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Hi SD, well, it is difficult to advise you based only on the information you have given me. To be safe, though, I suggest that you consult with the psychiatrists at Thimphu Hospital about your feelings.

Life naturally contains suffering and disappointment

I have everything anyone could ask for – a loving family and a good circle of friends – but there is always a huge hole in my heart. It is as if I am missing something. I feel depressed for no reason. I tried to engage myself in work and lately and have taken up preliminary practice of meditation. Still, I feel lost. I feel like I am losing purpose of my life and I don’t look forward to a new day. Please Lama, guide me.

SD, Thimphu

Hi SD, well, it is difficult to advise you based only on the information you have given me. To be safe, though, I suggest that you consult with the psychiatrists at Thimphu Hospital about your feelings. It could be that you are suffering with major or persistent depressive disorder. Unlike situational depression, which is triggered by a stressful event in your life (such as a death in your family, a divorce, or losing your job) and will usually pass with time, major or persistent depression requires medication, advice from a therapist, and lifestyle changes. Don’t feel embarrassed to discuss such issues with a psychiatrist. Like any other organ in the body, the brain is prone to get sick and require medical intervention to recover.

If major or persistent depression is ruled out, then let’s explore other possibilities. In Buddhism, we understand that ultimately nothing in the universe can provide lasting satisfaction. You see, everything is compounded and does not have inherent existence. OK, I know that this sounds complicated, and so I’ll give an example. The newspaper that you are holding is made of paper. The paper came from wood, which came from a tree. In turn, the tree developed from a seed that grew through its interaction with moisture, heat and nutrition. In this respect, the newspaper is composed of many factors and there is not one thing that we can identify as purely paper. This is what we call compounded and lacking inherent existence. In this respect, the newspaper is no more real than other compounded things, such as rainbows or mirages. Actually, under examination, we will discover that everything we can see, touch, hear, or even think is the same.

As no phenomenon is any more real than a rainbow or mirage, material things, relationships ect cannot be the cause of lasting satisfaction. However, as we do not recognize this fact, we tend to act like a guy who constantly seeks out mirages with the expectation that they will provide him with water to quench his thirst. As a result, our lives are characterized by a sense of disappointment.

As everything is compounded, once the force that binds the factors together dissipates, the phenomena will cease to exist. In this respect, everything is impermanent. The new relationship will not exist in the same way forever, but will change and finally end. Our new car will get old and eventually fall apart. Clinging to happy experiences and hoping that they last forever is also a source of suffering.

Anyway, I am not saying that these are the reasons for your depression, but pointing out that life naturally contains suffering and disappointment – and so even people whose lives appear to be going well will have underlying depression and anxiety. It is part of unenlightened existence.

In this respect, don’t expect to live a life totally free of suffering. However, if major or persistent depressive disorder is ruled out, then I suggest that you increase your level of discipline. Although the word discipline has a negative connotation, reminding us of overly strict school teachers, discipline can actually be a means to stabilize our minds as it goes against the natural inclination of a depressed mind to be lazy and inactive. Here are a few words on this by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche: “In our modern society, one of the biggest problems is depression (really really feeling down and depressed) and people turning to drugs and alcohol and all of that. If you really look into the root of depression it is because of lack of discipline. Discipline is so important.”

To begin with, don’t go wild and start getting up at 3AM and taking cold showers. Instead, just introduce a few changes to your daily routine. As an example, you can decide to wake up at a certain time every day and then stick to the schedule. Also, start the day with a long walk or yoga. Eat meals on time, and ensure that the food is healthy. Junk food can lower your state of mind. However, when you engage in these activities, do them joyfully. Taking a long walk in the morning with a long face will not only be of no benefit, but will probably scare other walkers! In addition, try to discover the magic in small things – the sound of the rain on window pane, the taste of your coffee, the sunlight striking a building. Such things are always available and so are a constant source of inspiration.

Shenphen Zangpo was born in Swansea, UK, but spent more than 28 years practicing and studying Buddhism in Taiwan and Japan. Currently, he works with the youth and substance abusers in Bhutan, teaching meditation and organising drug outreach programmes. Email to jjwangchuk@gmail.com for any queries

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