mental illness and Buddhism

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Dragon
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mental illness and Buddhism

Postby Dragon » Thu Aug 08, 2013 8:03 pm

Recently I was listening to some talks by a respected Buddhist teacher (who isn't important for this particular discussion) and I noticed that he kept throwing the word 'depression' around a lot. He was basically implying that depression is not a mental illness, but in fact something we have control over. We develop depression because of our self-centric mind and must employ the dharma to overcome it.

Is it just me, or is that a bit unrealistic in thinking? I am taking it from the point of view that he believes serious clinical depression arises from bad karma, as well as the lack of will power coming from a selfish nature.

So when I hear other teachers speak about depression and anxiety and other forms of mental illness from now on, should I be perceiving it the way this teacher has presented it? If so, what about people who suffer from schizophrenia, or who are born with a mental disability? Is this to say that they have bad karma too, and that it is a matter of mere will power to overcome their obstacles? :thinking: Honestly, I am saying the last line in jest. Obviously, those born with those mental illnesses, depending upon the severity of them, are lucky if they even hear the name of Buddha in this life time, let alone are able to study the dharma.

So I guess the more appropriate question would be, do you think this teacher is literally referring to a clinical form of depression and other associated mental illnesses, or is he throwing the word around to mean 'sad'? Because there's a huge difference if that is the case. However, I can't help but think he is referring to clinical depression, which is rather close-minded and ignorant if that is the case.

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Re: mental illness and Buddhism

Postby Grigoris » Thu Aug 08, 2013 8:06 pm

"My religion is not deceiving myself."
Jetsun Milarepa 1052-1135 CE

"Butchers, prostitutes, those guilty of the five most heinous crimes, outcasts, the underprivileged: all are utterly the substance of existence and nothing other than total bliss."
The Supreme Source - The Kunjed Gyalpo
The Fundamental Tantra of Dzogchen Semde

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Re: mental illness and Buddhism

Postby Dragon » Thu Aug 08, 2013 8:13 pm


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Re: mental illness and Buddhism

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Re: mental illness and Buddhism

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Thu Aug 08, 2013 11:19 pm

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Re: mental illness and Buddhism

Postby Wayfarer » Fri Aug 09, 2013 7:21 am

I think there's a distinction between clinical depression and everyday emotionality, and most Buddhist teachers recognize that. Most retreat centers for instance won't accept applications from anyone on anti-depressant medication or undergoing treatment for mood disorders.


But I also think there is a tendency to 'medicalize' depression or even common unhappiness in modern society. I think it is sometimes associated with the feeing that by medicalizing it, it is something that will then be amenable to scientific analysis and treatment.

There was a recent article in New Scientist about the fact that Prozac-like treatments have become less effective over time. Although it wasn't suggested, I wondered if this might be linked to the fact that such treatments have a placebo effect when they are first rolled out, and people are inclined to believe in them. Then, over time, they become less effective, in part because people loose faith in them.

Placebo effects are interesting in that respect, because they rely on attitude or belief rather than actual pharmaceutical compounds.
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Re: mental illness and Buddhism

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Re: mental illness and Buddhism

Postby wisdom » Fri Aug 09, 2013 9:40 pm

Drug companies make a killing off prescription medication. The knee jerk reaction of many therapists is to put people on drugs for whatever their problems are. Its a huge problem in my opinion, and a sad state of affairs.

Our biology is largely affected by our diet and mental/emotional state. If we do not control our minds, then negative things will appear and cause our body to release negative chemicals. On a biological level the three poisons manifest as:

I. Desire (Dopamine)
II. Hatred, anger, fight or flight (Adrenaline/epinephrine/norepinephrine)
III. Jealousy, greed, anxiety (Cortisol)

By changing our behavior and view, we also change the rate and frequency at which these chemicals are released. Attachment and aversion is almost entirely based on whether or not these chemicals are present in the brain and body. Of course some people have biological situations that require drugs, for example if they are not capable of producing dopamine despite having a positive outlook, healthy diet and exercising, then they might need drugs to help with the inevitable depression that will occur. Or if their body produces an extreme cortisol response to anxious situations causing anxiety attacks, that kind of thing. Furthermore something like hatred might release both adrenaline and cortisol. All of these take a toll on the body, brain and mind.

This is just my personal opinion, I am not a doctor. Much of it depends on a persons capacity and karma. Some people simply lack the capacity for meditation and such to be effective in eliminating mental health problems, and they need the help of drugs. Thats OK, because drugs can be skillful means too :) However we should realize that there is no such thing as a "mental health problem". Samsara IS the mental health problem, everyone is sick, insane, and crazy from that point of view. Some of us are just worse off than others.

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Re: mental illness and Buddhism

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Fri Aug 09, 2013 9:42 pm

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Re: mental illness and Buddhism

Postby dyanaprajna2011 » Fri Aug 09, 2013 10:22 pm

"If you want to travel the Way of Buddhas and Zen masters, then expect nothing, seek nothing, and grasp nothing." -Dogen

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Re: mental illness and Buddhism

Postby Dragon » Fri Aug 09, 2013 10:34 pm

Maybe I shouldn't have focused so much on depression. What about severe personality disorders? Everyone has a personality disorder, it just varies in the degree. For example, someone who is borderline cannot change that they are borderline. It is their personality; it is who they are. So how are they to overcome that through the dharma?

And what about other mental illnesses like bi-polar? This is a close cousin to schizophrenia. Just like a personality disorder, they do not 'decrease' over time. They just are.

Just throwing this out there. I still disagree that those with severe clinical depression have the will power and whereabouts to heal themselves with dharma alone. I think pharmaceutical companies and doctors are mis-diagnoising people who have normal problems with being depressed instead of just stressed and sad. There are those who are depressed off and on and never come out of it.

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Re: mental illness and Buddhism

Postby Dragon » Fri Aug 09, 2013 10:37 pm


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Re: mental illness and Buddhism

Postby Dragon » Fri Aug 09, 2013 10:38 pm


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Re: mental illness and Buddhism

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Fri Aug 09, 2013 11:28 pm

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Re: mental illness and Buddhism

Postby Wayfarer » Sat Aug 10, 2013 12:27 am

In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities; in the expert's mind there are few ~ Suzuki-roshi

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Re: mental illness and Buddhism

Postby rachmiel » Sat Aug 10, 2013 12:56 am

I inherited a lovely predisposition towards some nasty neurotic disorders. And Eastern introspective practices, Buddhism et al, have helped me significantly, though they took a long time to "kick in."

For me, the key is to halt the avalanche of negative emotions quickly, ideally as soon as it has begun. Once fear/despair/etc. have gone on for a while (even for a few minutes) my brain chemistry shifts, enters another state. (I can feel it.) And then it's like a physical wound that needs to run its course and eventually heal.

Mindfulness really helps me see the first signs of an impending avalanche. And this seeing lessens, sometimes completely stops the avalanche process.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily ...

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Re: mental illness and Buddhism

Postby Dragon » Sat Aug 10, 2013 1:00 am


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Re: mental illness and Buddhism

Postby Dragon » Sat Aug 10, 2013 1:15 am


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Re: mental illness and Buddhism

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Sat Aug 10, 2013 1:35 am

There is no way to say it is a "wasted opportunity" because we cannot see causality enough to make real judgements about it except from our little hallucinatory bubbles of what is fair, right, beneficial to our samsaric existence etc.

It might appear that way, but there could be circumstances in these people's life that accumulate merit by benefiting others, make them ripe for Dharma teaching in the future etc. There just is no way to suss it out completely, Karma is huge, it's like trying to solve a math problem with an infinite variables, it's impossible to reason out because we cannot see it all.

I have a person who was very close to me that died of a drug overdose a few years back, he was a borderline paranoid schizophrenic for most of his life, and a very unhappy person. Alot of people have nothing but bad feelings for him, this individual was incredibly kind to me in his way, and possibly even saved me from going down the path he was on in this life. Sometimes these things are hard to see, especially if we look at things like mental and emotional health through a very conventional lense.
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Re: mental illness and Buddhism

Postby Ramon1920 » Sat Aug 10, 2013 3:46 am

I would divide mental illness into 2 groups that do not include purely neurological malfunctions like blindness(which does not perceive clearly) or strokes(that render the speech and comprehension of things retarded): faulty senses (like hallucinations) and faulty proliferation of views.

In the case of depression I would contend that depression with a physical basis is in fact
depression with faulty proliferation of views as a basis (with a faulty physicality as a basis).

Why do I think this? Because at one time, and to some negligible degree now, I suffered from a physically based anxiety disorder that in turn could become depression.
The way that it occurred, as seen personally by me, is that first a feeling in the body and heart corresponding with dread would arise. Then that feeling of dread would pessimistically warp how I proliferated on situations and circumstances in my life and that of others. And that pessimistic proliferation on situations and circumstances would make life seem incredibly bleak and generate the feeling of dread.

Being much older now, I am still occasionally woken in the night by this physiological state of dread, but because I can halt the warped proliferation with Buddhist methods it cannot mature into depression or the warped view that is pessimism. Rather it just is a very unpleasant feeling in the body for me now.

So for this reason, I see depression with a physical basis and depression with faulty proliferation of views basis as largely identical.


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