How to introduce a depressed intellectual to the Dharma

How to introduce a depressed intellectual to the Dharma

Postby Ti-ti » Mon Jan 27, 2014 6:21 pm

My non-dharma-practicing partner has been depressed for some time and I'm looking for a way to introduce him to the dharma that doesn't reek of evangelizing, but instead cuts to the heart of dharma logic. Let me explain and hopefully get some input from anyone with experience on this...

In the past when I was depressed (it used to be often and quite acutely), it ended up being the gateway to discovering and committing to the Dharma. The experience gave me a strong, palpable sense of samsaric suffering and a desire for renunciation, so I can honestly say that depression helped me immensely on the path.

That makes me think that if my partner were able to connect with the Dharma in this time, it might be exactly the insight he needs to pull him out of his depression and those emotions could, in fact, act as fuel to the fire.

The issue is that I'm not sure how to encourage him to discover it. Some aspects of the dharma creep into conversation at home, I've led him on a few meditations, and we sometimes have theoretical debate on concepts such as emptiness, etc. But I'm very averse to evangelizing people and I tend to err on the side of keeping my beliefs and my practices to myself. So, I'm not sure how to really broach the topic with him.

Because of his lack of proper exposure to it, Buddhism hasn't "clicked" for him as something other than "just another spiritual perspective". What I mean by that is, for example, I dabbled in meditation and "buddhism light" (as Alex Berzin calls it) for years because I had never been exposed to the real philosophy of mind and rigorous logic of the dharma. I'd only ever encountered the "fluffy feel-good stuff". As both me and my partner come from science backgrounds, it has always been necessary for something to appeal to logic in order for me to completely commit. It wasn't until about a year ago, when I was exposed to Mahayana and lam-rim teachings for the first time that I was awe-struck with the complete validity of dharma logic and took refuge almost immediately. I bring this up because I know that's what he would need also - a direct experience of intellectual rigor first, that would break down the wall of doubt and aversion that intelligent, logical westerners have.

As I've said, I don't know how to do this without sounding like an evangelist to him. But I really do feel that his depression is existential and is due in large part to perspective. In that case, I know that the dharma would help if he could connect with it intellectually and then intuitively.

Any suggestions?
Before Ninakawa passed away, master Ikkyu visited him. "Shall I lead you on?" Ikkyu asked.
Ninakawa replied: "I came here alone and I go alone. What help could you be to me?"
Ikkyu answered: "If you think you really come and go, that is your delusion. Let me show you the path on which there is no coming and no going."
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Re: How to introduce a depressed intellectual to the Dharma

Postby Jesse » Mon Jan 27, 2014 7:09 pm

It's always hard to bring up religion in any circumstances. If he is open to meditation, yoga or the like I would maybe start there. The question really is if Buddhism is correct for him. People connect and can be helped by a number of things. If Buddhism's key ingredients are essentially compassion, and understanding one's own mind then Buddhism is just a capsule, it's a name.

Point being you don't have to deliver it as a religious or spiritual thing, or even as Buddhism.
"We know nothing at all. All our knowledge is but the knowledge of schoolchildren. The real nature of things we shall never know." - Albert Einstein
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Re: How to introduce a depressed intellectual to the Dharma

Postby Ti-ti » Mon Jan 27, 2014 9:54 pm

Thanks Jesse!

I totally agree that it doesn't have to be presented as Buddhism. In fact, that's exactly what I'm getting at... I want to avoid sitting him down and being like, "ok, so this is how Buddhism can help you..." haha.

I'd like to stealthily introduce ideas and activities into his life that foster the mind of wisdom, even without a formal practice (he's not far, but loses perspective easily).

You mentioned meditation and yoga: he's interested in these things, but only when he's happy. Otherwise the depression acts like a deterrent and he has no interest (something we've all experienced). Any ideas on how I can encourage him to see meditation as a path through these emotions? Is encouraging a depressed person to meditate with me advantageous to them or should it come from their side and motivation alone?

As for developing compassion, any ideas on how to cultivate these without referring to the dharma specifically and instead putting it in regular language? That's been my main obstacle. I don't want to say something super Buddhist, like you know, "all beings are wandering in samsara endlessly together... and they've all been your mother...So think about that and have compassion", haha. But on the other hand, saying something more general like, "try thinking of others' suffering over your own right now" kind of sounds dismissive of his pain when taken out of context.

Any ideas for specific things I can do/say would be soooo greatly appreciated :)
Before Ninakawa passed away, master Ikkyu visited him. "Shall I lead you on?" Ikkyu asked.
Ninakawa replied: "I came here alone and I go alone. What help could you be to me?"
Ikkyu answered: "If you think you really come and go, that is your delusion. Let me show you the path on which there is no coming and no going."
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Re: How to introduce a depressed intellectual to the Dharma

Postby daverupa » Mon Jan 27, 2014 11:04 pm

SN 47.19 wrote:And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, lovingkindness, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.


I would enact these approaches, and let him find the space to ask about your positive demeanor.

Embody the Dharma benefits you experience, exemplifying and mirroring them to him, and he'll see them without any religious language at all.

(Also, just in case, watch for aversion et al for you as a result of his depression, etc. Nothing good can come from that sort of motive...)
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: How to introduce a depressed intellectual to the Dharma

Postby anjali » Tue Jan 28, 2014 12:01 am

Ti-ti wrote:My non-dharma-practicing partner has been depressed for some time and I'm looking for a way to introduce him to the dharma that doesn't reek of evangelizing, but instead cuts to the heart of dharma logic. ...
Any suggestions?

Take a look at the book, The Mindful Way Through Depression, and see if it is something you would feel comfortable recommending to your partner.
  • The object of the game is to go on playing it. --John Von Neumann
  • All activities are like the games children play. If started, they can never be finished. They are only completed once you let them be, like castles made of sand. --Khenpo Nyoshul Rinpoche
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Re: How to introduce a depressed intellectual to the Dharma

Postby Jesse » Tue Jan 28, 2014 12:03 am

Ti-ti wrote:Thanks Jesse!

I totally agree that it doesn't have to be presented as Buddhism. In fact, that's exactly what I'm getting at... I want to avoid sitting him down and being like, "ok, so this is how Buddhism can help you..." haha.

I'd like to stealthily introduce ideas and activities into his life that foster the mind of wisdom, even without a formal practice (he's not far, but loses perspective easily).

You mentioned meditation and yoga: he's interested in these things, but only when he's happy. Otherwise the depression acts like a deterrent and he has no interest (something we've all experienced). Any ideas on how I can encourage him to see meditation as a path through these emotions? Is encouraging a depressed person to meditate with me advantageous to them or should it come from their side and motivation alone?

As for developing compassion, any ideas on how to cultivate these without referring to the dharma specifically and instead putting it in regular language? That's been my main obstacle. I don't want to say something super Buddhist, like you know, "all beings are wandering in samsara endlessly together... and they've all been your mother...So think about that and have compassion", haha. But on the other hand, saying something more general like, "try thinking of others' suffering over your own right now" kind of sounds dismissive of his pain when taken out of context.

Any ideas for specific things I can do/say would be soooo greatly appreciated :)


Any ideas on how I can encourage him to see meditation as a path through these emotions?


It all depends what he's open to, but metta meditation might help, since it can help alleviate negative mental states, including depression. If he finds it makes him feel better, that should be all the motivation he needs. Perhaps you could provide him with research done on meditation and depression/anxiety.

It also really depends on the source of his depression, if as you said it is existential that's really something he needs to work through himself, and meditation in it's many forms can be helpful imo.

But on the other hand, saying something more general like, "try thinking of others' suffering over your own right now" kind of sounds dismissive of his pain when taken out of context.


It doesn't matter where compassion is directed, its equally effective if given to others or to yourself.

Also I agree with daverupa, sometimes the best way to encourage someone is by letting them see how helpful it has been to you.
"We know nothing at all. All our knowledge is but the knowledge of schoolchildren. The real nature of things we shall never know." - Albert Einstein
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Re: How to introduce a depressed intellectual to the Dharma

Postby Matt J » Tue Jan 28, 2014 12:15 am

As someone often accused of being an intellectual, I know this: intellectuals like books. Sideritis has a good book on Nagarjuna and Newland has a good book called "Introduction to Emptiness." Maybe give him something like that and tell him you'd like his help understanding it--- if there's another thing intellectuals like to do, it's explain stuff to others.

Just some thoughts.
The Great Way is not difficult
If only there is no picking or choosing
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Re: How to introduce a depressed intellectual to the Dharma

Postby Ti-ti » Tue Jan 28, 2014 12:24 am

Such wonderful responses. Thank you.

Jesse wrote: It all depends what he's open to, but metta meditation might help, since it can help alleviate negative mental states, including depression... It doesn't matter where compassion is directed, its equally effective if given to others or to yourself.

For some reason I dismissed this idea a while ago, but hearing it now it makes perfect sense. I'll show him metta meditation next time he asks to be led in meditation...especially since lack of compassion towards oneself is often the secret culprit in depression.

anjali wrote:Take a look at the book, The Mindful Way Through Depression, and see if it is something you would feel comfortable recommending to your partner.

Will definitely check this out!

daverupa wrote:I would enact these approaches, and let him find the space to ask about your positive demeanor.

Thank you for this reminder! He has mentioned on several occasions that the positivity I've found in the past few years has been an inspiration to him...but it's still easy to feel like you're not doing enough :? , haha.

This is all really great insight... and makes me feel like I'm not that far off from being the support that he needs. Thanks again :smile:
Before Ninakawa passed away, master Ikkyu visited him. "Shall I lead you on?" Ikkyu asked.
Ninakawa replied: "I came here alone and I go alone. What help could you be to me?"
Ikkyu answered: "If you think you really come and go, that is your delusion. Let me show you the path on which there is no coming and no going."
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Re: How to introduce a depressed intellectual to the Dharma

Postby Ti-ti » Tue Jan 28, 2014 12:29 am

Matt J wrote:As someone often accused of being an intellectual, I know this: intellectuals like books. Sideritis has a good book on Nagarjuna and Newland has a good book called "Introduction to Emptiness." Maybe give him something like that and tell him you'd like his help understanding it--- if there's another thing intellectuals like to do, it's explain stuff to others.


Great advice! If there's one thing people like us love, it's reading, talking and debating about ideas... the more difficult, the better, lol. I will check these books! Thanks :smile:
Before Ninakawa passed away, master Ikkyu visited him. "Shall I lead you on?" Ikkyu asked.
Ninakawa replied: "I came here alone and I go alone. What help could you be to me?"
Ikkyu answered: "If you think you really come and go, that is your delusion. Let me show you the path on which there is no coming and no going."
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Re: How to introduce a depressed intellectual to the Dharma

Postby AlexanderS » Wed Feb 05, 2014 6:36 pm

Shower him with love, compassion and lots of sex!
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Re: How to introduce a depressed intellectual to the Dharma

Postby Simon E. » Wed Feb 05, 2014 7:29 pm

AlexanderS wrote:Shower him with love, compassion and lots of sex!

Whether he wants sex or not ? A lot of depressed people don't. In fact many depressed people develop a temporary touch phobia..
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Re: How to introduce a depressed intellectual to the Dharma

Postby JamyangTashi » Wed Feb 05, 2014 8:07 pm

Ti-ti wrote:I totally agree that it doesn't have to be presented as Buddhism. In fact, that's exactly what I'm getting at... I want to avoid sitting him down and being like, "ok, so this is how Buddhism can help you..." haha.


If he views the depression as a problem and wants to solve it, then a cooperative problem solving approach may be helpful. There's no need to bring up Buddhism by name in order to share helpful ways to deal with thoughts and feelings in a more productive way. For example, if the depression arises as a result of inappropriate attention to things outside of his control, then it can be helpful to discuss the mental activity of attention and how it shapes experience. It's a matter of exploring and being aware of what's happening in the mind and developing a positive problem solving approach to the unpleasant experiences that arise. These things can be helpfully communicated to others without having to use the word "Buddhism" at all. There's no need to cover an entire book's worth of material or the entire overview of the practice all at once. Just one small piece of advice at a time that's immediately applicable can work wonders.
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Re: How to introduce a depressed intellectual to the Dharma

Postby Virgo » Wed Feb 05, 2014 9:20 pm

Ti-ti wrote:My non-dharma-practicing partner has been depressed for some time and I'm looking for a way to introduce him to the dharma that doesn't reek of evangelizing, but instead cuts to the heart of dharma logic.


Try to use mantra, such as the mani when he is near you, and so on.

All the best,

Kevin
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