Meditations for Depression

Meditations for Depression

Date of Advice:
June 2018
Date Posted:
April 2021

A student was experiencing severe depression after a family member passed away, and was unable to alleviate it. Rinpoche recommended meditation on emptiness and advised these techniques.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche at Kurukulla Center, Boston, USA. August 2018.  Photo: Amdo GT Photography.

My most dear, most kind, most precious, wish-fulfilling one,

What comes out best for you is to really meditate on emptiness. Please read the advice which I have given. It can be helpful. [See the FPMT booklet Recognizing the False I.]

You need to think a lot on emptiness, how we create the label “I” there, on the aggregates. The mind is focused on the aggregates and that same mind makes up the label I, so that is the merely imputed I. That’s it, there is nothing more that exists. Anything slightly more than that is a hallucination.

The subtle object of refutation according to the Prasangika Madhyamaka view means how the I appears back to us as not merely labeled by the mind. If it is slightly more than that, it means it’s a hallucination.

In reality, that is how the I exists. You can see now what the I is. It is extremely subtle, subtle, subtle. This is something that we usually never think about in that way, except for the meditators.

Also it is similar for the aggregates, if we analyze, they exist in mere name, the same as the I, then the aggregates are labeled on another base, and so it goes on and on. Everything exists in mere name.

So now you can see [everything is] totally empty, including the I. It is not saying the I doesn’t exist, but it doesn’t exist from its own side. You have to meditate in this awareness, and not only that, but also seeing that the whole world is totally empty, it does not exist from its own side. What exists is in mere name, just like the I.

The second time you meditate, think of the emptiness of the world for as long as you can, then think that samsara, nirvana, hell, enlightenment, everyday happiness, pleasure, everything, is merely labeled by the mind. All these things do not exist from their own side; they are merely labeled by the mind, totally empty.

If you can, gradually meditate on the emptiness of hell, enlightenment, samsara, nirvana, happiness, unhappiness. For as long as you can, with mindfulness, meditate on that emptiness. This is an excellent meditation.

That means the person who is sick—you who are sick—is empty, they do not exist from their own side. Real sickness does not exist from its own side—the experience of sickness, the action—realize it is empty, it does not exist from its own side. This would be excellent.

It is merely labeled by the mind, so meditating on emptiness like this is very, very good. So here again do it with mindfulness, awareness, for as long as you can. This is unbelievable, most powerful. This purifies negative karma and obscurations collected from beginningless rebirths and collects inconceivable, inconceivable merits.

To realize emptiness, to be able to realize emptiness, to see the emptiness, the ultimate truth of the I and so forth, is the only way to eliminate the root of samsara, ignorance, holding the I and the aggregates as truly existent. This ignorance is the root of samsara.

This is the only way to become free from the oceans of samsaric sufferings, including the cause—delusion and karma. Then we can achieve everlasting happiness, the blissful state of peace for oneself, and by developing this wisdom not only do we become free from gross obscurations, but we also become free from the subtle obscurations. And with the support of bodhicitta for sentient beings, we are able to free the numberless sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric suffering, including the causes, and bring them to total cessation of obscurations and completion of realizations, buddhahood.

Now I’ll introduce the basis, the hallucination of all our suffering. In the first second the “I” is merely imputed by the mind, and that which is the merely imputed I appears back as the real one, which means existing from its own side, existing by nature or truly existent. How this happened, how the I started to come into existence, is totally opposite to reality.

There is ignorance from beginningless rebirths, continuously generated negative imprints left on the mind, the mental continuum, from the past, from beginningless rebirths. The negative imprints immediately project the merely labeled I. It appears to exist from its own side, and not only that, which is the subtle one, it even appears to be truly existent from its own side, so the mind never labeled I. This is a very gross view of the I, according to the four schools of Buddhist philosophy. Then, the Mind Only school (Skt: Cittamatra) believes that things exist depending on the imprints left on the seventh consciousness, experienced out as the subject and object—one is the mind knowing, one is the object.

The I and the aggregates are like the king and the population. The king depends on the population, and if we think of the king without thinking of the population, that is the wrong way of thinking. It’s the same with the I.

Then thinking about even gross impermanence; thinking it is permanent, without depending on the parts, existing alone. Without depending on causes and conditions, existing independently, this is the last gross one, the extremely gross view of the I. So it’s all there in the view of the I, in our view of the I.

Now you can see this is a total hallucination; the way the I appears to us is a total hallucination. It does not exist at all from its own side, there’s no such thing, not even an atom of that. So it’s like that, the aggregates—the base—are labeled, and so it goes on and on.

Now the whole world appears like the I. It appears real from there, but all this, even the atoms, are not there, they are totally empty. Then you can practice awareness again by looking at the hallucination as a hallucination as much as you can, starting with the I. Next, look at the whole world. Next, samsara and nirvana, which appear as real—real hell and real enlightenment. Practice awareness of that, meditate on that.

Then real pleasure, real suffering. In your everyday life look at these as a hallucination and recognize the hallucination, like when you are dreaming. Recognize the dream as a dream. Normally in a dream we believe it is real, like our daytime life—we think everything is truly existent, as it appears. We believe it one hundred percent, just as in the dreamtime we believe the whole dream is real. That is a total mistake.

So if your mind gets used to this and develops in this understanding of emptiness, it is a most unbelievable way to purify and collect merits, as I explained before. It always leaves positive imprints, at least to realize emptiness.

Please try this.

With much love and prayers ...