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What is Buddhism?

The Historical Buddha

The Historical Buddha was born in approximately 570 B.C. in Northern India. As a young man he spent six years searching and meditating. He then recognized the true nature of mind, thus becoming Buddha - the "awakened one." His teaching which makes beings fearless, joyful and kind are the main religion of several East Asian countries. Since the early seventies, its profound view and fast number of methods have inspired and fascinated a growing number of people in Western cultures. Buddha is seen as a timeless mirror of mind's inherent potential.

The Buddha gave methods by which full enlightenment may be attained. He made clear which teachings relate to ultimate or conditional truth. The Buddha showed his students in practical and understandable ways how to use all experiences in life as steps toward enlightenment, giving methods which lead to deep and lasting happiness. He encouraged his students to be skeptical, inviting them to thoroughly check for themselves whether his teachings were dogmatic or truly liberating. Buddhist meditation methods can generate powerful inner change enabling experiences to be integrated directly toward enriching our lives. These skillful methods allow the levels of conscious- ness already reached through meditation to become anchored in a way that they are never again lost. The highest teaching known as Chag Chen or Dzogchen, as Mahamudra or Maha Ati, allows us to open to the experience of total non-separation between subject, object and action.

Karma--Cause and Effect

Karma means cause and effect, not fate. The understanding that each of us is responsible for our own lives makes it possible to consciously generate positive impressions which bring happiness while avoiding the causes of future suffering. Positive states of mind may be effectively strengthened through the methods of the Diamond Way, while negative impressions waiting to mature, can be transformed into wisdom.


In Buddhism, Meditation means "effortlessly remaining in what is." This state may be brought about by calming and holding the mind, when compassion and wisdom are realized, or by working with our bodies' energy channels and meditating on light forms of the Buddhas. The most effective method, if one can do it, is the constant identification with one's own Buddha nature, and the experience of always being in a Pure Land, both of which are taught in the Diamond Way. When the oneness of the seer, what is seen and the act of seeing is unbroken, in and between the times of meditation, the goal, Mahamudra is reached.

What is Liberation and Enlightenment

In the process of achieving Liberation, one first discovers that body, thoughts and feelings are in a constant state of change and flux. There is therefore no basis for a real existing ego or "self". One stops feeling like a target, taking one's suffering personally. When one thinks, "there is suffering" instead of "I suffer," one becomes invulnerable and free.
Enlightenment is the second and ultimate step. Here, the clear light of mind radiates through every experience. Past, present and future, "here" or "there," all are expressions of mind's timeless richness. In enlighten- ment, mind naturally expresses fearlessness, joy and compassion and remains effortless and spontaneous in whatever happens.

The Differences Between Buddhist Schools

The Buddha worked to benefit three kinds of people. Whoever wanted to avoid suffering received the instructions about cause and effect called Theravada or the "Small Way". Those who wanted to do more for others were given the Mahayana or the "Great Way", the teachings on wisdom and compassion. To people having strong confidence in their own Buddha nature, Buddha taught the Vajrayana or the "Diamond Way". Here, he manifested as forms of energy and light or directly transmitted his enlightened view as a flow of awareness. On this highest level the aim is the complete development of mind, the spontaneous effortlessness of Mahamudra. The basis, way and goal of this highest view are transmitted under varying names by Tibet's three old Buddhist transmissions, the Nyingma, Sakya and Kagyu Schools.

The Karma Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism

Karma Kagyu is one of the major Buddhist schools from Tibet. As a lineage of direct oral transmission, it especially treasures meditation and can, through interaction with a qualified teacher, bring about the full direct experience of the nature of mind. The Karma Kagyu methods were taught by the historical Buddha Shakyamuni to his closest students. They were later passed on through the Indian Mahasiddhas: Padmasambhava, Tilopa, Naropa and Maitripa and the famous Tibetan Yogis Marpa and Milarepa. In the 12th century, the monk Gampopa gave the teachings to the first Gyalwa Karmapa whose successive incarnations have kept them powerful and vibrant over the centuries. Today, great Tibetan and Bhutanese teachers (lamas) such as Kunzig Sharmapa and Lopon Tsecho Rinpoche transmit this unbroken tradition when visiting the many Karma Kagyu centers around the world.

The Karmapas

The Gyalwa Karmapas are unique among the great Lamas of Tibet, having reached full enlightenment centuries ago. During a previous incarnation Karmapa was at the side of the historical Buddha as the great Bodhisattva Chenrezig or "Loving Eyes." In Sanskrit his name was Avalokitesvara.

Karmapa spent many lifetimes as a yogi in India. From 1110 to the present day he has been taking successive conscious rebirths as the Karmapa or "Black Hat Lama." He was the first recognized incarnate Lama of Tibet. In 1959, during the Chinese destruction of Tibet, the 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje managed to leave the country with his students and all his relics, thus securing the further transmission of the Karmapa Kagyu lineage.

Lama Ole

Lama Ole Nydahl is one of the very few Westerners who is fully qualified as a Lama and Meditation teacher in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. In December 1969 he and his wife, Hannah became the first Western students of His Holiness the XVI Gyalwa Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, one of the greatest yogis of this century and then head of the Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. His Holiness had a profound influence on their lives. He asked Hannah and Ole to bring Buddhism to the West. For the last 30 years they have been traveling non-stop, teaching and setting up meditation centers around the world. Lama Ole did his graduate work in philosophy in Denmark and wrote his thesis on Aldous Huxley's "Doors of Perception". He is the author of several books translated into many languages. He and Hannah have founded over 300 centers in the United States, Germany, Poland, Russia, South America, Japan, Australia, and Canada, among other countires.