SuttaCentral

Can a person with a mood disorder reach stream entry in this lifetime?


#1

At some point, I’m sure I’ll sit down and comb through the suttas for possible references to mental illness, but I’m curious to hear opinions of those who might know more.

Do you think a mood disorder, like depression or bipolar disorder, that is serious enough to require lifelong medication, would prohibit one from reaching Stream Entry in this lifetime?

Obviously, regardless of the answer, such a person (like me, who is bipolar) should practice as diligently as they can, but I’m curious as to whether I should consider Stream Entry as within reach before I die, or something that I might have to wait until next lifetime for.


#2

My belief - yes, it is possible


#3

If somehow a person achieve SE , then I supposed disorder disappears and order would be restored .
Back to square one , maintain pure sila , achieve calm and composed minds , contemplate fully the arising and passing of the aggregates , surely there is a possibility .


#4

AN 6.86 to 6.89 seems to deal with this; i.e. they each list 6 qualities that makes someone unable to ‘enter the sure path’ or ‘become accomplished in view’, which I understand as referring to stream entry.

From AN 6.87:

“Mendicants, someone with six qualities is unable to enter the sure path with regards to skillful qualities even when listening to the true teaching. What six?

  1. They murder their mother or father or a perfected one.
  2. They maliciously shed the blood of a Realized One.
  3. They cause a schism in the Saṅgha.
  4. -5-6 They’re witless, dull, and stupid.

Someone with these six qualities is unable to enter the sure path with regards to skillful qualities, even when listening to the true teaching.

It doesn’t seem to me that a mood disorder should be a barrier. Many brilliant and intelligent people have had / have mood disorders.

Like, say someone has some health issues generally, maybe it makes it a bit harder due to having periods of low energy, maybe it does create more dullness at times.

But then maybe someone else who is completely “healthy” has a lot of lust, or a hot temper.

IMO each one of us has a set of obstacles particular to us, that we have to deal with at various times. And part of the path I guess is learning how to deal with that skillfully.

Knowing the right medication for oneself and taking it (e.g with bipolar) is part of dealing with it skillfully, if you ask me :slight_smile:


#5

Once, I met a bipolar patient. He has a strong will to reach Stream Entry in this life. However, disorder is a negative point to him, when the symptoms elevated. He had some success with metta meditation (was not properly guided one).
Main problems with the practice was

  1. side effects from the medication. ex: dizziness, sleepiness, etc.
  2. Uneasiness
  3. Anger
  4. Hallucinations

Since He is always in medication, he has a serious problem getting rid of sleepiness. Then He tried to stop medication, and it made the condition worse.
He experienced some reduced stress and uneasiness with the practice of meditation. To achieve best results from meditation,consistency is crucial. The main problem with his practice was lack of consistency.

Since, the disorder is not from the birth, potentially it can be cured. Curing the condition before the practice is very important. To best result from the meditation the person should be healthy.
Problem here is do you have the courage to fight your problem?
If you do, you have to find out the reason that caused the condition and understand the reality of the particular condition. When you have the understanding you can let it go which would next lead to your success in the meditation.
When you face the reality with a proper understanding you can reduce the suffering.
Therefore, the answer to your question s yes, you can, but you have to be brave enough to face your problem.


#6

Hi Ryan,

If you haven’t already, you might be interested to read some of Sayadaw U Tejaniya’s writings (e.g. When Awareness Becomes Natural). He talks very openly about his past struggles with depression.

Just a thought.
I wish you good mental health.


#7

Thanks! I will definitely look at those! I’ve actually been considering taking a month off, after my current work contract ends, to go out to Myanmar and practice with U Tejaniya!


#8

I’m not sure what you mean here. As far as it is currently known, there is no cure for bipolar disorder (except, perhaps, as mentioned above, reaching SE). That’s why it requires lifelong medication. I will probably never be able to be off medication, because bad things will happen.


#9

Thanks for everyone’s input so far!


#10

There is a paper from 2018 on this particular matter.

Ironically, being mindful of my susceptibilities has led me down the exact path suggested by my college psychiatrist: meditation. In particular, vipassana (usually translated as “insight” or “mindfulness”) meditation has enabled me to experience how I am truly immersed in the world, how I live it from the inside. This practice teaches that “breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts.” Focusing on my breath, whether in line at the grocery store or on my meditation cushion at home, has led me to understand the convergence of physical sense perception and contemplative self-perception recognized as my person. Anxiety feels like a sustained rushing jitteriness all over (not unlike excitement though less pleasant); depression is accompanied with the sensations of a large open gash or wound at my chest.
To really know the world around me at any given moment requires me to know myself in that moment, to open myself to the complexities of its experience. I must not only observe but also make an effort to comprehend what and how I feel physically, emotionally, and cognitively. Mindfulness then facilitates a less reactive, more thoughtful, more measured—and dare I say more objective—response to any situation. It also cultivates compassion for myself and others, each of us caught in the tangled webs of our experiences.
Despite my unfortunate encounter with psychiatric treatment in college, I have been able to make a more insightful and agreeable return to it and to antidepressants. Although a part of me still harbors resentment toward the psychiatrist who unwittingly set me on this journey, I understand now that he was only attempting to help in the way that he knew best. But when medicine failed me (and him), he was able to set aside science, logic, bias, and years of schooling to propose I try a centuries-old Eastern practice instead. Because he thought it might help me. It was a sensitive, undeniably human thing to do.
Sattar, Atia. “My Unexpected Journey from Medication to Meditation.” Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 27.4 (2018): 732-737.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0963180118000221


#11

Advice regarding any kind of illness, and especially mental health over the internet is really not very constructive. The individual differences of people make it ‘impossible’ to know what will help them best.

Best just to give links to resources etc, and to let each person work it out with their medical professionals. Remember, there can be many unintended consequences from giving advice like this, without a complete and accurate understanding of the issues :anjal:


#12

Strongly Agree with you, will edit the post


#13

I do not think there’s any reason to conclude that you cannot achieve stream entry in this lifetime. But, I suspect the way you’re approaching this might not be very helpful in your spiritual practice.

If someone has the capacity and willingness to practice (barring conditions like those mentioned in AN 6.87, and even there the I interpret the ‘dull, witless, etc’ to imply severe mental disabilities), how is it possible to know who and who cannot achieve stream entry in this lifetime? If someone practices for 50 years and does not realize stream entry, does that mean they cannot achieve it in this life, or does it mean they just need to keep practicing? This kind of questioning does not seem to be useful. (By ‘practice’ I do not mean just meditation.)

Also don’t forget to look at what the suttas say about the Saddhānusāri and the Dhammānusāri.


#14

They would never die without entering the stream. (Attaining sotāpattipala)


#15

A small reminder that on SC we don’t comment directly on how other people are practicing. :pray: … (And likewise it follows that we don’t share information about how we ourselves practice.)


#16

Just to add that if people wish to discuss more personal things, please use the PM facility. You can add multiple people to a PM.

Remember, what is written in the public posts becomes a permanent record, and the posts are read by a LOT of people.

:anjal:


#17

Yeah, I was kind of intending a general discussion and not, like, a series of direct responses about my own situation…


#18

On the flip side, the karmic cause for mental disorders in this life is drinking alcohol in a past life[citation needed]

So, please, keep all five of your precepts, kids! Stay safe out there :slightly_smiling_face:

:heart:
~ Uncle Alex


#19

“Mood disorders” like bipolar are a modern way of understanding human behavior – there is nothing in the ancient texts about that, just like there is nothing about cars or iPhones or the United States.

But we can see in the suttas that a serial killer who wore fingers around his neck became an arhant. As did Patacara, who ran around naked and howling with grief. There are many people who heard voices and experienced visions who attained awakening – the Buddha being one of them. And of course the Buddha also experienced extreme states of consciousness – like jhana – which he learned to use in service of the path.

What would a psychiatrist say about these people? It would be a severe diagnosis, no?

Since we are discussing a general question about awakening and “mood disorders” let me answer with a general answer. This is not meant as personal advice for anyone.

The idea that bipolar or even schizophrenia are lifelong illnesses, requiring lifetime medication, is actually quite controversial. While certain psychic realities have genetic correlates, this is not the same as causation.

Modern ideas about medication and “mental illness” are often shaped by pharmaceutical companies who have a vested interest in the matter and a track record of dishonesty. These companies rarely, if ever, conduct longitudinal studies. To the contrary, the existing research seems to suggest that discontinuation via tapering may be better in the long-run.

Of course, any given individual’s experience may vary… but yes. I think that anyone can awaken. It is our birthright.


#20

I think that people who have a tendency towards mental health problems need to be very careful with how they ‘practice diligently’. One can find themselves exacerbating their weaknesses if they don’t take a very gentle (but consistent) approach to meditation.

This being said, there can be a lot of benefit to practicing the 8-fold Path (all off it, not just meditation) to bring ease to mental difficulties. I know of several people who are very dedicated practitioners who have benefited immensely from practicing the Path. Through cultivating a strong foundation in Sila and paying special attention to ‘right intention’ a solid foundation can be laid for deep meditation, with or without mental health problems.