This post comes from This Compassionate Life, which is an excellent blog I recently came across via Bec's blog at me plus bipolar. I consider myself a Buddhist believer, even though I'm not practising. My mum and brother are both followers of the Mahayana Tibetan tradition so there's a lot of Buddhist thought and conversation when we all get together. I really liked this post, as it's simple and straight forward but contains a lot of good information. Here is an excerpt for those interested in Buddhism and how it might relate to mental illness, and please go and visit This Compassionate Life for even more interesting info...
Buddhism for the Mentally Interesting
This is part 2 of the post that began with Meditation for the Mentally Interesting a couple of weeks ago. Meditation in the Buddhist tradition, while eye-opening and supremely useful, is only one part of what Buddhism is all about. I dither about whether to call myself a Buddhist on a daily basis- some people say you need to believe in rebirth & karma to be a Buddhist, some people say you need to practice with a teacher- I don’t fit into either category. Either way, though, the fundamental concepts of Buddhism resonate deeply with me, and have been instrumental in shaping both my worldview and how I approach mental health and mental ill health. Here are the Buddhist ideas that have made the biggest impression on me from a mentalist point of view:
The Four Noble Truths
The Buddha’s basic teaching is summarized in what is known as the Four Noble Truths, which are:
1. Life is suffering (dukkha in Pali- suffering is only a loose translation)
2. The origin of suffering is craving (attachment to desires)
3. Suffering ends when craving ceases
4. Freedom from suffering can be attained by following the Eightfold Path (acquiring wisdom, practicing ethical conduct & training in mental development through right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness & right concentration)
That really is Buddhism in a nutshell- these four statements are layered in complexities, but they are also very simple. It seems obvious to me now that everybody suffers, no matter how healthy they are, how much money they have, how isolated or how loved they feel. As long as people cling to wanting more, wanting less or burying their heads in the sand (more on those three things later on), there is always going to be dukkha- ranging from the feeling that something’s not quite right to immense emotional suffering on both an individual and societal scale. My personal level of dukkha is on the more extreme end of that continuum, but emotional disorder or not, we’re all on there somewhere....
...As I understand it, the concept of what is known as Buddha nature comes from Mahayana Buddhism (which is the branch of Buddhism that the Zen and Tibetan traditions sprang from.) In my opinion, for someone who struggles deeply with their mental health, it’s one of the most powerful Buddhist concepts because the idea is that everyone has the capacity to become awakened, to become a Buddha. To deeply see the nature of reality and have the poisons of craving, aversion and delusion fall away. Everyone can be free. And what’s more, you don’t have to change yourself in any way to do this- your true nature is already there, just waiting for you to wake up to it. If you want to try to think of it in Western terms- everyone is basically good.
Just think about that for a second, what that would mean. The idea of Buddha nature is so different to what is pervasive in our culture, informed as it is by the Christian concept of original sin; and it is, of course, so different to what my emotional brain regularly tells me about myself- that I’m a horrible, evil person, intrinsically bad, intrinsically broken. But Buddhism invites me not just to believe, but to experience the reality of my true nature for myself- as a constantly changing stream of life. There is nothing there for labels like ‘evil’ or ‘bad’ to cling to. There is just life; pure, unadulterated life. Experiencing life, really living in every moment, is the essence of Buddhism. That is why I practice.