Joe Orso

Columnist Joe Orso

Last week, a man some call a major driving force in Western Buddhism spoke at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

His lecture to more than 400 people at Graff Main Hall Auditorium raised a number of issues, which I’ll get to shortly, but which really crystallize around a very basic question: What makes you a Buddhist teacher? Or better put, which teachers are being true to the teachings of the Buddha and which are deforming them?

You can ask the question about any religious person. For instance, despite his popularity, his ability to quote Scripture and his claiming of Jesus as his savior, did what the Rev. Jerry Falwell preached really have anything to do with Jesus?

I’d say not, others would say it did, and we’d find religious authority (different than divine authority) to be a very subjective thing.

So back to Lama Ole Nydahl, the curious figure who lectured for two hours Wednesday evening.

The 68-year-old man comes from Denmark, said his Diamond Way Buddhism has 600 centers around the world, and is better known in Europe than the United States. About 80 of his followers, many from Europe, were in La Crosse and are following him on his lecture tour in this country.

So is what he taught Buddhism?

In the past several years, I have found it a common experience that whenever Nydahl’s Diamond Way Buddhism, which has a La Crosse center, comes up in conversation with other Buddhist practitioners, people question its validity. And some of these people have described Nydahl as a charlatan.

Unfortunately, his visit here supported this view — at least for me.

While some of what came out of his mouth fell within the framework of Buddhism — like words about suffering and emptiness — his ideas were more confusing than enlightening, and by the end of his lecture he was losing something like an audience member a minute.

To be fair, Nydahl was aware of his poor performance, which included pounding coffee, taking pills and leaving the stage for a bathroom break. He blamed it on jet lag, although he still found enough energy to join his students at a downtown bar afterwards.

You have free articles remaining.

Become a Member

Register for more free articles.
Stay logged in to skip the surveys.

But even if he was just having a bad night, there is a more deeply disturbing aspect to the Nydahl phenomenon.

When I asked him the next day about claims that he has sexual encounters with his students, he didn’t deny this.

“There’s no teacher-student relationship involved in that,” he said by phone. “They’re Diamond Way Buddhists, but they’re not my students in that moment. They’re equal partners.”

While I know I might be accused of puritan values, I firmly believe that such student-teacher relationships are predatory, and no clever logic can change that.

And to add to his recklessness, Nydahl ended our conversation describing Islam as “criminal.“

In our region there are some very kind people who are Diamond Way Buddhists, which made me hesitate writing this column.

And it should be said that Nydahl is connected to a lineage in Tibetan Buddhism.

As Matthew T. Kapstein, Numata visiting professor of Buddhist studies at The University of Chicago Divinity School, e-mailed me: “Ole has a genuine relation with the Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism, so he’s not quite a charlatan. However, he has his own interpretation and style, which do not accord closely with traditional practice among the Kagyu.“

But while I hesitated writing, since Buddhism is a minority religion here, I decided it would be valuable to clarify that at least some people question the authenticity of Nydahl’s Diamond Way.

And for those seekers curious about Buddhism, many other avenues can lead you to a tradition much richer and more grounded than what you’ll find in Nydahl.

At least, that’s my opinion.

Get local news delivered to your inbox!

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

(6) comments


Very poor and superficial article.


Every person in our Western Free Societies have the birth-right of Freedom-Of-Choice... But no no no, first there is forced-marriage them there is sharia law...
These people with their dark age belives force their daughters into a marriage that these women do not want. These people trade women, their own daughters as if they were camels, treat them as if they were livestock. This is unacceptable in our western countries! Luckily now in some of our western countries forced-marriage is a crime now. But it did not become crime because we westerners noticed this fault in our system to allow these practices to happen, it is a crime now because inspit of those women who had the birth-right of freedom of choice were forced into a marriage by their families, but they had the courage and and strength to stand up and lobby against it. And they lucky we heard them and did something about it in their favour...
Well then there is shaira law which is a tribal law that should have never accepted in our western societies. This is agains our western laws because it denies the freedom of the individual. Women married to some unshaved guys whom these women did not want to be with,cannot freely say: that's it, I'm out of it. They have to cleverly explain why they do not want to be with those men. She does not want to be pounded by that guy, but she cannot even say: 'I do not want him', I' just don't feel like it'... She has to cleverly explain her self and submit a request to some limited men in sense of shaira law who will decide about her future. Can you imagine how much mental anguish and pain she goes though, while waiting the answer and hoping it will be favorable to her, this guy is pounding her, breathing in her ear, his beard in ber mouth, he sweat on her, places his load in her, etc., and she's just hoping to be over soon, thinking only of tomorrow, hoping that those undereducated men, bound by three stiff ideas will decide in her favour. After that she will feel greatfull, because she wasn't subject to genital mutilatio or lost her nose, ears and thus finally she is free... Freedom was her birth right in our western societies, but the stiff ideas and believes her parents brought with them forced her into this battle for achieving her freedom...
So people come to your sense and take your compassion and wisdom out of your packet to see that these are unacceptable in our free modern societies.... It's not Ok, but if they will practice these back home, well nothing we can do about it, we cannot invade them in the name of Free-Love: Operation Desert Love... However we can do something about it in the west and protect our free western societies. If you have the view of all sentient beings have a Buddha-nature and they all have the potential to become a Buddha for the benefit of all beings than you cannot be racist, but you must see that as long as people express their egoistic ways, they will harm others. Ever more of them will force us to adopt their ways at some point in the future. In that time it will be too late. So just as pedophiles cannot roam the streets freely to protect our children and societies, these people with such a harmful believes have to be rejected from our societies to protect out freedom.


One final line you need to pay attention to: You know, the lineage of the former political leader of Tibet, for hundreds of years has been systematically taking over and forcefully establish power over the other schools of Tibet, they threw over the King of Tibet as to establish their own political power, they invited foreign armies into Tibet to support their suppression. Don't you think that was bad karma and was the cause for the destruction of Tibet and it is a bit odd to read his books about happiness, etc. and thus complain about another lama's behavior? So before you make any judgement about Lama Ole's behavior just read about these first. Also you can read about what the Vajrayana approach is all about? Here there is no suppression of emotions and feelings, but understanding and transforming them. The problem is not in the outer world, but in one's mind. This way you can enjoy whatever you want, just you have to become aware of them. The high lamas in Tibetan Buddhism have wives, children, family so this means they had sex too. It is just the freedom and beauty of the Wester societies that we do not have to marry anymore to be able to have sex. So why a wester lama, Lama Ole should be any different? A Lama has just as much right to have a partner as anyone else? Where do you or people find their partners? Wherever you/they are; at work, in school, in the gym, in the circle of your/their friends, etc..! What about the secretaries who are dating their bosses, is that right? So Lama Ole finds partners where he is. No woman is forces to be with him, it is their own choice and all of them are adults. So you see maybe you should put your energies into meditation just as much as all Lama Ole's students do, who are doing Ngöndro and the special Guru Yoga meditation of bringing one's mind to spontaneous joy. This meditation was given to Lama Ole by his teacher, the first reincarnate Lama of Tibet. However, if this is a bit to much for you, how about fighting child slavery and chiles prostitution, and/or human trafficing, etc? If you cannot become a realized master after a few hours of meditation and fully behave as a Buddha, then do not expect it from others. All the students of Lama Ole do their best... Lama Ole is the holder of the Genuine Unbroken Line of Transmission of the Kagyü Lineage... Once you realized the true nature of mind you do not feel anything personal anymore, you will see the dream nature of life, so then you can do anything you like, except harming others.... Enjoying life and having sex, and telling people what to be aware of is no way any negative. Being out-spoken and to protect people from the negativity of others that will create even more negativity in the future is no way the fault of a lama. Buddha did the same: he pointed out what brings pain and what brings pressure into people's lives and into this world. This is our job to protect women and our free societies from the harm of followers of criminal doctrines... Honor killig? What kind of a parents are those who kill their daughters just because they do not dress as the parents' ancient barbaric culture dictates? Actually you do the same if somebody or a company rips you off; you will tell all about it to your friends... Of course your motivation is not 100% pure because that is the result of negative emotions, such as being hurt and wanting to afflict the harm you received back to the one you feel you were harmed by... However you do the same, to protect your friends, so complaining about an outspoken lama is not ethical, because you have the same nature... If your children do not behave in a way you think is the best, you will teach them, even smack them or shout at them, so saying that the people from cultures with ancient barbaric views are not accaptabe in our free societies is not any different from the way people teach their children. The actual point is that people have karmas, so-called seeds in their minds as a result of their emotions and former actions, what they will express, put into action, so if you can see that you can tell what the future will bring. If you meditate many years or learn about how to behave meaningfully than you have good chance to change to a better berson, but however if people keep reading he same books with all the negativity that is in them, and treat their families the same negative ways and also meet the same kind of people, they are doing the same negativity; it will not change just to be reenforced... This is just the way it is. If it were not like that, or a change of place would do the trick, than there would be no honor-killing, and no home grown bombings, suiced bombings. Lama Ole is not any way the problem of this world, he is a great benefactor, (he even took shower on the beach just because he had ants in his shower at home). He is just happy, says what he wants, gets all the women and thousands of people look up to him, he benefits them all and connects them to timeless enlightening teachings. He brings people to Buddha dharma. He is someone from whom you can learn a lot if you wanted so. Of course not to become an exact copy, but to understand to true nature of your mind. He is not someone to be followed, but some who supports you on your way to become a Buddha...


Actually who cares what Lama Ole does? He is a Great Lama for so many many people around the world, but his way is not for everyone, so it is quite alright if not everyone chooses him. Once you realized the true mature of your mind, you will see the illusion of the real existing self and the illusion of life and how all beings live in such a confusion, so you will use the tools you think is needed to move them out of that illusion. Buddha Shakyamuni taught diffrent people with different properties differently, so what else do you want. Lama Ole has great insight, siddhi and knows people's minds to be able to benfit them as the best. Lama Ole has been traveling around the world for 40+ years to show people their minds and benefit them just as a Wish-Fulfilling Jewel. However if you want to judge him, you may want to do some research to find out which lama is more relaibale, which can be trusted and says what he/she does. How about the ones who sold themselves for money and political powers? How about the ones who created the split in the Kagyü lineage and presenting the fake lineage lama who has no qenuine trasmission and cannot even speak English and considered as a spy and in allagation of money laundering. The greatest tulku of this world who cannot freely do his activity what he had built up through countless life times and came back to benefit beings, but limited in many way...? Come on? Who can you really trust? How about the University Professors who hold students' advancement back from their class just becasue they belong to a diffrent schools or kick the student out of the class because they simpatize with the idea of free Tibet by wearing such a t-shirt, thus these professors support the political supression, because of political deals made between their countries... Lama Ole is someone who people can trust and do not have to be politically correct, whatever he says is true. You just need awareness and read some about the histroy of certain belives that brought great distruction and pain to the world and people and they are still doing it today. There is always Karma (cause and effect), so the job of a lam is to point it out, this is also why Buddha also taught. People just have to change and our fee societies cannot accept such negative behaviour and take us down. The reason we encouter such negative people with their negaive belives, because of our negativity. A Lama's job is to point these out. People of course do not like to hear the truth, especially not about themselves. This is not Lama Ole's fault, it is the fault of people's egos. You people should find something esle to complain about, I'm sure there are plenty of issues around the world to do so, but if you want to get closer to understand the true nature of your mind, find a lama who can shows you that. Lama Ole is one of those lamas.


It is human nature the pick on others and always look at what fault we can find in others, so to speak put them down to feel ourselves better...
The nature of women is to choose the better party, they just want to have sex with Rock Stars just because they are Rock Stars... Men always choosen by the women, so the men has to become someone whom they want... Women think different than men, so how could a man understand why they choose the ones they do?
All beings what to have sex anyway, so it is not Lama Ole's fault...
You can read the life story of Drukpa Kunley to get a better picture of how Yogi Lamas behave... of course a monk is different... this is just how it is...
Siddhi and realization of mind does not come from books, but through meditation and openness to one's teacher. You can read the life stories of Great Kagyu Masters or Yeshe Tsogyel to get a better picture...
Enlightenment does not come easy, especially if you only want the thng in your life that pleases you, but reject what show you the mirror to your ego. Looking into the mirror is not pleasent, it disturbes one's mind, but this is the practice of a Vajrayana Practitioner... The Vajrayana Lama is there for you to you a mirror and and help you to stand up when you cannot take what you see in the mirror any longer, thus give you blessing so you can carry on with your practice, but it only works if you have openness to your teacher... If Lama Ole is not your root lama than forget to understand him, find someone else...
DW Buddhist does not harm or hurt anyone, only the egos... which one is better a sucide bomber, a child molesting priest, an angry hateful preacher or a yogi lama who points to what you need to be aware of, is for you to make up your mind about... but never forget that you only feel good or bad about anything in life what corresponds to your own concetps... ...everyone argues in this world, because everyone have different concepts... so fine a way to go beyond concepts, thus see your true nature of your own mind, which comes only from meditation and through the blessing of your lama... the lama has realized the true nature of mind that is why he/she can pass it on, but you can never judge the lama's realization from your disturbed state of mind... ...examine your own mind before you do others'... ...how do you do that? with the help of a lama. what lama? the lama whom you have connection from former lifetimes and from the one you can open up to...


His behavior is really naughty. Once i went to his lecture. He came very late, telling he was in traffic jam on german Autobahn. i just came the same way. There was no traffic jam. Then he just sat down taking some food. All people just had to watch him taking food.- He also had (still has?) the habit to have intercourse with the female students in different cities. Naiv girls think: Oh, the master wants s.. with me (little girl).- He is a good exemple that people get worse when only the mind has got some realisation, but not the heart and the will. So realisation will be used for the self.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.