Should we consciously avoid ideas and concepts, or just consider them tools?

Lama Ole’s answer:

I wouldn’t avoid concepts, because they can be convenient and useful. On the other hand, I would always remind myself that they are all only a dream. They weren’t there yesterday and will be gone tomorrow. So we know that concepts are pictures in the mirror but not the mirror itself. The truth and wisdom of space itself is profoundly meaningful. It’s in the vibration of every atom. It’s truer than all our concepts, ideas, and thoughts, and we are part of this space.

In fact, we can act much more effectively if we don’t continuously ask “why?” and “what for?” and so on. A lot of our everyday mental activity is like a coup d’état in a banana republic: Only two or three aspects of the radiant jewel that is our mind try to dominate everything. The ability to understand mathematics, to create poetry, or to do many other things is suddenly dominated by our intellect, pride, expectations, fears, and so on.

It’s beneficial to dissolve this, so that these abilities can arise when they are needed and disappear when they are no longer necessary. This has deep meaning. At work, one or another quality is very useful, and when it’s not needed anymore, one can do something else—maybe fall in love, explore nature, or discover how exciting the here and now is. But if one always hangs on to everything, is never in the moment, then one is neurotic.

It is this “both-and” state of mind that we should strive for. Try to always do what is right in front of your nose without being distracted. That is real freedom.

How can I develop and keep my own positive energy?

Lama Ole’s answer:

That is not always so easy if one meets circumstances that pull one down all the time. I would say read books like The Way Things Are or books about the Great Seal, so that you are in constant contact with the enlightened view. Always remember that the world around you is truly a pure land and that everybody is a buddha, whether they have recognized it or not.

Start with the view that highest truth is highest bliss. Then on a practical level, use the meditations in which you let buddha forms arise and then melt together with them, becoming inseparable. If you do this for a few minutes every day—maybe even while waiting for the bus or subway—it will be of great benefit. When making love, try to be aware and make your partner really happy. All the different possibilities are there—use them.

How can we know whether we’re on the right or wrong path?

Lama Ole’s answer:

For this there are outer and inner signs. If one is on the wrong path, one might attract difficult people again and again, who are then hard to get rid of. One has a sort of outer energy-hook that pulls those people towards oneself. It is possible to do this out of compassion, too, but then that should happen consciously. The inner sign of being on the wrong path is that disturbing feelings—like envy, jealousy, pride, confusion, and so on—become stronger.

You will sense that you are on the right path through noticing that you attract pleasant things on the outer level. And on the inner level, disturbing feelings will vanish and more space and freedom will emerge.

But mind is king; we ourselves have the freedom to decide what happens. If we are on a difficult path, we can decide, “I am a Bodhisattva. I’m helping all beings in pain and purifying their suffering.” With this attitude, we get through everything safely. We leave the heavy luggage behind and then quickly get ahead.

Once one becomes enlightened, does one keep this state or have to work to achieve it over and over again?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Once liberation or enlightenment is reached, there is no falling back. Liberation is the first step, where one no longer experiences oneself as the body that gets old, sick, and dies, nor as the thoughts and feelings that continuously come and go. On that level, we know that we are not this or that, and so we stop experiencing ourselves as a target. We can’t fall back from there because there is no more concept of a self or ego. Subject, object, and action melt together into a unity; and the experiencer, that which is experienced, and the experience itself complement each other perfectly. Already from that level on, there is no falling back.

From that level of security, one goes on to full enlightenment. While liberation means that one is completely rid of disturbing feelings, on the level of enlightenment even the most subtle veils of fixed concepts and ideas drop away. Here, we experience what is real: the nature of mind, timeless and everywhere. We are the ocean itself, and we see the coming and going of the waves as the free play of the ocean and not as distinct from it. In this state beyond any extremes or ideas of materialism, nihilism, existentialism, and so on—where nothing can disturb us anymore and where there is no suffering—we are like a cup of coffee that has stopped shaking and become completely still, reflecting everything.

In that state, all abilities, qualities, and powers come together and show themselves spontaneously. Here, we experience our mind as clear light. We are like a man on a mountaintop with a panoramic view. At the same time, we are aware of the path we walked up the mountain and can help those we have a connection with.

The states of liberation and enlightenment should not be compared with other states of mind, like the realms of gods or demi-gods. In the god realms, one has pleasant experiences for unimaginably long periods of time, but one falls out of these realms again as soon as the good impressions that led to that incarnation are exhausted. On these levels, there is still a concept of a self, ego, or person—a soul or atman. Enlightenment is really a big thing, an everlasting state.

Although I often think that I have really understood something, I rarely manage to put it into practice. Can you give me advice on this?

Lama Ole’s answer:

If you do your best in every situation, you can’t go wrong. For example, if you have discovered that you run up the stairs better if you don’t smoke, then you simply tell yourself, “Now I’m not smoking anymore!” Then next week, when a friend comes along with a cigarette and it smells so good that you take a drag, then tell yourself again, “Actually, I don’t smoke. It doesn’t do me any good.” So step by step you evolve away from the habit.

If you easily get upset about things, then think to yourself in that very moment, “Every time I get upset, I get into trouble afterwards; and I don’t want that.” Or if you are easily bothered by someone else, think, “Luckily I only have to be with him for ten minutes. But he has to put up with himself twenty-four hours a day. Poor guy!”

After taking part in a Buddhist course, I feel full of energy. Then at home I lose that feeling again. How can I avoid that?

Lama Ole’s answer:

That’s quite natural. Everybody experiences ups and downs in one’s development. One feels good for a while, but then when the good impressions exhaust themselves, unpleasant impressions might come up again. In that case, you have to look at the mirror itself instead of the reflections in it, to identify with awareness itself and not with the ups and downs. If you meditate regularly, that which is between and behind your thoughts, that which experiences and understands your thoughts will gradually become ever more luminous, clear, and strong. And in the end, you won’t lose this state anymore.

If you always have this freshness and “aha” experience within yourself and everything is buzzing with meaning, you cannot suffer any longer. It’s just a matter of time. With every mantra you speak, with every time you let Karmapa melt into yourself in meditation and then rest in naked awareness, you always remove and cleanse all possible kinds of disturbances.

One day you will stand there and think, “I used to be confused and unhappy in this situation”—but you aren’t anymore. That’s purification! Everything pleasant is a blessing; everything unpleasant is purification on the way. It is important to know that we aren’t taking on new negative impressions when we experience suffering and difficulties, but instead our mind is freeing itself from old impressions. If we compare those old, confused impressions to a zoo, we might say that we see the behinds of the animals as they leave, not their faces. We are getting rid of something. It’s a release of impressions from our mind that would have come to us as real problems and suffering later on. Understanding this as purification gives meaning to these experiences, and one feels better in the process.

Can you always assume that the more joyful way is the right way?

Lama Ole’s answer:

In principle, the levels of highest functioning, highest joy, and highest truth are equal. Experiencing greater happiness, seeing things as they are more clearly, and functioning better physically and mentally are intertwined. For example, if you work with proper tools in an interesting environment, then you are closer to the perfection of your nature than if you do something that won’t work with tools that are no good.

One just has to be careful not to get attached to the happiness but instead to pass the good feelings on to others. One has to understand that conditioned joys are impermanent.

We should always try to experience joy without an outer cause. Be aware that joy is inherent in one’s own mind, and try to let joy become independent from a cause as quickly as possible. Understand that joy is a moment without fabrication—without thoughts, without ideas, without any obstruction. In the moment one is naked and open, joy comes through. Try to reach that state without any outer influence. That comes through meditation; there you learn that your mind can find absolutely anything within itself and out of itself.

What is the pure view and how can we achieve it?

Lama Ole’s answer:

It’s actually very simple. The pure view means seeing everything as fantastic just because it can happen. Usually we have a discriminating consciousness. We think “smart” or “dumb,” “like it” or “don’t like it,” etc. The pure view means that one doesn’t forget the mirror itself amid all the reflections in the mirror, that one always remembers that what is looking through our eyes and listening through our ears—awareness itself—is joy, fearlessness, and love. One looks more at what is between the thoughts, behind the thoughts, at what perceives the thoughts and feelings—this infinite space-clarity present in everything.

If, for example, we experience something that is “unpleasant,” that “hurts,” it’s actually exciting that there is somebody able to experience this. Pain in itself is a very exciting feeling, and it’s interesting to find out how we ourselves react and how others react. It is important not to cling to the images in the mirror but to always be aware of the mirror itself. In this way, that which perceives and experiences is always present through the ups and downs in the mind. If you keep this view, then everything happening is the free play of mind, the surplus of mind, the power of mind, the abilities of mind, the light of mind, and so forth.

Seen through the pure view, thoughts reflect the Truth State of mind. That they can occur at all is because there is something that experiences these things. If we experience thoughts this way, there is no more clinging to good experiences and pushing away bad ones. We see everything that happens as exciting, as interesting, as a possibility to learn, without being caught by it. Everything shows what is possible.

I can tell you, even if a mafioso came in here throwing a handful of grenades, even the blood and the bits of us scattered all over the walls, even that would express the Truth State. It would be the perfect expression of the explosive charge in connection with the human body under these circumstances—everything is truth! OK, if you are in the situation and think, “I am my body and I want to live for a long time,” then this is clearly painful. Everybody knows that level of experience. I’m speaking of seeing it in a transpersonal way, beyond thinking that one is one’s body. I’m talking about a higher level, where everything is fantastic just because it happens, whether it is being born or passing away. On this level, one is the clear light that perceives all things. Here, there is no moralism in favor of this or that.

If two thugs try to steal an old lady’s purse, I would stop them. Of course I would do that. But I wouldn’t be moralistic about it, because it’s possible that in her last life she also snatched something from them, creating this connection. So one should help indeed, but without all the moralistic pressure, without judging others. People are stupid, not evil. They are seeking happiness and trying to avoid suffering. They just always stick their hands into the nettles instead of the flowers.

The pure view also means that you know that highest truth means highest joy. You know that you’re in a pure land, that all people are buddhas who just don’t know it yet, and that the more you can see things as elevated and pure, the closer you are to the truth.

In your everyday experience, you might think of it like this: A man walks in and his face looks like it’s been rolled over by a freight train. But his hands are beautiful, so you look at his hands. Or maybe the hands and face aren’t so nice, but the shoes are good or he has a nice car. You try to see all beings and everything that happens as new, fresh, and exciting, and to experience the most beautiful and pure aspects of the situation. If you succeed in seeing something new and beautiful in every being and every face, whatever it may be, then you gradually come to where any experience will be an “aha” moment. This means that you will see the mirror beyond the pretty or ugly reflections, the perceiver beyond what is perceived.

If you have many unpleasant experiences, then you will always stay on the surface and try to cover up, defend, or run away from things. That’s to say, from a bad dream you can’t easily “wake up” to recognize the dreamer behind the dream. But instead, if you always choose to see the best, the most beautiful, the most meaningful in people, then you will identify more directly with the experiencer itself.

It is much easier to wake up from a good dream than a bad one. That’s why we work with building up the most beautiful dream possible, to see beings and things on the highest possible level. Experience shows that one can easily open up on that level and go on from there into true purity, into true meaning. But if one is caught in some lousy dream, there is no impetus. Everything is sticky and half-wet, half-cold—it’s not much fun. If you experience yourself and all beings as potential buddhas; the whole of space as a pure land; everything in itself as sparkling, radiant, and meaningful; then the rest is a gift.

Your mind is a creature of habit. It builds up habits and makes them ever stronger. That’s why you should be cautious in situations where you know, “there I always fall into the water,” “there I always get problems,” “there I always see things in a skewed way.” Try to do what generates useful thoughts, speech, and actions in an easy and natural way, and keep yourself away from bad company and situations that lead to bad habits. You go on working with view and practice together until one day you sit there and everything is beautiful and exciting. It takes a bit of view and a lot of work.

It’s very important on this path to understand that there is no ordinary level of truth with some black and gray depressions beneath and some rosy dreams above. This image of reality is not true. If we look for something true and real, there is only one point where everything comes together: highest joy, love, strength, courage, meaning, confidence, surplus, wisdom, compassion, and so on. Where all positive qualities unfold is highest joy and highest truth.

How can we maintain the pure view?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Imagine your mind is a cigar factory. You are only producing cigars for millionaires, twenty dollars apiece. You check their color and smell; you check the sound they make when you squeeze them. If they are good enough you accept them, if not you send them off to be processed into cigarettes or loose tobacco.

That is exactly what it’s about—only accepting the best thoughts and feelings. One could also say that there should be something pure in everything that has to do with you. On the highest level, samsara and nirvana are one. Every atom vibrates with joy and is held together by love. Every thought and feeling, even the most stupid, is fantastic on the absolute level just because it can happen.

If you make sure to feel good, you will experience the world as beautiful—everything as wonderful and meaningful. Remember that everybody has innate buddha nature. Decide to experience everything as fresh and new and to see the beauty in all that happens.

It is important to understand that highest truth means highest joy. My mind works in a very simple way: I have an automatic function, a discarding function. If there is something that feels bad or strange, my mind tells me, “You don’t have to worry about that; there is no truth in it. It must be a mistake in today’s manufacturing process or some kind of contaminant.” But if there is something that feels beautiful and pleasant, my mind says, “Oh, you seem to be approaching something true!” And then my mind goes in that direction.

It functions automatically, and I always have good time. I just connect truth with joy and untruth with a lower level of functioning. Highest joy is highest truth. There is no separation.

It is important to have a feeling of surplus. If you have that, you will generally do good things. If your motivation is right, you don’t have to check every word. Every action will be well-rounded and benefit others. But if you have a sour feeling, for example, then even if you watch every word you say, you will still make mistakes. People will get mad at you because they’ll feel your vibration and reflect it back to you.

So it’s better to develop the ability to see things on the highest possible level. If you can do that, you will automatically become compassionate, loving, and beyond-personal, and you will do nothing wrong.

So, the closer to the head you catch the snake, the less it will be able to disturb you. Just try to go into the world with a good feeling. Make sure you are doing well, and wish everybody something good. If you then do, think, or say anything harmful, five red warning lights will flash up at once.

Of course, one cannot grasp at holding the highest view the same way one cannot grasp at meditation. On the outer level, we can avoid doing things that will certainly pull us down. On the inner level, we should also make sure that compassion and wisdom are present, and on the highest level we maintain the view. But actually, the experience of the highest view appears spontaneously and effortlessly by itself; one cannot force it.

You can only make sure that you always identify more truth with more joy. And this way you can develop a very fine inner sense for knowing whether you are moving away from or getting closer to your inner light, whether you are doing something honest and well-rounded or are becoming a bit distant and unclear.

The mind develops many subtle bells and red lights that help one be aware in everything that happens.

If I see everything on a pure level, then I won’t experience the suffering of others as real. How can I feel compassion for them in that case?

Lama Ole’s answer:

I can tell you about an experience I had that may help give an answer. It was in 1976 at the Ararat in Turkey, close to the border with Iran. We were driving a bus with fifty or sixty friends through the Middle East, then on to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, when we had to stop all of a sudden because there was a dead man lying in the road.

I went over to him to help, and it was a completely naked experience, pure and radiant! It happened on several levels of consciousness simultaneously. On the one hand, there was the bright blue sky and an impressive mountain with perennial snow in the background, and at the same time there was this dead man lying there with people standing around: all of them malnourished, with stubbly beards, and completely shocked. The man lay there with open eyes, his mouth full of blood, and right beside him was a piece of his hipbone that had been broken off.

Everything was there in the same moment: compassion for the man, who certainly had fifteen kids who would now have to work in the salt mines; compassion for his wife and for the people who were just standing there, unable to understand or do anything; the fantastic mountain; the glistening blood on this bone and in his mouth. In some way it was pure—merely because it happened. It was completely beyond liking or disliking. It was an experience of nakedly, directly seeing what was happening.

And when those experiences come, one thinks, “Where has my compassion gone?” and “You should have done something!” But in fact, despite those thoughts, one has reacted five times better and more authentically than if one had approached the situation with all kinds of sentimental feelings and fixed ideas about compassion. Since I was able to see the situation on a pure level in the moment, I could react well. That way we do our best—a lot better than with fixed ideas.

I always lose the pure view as soon as I have to deal with other people. I immediately have thoughts like, “That backside is too fat” or “that nose is too long,” and so on. What can I do?

Lama Ole’s answer:

I think compassion is the most helpful. Wish people all the best so that everything else becomes secondary—whether they have a weird hair color, are too skinny or fat, or whatever else. You just direct the good trip you’re on towards your fellow beings and consciously wish them all the best so that it rubs off on them. Then everything else is OK anyway.

The way they are is their kind of wisdom, their peculiarity. One can also use wisdom—for example, by imagining what karmic causes have led to their present look or behavior. But I think compassion is best.

I don’t understand this “pure view” thing! It’s simply a fact that some things and some people are beautiful and others are not! Aren’t we just fooling ourselves there?

Lama Ole’s answer:

In this case, it is about being able to see something fantastic in everything—for example, in being both slim and portly. This is a level beyond the common experience, where everything is fantastic just because it can happen. On the ordinary level, every lady wishes to look a bit like an hourglass and every gentleman wants to have the shape of a “Y.” This is on the level of attachment. On the higher level, even if somebody looks the other way around, I can see that some wisdom processes have come together to make this happen.

The same is true for thoughts. Everybody wants to be smart and not confused. But as a matter of fact, even confused thoughts are true in their essence just because they arise. If one goes beyond attachment, everything is fantastic merely because it happens—because it shows the possibilities of space. But of course it is difficult to go beyond the everyday world. In Buddhism, we have a few people who have attained that. For example, outside of Lhasa there was a highly realized lady who worked as a butcher. And all the people passing by said, “Help! What a wild creature! Let’s get out of here!” She stood there with her eyes rolling wildly and took the head off of everything!

But a dharma teacher saw that she sent the minds of those animals on to pure levels of consciousness. He went to her and bowed down. She placed her bloody knife on his head, and he spontaneously developed twenty-one special abilities.

There are cases in which the common social standards don’t fit anymore. Social norms only take us so far, and after that comes a level of immense freedom. But whoever moves into that level must have a great sense of self-responsibility. As long as one is quacking along like all the others on the pond, following social expectations, one has the protection of the crowd. But as soon as we move farther out, we have to have a tremendous amount of compassion that everybody can feel. We have to work very hard and really love people. If in the process one is only concerned with oneself, then one gets into trouble and makes enemies.

Only once we are beyond the personal level will unconventional behavior be accepted and will we be respected. If we have this deep universal love and work for the benefit of all beings, there is no more glue to the conditioned world. Then we can really move freely. And the best is to have several feet to stand on—to develop freedom and new possibilities at courses and to deepen these experiences in daily meditation. This way you bring into the world the extra power that you gain from this beyond-personal view for the benefit of all.

How can we always experience things on the highest level and at the same time work with them practically on the relative level?

Lama Ole’s answer:

That’s easy: you just remember that everyone is a buddha and at the same time that they don’t know it. That’s why one shouldn’t give a bottle of wine to a drunk or a gun to an angry man. If one didn’t know that all beings are buddhas, it wouldn’t make sense to do anything. The fact that they have buddha nature makes Buddhist practice worth it.

The view is what is crucial. Imagine you are a teacher and you enter the classroom and think, “Who put those thirty angry gorillas here?” Then you might as well turn around and leave, because one cannot teach gorillas anything. What can you do with that attitude? But if you come in and think, “Who brought these thirty Einsteins into my class?” then suddenly everything is possible and you give your best. And maybe they’ll quit poking their pencils around in their ears and mouths and will actually listen and learn.

Everything is a projection of one’s own mind. So the faults we see in others we actually have ourselves. For example, if one gets angry about something, this happens because something within oneself was attacked. If one doesn’t have any anger within oneself and people behave strangely, then one thinks, “Why do they do that? What’s the meaning of this?” You look at it like a strange object in a showcase. But if you get angry, that means something in yourself got pricked. We don’t see the world directly; we see it through our own gray or rosy eyeglasses. The more we see people as pure and beautiful, the closer we come to what they really are.

We don’t have to die to go to a pure land, or go anyplace else to meet buddhas. We just have to thoroughly polish our own glasses. If we do that we are at home; we see that every atom vibrates with joy and is held together by love, that everything has meaning just because it appears or doesn’t appear.

On the highest level, you are like someone sitting on the mountaintop with a 360-degree view—everything is open, vast, and full of possibilities. At the same time, you can look down the side of the mountain and say, “All those people have been my parents or friends at some time. They are all trying to find happiness and avoid suffering, and causing themselves some difficulties in the process.” Then without losing the pure view, you work on the relative level to preserve and pass on the Buddhist methods.

The Mahamudra teachings say that everything is fantastic simply because it can happen. But on the other hand, it’s not fantastic when people kill each other, is it?

Lama Ole’s answer:

There are two levels from which to see this. When one sees that people treat each other badly, it’s unpleasant and one thinks, “Why do they do that? In the next life they will swap roles and do it all over again. Why oh why?”
But at the same time, one can see things on the absolute level: both the victim and the perpetrator have buddha nature and at some point they will also realize it. For example, if someone came in here and threw a dozen hand grenades around, we certainly wouldn’t like it if bits of our precious bodies suddenly flew in all directions. We wouldn’t like it, but actually the trajectory of every piece of flesh, metal, and bone would follow the laws of higher mathematical wisdom. We must be free of attachment to our body, otherwise we’ll never understand the highest view.

Buddha gives us both levels of understanding. That’s what it is all about. Then at the end of our life, we can say—just as Caesar Augustus said as he lay dying—“If I played my role well, please applaud!” We do our best, and in the end we know we can let everything go because it is all just a dream anyway. We must meditate a lot to really understand this. But if we can grasp it conceptually as a first step, that’s also good.

How does mirror-like wisdom express itself in daily life?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Stay cool. Rest in your center and watch how worlds appear and dissolve again. Act like “the fool on the hill,” as Paul McCartney sang. You know that you don’t need to get involved. Things come and go—they weren’t there before and they won’t be there later either. But at the same time, you stay completely clear and aware of what’s going on. And of course you should be ready to share the experience with others, to pass it on. Nowadays, what counts most as mirror-like wisdom is “staying cool” in all situations.