The Dalai Lama on Countering Stress and Depression

The Dalai Lama on Countering Stress and Depression
Understanding What Disturbs the Mind and How to Heal it

At a fundamental level, as human beings, we are all the same; each one of us aspires to happiness and each one of us does not wish to suffer. This is why, whenever I have the opportunity, I try to draw people’s attention to what as members of the human family we have in common and the deeply interconnected nature of our existence and welfare.

Today, there is increasing recognition, as well as a growing body of scientific evidence, that confirms the close connection between our own states of mind and our happiness. On the one hand, many of us live in societies that are very developed materially, yet among us are many people who are not very happy. Just underneath the beautiful surface of affluence, there is a kind of mental unrest, leading to frustration, unnecessary quarrels, reliance on drugs or alcohol, and in the worst case, suicide.

There is no guarantee that wealth alone can give you the joy or fulfilment that you seek.

The same can be said of your friends too. When you are in an intense state of anger or hatred, even a very close friend appears to you as somehow frosty, or cold, distant, and annoying.

Dalai Lama and the Panchen LamaThe Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama in Tibet in 1954

However, as human beings we are gifted with this wonderful human intelligence. Besides that, all human beings have the capacity to be very determined and to direct that strong sense of determination in whatever direction they like. So long as we remember that we have this marvellous gift of human intelligence and a capacity to develop determination and use it in positive ways, we will preserve our underlying mental health. Realising we have this great human potential gives us a fundamental strength. This recognition can act as a mechanism that enables us to deal with any difficulty, no matter what situation we are facing, without losing hope or sinking into feelings of low self-esteem.

On loss and exile

I write this as someone who lost his freedom at the age of 16, then lost his country at the age of 24. Consequently, I have lived in exile for more than 50 years during which we Tibetans have dedicated ourselves to keeping the Tibetan identity alive and preserving our culture and values. On most days the news from Tibet is heartbreaking, and yet none of these challenges gives grounds for giving up. One of the approaches that I personally find useful is to cultivate the thought:

If the situation or problem is such that it can be remedied, then there is no need to worry about it.

News from TibetOn most days the news from Tibet is heartbreaking, and yet none of these challenges gives grounds for giving up

In other words, if there is a solution or a way out of the difficulty, you do not need to be overwhelmed by it. The appropriate action is to seek its solution. Then it is clearly more sensible to spend your energy focusing on the solution rather than worrying about the problem. Alternatively, if there is no solution, no possibility of resolution, then there is also no point in being worried about it because you cannot do anything about it anyway. In that case, the sooner you accept this fact, the easier it will be for you. This formula, of course, implies directly confronting the problem and taking a realistic view. Otherwise, you will be unable to find out whether or not there is a resolution to the problem

Taking a realistic view and cultivating a proper motivation can also shield you against feelings of fear and anxiety. If you develop a pure and sincere motivation, if you are motivated by a wish to help on the basis of kindness, compassion, and respect, then you can carry on any kind of work, in any field, and function more effectively with less fear or worry, not being afraid of what others think or whether you ultimately will be successful in reaching your goal. Even if you fail to achieve your goal, you can feel good about having made the effort. But with a bad motivation, people can praise you or you can achieve goals, but you still will not be happy.

Again, we may sometimes feel that our whole lives are unsatisfactory, we feel on the point of being overwhelmed by the difficulties that confront us. This happens to us all in varying degrees from time to time. When this occurs, it is vital that we make every effort to find a way of lifting our spirits. We can do this by recollecting our good fortune. We may, for example, be loved by someone; we may have certain talents; we may have received a good education; we may have our basic needs provided for – food to eat, clothes to wear, somewhere to live – we may have performed certain altruistic deeds in the past.

PositivityWe must take into consideration even the slightest positive aspect of our lives

We must take into consideration even the slightest positive aspect of our lives. For if we fail to find some way of uplifting ourselves, there is every danger of sinking further into our sense of powerlessness. This can lead us to believe that we have no capacity for doing good whatsoever. Thus we create the conditions of despair itself.

Negative Thoughts and Emotions Disturb Peace

As a Buddhist monk, I have learned that what principally upsets our inner peace is what we call disturbing emotions.  All those thoughts, emotions, and mental events which reflect a negative or uncompassionate state of mind inevitably undermine our experience of inner peace. All our negative thoughts and emotions – such as hatred, anger, pride, lust, greed, envy, and so on – are considered to be sources of difficulty, to be disturbing. Negative thoughts and emotions are what obstruct our most basic aspiration – to be happy and to avoid suffering. When we act under their influence, we become oblivious to the impact our actions have on others: they are thus the cause of our destructive behaviour both toward others and to ourselves. Murder, scandal, and deceit all have their origin in disturbing emotions.

Buddhist monkNegative thoughts and emotions are what obstruct our most basic aspiration – to be happy and to avoid suffering

This inevitably gives rise to the question – can we train the mind? There are many methods by which to do this. Among these, in the Buddhist tradition, is a special instruction called mind training, which focuses on cultivating concern for others and turning adversity to advantage. It is this pattern of thought, transforming problems into happiness that has enabled the Tibetan people to maintain their dignity and spirit in the face of great difficulties. Indeed I have found this advice of great practical benefit in my own life.

A great Tibetan teacher of mind training once remarked that one of the mind’s most marvellous qualities is that it can be transformed. I have no doubt that those who attempt to transform their minds, overcome their disturbing emotions and achieve a sense of inner peace, will, over a period of time, notice a change in their mental attitudes and responses to people and events. Their minds will become more disciplined and positive. And I am sure they will find their own sense of happiness grow as they contribute to the greater happiness of others. I offer my prayers that everyone who makes this their goal will be blessed with success.

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George Kojo Amissah
4 years ago

The part of the acticle which says that when we are disturbed emotionally, we become oblivious to the impact of our actions on those around us is very powerful insight to me. I think this is the source of most of the conflicts and hardships in our world. I love the acticle.

Musa Titus
4 years ago

One of the most powerful articles I have read, it’s really inspirational.

4 years ago

I needed to read this today, it’s funny how most of us know this on some level but being depressed or angry seems to be so overpowering that I keep losing my mind! I see so many like minded people on this site, yet I can’t seem to meet any in my life. Where are we all? I need to find a group of soul sisters and brothers. Life is amazing when you have friends and allies. Just like the Dalai Lama’s words, I’ve always been happiest around people who are kind, caring, loving and share their ideas.

Pat Diergaardt
4 years ago

It is a most helpful article. One often feels hopeless when in the midst of a depressive episode, so understanding that one has agency in one’s own healing or at least state of mind is empowering.

Constance Huebner
5 years ago

The Dali Lama’s advice seems to be counter to what the two previous articles on the topic of Healing the Root of Depression are saying, which is to acknowledge their pain. My husband has PTSD, depression and anxiety. My 20-year-old son recently died of a drug overdose after living with ADHD and anxiety all his life. In both cases, I have done my best to remind them of the possibility of positive thinking, of getting going, etc. My heart is pounding out of my chest with the thought that I could have done things a bit differently.

7 years ago

That last paragraph is bloody beautiful. Even ancient knowledge was aware of the brains plasticity. Amazing. And inspirational.

Nick Butler
7 years ago

I like very much this article especially “We must take into consideration even the slightest positive aspect of our lives” Keep smiling.

7 years ago

A wonderful article, The Dalai Lama has The Art of making understanding simple, clear, easy and practical. Thank You.

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