The whole of the Buddha’s teachings stems from compassion, the wish that all beings may be free from suffering and its causes. In today’s world, one of the most oppressive and debilitating kinds of suffering is depression. Far more than fleeting experiences of sadness, the clinically diagnosed mental disorder known as major depression is disabling in that, it interferes with our ability to work, sleep, study, eat and enjoy once-pleasurable activities. The World Health Organization notes that mental ill health is increasing, and predicts that one in four persons will develop one or more mental disorders during their lives. By the year 2020, depression is expected to be the highest-ranking cause of disease in the developed world.
Depression can come in various forms, from a passing blue mood to a severe psychological condition like major depression or manic-depressive illness, which require extensive treatment. The more serious conditions require professional help with for example intensive therapy or medication, there seems to be no easy way to avoid that. Women experience depressive disorders twice as many as men, and hormone levels appear to have a significant influence.
In order to treat depression effectively, we must identify the specific causes and circumstances that contribute to individual cases. Otherwise, there is the danger that we may blindly treat its symptoms without addressing its underlying causes. According to recent studies, it seems highly unlikely that depression arises purely from chemical imbalances, except in rare cases of vitamin deficiencies, stroke and so on. Further, a synthesis of hundreds of studies indicates that antidepressants are no more effective in treating depression arising from these types of causes than in treating depression arising from stress-related causes.This implies that depression is best understood as a mental, not a neurological disorders such as autism, stem primarily from objective, biological factors, which in turn affect subjective experience.
Mental disorders stem primarily from subjective mental processes, which in turn affect the brain. The Buddhism generally approaches depression from different viewpoint than modern Western psychology. The Buddhism offers what MIT geneticist Eric Lander, Ph.D., called a “highly refined technology” of introspective practices that provide systematic access to subjective experience. Yet Buddhist psychology offers more than a method of investigation. Its core techniques of meditation and awareness may have much to offer ordinary people, whose material comforts have not wiped out rampant emotional distress.
The Buddhist view of how the mind works is somewhat different from the traditional Western view. Western psychology pretty much holds to the belief that things like attention and emotion are fixed and immutable. Buddhism sees the components of the mind more as skills that can be trained. This view has increasing support from modern neuroscience, which is almost daily providing new evidence of the brain’s capacity for change and growth. Buddhism uses intelligence to control the emotions. Through meditative practices, awareness can be trained and focused on the contents of the mind to observe ongoing experience. Such techniques are of growing interest to Western psychologists, who increasingly see depression as a disorder of emotional mismanagement. In this view, attention is hijacked by negative events and then sets off a kind of chain reaction of negative feeling, thinking and behavior that has its own rapidity and inevitability.
* Techniques of awareness permit the cultivation of self-control.
They allow people to break the negative emotional chain reaction and head off the hopelessness and despair it leads to. By focusing attention, it is possible to monitor your environment, recognize a negative stimulus and act on it the instant it registers on awareness. While attention as traditional psychologists know it can be an exhausting mental activity, as Buddhists practice it and actually becomes a relaxing and effortless enterprise. One way of meditation is to use breathing techniques in which you focus on the breathing and let any negative stimulus just go by—instead of bringing it into your working memory, where you are likely to sit and ruminate about it and thus amplify its negativity. It’s a way of unlearning the self-defeating ways you somehow acquired of responding catastrophically to negative experiences.
Evidence increasingly suggests that meditation techniques are highly effective at helping people recover from a bout of depression and especially useful in preventing recurrences. Medication may be needed during the depths of an acute episode to jump-start brain systems, but at best “antidepressants are a halfway house,” says Alan Wallace, Ph.D., head of the Santa Barbara Institute for the Study of Consciousness. But meditation retrains the mind to allow ongoing control over the content of thoughts and feelings.
Basic Meditation Exercise
- Sit with an alert and relaxed body posture so that you feel relatively
comfortable without moving. (You can sit either in a straight-back chair with your feet flat on the floor or on a thick, firm cushion three to six inches off the floor.)
- Keep your back, neck and head vertically aligned, relax your shoulders and find a comfortable place for your hands (usually on your knees).
- Bring your attention to your breathing. Observe the breath as it flows in and out. Give full attention to the feeling of the breath as it comes in and goes out. Whenever you find that your attention has moved elsewhere, just note it and let go and gently escort your attention back to the breath, back to the rising and falling of your own belly.
- When you can maintain some continuity of attention on the breath, try expanding the field of your awareness “around” your belly to include a sense of your body as a whole.
- Maintain this awareness of the body sitting and breathing, and, when the mind wanders, bring it back to sitting and breathing.
Buddhism to most people is an ancient Eastern religion, although a very special one. As it has no god, it has no central creed or dogma and its primary goal is the expansion of consciousness, or awareness. But in reality, it’s a highly refined tradition, perfected over the course of 2,500 years, of analyzing and investigating the inner world of the mind in order to transform mental states and promote happiness.
May all being be well & happy and attain the fruits of Nibbana.