Would the Buddha be considered having depression? Probably not!

Recently , I listened to a
talk given by a monk , he says ,
prior to Buddha enlightenment ,
and if living in this Era,
Buddha would have been
categorized as having a kind of depression ! I was quite shock upon hearing it , but then , with
his explanation came in ,
I could see there is a logical
point to it . Buddha seems to
have over sensitive intuition
towards life itself .
And for this sort of thinking ,
feeling aversion to life
can cause serious depression .
Before Buddha renounced ,
at quite young age seems
to have detached from society .


These are the opening lines of the Attadanda Sutta, according to the Thanissaro translation:

When embraced,
the rod of violence
breeds danger & fear:

Look at people quarreling.
I will tell of how
I experienced dismay.
Seeing people floundering
like fish in small puddles,
competing with one another —
as I saw this,
fear came into me.
The world was entirely
without substance.
All the directions
were knocked out of line.
Wanting a haven for myself,
I saw nothing that wasn’t laid claim to.
Seeing nothing in the end
but competition,
I felt discontent.

And then I saw
an arrow here,
so very hard to see,
embedded in the heart.
Overcome by this arrow
you run in all directions.
But simply on pulling it out
you don’t run,
you don’t sink.

And here is Olendzki’s translation of the same passage:

Fear is born from arming oneself.
Just see how many people fight!
I’ll tell you about the dreadful fear
that caused me to shake all over:

Seeing creatures flopping around,
Like fish in water too shallow,
So hostile to one another!
— Seeing this, I became afraid.

This world completely lacks essence;
It trembles in all directions.
I longed to find myself a place
Unscathed — but I could not see it.

Seeing people locked in conflict,
I became completely distraught.
But then I discerned here a thorn
— Hard to see — lodged deep in the heart.

It’s only when pierced by this thorn
That one runs in all directions.
So if that thorn is taken out —
one does not run, and settles down.

So, it seems the Buddha was in a pretty bad way before going forth, and before ultimately learning how to pull out the arrow. Dismay? Despair? Depression? Panic? Something along those lines.


This is an interesting topic, and Dan’s response a pleasure to read.

Of course, with clinical depression, one can say that this can be defined as having characteristics of low self-esteem, loss of interest in normal activities, low energy, hopelessness, and sadness and pain without a clear cause. With treatment, most people respond well, and I feel that we need to be careful when addressing clinical depression vs. comparisons with “sloth and torpor,” or dukkha. Ajahn Brahm, in a recent talk, made the point very well ( and I was glad he spoke so clearly on this in a 2010 talk on depression and anxiety) that clinical depression is best amenable to medical care, and the milder forms of depression and anxiety of life, of conflict, of dukkha, can be well addressed by the Dhamma and the path of practice.

In the face of the conflicts around him, with the suffering of the world at his feet, it is inspiring that the Buddha persevered in his practice, awakened, and then decided to go forth and teach and bring this healing Dhamma to the world . I don’t believe that he was, per the OP’s excellent question, in a serious depression, because he went forth with effort, with energy, with purpose. The Buddha embodies all of these qualities of vigor, of hope, of saddha, and of purpose. And so, for those in treatment for clinical depression, and those suffering, as we all do, with the ups and downs of life, the image of the Buddha and his words really stand now, almost 2600 years later, as the best prescription for the healing process and eventual liberation from this mundane suffering.

So, in some ways, he is the Great Physician for the mind and life. He made the diagnosis, and prescribed the cure. But, we must always urge our friends that suffer with clinical depression to seek out good medical care.


One possibility I sometimes consider is that at least some of the mental diseases of modern life are actually the normal and healthy responses of the human organism to the savagery, terror and oppressively hierarchical systems of subjugation and control that constitute our supposedly “ordinary” human societies, and that have reigned over our lives for millenia.

The sad and understandably traumatized person who can’t find it in his heart to participate energetically in all of this brutality, and withdraws from it, is deemed in need of treatment to rectify his dysfunction and bring him back into line. On the other hand, the person who spends his time watching football and war movies, and playing video games in which women are abused and men are shot in the head, and then who then goes to work at the office scheming to destroy the livelihood of his competitors, is deemed healthy.

In our mental lives inside our comfortably secured and policed neighborhoods, we are anxiously aware of, but generally avoid thinking about, those places not to far from where we live in which prisoners are raped and brutalized, the police beat and shoot the members of economically defeated and subjugated classes and races, trafficked women are ravished and sold, and our various categories of enemies are blown up, or tortured for information.

It has always seemed to me that the Buddha’s life path was much more subversive than the various religious traditions that were constructed out of his words have generally been willing to grapple with. He looked at the hideous world of violence around him and said, “No. This is not right. This is not normal and healthy. It’s an ongoing atrocity, and I choose to withdraw from it and wander alone like the rhinoceros.” But the Buddhist “religion” has found it necessary to manufacture a more socially respectable institution from this subversive example, including an all-encompassing system of cosmic karmic punishment in which people are consigned to various hells, or turned into slugs or vermin or leprous beggers, for the violation of moral rules.


Another poem that captures a sentiment similar to what the Buddha once felt is this one by the American poet e.e. cummings, based on his own experiences in the army, about the torture and death of a conscientious objector during World War I:

i sing of Olaf glad and big
whose warmest heart recoiled at war:
a conscientious object-or

his wellbelovéd colonel(trig
westpointer most succinctly bred)
took erring Olaf soon in hand;
but–though an host of overjoyed
noncoms(first knocking on the head
him)do through icy waters roll
that helplessness which others stroke
with brushes recently employed
anent this muddy toiletbowl,
while kindred intellects evoke
allegiance per blunt instruments–
Olaf(being to all intents
a corpse and wanting any rag
upon what God unto him gave)
responds,without getting annoyed
“I will not kiss your fucking flag”

straightway the silver bird looked grave
(departing hurriedly to shave)

but–though all kinds of officers
(a yearning nation’s blueeyed pride)
their passive prey did kick and curse
until for wear their clarion
voices and boots were much the worse,
and egged the firstclassprivates on
his rectum wickedly to tease
by means of skilfully applied
bayonets roasted hot with heat–
Olaf(upon what were once knees)
does almost ceaselessly repeat
“there is some shit I will not eat”

our president,being of which
assertions duly notified
threw the yellowsonofabitch
into a dungeon,where he died

Christ(of His mercy infinite)
i pray to see;and Olaf,too

preponderatingly because
unless statistics lie he was
more brave than me:more blond than you.

Dan, you make a good point here. There’s a fine diagnosable line between the person that withdraws from the conflict and injustice of the world and operates in the world like the noble rhino, and the person that has a chemical imbalance in their brain chemistry that causes debilitating depression. I just wish for all people that suffer that they be well, happy and peaceful, no matter the vehicle by which they reach that destination, or a combination of such vehicles.

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Yes, but even that concept of “imbalance” might be culturally influenced. If the specific balance of chemicals in a person’s brain makes him dysfunctional, as far as the norms of his society go, it is deemed an “imbalance.” But maybe it’s the specific kind of balance that makes people killers and aggressors that is the problem.

I would say it is not depression because the mind gains a degree of purity & energy from the kind of disenchantment described in AN 3.38.

For me, depression is often a result of some type of craving (such as separation from the loved or not getting what is wanted) rather than from the type of disenchantment Gotama experienced.

Thanks for Snp 4.15. I have never read it before.

Snp 4.15 sounds similar to MN 75. However, I have never been able to work out whether the quote below from MN 75 pertains to before or after the enlightenment.

Māgandiya, formerly when I lived the home life, I enjoyed myself, provided and endowed with the five cords of sensual pleasure… On a later occasion, having understood as they actually are the origin, the disappearance, the gratification, the danger, and the escape in the case of sensual pleasures, I abandoned craving for sensual pleasures, I removed fever for sensual pleasures, and I abide without thirst, with a mind inwardly at peace…

I see/saw (???) other beings who are not free from lust for sensual pleasures being devoured by craving for sensual pleasures, burning with fever for sensual pleasures, indulging in sensual pleasures, and I do/did (???) not envy them, nor do/did I delight therein.


[quote=“James, post:9, topic:5883”]
aversion to reality[/quote]

What was the reality? Was Gotama averse to reality or did Gotama embrace reality? :neutral_face:

Reality, things as they
actually exist , which
included everything .

so, before the Awakening ,
for everyone like us ,
the Buddha treat
the real situation
(which is consist of)
sukha dukkha , he
rejected the dukkha .

Could you post a link here? Thanks!

Ayya, here is the link. https://youtu.be/sz3DTe8hyy0

At about 01:50, he makes the comment that I referred to. I had thought the talk recent, but the upload is recent; the talk is from 2010.


It is indeed depressing that the Buddha’s genius in seeing the problem with existence is construed as his depression.

Why is this depressing? Why is it so hard to accept that the Buddha was a human being, and that the problems he found a solution to are the same problems that afflict all human beings?


I’m with you :slightly_smiling_face: . Except him seeing a problem with aging, death etc has been seen by someone according to the OP as an indicator that Prince Siddhartha was depressed!

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Yes, I meant Prince Siddhartha too. He had to be very intelligent to see ‘a deeply hidden arrow’ even before his enlightenment, when his countrymen could not.

When I said it is depressing I didn’t mean it literally! :smiley:

With metta :wink:

Why is it a mistake to think that the young Gotama’s response to his growing awareness of the existential problems of life was to grow depressed over them?

We have no evidence that he saw that arrow from the start. His initial response was to grow so disenchanted with ordinary life that he left home and abandoned all of his responsibilities to go in search of answers. He wandered for years, and followed some mistaken paths before finding the solution.

There are two responses to experienced suffering- ‘confusion or a search’. He showed the latter response. A problem solving mental state isn’t depressed. If he withdrew into himself, didn’t come out of his room and isolated himself as a result, it would be more likely he became depressed. But it is impossible to state this with much confidence with this distance in time.

They are not really incompatible responses. It is entirely possible that his initial reaction was dejection and despair, and then a desperate flight from ordinary society in search of answers. There is no reason to think he stopped being confused before finding the answer he was looking for.

Think about how we would respond today if we heard about an officer in the army, from a prominent and wealthy family, with a wife and child of his own, who then cut off his hair, put on rags and went off wandering like a hermit and begging his food. Would anyone be reluctant to say the poor man had some sort of mental breakdown?