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The Dalai Lama's Advice on Depression

Inner peace is a gift -- nurtured through meditation, empathy, and compassion.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Have your job, your mortgage -- your life -- pushed you into depression? The Dalai Lama can help.

The ancient practices of Tibetan Buddhism -- meditation, mindfulness, empathy, and compassion -- are offering world-weary Americans a better perspective on life and its hardships.

By feeling compassion for others -- seeing even our enemies in a new light -- we can ease our own stress and anxiety, the Dalai Lama told a crowd of thousands, gathered for his visit to Atlanta in October 2007. Through "inner disarmament" -- reducing anger, hatred, and jealousy -- we create a path to our own happiness and world peace, he said.

The Dalai Lama has long shown the world that, even in adversity, inner peace is possible. In his many books, he has taught us The Power of Compassion, The Power of Patience, and The Art of Happiness. As the spiritual leader of Tibet, he has toured the world, inspiring multitudes to embrace this philosophy of compassion.

He has also inspired leading scientists at Emory University and elsewhere to study traditional Tibetan Buddhist practices and ethics, researching them as a treatment for depression.

Much of our inner turmoil is due to negative feelings like fear and anger, the Dalai Lama said during his Atlanta visit. "Those emotions that disturb our peaceful mind must be eliminated. In times of great distress, our best friend is inside the heart ... it is our compassion."

A compassionate attitude sustains one's good health, whereas feelings of anger, hate, and fear can hurt the immune system, he said. Trust develops between people when there is evidence of genuine concern and warm-heartedness. Good creates more good -- even if it comes slowly.

Cultivating Compassion as Depression Therapy

In developing compassion and inner peace, daily meditation is key, explains Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negri, PhD, a senior lecturer and director of the Emory-Tibetan Partnership.

During meditation, one becomes mindful of one's thoughts and feelings, he tells WebMD. "Meditation is a moment-by-moment awareness of your thoughts. Then, we work to change those negative feelings -- to view other people and their actions differently."

It is a human tendency to react to certain thoughts and feelings in a preconditioned way, says Geshe Lobsang. "We all have aversions and cravings, likes and dislikes. If a thought of a person comes up, we tend to immediately react based on whether we like or dislike them. That sets up a chain reaction about what's wrong with that person."

That cycle of preconditioned reactions is what we seek to change. "When people cause us difficulty, we can learn to see that they have difficulties in their own lives -- and that they act from ignorance or weakness," he says. "It's not about condoning injustice. What's wrong is wrong. But we can see them as our spiritual teachers, teaching us lessons like patience."

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