There are several scientific methods to treat the psychiatric condition depression. Is there a method to overcome depression by Lord Buddha's teachings?
Depression is not just a state of mind, it is also a chemical imbalance. And for various reasons (maybe genetical or other) this chemical imbalance will affect some peoples more than others. Therefore we should be careful not to respond by simply pointing logical and scholar facts and reasons that one "should not" be depressive.
Having said that, there is some events or thoughts that will trigger the depressive mind, and I think that because meditation teach you to monitor your feelings and be able to stop being trap in a train of thoughts it might be helpful to avoid the development of depression triggering thoughts when it is still time.
On top of that there is more and more scientific studies claiming that the practice of meditation might increase your serotonin levels and immune system. There is also a good possibility that a long term practice of meditation might change you brain chemical balance and reduce your risk of depression. Scientific papers here
So yes, I think practicing buddhist meditation (samatha-vipassana, or zazen) can be considered as a very serious asset in a therapy.
My answer is quite opposite of the others.
The practice of meditation can improve people's minds. But if someone has severe mental illnesses, such as a deep depression, I would tell that meditation and reflection upon Buddhist teachings should be done carefully.
It is possible that dharma can worsen the clinical picture, if it is done unskillfully.
I'm not telling to not meditate at all. But always have proper medical, psychological or psychiatric monitoring. And don't meditate or study it alone, always receive teaching from a trustful master, and meditate with his/her guide in person.
More in this QA.
Lord Buddha or Sakyamuni Buddha refers to the condition of depression in the context of the obstacles that people face in realizing their awakened nature.
They are called the Five Hindrances, and note depression is specifically mentioned:
In the Buddhist tradition, the five hindrances (Sanskrit: pañca nivāraṇa; Pali: pañca nīvaraṇāni) are identified as mental factors that hinder progress in meditation and in our daily lives. In the Theravada tradition, these factors are identified specifically as obstacles to the jhānas (stages of concentration) within meditation practice. Within the Mahayana tradition, the five hindrances are identified as obstacles to samatha (tranquility) meditation. Contemporary Insight Meditation teachers identify the five hindrances as obstacles to mindfulness meditation.
The five hindrances are:[web 1][web 2]
- Sensory desire (kāmacchanda): the particular type of wanting that seeks for happiness through the five senses of sight, sound, smell, taste and physical feeling.
- Ill-will (vyāpāda; also spelled byāpāda): all kinds of thought related to wanting to reject, feelings of hostility, resentment, hatred and bitterness.
- Sloth-torpor (thīna-middha): heaviness of body and dullness of mind which drag one down into disabling inertia and thick depression.
- Restlessness-worry (uddhacca-kukkucca): the inability to calm the mind.
- Doubt (vicikicchā): lack of conviction or trust.
Overcoming the 5 hindrances could be the work of a lifetime, but here are some hints of directions to take, in this Wikipedia section about Sloth-torpor (thina-middha)
Sloth-torpor is a dull, morbid state that is characterized by unwieldiness, lack of energy, and opposition to wholesome activity.
- Traleg Kyabgon states: "When this hindrance is present, we lose our focus in meditation. We may not be agitated in any perceptible way, but there is no mental clarity. We gradually become more and more drowsy, and then eventually go to sleep."
- Ajahn Brahmavamso states: "Sloth and torpor refers to that heaviness of body and dullness of mind which drag one down into disabling inertia and thick depression. [...] In meditation, it causes weak and intermittent mindfulness which can even lead to falling asleep in meditation without even realising it!"[web 2]
- Ajahn Brahmavamso states: "The mind has two main functions, 'doing' and 'knowing'. The way of meditation is to calm the 'doing' to complete tranquility while maintaining the 'knowing'. Sloth and torpor occur when one carelessly calms both the 'doing' and the 'knowing', unable to distinguish between them."[web 2]
- Ajahn Brahmavamso states: "Sloth and torpor is an unpleasant state of body and mind, too stiff to leap into the bliss of Jhana and too blinded to spot any insights. In short, it is a complete waste of precious time."[web 2]
The hindrance of sloth-torpor is compared to being imprisoned in a cramped, dark cell, unable to move freely in the bright sunshine outside.[web 2]
Ajahn Brahmavamso states:[web 2]
"Sloth and torpor is overcome by rousing energy. Energy is always available but few know how to turn on the switch, as it were. Setting a goal, a reasonable goal, is a wise and effective way to generate energy, as is deliberately developing interest in the task at hand. A young child has a natural interest, and consequent energy, because its world is so new. Thus, if one can learn to look at one's life, or one's meditation, with a 'beginner's mind' one can see ever new angles and fresh possibilities which keep one distant from sloth and torpor, alive and energetic. Similarly, one can develop delight in whatever one is doing by training one's perception to see the beautiful in the ordinary, thereby generating the interest which avoids the half-death that is sloth and torpor. [...] Sloth and torpor is a common problem which can creep up and smother one slowly. A skilful meditator keeps a sharp look-out for the first signs of sloth and torpor and is thus able to spot its approach and take evasive action before it's too late. Like coming to a fork in a road, one can take that mental path leading away from sloth and torpor."
Traleg Kyabgon states: "When this happens, instead of persisting with the meditation, it is better to try to refresh ourselves by getting up and going for a walk or washing our face, after which we return to our meditation."
Seeing depression as part of the 5 hindrances eliminates the tendency to elevate it into a position of power that must be overcome and deposed. It is simply part of the path we must walk to awakening. Different people have strengths and weaknesses, inclining them to one hindrance over another so different people may experience depression or other maladies to different degrees.
Depression is also a form of fabrication / conditioning. This manifests itself as sensations. (as an irresistible tingling sensation or some painful sensation around the head or forehead) But objectively looking at the sensation without reaction this will pass away.
The source of the depression is clinging and aversion combined with the lack of knowledge of the 3 marks of existence.
Yes, Lord Buddha did teach a method to overcome depression. It's called meditation. Depression is usually caused by low self esteem or excessive worrying. Both are caused because of one's clinging to a self or clinging to conditioned phenomena as things belonging to oneself. If you do Samatha meditation and attain the Jhanas, depression can't trouble you as long as you are in them. If you do Vipassana and eliminate craving, there won't be any clinging. Thus no depression ever again.
There are some people in the world that their minds are relatively more corrupted than others. So they can enter to depression regularly or experience the life under constant bombardment of their mind 95 percent of the time. At first this seems a dreadful thing but these people are more interested to meditation and Buddhism than others. Venerable Yuttadhamo said (in the interview with truthloader) that the people who really think that sensual pleasure will satisfy them aren't interested to meditation but the people who are suffering are more interested to Buddhism.(Maybe he used different words but this is what I remember now) Eckhart Tolle said that "If you have a heavy pain body you are lucky. If you have a light pain body there is still hope for you too". So having a relatively peaceful mind(this peacefulness is only a relative description because these people still experience stress, unhappiness and even depression) can prolong the illusion for that person and lead to an ego and sensuality based life style that corrupts their minds fastly.
The people who experience the life under the pressure of negative minds must seek time and place to start an intensive practise. This intensity can start with getting rid of the addictions with constant practise of mindfulness and then when the person is ready, he/she can start intensive meditation. The best place is ofcourse Buddhist meditation centers/monasteries. But the person can do that at their homes too, but searching information about intensive meditation or having a contact with a qualified meditation teacher before starting to practise is necessary I think. I don't say that you must keep the intensive practise all of your life, but especially the people with negative minds must push their limits(with having guidance ofcourse) and continue the intensive practise until they really start to see change in their mind.
But ofcourse, meditaton/mindfulness and morality is not limited to a time-period it must be always the priority of a Buddhist meditator's life.