I was wondering what your views are on the relationship between enlightenment and mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. My understanding – which I suppose is the commonsense view – is that while awakening does not eliminate emotions and thoughts per se, it takes away their “stickiness”.
So while an awakened “person” does experience momentary fear – triggered by some outward circumstance – he won’t feel the nagging psychological fear that we call “anxiety”. Likewise, there could be sadness due to some event, but it won’t take the form of the prolonged dark hopeless mood generally described as “depression”.
I always thought that the underlying default psychological state of an awakened “individual” is one of effortless tranquility. However, lately I have come across teachings that seem to imply that awakening does not quite eliminate such conditions and one could very well be awakened and clinically depressed! To me that sounds a bit incredulous, given the association of spirituality and inner well-being which is not only made in the traditional teachings, but also in the writings of modern masters like Ramana Maharishi and Nisargadatta Maharaj. Moreover, but also makes enlightenment seem somewhat pointless – if it does not remove inner suffering, then how is it even relevant to our lives.
Your thoughts ?
Hi, thanks for your question which is very relevant to this topic. As you say, if this teaching does not remove inner suffering, then how is it relevant? There can be an initial insight into Freedom being already here and present, and with that much suffering can fall away. The core belief being exposed and seen through in this insight-realisation is the belief in a separate doer-entity, although there may be a few other pivotal insights for some seekers.
However, quite often, various deeply ingrained habitual psychological tendencies (vasanas in Sanskrit) can still continue under the force of habit. This means that if you had a tendency towards depression, to use your example, this tendency may still continue post-insight. Similarly if you had a tendency towards anger or suppressing your emotions, or even for something like eating chocolate, these tendencies may all continue post-insight/realisation.
This is where a second aspect of the teaching comes, in, namely that of purification. If a teaching does not address the addictive vasanas (habitual tendencies) that may continue after realisation, then it is, in my view, an incomplete teaching. The essence of purification is habit modification, and it can take various forms depending on the psychological make-up of the seeker.
I go into a bit more details in my article ‘Roadmap to Enlightenment’ and into even more details in the teachings I share in my online and in-person meetings. The most common form is some kind of surrender or letting go practice, but there are other methods too.
I have also found that of the people who have woken-up through what I am sharing, quite a few of them have seen a counsellor or psychologist alongside interacting with me, and that has helped them clear up a few ‘sticky issues’ and allowed this Freedom that already is to become directly apparent. I therefore recommend seeking psychological support for any difficult or distressing psychological issues a seeker may have.
In summary, there is a relationship between psychological suffering, mental health and enlightenment/awakening in my view. Enlightenment essentially leads to mental health and well being. There are 2 aspects of the teaching: insight and purification. Purification can help things to be seen clearly (ie. it can help insight to take place), and insight can in turn facilitate purification and removal of addictive tendencies that may continue to generate suffering after insight has taken place. With insight alone, much psychological suffering can fall away, but many habitual tendencies that cause mental illness and suffering may also continue. With purification post-insight, even these habitual tendencies can disappear and genuine mental health is achieved.