Is it better to throw oneself completely into a relationship or to set limits at the outset to preserve some autonomy for oneself?

Lama Ole’s answer:

In my opinion, it’s best to dive in completely. But if you prefer to live alongside each other with clearly defined limits—like in a parent-child or brother-sister relationship—this can work out well too, though one doesn’t experience the total closeness of a romantic bond. I think that getting fully involved and jumping in with both legs is far more exciting.

In matters of love, the one who gives everything wins. Love is like a well: the more you give, the more you get. We grow by giving. Naturally, the motivation must be right as well: make the wish that the other grows and develops. Don’t become dependent, but rather stay grounded to be able to give continuously.

People might think that the one who doesn’t contribute anything to the relationship is the winner and the one who gives everything loses everything. But this is not true. Those who don’t contribute also won’t learn anything, while those who give will also gain and grow.

How can we help people who are so trapped in their difficult situation that they can’t help themselves on their own?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Instead of making the people into sinners, build a human bridge first. Perhaps you are the only one who takes a bit of time for that person. For example, when you go to the butcher, you are friendly to begin with. You don’t speak moralistically, pointing out how many animals had to die. That would just ruin everything. Then after a while, when you have established a good connection, you might be the only one the butcher can open up to a bit. Maybe he says, “Actually, I have a lot of bad dreams and am often afraid.” And you could say, “Maybe you are picking up some of the fear from the animals you kill.”

You keep it short so that he doesn’t think you are trying to educate him. And when he has digested that, you can give him a suggestion sometime, like, “There is a new position open at the post office. Wouldn’t you rather work there?” Helping others does not mean only being nice; it also means stopping them when they make mistakes. But even with difficult people, one mustn’t break the bond. Maybe you are the first person they’ve met who can help them somehow. Then you really need to have a lot of patience and build people up again and again.

The Bodhisattva Promise is about wishing to help all beings. How does one do this in a practical way?

In 1972, when Hannah and I were more or less the first to start, I also thought that I had to do everything for everybody. I tried it and quickly fell on my nose because when the hat doesn’t fit, it simply doesn’t fit. In the meantime, I’ve come down from my high horse of wanting to help everyone; now I stick to the ones who can understand what I’m saying. Fortunately, we are not the only people who do things for others. Among the socialists, Christians, Hindus, and the other Buddhist schools, there are also people who are there for those who aren’t drawn to my way of working or to our groups. We don’t need to take care of the mentally ill or the welfare cases because there are people who are trained and paid to do that. And we are happy about their good work.

We also contribute our part to this by paying our taxes—for example, with 80 cents on every liter of gas we pump and with 19% sales tax on everything we buy. This is why we don’t need to do anything more than to stay true to our own thing. We do what is right and what we ourselves have understood. There are other hats for other heads, so we don’t need to water down our teachings nor make them simpler. It is just not our responsibility to offer something that fits everyone. Instead, we want to convey what we have in a clear and sensible manner. This way everyone who has a head or heart for it can come into contact with a pure transmission and clear teachings.

We take care of the people who would otherwise find nothing anywhere else—people who are too critical and independent and who think too clearly to feel at home under a god or in a hierarchical system. We offer these people a field where they can grow and learn.

How can we know what is best for all beings in the long run? We want to act for the benefit of all beings, but we are not enlightened.

Lama Ole’s answer:

It can be a bit difficult to figure out what brings happiness and what leads away from happiness. So I would just use the old bit of folk wisdom: treat others the way you’d like them to treat you. I would start with what is self-evident, with what people like. Be nice to them and avoid harming them.

There are three different levels of benefiting others. On the first level, we can give them food and vitamins but maybe not a bottle of schnapps if they still have to drive home. We do what is in front of our nose; we give them the material things that will help them in the short run. The best thing you can do as a good Buddhist is to look far into the future and see the large-scale problems like overpopulation. Then you can look for the causes of those problems and remove them.

In Rwanda or Bosnia, for example, there are definitely too many people on too little land. Since they treat each other badly, they have no decent level of education, no decent standard of living. And you look far ahead and say, “Condoms instead of cannons to Africa!” Then you talk with friends, and maybe one of them knows a man in Parliament or Congress who might say, “We need to make sure the people from the warm countries don’t overrun us, making us all become poor. Then no one will be able to do anything in the long run anymore. Instead, if they have fewer children, they will be able to live better.” In this way, you gradually raise awareness of the problem. But I would not intervene in things you can’t directly influence.
On the second level, one can meet people’s needs for more enduring things. One can make people independent—for example, through training and education—and teach them to manage their own lives. But that still only helps until the grave. Rich men might be driven to the cemetery in a longer hearse or leave behind a larger debt, but they will still arrive at their graves in the end.

On the third level, the best gift that one can give others is to bring them into contact with the Buddha’s teachings, to make them aware of their own buddha nature. Everything that makes people independent is good, and whatever makes them dependent, whatever confines them and makes them weak is not good. Every time you give people confidence in themselves and their possibilities, you have done something good. This is what Buddha does. He doesn’t just say, “Ten percent more for the workers!” but he brings us to a level where there is less greed, avarice and jealousy.

We should strive to show people the timeless space-clarity of their own minds: that which is between the thoughts, that which knows what is thought, experienced and felt. If we can give people more space between their ears, or their ribs, or wherever they think their mind is, then we have really helped them. This way we act very practically, step by step. We learn through practice. If one always does one’s best for the good of others again and again, one seldom makes mistakes.

Can one always act for the benefit of others or shouldn’t one sometimes think of oneself?

Lama Ole’s answer:

If one thinks like that, there is some fundamental misunderstanding. To the extent that we work for others, they also do something for us. Of course, we should also act intelligently. One shouldn’t give free-loaders money or give difficult people the chance to be difficult. If someone is always hanging on your apron strings, you shouldn’t let them take advantage of you—that doesn’t help anyone. The best thing is a cheerful exchange with others, where everyone gives what they have.

The more you give on a human level, the more you get. The mind is like a well. If you always draw water from it, then it is always fresh. But if you don’t take any water, then at some point there are five dead frogs lying in the well and you can’t drink from it.

I wouldn’t think about myself so much. When we think of ourselves we have problems, but when we think of others we have important things to do! I wouldn’t bring this “I” into it at all. I would try to see what is most useful. Sometimes it might be more helpful to do something for oneself, and other times to do something for others. You might do chin-ups to make yourself strong, and then later you can carry a piano up the stairs for someone else. When you act in this way, you won’t have so many concepts involved. If you do what is in front of your nose and always have the feeling of “we,” then everything is big.
This way you will also experience that we are all mutually dependent on each other—that we all condition each other in a reciprocal way. If one starts with the attitude of doing things for oneself, one might have to change lanes to understand that it’s about a “we.” But if one doesn’t distinguish between “I” and “we” but just does what needs to be done—what is fun and what flows in each moment—then everything is a gift. Then power-fields and connections appear; possibilities condense out of space and you are always at home. The most important thing is to always be in one’s center, to rest within oneself, to trust oneself. Out of this center, we can then act from a position of surplus and power.

If we always act selflessly, don’t we run the risk of being passed over of misused?

Some people think that acting selflessly means making yourself small and supporting everyone else at your own expense. Coming from a Christian point of view, we are used to thinking in “either-or” terms, making one person small and the other big, but that is too simple. If you think you can do the best job in a certain situation, then acting selflessly can mean putting yourself forward. It means that in every situation one aims for whatever will bring the highest level of benefit to all.

The most selfless thing one can do is to not take other people’s bad trips seriously. Don’t put energy into them; don’t play along. See the trips as “rabbits with antlers,” as the Tibetans say—as something that doesn’t exist. Instead, put the best trip forward. If you commit yourself to the highest level of truth, you’ll cultivate the best thing that can happen in any situation.

Shouldn’t our priority in the Diamond Way be helping others? Isn’t it egotistical for us to only spend our free time on our own practice?

I try not to get too stiff here. When people do something for themselves I always say, “Do it with the motivation to be able to share with others and benefit them later.”

And when people do something good for others I say, “Be happy that you have the chance to build up good karma for yourself”! Many people have the idea that they need to make themselves strong before helping others. Other people want to help under all circumstances, without making themselves strong first—but then they are not able to do much. Both of these extremes are quite common.

I always advise people to see the big picture and to separate themselves from others as little as possible. If you think, “When I do something good for myself, may others also be happy!”, then you’ll see it as a resource to be able to do more for others. And when you do something for others, you can be happy that you’re developing good karma and insight. Cutting through this idea of an “I” and a “you” is a very good idea.

Everything is the art of the possible. In Buddhism, there are three different ways to benefit beings. You can benefit them as a king does: first you make yourself strong and then you share with others. You can benefit them like a boatman, thinking, “let’s all reach the far bank of the river together.” And finally, you can benefit them like a shepherd: you help the others through first and then you go yourself.

Christianity mainly uses the shepherd system, but there is always a victim role involved along with the attitude that helping must be difficult and full of suffering. That comes from Jesus, who demonstrated it through his own suffering and sacrifice. In Buddhism, the attitude is completely different. With us, helping is the highest joy and something completely natural. If people have good karma, they meet you on a day when your actions are effective and successful, and if they have bad karma they come on a day when you’re making mistakes. And the whole time you simply do your best and see what works. There is no commandment from above. Minds in development may not always be equally talented, but they are basically nice. One does what one can, and people get something more or less useful depending on their karma. The more you enjoy helping others the better.