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Hello,

I'm a Vajrayana practitioner since 2018, Nyingma School, and have been taking medication for 3 years.

What's the Buddhist point of view of Mental Illness and Hallucinations ? I'm asking this question because I want to be a monk but don't know if it's possible because I'm sick. At the same time I don't know how far this is true because this term "Mental Illness" didn't exist in this context in the ancient times and people with supernatural abilities are mentioned in legends that are believed to be real. I'm not saying I'm one of these legends because I'm not, but, I've had my share of supernatural encounters even tho they were dismissed and there were other times that the voices wouldn't stop.

Before I started to take the medication I would do Shamata meditation easier, now I feel numb, in my heart, and sleep a lot. I started o take the medication because I had problems at home, entered in a depression and decided not to take my life. My relationship with my mother was really bad, she was abusive yelled at me everyday, hated that I meditated and did yoga, but many years later things are better. It's a wish fulfilled, but now I can't stop taking my medication as I'm studying and I think it's for the best - at least for now.

As modern medicine didn't exist back in the day what was the Buddhist point of view of these illnesses ? And what was the method to solve this issues, if they are actually issues ? I'm not looking for a cure for my "illness", but, I'm really serious about my practice and daily routine - that's why I want to give my life for a greater cause and to become a monk.

EDIT:

I was informed about wind disorders and some can be classified as Mental Illnesses:

Thank you for your time

4 Answers 4

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In Buddhism, supernormal abilities are knowing the minds of others, ability to send thoughts to others, ability to project images of oneself to others, etc, as described in suttas such as DN 11 and MN 119.

If your depression was related to your relationship with your mother, possibly associating more with virtuous spiritual friends, i.e., at Buddhist centres, can help improve your mind. There are modern sociological theories of depression, including this video, which say developing functional wholesome relationships can overcome depression. Thus, a Buddhist example is taking refuge in a Sangha (a virtuous safe Buddhist community; not a cult) where you feel respected, valued, loved & safe.

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  • Thank you Dhamma Dhatu, My supernatural experiences are not what's in cause, it's the roots of these that I'm questioning. I was told yesterday the inner wind problems do exist and they can be responsible for some "Mental Illnesses". Concerning my depression, it has passed as soon as I started to go to the psychiatric ward as the doctors and nurses were really nice, I just needed to be with other nice persons. I have too taken refuge vows but since COVID seeing the sangha personally has been difficult. Jan 12 at 14:50
  • Thank you Hundred Songs. The above is good to read. Being with nice people is important. My best wishes for you. Jan 13 at 0:57
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One more thing, on rereading I see

... because I'm sick. At the same time I don't know how far this is true ...

I think this might be about the so-called "stigma" of mental illness -- e.g. "I am ill", "I have been diagnosed", etc.

Maybe it is true, as far as it goes -- but "how far?", as you said. To what extent is still true? Or was it ever true, was it "you", or was it only "then" i.e. in that time and place?

There's Buddhist doctrine about "identity" -- and I don't know about "trauma". Certainly there were times when I felt like saying, "Who cares you were diagnosed, obviously you were ill then, and (with a prescription) obviously you haven't those symptoms now!"

But it's a matter of "self-view" -- something you might have to work out, and might understand in Buddhist terms -- maybe difficult for me to explain but perhaps you recognise some of this kind of doctrine.

Lastly,

now I feel numb, in my heart, and sleep a lot

beware that medications I know have side-effects -- and I'm not saying not to take them -- but e.g. keep up with your doctor, beware new symptoms (e.g. weight gain, blood sugar), maybe (with the doctor) adjust the prescription, and make an effort to stay healthy (e.g. with proper, regular exercise which most people don't do enough of).

Buddhism is strange, maybe monks aren't supposed to exercise much for sport, and we're told that the body is impermanent and so on, on the other hand you get text like the Dhammapada saying "Health is a great gift".

I think it (health) probably helps your mood, anyway; and confidence.

If you have to choose then mental health is probably more important than physical, but minimize the physical harm as well, no? I say this because I feel guilty about implying that you're not ill now, knowing that you may have less-visible physical risks (which it's up to you to manage).

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I don't know, about Vajrayana or Tibetan Buddhism.

I'll try to answer, based on theory (not personal experience) that I've read on this site and elsewhere.

  • Whether you can ordain with an illness may vary, i.e. from place to place (e.g. from one monastery or abbot to another)
  • Whether you need medicine is an issue, e.g. because who will pay for it? That's a reason why some monasteries will say "no".
  • You might stay at a monastery before requesting ordination -- to see whether you're suited for the monastic life, and vice-versa
  • Historically, illness has been a reason for not letting someone ordain -- because, too many people tried to ordain only as a way to get medical care from monks -- but how that rule is interpreted now, varies.

In theory this site also allows answers from personal experience, so here goes -- about mental illness, and not about ordaining:

  • Psychiatry broadly categorizes "affective" disorders -- i.e. mood disorders like depression -- and "non-affective".

  • I'm not familiar with the "affective" kind. I once read that "depression is anger without enthusiasm" but I've no idea whether there was truth in that or whether it was only a joke, in any case Buddhism presumably wants a solution other than anger.

  • I'm not a doctor and can't diagnose, but I guess you don't have "formal thought disorder" -- because your question is coherent, the sentences and paragraphs fit together and make sense -- I don't know whether that's because of the medicine.

  • Even if communication is impaired by thought disorder, or even when the voices don't stop, morality remains of the utmost importance -- for example, whether you're a danger to yourself or others. Someone who is "ill" but is not a danger is a very different situation -- easier to live with (and, not to mention, subject to a different set of laws).

  • "Shouting" isn't normal behaviour IMO. Perhaps your mother was ill herself, or a bully, or at her wit's end, I don't know -- people normally never shout at me. I consider it aggression/abuse/assault, but maybe it isn't legally.

  • When a sane, kind, normal person is with or tries to interact with someone who is mentally ill, they may find that disturbing -- "She makes me feel crazy!" Professionals e.g. psychiatric staff are obviously or at least hopefully trained to cope and experienced, and won't get upset in the same way. I guess, I don't know, that the same might be true for at least some Buddhist monks and nuns.

  • There are organic theories of illness (e.g. brain chemicals), but also sociological/functional -- and perhaps it varies from person to person. There's a theory that it's a "functional" adaption to a dysfunctional environment or relationship -- for example, "if I can't do what I want then I won't do anything" (catatonia), or, "if they won't listen to me I'm just not going to talk at all". It's not necessarily a clever/skilful/ideal adaptation but there it is.

  • One of the reason why it's "trying" (i.e. "difficult") to "deal with" someone who's mentally ill, is that they don't "respond normally", and that they don't "do what you want them to do"! It's enough to drive a mother "up the wall".

  • I remember this bit of dialog as one of the turning points, for the better, in a family relationship:

    • "But what do you expect me to do, here?"
    • "I don't expect you to do anything: you can do anything you want!"

    Perhaps this may be why a psychiatric ward is sometimes helpful -- i.e. to "decompress".

    Monastic life might seem attractive for a similar reason -- maybe monks have few "expectations", few demands, and are "easy to support".

    Whether it's also easy to live as a monk, obeying the Vinaya, may be different, depending on you and on the community you're with.

  • Living as a "house-holder" might be OK too for some. Though there are (e.g. financial) responsibilities and expectations, these may be "within your means" if you're able to work and have a career -- and there are benefits, like being able to choose who you live with, choose to say "no" or "yes" as so on.

    I once heard of a project called "It gets better", intended for bullied teens. Maybe life's like that, it does get better.

As for "I want to give my life for a greater cause and to become a monk" that reminds me of some resources:

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Vajrayana practice needs lots of merits. You can create merits by making offerings to your guru, seeing the actions of your guru as the purest, seeking teachings from your guru etc.

Once you have enough merits, practicing will naturally become easier and your dharma goals will be achieved sooner.

Just live a normal life, including coping with your illness, because in Vajrayana living with an illness is considered living a normal life.

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  • Thank you, I'm still seeing if I can actually become a monk, but, if it ain't possible then I will accept it and keep practicing while taking care of myself. Jan 13 at 11:03

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