Are We Fooling Ourselves? Lama Shenpen talks to a student about checking that our motivation and practice is genuine

A student writes:

I have recently been working a bit more intensely with the exercises in your Living the Awakened Heart training. I have a regular meditation practice and I felt I was beginning to be able to connect to my heart wish and my heart.

But I am discovering (again) that I am fooling myself. My motivation is not clear. I discover that doing the exercises, getting into the Buddhist way of thinking, even the meditation, are an escape from really looking at my life and changing my ways. It becomes an excuse: I satisfy my basically unhappy ego by telling myself that the fact that I am meditating and that I do the exercises means that I am doing something about my life. But I am not. I keep the same habits, the same defensive reactions, the same mechanisms to avoid facing my inner dissatisfaction.

I wanted to discuss with you if your approach is perhaps too soft, at least for some people? The focus on the fact that we all have the goodness of our hearts seems to jump over the first and second noble truths, that we must really face samsara and develop a disgust for it before, or simultaneously with, connecting to our Buddha Nature. But, actually, it is probably just much simpler: I am not really ready for the path. I need to face my own insecurity and develop more independence of mind before I can benefit from your course and your teachings.

Lama Shenpen responds:

Thank you for your very honest email which shows a great deal of self-awareness in the sense of awareness of what is going on in yourself.  This is a promising sign and it is good that you are looking for a way to live and practise Dharma in a genuine way.

The process is one of spiral learning. You are spiralling around the topics covered in the Living the Awakened Heart Training as the years go by and that is how it is designed to be used as you relate it to what is really going on for you in your own experience in your own words.

We don’t have to be perfect before we begin – so yes we do start off taking Refuge and practising Dharma with mixed motives.  I don’t believe your motives were entirely about trying to escape what you are really experiencing – or you wouldn’t have given it a go or ever come back to it.

I think you are wise though to make sure you are doing it in a genuine way – living your life in a genuine way, practising in a genuine way.

I agree with what you say about needing to develop genuine renunciation and you could indeed say the LAH training offers a ‘soft’ approach.  However, there is no point in developing renunciation if people don’t have a sense of something they trust in first.  If they don’t trust in anything at all then what is the point of banging on about suffering and impermanence?

So it is spiral learning – we start somewhere and spiral round the different elements in the teaching deepening our understanding of each element as we go – which then sheds light on the other elements as we spiral round them again.

I hope this helps, my prayers go with you as you continue on your journey in whatever way feels right to you.

Lama Shenpen Hookham

Find out more about joining Lama Shenpen’s Living the Awakened Heart Training – the structured, comprehensive, supported, distance learning programme. The training, which is open to all, brings the profound Dzogchen and Mahamudra teachings to a western audience in an experiential, accessible way, through spiral learning. Find out more and how to join at