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Buddhism in the News


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Answer to my Question

Picture of "James" taken with the new camera in the black and white function.

Remember the question that I asked about "Buddhism" and mental illness? Well, I finally got an answer so here it is!!

1- What does Buddhism say about "mental illness" and why does it occur in people? Is it considered a biological condition as it is in the West or not? And is it seen as an issue of burning off negative karma?

Buddhism doesn't have one particular thing to say about mental illness as we think about it since 'Buddhism' doesn't really exist as a formal entity in its own right. The teachings of the Buddha have moved through a number of cultures over the past twenty-five hundred years, interacting with and influencing the local ways of thinking. Many Buddhist cultures, like those of Tibet or ancient India, have indigenous medical systems that were influenced by the variety of ancient cultures rubbing up against each other for hundreds of years, Greek, Persian, ayurvedic, Chinese, etc. In the Tibetan medical system, severe mental illness, conditions that we would call bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, are seen as imbalances in the vital energies that sustain the mind and body. Causes for the most severe disturbances are often thought to be inborn. We would call these causes genetic, or biological, but these explanatory systems evolved before knowledge of genes existed. Less severe mental illness, what we would call neurotic, is thought to be rooted in the mental afflictions of greed, hatred, ignorance, pride, and so on. When these mental habits are left unchecked, they become fixations which begin to twist or torment the mind. One of the great opportunities of a human birth, it is said, is that there is always a potential for taming wild thoughts through self-awareness. It is this effort that burns off negative karma.

I also liked the answer to the second question that someone else asked:

2- My teacher discourages use of antidepressants but my therapist recommends them strongly. I'm at a loss and am not finding middle ground. What is your take on this?

I always think about those beautiful Tibetan thangkas, or paintings, of the medicine Buddha when this question comes up. He sits there with a vast array of medicinal powders, pills and potions spilling out in front of him, all vehicles of reducing suffering. The Buddha wants you not to suffer if you don't need to. If there is a pill that works (and the Western treatments do not always work; but when they do, they are a godsend), he would want you to try it. Even with a successful treatment with antidepressants, there is more than enough suffering left to work with meditatively.

Thanks again everyone for helping me out and voting for my question!!

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derek said...

sweet, thanks : )

M.D. Shellhammer said...

So now that you have your answer what will you do with it?
BTW thanks for posting your own face, nice to have that to go with your words. You have a nice face, it is warm and friendly, I like that. :)

Brittany Hogan said...

derek, got to your site... are you familiar with the "beat generation"? Your style is reminiscent of theirs... candid and honest... great words and flow

Sean said...

I love the last line in this:

"Even with a successful treatment with antidepressants, there is more than enough suffering left to work with meditatively."

I agree with that!

"James" said...


You're quite welcome my friend. :)

M: Well, I'm satisfied with the answer and am going to go back to meditating. :)


Yeah that was my favorite part of the answer too. It's so true.

derek said...

hi brittany,

i am, and how, a rucksack wanderer, thanks for the kind words.


Tim said...

Even with a successful treatment with antidepressants, there is more than enough suffering left to work with meditatively.
I love this part! So true, eh?

"James" said...


Yep, we must stick with our meditation practice no matter what our physical, mental, emotional health. Even after enlightenment after all the Buddha kept meditating!!

Such a great example that even the Great Awakened Master kept on meditating after his awakening.

Therefore, Enlightenment seems to me to be more of a practice then an attainment or a one time achievement.

Amadeus said...

Great photo my friend!


"James" said...



A lotus to you.

garnet david said...

james- well done. I am glad for your success.

I thought the answers were well parsed. He was careful not to dis the medical profession too much. Unfortunately, the actions of large drug companies is to push doctors and push them hard to prescribe drugs to anyone with any problems. Drugs first and questions later.

"James" said...

Garnet David:

Yes, the big pharmaceutical lobby is pretty strong.

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