Giving ourselves permission to be happy

… doing what?

Sometimes our lives are so busy helping others that we get out of the habit of letting go and taking any time to recharge our batteries, and end up thinking it is too selfish to take “me-time” in any case. This ends up ironically, being the selfish choice if we’re not careful because it undermines our ability to help ourselves and others. And there is no excuse for it, such as the martyrish, “It doesn’t matter if I’m happy or not, so long as I’m helping others.” Because it does matter.

Do you love yourself?

We need to have the wish to be happy. Over the decades I was on study programs there was an almost annual debate over Shantideva’s words that all happiness comes from wishing others to be happy and all suffering comes from wishing oneself to be happy, ergo we shouldn’t love ourselves because love is the wish for someone to be happy.

Is this how we feel about ourselves?!

I’ve heard some people also object to the term “self-love” because they see it as a term favored by “new agers” and equate it with self-indulgence, putting ourselves first; and would prefer us to use words like “self-respect” or “self-confidence” instead. As someone put it on Facebook: “Self-love flirts rather dangerously with self-cherishing and is associated with self-indulgence.”

All this, ironically, can feed nicely into self-cherishing’s tendency to beat ourselves up on those occasions we find ourselves feeling good, thinking it must be some kind of mistake to be this happy. Self-cherishing doesn’t really give us permission to be happy, if you check. It doesn’t let us savor the moments of peace, as described in this article, because its existence is threatened by them. It rapidly comes up with pretexts as to why we should start feeling neurotic, deficient and graspy again. It’d prefer us to feel guilt rather than an uncomplicated, unquestioning joy. Self-cherishing is far more at home in an agitated mental territory.

The word “self-love” isn’t found in Tibetan Buddhism or explicitly in the New Kadampa Tradition books, and I’m personally not too bothered whether we use it or not. But at the same time I think it’s important not to assume that because we don’t talk about “self-love” all that much, this means we shouldn’t love ourselves, or that loving ourself (or even self-love) has to mean the same as self-cherishing. (“Cherishing”, of course, is a type of love, the love considering someone to be special or important; so that is another reason for the occasional confusion as to whether or not we should love ourselves.)

I think it makes no sense psychologically or rationally to say we shouldn’t love ourselves. Insofar as living beings always do want to be happy, and even Buddhas possess this wish, this cannot be what Shantideva is referring to. In that quote, he is referring to self-cherishing. This ignorant mind destroys our happiness because it is under the erroneous impression that our happiness is more important than others’, and it forces us to seek happiness in all the wrong ways that lead to suffering. Not to mention that the “self” in self-cherishing refers to the self we normally see, the self that doesn’t exist, so it is pointless cherishing it.

Renunciation and compassion

If we cannot wish ourselves happiness, and allow ourselves to taste it, then what are we wishing for ourselves? It seems we cannot develop renunciation even with that attitude, and without renunciation (the wish for true mental freedom and lasting happiness) our compassion for others is like a toothless tiger, as Je Tsongkhapa put it. (I wonder if he was the first person to use that expression ;-)) It is not rooted in anything. We need the wish for true happiness for ourselves in order to generate that wish for others. As Eileen Quinn put it: “We need to renounce false happiness and wish to escape to true happiness.” And: “If we don’t have a taste of real happiness/don’t know what it actually is, how can we wish for it for ourselves or anybody?”

We need to want to be happy, really happy. We need to savor the happiness we already have within us, and practice it so that every day it increases. As mentioned in this article, Buddhism is “happiness-training”. If we don’t have this wish to be happy, why are we practicing meditation, and how can it work? It may sound obvious, but sometimes trainee Mahayana Buddhists tie themselves in knots thinking that this wish is now self-cherishing, and they need to get rid of it; in extreme cases they deny themselves happiness. But that wish can be love, and love is always a good thing, even when directed at ourselves. I think it is important to start every meditation with the wish to be actually happy for once. We need to give ourselves permission to be happy.

What we need to get rid of is the self-cherishing mind exaggerating our importance and seeking happiness in the wrong places. We don’t need to love the limited, neurotic self that is the object of self-cherishing, but we do need to love ourselves. We can understand self-love in those terms (so not necessarily in gooey or self-indulgent terms.) As Nicola Williams concisely puts it: “I think I love myself in ways that I shouldn’t and don’t love myself in ways that I should!”

With renunciation, we love ourselves properly for the first time, wishing actual happiness for ourselves through overcoming the delusions including self-cherishing. Self-cherishing wishes for the pretend happiness that Buddha called “changing suffering”, simply satisfying the desires of our ego-driven attachment as in scratching an itch instead of getting rid of it. Mark Thompson says: “I think self-love really means the mind of renunciation. If we understand our natural wish to be happy, and we understand that in samsara there is no true happiness and only suffering, we will develop the wish for liberation.”

universal love

And when we hear the Mahayana teachings, we come to understand that the best way to find daily and lasting happiness for ourselves is to love others even more than we love ourselves. No contradiction. We still love ourselves, we just love others even more. You could say that loving others is an advanced form of loving ourselves! It is a win win, as far as I can see.

Unhappy people cannot help others anyway. (If we try to, we often end up just spreading our own upset and anxiety.)  So for others’ sake we have to wish to be authentically happy and allow ourselves to be happy at every possible opportunity. That is love. Self-love even! So, though I don’t use that word often, I have no problem with it.

Facebook insights

Read on for insightful comments on the subject from Facebook friends:

Here is what Tim Larcombe said most clearly in response to the question “Do you love yourself?”:

Do I love myself? No, but I’m working on the first step – learning to like myself. Not liking yourself is the dirtiest trick of the self-cherishing mind. This mind says “you’re not good enough, you’re not worth much, you’re limited and stuck – but don’t worry, I’ll help you cover it up and get what you want anyway. Just trust me”. Then like a pusher with a junkie, we are held hostage by self-cherishing, thinking that we are not good enough and must obey its every word to survive with, and hide, our faults. Believing we have to trust self-cherishing leads to untold harm for ourself and everyone else.

Liking yourself on the other hand encourages you to identify with your pure nature and unlimited potential. It’s perfectly possible to fully accept yourself and recognise your faults without identifying with them. And if you know some Dharma then you can reduce and finally eliminate them – which is an act of self-love that benefits everyone. The degree to which you can accept and like yourself, is the degree to which you can accept and like others. I can’t see how it can be otherwise, no matter how good we become at covering up the fact that we don’t like ourselves.

Gradually self-liking can develop into self-love. Loving yourself is wanting yourself to be happy. As long as you don’t view your happiness as more important than others’ happiness (as self-cherishing tells you), there is nothing wrong with loving yourself. You CAN love yourself and cherish others at the same time. They are not contradictory. In fact, cherishing others IS self-love because all happiness comes from cherishing others….

… It’s also helpful to remember that our Spiritual Guide finds us worthy of his unconditional love. If we don’t love ourself, aren’t we saying that he’s mistaken? :-)”

I can’t put it any better than that! Thanks Tim.

Eileen Quinn makes some great points too:

“Strange how so many of us find it hard to accept happiness for ourselves.

And having a strong not liking oneself problem is ‘inverted ego’ anyway. Too much grasping/cherishing of self. That’s not a morally judgmental statement in any way because I know this from experience. I think some people are naturally blighted with this sort of thing and some people aren’t and don’t have to try so hard. (Black and white, there are probably shades of grey in between.) So in my better, more connected, moments, I try to turn to the Great Mother Prajnaparamita and use the emptiness mantra to attack this big black spider of self as that will solve all problems….

… ‘Self-love’ to me can even be a form of humility (our self is seen as the same as everyone else’s, no better, no worse, therefore no exaggeration of ego for want of a better way of putting it), far from being the same as self-cherishing.”

Over to you: Do you love yourself?! How many times a day do you give yourself permission to be totally, utterly happy?! Please go ahead and explain why you agree or disagree with all this in the comments, I love a good discussion.

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Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 40 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to improve and transform our everyday lives and societies. I try to make it accessible to everyone anywhere who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

51 thoughts on “Giving ourselves permission to be happy”

  1. I think Kadampa Ryan’s comment is very spot on. We need renunciation not “self-love”. Self-love is a term that has so many other meanings outside of the Kadampa world. For example many times you hear of social media influencers using the term self-love and often encouraging people to remove from their life anyone that doesn’t “serve” their true purpose. This is self-cherishing. The idea that we can become happy by focusing on loving our self is based in ignorance. Although we as Kadampas may be able to apply a wisdom understanding to the term, most people “out” there cannot. So why use the term “self-love” when we can describe the same wisdom understanding of it using different terms. As Kadampa Ryan said, renunciation.

    That being said I agree with your sentiment in that we need confidence and a wish to be happy. The confidence we need though is in our spiritual practice, not in our “self”.

    Geshe-la gives a perfect explanation of confidence in our spiritual practice in The New Eight Steps to Happiness.
    “Some people argue that one of our main problems is a lack of self-esteem, and that we need to focus exclusively on our good qualities in order to boost our self-confidence. It is true that to make authentic spiritual progress we need to develop confidence in our spiritual potential, and to acknowledge and improve our good qualities. However, we also need a keen and realistic awareness of our present faults and imperfections. If we are honest with ourself we will recognize that at the moment our mind is filled with defilements such as anger, attachment and ignorance. These mental diseases will not go away just by our pretending they do not exist. The only way we can ever get rid of them is by honestly acknowledging their existence and then making the effort to eliminate them.”

  2. Beating ourselves up isn’t sensible. If you’re practicing properly you should start to see some results fairly soon, Buddha taught people to make them happier, not more miserable. Waiting to be happy in some future life is not a skillful way of dealing with whatever the present situation is. The Four Immeasurables or Divine Abodes, in a traditional formula, begin with maitri, or loving kindness, first of all directed towards yourself before moving onto others. It seems impossible to really love and benefit others if we still harbour unskillful and angry emotions towards ourselves. It takes time and effort to get the balance right.

    1. Thank you for a wise comment. I love this line: “Waiting to be happy in some future life is not a skillful way of dealing with whatever the present situation is.” I think that Buddhism is not really about deferred gratification — it is the joyful path to good fortune, not the miserable path to good fortune.

      1. Haha, yes, miserable path of good fortune is not really what it’s about, is it? I remember someone saying to me once that when a lot of people first start practicing they suddenly feel as though they should be able to cope with anything, and then feel disappointed when they still end up in bad moods or feeling angry etc. I think realising that we can’t change overnight is actually being kind to ourselves and others, because then we start to see what a sticky mess all our confused and deluded minds are in, and then compassion and equanimity can grow naturally out of seeing that clearly 🙂

  3. Ace article, thanks. But why is ‘Self-cherishing far more at home in an agitated mental territory’?

    I went to a Metta class once. The first part of the meditation was giving loving-kindness to yourself. I really struggled with this. The following parts on giving loving-kindness to others were comparatively easy. Apparently I’m not alone in this.

    1. Self-cherishing doesn’t thrive in mental peace. It always wants to be getting something it doesn’t have, or worrying about things, etc. It can’t just sit and be happy, probably due to grasping — there is always something to be grasped at if we are in a mood to grasp.

      1. Yes thanks, that makes sense. I don’t fully understand self-cherishing, but it does feel like a restive, uncomfortable mind.
        Self-cherishing & self-grasping are best mates; so in tandem they’d be grasping at things really existing, and exaggerating their importance. Our suffering is directly proportional to our self-grasping as well.
        Which would explain why self-cherishing functions even when we’re alone.

        Sound about right? Will have to meditate on that one if it is 🙂

        1. Yes, that sounds right. Self-cherishing is rather like an amplification of self-grasping, or you can think of it as riding piggy back upon self-grasping (specifically view of the transitory collection). Its observed object is the apprehended object of self-grasping, the inherently existent I, which means it it totally out of touch with reality. No wonder it never works.

          1. Of course! The self-cherishing mind is grasping at a non-existent. Disappointment guaranteed. That’s brilliant Luna 🙂
            Another of my fave quotes (from memory – sorry if it’s wrong – too lazy to check)
            “Wisdom sees that all delusions and all faults arise from the view of the transitory collection; having understood that its object is the self, yoginis negate the self.”

  4. Hi
    I haven’t read all the responses and hope I’m not repeating something previously discussed.

    Are we not starting as a hinayanist, aiming for our own liberation and proceeding slowly to include everyone in our virtuous wishes?
    Joyful Path of Good Fortune is divided in Foundations and the Initial Scope, The Intermediate Scope (in which a chapter Developing the Wish to attain Liberation) and eventually The Great Scope (in which there is a chapter Entering the Mahayana). In Mahayana we generate the precious inner experience of Bodhichitta: a SPONTANEOUS wish to gain enlightenment in order to benefit all living beings.

    For me this is very logical; to begin with ourselves and as our practice evolves, to include everyone else into our practice. The Buddha knew and understood well the human nature thus the evenly and gently stepped proceeding of the practice. Due to the imprints it might be easier for some of us to begin including everybody ‘quicker’ into their practice in this life. I think we simply cannot jump over into loving others if we cannot love ourselves first. Love, Compassion, Equanimity and Joy has to be lived thus understood on an individual level before they truly can come alive as The Four Immeasurables. As it is expressed in so many teachings and practices we need TO GENERATE bodhichitta and little by little give up self cherishing, because it does not come naturally and easily to us. It needs to be learned. In the process one needs to replace the other. And it will do so if we do not skip ourselves and the honesty of what we are like at this moment. We need the glimpses of the experience of happiness to understand why we wish others to have it too. There will be a point it will become natural and we do not need to think about ourselves first any more.

    I would argue that many of us understand the preciousness of bodhichitta but still struggle to generate it not to talk about it being a SPONTANEOUS wish and experience.
    That’s what I am like as a human being.

    Does not Tantra and self-generation wipe out the whole question of self-cherishing?! The experience there is called the divine pride.

    1. Hi Migrator,

      I agree with much of what you say, but you have bought up a few areas which give me an opportunity to try to clarify some more.

      Kadampas aim to decrease their self-cherishing from the get go. As other commentators have said, liberation is not motivated by self-cherishing. Geshe Kelsang has often advised us to do our practice all in the context of bodhichitta, including the first two scopes. In fact we start each practice by generating refuge and bodhichitta.

      We need the wish for true freedom and happiness for ourselves, and eventually this renunciation becomes part of our bodhichitta. That could never be the case if the initial scope meditations (including the wish for happiness in future lives) and intermediate scope meditations (including renunciation) were part of our self-cherishing.

      We are not loving our limited self but developing a wish for *true* happiness, which can only come about through relating to our pure potential, our Buddha nature, who we actually are. There are some commentators on here who have skillfully bought this point out.

      So the distinction we are making here is between self-cherishing and loving ourselves. They are not necessarily the same at all, as I hope is being made clear by the article and the comments, and although our self-cherishing does indeed decrease as we steadily proceed along the three scopes, it is not correct that self-cherishing itself is the motivation for either of the first two scopes.

      If anyone else wants to jump into this discussion, please feel free.

      1. “Self-cherishing A mental attitude that considers oneself to be supremely important and precious. It is regarded as a principal object to be abandoned by Bodhisattvas”.

        I appreciate what you and others are saying and understand the difference between self love and self-cherishing. I can only speak for myself here. My buddhist path and need for liberation began and was motivated with the strongest possible self-cherishing.

        I was at the desperate end of self-cherishing ‘spectrum’ and I renunced this world. I was ready to give up this life completely. And fortunate to have met dharma just then and take a desperate and firm refuge because of the love my Teacher was able to show me. Through this Iittle by little I have been able to show compassion and acceptance for the ‘human me’, understand and begin to love the ‘real me – my buddha nature’, experience the wisdom and amazing workings of equanimity and the joy of ‘being in this process’ of working for my own and other’s liberation and enlightenment.

        1. I’m very glad you met Dharma when you did. You show how suffering can have good qualities. Thank you so much for sharing this story. xx

  5. What a great article and great comments. This is definitely a subject we need to continue to explore and I think is becoming clearer in our tradition over the years. I feel fortunate to have an incredible teacher who knows how to enjoy himself and has encouraged us always to practice enjoyment. Over the years as the self loathing/self cherishing diminishes through practice then it becomes so clear that the best thing we can do for ourselves, the kindest practice, is moral discipline. We hear about learning to nurture and nourish ourselves and we think that means get massages and go to spas, which is lovely too, but to me it now means practice moral discipline, refrain from harming others, benefit others when possible, enjoy eating healthy, exercise, rest, play. enjoy, enjoy, enjoy, what else is there to do?

    1. Thankyou Donna. The spa of moral discipline! This is a helpful description for people who might think moral discipline sounds too much like self-denial 🙂

  6. For me, wishing our true selves to be truly happy (a wisdom understanding of “self-love”) is an obvious part of the Kadampa path if we understand who our true self is and we understand what true love is. From an ordinary perspective, when we think of ourselves we think of the object of our self-cherishing. Obviously loving that false, non-existent self is the root of all suffering. In contrast, our true self is our pure potential, our Buddha nature. This self is currently obscured and covered by mountains of delusions and contaminated karma. We wish to free this self from these delusions and contamianted karma. True love is wishing somebody to be truly happy, which we understand with wisdom means permanent, perfect inner peace. So wishing our true self to be happy all of the time is the same as wishing for our pure potential to be permanently peaceful. In other words liberation. True-self-true-love is simply renunciation, and vice versa. Renunciation is the name we use in Kadampa Buddhism to describe a wisdom understanding of self-love.

    I think we don’t use the term self-love on the Kadampa path precisely because due to our habits of grasping we struggle using that phrase and not mistaking it for our self-cherishing. There is also a danger that others reading what we are writing will misunderstand us to mean we should follow our self-cherishing. That is why we have this other term – renunciation. But unfortunately, renunciation conjures up images of denying ourselves happiness. We are so confused as to think renunciation means denying our happiness whereas self-love means wishing ourselves to be happy; when in reality self-love as understood by us means self-cherishing and renunciation means true-self-true-love!

    At a deeper level, our true self is actually the ocean of the Dharmakaya, and every single living being (including our normal selves) is a wave on that ocean. If we are to truly love our true selves, then we must necessarily wish for every wave to be equally happy because every wave is part of the ocean of ourselves. At this level, the distinction between renunciation and bodhichitta collapses.

    1. Thank you for your helpful comment, logically put.

      I think this is a really good way of putting it: “There is also a danger that others reading what we are writing will misunderstand us to mean we should follow our self-cherishing. That is why we have this other term – renunciation. But unfortunately, renunciation conjures up images of denying ourselves happiness. …”

  7. Thank you all for the article and comments. I think this is definitely a big problem for many practitioners. It’s so easy to turn Buddha’s teachings into a stick with which to beat ourselves. “I should do this, why do I do that, I’m hopeless…etc.’

    With this attitude we are naturally critical of others for the same, perceived, faults.

    As has been so well explained here, this all comes simply from strongly identifying with a limited, deluded self. The mind that identifies with our potential is naturally loving towards others, and tolerant of their faults.

    Thanks again for sharing your wisdom everyone. 🙂

    1. The “should” word is an interesting one. I think we can give it too much weight and it can then cause us to feel removed from what we are trying to do. Perhaps a subject for another day!

  8. Hi,

    Thank you for your article. Very insightful at a time when I think many people are trying to clarify this point.

    An inability to accept oneself can be managed for a long time in a Dharma setting since it is here that perhaps for the first time we find a place which feels accepting and loving. It is easy to sit in this place, leaning on sangha (who may sometimes encourage a need to be unhealthily leaned on in order to feel validated) without really addressing the necessity to find a way of accepting ourself and really accessing our pure Buddha nature or (for more simple and perhaps not completely accurate terms) – adopting a healthy self love. We can do this for a long time and all the time really increasing our dependency and attachment whilst thinking it is reliance. Having leant in this way myself and reached a crisis point with it, it took someone outside this tradition to help me realise I couldn’t love others till I love myself. I needed someone to actually take me through this process and it has helped enormously. I must say I prayed for help so much during this process that seeking qualified help from a non-kadampa would be of benefit for all living beings and I feel the person who helped me along must have been a holy emanation. But – it scared me to do it because I thought I was just following my self-cherishing mind by indulging in seeking one to one ‘special’ help. Ultimately it is emptiness that fully releases us and others from suffering, but I found the liberation of understanding all the limitations I have placed upon myself through various family attitudes and relationships, childhood stuff, my culture etc to be vital to my spiritual path and being able to benefit others.

    The loving attitudes I see in Dharma centres, in my guru and in sangha have served me very well and kindly as a model for adopting this attitude towards myself and to others. But it did take me a long time to adopt it myself and I couldn’t find enough information in Geshe-la’s books or teachings to learn how to access a gentle and kind relationship with myself. I know there are elements about it but I found I needed whole books on the subject in the end.

    My request now is that we please find language to use to help us be clearer what it means to cherish others, abandoning correctly self-cherishing and adopting correctly ‘self-love’ – or whatever we call it. It is tragic how much pain we bring upon ourselves and others by misunderstanding this point. How many people have disrobed through this misunderstanding allowing their self-cherishing to tell them they’re not good enough and at the same time thinking this is the attitude to adopt in abandoning self-chershing.

    I am grateful for this vital discussion.


    1. Thank you for sharing this, you have contributed something very helpful here. I’ve had a number of people tell me elsewhere too that they are really getting a lot out of this discussion.

      I do think it is all in Geshe-la’s books, particularly the Lojong books, but we can misinterpret or fail to grasp the significance of what is being said due to the slippery nature of self-cherishing and a lack of skill and experience.

      But as everyone finds out sooner or later, being hard on ourselves or others while grasping at our faults and problems is not the joyful path of good fortune.

      1. ‘sooner or later’ is so true! It can take years upon years for the path to feel joyful, even if deep inside you know it’s the right one.

          1. Definitely! We all start off new, but if we come at it from the wrong angle it’s too easy to ricochet off down an unhappy path.
            That’s why classes and blogs like this are so valuable – they share skilful means.

  9. (Hi Luna, I’m sorry about the length of this, it just came out that way. Please feel free to cut and edit as you feel fit. Lots of love to you and thanks for all your good work).

    I fully agree with the main point of this article. That not only is a loving regard toward ourselves beneficial, but it is actually a necessary aspect of our spiritual development. Within Buddhism, and in general, it is recognised that the wish to be happy and the wish to be free from suffering are basic wishes within our heart. Geshe Kelsang goes further than this in Modern Buddhism where he says “supreme permanent peace of mind … permanent liberation from suffering … is our deepest wish and the real meaning of our human life” (p9). This is the wish our essential indestructible Buddha nature. The wish to be happy is the natural voice of our inner most being, and to deny expression or fulfilment of this wish is to deny meaning in our life. Dharma teaches us to listen to this voice and learn to fulfil this wish, not just partially or temporarily, but fully, permanently, perfectly, universally. The very nature of Dharma is loving compassion and when we learn to practice Dharma we learn to love deeply, as Buddha loves, to give voice to our heart’s cry for happiness and to fulfil this wish. “May there be happiness and freedom” – this wish is love.

    As we practice the stages of the Buddhist path and learn to open to the blessings and love of Buddha, we awaken our Buddha nature, awaken our love first towards ourselves, now in this life, healing ourselves, gradually extending this love throughout all our lives, ripening further to others, all others, finding complete fruition and fulfilment in enlightenment. As Geshe-la says in Eight Steps to Happiness, “When we become a Buddha our happiness radiates eternally as compassion, nourishing all living beings and gradually drawing them to the same state.”(p92)

    On the one hand so simple, natural and joyful. Just love. Love ourselves and love others. Why does it become complicated? (I ask myself because so often I make it so). Of course delusions, ignorance, above all self-cherishing. Perhaps also some cultural inheritance of “original sin”, some ingrained idea that I am inherently flawed and unlovable; my self-identification as an inherently ordinary, limited being with no actual potential to fulfil my heart’s desire; pushing myself through the paces of spiritual practice, on the surface optimistic and ambitious, but with an underlying non-faith in the essential purity and beauty of my own nature and thus a basic non-faith in enlightened beings (who are simply the full manifestation of this purity) or their ability to awaken this nature. This lack of self love is at the root of so much discouragement, depression, non-acceptance, repression and neurosis both with regard to ourselves and in our relationships with others.

    Buddha teaches us to cut through these ordinary views, and recognise our Buddha nature, to delight in our essential purity. Rather than identify with our faults we learn to draw closer to our pure nature, the peace that arises naturally from within, and identify with it. We can become acceptant of our delusions but also happy to recognise and remove these temporary defilements that obstruct our pure nature. In short, learn to love ourself.

    It is a great shame that we can come to misunderstand Buddha’s teachings on the faults of self-cherishing and begin to view our heartfelt wish to be happy as mistaken and think that our healthy liberating self-love is an object to be despised and abandoned. Self-love is understood as the same as self-cherishing, but as Luna explained they are very different. Self-cherishing identifies with a contaminated, ordinary self and regards our happiness as more important than anyone else’s, ever restless, pushing away the unpleasant and pulling at the attractive. Self-love,on the other hand, is a peaceful mind which identifies with and delights in our pure nature, acknowledging and responding to our deepest wish for happiness. Self-cherishing is an exaggerated, distorted view of reality. The more powerful our self-cherishing, the more we hold to a difference between ourselves and others. The more we connect with and love our pure nature, the more we are able to connect with and love that nature in others. Of course at the moment our love for ourself and our self cherishing/grasping are mixed. This doesn’t mean we should be afraid of love and repress our wish to be happy. In a similar way our love for others and our attachment for them is usually mixed and for this reason we are sometimes mistakenly afraid to love. We need to identify clearly what is to be abandoned and what is to be cultivated. If we can do this we can have great confidence in loving ourselves with all our heart while seeking to destroy completely our self cherishing.

  10. I really like the word and sentiment of “self care”. I care for myself. Caring is so much in line with the teachings… E.g, “I have a geninue interest in my future happiness, I am gentle with myself and my practice, I am patient with myself and my practice, I support myself and my practice in all the ways I need to. I rest, I bathe, I eat well, I make time for both my mundane and my spiritual needs – with a balanced attitude… etc. I don’t let negativity invade my mind and erode my happiness.”

    These are all ways to “care” for ourselves. I don’t have a problem with the word Love. But I think we do have a problem in that we get into extremes of thinking. For instance, “if I am to be spiritual, I must not enjoy any bodily or worldly pleasure. Or, if I am to be happy, I must have every worldly pleasure.” To me, self-care speaks of wisdom. We must first become enlightened, then we may be of true service to others. Otherwise we are the blind leading the blind! If we think we must only care for others and not ourselves in our present states of samsara, this is not wisdom. We are not yet Buddhas.

    As a mother, I rejoice in the Kadampa teachings, which enable to me to practice with whatever is arising. I relax into the precious moments with my daughter – feeling her small arms around my neck, expressing both love and need. I am happy! I feel her love and I give my love and presence back. Even though I am busy at work, I leave my desk for lunch and I eat my meal in peace. The work will be there when I return. This is self-care and this is also training in wisdom.

    with love, Evie

    1. Another great comment 🙂 I really like your description of transforming moments of life with your daughter into the spiritual path. She is a daily happy reminder of the love and presence you can develop for everyone.

  11. “How many times a day do I give myself permission to be happy?”

    Wow – the first thing that I notice is how many times I don’t feel “allowed” to be happy – the self-cherishing mind is very quick to spoil any moment of free, peaceful spaciousness. It’s voice goes something like: “oh, but what about that thing that needs to be done, or this person saying or wanting this…or…or…or…” And wants to say “but” a lot – as in “oh sure, you feel some happiness, BUT…(it won’t last, something is probably wrong, you aren’t being realistic…)”

    Basically it helps me to really see that this mind is ignorant. It is not in alignment with what is, in THIS moment, an experience of peace. A moment that has the potential to turn into a second moment, (and maybe even a third?!) of peace. This mind is actually not realistic at all. It fights with what IS happening already and then serves to destroy the possibility of learning how to actually experience happiness in such a way that I can offer something “real” and true to others. What happiness will I have to give if I cannot abide with it, or allow it for even a second moment?

    I often skip this step during my daily activities, all in the name of feeling like I have to just go ahead and make others happy instead of paying attention to my own ability to rest in moment’s of peace and happiness.

    Without practicing this permission…what authentic experience do I then have to offer them? For this question, the self-cherishing mind has no recourse. Happy minds are in truth so much more powerful than this mind. When I don’t give in to it, and give permission for myself to be happy, I am allowing the bullying self-cherishing mind to win, again, and keep me enslaved to suffering.

  12. I recognise this dilemma well! Thanks so much for this article.

    I’ve learned some hard lessons in this area, with tons of experience in resentment, burn-out, martyrdom, exhaustion, stress and confusion! This is what I try and live by now, on my journey to accepting, valuing and maybe one day even liking myself.

    How I know it’s genuine self-love, or whatever you want to call it.
    1 I have a sense of purpose and fulfillment
    2 I know my own faults and I’m working on them (or allowing my Spiritual Guide to)
    3 I know my own strengths and I’m building on them and trying to use them to benefit others
    4 I’m content to put my work down sometimes and do something like have a nap, walk, or spend time with my friends/family
    5 I really want to study, contemplate and meditate on Dharma!

    How I know it’s self-cherishing:
    1 Obsessively questioning, criticising and judging my actions and feelings
    2 I’m exhausted, because I think I’m being pushed to do more work than anyone else and ‘carry’ things
    3 When I’m trying to relax or take care of my needs, I’m unsure whether I’m just indulging myself, and I’m experiencing nagging feelings of guilt or defiance
    4 I complain, but I’m uncomfortable to allow myself to be supported by anyone else emotionally, spiritually or physically
    5 I’m unhappy, but I grimly tell myself I’m purifying something and I’ll get my reward in the next life.

    1. This is a good checklist. Numbers 1, 3, and 5 under self-cherishing made me laugh. I’ve seen this happen a lot at the dharma center and I do it myself! When we’re doing work at the temple what better time to be blissful, happy, and filled with peace, but sometimes we tie ourselves into knots judging our own actions and skill and not letting ourselves relax for a minute! Shows how ridiculous delusions can be. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone saying (or said myself) “I’m just purifying,” usually accompanied by a big sigh.

      I remember one of my teachers saying tongue-in-cheek, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but it is your duty as a Kadampa to be happy!” Good to remember. We need a lot more practice! 🙂

      Another great article, Luna – thanks!

  13. Great article Luna Thanks!! All of us at some moment get feelings of being worthless, weak, ugly, stupid and stuck in our self-cherishing attitude. Doing purification practice really believing in my pure nature and a wonderfully pure blissful Buddha to help me purify all my negativities seems to do the trick.

    Yes identify with your clear, silent, still, light filled blissful nature, then cherishing others just means believing they are just like that too, and because they are countless they deserve our love more.

    Then once that ball is rolling we can just love ourselves more and more and love others more and more. Always remembering that all of this is coming from the blessings of the Spiritual Guide helps us not to get stuck with ourselves again, but allows the love to keep flowing on and on…..

  14. I personally feel because we neglect our own happiness, we burn out and come disillusioned with our spiritual path. We forget that happiness begins with our selves and to truly love others we must love ourselves also. Happiness for me is a two way street, the more happy we are the more we want to love and help others. Being unhappy means we cannot give out positive energy to others. I feel it is detrimental for us to allow ourselves to be happy and nurture our good qualities. I strive in my life to find a comfortable balance. For me the spiritual path is one of love, compassion, letting go and rejoicing. Through the kindness of buddha we have the opportunity to find real happiness, a happiness that is everlasting. If we remember to bring the result already into our path, and think we have already attained this pure happiness, we can rejoice in our ability to have this opportunity and allow ourselves to be truly happy. 🙂

    1. I agree with you, at least burn out is something i’ve seen too many times. I like your point about bringing the result into the path in this context.

      (Not sure you meant to say this: “I feel it is detremental for us to allow ourselves to be happy and nurture our good qualties.”?)

  15. that’s a great article – so many people try to do advanced practices but will never get anywhere until they get over various mental patterns developed from childhood, adolescence etc…where they learned to consider themselves “unworthy”. We really need self-love, and self-acceptance. And isn’t it the first step in “taking and giving”?

    1. Adam. I always appreciate your comments on here. So thanks.

      I study this practice of what I would call self-acceptance (which is so, so much deeper than just that) outside of Kadampa. It’s actually my main practice. I believe compassion can only come from this being in place and that a lot of issues around self-concept that we Westerners have serve as a barrier to getting all of what this tradition has to offer. This practice, for me at least, is a critical first step to undoing some of that and enabling basic growth. But my understanding of it, because i’m studying it outside of this tradition, is quite different from what’s described in this article. It’s all great stuff, though.

  16. I remember what first attracted me to Kadampa Buddhism, it was a teaching on “Wishing Love” and how wonderful and perfect it sounded and felt when I simply tried it out. It is hard to do the Lamrim meditations like wishing love, great compassion, Bodhichitta without having a feeling of love in our heart that wants to be expressed and shared. That wonderful feeling is what we are, and is what we are to cherish about ourselves. I think we have to identify with this wish, and by knowing this feeling we create a gap where we can also see the problems created by the clouds of our delusions, self-cherishing and habitual tendancies. We can also give ourselves permission to have a sense of humor about our silly ways and taking everything so seriously.

    1. Yes, if we look at our faults in the context of identifying with our sky-like Buddha nature as opposed to the cloud-like faults, we can easily dissolve them away. And we sure don’t need to take ourselves too seriously 🙂

  17. Hi this is a very useful insight. I understand how tricky this type of thinking can appear to practitioners dreading self cherishing appearing as self love, or ‘be easy on yourself’ meaning ‘let the delusion rule’. I think having compassion for yourself is maybe the way I would go with this one personally. A happy mind comes from the Buddha’s blessings and the practice of Dharma so my life needs to go in that direction. So I can start to care for myself in meaningful ways by saying ‘no’ to inappropriate things, not working so hard, having time out and using my time to fulfill my wish to be happy now and in the future. In the past, without Dharma,I did not have a clue how to fulfill this deep wish either for myself or anyone else.
    Liking yourself and identifying with good qualities is wise in my book! We all have limitless potential so that’s something to really rejoice in from the depths of our heart. Now that’s a thought that really makes me feel happy! Yippee!

    1. Hi Jan, hold that thought 😉

      Thank you for your useful comment. Just to add, to have compassion for someone means you have to love them first, according to Lamrim.

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