Saturday, September 12, 2009

Another letter from Godwin

Another letter from Late Godwin Samararatne. Click on the image to read content.

In this letter Godwin speaks of "depression". H says there are two types of depressions, one with a cause and another without a cause. And he says one with a cause is easy to deal with.

But I do not agree with this. Because according to the teachings of the Buddha every thing results from a cause. When a cause is absent there is no result.

Yo dhamma hetuppabhava
Thesa.n hetu. Tathagato aha
Thesa.ngcayo nirodho
Evam vadi Mahasamano

That is what is paticcha samuppada is all about. Of course he refers to negative thoughts, which again is a cause for depression. When there are positive thoughts there could be no depression.

Sensation without the word may be helpful he says. That is to look at the sensation as it is without labelling it as a pleasant or an unpleasant sensation.

But again his saying that Yoga can help depression, is conditional. Yogacannot help depression, as thoughts are the cause of depression, and yoga helps to keep the body fit. Nevertheless, healthy body they say is a healthy mind. Therefore there is a point……

So what do you think Godwin meant when he wrote of a depression without a cause ?

Food for thought….
A reply:

Hi!Sometimes you know the cause of depression means you know that it was arisen from a loss of a family member, constant associations and complaints of a sick parent, losing a job etc etc.

But without any of the above, when life goes smoothly there is depression from time to time. The cause for such depression (depression without a cause) is really in the sphere of attachment (to concepts, ideas, self image) and it is directly related to ‘dukkha’ in the Buddhist parlance. The basis for ‘depression without a cause’ lies around the self identity and attachment. It is not easy to see as in the first case since it is not direct as the first one. One cannot know the beginning of it. May be when one goes in to meditation and spends sometime on a regular basis, one can slowly see the clues and root seeds in such a depression. But it can surely take a long time. Such understanding comes with the clarity of the observation of the meditator.

Depression without a cause enters to the body in a subtle way. Although the original cause of depression is a thought or emotion (reaction) it can have many unconscious layers. So without the knowledge, it enters the physical body (the cause of psychosomatic diseases start from an aberration of thought or from a negative emotion and its impact reflects in some part of the body). But it is very difficult to identify which thought or which emotion created that result in the beginning.

So one has to have multidimensional approach to deal with such a situation. One way to deal with it is to be a witness to pain of the body part. And also practice yoga. Those practices can detangle the impact of the negative emotion or negative thought which impacted the body part.

Sometimes it is recommended not to label the pain, sensation or emotion. The reason is when one starts without a label, one is open to learn from such experiences rather than starting already with a label such as anger, hatred or resentment. (given in a book)

Emotions and thoughts are very very complicated and there may be many layers inside them. So when one approaches them without a label (with moment to moment choiceless awareness), one can see many operations going along with it. Also as soon as one sees this entanglement, one automatically drops that negative emotion or the negative thought. (You do not have to know theoretically what you dropped or released even)

So there are advantages in labeling as well as not labeling depending on the situation.

Godwin seemed to use lots of his personal experiences and experiences with his psychiatric clients in answering your question in this situation. He uses what he really saw and experienced to answer your question. I am sure when you think about Godwin’s answers and used those tools for sometime; one can relate and get an explanation from the Buddhist textual angle as well.

I do not see any contradiction with Godwin’s answers and the textual explanation. Only thing is Godwin does not start like an explanation in Buddhist sutra. He just starts from where the problem is and help the client to see the full operation (experientially) and find a way to drop /release the negative association in that process.

If you start from the book explanation, one cannot independently explore and experience and drop the unwanted self associations. One always looks for words given in the text/book and tries to explain things from the concepts used in the book. It will become a very theoretical approach and one will not transform the ‘idea of self’ in such an approach. One will limit his or her exploration always to the concepts used in the books.

It is a very narrow approach as far as independent exploration and ultimate liberation is concerned. Also one cannot make oneself transformed if you take such a book approach. One should come to a point to interpret dhamma from one’s own experiences rather than using the terms and concepts in the texts.

Hope this explaination helps.

With Lots of Metta,


P.S. (1)

In trying to explain mind in Western Psychiatric terms the Buddhist doctrinal “concepts” get distorted. In Buddhist terms there is only mind and matter. Conceptual terms and labels are necessary tools to explain that which cannot be explained any other way. That I thought was why Godwin used the term” depression without a cause”.

It is some what like trying to explain meditation experiences, where the conventional terms do not fit into the description of the experience.

Everything is around the mind. No sensations and emotions arising as a consequence of a physical condition is independent of the mind. Because mind always intervenes to feel, experience, or suffer (dukkha). Therefore, it seems to me, that it is difficult to speak of depressions without a cause.

If “depressions without a cause’ lies around the self identity, as you say, then that it-self is the cause of the ‘ depression without a cause”.

The mind and form are two different entities working in coordination with one another. The mind, feels and directs, but the form neither feels nor directs. These are called sarammana dhamma and anarammana dhamma. Sarammana Dhamma are those that possess consciousness, which is the mind, and anarammana dhamma are those that do not possess consciousness, which is matter. Therefore, the form cannot feel pain or emotions because it is matter and an anarammana dhamma- without consciousness.

A depression is a mental state. The arising of a mental state should, therefore, necessarily have a cause.

All thoughts arise with a sense faculty coming in contact with an external object. Mind is also a sense faculty and the “external objects” it comes in contact with are the thoughts. Therefore, the thoughts are the cause of all mental states, which include “depression”

That is how I see it.


However, it reminds me that you spoke about text book ideas put forward as concepts , which denies the independent approach to a problem.

In that respect it is important to note that the Buddha’s Sutta Desana are based on concepts. That was because the real Dhamma beyond concepts would have been incomprehensible to the ordinary people. We knot that the Buddha hesitated before he began the teaching of the truth he had realised, thinking that the people submerged in ignorance may not understand his great teaching.

Therefore the teaching as disclosed by the Buddha is two pronged, one is in conventional terms, in which he explains his discovery to his disciples in terms which they can understand the teaching, and the other in ultimate terms which he left for them to experience through meditation. This does not mean that there are two truths, but there is one truth which is explained in two different ways.

The teachings of the Buddha which is also described as a “ Doctrine of Cause and Effect”, emphasises that nothing arises without a cause. That is also fundamental to the theory of “no-self”- another definition of Buddhism, as the Doctrine of Anatta.

In view of this I do not say that Godwin was contradictory, but I say that he put his idea in “contradictory terms”. Like the Buddha explaining the ultimate truth in conventional terms.

I think what Godwin meant when he said “ depression without a cause”, is –a depression the cause of which cannot be defined. Or to go further along with Godwin's way of expressing dhamma, when he said " depression without a cause " he may have meant seeing it as a mere "depression", without searching the cause for its arising, and giving it a label.

That happens in meditation. There may arise an "emotion" in the mind which disturbs the concentration. This emotion will continue as long as the meditator has identified the cause of its arising,such as through anger, attachment, jealousy and so on. These emotions are so subtle that a meditator may find it difficult to identify the cause, as if it had arisen with out a cause.

But there is always, even a subtle cause for an emotion to arise.

A letter from Godwin

I had problems with one of my French neighbours. I wrote to Godwin about it. And he wrote to me what I should do about it as a meditator. The letter was undated


My Dear UCS,

Many thanks for your letter. I was sorry to hear about the problems you are having- There is no doubt that it must be most unpleasant and difficult to have such neighbour . And when Annie becomes depressed it is natural that you are affected by it. How can a meditator handle such a situation – I propose the following;

(1) do not be surprised /shocked because it is natural that there are such cruel human beings in this world.

(2) It is possible to allow the emotions –anger resentment whatever and to realise it is O.K. to feel that- choiceless awarenerss !

(3) To try to see the situation as a learning experience-see how each day your reaction can vary-so they become your teachers !

(4) Sometimes it is also necessary to learn to assert your self- speak out – bang your own door…. But not without control. It is done and it is over.

(5) Is it possible at some moments to send them loving kindness.

(6) Is it possible to some times laugh at the whole play ?

What is the next problem pl.

with lots of love,


A Reply

It is really a nice letter. It summarizes almost all the tools available for a meditator to deal,explore ,learn and laugh at such situaions...............

With Lots of Metta, Sampath