Can an Ariya suffer from mental disease?

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism

Re: Can an Ariya suffer from mental disease?

Postby Dan74 » Sat Jun 22, 2013 11:39 am

This thread is probably not going to be particularly helpful to anyone, so I am not sure what an appropriate contribution would be.

On the one hand, the last thing people who suffer from mental illness need is further stigma. Clearly many of them practice and practice well. Another example (in addition to the one I mentioned above) that comes to mind is Pema Chodron, who for a long time suffered from debilitating chronic fatigue syndrome. Taigu, of the Treeleaf, recently admitted battling depression, and Lou Nordstrom is another case (both in Zen).

On the other hand, becoming an Ariya does follow from many causes and conditions and I although according to the current understanding mental illness may sometimes be of purely physiological origin, just like mental disability, I don't see either one as compatible with complete liberation. Can an arahat be depressed? Bipolar? What happens to freedom from delusion then? Perhaps in case of an arahat if the physical causes persist, he/she would discern them and not be deceived?

And perhaps even physical causes can be overcome in the course of practice? I don't know. I've certainly heard many amazing anecdotes and I seemed to have cured myself from colds several times during periods of intensive meditation. So who knows? :shrug:
_/|\_
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Re: Can an Ariya suffer from mental disease?

Postby lyndon taylor » Sat Jun 22, 2013 12:25 pm

The point I am making is just like normal people tend to be totally deluded by samsara, mentally ill people can sometimes, maybe rarely have, an extra degree of insight into something that a normal person would not, as an example here is a historical fiction I wrote of the Buddha's enlightenment, at a time when I was clearly manic, not quite psychotic,(I haven't got this "sick" since I wrote this over two years ago) I actually had the idea I was channeling the Buddha, its fanciful, made up, but has just a little bit of a magic element that maybe a "normal person" could never come up with. I know I could not write it in the more normal state I am in now. I'm doing this to point out that mental illness is not only a liability, it also can give one some awareness that is not common. I'm interested if anyone appreciates this, if not, my apologies for wasting screen space!!!!


THE BUDDHA'S ENLIGHTENMENT Historical fiction by john

preface; before enlightenment the buddha lived for several years in the jungle with tigers and was practically starving eating nuts berries and fruit, i guess. he was not interested in getting rid of his own suffering but reaching enlightenment or a state or true being.

Torturously sitting 24/7 under a tree for three months meditating 23/7 so to speak, the soon to be buddha experienced a brilliant thought, if we fed everyone, nobody would starve, if we healed everyone no one would be sick, if we clothed everyone no one would be naked(except by choice), if we housed everyone no one would be homeless, if we educated everyone no one would be as ignorant as without an education, if we could end war, no one would die or suffer the ravages of war, if we had a fair political system, the rich brahma would be equal to the poor low caste people,if we could eliminate or tame delusion, people would suffer less,

then after meditating on this for a month or two(historical fiction here) the buddha thought how can i explain to people something so complicated and how could it possibly be accomplished. these are all true worthy things but what do they have in common, then voila, that mighty aha moment when the buddha realized all bad things are a form of, or cause of, suffering, suffering is the one thing they can all have in common, another week or two and he'd got it down,1. suffering is a bad thing and needs to be gotten rid of,2. all suffering is caused by something, 3 If we can get rid of the individual things that cause suffering, then 4 obviously with the causes gone that particular form of suffering has been eliminated.

in a start the buddha rose up, he didn't jump as his legs were cramped, his worshipers had considered him a god for his stillness, he was the ultimate meditator like a statue, they were alarmed and thought something had gone wrong with the buddha, and he seemed ravenously hungry, and enjoyed expensive gourmet dinners people offered him, he didn't speak, just put his finger to his lips and said sheh, his very lazy habits of not meditating hours on end like before weren't impressing any one, he'd walk in circles and around the parks smiling and bowing at people,

his worshipers had lost interest in him as he no longer was the somber meditator; he seemed elated, five or six devout followers stuck with him, though, sometimes following him around the town, then one day as they sit cross legged under a tree, the buddha spoke slowly, "hey guys your not going to believe this!!! i think i've got it figured out, the answer to everything and all our problems, no joke. listen to this and tell me if it makes sense;

and then preached to them the four noble truths, i'll stop this semi fiction account right here as the rest of the story was recorded 2500 years ago in a place known as bhodigaya, india, its the buddha's first sermon in the deer park, where he teaches his formula for success, the four noble truths; its in the buddha's Dhammapada scripture, maybe a gracious reader could reccomend the good translations, sincerely Lyndon John Taylor Mar.2011
18 years ago I made one of the most important decisions of my life and entered a local Cambodian Buddhist Temple as a temple boy and, for only 3 weeks, an actual Therevada Buddhist monk. I am not a scholar, great meditator, or authority on Buddhism, but Buddhism is something I love from the Bottom of my heart. It has taught me sobriety, morality, peace, and very importantly that my suffering is optional, and doesn't have to run my life. I hope to give back what little I can to the Buddhist community that has so generously given me so much, sincerely former monk John
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Re: Can an Ariya suffer from mental disease?

Postby binocular » Sat Jun 22, 2013 3:34 pm

lyndon taylor wrote:
lyndon taylor wrote:I would hardly think Mental Illness is any more a function of being "ignorant" than being "normal" is a form of ignorance. The Buddha taught that what we consider "normal" is in and of its self a state of delusion, and not realness. To say all Mentally Ill people by nature have a harder time perceiving the true nature of reality, than "normal' people would be a bit ridiculous, as the mentally ill are often more spiritual and open to alternative wisdoms than "normal" people.


it seems binocular did not read this, how is being depressed because of imbalances in brain chemistry cause by "unskillfull action", and how could a person that has some depression be unable to progress on a spiritual path, i guess a crippled person is in a wheelchair for "unskillful action" ie not using his legs to walk.

Like I already said, it depends on what understanding of "mental illness/disease/sickness" one works with.

Seeing mental illness as something that "just happens to one", is one way of seeing it. It's very common to see it that way.

Another way of seeing it is in terms of the mental illness being a consequence or an expression of how one thinks, talks and acts. This is a very proactive and empowering approach, as it suggests that changing one's thoughts, words and acts will change whether one will express oneself as mentally ill or not.
(For an example of this approach, see Cheri Huber's book on depression.)


and how could a person that has some depression be unable to progress on a spiritual path

The question I replied to with Yes was this:
Would having a mental disease prevent someone from becoming ariya?

Obviously, in the case that one is in a closed ward at a mental institution, drugged up every day, this is not likely conducive to making progress on the path to becoming an ariya.
Different mental illnesses, at differing levels of severity, may have a different effect on whether one progresses on the path or not and how.
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Re: Can an Ariya suffer from mental disease?

Postby lyndon taylor » Sat Jun 22, 2013 3:45 pm

Mentall Illness covers a huge range of a lot of totally different conditions, many of which can be completely cured or put in remission by proper medication and/or therapy. To lump together this whole range of individuals and say they cannot become an arya, seems rather harsh. What about enlightened monks that suffer from depression, or in old age dementia.
18 years ago I made one of the most important decisions of my life and entered a local Cambodian Buddhist Temple as a temple boy and, for only 3 weeks, an actual Therevada Buddhist monk. I am not a scholar, great meditator, or authority on Buddhism, but Buddhism is something I love from the Bottom of my heart. It has taught me sobriety, morality, peace, and very importantly that my suffering is optional, and doesn't have to run my life. I hope to give back what little I can to the Buddhist community that has so generously given me so much, sincerely former monk John
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Re: Can an Ariya suffer from mental disease?

Postby alan » Sat Jun 22, 2013 3:52 pm

How many enlightened Monks have ever suffered from depression?
Answer: None.
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Re: Can an Ariya suffer from mental disease?

Postby binocular » Sat Jun 22, 2013 3:57 pm

lyndon taylor wrote:The point I am making is just like normal people tend to be totally deluded by samsara, mentally ill people can sometimes, maybe rarely have, an extra degree of insight into something that a normal person would not

Sure, but it seems that they cannot handle those insights.

I think that people who are generally considered "mentally ill" are often actually people who are by nature more sensitive to spiritual topics, but who didn't have the good fortune to be able to cultivate and educate that sensitivity, hence they appear "mentally ill."
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Re: Can an Ariya suffer from mental disease?

Postby lyndon taylor » Sat Jun 22, 2013 4:09 pm

Unless you actually had experienced mental illness, I don't think you could possibly speak with any authority about it, I'm sure you would be quite surprised by how many enlightened individuals have diagnoseable "mental illness'" , Albert Schweitzer wrote a book where he proposed that if Jesus lived today he would be hospitalized as mentally ill, I think the same could be said for the Buddha. Tell almost any psychiatrist that you remember 100s of previous lifetimes, and have escaped all pain and suffering, and he'll put you on medication. Its not as simple as you think, every mental illness is different, and every mentally ill person is different, For someone to lump all the mentally ill together and say they are by nature defective compared to ?????, is just plain bigoted and predjudiced. Im sorry, I promised the moderators not to get into any arguements, but this topic is worth breaking the rules for.
Last edited by lyndon taylor on Sat Jun 22, 2013 4:42 pm, edited 2 times in total.
18 years ago I made one of the most important decisions of my life and entered a local Cambodian Buddhist Temple as a temple boy and, for only 3 weeks, an actual Therevada Buddhist monk. I am not a scholar, great meditator, or authority on Buddhism, but Buddhism is something I love from the Bottom of my heart. It has taught me sobriety, morality, peace, and very importantly that my suffering is optional, and doesn't have to run my life. I hope to give back what little I can to the Buddhist community that has so generously given me so much, sincerely former monk John
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Re: Can an Ariya suffer from mental disease?

Postby binocular » Sat Jun 22, 2013 4:11 pm

Dan74 wrote:This thread is probably not going to be particularly helpful to anyone, so I am not sure what an appropriate contribution would be.

Agreed.
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Re: Can an Ariya suffer from mental disease?

Postby lyndon taylor » Sat Jun 22, 2013 4:28 pm

binocular wrote:
Dan74 wrote:This thread is probably not going to be particularly helpful to anyone, so I am not sure what an appropriate contribution would be.

Agreed.


Actually you're dead wrong, this thread could be a lot of benefit to the many mentally ill readers of this forum, which must be 10% or more of our members, imagine how they must feel to hear people tell them they are the cause of their illness, and because of their bad choices and faulty thinking patterns, they can never reach enlightenment. Sometimes when you're not knowledgable on a topic, its better not to say anything.
18 years ago I made one of the most important decisions of my life and entered a local Cambodian Buddhist Temple as a temple boy and, for only 3 weeks, an actual Therevada Buddhist monk. I am not a scholar, great meditator, or authority on Buddhism, but Buddhism is something I love from the Bottom of my heart. It has taught me sobriety, morality, peace, and very importantly that my suffering is optional, and doesn't have to run my life. I hope to give back what little I can to the Buddhist community that has so generously given me so much, sincerely former monk John
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Re: Can an Ariya suffer from mental disease?

Postby Coyote » Sat Jun 22, 2013 4:43 pm

Maybe it would help to clarify what is meant by mental illness. It is not one thing and to lump all mental illness into the same category is a mistake.

Ajahn Thanissaro mentions that one of his teachers had a stroke near the end of his life, and was able to discern that his brain was sending him faulty signals due to the mindfulness he had acquired. I imagine it would be the same with some types of mental illness for an ariya. The disease is there, but it is unable to affect the person to the extent that they have wrong view or suffer (if arahant).
"If beings knew, as I know, the results of giving & sharing, they would not eat without having given, nor would the stain of miserliness overcome their minds. Even if it were their last bite, their last mouthful, they would not eat without having shared."
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Re: Can an Ariya suffer from mental disease?

Postby binocular » Sat Jun 22, 2013 4:48 pm

lyndon taylor wrote: imagine how they must feel to hear people tell them they are the cause of their illness, and because of their bad choices and faulty thinking patterns,

That's empowering, because it suggests they can do something about their problems, as opposed to being left to the mercy of chance and other people.


they can never reach enlightenment.

Nobody said that.
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Re: Can an Ariya suffer from mental disease?

Postby lyndon taylor » Sat Jun 22, 2013 5:12 pm

What's empowering is taking medication to correct the chemical imbalance, in my case I can't sleep AT ALL without medication, thats a chemical imbalance, without medicine theres no way to think your way out of not being able to sleep, my thoughts don't "cause" me to not be able to sleep, my defective brain chemistry causes me to not be able to sleep. The symptoms of my illness only come into play when I go without sleep, any normal sleep deprived person would get just as crazy as I do without sleep, My psychotic episodes I used to have regularly before I got sober, always involved several days with little or no sleep, a couple times I quit my medicine and went two weeks with NO sleep, with predictable consequences; psych ward.

I'm not trying to go on and on about myself, and I can't speak for all other mental illnesses, but in my case, my illness is not caused by anything I have done wrong, unless you go back to doing drugs in the 80s. It has absolutely nothing to do with how I think, its pure and simple a sleep disorder, that cannot be treated by sleeping pills, so I have to take sleep inducing anti psychotics and anti depressants. Horrible stuff, but guess what Im successful, have my own business,I am very happy, don't have a lot of problems, but I do have a problem with someone trying to tell me that my thoughts are defective and need to be corrected, that's insulting, pure and simple.
18 years ago I made one of the most important decisions of my life and entered a local Cambodian Buddhist Temple as a temple boy and, for only 3 weeks, an actual Therevada Buddhist monk. I am not a scholar, great meditator, or authority on Buddhism, but Buddhism is something I love from the Bottom of my heart. It has taught me sobriety, morality, peace, and very importantly that my suffering is optional, and doesn't have to run my life. I hope to give back what little I can to the Buddhist community that has so generously given me so much, sincerely former monk John
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Re: Can an Ariya suffer from mental disease?

Postby Zenainder » Mon Jul 01, 2013 11:30 am

In hopes to contribute a meaningful post, I will say a few more things.

To those who suffer a "mental illness", however that may be defined, my thoughts are:

1. Continue therapy and take medications as directed by a psychian.
2. A majority of mental disorders that I know of usually have periods of calm (even if 5 minutes) my encouragement is to learn mindfulness during those "stable" states.
3. Continue the mindfulness through the disorder's "episodes" (or what have you).
4. Continue with the practice and cultivate insight, especially during "episodes".
5. If you haven't noticed it's basically the same for those without a "mental illness".
6. It is, of course, worth while to visit a sangha and receive guidance and support through the journey.

My observation is that we are all addicts in some respect, some worse than others. In the end, we do not have to be slaves to physical OR mental phenonom. And the chains are broken through the dawning of the truth within.

May all beings be happy and blissed,

Zen

Edit:

A final thought:
I say this with in mind that the disorder, may or may not, continue to arise, but what matters is the conditioned and cyclic behavior that occurs after they arise can be broken. Liberation, in my relative understanding, means regardless of what may arise grasping does not happen. It is important to understand that in and of itself thoughts are only as harmful as our addiction or aversion towards them (grasping) and what follows after.

We must continue a compassion for ourselves (and others) regardless of our relative state. We cannot go on hating any part of ourselves and ignorantly expect freedom through our aversion. Food for thought.
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