book coverRiding the Tiger

Twenty Years on the Road: The Risks and Joys of Bringing Tibetan Buddhism to the West

Lama Ole Nydahl

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ISBN: 978-0-931892-67-7, 408 pages, 252 photos, 5.5 x 8.5, paper, $24.95

"My recipe is simple: tell people the necessity of finding something which can carry them through sickness, aging, and death, and don't be afraid to give them a glimpse of your joy of life. Tell people that the mind is like space: open, clear and limitless, and talk about both the way and the goal."

In 1969 Ole and Hannah Nydahl became the first Western students of H.H. the Karmapa, the head of the Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. After years of practice in the Himalayas, he authorized them to teach and start centers in his name.

An audience with the Queen of Denmark started their work in the West. A basement in historical Copenhagen became the first Tibetan Buddhist center on the European continent, and a rusted-through VW-bus with race-car qualities got them everywhere.

Riding the Tiger is the inside story of the development of Tibetan Buddhism in the West. In his refreshingly unsentimental style, Lama Ole shows all aspects of the work. With breathtaking intensity, he highlights both healthy and unhealthy tendencies in the light of the Buddha's ultimate aim: to bring about the fully developed beings whose every activity blesses the world.

Amazon Review: Jason Anderson from Monterey, CA: "Lama Ole Nydahl is a unique figure in modern Buddhist history--first Western student of the Black Hat lama, H.H. the XVIth Gyalwa Karmapa, married lama 'without robes,' and spiritual figure personally chosen by the Karmapa to teach and make foundations in his name--and Riding the Tiger is filled to overflowing with his particular energies and gifts. It is a galloping book that takes the reader around the world, inviting him in for a close-up look at the making of a Buddhist center for meditation and study, and Lama Ole has successfully started over one hundred such centers. And a deep look, as well, at the nature of Buddhism in the West, how it has been transplanted, how it has flourished. ... This is a magical book and a magical ride!"

Table of Contents

Preface to the Second Edition
Preface to the First Edition

1. Copenhagen
2. Work Begins
3. Driving Kalu Rinpoche Through Europe
4. Karmapa!
5. Overland to India and Nepal
6. No Quiet on the Western Front
7. Sunrise
8. South Africa
9. Visiting Karmapa
10. In the Land of Unlimited Possibilities
11. Taking Leave of Karmapa
12. The Company Grows Worldwide
13. Secret Journey to Tibet
14. A Wrong Interpretation Produces a Great Deal of Benefit
15. Mustang and Bhutan
16. The World Shrinks
17. Across All Borders
18. Opening the European East

Diamond Way Buddhist Centers Worldwide


European autumn was at its very best when we landed in Copenhagen on October 7, 1972. The air cleared one's lungs, and colors and light were intense and pure. This day would be the beginning of a saga. After three years in the Himalayas, H.H. Karmapa - the first consciously reborn lama of Tibet -had sent us home with a task large enough to fill several lifetimes: to make the deep wisdom of Tibet accessible to our part of the world and open the minds of the extroverted West to things as unfamiliar as mantras and meditation.

There had been contacts with the East before, but these were mainly a hindrance. Enthusiastic guru-followers had embarrassed many with public and dramatic displays. At least in the press, the openness in free societies to new things was fast changing into cynicism. The new groups promised such rapid results that pragmatic Europeans could not believe them; and buying mantras for money turned most people off.

In fact, things were as always; those who already knew something were keenly aware of what they did not like, and most people weren't interested at all. There were no palm-waving masses awaiting salvation. Our task was to bring absolute insight to a materialistic world, to offer a complete set of methods for developing one's mind to beings whose every conventional need had already been satisfied. While distancing ourselves from jealous, angry, or otherwise tainted gods, we wanted to bring spiritual experience to societies that had become much too linear. There were also several helpful factors: the good karma and compassion of people in the West, as well as our ability to think clearly and doubt things in a constructive way. Since mature people are in essence Buddhists, freedom and independence would always support our work.

Our first group consisted of friends from the exciting sixties. They were amused to now see me protecting the purity of Tibetan Buddhism. Some years earlier, I had been protecting them. They trusted us because they knew that we had not fled into religion to escape personal problems or avoid decisions in our lives. We were already immersed in every imaginable joy before meeting our teachers. It thus carried weight when we told them that the mind contains unimaginable dimensions of bliss to which our culture gives no access.

The Diamond Way is for people who have something to share, and many conditions favored us right from the start. In the snob-free seventies, one could be someone without having much, and there was great freedom of movement. "Short range transport" was a sequence of rusty VW buses, and for greater distances we had the help of Niels Petersen from the "Pitzner" rental company. They provided transfer-cars all over Europe and paid the gas. We could thus travel freely between Oslo and Rome to teach. In November 1972, after giving my first lecture at a Teachers' College in Denmark, we drove one of their cars to Austria. There, in lovely Graz, I gave Buddhist Refuge to that first group. This became the pattern for starting scores of centers and meditation groups in the powerful heart of Europe. Even when having to hitchhike, we were picked up by people who wanted to learn about their mind.

During the first years, we felt little need to distinguish between Tibetan culture and their timeless wisdom: both were "Karmapa" and "Tibet" to us. Every evening I showed two dozen faded color slides which Hannah had selected from our years spent in the Himalayas. Though photos didn't tell people what to do about their lives here and now, at least they brought them into direct contact with Karmapa's blessing field. Our money we earned at night, cleaning a school for delinquent children in western Copenhagen. While putting together what the little darlings had trashed during the day, we could hardly keep our eyes open, and again and again I marvelled at Hannah's toughness. As more of our friends became students, they came along after meditation to help with the work and, when travelling across Europe, there was always someone to take the broom. We kept our expenses to a minimum, buying everything second-hand while still making sure to get enough vitamins and protein to keep ou! r bodies fit. That had to make up for daily deficits in sleep. On weekends, I often felled trees in Sweden and, later on, dug the holes for swimming pools which a friend sold. In addition to an always enjoyable night life, this made for good health and strength.

One advantage was in a league of its own: our wonderful parents. They were a constant source of inspiration and help. Hannah's mother could see beneath my rough surface even during my fighting days, and she and Hannah's father maintained their confidence also during our police troubles. I have described those events in my first book, Entering the Diamond Way: My Path Among the Lamas, which covers our years in the Himalayas and the wild times before that. My parents' unselfish love was greater than words can express. They were intellectually ripened beings who were always behind my brother Bjorn and us. At an age where many allow themselves to stagnate, they only grew.

While the outer conditions were excellent, without inner transmission, they would have only been a shell. Our growth and the ability to help others arose from meditating on Buddha aspects and from our close and continuous connection to Karmapa. The awareness-field of his eighth incarnation, "Mikyo Dorje," always surrounded us, and I constantly felt the presence of our protector, "Bearer of the Black Coat." He is the fearless power of all Buddhas. Other enlightened energies, often white and female and bearing names like "White Umbrella" and "White Liberatrice," would manifest over the years. With incredible power and precision, they ward off death or serious accidents.

Blue Dolphin Publishing, 1992

Also by Lama Ole Nydahl
Entering the Diamond Way
The Great Seal

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