Fourteen months ago I had a severe mental breakdown. This was precipitated by big problems and changes in my job, which were unexpectedly and suddenly thrust upon me without warning, preparation, or training. I tried hard to deal with it all but quickly found myself having big psychological problems, as I couldn't cope with all the added pressure and change. Without support or understanding from my managers, I started to experience huge anxiety and depression, and things got so bad that I was unable to continue working. The diagnosis of "major agitated depression and anxiety" has continued ever since. Falling out of the job has swept the world from under my feet and left me with absolutely no confidence or self-belief that I can do hardly anything.
This has completely ruined my life, Rinpoche. My relationship with my wife is in tatters, as she can't cope with it any more and responds very aggressively to me. I'm 49 and don't know if I can ever do anything again. Life feels completely devoid of any joy or pleasure, and I'm unable to relax, stop the anxiety and depression, and enjoy anything. I'm isolated and feel very suicidal all the time, and just don't know the way out any more.
Before this I could be light-hearted, humorous, and was trying very hard to practice, be compassionate, and not be so self-cherishing, but now I'm ashamed that I just can't stop comparing myself negatively with everyone I see. I so envy their work, inner security, friends, mood, support, relaxation, and love.
The huge fear, guilt, shame, anxiety, and depression has continued now for 14 months, in which I haven't been able to laugh or enjoy life at all. Psychiatrists have given me all sorts of antidepressant medications, none of which have worked. I am in the most desperate black box/hell realm. I don't want to die, but I'm so confused, afraid, and lost, and can't take it any more. Please, please, help me!
My very dear James,
Thank you for your kind email. I am so sorry for the many eons of delay it took to reply. It is very important for you to have courage, also to do the practice of tong-len. Think: "I am just one person. There are numberless sentient beings who are also suffering."
Generate compassion for others, taking upon oneself all their suffering and its causes: delusion and karma. Not only do you take their negative thoughts and problems, but even their unhealthy, ugly, polluted, rough, noisy, and unpleasant places where they are living. For example, the hell beings live where there is fire, like lava, and in the cold hells there is ice. You also take human beings' filthy, dirty environments, which are muddy, rough, and have a lot of thorn bushes. You take on those undesirable places to destroy the ego, the self-cherishing thought.
Since every sentient being is the source of one's happiness, that is one important reason to experience your depression on behalf of all sentient beings. In other words, you think the depression is not your depression, but the depression of numberless beings, and so by experiencing it for them you let them have all happiness, especially being free from samsara and all sufferings, and, especially, attaining highest enlightenment. How fantastic this is, that you yourself cause this for other sentient beings! This is incredible. Feel joy.
Think: "Even Buddha, Dharma, Sangha come from my prayers all the time, purifying my negative karma, so that I can actualize the realizations and achieve enlightenment. All this comes from sentient beings. So, every single sentient being is the most precious one in my life, and the source of all my past, present, and future happiness. Therefore, in my life, there's nobody to cherish except sentient beings. There's nobody to work for other than sentient beings. Other than that, everything is totally meaningless. Totally meaningless."
Thinking like this makes one’s experience of depression for others. So does thinking that because I've been praying in the past, during Guru Puja, for their sufferings to ripen on me, this is the suffering of others. This is others' depression. Therefore, this is the most exciting, the most pleasurable thing in my life, to work for others by experiencing their suffering for them, and leaving them all freedom and happiness. Think: "There's no other way." In this way, do tong-len practice with meditation, experiencing these sufferings on behalf of all sentient beings.
In recent years, I have been adding some essential advice for “Universal Education” (UE), and this is very good for you to try. The basic practice of UE is the 16 human dharmas and 10 divine dharmas.
- To practice having a kind heart, every day and night.
- To practice rejoicing. When something good happens to others then rejoice.
- To practice tolerance—this is extremely important.
- To practice being content—to bring peace in your heart, in the heart of others, and peace in the world.
- To practice forgiveness. When someone disrespects or harms you, forgive them. Also, when you make mistakes and harm others, then immediately apologize.
It is very important to apologize to your wife for having given her a hard time. Explain to her that this is due to past karma, negative defilements, that you have acted like this. So, please apologize to her.
6. Then, practice having courage—not giving up. This is very important.
Please read my book Transforming Problems into Happiness. This would be very good. Try to put it into practice. This explains how to think of the benefits of problems. It is definite that if you can think in this way, then happiness will come.
Have courage and love. In order to try to like the suffering, think of the benefits and stop disliking it. Use different techniques and transform your sufferings into happiness. Please try this. My prayers are with you.
Please let your wife know that if she can support you and help you, this is much better than trying to be an Olympic champion. Olympic athletes train their whole life, trying to become a champion, to become famous in the Olympics, but by serving you, who are having problems, who are experiencing all this unhappiness, this is a great purification practice for her. When you serve someone who needs your help sincerely from your heart, if you can give help with loving kindness, that makes the person happy. Take responsibility for doing that, with great loving kindness.
The realization of great loving kindness is when that feeling arises spontaneously—you want to help, to cause happiness; this is great loving kindness. It is like how a mother feels for her beloved child. When her child is in trouble, the mother not only wishes her child to be happy but also wishes to cause the happiness herself; night and day, this feeling arises spontaneously. Like that, feel this for all sentient beings. That is unbelievable success in this life, the highest success, the best success. Olympic success is nothing compared to this, it is completely meaningless. To be able to cause happiness and generate loving kindness for many sentient beings is unbelievable!
Similarly, to have compassion means not only wishing sentient beings were free from suffering, but wishing to cause that by yourself; that is great compassion. It is like the mind that arises in a mother when she feels her beloved child is dying. In the same way, this is how you can try to feel towards your husband and also for all sentient beings. That feeling, wishing him happiness, is great loving kindness. Each time when you think like this, you collect unbelievable merit, you open the door for all happiness, not only day-to-day happiness and peace, but happiness for all future lives, to have all good things: ultimate happiness, liberation, to be free forever from all sufferings, from the cycle of death and rebirth, and all sickness, old age, all the problems in between birth and death, also peerless happiness and enlightenment. Not only that, you wish to be able to perfectly liberate numberless sentient beings from the six realms, to free them from each realm, from the oceans of samsara’s sufferings, and, not only that, but to bring numberless beings from each realm to full enlightenment.
This is unbelievable. That is why I said that even the success of winning the Olympics is nothing compared to what you achieve by benefiting numberless sentient beings, starting with one sentient being. That is amazing.
It is very good if you think about these two verses from the Guru Puja regarding the shortcomings of the self-cherishing thought and the benefits of cherishing others.
The Guru Puja is a very precious guru yoga practice composed by the very highest enlightened being, the first Panchen Lama: Losang Chokyi Gyaltsen. These two verses are:
This chronic disease of cherishing myself
Is the cause giving rise to my unsought suffering.
Perceiving this, I seek your blessings to blame, begrudge,
And destroy the monstrous demon of self cherishing.
This is an unbelievable teaching; it is incredible purification practice. Thinking like this is very deep, like the ocean, and immediately brings peace into your heart, and satisfaction, fulfillment, and joy into your life. You can think: I owe it to help him. I must have a karmic debt from the past. He must have taken care of me when I was suffering incredibly, when I had unbelievable problems. He must have served me, so now it is my turn to serve him and repay him. Also, think: this is the karmic result from past karma that I must have created with him.
All these difficulties are the result of the self-cherishing thought, they are caused by the self-cherishing thought, so now I give these problems back to the self-cherishing thought, to destroy the self-cherishing thought, which is from where all my problems come. In this way, you destroy the self-cherishing thought.
When you do this practice, it gives you so much inner happiness and peace. This is the real spiritual practice, the real Dharma.
The mind that cherishes all mother beings and secures them in bliss
Is the gateway leading to infinite virtue.
Seeing this, I seek your blessings to cherish these beings
More than my life, even should they rise up as my enemies.
I mentioned about this before. Here it is not only talking about the happiness of this life, but the happiness of all future lives, ultimate happiness, liberation from all samsara’s sufferings, and full enlightenment, which has limitless skies of qualities, such as the holy body and mind, and the benefits don’t stop there. By generating loving kindness, cherishing others, bringing others to happiness, you liberate numberless beings from each realm, including every hell being, hungry ghost, animal, human being, sura, and asura, from the oceans of samsara’s sufferings, and bring them to enlightenment.
This is what happens when you generate loving kindness for him and serve him. The benefits you achieve are unbelievable and exciting. This is the highest success, a great achievement. This is what happens to you every time you help him.
The next prayer is also from the Guru Puja, on patience:
Should even the myriad beings of the three realms without exception
Become angry at me, humiliate, criticize, threaten, or even kill me
I seek your blessings to complete the perfection of patience not to be distraught,
But to work for their benefit in response to their harm.
If you can practice patience towards him, it is unbelievable. This is my advice to you. If you can practice like this it will be incredible.
With much love and prayers...