An unconventional Lama

  • 2010-07-15
  • Interview by Raquel Dura Lahoz

Lama Ole Nydahl is one of the few Westerners fully qualified as a Lama and meditation teacher. Born in 1941 in Denmark, as a child he had dreams and memories of clashes with Chinese troops, where he protected the civilian population of eastern Tibet. During his honeymoon he had his first contacts with the Buddhist world. Thus, Lama Nydahl and his wife were the first Western students of the 16th Karmapa – the grand master of Karma Kagyu, a major Tibetan Buddhist school. Since then this unusual Lama, who wears jeans and trainers, has passed on their Buddhist knowledge in a different city every day, inspiring thousands of people in their lessons and in more than 600 schools of Buddhism that he has worldwide, where he teaches the Diamond Way, a branch of Buddhism. Lama Nydahl met with The Baltic Times in Riga during his trip to the Baltic countries, in which he also visited Vilnius.

What are your biggest impressions from your visits to the Baltic countries? Are people interested in Buddhism here?
I like coming here and I have good friends in the Baltic countries. They are doing very good work, giving the chance for the conscience to learn. I like the work they do here. They definitely are very interested in Buddhism. They are more interested than thirty five years ago, when we started giving lessons in the West. In today’s lesson in Riga we have over three hundred people really interested in this way of life.

What do you intend to achieve with these lessons about Diamond Way Buddhism around the world? How do you describe this way of Buddhism?
I think we have a very great tradition of philosophical and psychological knowledge, but Buddhism can give more to people about this. I think giving people great ‘daily’ activities and some basic instructions about the nature of the mind are the best things that I can offer to the world. I also give a way to meditate to teach the timeless practical methods of Diamond Way Buddhism. This is a practical and robust system that develops the qualities and inherent richness of the mind. The Diamond Way makes the methods of the Buddha effective, and this is an accessible way to the modern world. It helps to discover and to develop our own internal wealth for the benefit of all beings. That method uses the energy of every situation to know the mind. Your mind is clear light which never dies. When you understand this, you become powerful and the fear disappears and gives way to happiness.

You have traveled all over the world teaching principles of Buddhism for 35 years, and you have established more than 600 Buddhist centers. How did you decide that you wanted to devote yourself to this?
I think this is something I promised myself in my last life. It is a part of me. When I was a child I was always thinking about going to the Eastern Himalayas. Then, I and Hannah, my wife, met my teacher, the 16th Karmapa, during our honeymoon in Nepal in 1968. We decided that we wanted to devote our life to Buddhism. My teacher gave me the honor of teaching Buddhism. I learned all my knowledge with him between 1969 and 1980. In the Himalayas in the ’70s my wife and I were thinking if people could be interested in learning this way of meditation. When my teacher decided I was ready, he trusted me completely. Therefore, he wanted that Hannah and I teach and transmit our lineage in Europe. From there, I’ve been expanding the areas in the West to bring the Diamond Way to as many people as possible. Now we have created meditation study centers all over the world: South America, Canada, Australia… I don’t have any in Africa because they are probably not in an abstract mindset and, of course, I don’t have any Buddhist center in the Islamic world because there people can be killed if they leave Islam. I have learned from our mistakes at the beginning, and now I can give solid teaching to the world. I think that I will be teaching the Diamond Way until they carry me away, because I am the most experienced and I can do the most.

What have you learned all these years from Buddhism?
The main thing I have learned is to really see the pure nature, the perfect qualities of everybody. I have learned to find the best qualities in people very well. People can get to know oneself, to know our real nature and I think this is the first thing I have internalized. And I have learned that everybody is looking for joy. I think this is my job. I want to show them their perfect features, their potential and the way by which they can find their joy and happiness.

What would you emphasize from Buddhism?
Buddhism doesn’t have rules. We are not talking about a good god and a bad devil. Buddhism is advice and Buddha is not our creator, he is not our punisher or our judge. He is just a friend who is trying to help us find an experience that he had in his life. There is not a paradise or a hell. Buddha is teaching us peace of mind, the clear light in our minds and how to develop compassion and be happy. Of course, we don’t allow some things, but this is common sense. Buddha would say to definitely avoid killing people, lying to cause harm, stealing… A lot of things, like Christianity, are things with common sense. What is not common sense are things like suppressing women in Islamic countries or to kill someone because of their religion.

Why is the Diamond Way so successful in Europe?
Well, if people want to experience, if they are a bit adventurous, if they are not satisfied, Diamond Way has good teachings. Because people want an experience, they don’t want a belief.  In Europe people have been educated in a critical and scientific way, so they need something more, they need the experience. I think Diamond is the only way you can use if you want to experience your real nature and life. Because you are going to see that there is not separation between meditation and after meditation. You are going to have different experiences always. And if you are going on with meditation, you can see that everything is pure. It is based on, we don’t need to die to go to a pure land or paradise; we don’t need to go somewhere else to meet purity. Everything we see, all the time, is perfect and pure, but we have to find it, and this is where the Diamond Way can help people. If you want to be a Buddhist you need just three things: to learn the methods, to make friends in your own way and to believe that there is an objective which you are going to get, and then you will be able to know the purity of our world.

Do you think we could apply the principles of Buddhism in politics or the economy?
Well, some people tried to do this. I think when people get involved in politics they become selfish and they just want to win. So, this is not a question for those politicians who want to cheat people. They have to use forces to create other situations where everybody can have benefit, and I think this is the way that Buddhism can help the politicians to manage our resources better. They have to find the way to help the greatest number of people.

What is the main problem in the world? How can we solve it?
People don’t like to hear it, but the main problem is overpopulation. This is one of the really big ones. It is simply that the world is overpopulated. There are people who live in ways that people shouldn’t live, like in poor countries in Asia or Africa. We are seven billion people now and it is expected that by 2050, we will be around nine billion people on the Earth. All the experts say that, if we are lucky, this world can sustain two billion people with a good living standard. The same experts are saying that in ninety years, at the end of this century, there will be just one billion people, not more than that, because we have destroyed all the resources and no more people will be able to live on Earth. A solution is give money, to pay people in the poor countries to have fewer children. If you have one child you will receive two dollars a day, if you have two children you will receive one dollar but if you have more children you are not going to be paid. They will have fewer kids. They could have one or two children and they could take care of them and educate them, instead of having seven kids doing nothing. And if there were less people in the world we could live better, the endangered animals could survive and we could stop destroying the ecological system.

Is there some other problem that it is a threat to the world?
I have two fears, one is overpopulation and the other is Islam. They could destroy the Earth. Nobody has killed more Buddhist people as have the Muslims. Historically, they have cost us millions of people, simply because they were Buddhists. And they are destroying the women in their countries. But what we are doing now will be reflected in our next life, so these kind of men will be destroyed by women in their later lives. It is very important that we protect free speech and women’s rights.

How can critical people from Europe, who grew up in a culture of science, accept the principles of Buddhism, with its meditation, mantra…?
They have to know that body, speech and mind have influence between them. When you practice with mantra, when you feel it, you don’t have to think about science, you are just experiencing things in your body. When you practice with mantras, the syllables used bring energy to different centers in your body: HUNG activates one’s chest, AH leads the energy to the throat, and OM makes the head vibrate. You are feeling that, and nothing else is needed. And when you go into meditation you know that the energy flows in your body and in your mind. Our experiences are always in our mind. That kind of meditation helps us to make contact with our inherent enlightenment and accomplish the experience of our full potential. It is not about thinking, it is about understanding our nature and trying to experience all we can. This is the reason why Buddhism is coming strongly to the West, because people need to experience, and they find results with Buddhism.

How much time do you spend in meditation? What do you do in a day of your life?
I sleep four or five hours a day; I have been sleeping as little as I do for many years. And sometimes I am really tired, but I have to work as much as I can. I am travelling every day to other cities or countries to teach my lessons and help people with them. But every morning I do some meditation practices and, of course, usually, in lectures every night, I guide the meditation of my attendees. But during the day, the rest of the time, I am in meditation because my mind doesn’t change. I have been doing meditation for forty years and now I can’t differentiate one state from another, and that is what I am trying to teach to people. Actually, the reason I can work so much and sleep so little is because I am sort of in meditation all the time.

What is your goal now?
I have to say what my teachers told me. I have a mission: teaching. I am not doing that because of me. I am teaching because the 16th Karmapa told me and my wife what we should do. I don’t have my own agenda. And since my wife died, while sitting in meditation in my arms, I have continued by myself. And I will continue teaching the Way until I can’t.

How can the Baltic people be happier?
They have to find how well they are doing in the world, even with crisis, even with problems, even with separation between the locals and Russians… If you are seeing the purity, the richness and the freedom that we have, we will be happy. Baltic people can find happiness if they stop to think about their situation and start thinking about their luck. They have to be happy with that.