Restarting as a Layperson with Mental Illness

Dear All.

I was recommended this site as a place to find answers by the Buddhism Stack Exchange site moderators as they felt that some of the users here may have the correct experience to help me.

I wish to restart following the way of Buddhism as a Layperson, both in the practice of meditation and wholesome living. I humbly ask for your help with this.

A little about my background.

I am a British man living in England. I have a University Degree from Kings College London in Mathematics.

I used to practice meditation as best I could from books. I have a copy of the Dhamapada as well as several books on practice by the Tibetan Dalai Llama. But I cannot be sure from these sources whether I have practised the meditation techniques correctly in the past.

I also have practised a Japanese Martial Art called Shorinji Kempo for many years. A form of Zen Buddhism called Kongo Zen is taught along with meditation and the physical techniques. Although I have gained much from the study of this, I worry that the teachings of Zen Buddhism from this source may not be in keeping with the correct practices.

I also have a diagnosis of a serious mental illness and have to take medication in order to keep me from hallucinating and developing delusions. I have been cautious of trying too complex a form of meditation for several years because of this. However now I feel I may be able to resume the practice.

My questions.

What would be the best way for me to learn the ways of meditation and wholesome living?
Will the medicine I am taking prevent me from reaching the first steps towards enlightenment?
Finally how different is Kongo Zen to more mainstream forms of Buddhism?

Thank you all.

6 Likes

My recommendation is like from Buddha keep practicing on mindfulness breathing. It’s simple. In it is all the answer.

Welcome to SuttaCentral :hugs: May your practice grow and flourish as you grow on the path.

If possible, visit a Buddhist monastery in your area and regularly practice with the monastic community there. You’ll learn and actively practice morality, meditation, and generosity. A lot of places have gatherings or events once a week or so and offer accommodations for longer stays. There are a couple Ajahn Chah monasteries there, but I’m sure there are a number of others in other traditions.

The tradition doesn’t matter so much. Find somewhere you’re comfortable but also learning and growing.

If monasteries are not possible, see if there are reputable groups by lay people and visit those. I’m not familiar with the scene in England, so you’ll have to do some digging. Perhaps others here know better.

Meditation retreats can help ground you, but keep in mind that long-term sustained practice is the key to real development on the path.

Also, read the Buddhist discourses (suttas), which you can find here on SuttaCentral, or even in anthologies like Bhikkhu Bodhi’s In the Buddha’s Words. Ven. @Khemarato.bhikkhu also put together a cool website with lots of useful study guides: Courses | The Open Buddhist University

No. In fact, the medication will help you have a clear and stable mind. You’re right to be cautious about techniques that might increase your delusion.

I’m not familiar with Kongo Zen, so I can’t say.

7 Likes

May I suggest this topic is moved to the Watercooler category?

1 Like

I am happy to be guided on this matter. Can I move it myself or will a moderator have to do this?

1 Like

Very nice. Yes. I have had a good experience in 10 Day Silent Vipassana course my first and only time. So I was a beginner then. I think because you dedicate everyday to meditate and the silence, many understanding of Dhamma is revealed. But always take the suggestion of your doctor if something like that is recommended for you. I don’t know your case. But 10 Days meditating although very basic can do effect on the mind. But mostly if people can’t handle the 10 Days they are free to leave. Some do 5 days. Just listen to your body when is enough. :pray:t4:

Since this thread is shaping to look more like a discussion than a Q&A, I have moved it to the watercooler :slight_smile:

  1. A general principle found in the EBTs is that your practice should lead to an increase in wholesome states and/or a decrease of unwholesome states. That is, a good practice leads to less anger, less greed and less delusion. Over the long run, your practice should hopefully be reducing your own suffering, and the suffering of others (typically because having less greed, hatred and delusion makes us easier to deal with :slight_smile: )

  2. Since the Buddha allowed medicine for monks and nuns, I don’t see how medicine in general should block spiritual development. You might want to talk to your therapist\psychiatrist (if you have one) about your wish to practice meditation more intensively. They will be able to advise you re. medicine in a way non-medically trained people on the internet cannot!

  3. No idea, I have not heard of Kongo Zen before you mentioned it.

Welcome to the forums btw :cowboy_hat_face:

8 Likes

Thank you Erik. I think I will have to find a mentor.

I am experiencing states of mind when I meditate that I cannot easily describe and I don’t know which are helpful and which are harmful. I don’t even know if these are ‘normal’ meditative states. It might be that only people with a psychotic mental health condition could reach them… in which case they are probably not helpful.

2 Likes

Even though I’m a therapist of course I still don’t have any real idea about your state, both mentally as in meditation.

It’s probably not easy to hear but because of the specific nature of your mental issues I would not do formal sitting meditation at all. There are other ways to follow Buddhism, for example the perfection of sila, the ethical foundation. Just in general I would focus on getting a solid grip on ‘reality’ as the shared social experience in your community/society and not to lose grip of it even more through formal meditation.
Again, I can’t speak to you directly because I have no details, but just in general when I hear such symptoms and that they are strong enough to take medication I would do meditation only in supervision of a professional who can reflect with you if the practice supports normal life or makes it more difficult.
Best wishes!

9 Likes

Then if that is the case. As Gabriel said. Then I actually recommend doing Walking Meditation. Learn the Dhamma by heart.

Then listen a lot Dhamma from monastics.

Who knows this might happen.

Now at that time Venerable Sāriputta was standing behind the Buddha fanning him. Then he thought, “It seems the Buddha speaks of giving up and letting go all these things through direct knowledge.” Reflecting like this, Venerable Sāriputta’s mind was freed from the defilements by not grasping.

The possibilities are endless

Even looking impermanence in nature.

A sudden dead leave falling from Tree.

Just take joy in walking back and forth on a walking Path. Or at the beach. Be mindful of touch and bending and the leg process. That’s being in the present moment. The mind becomes calm.

There is a lot of benefits

May you be peaceful! :pray:t4:

Dear @Frimbleglim
Welcome to the forum.
What you ask is very complicated, and I’d advise you to be realistic as to the kinds of answers you will get on a public forum. I have a professional background in Mental Health, and fully support what @Gabriel has indicated, general advice won’t be very useful. You really need specific individual advice. So finding someone to be a mentor or teacher, with whom you can work out the details is essential.

Because practice issues are so complicated (even without complications of mental illness), this forum has a policy not to discuss details of personal practice. It is just impossible that in a few sentences between strangers, over a computer screen, that the subtleties can be understood.

Generally though this advice is a great guide.

So one works on what helps, what increases ease and well being, and does not do those things that lead to unease and suffering.

It is also very true that emphasis on the other factors of the Noble 8 fold Path, make for strong and beneficial practice. The Buddha said they are ALL necessary. Unfortunately, people often just focus on meditation or generosity, but this is quite an unbalanced approach.

There is so much scope for you to develop the path, by focusing on the factors of Sila. Taking the factors of Right Speech, Right thought and Right Action as far as you can, will lead to great developments. :slight_smile:

So be hopeful :smiley: There is nothing stopping you from reaping the fruits of Buddhist practice… it may just take a form that is less popular at this point in history.

For what it is worth though - I would avoid situations that are designed to ‘shock’ the mind into altered mind states, like some of the harder line Vipassana /Goenka style retreats… They are popular in some circles, but in my opinion, not necessary. You want to be kind and gentle to your mind :slight_smile: It can be a nice focus of your practice, to be kind to your own mind. :relieved:

If you are interested in a ‘kindness based’ practice, the Buddist Society of Western Australia (Ajahn Brahm) has many excellent resources available online. Dhamma Talks, guided meditations, and sutta studies classes. There are of course other organisations that provide resources, but this is my favourite for a guaranteed, kindness approach.

PS. There are many really great resources on this site. As a new member, I recommend that you spend time using the search function on the top menu, and do some exploring :smiley:

10 Likes

I tend to agree with Gabriel and Viveka. Meditation is very advanced practice and more suitable to monastics than lay practitioners. I, as a lay practitioner do not practice meditation and at the same time very grateful for encountering the Buddha’s teachings.

Simplifying your life is as close as it gets to meditation. It is so difficult to be simple.

1 Like

Thank you so much everyone for the warm welcome. I will think about what you have said. It may be true that meditation may be a route closed to me in this lifetime and that I should focus my efforts elsewhere.

I apologise if I have crossed a line here by talking about my experiences of meditation in the past.

2 Likes

Not at all :slight_smile: As with all things it is a question of balance :slight_smile: It is more about the limitation of a forum of this nature about being able to provide good personal advice :pray:

This also may not be so clear. It is about slowly feeling ones way :slight_smile: There are many kinds of meditation that may be of use, such as relaxation, body scanning, metta etc. Again this illustrates why it is so hard to give 'good’advice about personal issues, especially when there are multiple influencing factors.

The issue is that ‘buddhist’ practice is so vast :smiley: there are so many ways to practice and move ahead… It takes patient and wise exploring of the options, and that is what you are asking about.

This forum can provide much guidance about what the Buddha actually taught (rather than interpretations and opinions about it), and that is the best guide of all.

So keep seeking, slowly, patiently, with an open mind and an attitude of kindness to yourself, and you wont go wrong.

With much metta
:dharmawheel: :revolving_hearts: :sunflower:

10 Likes

Hi Frimbleglim,
I think there has been some really good advice on this thread.

I almost know nothing about Kongo Zen or Shorinji Kempo (probably the closest I might have gotten to the later was some Aikido in university, which I imagine is only vaguely related :slight_smile: ). The Buddhist tree is very big and has many offshoots and branches. I suppose this site is about some of the lowest branches closest to the trunk. There are many layers of Buddhist texts and later developments in the various schools. This is a discussion forum that is tagged onto the main project website: https://suttacentral.net/ that hosts many of these early texts/discourses in Pali (a language close or perhaps the same as what the Buddha would have spoken) and versions in Chinese or sometimes Tibetan or Sanskrit (in other early transmission lineages). There’s a lot of similarity between the versions in the different languages and so people can get a good idea of what teachings are really likely the earliest.

I suppose Theravada is the existing school that is most closely related to these. However, Theravada has its own later layers texts as well that it mostly treats as canonical: various commentaries, meditation manuals, Abhidhamma etc. The texts here are common to all schools.

Bhikkhi Bodhi’s In the Buddha’s Words is a nice overview of what’s taught in these early texts. Pretty nice for navigating for context within Buddhism if you never read anything else. Alternatively, online, I found the summary of the Gradual Training on the Access to Insight site pretty nice for getting an overall picture of all this when I first started reading these texts. Or the free online book Word of the Buddha, an anthology of such material, covers similar territory. I say all this because as you’re here, might as well give a quick idea of what this place is about.

You mention enlightenment. Different schools come with somewhat different ideas of enlightenment. In the early texts, enlightenment doesn’t come all at once (the model may well be different in form to Zen or Kongo Zen). There are four stages. The first stage, stream-entry, doesn’t really seem to be much associated with meditation at all. Generally, this seems in these texts to be the stage most realistic or practical for laypeople to aspire to. Some particularly advanced laypeople in the texts do reach the second (once-return) or third (non-return) stages, but it seems these are mostly the domain of monastics, exclusively so for fourth and final stage (arahantship). The third stage certainly seems to need some advanced meditation (jhana) and the fourth stage using this to remove all remaining subtle vestiges of craving.

I don’t think there is any description of some layperson going away, doing some meditation, and then coming back a stream-enterer. I think, in practically all descriptions, some person is described as contemplating or listening to a dhamma teaching, the mental conditions are just right, and this moment/opening happens, e.g. like the following From Ud5.3:

The Gracious One saw the leper Suppabuddha sat in that assembly, and having seen him, this occurred to him: “This one here is able to understand the Dhamma”, and having regard to the leper Suppabuddha he related a gradual talk, that is to say: talk on giving, talk on virtue, talk on heaven, the danger, degradation, and defilement of sensual desires, and the advantages in renunciation—these he explained. When the Gracious One knew that the leper Suppabuddha was of ready mind, malleable mind, unhindered mind, uplifted mind, trusting mind, then he explained the Dhamma teaching the Awakened Ones have discovered themselves: suffering, origination, cessation, path.

Just as it is known that a clean cloth without a stain would take the dye well, so to the leper Suppabuddha on that very seat, the dust-free, stainless Vision-of-the-Dhamma arose: “Whatever has the nature of arising, all that has the nature of ceasing.”

Then the leper Suppabuddha having seen the Dhamma, attained the Dhamma, understood the Dhamma, penetrated the Dhamma, crossed over uncertainty, being without doubts, attained full confidence

The early texts say that a stream-enterer will not be reborn more than seven more times (and only in good realms, human or above). The supporting four factors for stream-entry in the texts are:

Association with people of integrity is a factor for stream-entry.
Listening to the true Dhamma is a factor for stream-entry.
Appropriate attention is a factor for stream-entry.
Practice in accordance with the Dhamma is a factor for stream-entry.

Stream-entry seems to be mostly about getting sila (morality) and other virtues (like generosity etc.) to a good level and developing an experiential confidence (not just intellectual understanding) in the teachings. The advanced meditation stuff seems to be primarily for the later stages (particularly suited for monastics).

As others have said, lots can be done without meditation: working on morality, generosity and other virtues, regularly reading or listening to suttas, listening to/attending Dhamma talks (there are several monasteries or centres in the UK where you might be able to find people of a like mind or volunteer/help out at, listen to Dhamma talks or Buddhist chanting, doing some chanting oneself might be a nice practice too). Many modern forms of Buddhism are very focused on meditation, whereas in the early period, for laypeople anyway, it seemed to have been a lot less emphasized.

Meditation definitely isn’t always helpful. I suspect there have been quite a few little-talked-about psychological casualties from long intense retreats over the years. IMO some caution and gentleness is needed in general. This probably holds at least ten-fold for you. As people with far knowledgeable than more have suggested earlier, you probably really need to find someone with expertise in both Buddhist practice and is a qualified psychologist/psychiatrist with proper knowledge of your condition (psychosis I think you said). I reckon there are bound to be a number like that in the UK. I think it’s only someone like that who will be able to more safely and fully answer your question about meditation. They would need to know your full history. There might be some approaches that might be possible, if approached gently and cautiously, with an expert keeping a regular eye on how things are progressing. Or it could be it would be simply safer to stay away from it (leave this for your next life :slight_smile: ).

Most of us usually have plenty to work on anyway (have plenty of imperfections to be straightened out). The world badly needs many more kinder gentler people. Meditation can be a bit oversold at times too. The example of a fairly well-known Buddhist meditation teacher pops into my mind now. I won’t give his name but he had some very popular books on meditation, with decades of seemingly fairly advanced meditation experience, that not so long ago was found to have been secretly diverting book sales over many years into paying for prostitutes (I suppose that was at least better than some other dharma teachers that have pressurized/manipulated students into sex). His wife, unsurprisingly, didn’t take all this too well and kicked him out (out of the dharma centre they were running also). Seemingly, he still has more more work to do on the basics! :grin: There’s a lot more to practice than meditation. One can build up a really solid base in the fundamentals at least.

5 Likes

Thank you for this. Oddly I think that enlightenment coming in stages is actually an area of common ground in Kongo Zen and more… let’s just say mainstream forms of Buddhism. The founder was a rather unusual character and I am not entirely convinced of his morality.

In any case I think this is very useful advice. I will take it on board. I practice meditation on breathing at times but I have not attempted anything more advanced for years and perhaps this is correct.

3 Likes

Am glad you found something useful. Out of curiosity, I did a quick google regarding psychologists/psychiatrists. It probably might be rather tricky finding one with the right combination of expertise. This link looked possibly useful anyway (seems to a directory of psychologists/psychotherapists/counsellors):

https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/counselling/psychosis

You can then focus in on specific areas. It’s also possible to narrow the search with further options, e.g. one can pick professionals who choose to be tagged with a particular faith, Buddhism is actually an option. So it’s possible it might throw up some possibilities in your area of England with knowledge of your condition and some kind of association with Buddhism. Whether that then would be what you need (or they would have sufficient qualifications or expertise in what you want) is another question. I’d also imagine (unless you can get the NHS or someone else to cover things) that it might not be particularly cheap either! £50 per hour seems to be around the going rate from what I can see.

@Frimbleglim Dear Huw: One suggestion might be to start simply, and use some of the excellent meditation resources at bswa.org . One that you might start with is the following, by way of example. I find that learning meditation can be facilitated by these kinds of guided meditations, and these can be really helpful to get a feel for the basic meditation practices encouraged by the Early Buddhist Texts.

In terms of the medicine being an obstacle to enlightenment, I feel it’s good to see the idea of “enlightenment” as actually being “awakened,” or having insight into reality. The Buddha, it seems to me, awakened to the truths of suffering and its causes and mitigation, rather than reaching some nebulous goal or condition of being “enlightened.” The Buddha trained himself to “let go” ( an idea that Ajahn Brahm reinforces) of the things in this life that we cling to, that bring us hardship, pain, and frustration.

By cultivating the calming of the mind by using the breath as our object or anchor, we can begin to see and feel that many of life’s experiences are impermanent, conditioned and a cause for our suffering. Using meditation as our base practice, we can begin to live the kind of life the Buddha encouraged, one of renunciation, of simplicity, of kindness and compassion, and of emotional balance. So long as you are medication compliant, stay in contact with your doctors, have a local (or online) sangha or teacher to support you, and to be mindful to take a break from meditation if your symptoms get difficult, there seems no reason you can’t truly benefit from meditation and living a more ethical life as the Buddha promoted.

5 Likes