you think, “I am so great and so much smarter than everyone else,” you are always lonely and in bad company. But if instead you think how great everyone else is and what they are capable of, then you’re always in good company and can learn something from everybody. You can give something to everyone and the world becomes more and more beautiful.

If a teacher stands in front of his class and thinks, “What are those thirty gorillas doing here?” he might as well leave immediately, because you can’t teach gorillas anything. But if he thinks, “What are those thirty Einsteins doing in my class?” then suddenly it is fun because the students can learn a lot.

Heaven and hell happen between your own ears or ribs, depending on where you imagine the mind to be. If you see people and everything in the world as great—this is heaven. If you see dangers, difficulties, and pain everywhere, then you are in hell.

When I am resting in open space during meditation, after a very short time my ego disrupts the experience. Is there an antidote against this?

Lama Ole’s answer:

I would always praise the ego until it completely loses its footing. I would say, “Fantastic, what wisdom! You already know that you are losing control if you play along, if you allow for space. Very smart how you are doing this!” Or you can think, “Oh, this is the ego. It always comes around here. Take a cup of tea, ego, I’m meditating!” We simply continue one-pointedly. And one day, we’ve made it. At some point the ego finally dissolves.

But don’t turn the pet into a predator. There can be reasons why the ego is resisting. It could be that in the beginning, the perfect experience of emptiness is too strong; it might throw you out of balance. You may first have to build up even more good impressions in the store consciousness before you can allow all this. It is also possible that one area—for example, intellectual understanding—is already very developed, while another area—like emotional maturity—isn’t so developed yet. There one has to give the development some time.

So don’t get mad at the ego. Think instead, “Aha, that surely has its meaning!” or “that clearly makes sense!” or “that will definitely help me with something!” and then simply go on. I wouldn’t fight it wildly. That just puts energy into ego games, which will only get stronger this way. Just continue until it dissolves by itself from its lack of strength.