Hinduism and Depression

It is popular in hippie circles to say that we choose our emotions. We might not choose the circumstances of our life (but maybe on some level we do because of karma), but we can definitely control how we respond to those circumstances.

“No one can make you unhappy without your permission.”

You can choose to be happy. Just choose it. Just decide to be happy and do it.

I heard that a lot growing up.

Sometimes I can see how this is true. I can feel the fork in the road as I can choose to take something badly or take it well. Sometimes, though, I can’t choose to be happy. Sometimes there is a pressure within my brain that seems to turn everything gray.

I’ve struggled off and on with depression for the last few years. I can remember when I was a kid thinking depression was so stupid. Why not just be happy? There’s so many wonderful things about life. What do you have to be sad about?

Except I really didn’t understand what depression was like back then. It doesn’t really have to do with sadness. It has more to do with a loss of meaning. Nothing feels important anymore and so nothing feels worth doing.

I fight hard against that by pursuing enlightenment (somewhat of a contradiction, to be honest, as enlightenment is not really something you pursue and grab hold of). The purpose of life is to find my way back to unity with the Self, I remind my brain.

It doesn’t always work.

I look around my life and it is wonderful. I am so blessed and so lucky. Why can’t I feel it? Many times I can, but when depression takes hold, I’m not able to process all the good around me. I can’t seem to see through the fog.

There’s not much support in Hinduism for dealing with something like this because it is “in the mind” and our minds are what we are supposed to be learning to control. Meditation is meant to train our brains so that we are in control of them.

What does that mean for someone who tries really hard to feel joy and gratitude, but instead feels dull nothingness?

Am I not trying hard enough? Or is it something in my brain that is just turning the circuitry wonky and beyond my control?

I have a desire to bootstrap my way out of depression, but I don’t even know if that’s possible. I suspect that if I could get better at meditation, it would be easier for me to refocus my mind when it starts in a downward spiral.

One thing I’ve learned for certain is not to trust my brain. It has its biases and it can mess with me. It isn’t a solid source of concrete information.

  • I have major memory problems, so I know that my brain isn’t giving me all the information that I ask it for. That’s just one proof that it can’t be fully trusted.
  • I experience massive mood swings during PMS. The moods are not real, as they change on a dime without any outside circumstance changing. So I often don’t trust my moods.
  • If I start thinking darkly about life, I remember that it’s my brain’s interpretation, but not objective reality.

For me controlling my emotions and “choosing happiness” has come down to choosing not to always believe what my mind tells me. It may be depressed, but I am the observer and I can take a step back and watch the play of the depressed thoughts without it becoming me.

Sometimes.

Other times it is just too strong for me and I spend days or weeks barely able to get out of bed, unable to enjoy anything, and desperately searching for some shred of purpose for my life.

***

What do other Hindus have to say about depression?

The “best answer” on Yahoo Answers claims that depression happens because we have a huge attachment to something we are not getting or achieving. He advises practicing non-attachment. I’m not sure if that’s true of clinical depression, which doesn’t seem to stem from anything actually going on in one’s life. Another answer advises to practice focusing on the joy of small things like children’s smiles and sunshine.

 This article sums up really well the conclusions given by a few gurus. One suggestion includes doing more service, trying to focus on helping others so that you’re not in mired in your own problems. I like this idea and I have some great new opportunities for service open to me now that I joined the Sathya Sai Baba group. Meditation is also suggested and particular mantras for healing are given.

  1. Refine your consciousness and build self-control through education and cultured activities.
  2. Clear the subconscious of negative memories, reactions and grudges through affirmation, self-reflection and sadhana.
  3. Fill yourself with gratitude for life and for all that you have.
  4. Know that happiness and unhappiness are states of mind. They are not the real you. You are the pure awareness that experiences a state of mind; you are not the state of mind itself.
  5. Learn to change your state of mind in meditation, turning awareness within to your spiritual nature, the radiance within you. Direct awareness through controlled breathing.
  6. Tune into your innate happiness through religious devotion.
  7. Become fulfilled and uplifted by doing things for others.

 Many of the posts I found in my research refer to an article called  “Hinduism and Depression” by Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami, but I’ve been unable to locate the source of that article. If anyone knows where to find it, I’d love to read it.

***

I wanted to write about this because I was so impressed with the way the writer of Hyperbole and a Half has described her battle with depression. I think she sums it up and explains it so well, but maybe it’s just others who have felt the “I kind of want to not exist, but I don’t plan to actually kill myself” who powerfully recognize what she has to say. I know it really speaks to me.


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About Ambaa Choate

Ambaa is an American woman of European ancestry who is also a practicing Hindu. She is fascinated with questions of philosophy, culture, and the meaning of life. Join her in the journey to explore how a non-Indian convert to Hinduism experiences her religion.

  • Guest

    Hi,
    I am from India. I come from a deeply entrenched advaithic traditions, going in my family for more than millennium. Though I am in USA from couple of years. I can exactly understand your conversations, can very well validate-invalidate you guys discussing hinduism (especially advaitha) and your mindset, overtures regarding them. Anyways that was not the point I was trying to make.

    Since the topic also involves depression( that too a clinical one is too bad !!) I felt like I needed to put somethings in perspective.

    The way you guys are going on about it ( and most of the people who I come in contact here in USA like you guys ) are completely wrong. Because of which unscientific views are being mistaken for Indian culture.

    However if guys are interested in Indian(hindu/advaita) way of thinking for this problem depression, these are some of the steps which would be natural for any Indian (in generalization not everyone) would go about tackling this problem. I will call it “Hindu way of fighting depression”

    1. There are specific Pranayama (breathing excersices) to fight depression. Regular practice of it, very recommended. twice a day

    2. Specific yoga exercises are available to fight depression. Regular practice of it along with other yoga exercises. twice a day

    3. Specific meditation techniques are available to fight depression. Practice it regularly

    4. Practice of Japa/Tapa regularly.(should have been initiated by guru)

    5. Adopting a satvic lifestyle like no smoking or drinking, staying away from loud music(southern indian classical music highly recommended , the only western style that fits in this category is Baroque, rest are all noise avoid it), not indulging in acts which make you tamsic/rajasic ( too much sex, watching too much tv , indulging in violence or violent thoughts, abuse etc). Also in advaita traditions, there specific guidance for sleep (which is pretty much similar to what a doctor would recommend like waking up early, going to bed at 8 pm, cultivating regular sleep pattern), staying and spending time with family parents(giving up your personal space!!) etc etc. Its whole other topic please research it. (hard to follow 100%, doable in moderation especially in USA)

    7. Adopting satvic diet that is no alcohol, no meat( any kind), no frozen or processed food etc, no too much spices, no baked food only cooked food(by cooking I meant food boiled in water like rice, lentils etc) or raw veggies and fruits etc. Its whole other topic please research it. (hard to follow 100%, doable in moderation especially in USA)

    6. Taking care of nature, involving in gardening, growing plants trees etc ( in fact this is one of the important aspect of Hindu life which is not highlighted in any western studies, media. In fact every hindu family needs to grow a plant called ‘Tulsi’, and maintain a garden for flowers for pooja that is to offer flower to god. In fact, saw my Mom doing this with great care in my house hold every day. Btw she still does. Also if you visit any hindu temple its customary to go around banyan trees in round and offer water to it ).

    7. Consulting Ayurvedic doctor(Its very common India to see ayurvedic doctor in India. In fact many diseases like hepatitis-b does not have cure in modern medicine but there is cure in Ayurveda) for treatment which includes oral medicines as well as therapies like oil massage, pacha karma treatment etc.

    All these and much more … However, unless your in India, these cannot be carried out. Unless your grown up with it, its very hard and It is practically impossible like There are no yoga experts or pranayama experts( most of them, nope all of them are simply gym trainers who know some yogic poses and call themselves experts and how can they guide anyone how to fight depression. At max they can teach you some excercises). Also lot of these stuff are not in books,(India was not a big book culture), they are imbibed in household culture of Indians.

    The way of fighting clinical depression is not by mixing it with philosophies of Hinduism, fate, karma, maya, non-attachment etc etc …. These stuff are part hinduism as concept of intellectualism and intellectualization of our everyday existence, questions of purpose etc, which have in turn influenced way of life in India, NOT FOR FIGHTING CLINICAL DEPRESSION (or any other mental illness) . You guys are not only harming yourselves but spreading blind beliefs

    I do believe that hinduism ( and other forms of it including budhism) has the most effective ways fighting clinical depression( mind you “fighting” not magical or mind trick or philosophical cure).

    One group which is doing some work in mental well being in USA is Art of Living Foundation, Shri Ravishankar ( for people looking for Indian methods). I have personally not been in their programs but have seen them in India, and know a little bit of their work in USA. However, I would like to point out that at first look they may look like a cult, but relax they are not. Their programs have legitimate benefits to people like who are suffering from depression etc

    Or the best thing one can do (as in USA) is to visit a doctor, get a prescription, and pop some pills. I would as they do in USA when in USA. (For time being I have enough balance in life by god’s grace so have not suffered any depression but I have seen my close one suffer)

    Please regard these in an constructive manner.

  • Guest

    Hi,
    I am from India. I come from a deeply entrenched advaithic traditions, going in my family for more than millennium. Though I am in USA from couple of years. I can exactly understand your conversations, can very well validate-invalidate you guys discussing hinduism (especially advaitha) and your mindset, overtures regarding them. Anyways that was not the point I was trying to make.

    Since the topic also involves depression( that too a clinical one is too bad !!) I felt like I needed to put somethings in perspective.

    The way you guys are going on about it ( and most of the people who I come in contact here in USA like you guys ) are completely wrong. Because of which unscientific views are being mistaken for Indian culture.

    However if guys are interested in Indian(hindu/advaita) way of thinking for this problem depression, these are some of the steps which would be natural for any Indian (in generalization not everyone) would go about tackling this problem. I will call it “Hindu way of fighting depression”

    1. There are specific Pranayama (breathing excersices) to fight depression. Regular practice of it, very recommended. twice a day

    2. Specific yoga exercises are available to fight depression. Regular practice of it along with other yoga exercises. twice a day

    3. Specific meditation techniques are available to fight depression. Practice it regularly

    4. Practice of Japa/Tapa regularly.(should have been initiated by guru)

    5. Adopting a satvic lifestyle like no smoking or drinking, staying away from loud music(southern indian classical music highly recommended , the only western style that fits in this category is Baroque, rest are all noise avoid it), not indulging in acts which make you tamsic/rajasic ( too much sex, watching too much tv , indulging in violence or violent thoughts, abuse etc). Also in advaita traditions, there specific guidance for sleep (which is pretty much similar to what a doctor would recommend like waking up early, going to bed at 8 pm, cultivating regular sleep pattern), staying and spending time with family parents(giving up your personal space!!) etc etc. Its whole other topic please research it. (hard to follow 100%, doable in moderation especially in USA)

    7. Adopting satvic diet that is no alcohol, no meat( any kind), no frozen or processed food etc, no too much spices, no baked food only cooked food(by cooking I meant food boiled in water like rice, lentils etc) or raw veggies and fruits etc. Its whole other topic please research it. (hard to follow 100%, doable in moderation especially in USA)

    6. Taking care of nature, involving in gardening, growing plants trees etc ( in fact this is one of the important aspect of Hindu life which is not highlighted in any western studies, media. In fact every hindu family needs to grow a plant called ‘Tulsi’, and maintain a garden for flowers for pooja that is to offer flower to god. In fact, saw my Mom doing this with great care in my house hold every day. Btw she still does. Also if you visit any hindu temple its customary to go around banyan trees in round and offer water to it ).

    7. Consulting Ayurvedic doctor(Its very common India to see ayurvedic doctor in India. In fact many diseases like hepatitis-b does not have cure in modern medicine but there is cure in Ayurveda) for treatment which includes oral medicines as well as therapies like oil massage, pacha karma treatment etc.

    All these and much more … However, unless your in India, these cannot be carried out. Unless your grown up with it, its very hard and It is practically impossible like There are no yoga experts or pranayama experts( most of them, nope all of them are simply gym trainers who know some yogic poses and call themselves experts and how can they guide anyone how to fight depression. At max they can teach you some excercises). Also lot of these stuff are not in books,(India was not a big book culture), they are imbibed in household culture of Indians.

    The way of fighting clinical depression is not by mixing it with philosophies of Hinduism, fate, karma, maya, non-attachment etc etc …. These stuff are part hinduism as concept of intellectualism and intellectualization of our everyday existence, questions of purpose etc, which have in turn influenced way of life in India, NOT FOR FIGHTING CLINICAL DEPRESSION (or any other mental illness) . You guys are not only harming yourselves but spreading blind beliefs

    I do believe that hinduism ( and other forms of it including budhism) has the most effective ways fighting clinical depression( mind you “fighting” not magical or mind trick or philosophical cure).

    One group which is doing some work in mental well being in USA is Art of Living Foundation, Shri Ravishankar ( for people looking for Indian methods). I have personally not been in their programs but have seen them in India, and know a little bit of their work in USA. However, I would like to point out that at first look they may look like a cult, but relax they are not. Their programs have legitimate benefits to people like who are suffering from depression etc

    Or the best thing one can do (as in USA) is to visit a doctor, get a prescription, and pop some pills. I would as they do in USA when in USA. (For time being I have enough balance in life by god’s grace so have not suffered any depression but I have seen my close one suffer)

    Please regard these in an constructive manner.

  • mahendra hegde

    Hi All,
    I am from India. I come from a deeply entrenched advaithic traditions, going in my family for more than millennium. Though I am in USA from couple of years. I can exactly understand your conversations, can very well validate-invalidate you guys discussing hinduism (especially advaitha) and your mindset, overtures regarding them. Anyways that was not the point I was trying to make.

    Since the topic also involves depression( that too a clinical one is too bad !!) I felt like I needed to put somethings in perspective.

    The way you guys are going on about it ( and most of the people who I come in contact here in USA like you guys ) are completely wrong. Because of which unscientific views are being mistaken for Indian culture.

    However if guys are interested in Indian(hindu/advaita) way of thinking for this problem depression, these are some of the steps which would be natural for any Indian (in generalization not everyone) would go about tackling this problem. I will call it “Hindu way of fighting depression” (Please check with a doctor too, there may be a physiological problem)

    1. There are specific Pranayama (breathing excersices) to fight depression. Regular practice of it, very recommended. twice a day

    2. Specific yoga exercises are available to fight depression. Regular practice of it along with other yoga exercises. twice a day

    3. Specific meditation techniques are available to fight depression. Practice it regularly

    4. Practice of Japa/Tapa regularly.(should have been initiated by guru)

    5. Adopting a satvic lifestyle like no smoking or drinking, staying away from loud music(southern indian classical music highly recommended , the only western style that fits in this category is Baroque, rest are all noise avoid it), not indulging in acts which make you tamsic/rajasic ( too much sex, watching too much tv , indulging in violence or violent thoughts, abuse etc). Also in advaita traditions, there specific guidance for sleep (which is pretty much similar to what a doctor would recommend like waking up early, going to bed at 8 pm, cultivating regular sleep pattern), staying and spending time with family parents(giving up your personal space!!) etc etc. Its whole other topic please research it. (hard to follow 100%, doable in moderation especially in USA)

    7. Adopting satvic diet that is no alcohol, no meat( any kind), no frozen or processed food etc, no too much spices, no baked food only cooked food(by cooking I meant food boiled in water like rice, lentils etc) or raw veggies and fruits etc. Its whole other topic please research it. (hard to follow 100%, doable in moderation especially in USA)

    6. Taking care of nature, involving in gardening, growing plants trees etc ( in fact this is one of the important aspect of Hindu life which is not highlighted in any western studies, media. In fact every hindu family needs to grow a plant called ‘Tulsi’, and maintain a garden for flowers for pooja that is to offer flower to god. In fact, saw my Mom doing this with great care in my house hold every day. Btw she still does. Also if you visit any hindu temple its customary to go around banyan trees in round and offer water to it ).

    7. Consulting Ayurvedic doctor(Its very common India to see ayurvedic doctor in India. In fact many diseases like hepatitis-b does not have cure in modern medicine but there is cure in Ayurveda) for treatment which includes oral medicines as well as therapies like oil massage, pacha karma treatment etc.

    All these and much more … However, unless your in India, these cannot be carried out. Unless your grown up with it, its very hard and It is practically impossible like There are no yoga experts or pranayama experts( most of them, nope all of them are simply gym trainers who know some yogic poses and call themselves experts and how can they guide anyone how to fight depression. At max they can teach you some excercises). Also lot of these stuff are not in books,(India was not a big book culture), they are imbibed in household culture of Indians.

    The way of fighting clinical depression is not by mixing it with philosophies of Hinduism, fate, karma, maya, non-attachment etc etc …. These stuff are part hinduism as concept of intellectualism and intellectualization of our everyday existence, questions of purpose etc, which have in turn influenced way of life in India, NOT FOR FIGHTING CLINICAL DEPRESSION (or any other mental illness) . You guys are not only harming yourselves but spreading blind beliefs

    I do believe that hinduism ( and other forms of it including budhism) has the most effective ways fighting clinical depression( mind you “fighting” not magical or mind trick or philosophical cure).

    One group which is doing some work in mental well being in USA is Art of Living Foundation, Shri Ravishankar ( for people looking for Indian methods). I have personally not been in their programs but have seen them in India, and know a little bit of their work in USA. However, I would like to point out that at first look they may look like a cult, but relax they are not. Their programs have legitimate benefits to people like who are suffering from depression etc

    Or the best thing one can do (as in USA) is to visit a doctor, get a prescription, and pop some pills. I would as they do in USA when in USA. (For time being I have enough balance in life by god’s grace so have not suffered any depression but I have seen my close one suffer)

    Please regard these in an constructive manner.

    • Ambaa

      Welcome! And thank you very much for your input!

      • mahendra hegde

        Thanks. Anytime !!

  • mahendra hegde

    Hey,

    I feel bad for your condition. Fighting depression more logic than logic.

    See your going about it in a wrong way. very incorrect understanding of hinduism. Bhagavd Gita is considered by many as a manual to hinduism. In it Lord Krishna argues very clearly that the biggest sin is to stop fighting your war( in a metaphorical way not actually wage war) for fear of guilt, or loss regardless of your both past condition, karma and future condition, karma. Because only your present action matters nothing else. If you get depressed because of your past karma and feel like giving up, then your hindu belief is very incorrect (not hindu belief at all, practicing hindus only care about present not past karmas ). Read the Bhagavd Gita translation( not the ISKCON one, read a good one by proper academician). So next time you think about your karma, think Bhagavad Gita, kindly come out of your depression.

    All the best !!

    Also Advaita(Hindu) lays down clear rules regarding discussing/thinking or practicing its concepts like karma and any other stuff. Rules goes something like this. You should not discuss, think, practice, preach or form an opinion when you are in love, unhealthy(both mentally or physically), dying or close one is dying, having period( for women), emotionally disturbed state, sexually active,hungry, injured or shocked etc. Any person who are in these states are exempted from it and no one/community/society can impose any thing on them.

    All these stuff you will not find it in any books, a scholarly guru can tell you, or these are commonly practiced in Indian household.

  • mahendra hegde

    Lot of superficial meaning is attached to karma in west. The literal translation of karma is “action” in any Indian language. And most Indians use it in that way only!!

    • Ambaa

      Yes, it’s true. I’ve had to learn to use it the way the west does. I grew up using the word “sanskara” to mean the seeds/consequences of actions, but in English we definitely use “karma” to mean that.

  • mahendra hegde

    Advaita(Hindu) lays down clear rules regarding discussing/thinking or practicing its concepts like karma and any other stuff. Rules goes something like this. You should not discuss, think, practice, preach or form an opinion when you are in love, unhealthy(both mentally or physically), dying or close one is dying, having period( for women), emotionally disturbed state, sexually active, hungry, injured or shocked etc. Any person who are in these states are exempted from it(Spirituality does not apply to them, they are already in state of consequence) and no one/community/society can impose any thing on them. They are free to practice any lifestyle, food habits comfortable during their situation. And no karma will follow them.

    All these stuff you will not find it in any books, a scholarly guru can tell you, or these are commonly practiced in Indian household.

    Please do not stretch it to such an extent that it looks absurd, you need to be indian, to think like one

    • Ambaa

      Very interesting! I have not heard these things before.

      • mahendra hegde

        Sure, there’s lot of stuff. For example, there is something called ‘Suthika’ meaning when a person dies or there’s a new born, relatives are on holiday (spirituality, bathing, cooking, pooja etc are optional) for 1 day, 2 days, 3 days, 7 days depending on their blood relation, closeness to the particular person etc

        Also Indian spirituality is Intuitive in nature … Not rules or scripture based per say as you have been discussing (Not like following Bible or Church), Decisions are made as per situation intuitively.

  • Madhu K Agnihotri

    there is only pure there is only good there is only god… only love without any attachment expectation.. we all are one without any doubt work is worship this is truth and must be our attitude Hari-OM


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