Is Buddhism and Depression a Dangerous Mix?

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    I was listening to ‘The Soul in Depression” on Onbeing.org, which discusses the effects of depression on the soul. It provides a very unique understanding of depression not as sadness perse but as a lost of vitality that can actually bring us closer to our soul. One of the interviewees Anita Barrows, whom is a Buddhist and has suffered from depression, stated that depression has a point. However at the same time, she feels that the Buddhist embrace of inner darkness can be terrifying and even dangerous at the depths of clinical depression but she honors the interplay between darkness and light as the commonplace feature of life.

    I am experiencing my first bout of depression in my life. It’s been about 9 months now. It isn’t severe enough to be called clinical depression but at times it has felt rather overwhelming. At times, I don’t want to get out of bed, other times I don’t want to engage with family or friends, other times I don’t care what happens to me, all the time I feel exhausted, overwhelmed, anxious and fearful, most of the the time I feel like I am in a fog and completely unavailable even to myself, other times I feel like I can’t taste anything, my senses are numbs, my desires or appetites are gone, and on rare occasion have just wished for death. I actually started feeling depressed when I begin mediating and joined a Shambhala center. I stopped pretty early on. I was going to places within myself that I was not comfortable with. Now, I have begun the healing process and am seeking professional help. I am gaining clarity for the cause of my depression and trying to befriend it more. I was denying it, thinking it was just something I would get over. I was also feeling rather ashamed because being depressed went against who I felt I was. I feel deep down that this depression was and is very necessary and is for my healing. It has forced everything to be on hold and all I have is the darkness of my inner self. Navigating this has been hard and uncertain but deep, very deep, I feel some certainty that all will be well. I have been considering meditating again and diving deeper into Buddhism but I am afraid that maybe this isn’t the time for it. I’m afraid it may make my condition worse. I have been listening to the Metta Meditation as a fellow forum participant Matt suggested but can’t seem to actually do it only listen. Could it really be dangerous as Anita Barrows suggest? Or are there some aspects of Buddhism that I can practice while going through this phase of depression and healing? Also sometimes I wonder if it is really depression or just emotions I have kept buried for so long that are finally surfacing. Is this just pain which is part of the healing or is it depression in addition to healing or is it depression due to healing? In other words am I confusing old buried pain for depression?

    Here is the interview if anyone wants to listen to it: http://www.onbeing.org/program/soul-depression/224.

    Thanks for your help!


    • This topic was modified 10 years, 10 months ago by Zenhen.
    • This topic was modified 10 years, 10 months ago by Zenhen.
    • This topic was modified 10 years, 10 months ago by Zenhen.

    Hi Z 🙂

    Perspective and Definition


    Why, then, ’tis none to you; for there is nothing
    either good or bad, but thinking makes it so:
    to me
    it is a prison.

    I can only add perspective.. no authority here

    You are seeing deeper than ever before because you have never wanted to see all inside you before

    I think something that could help is a story that I will type to practice my typing..

    **Gentle old wise man in the park… who ****legally renamed himself after a Buddhist named Tilopa but told me “but, I am not a Buddhist”

    I tell him
    “I have all this stress and frustration about the way I was raised.. why still do I have this at 40+yrs old.. ”

    He replies Because you like to feel that way.
    So, I tell him
    “I need to have compassion for my parents childhoods and how bad their lives must have been to ignore their child etc”

    He replies No, you need compassion for you


    I bring up that story because it is very possible you are looking at what you see inside you from a “Wrongful Perception”

    unpleasant – neutral – unpleasant

    The foundation of happiness is mindfulness. The basic condition for being happy
    is our consciousness of being happy. If we are not aware that we are happy, we are
    not really happy. When we have a toothache, we know that not having a toothache
    is a wonderful thing. But when we do not have a toothache, we are still not happy.
    A non-toothache is very pleasant. There are so many things that are enjoyable,
    but when we don’t practice mindfulness, we don’t appreciate them. When we practice
    mindfulness, we come to cherish these things and we learn how to protect them.
    By taking good care of the present moment, we take good care of the future.
    Working for peace in the future is to work for peace in the present moment.
    ——Thich Nhat Hanh

    Depression is repetition

    the best buddhism I have ever listened to is from an awesome woman who is very old also
    Pema Chodron – 2 divorces and all the other pains and disappointments led her to be one of the most loved Buddhist Nuns in the world
    Thich Nhat Hanh – born in Vietnam and was a young man when the bombs were dropping killing people all around him.. His work during the war led Martin Luther King to nominate TNH for a Nobel Peace Prize .. he surely does deserve it

    Buddhism is thinking… thinking differently for sure… contemplating everything … turning it to joy because the opposite hurts…

    Buddhism helped me see a “Sameness” in all of us.. we all work to overcome our culture and conditioning and programming…



    I did want to add something that I recently took notice of


    “FUN” forum.. last post FOUR WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEKs ago .. YIKES

    People get stuck focusing on the problem instead of the solution imho



    Thanks for your input! I do agree that we should focus on the light and the lighter sides of things. But sometimes you have to go through the dark before you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. If anything Buddhism pushes us to embrace this inner darkness while other religions sugarcoat life or fight against this darkness. I think Buddhism is the light in the darkness, which doesn’t attempt to distinguish the darkness but to shine some light on the darkness for a deeper understanding.

    The links you gave seem really interesting. I am going to check them out. I am a fan of Thich Nhat Hanh so thanks for that quote. For me it wasn’t a matter of focusing on the toothache but pretending like the toothache wasn’t there until the tooth became infected and now needs removal. I am in the removal process.

    As far as the “Fun” forum on Tiny Buddha not being updated, I really like that. The internet is full of fun things and funny sites. I frequent them plenty. I am an avid watcher of Youtube videos featuring babies laughing, animals doing silly things, parodies, pranks, etc. Laughter is medicine. However, I enjoy that the focus here is on deeper issues. In our individualistic American society, many people don’t have an outlet for their pain or have discussions about their problems. You pay professional people to listen to you. Such is the case with me. We lack community in America. It’s all about pretending to be okay. So I am glad that people can find a community like Tiny Buddha to open up and share their experiences and help others in the process. It’s not depressing ranting like on the FML site but people who are genuinely interested in understanding their problems and finding solutions. And people like you who want to help!

    Thanks Once Again,


    Buddhist Wife

    In my experience I found, and still do, find certain types of meditation very unhelpful when I was in an anxious state. Personally I think any type of mediation that is about focusing or reinforcing thoughts can be tricky because you can get into a pattern of focusing on the negative thoughts – which is not the intention of the exercise.

    That’s not to say that you won’t find types other styles of meditation useful. For now, set down the things that you find difficult and look for things you find helpful.

    It doesn’t mean that you can’t return to these exercises at a later date, it just means that right now they are not working for you.

    Maybe for now, you just read Buddhist books that sooth you or you find helpful?

    I really hope that you feel better soon, it must be very difficult to be in such a dark place.


    unpleasant – neutral – unpleasant


    unpleasant – neutral – pleasant

    One thing I really like about Buddhist Philosophy is we are not told about a boogeyman hiding who will get us if we do something or do not do something

    a really cool movie that sort of gets into Buddhist and Eastern Philosophy in a drama style
    Peaceful Warrior



    Its normal not to get “into” metta at first. First we say the words aloud “may we be well, happy and peaceful.” We say it over and over and it becomes a habit. So we begin thinking those thoughts. Then the feelings arise. Its normal, natural… steps on the path of inner peace. I was like you, where the feelings didn’t arise at first, and it wasn’t until I heard that it was normal that I did it anyway, kept doing it, and slowly the feelings arose. Said differently, awareness intentionally directs the thoughts, and the thoughts direct the feelings.

    If the meditation is difficult to stay with, consider reading the sutta directly, out loud:


    Or, here is an adaptation in the form of a prayer:


    The mind loses greed, aversion, avarice over time, and becomes peaceful, light. First through gritted teeth, then through smiles.

    With warmth,


    I’ll try to sum up what I know about the topic of depression. If you have serious depression where you can’t function or are feeling very low and at risk of harming yourself – its best to seek professional help. Psychologists and medication may be a good tool to help someone get unstuck from a difficult place.

    Aside from that, the best things I know to treat depression are: 1) meditation 2) exercise, nutrition 3) therapy (and perhaps this includes good friends and family)

    Ajahn Brahm gives a very good talk on the causes of depression here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4N_jjY7W_fs

    I think a very good way of describing depression is “a lack of energy”… maybe its because you’ve expended yourself a lot in some effort and it may not be going your way, or there’s some negative thought patterns that have really been bringing you down. All of this can leave you feel exhausted and tending to feel more negative feelings.

    For me, I’ve found meditation very helpful to re-energize myself by trying to bring back my attention to the moment, usually by trying to observe my breath or the feelings that I’m feeling at the time. Trying to be aware of the current moment, without trying to change anything. I think its kind of like an act of letting go, and just being kind to yourself, and not feeling the need to change anything in the moment. When I’ve felt very exhausted and depressed, after trying to bring my attention back to the moment, to let go of the thoughts on my mind, I’ve found afterwards I felt more energized and less in a state of worry or discontent.

    Aside from meditation I try to setup my life so that I associate with more positive things – not be negative about myself or the world, read and do inspiring things to improve myself, and try to appreciate the beauty of life more. Eating well, connecting with others, and being of service to others are all great ways to feel good and fulfilled.

    Meditation can uncover some unpleasant feelings, but I think it can be a beneficial process to begin to look deeper into yourself.

    Since your situation is somewhat prolonged, I think its good that you’re trying to seek some help and try different things. I had depression and was also meditation “seriously” for a number of years, but found that I was also still suffering quite severely with anxiety, depression, lack of concentration, among other symptoms. So I had gotten a bit stuck and found the most effective thing is to really look at my situation in many ways, try and get help and come out of the situation.

    Buddhism isn’t about making yourself suffer, its about finding out about yourself more and the way to be truly happy.

    I’m going to go and exercise 😉 but there’s some food for thought!


    Hi Zenhen,
    I’m sorry to hear about your depression. I’ve suffered a number of bouts of depression and anxiety and I can empathize with the challenges they present.

    I have found that a couple of Buddhist practices do help me.
    1) lovingkindness or Metta meditation. Repeating the caring lines of this meditation reminds me to treat myself kindly and helps me to feel loved. Sharing this with “all beings” (even if I don’t feel it) helps to reform connection to others, which I think is important because depression can be so isolating.

    2) Mindfulness helps me to note my thoughts and it can be a bit surprising just how repetitive and nasty they can be. I actually note the thoughts very actively by thinking “I’m having the thought that nothing is worthwhile” or whatever. This seems to help me separate myself from the thought. The thought is not me. It is a thought, and this helps me to see that the depression is an experience of the mind and body. I can see it as something that is happening now due to a chemical imbalance in the body, but it won’t go on for ever.

    I usually accept that I am going to find the experience of depression as “unpleasant” and I think I am a long way from successfully moving it to “neutral” status, but showing self-compassion and mindfully observing the experience has helped me. A book I’ve really found helpful is “The Happiness Trap” by Russ Harris. It is not a Buddhist book as such, but a guide to using mindfulness to help with mental health.

    Good luck!

    PS I’ve sort of assumed you are familiar with loving kindness practice. If not, check out Sharon Salzberg on google.


    Buddhist Wife,

    Thanks and I am glad that am not the only who struggles with certain meditations. I really appreciate your input!



    Thanks for the film recommendation. I didn’t realize vimeo had full movies available. I watched the beginning. Seems interesting.



    I definitely feel a lack of energy. What is strange is that I try to do things that will give me more energy, but I feel depleted afterwards. Usually, I feel very hyper after working out but lately I just feel more tired. I even did a 5k obstacle course race last weekend called Rugged Maniac. I thought it would give me the boost I needed. As I was crawling under bob-wire and sliding around in mud, I still felt pretty low. It was like Eeyore doing a race. I was successful and didn’t have trouble doing it but was so depressed. It was kinda funny and made me laugh. At least I can still be objective enough to laugh at myself.

    I did blood work to check everything and I am low on Vitamin D and some digestive enzymes but nothing too significant to be a clear cause of the energy depletion. I think I just have to keep doing it, even if I don’t feel like it. I keep waiting for the moment I will feel like it but for now I just got to keep moving.

    I will check out that talk on youtube tonight!

    Thanks for your help!




    I am sorry for your struggles! It is good to know that I am not alone. I checked out the book on Amazon and it has great ratings. I think I will buy it. I will also google Sharon Salzberg to see if that helps any.

    I like the way you frame your thoughts so you don’t allow them to get entangled with your identity. I think I really need to do some heavy mental work to be more mindful and focus on the thoughts that I am allowing in.

    Acceptance is key. I was fighting it so much. I kept going to the doctor’s office hoping to find a cure for the physical aliments like fatigue and loss of appetite. I also keep saying, oh I am just in a funk, it will pass. Now I have finally just accepted that I am experiencing depression, it’s not a fleeting feeling, and it is unpleasant but it’s what I am going through right now. I am trying to be present to my suffering without being consumed by it as much as possible.

    Thanks for your insight! I hope you recover soon too!




    That makes me feel better! I really enjoy playing it at night right before bed. It helps me sleeps more soundly. I just couldn’t really do it. I will try the text prayer and also just try repeating it even if its through gritted teeth ; )



    English Rose

    I’ve just seen this post and wanted to add something interesting I read the other day. The treatment of depression must include work on the body. The was from a book called Yoga for Depression. I also find that when I am feeling at my worst, sitting for meditation makes it worse. Doing something more physical gets the energy moving. Our minds sink into a place of inactivity, dullness and inertia where the energy becomes stagnant. Doing something physical like yoga, exercise, going for a walk, massage, can start to move the energy again. In some meditative disciplines it teaches that we need energy before we can successfully work with the mind. Now I have met plenty of people where this isn’t the case, but for some of us that suffer with depression, I really believe that body work is essential.
    One thing I know for sure is that to be gentle and to listen to ourselves when we are feeling at our lowest is crucial. Take it one step at a time, day by day, sometimes hour by hour and know that it will pass.
    Much love to you on your journey.

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