Depression and Right View

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism

Depression and Right View

Postby sekha silapada » Sat Oct 13, 2012 4:10 am

Hey all,

I have a question on right view of desire and depression. I used to practice Buddhism, and after a while it made me feel empty and made life feel meaningless. I viewed desire as harmful, so I worked to get rid of desire, but it ended up making me depressed, feeling as though everything was pointless. I mean, yeah, sure Nibbana and all, but life should be enjoyed in the moment, and how can life be enjoyed unless one has desire? Even simple things, like a cool fall breeze, brings joy because it is desireable (because such breezes are rare for most of the year, you can't control when you receive them, they feel nice). If things are no longer desirable, you can no longer extract joy from them.

I took a break from Buddhism, still had/have depression, but have slowly gained some desire back, which was hard. But I feel better when I have desire to do positive things. So I've been purely secular the past few years. However, recently I've been feeling the pull of Buddhism again- other than the eventual desire issue, I liked my life when I was practicing Buddhism. I like the ethics, I found many teachings helpful, and I like the structure and community. However, I don't want to delve back into Buddhism without a clear understanding of desire in Buddhism, as I don't want to have a similar experience as I did in the past. One could say "well, take what you find helpful, discard what you don't find helpful", but my thought is if Buddhism contains the truth, then what if the things I find "unhelpful" are simply things I just don't like? I would want to follow the whole system, as I personally don't find picking and choosing to practice what you find agreeable or convenient be very growth stimulating. I want to understand why the Buddha said desire is harmful, and how. Is there something I'm missing?

I was reading a recent thread where people were discussing "good" versus "bad" desire. I feel like the idea is very logical to me- some kinds of desire can be positive/helpful, some negative/harmful. I'd love to think/know that this is what Buddhism teaches. But I don't know how well this fits into a Buddhist context- again, I was taught that all desire should be removed. So, I was wondering if anyone knows of any suttas or references to the distinction of good/bad desire in Buddhist scripture.

In conclusion, I don't know whether the view on desire I have been taught it a right view, and if not, I would love some explanation on desire and right view/what I'm missing.

I'm sorry if this isn't the most coherent post; trying to convert complex feelings like this into word is difficult!

With metta,
Sekha
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Re: Depression and Right View

Postby Ben » Sat Oct 13, 2012 4:41 am

Greetings Sekha and welcome to Dhamma Wheel.
I'm not sure what you were doing previously and I get the impression on your past focus on 'working to get rid of desire' was just something unhelpful and unwholesome.
I would advise you to practice sila (morality), samadhi (concentration/samadhi meditation) and panna (wisdom/vipassana meditation) which when done properly and under the guidance of a teacher - will help you to eradicate the root defilements which cause suffering.

If you do still have depression then I would also urge you to seek assessment and treatment by your physician - if you haven't already done so. Major depression is a life-threatening condition if left untreated. Many people find that the co-treatment approach to depression of medicine and meditation to be extremely beneficial.
wishing you all the best,

Ben
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Re: Depression and Right View

Postby SamKR » Sat Oct 13, 2012 5:34 am

sekha silapada wrote: I want to understand why the Buddha said desire is harmful, and how. Is there something I'm missing?

I don't think the Buddha said all desires are harmful. There are lots of helpful replies about that in the other thread you mentioned.
The main objective of the Buddha's teachings is not to get rid of desires, but to get rid of suffering (including depression) and to achieve real peace. What is the use of being desireless (or trying to be desireless) if that only brings depression and suffering?
The Buddha said that the cause of suffering is Taṇhā which means thirst. If there is no Taṇhā there is no suffering.
sekha silapada wrote: Is there something I'm missing?

I think something is missing. Perhaps you are desiring to achieve complete desirelessness too early. There are many things that come before dispassion. Thinking or trying to become dispassionate completely will only lead to depression if some important things are missing beforehand. There can be no depression if there is "knowledge & vision of things as they actually are" and the other elements. I would recommend this sutta: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

And, as Ben mentioned above, if you still have medical depression it would be much better to get medical attention. Seeing the cases of my relatives who had depression, I think physicians and medicine can help a lot.
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Re: Depression and Right View

Postby Mal » Sat Oct 13, 2012 12:48 pm

sekha silapada wrote:I have a question on right view of desire and depression. I used to practice Buddhism, and after a while it made me feel empty and made life feel meaningless. I viewed desire as harmful, so I worked to get rid of desire, but it ended up making me depressed, feeling as though everything was pointless. I mean, yeah, sure Nibbana and all, but life should be enjoyed in the moment, and how can life be enjoyed unless one has desire?


But the main definition of Nibbana, according to Ajahn Brahm, is the "highest happiness". So enjoy Nibbana in the moment, to have the greatest enjoyment possible in the moment! (of course, getting there will require the work of (probably) decades, perhaps through some "empty, meaningless" patches lasting many weeks...)

Don't you enjoy meditation? It might not give you the immediate "rush" of, say, playing tennis, but I find, when I'm watching the breath "correctly", then it's at least somewhat calming, and often joyful - and eventually after many days and many hours you get a better "rush" than anything has given you - even well before Jhana.

If you get an empty feeling just "let it go", again and again, and refocus more tightly on the breath.

And as Ajahn Chah said - when you feel like meditating, meditate. When you don't feel like meditating, meditate.

Meditate for some time each day - even if only ten minutes, keep it going, the "dull periods" will lift (at least I find it so.) And don't demand too much, better, don't demand anything. Even if it's no better than a less interesting change from the housework, at least it's a rest (and persevere, it should quickly become more than that, and, slowly, much more!)

If you are asking "how can life be enjoyed unless one has desire?" then you have not got very far in your practice and study of Buddhism - try reading "Mindfulness, Bliss and Beyond" by Ajahn Brahm and weigh every word carefully. See what real enjoyment is!

sekha silapada wrote:Even simple things, like a cool fall breeze, brings joy because it is desireable (because such breezes are rare for most of the year, you can't control when you receive them, they feel nice). If things are no longer desirable, you can no longer extract joy from them.


This is just plain wrong, the breeze brings (mundane) joy whether you are desiring it or not. Just don't crave it or seek it!

If you get no joy from the breeze then it's the depression that's destroying the joy, not the fact that you desire it or not.

sekha silapada wrote:I personally don't find picking and choosing to practice what you find agreeable or convenient be very growth stimulating.


But the Buddha recommended different techniques for different people - so you *should* "pick and choose to practice what you find agreeable or convenient" - as long as it is recommended by the Buddha!

sekha silapada wrote:I was reading a recent thread where people were discussing "good" versus "bad" desire. I feel like the idea is very logical to me- some kinds of desire can be positive/helpful, some negative/harmful. I'd love to think/know that this is what Buddhism teaches. But I don't know how well this fits into a Buddhist context- again, I was taught that all desire should be removed.


Ajahn Brahm discusses this in some depth - roughly speaking desire for Jhana & Nibbana is good, but involves losing desire for everything else, and eventually you need to lose desire for Jhana and Nibbana to get Nibanna, but at that point desire just slips away, so you don't have to tie yourself in knots desiring to desire nothing (!)

sekha silapada wrote:In conclusion, I don't know whether the view on desire I have been taught it a right view, and if not, I would love some explanation on desire and right view/what I'm missing.


What exactly were you taught? Can you quote chapter and verse?
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Re: Depression and Right View

Postby LonesomeYogurt » Sat Oct 13, 2012 1:21 pm

SN 12.65 wrote:Just this noble eightfold path: right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration... I followed that path. Following it, I came to direct knowledge of birth... becoming... clinging... craving... feeling... contact... the six sense media... name-&-form... consciousness, direct knowledge of the origination of consciousness, direct knowledge of the cessation of consciousness, direct knowledge of the path leading to the cessation of consciousness. I followed that path.

"Following it, I came to direct knowledge of fabrications, direct knowledge of the origination of fabrications, direct knowledge of the cessation of fabrications, direct knowledge of the path leading to the cessation of fabrications. Knowing that directly, I have revealed it to monks, nuns, male lay followers & female lay followers, so that this holy life has become powerful, rich, detailed, well-populated, wide-spread, proclaimed among celestial & human beings."

It's important to realize the difference between direct knowledge and intellectual knowledge, especially when it comes to desire.

Your symptoms are often seen in those who try too hard to just intellectually brow-beat themselves into desirelessness. But the intellectual view brings none of the joy and freedom that direct knowledge does. So I would recommend, as Ben said, just following the Noble Eightfold Path without "working to get rid of desire." You can't force yourself through sheer force of will or repetition of "desire is bad, desire is bad." You have to let the Noble Eightfold Path, sila, samadhi, and panya, burn up your defilements naturally. When practiced with loving-kindness towards yourself, you'll begin to let go of desire naturally when you find it replaced with the joy and peace of relinquishment.

Buddhism is like exercise, slowly training our minds until we "burn away the fat" of our defilements. I would suggest that you perhaps made the very common and well-intentioned mistake of just taking a knife to your belly instead.
Gain and loss, status and disgrace,
censure and praise, pleasure and pain:
these conditions among human beings are inconstant,
impermanent, subject to change.

Knowing this, the wise person, mindful,
ponders these changing conditions.
Desirable things don’t charm the mind,
undesirable ones bring no resistance.

His welcoming and rebelling are scattered,
gone to their end,
do not exist.
- Lokavipatti Sutta

Stuff I write about things.
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Re: Depression and Right View

Postby xtracorrupt » Sat Oct 13, 2012 1:52 pm

after a a level of insight, one will comprehend that you don't actually need anything to obtain happiness, after losing attachment u will lose anxiety and not require anything to be happy, happiness will come naturally
theres is no need for needing
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Re: Depression and Right View

Postby Mal » Sun Oct 14, 2012 11:02 am

LonesomeYogurt wrote:Your symptoms are often seen in those who try too hard to just intellectually brow-beat themselves into desirelessness. But the intellectual view brings none of the joy and freedom that direct knowledge does. So I would recommend, as Ben said, just following the Noble Eightfold Path without "working to get rid of desire." You can't force yourself through sheer force of will or repetition of "desire is bad, desire is bad." You have to let the Noble Eightfold Path, sila, samadhi, and panya, burn up your defilements naturally. When practiced with loving-kindness towards yourself, you'll begin to let go of desire naturally when you find it replaced with the joy and peace of relinquishment.


Good advice... but, note, the depression might be totally unconnected with misuse of Buddhist practice - it might be biological, or due to upbringing, as with depression in someone who hasn't encountered Buddhist practice. It's worth looking into "Cognitive Behavioural Therapy", as well as medication, as that has had good results. In recent years, it has come under the influence of Buddhism and MBCT ("Mindfully Based Cognitive Therapy") is now "all the rage". Maybe take a look at "The Mindful Way through Depression" by Mark Williams et. al. I have it on my shelf and plan to read it "soon".
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Re: Depression and Right View

Postby sekha silapada » Sun Oct 14, 2012 5:35 pm

Hi everyone, thanks for taking the time to write a reply :hug:

You all made good points, some thoughts I found particularly helpful were:

*Keep focus on the main objective of Buddha's teaching- it is not to get rid of desires, but to get rid of suffering and achieve real peace. What is the use of trying to become desireless if that only brings suffering?

*There is a difference between the joy of active desire and joy that is experienced naturally without craving or seeking it.

*There's a difference between getting rid of desire through experience, and trying to get rid of desire through intellectual brow-beating. The latter doesn't bring the benefits of the former, because the idea hasn't been experienced firsthand. It is better to get rid of desire through experience, by practice of the 8 fold path, and growth of sila, samadhi, and panna. That will naturally remove defilements, and the peace of desirelessness will come naturally.

As for the suggestions to see a professional, I have been receiving treatment for my depression. :smile: I just wanted to make sure that if I were to practice Buddhism at this time in my life, it wouldn't lead to a relapse of deep depression. It doesn't seem it would, as I wouldn't be focusing on removing desire, but rather practicing the 8 Fold Path (which would naturally lead to a removal of desire without the negative side effects I previously experienced). But any personal thoughts on practicing Buddhism with depression would be appreciated

It's like the chicken and egg scenario- I don't know whether my wrong practice of Buddhism caused the depression, or the depression led to a mistaken application of Buddhist practice. I'm suspecting the latter, but again, I'm not sure. It could likely be a combination of both wrong practice (trying to force myself to prematurely bend to concepts that are meant to come naturally) and depression that led to my poor experience. In any case, the clarifications on desire were much appreciated!

with Metta,
Sekha
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Re: Depression and Right View

Postby drifting cloud » Mon Oct 15, 2012 11:38 pm

hey Sekha,

Re: desire, you might also find this thread helpful: viewtopic.php?f=24&t=14397
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Re: Depression and Right View

Postby polarbuddha101 » Thu Oct 18, 2012 7:59 am

Some desire is necessary:

"There are these three urgent duties of a farming householder. Which three?

"There is the case where a farming householder quickly gets his field well-plowed & well-harrowed. Having quickly gotten his field well-plowed & well-harrowed, he quickly plants the seed. Having quickly planted the seed, he quickly lets in the water & then lets it out.

"These are the three urgent duties of a farming householder. Now, that farming householder does not have the power or might [to say:] 'May my crops spring up today, may the grains appear tomorrow, and may they ripen the next day.' But when the time has come, the farming householder's crops spring up, the grains appear, and they ripen.

"In the same way, there are these three urgent duties of a monk. Which three? The undertaking of heightened virtue, the undertaking of heightened mind, the undertaking of heightened discernment. These are the three urgent duties of a monk. Now, that monk does not have the power or might [to say:] 'May my mind be released from fermentations through lack of clinging/sustenance today or tomorrow or the next day.' But when the time has come, his mind is released from fermentations through lack of clinging/sustenance.

"Thus, monks, you should train yourselves: 'Strong will be our desire for the undertaking of heightened virtue. Strong will be our desire for the undertaking of heightened mind. Strong will be our desire for the undertaking of heightened discernment.' That's how you should train yourselves."

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
"I don't envision a single thing that, when developed & cultivated, leads to such great benefit as the mind. The mind, when developed & cultivated, leads to great benefit."

"I don't envision a single thing that, when undeveloped & uncultivated, brings about such suffering & stress as the mind. The mind, when undeveloped & uncultivated, brings about suffering & stress."
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Re: Depression and Right View

Postby rowyourboat » Thu Oct 18, 2012 10:53 am

Keep the precepts- it will keep you away from remorse and guilt/shame.

Develop a mind(fullness) of metta as much as possible through the day (off the cushion).

Develop joy and bliss (piti, sukha) whenever you can.

Focus on objects which bring you wholesome joy.

See if you can focus deep into the low mood and try to get at the clinging which is causing the suffering. If you get it correctly when you remove it, the suffering should disappear. This can be tough to do though but it works.

Work with CBT- it will show you the ignorance inside in terms of a self: 'I am worthless' etc can be challenged.

With metta
With Metta

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