Theravadin Monks, lay community and depression

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markandeya
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Theravadin Monks, lay community and depression

Post by markandeya » Thu Aug 16, 2018 2:19 pm

After a recent 5 day visit to TheraVadin Monsatery and its not secret that depression plays a big role in a lot of monks and nuns lives, and this reflects in the lay community, who then stagnate. I have been thinking about this because my experience within Asia is that spiritual adherents are not really depressed or introverted people, in fact its the opposite. So I am considering the causes.

Depression is a bit of buzz word that few really understand the cause or the meaning, or have a very good holistic picture of life. I am using it in the context of not having natural vitality~Samma Vayama. To rule out Dukkha as something which will somehow cease while we are alive in these bodies is not wise, but depression and lack of vitality is something that can be ruled out and overcome by skillful living, adopting the practices of the great discoveries that have been associated with Spiritual and Buddhist traditions. Yoga, Tai Chi, qigong. Measured fasting, eating good foods, general wisdom in the activity of life to gain balance and harmony.

My personal experience and those of many others is that meditation is best when body and mind is in healthy conditions. I do not see any developed traits within the Western Sanghas as per comparison to Asia, where monks would also be healers, practice systems of strengthening the body and mind via more subtle esoteric practices, which I would assume by being monk without the distractions of daily life and monetary problems they should be excelling in. The outer infrastructure is second to none, nice buildings, very aesthetic in many of the Buddhist centres but the internal development seems very slow, self obsessed, bogged down and not advancing as it should be.

In the early accounts of the Chinese ventures to India to learn and take back home the dharma I-tsing (I Ching) Fa-Hien and Xuanzang all complimented and oberved the super normal abilities of the head Buddhist and the practitioners.

In the book Buddhism in India as described by Chinese Pilgrims ad399-689, it gives detailed accounts of the way monks lived, they followed certain ways and hardly any of them are reflected in the practices within what is known or studied within western circles today.

So whats missing, why are Monks unhappy or depressed, why are there monks that have been practicing for 50 years but they are not on supra-mundane level of Buddhood, or the more awakened level which is liberating, but yet they are given titles of Ajhans and teachers. As said there will always be dukkha, its part of life, but life is not limited to Dukkha. Buddhism is perhaps one of the most simple paths.

There doesnt seem to be Samma Vayama, maybe because samma dhitti is not understood well enough.

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Nicolas
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Re: TheravAdin Monks, lay community and depression

Post by Nicolas » Thu Aug 16, 2018 6:12 pm

markandeya wrote:
Thu Aug 16, 2018 2:19 pm
[...]
I do not see any developed traits within the Western Sanghas as per comparison to Asia, where monks would also be healers, practice systems of strengthening the body and mind via more subtle esoteric practices, which I would assume by being monk without the distractions of daily life and monetary problems they should be excelling in. [...]

In the early accounts of the Chinese ventures to India to learn and take back home the dharma I-tsing (I Ching) Fa-Hien and Xuanzang all complimented and oberved the super normal abilities of the head Buddhist and the practitioners.

[...]
On an off-topic side-note, monastics are not supposed to be healers/doctors/medicine men or women, they are not to give worldly healing (see DN 1, DN 2, DN 8, DN 10). The Buddha is a transcendental doctor that administers the Noble Eightfold Path (see AN 10.109).

Certain supernormal abilities are also not necessary for liberation, and have been described as "ignoble" by the Buddha in comparison with the miracle of instruction (see DN 11, DN 28 & AN 3.60).

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Re: TheravAdin Monks, lay community and depression

Post by markandeya » Thu Aug 16, 2018 6:33 pm

On an off-topic side-note, monastics are not supposed to be healers/doctors/medicine men or women, they are not to give worldly healing (see DN 1, DN 2, DN 8, DN 10). The Buddha is a transcendental doctor that administers the Noble Eightfold Path (see AN 10.109).

Certain supernormal abilities are also not necessary for liberation, and have been described as "ignoble" by the Buddha in comparison with the miracle of instruction (see DN 11, DN 28 & AN 3.60).
Hi Nicolas

Its is the transcendent side of things that I am talking about which doesnt seem to be working within Western Sanghas, and is not about worldly healing, from all the dhamma talks that I have been to it is much more geared up to what I would call Dhamma coping mechanisms to deal with the day to day problems, that seems more worldly than something transcendent, such as contemplating impermanence and seeing the conditions which give rise to dukkha.

I have personally met many practitioners monks and lay that are healers for progress in the dhamma and have great knowledge's. Maybe you have not had such experiences. That is why i referred to Buddhism in India book as it goes into some details on how monastics lived and took care of each others health both with the physical body and subtle bodies for vitality which aided their development of samyak sambodhi, in fact the healing techniques are so closely associated with samyak sambodhi that all the systems of healing are direct yuktas or discoveries found in wisdom states, so there is nothing worldly about them. In the yoga systems they often follow Matsyendranatha disciple of Hatha Yoga from the nath sampradaya, Matsyendranatha was considered a Buddhist in Himalayan traditions, Hatha Yoga is not is not coming from Patanjalis yoga sutras, there are no physical exercises in asana of Patanjali. The Tibetans also were doing their own medicines and yogic exercises to give more power to meditation and practice. The Chinese traditions have a huge wealth of holistic practices that fully align to dharma practice. But all of these are ignored in most monastic traditions that I have seen in Western TheravAda.

The Buddhas power was super normal, if your talking about the practice and showing off of outward display of iddhis I would agree, although in kevatta sutta there is more going on than first meets the eye.

Even if they are practicing only the miracle instruction into the outwardly going teachings that deal with the psycho physical process it doesnt seem to be working or why is depression a common symptom and ill health in the western sanghas.

So it might be better to address why the practice on a monastic level is not working, rather than make up ideas that have only book reference.
Last edited by markandeya on Thu Aug 16, 2018 6:42 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Nicolas
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Re: TheravAdin Monks, lay community and depression

Post by Nicolas » Thu Aug 16, 2018 6:41 pm

I don't disagree with you, it was just a side-note which was not addressing the core of your message. :anjali:

I've only visited one Western monastery and did not perceive signs of depression or illness in the monks there. (I've met other Western monks and nuns on other occasions, and haven't discerned signs of depression or illness in them either.)
Would you be willing to share (either here or by private message) the name of the Western monastery or monasteries you were referring to?

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Re: TheravAdin Monks, lay community and depression

Post by markandeya » Thu Aug 16, 2018 6:51 pm

Nicolas wrote:
Thu Aug 16, 2018 6:41 pm
I don't disagree with you, it was just a side-note which was not addressing the core of your message. :anjali:
Thanks

It is a genuine concern of mine to see people in such a wonderful set with so many facilities and so much available knowledge and its not been taken advantage off. There seems to be a level of false renunciation which is not helping understand Buddha Dhamma or better said realize Buddha Dhamma.

Health and mental wellbeing should be the foundation for practice, is there more in the suttas and the history of ThervAda that deals more directly with this. I am not so sure of endless amounts of sitting, in some of the winter retreats some people often leave worse or more confused than when they first came. Just sitting observing phenomenon without Samma Vayama maybe counter productive.

What is the general way that Samma Vayama is cultivated, meditation or mindfulness is not something that is done just sitting on cushion or walking up a down a bit of ground slowly, its something that can or should be ever present in everything that one does. Perhaps off the cushion is a better ground to develop the right development for Buddha Vichara, which I am assuming is the higher practice of the TheravAda tradition.

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Re: TheravAdin Monks, lay community and depression

Post by _anicca_ » Thu Aug 16, 2018 7:29 pm

Working with depression is the path.

There are far too many variables to be able to tell why one person succeeds and another doesn't.

Some people have more suffering to deal with than others, and - at times - this isn't indicative of their practice.
"A virtuous monk, Kotthita my friend, should attend in an appropriate way to the five clinging-aggregates as inconstant, stressful, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a dissolution, an emptiness, not-self."

:buddha1:

http://vipassanameditation.asia

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Re: Theravadin Monks, lay community and depression

Post by JamesTheGiant » Thu Aug 16, 2018 9:49 pm

From personal experience I'd say the occurrence of depression and mental illness in western monasteries is either slightly higher than the general western population, or just more visible in a monastic setting, where daily life and busyness doesn't disguise it.

But as Ajahn Sujato said trenchantly, "western monasticism is rife with undiagnosed mental illness".
So that's another perspective!

I have seen that monks are discouraged from using western psychology to help with their mental health problems. Instead they're advised to simply meditate and use the 8 fold path to be more healthy. I don't think that's very useful in anything more than the most mild cases of mental trouble.

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Re: Theravadin Monks, lay community and depression

Post by SarathW » Thu Aug 16, 2018 10:26 pm

Thank you James
What is the reason for mental illness among Western monks?
Are generally Western people suffer from mental illness or they become mentally ill after joining the order?
“As the lamp consumes oil, the path realises Nibbana”

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Re: Theravadin Monks, lay community and depression

Post by DooDoot » Fri Aug 17, 2018 2:55 am

markandeya wrote:
Thu Aug 16, 2018 2:19 pm
Yoga, Tai Chi, qigong. Measured fasting, eating good foods, general wisdom in the activity of life to gain balance and harmony... There doesn't seem to be Samma Vayama, maybe because samma dhitti is not understood well enough.
I doubt the above physical practises will greatly help depression or fall into the sphere of Samma Ditthi. Most Western hatha yoga practitioners I have known are mentally unbalanced or otherwise not particularly liberated. We now live in a time of Cultural Marxism or Maraism, where the natural vitality of reproduction & family life has become unattractive for many people; who are drawn to monasticism; but which may not be ideal for these people; yet they are not interested in sex yet have not reached the level of samadhi/samatha to dissolve the sexual-ego-survival instinct. To find the mental independence of 'viveka' is not easy. To dissolve ego (passing through 'Dark Night of the Soul') is not easy.
markandeya wrote:
Thu Aug 16, 2018 6:33 pm
I have personally met many practitioners monks and lay that are healers...
The above is contrary to independence and requires dependence on others or social relationships. This gets 'messy' in the Buddhist monastic setting although is often useful for 'match-making'; where a monk &/or nun disrobe and elope. When I lived in the monastery, I witnessed a number of disrobings for the purpose of eloping with a person who searched for 'healing' in the monastery. :heart:
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Re: Theravadin Monks, lay community and depression

Post by SarathW » Fri Aug 17, 2018 3:04 am

who are drawn to monasticism; but which may not be ideal for these people
Agree.
The problem is they start with the wrong footing.
Samma Dithi is the key to start the monastic life.
“As the lamp consumes oil, the path realises Nibbana”

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Re: Theravadin Monks, lay community and depression

Post by DooDoot » Fri Aug 17, 2018 3:08 am

SarathW wrote:
Fri Aug 17, 2018 3:04 am
Samma Dithi is the key to start the monastic life.
Maybe. But they are not attracted to the alternate worldly life. There is the wisdom to give up the worldly life but not the mental fortitude to abandon the self-instinct. I listened to a nun of around 10 years give a talk recently and all i can say is she is struggling with aloneness/solitude. She is (tantrically) inspired by the many monks she knows & quotes but solitude appears not natural for her. Bhikkhu Bodhi has never had a reputation for meditation but devoted his life to scholarship, translation & teaching for the benefit of others. This was/is a life well-lived.
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Re: Theravadin Monks, lay community and depression

Post by Crazy cloud » Fri Aug 17, 2018 4:24 am

We're quite skilled with our western mind to diagnose depressions, while to me it's not that interest in looking for one's constante sadness in the aisan communities one practice together with. Maybe it's not such a big problem, maybe it's our focus that makes the problem become the issue ...

There is a clear western focus on "metta" as an important practice, and i don't disagree, but experience that there is one kind of metta feeling when keeping strictly "loving kindness" in one's overall daily mind states, and quite another and far more interesting felling when includinging the other three aspects of the four brahma viharas into daily practice.

I say a mix of both worlds is what does it for me, and i can't choose between them ... but I still don't have to participate in anything more than what I find wholsesome
If you didn't care
What happened to me
And I didn't care for you

We would zig-zag our way
Through the boredom and pain
Occasionally glancing up through the rain

Wondering which of the
Buggers to blame
And watching for pigs on the wing
- Roger Waters

markandeya
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Re: Theravadin Monks, lay community and depression

Post by markandeya » Fri Aug 17, 2018 4:16 pm

JamesTheGiant wrote:
Thu Aug 16, 2018 9:49 pm
From personal experience I'd say the occurrence of depression and mental illness in western monasteries is either slightly higher than the general western population, or just more visible in a monastic setting, where daily life and busyness doesn't disguise it.

But as Ajahn Sujato said trenchantly, "western monasticism is rife with undiagnosed mental illness".
So that's another perspective!

I have seen that monks are discouraged from using western psychology to help with their mental health problems. Instead they're advised to simply meditate and use the 8 fold path to be more healthy. I don't think that's very useful in anything more than the most mild cases of mental trouble.
Hi James,

Interesting points. As far as I understand in my studies of cultural side of Buddhism and its expansions into other countries there was always a synthesis between the Buddha Dharma and local cultures, if western people are familiar and trust psychology and psychotherapy I am not sure why a Buddhist tradition would not welcome something that understands and can help with the conditions. This is a problem of having a one fixed doctrine and practice, it simple doesnt work, not even on a mundane level.

To use terms such as mental illness, seems to be to conceptual and adds to the problem, its like affirming always that a person is sick, mentally unhealthy, any states that is not directly enlightened could be considered a type of mental illness. I think better words needs to be associated.

I read quite some time ago in Singapore there was a clinic for people with depression and other associated conditions. The center as far as I can remember was run by Buddhist, it was known as wellness center. The people that came there for treatment were never labelled as depressed or whatever, and treated more normally, as far as I can remeber there was no any real defining line of dr and patient . The success rate was apparently very good and very little to no medication needed.

Things can be seen in holistic way by follwing the guidlines of noble eightfold path, as I mentioned in previous post and again brought up by SarathW
Samma Dithi is the key to start the monastic life
Not just though for monastics, but all practitioners of Buddha Dhamma, and to establish what this means as related to sati and the conditions of naturally occurring phenomenon and not book and intellectual memory repetition based knowledge.

All the spokes of the eightfold dhamma wheel should be working together. There is also Right Livelihood to consider Samma ajiva, this will mean more than how one makes a living, its based on mindfulness of daily lifestyles. So even with 3 parts of the eightfold path Samma ditthi, Samma ajiva and Samma vayama, there is some scope to work with for more healthier states of mind to work towards samyak sambodhi and gradually start to include the whole ariyo aṭṭhaṅgiko maggo as a living practical tradition and mute the mental speculators false scholars and mundane intellectuals .

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Re: Theravadin Monks, lay community and depression

Post by DooDoot » Fri Aug 17, 2018 9:42 pm

markandeya wrote:
Fri Aug 17, 2018 4:16 pm
if western people are familiar and trust psychology and psychotherapy I am not sure why a Buddhist tradition would not welcome something that understands and can help with the conditions.
It sounds like the basic premise of this view is psychology and psychotherapy are superior to Buddhism and Buddhism is deficient in some way. In my personal experience, it is the opposite. I have no qualifications in psychology and psychotherapy yet have found my (Buddhist) help given to struggling people is more effective than psychology and psychotherapy. This is because Buddhism has a moral component; which views unskillful behavior & improper relationship characteristics as also a cause of suffering. The only formal psychology and psychotherapy training I ever received was "client-centred"; which meant giving advice was prohibited and prompting the client to find their own solutions was encouraged (which is ineffective but obviously very u$eful for repeat bu$ine$$).
markandeya wrote:
Fri Aug 17, 2018 4:16 pm
All the spokes of the eightfold dhamma wheel should be working together. There is also Right Livelihood to consider Samma ajiva, this will mean more than how one makes a living, its based on mindfulness of daily lifestyles. So even with 3 parts of the eightfold path Samma ditthi, Samma ajiva and Samma vayama, there is some scope to work with for more healthier states of mind to work towards samyak sambodhi and gradually start to include the whole ariyo aṭṭhaṅgiko maggo as a living practical tradition and mute the mental speculators false scholars and mundane intellectuals .
The above sounds illogical because psychology and psychotherapy (unlike Buddha-Dhamma) are rooted in Cultural Marxism and have no prescriptions for an objective healthy morality. I recall reading years ago one of Jung's key case studies about a girl whose parents separated when she was young; whose father (and guardian) would often leave the girl alone in foreign hotel rooms while visiting high-class prostitutes; who eventually was raped as a teenager in her father's travels; and who eventually married and seperated. I recall Jung attributed her sufferings to her cravings but never once acknowledged the moral dysfunction of her family and life experiences.

Regardless, perfect morality does not guarantee spiritual freedom. This is why monks following impeccable Vinaya for 40 years end up disrobing for love (sex). I think a disposition for Nibbana must exist and that individuals with too high genetic sexual/reproductive/self instincts won't make it.

:smile:
Last edited by DooDoot on Fri Aug 17, 2018 10:07 pm, edited 10 times in total.
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Re: Theravadin Monks, lay community and depression

Post by mikenz66 » Fri Aug 17, 2018 9:53 pm

Thanks for the perspective, James,
JamesTheGiant wrote:
Thu Aug 16, 2018 9:49 pm
But as Ajahn Sujato said trenchantly, "western monasticism is rife with undiagnosed mental illness".
So that's another perspective!
I've not had a lot of contact with western monastics, but is it possible that westerners taking up the monastic path (or the Buddhist path in general) are more likely to be doing it to try to solve such problems than those from a more traditional background?

I know there are some famous Asian teachers who came from a difficult background (poor, orphans, etc), and I personally found the Dhamma during a difficult life period, but those are very different problems from mental-health issues.

:heart:
Mike

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