Loving Kindness to ourselves – Dharma Practice or Self-help?

A student writes:

Do you think that the approach of consciously trying to create and enact loving-kindness for oneself is a Dharma practice or psychological self-help? Does it eliminate delusions which create samsara or does it proliferate them?

Lama Shenpen replies:

You are right to make a distinction between a psychological self-help approach and genuine love and compassion, which emerges through our Dharma practice. The latter can only develop if we let go of our delusions that create samsara. If we do the loving-kindness practice in a blind egocentric way, we will just proliferate these delusions.

However, if we are full of habits of self-hating and judgemental thoughts then we have to learn to lighten up in whatever way we can. Only then can we start to apply Dharma methods properly and not in a negatively distorted way.

If we don’t have strong tendencies of self-hatred in our psychology, then we don’t need to apply the kind of psychological antidotes that help relieve it.


Something feels wrong to me in taking more seriously the idea that I am a separate self requiring kindness, and the further “doubling-up” of creating a “kind self” who looks after the “victim self” that requires this kindness.

Lama Shenpen:

Yes. That is the danger of this kind of talk. Although, I think, for some people they need to discover that for themselves. They need to notice there is no virtue in being hard on oneself. Being hard on oneself and being nice to oneself are both egocentric but if you are in the habit of being nasty to yourself you need to lighten up – so you need to use anything that helps!

It is not good just forging ahead thinking you can beam out love to others while ignoring the self-hatred – this is an unbalanced and distorted approach that simply leads to problems in the end. It leaves a person blocked.


I would feel happier if the process involved seeing the falseness of ignoring our own needs, of replicating a perceived attitude of non-equanimity by seeing ourselves as less worthy than others.

Lama Shenpen:

Yes, it has to become something like that in the end. If you are not divided against yourself there is no need to do more than simply link into the Heart Wish, but you have to see that for yourself.


This attitude must in some way have come from interaction with others; we would not naturally counter our lifelong care for our own well-being with a demeaning attitude towards ourselves. By subsequently adding another attitude of self-care to counter the self-ignoring mistake, are we trying to do something in the same game, instead of realising something – seeing through the game?

Lama Shenpen:

Yes. You are completely right. You do need to see through the game. It is surprisingly difficult for some people to get to that stage though. Their habit of self-hatred is so strongly programmed into them that they turn Dharma practice into a further practice of self-hatred. It is surprisingly difficult for some people to see through the game.

But you are right to think that actually love and compassion arise from seeing through the game. So yes, everyone has to check this out for themselves. Are they still so stuck in their habits of self-hatred that they are not getting the point of Dharma practice at all? If so, they need psychological methods and help to get started. Once they have started the Dharma approach can take over – and that then becomes genuine spirituality.

It is a matter of moving from the level of applying antidotes, to the level of a genuine connection with reality.

Lama Shenpen Hookham

Become a student of Lama Shenpen – Join the Awakened Heart Sangha:

Lama Shenpen’s students are members of the Awakened Heart Sangha and are all engaging in the Living the Awakened Heart Training – the structured, comprehensive, supported, distance learning programme in Buddhist meditation, reflection and insight. The training, that’s 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 the Awakened Heart Sangha and start your journey to discover the heart of Buddhism at www.ahs.org.uk/training

If you are enjoying these teachings and are not already a member of the Awakened Heart Sangha, please consider making an offering in appreciation here to support the activity of Lama Shenpen and assist the AHS in continuing to share these Dharma teachings.