Is it a disturbing emotion if I am annoyed by people who make mistakes?

Lama Ole’s answer:

That depends on your view. Annoyance can also arise from idealism—for example, if you think, “They are so wonderful and now they’re doing something so stupid again!” This type of annoyance, where there is no intent to harm beings, is actually a kind of disappointment.

If you see people on a high level, if you are sometimes disappointed by them but don’t give up your high view, if you still expect exciting things from them, then it is something good. But if you think they are impossible, then it really is anger and something negative. It can be good to sometimes shake people up if you like them. But if you want to harm them, then it’s not good.

What can one do against fears that keep coming back?

Lama Ole’s answer:

The best way to fight fear is in the long term. Working with the mind is like working with the body. If we do a lot of pull-ups today, we will not be strong today but rather tomorrow. Today, the arms hurt.

Meditation works exactly like this. If we have a problem today, we cannot remove it through meditating today. If, however, we meditated yesterday, the problem will not come today. And if it still comes, we can just wipe it off the table. We simply do not plant and harvest on the same day.

However, there are also methods for working on something like this quickly. Imagine you are in the process of conquering your mind, and then suddenly some problem shows up: fear, anger, clumsiness, or something like that. You can deal with it in two ways. Either you attack the problem or the disturbing emotion directly, sending in two battalions and saying, “Stop! That is not okay!” If you have enough capital in the form of good impressions in mind, then this will succeed. But if you notice that you don’t yet have enough knights in shining armor to get through this way—that is, the necessary motivation, power, or confidence—then you conquer the surrounding land instead. You just go on and do not think about the problem. Don’t identify with it; don’t feed it. Then when you look for the problem later on, it’s nowhere to be found.

Another option is to confront one’s fear by meeting it head on—no matter how bad it feels at first. This way one breaks its neck and it will never come back again. I remember one example from my own life when I was a child. I was visiting my uncle in Jutland and there was a thick electric cable in his basement. I had been told that this cable turned into a snake at night. One morning, my parents came down into the basement and saw me—I was probably three or four years old—with the cable in one hand and a club in the other. I had stood there all night, waiting for it to turn into a snake so I could smash it up. This is one way to deal with fear. But one can also go the way of wisdom and discover that there is no snake at all. This is easier of course.

How can one quickly dissolve fear?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Look around and think, “Who might want to buy this fear?” Then think, “She won’t buy it, he won’t either, and she over there is also not interested!” So you notice, “Well, maybe this fear is useless!” and then simply throw it away.

Fear is also often connected to the breath. One breathes in a wrong and irregular way in a fearful situation. So one technique is to force oneself to breathe more slowly and deeply. Breathe in to a point just below the navel. Hold the breath for a moment in the belly as if in a vase—but not to the point of dizziness—then breathe out again. If you breathe deeply like this a couple of times, the fear will gradually go away.

The best way to deal with all fears and difficulties is to think, “All beings are my friends and will benefit if I’m doing well. So I will simply give my best in doing whatever is in front of my nose.” Then one does just that. This is also good if one gets scared before exams. Then think, “This is actually a complete conspiracy. The examiner wants me to pass; the teacher wants me to pass. It’s all in my favor.” And then go into the exam, sit down with your friends, explain to them everything they didn’t understand, and give it your best in the exam. Make your environment so friendly that you can only win.

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.

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.

How is it possible that someone who has reached a high level of realization can still be hindered by the body—for example, by alcoholism?

Lama Ole’s answer:

That can happen easily. The Tibetans compare the body to four snakes in a tube. The snakes must have their heads at the same level at all times, otherwise they bite each other and become sick. There must be a balance between blood, lymph, black bile, and yellow bile. If the body gets out of balance, then it can actually become quite difficult. We have teachers like Trungpa Tulku who died of alcoholism. The leader of the Nyingmapas was beaten so hard by the Chinese that he became half crazy.

As long as there is a body, difficulties will always arise. If one doesn’t have a body, then it’s impossible to talk to people. So it is simply a challenge one has to deal with. The important thing to understand is the word tulku. It means “illusory body”—that one experiences having rather than being one’s body.

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.