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Is depression always an illness? A Buddhist view of Robin Williams’ passing

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The death this week of Robin Williams has put depression back in the headlines. The media coverage is welcome because by talking openly about mental health challenges we can create some good from a desperately tragic suicide. The rhetoric around a previously taboo topic has been changing rapidly in recent years, thanks in part to the courageous candour of celebrities such as Stephen Fry, Gwyneth Paltrow, Alastair Campbell, Ruby Wax and of course, Robin Williams himself.

Robin_WilliamsAs a result, the ‘pull yourself together’ school of encouragement has mostly disappeared into the shadows, along with the ‘stiff upper lip’ brigade. Even the ‘what did he have to be depressed about?’ gang have been mercifully quiet. This more open and enlightened mindset now views depression as a recognised illness, which, like cancer, diabetes or high blood pressure, needs proper treatment.

But as I chant about Robin Williams’ suicide, I find myself wondering if ‘illness’ is always the most useful way to look at clinical depression. I ask myself whether Nichiren Buddhism, with its rich insights into the workings of the human mind, can bring a different perspective to the topic. And I think the answers are No and Yes. Let me explain…

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How to beat your darkness and achieve great victories in life

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A couple of weeks ago I decided it might be lovely to write a post about the constant battle we face with our Fundamental Darkness (FD) – the illusions and self-slander that stop us seeing our own and others’ Buddhahood (wisdom, courage, compassion and joy) and stop us achieving our goals. As a result my own negativity went into overdrive and the last thing I wanted to do was write this blog.

Daisaku Ikeda-Parque

I then came across some super-strict (and compassionate…) guidance from Daisaku Ikeda (you may have seen it on my Facebook page…). So, are you ready for some advice that removes all your excuses for unhappiness and helps you take responsibility for your whole life? Yes? Good, here goes then:

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The Secret and the Law of Attraction – good stuff but Buddhism says they’re only half the story…

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A few years ago, several delegates on the personal development training courses I deliver for Mancroft International started asking me if I had heard of the Law of Attraction.

thekey

Many of them had read Rhonda Byrne’s book, The Secret or Joe Vitale’s The Key which teach that “your thoughts and your feelings create your life” and more significantly that the events (good and bad) that we attract into our lives reflect our inner reality. There was a real buzz around the LOA – it was a new way of looking at life, happiness and suffering. Or was it?

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Relative and absolute happiness

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Nichiren Buddhism makes a really useful distinction between relative happiness and absolute happiness. Relative happiness is, say, when you have built a life that’s financially secure, with good relationships, satisfying work, and robust health. It’s the kind of happiness achieved to the highest degree by, for example, famous footballers, actors and other celebrities. The people who are fast-tracked through airports, or have red carpet access to the big shows, while the rest of us join the queue. The people we admire or are jealous of, or are happy for, or want to chop down to size, depending on our point of view or frame of mind.    cropped-sky-trees-large.jpg More

How to change the soundtrack of your mind

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Many experts define happiness as a ‘sense’ or ‘a feeling of wellbeing’. I also like to call happiness ‘the souOcean [by D_Zyl]ndtrack of your mind’. But obviously this is only true when you’re feeling happy! The point is that you always have a soundtrack playing in your subconscious. A kind of background mood music. Stop and listen (how often do we even take the time to do that?): is it excitement, hope, love? Or anxiety, regret and frustration? Is it well-being, amusement or compassion? Impatience, cynicism or boredom? A mixture of all the above? Something else altogether? Something you could not describe in words very easily at all? When I first start coaching a new client, this ‘soundtrack’ is one of the main things I am listening out for because one of my jobs is often to help someone change their mood music before they take action to achieve a goal. More

How to inspire yourself every day (life is precious…)

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You will never be truly happy unless part of you already knows (or is at least willing to imagine) that life is precious. It took me 24 years of Buddhist practice to begin to glimpse this fundamental truth! Of course I know some non-Buddhists who seem to havpink leafe been born this way – feeling that every moment and every life is valuable and feeling grateful just to wake up every morning. May hats be doffed to you, because once you get this truth, there is almost no limit to what you can be, do and achieve in terms of goals and relationships. More

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