The Natural Tension of the Heart Wish – Balancing Living in the World and Practising Dharma

A Student writes:

My question relates to the Heart Wish – it struck me today that I often feel guilty about living so much in the world, socialising, listening to music, having fun. Although the guilt is just a thought, I still feel it needs exploring…

Lama Shenpen responds:

Yes, it does. It suggests you could do more to make socialising, listening to music and having fun your Dharma practice – that is a subtle point but that is where you need to look.


On the one hand, I admire and aspire to those great householders of the lineage such as Vilamakirti, Marpa, and Trungpa Rinpoche. However, these are not quite living examples of practitioners for me.

On the other hand, my best examples of Dharma practitioners—you and many of the other Awakened Heart Sangha practitioners and the other residents at the Hermitage, whom I admire the most, live in a quite ‘monastic’ way, often in retreat.

So, there is a sort of tension between my aspiration to make my householder life into practice, and the living examples I have, for whom the householder life (as far as I understand) is not so important. Is this a simple misunderstanding?

Lama Shenpen:

No, it is a natural tension that is there for all of us, including me. I teach people who are mostly not in retreat, but personally I find it much easier and effective to practice in retreat at the moment. If I had no choice I would just practise in whatever situation came up. If I have the choice, I prefer the retreat situation. The things I need to spend my time doing are best done in retreat basically. That is the stage I am at. But people can benefit from any situation from the Dharma point of view, and retreat is not always the best place to be doing what you need be doing.

We need to have the idea of being in retreat as a way of life to aspire to, even when we are not in retreat, and those in retreat need to really value this lifestyle or it would just collapse. Those who aspire to this lifestyle will feel disappointed that it collapsed for others. It then doesn’t look so hopeful for them as something to aspire to! So, it’s good to have a situation where everyone is in retreat some of the time and some people a lot of the time, even if most people are most of the time practising out of retreat

It’s a difficult message to put across so that everyone feels inspired and does plenty of retreat practice and aspires to retreat life without feeling discouraged in whatever situation they find themselves.


I still feel that my less ‘monastic’ life is the right way for me, at present. And the good thing is that this tension, which would once have been the end of the world, is now just interesting. I have faith that I’m getting there (slowly).

Lama Shenpen:

I am very pleased with this last remark. I think this paragraph is very important!

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