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Emotions : Depression

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche at various locations (Last Updated May 6, 2013)

Depression and Purification

Depression, Karma and Delusions
A student wrote to Rinpoche asking for advice on depression, after battling depression, guilt, unworthiness, lack of concentration (ADD), digestive problems and a mid-lower back problem connected with her spleen and pancreas. The student tries to follow Rinpoche's suggestions and she has been doing Vajrasattva practice, tong-len and prostrations as well as wearing a Hayagriva amulet for protection. 

My most dear Jean,
Thank you for your letter. Sorry it took me a long time to answer. I am traveling and I am busy being lazy. I am very sorry it took so long. I have read your letter. If you still have the problems you explain in the letter, it comes out very good for you to see the Tibetan doctor in Madison. I can give you his contact details.

I would suggest all these problems come from negative karma and delusions.

The most powerful practice to do is nyung-nä. It takes only two days, so it can fit in your busy life or family life. It can be done at the weekend. It comes out best if you can do eight nyung-näs. You can do them from time to time. It’s good to do the first nyung-nä in a group and learn from somebody who knows how to do nyung-näs.

It is also very good if you can take the initiation of Black Garuda from a geshe or lama near where you live. If it is not possible it can be done by phone.

It is good if you can recite the Vajra Armor mantra a few times a day. It is an extremely powerful mantra, like an atomic bomb, and has unbelievable benefits.

Also, please read the advice I have given on depression on the website. From this advice, please take what you like and think about it.

You have to remember buddha nature. In the emptiness of your heart, remember you have buddha nature. Delusions are not permanent, they are not part of you, they are temporary. You can be free from delusions and negative karma. Like a mirror covered by dust, you can clean it. The more you clean it, the clearer the reflection becomes. Your mind becomes clearer the more the delusions are purified.

A million, trillion, zillion thanks for following my advice by doing tong-len, also Vajrasattva, and the Thirty-Five Buddhas practice. You should continue with tong-len. Each time you do it, you are closer to enlightenment, and the causes of negative karma are purified.

Also, it is very good to see all the good things you have done in your life. Remember your buddha nature, and that you can be free from delusion. See your incredible opportunities, that you have met the Dharma, which makes it possible to achieve enlightenment and find happiness. Negative karma, like the atoms of this earth, can be purified.

Think of the sky of merit you can achieve with bodhicitta. Each time you generate bodhicitta, when you chant the mantra OM MANI PADME HUM even once, you purify negative karma and collect a limitless sky of merits from just one mantra. Imagine how much you collect from reciting 108 mantras.

When you walk to your job, generate bodhicitta from the moment you leave your house, and think “I am going to serve sentient beings.”

It also comes out good to do Samayavajra purification practice. This is good for purifying negative karma accumulated with the guru. It is important when doing the practice to generate strong regret. If you can, do 200,000 or 300,000 recitations of the mantra to purify negative karma accumulated with the guru, not only in this life but also in past lives, during beginningless lives.

With all my love and prayers...

Depression is Good
A student had been battling severe depression for some time. When Rinpoche was visiting the city where the student lived, Rinpoche called him and visited his home on a day that happened to be the student’s birthday. While he was visiting, Rinpoche offered the following advice.

The first thing is that having depression is good. It is good because this is a sign of purification, of having practiced Dharma.

Negative karma gets purified to different levels. With the first level, you never experience the suffering results of the actions. With the second level, you experience these results, but rather than experiencing the suffering result of the negative action for many eons of suffering in the lower realms—hell, hungry ghost, or animal—instead, the result manifests in this life in the form of some problem, such as a toothache, headache, or being criticized by people. Unbelievably, negative karma manifests as this problem, or even just as bad dreams, nightmares, often in the form of sickness, failure in business, some disaster in the family or in one’s relationships, other people treating you badly, abusing you, and also in the form of depression. This way, you never have to experience the heavy suffering in other realms for an incredible length of time. Therefore, experiencing this depression is a positive thing.

This way of thinking can be related to whatever problems you have so that you feel positive and happy about them. You should understand all the rest of your problems, whatever you have, in this same way.

Then there’s the next level of purifying karma. With this one, you do get reborn in the lower realms, but for a very short time, and the suffering is very light. For example, when you throw a stone on a rock, it hits in one second, like the snap of your fingers. Similarly, in that way, all those heavy sufferings for a great length of time are finished, instead, in that instant of suffering. Comparing that to heavy suffering for an incredible length of time, even though one has been reborn in the lower realms—it’s very positive, very good. It’s fantastic!

So, there’s no question that the problems experienced in the human realm are an incredibly great comfort, even a pleasure, when you compare them to those extremely heavy sufferings in the hell, hungry ghost, and animal realms. The negative karma that one doesn’t have to experience is really fantastic. It’s gorgeous! This can be related to AIDS, cancer, or whatever problems someone might have.

For example, when you wash a cloth, with water and soap, the dirt comes out. At first, there is very black dirt. You don’t immediately see that the shirt has been cleaned. But that black dirt coming out is not at all negative, it’s a very good sign. If the dirt doesn’t come out, that’s not good. You want the cloth clean, so the dirt must come out. It appears very dark, black, but it’s a positive thing that you are able to clean it.

It’s the same when we practice Dharma. At that time, negative karmas manifest and we can get sick. When one practices Dharma, negative karma comes out very quickly, to finish. Therefore, one should rejoice in depression.

The same thing applies to this situation. The karma is manifested and finished by this depression or other problem. What makes it come out is soap and water, which here, is your Dharma practice. That’s why many Dharma practitioners encounter a lot of obstacles, sicknesses, and many other things when they engage in strong practice.

Somebody who doesn’t do any practice or purification—butchers and so forth, who kill so many thousands of beings every day, people who engage in activities like that—can have a very healthy body, living for many years. But that is not a good sign. All their negative karma is stored up, to be experienced in the future for an incredible length of time. Even when it is not experienced in the lower realms, then it will be in the human realm from life to life, for many thousands of lifetimes. This is besides suffering in the lower realms.

The person who engages in many negative actions—killing and so forth—in this life but does not do any practice to purify nor engages in any virtuous activities, these people may be physically well and have a healthy body in this life, however, this life is very short. It’s like one second. If you compare it with all the future lives and the length of even one lifetime in the hell realms, it’s nothing.

This is the first thing, to look at your situation positively. You think, “How good to have this depression!” This also gives you inner strength.

In the Guru Puja, it says: “Should even the environment and the beings therein be filled with the fruit of their karmic debts, and unwished for suffering pour down on us like rain, we seek your blessing to takes those miserable conditions as a path by seeing them as causes to exhaust our negative karma.”

Here, the way to think effectively is that where you are and what appears for you is only disaster and unpleasant suffering. Everything is unpleasant; even the place is ugly and unpleasant. Everything is harmful to you and everybody is angry at you, dislikes you, criticizes you. They even harm you bodily, beating you, disrespecting you, and making fun of you. Everybody in the country, in the whole world even, is negative toward you. You should look at these experiences as the cause of finishing the results of past heavy negative karma collected from beginningless rebirths.

In this way, you are utilizing your bad experiences on the path. Then, bad circumstances and experiences on the path are made positive. You are turning them into good circumstances. With this way of looking at the situation, you are always keeping your mental state happy. This is the correct way of thinking, the way of Buddhist psychology.

You can understand why it is important to keep the mind always in a state of happiness, and why this is emphasized in the teachings. If the mind is unhappy, first of all this makes your family and any other people surrounding you unhappy. You are caught up so much with yourself that your mind is not open to others. You cannot love others, help them, make them happy. Your mind is closed, so tied up with your own problems, such as depression. You cannot even smile at others, cannot even give that small pleasure to them. So, your unhappy mental state makes other people unhappy.

But when you enjoy your life, when your mental state is happy, you have so much space in your mind to think of others, to cherish and love them. You have room to help others and have compassion toward others, and can even give some pleasure to others by smiling. You are more relaxed. You can do your job better. Somebody who is practicing Dharma is able to continue doing his or her meditation practices, commitments, and prayers. Otherwise, if your mind is not happy due to depression, even that practice gets stopped. You cannot recite even one OM MANI PADME HUM. There’s no courage even for that.

Therefore, when life is miserable, it is very important to keep the mind happy, by utilizing the path to enlightenment and thinking in this way. This is one example of thought transformation.

Similarly, when one has success or some achievement, there is a lot of excitement at that time and again one’s life becomes unstable. The mind that is not stable cannot practice. You can’t do your meditation, your Dharma practice, and that can become a distraction.

Therefore, so that a miserable life and happy life do not become obstacles to achieving the path to enlightenment—to being able to liberate numberless sentient beings from suffering and its causes and bring them to enlightenment—one needs to practice Dharma continually. Neither of these experiences becomes an obstacle if one practices thought transformation, keeping the mind happy and positive. This keeps the mind healthy, and from that comes a healthy body.

Every morning when you begin the day, make a strong determination in your mind, like this: “Whatever problem I encounter today, I won’t allow my mind to be disturbed by it. I’m not going to allow myself to be weak. I’m going to challenge it.”

Make this strong determination in the morning, “I am going to be strong,” and also make a strong determination to transform your problems into happiness.

As it says in the Guru Puja by Panchen Lama Chokyi Gyaltsen, “Please grant me blessings to ensure that, whatever bad and good appearances happen in my life, I am able to transform them into the path which develops bodhicitta. By the practice of the five powers, the essence of the whole Dharma, meditate for the mind only to be happy.”

What this means is one should keep the mind only happy, with the method of meditation that transforms the mind into happiness all the time.

Another practice to perform is the five powers. The first of the five powers is the power of the white seed. The merit that you collect is like the power of a seed. From it you experience happiness in this life and future lives. Then comes the power of the attitude, which means the attitude you have every morning towards how you are going to live your life. Then the power of prayer, then the power of putting all the blame on one point, and the fifth is the power of training. These are just the titles. You should read more about the meaning.

Think, “Even though the continuation of my mind has no beginning, what has prevented me from achieving enlightenment up to now is ego. I have not achieved even the confidence within myself that, if death comes, for sure I will have a good rebirth. Because I allow myself to be under the control of self-cherishing thoughts, I don’t have even that confidence.”

This ego is the one that never gives me freedom to practice Dharma, giving me no peace or happiness, always disturbing me and not allowing me to liberate others from the lower realms and from samsara. It doesn’t allow me to do that and doesn’t even allow others to help me. What makes me harm others and what makes others harm me is this ego.

Any undesirable thing that happens in my life is caused by ego: criticism from others, bad reputation, abuse, anything that I believe to be bad. What makes the friends I have now become my enemies is ego. Those who are harmonious with me become disharmonious because of my ego.

Even though I know the Dharma, I am constantly unable to practice, meditate, even recite mantras or sadhanas. What prevents this is ego. Ego doesn’t allow me to listen, reflect, and meditate on Dharma. Or retreat, what doesn’t allow that is the self-cherishing thought. Only finding time to do meaningless actions, never having time to practice Dharma—this is due to ego.

When I practice, many obstacles arise due to my ego. The ego forces me to break samaya with my guru, disregard advice, and causes negative thoughts to arise, such as criticizing and giving up the guru. The self-cherishing thought creates obstacles for realizations on the path to enlightenment, and even for the happiness of day-to-day life and success in this life. This ego obliges me to harm numberless living beings from life to life.

Without this ego, there is only loving compassion and thoughts of bodhicitta. That means I only benefit all living beings from life to life. Besides the fact that this ego has been harming me up to now, it will harm me continuously in the future, as long as I keep it in my heart.

Ego is what obliged me to experience this depression. Like this, all 424 diseases are the same: they are only due to ego. If there is no ego, then there is space for bodhicitta to develop.

Therefore, the meditation for this depression is: Destroy the ego. In your mind, you give your depression to the ego by thinking, “Let the ego have it. Why do I need to experience it? Let it have the depression.”

Depression becomes better than medicine for the chronic disease of the mind. This way, you use your depression for the best healing, the healing of your chronic disease—the self-cherishing thought—the continuation of which is beginningless and also the harm one receives from it is beginningless.

Here, depression becomes unbelievably useful, especially for having realizations of bodhicitta. It is extremely beneficial for eliminating all the defilements and completing realizations, to achieve full enlightenment, and to liberate numberless sentient beings who are the source of one’s own past, present, and future happiness—to liberate them from the suffering of the lower realms and the entire samsaric sufferings and bring them to enlightenment. So, depression becomes extremely precious.

The conclusion is that depression is extremely precious and wish-fulfilling. It is something that we really need.