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Can a Sotapanna experience (extreme) depression?

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I have a friend who seems to think it's quite possible to be a Sotapanna and not even know it. (I've even heard that in very rare instances it could be the same for an Arahant although I find that hard to believe).

He suggests I could be a Sotapanna although I'm 100% certain I'm not or even close. He always just says how do you know? How does anyone know?

Anyhow, I'm wondering about those of you out there who have crossed first path about your experiences since then?

As well as highlighting some positives maybe you could point out the continuing downsides of your life that still seem to manifest from time to time such as depression. Is it possible to be a stream enterer and still get depressed (if so, is the depression less intense than pre-path used to be?).

How about about  negatives? How do they continue to blight your experience of life and how is it different, however, to your life before path and fruit when you also possibly had these experiences.

Also, are there any new difficulties that have arisen which you had not had before?

Thanks, Piers

RE: Can a Sotapanna experience (extreme) depression?
Answer
9/7/14 6:50 AM as a reply to Piers M.
Kenneth Folk struggled with depression when he was an anagami, so I'd say it's certainly possible at the sotapanna level. Once upon a time someone (Daniel?) commented on this, I guess Bill Hamilton had a theory that each Path had a certain amount of psychological stuff embedded in it, so attaining stream entry may bring up some depressing stuff.

There are a few criteria for determining whether or not someone is a sotapanna-- cycling, cessations, and jhana access are the ones I see discussed the most. What leads your friend to believe you may be a sotapanna? Some people get stream-entry without knowing it, but they usually are in other traditions without good map access.

If you are struggling with depression, talk to your doctor. There have been a fair share of medicated meditators here who have been very successful. Talking therapy is also helfpul. Working with your psychological stuff is an important part of the first training, there's no shame in it.

RE: Can a Sotapanna experience (extreme) depression?
Answer
9/7/14 7:00 PM as a reply to Eric M W.
I have plenty of reports from friends who had some difficulties with various forms of depression for various periods of time in the middle paths. Some were very short, some relatively long. Some very mild, others moderate, a few severe, though those tended to be short-lived. Even the middle paths are not a definite protection against depression.

RE: Can a Sotapanna experience (extreme) depression?
Answer
9/8/14 2:41 AM as a reply to Eric M W.
I agree with Eric. I'm currently a medicated meditator, and that combination has really helped on all levels, including practice. I'm only a month out from what I experienced as High EQ formations, three or four distinct moments of formation sync-up such that I could clearly see the beginning and ending of each formation, and then cessation. And then a very weird return of reality.

So far, the supposed Review phase has been a bit confusing until just this past Saturday night when I figured out what I should be doing during this time. The cycling has been more rapid, with sharper moods, and not really a good sense of the proper sequence. Yet underneath this I experience a stable jhana-like peace, which is strange because of the double track. For example of the rapid cycles, I have seemed to go from A&P hypomania to grumpy/lazy dissolution to grumpy Cause & Effect to High Equanimity to explosively joyful A&P again. Crazy! I'm very busy in daily life, so I may just be not clearly seeing some of the stages that would make the cycles a complete proper sequence.

No more cessations/fruitions noticed. I've stopped looking for them.

Incredible, breathtaking access to hard jhanas I've definitely experienced, including now the first formless one.

It is really too soon to say, but the only "problem" I've had is some bleed-through of irritability at work, which got me informally reprimanded, and also some ecstatic unitive-feeling conversations with my bosslady at other times. I have to try even harder to lie low and keep my mouth shut.

My philosophy on depression is this: Fix your chems first, issues and spiritual practice second. In other words, if you describe your depression as severe, please see a psychiatrist or neurologist (not a GP) and get medication. Depression is very treatable with the right medication at a sufficient dose, so suffering needlessly because of neurochemical imbalance is just not intelligent behavior. Personally, I've never found talk therapy to help, because it is always so predictable and coming from people who not been there, but SNRIs definitely have obliterated the depression, though they take weeks to kick in well, unfortunately.

I have a history of major depressive disorder, although until this past February, I had not experienced depression for more than 15 years. Anxiety has always, to my mind, been the core problem I have. When  situational triggers cause the anxiety to be more than I can handle, then it collapses into depression. In February I had what to me seemed devastating news, and this triggered the episode, or so it seems. It also happened to map absolutely perfectly to the dukka nanas, with Fear for a month, then Misery for a month, and then very intense Disgust for a month, and so on. And then EQ came. 

My DN last year was intertwined with a persistant migraine aura. At first I tried to figure out whether it was DN or migraine. Now I firmly believe that is the wrong question. It was both. Causes and conditions of various realms or paradigms combined to manifest the Dark Night, and that is all.

May you have happiness and the causes of happiness.



 

RE: Can a Sotapanna experience (extreme) depression?
Answer
9/8/14 2:51 AM as a reply to Jenny.
I agree, I am also a medicated Dharma practitioner, medication (Prozac and Abilify) obliterated my depression, personally I had often had bouts of enthusiasm or moments of conviction that I had entirely wasted away my depression myself, but nowadays the consensus between my parents and I is that it was the medication that cured me.

It's entirely curable, really.

Peace, love, strength, regards,

James

RE: Can a Sotapanna experience (extreme) depression?
Answer
9/8/14 5:36 AM as a reply to Eric M W.
Thanks for your responses:

For the record. Yes, I have suffered from depression on and off over the years and about 20 years ago it was really extreme (suicidal), somehow came through that period with a little help from friends, one who helped me get a job back then. So, probably just being out in the real world helped in that case - meeting and mixing with people, although thinking about it it did take several weeks (I can even remember hiding in the back office once or twice when customers came in the shop as I was so nervous at the time. However, that was a long time ago (I'm 42 now) and long before I ever did my first retreat in 2001.

Actually, I just came back from a 1 month retreat in Thailand, feeling a lot better than I have done for a long time, even though nothing "spectacular" happened whilst on retreat, and some of it was really hard work but I still enjoyed being there if enjoy is the right word. Let's just say, that being there at that time just felt right. The time. The place. The teachings. The practice etc.

I posed this question purely because I was reading Jen Pearly's practice journal and her recent admission of stream entry. I then read another thread about depression (wowwww this path is confusing by Adam..) and Jen Pearly commented on her own struggles with it. That's what gave rise to the question.

Eric M W:
There are a few criteria for determining whether or not someone is a sotapanna-- cycling, cessations, and jhana access are the ones I see discussed the most. What leads your friend to believe you may be a sotapanna? Some people get stream-entry without knowing it, but they usually are in other traditions without good map access.

If you have read Eckhart Tolle's "The Power of Now" and elsewhere in some of his books/talks, he talks about the time he had his "awakening experience". He was seriously depressed at the time and afterwards, when he woke up both literally and metaphorically he did not have a clue what had happened to him only that he felt good. And everything seemed alright. It took him years to work backwards as it were to understand on an intellectual level about what had happened. Later he met zen monks and others to find out that he had reached "the place" so many others are striving for. He was not doing retreats, never meditated, was an academic etc.
Whether in Buddhist terms he is an anagami or arahant I have no idea. Seems like it to me though. I can only rationalize it that he must have been doing some consistent practice probably in his very last existence and possibly in many many lifetimes, otherwise how can he just "wake up" when so many others are burning holes in their cushions without getting much of a taste of what he talks about.
Talking therapy is also helfpul. Working with your psychological stuff is an important part of the first training, there's no shame in it.
You are right that there is no shame in it. However, apart from not feeling drawn in that direction at all, I believe there are very few good therapists out there. Many many therapists but I've a feeling that some of them are just as messed up as the next person, only they somehow seem to function in society without too many hiccups or else they manage to hide it. Is that too harsh an opinion?

RE: Can a Sotapanna experience (extreme) depression?
Answer
9/8/14 8:17 AM as a reply to J J.
If you have read Eckhart Tolle's "The Power of Now" and elsewhere in some of his books/talks, he talks about the time he had his "awakening experience". He was seriously depressed at the time and afterwards, when he woke up both literally and metaphorically he did not have a clue what had happened to him only that he felt good. And everything seemed alright. It took him years to work backwards as it were to understand on an intellectual level about what had happened. Later he met zen monks and others to find out that he had reached "the place" so many others are striving for. He was not doing retreats, never meditated, was an academic etc.

Whether in Buddhist terms he is an anagami or arahant I have no idea. Seems like it to me though. I can only rationalize it that he must have been doing some consistent practice probably in his very last existence and possibly in many many lifetimes, otherwise how can he just "wake up" when so many others are burning holes in their cushions without getting much of a taste of what he talks about.
I have read it. Immediate awakening is not unheard of even in Theravada, unless some of the stories in the old texts were exaggerated. But as Daniel says in the first section of MCTB, to understand two characteristics simultaneously is to understand the third, which is cause for immediate first awakening.

As for Tolle's depression disappearing, I realize that depression can crop up in the middle paths, as has already been mentioned. However, I would say this is the exception rather than the norm. From what I've gathered, most folks in the middle paths won't have to worry about being depressed ever again.
You are right that there is no shame in it. However, apart from not feeling drawn in that direction at all, I believe there are very few good therapists out there. Many many therapists but I've a feeling that some of them are just as messed up as the next person, only they somehow seem to function in society without too many hiccups or else they manage to hide it. Is that too harsh an opinion?

I've only had experience with two therapists, when I had severe depression in my early teens. One was a counselor, one was a psychologist, both were very good. I also had a low dose of medication (zoloft) but the talking therapy helped way more. Then again, perhaps the therapy would not have helped if my chemicals weren't balanced in the first place. Even ancient cultures had herbal "brews" for addressing imbalances in the brain.

Finding a good therapist can be difficult, but if you get your chemicals balanced and your life in some kind of order, you have a much better chance of success in therapy regardless of the therapists' flaws.

RE: Can a Sotapanna experience (extreme) depression?
Answer
9/8/14 12:07 PM as a reply to Piers M.
This thread is really close to my heart Piers and contains stuff I have been reflecting on this year. I believe I experienced first path last year but since then things have played out quite differently than expected. With regard to the event, it had the EQ-blip-bliss wave characteristic followed by a week of automatic cycling from A&P back up to fruition. However, the ‘clear’ cycling appeared to stop after a week when an incredibly painful ache entered my heart, which I’ve described as both a ‘realisation of the fundamental suffering we all experience’ as well as straight up existential angst.
 
Even more confusing is that I don’t experience better access to jhana than I did before. In fact, I’ve had to work extremely hard at getting absorbed again but when this has happened (mainly on subsequent retreats) things have opened up and enriched the experience [http://www.dharmaoverground.org/web/guest/discussion/-/message_boards/message/5546234]. This leads me to conclude that gaining sufficient shamata is necessary to dwell in the fruits of insight experience?
 
At times I’ve doubted what happened last year but I can say for certainty that something has changed/ is different than before. And one year on (in fact 14 months on) this is still the same. Another way to describe it is that I feel I have a greater exposure to deeper feelings – like they present in higher contrast than before. At times this is fascinating as I can see the ‘size of the thread’ but at other times it’s painful when the difficult feelings seem keener and more persuasive than before. Paradoxically, however, I believe I’m communicating more honestly and openly with others and with less collusion that I (as an approval seeker) might have done in the past.
 
I hope this provides something useful to your original questions.
 
With best wishes,
 
Nick

RE: Can a Sotapanna experience (extreme) depression?
Answer
9/8/14 3:49 PM as a reply to Jenny.
Jen Pearly:
My philosophy on depression is this: Fix your chems first, issues and spiritual practice second.

But just how exactly do you go about doing that? Do you mean visiting doctors to test your blood for deficiencies? I'm not sure it's my problem at all. (And I have had that done in any case during routine check ups and one or two vitamin/mineral deficiencies were highlighted and yes I did then go and take them). 
My mum was taking me to homeopaths and other alternatives when I was a chilld for this or that. As an adult I often looked to acupuncture/chinese herbal medicine thinking that this was what might help "fix" me. I have taken many many vitamin and other health supplements all my life - until very recently. I decided to stop because I don't feel any different whether I take them or not. (it also saves a small fortune!) Plus, the irony is that most people who take health supplements are those that need them least because they tend to be eating sensibly anyhow, wholefoods, organic etc.
Also, I noticed a tremendous amount of attachment to them. Thinking I need to have x or y.

It often gets me thinking about the Buddha and his disciples. Especially during the earlier part of his teaching before the monasteries sprang up. Living in the forests and caves of Northern India and surviving on one meal a day. Do you think they took their omega 3 cod liver oil supplements too? If someone was depressed do you think he/she reached for a bottle of prozac? Of course not, but surely some of them also had those issues too? I mean not all of them as is commonly described became enlightened just after hearing a single sermon or even just a few words. There were others striving for years in the jungles with great hardship. One guy even misunderstood the instructions and kept walking walking walking till the soles of his feet were bleeding... I think I'm a long way from striving with such intent and disregard for the body.

More so than outright depression, over the last 5 years or so, I have suffered more from a nagging sense of anxiety/panic. Sometimes it has been really strong and on other days it has been more in the background, like a computer program running behind the scenes. Logically I've thought "Okay, I've got food on the table, a roof over my head. I'm not in dept. I'm surrounded by people who love and care about me. I'm also fortunate enough to have heard about the Buddhas teachings and tried to practice them". Why then these feelings of despair? I'm sure someone will point out it is classic dark night stuff or symptomatic of this or that particular stage.

RE: Can a Sotapanna experience (extreme) depression?
Answer
9/8/14 3:56 PM as a reply to Eric M W.
Eric M W:
But as Daniel says in the first section of MCTB, to understand two characteristics simultaneously is to understand the third, which is cause for immediate first awakening.

Funnily enough I was listening to Ayya Khema last night, and she said you only need to focus on ONE of the characteristics and that if you understand any one of them you'll understand the other two.

RE: Can a Sotapanna experience (extreme) depression?
Answer
9/8/14 10:01 PM as a reply to Piers M.
Piers, by "fix your chems" I mean take antidepressants, whatever class of them works, which for me is SNRIs because I seem to have problems with too much dopamine and too little conversion of norepinephrine. When I have the SNRIs onboard, it is like someone flipped on a 2000 wat lightbulb. It is pretty amazing.

During this last bout, before going back to SNRIs, I tried some supplements (5HTP) that only made things worse. Vitamin and mineral balance is crucial, though, and I recommend being tested for the MTHFR mutation, which about half of Americans have. I have it, and taking the correct forms of b vitamins helped my migraines a ton and my chronic fatigue.

High serum copper and low zinc cause anxiety, period. I'm working on this after finding out my copper is sky high. This is a huge subject.

Whether depression is triggered situationally or, as in my case, some endogenous neurochemical imbalance, the truth is that the chemicals are out of balance while the depression is ongoing. If the depression is a matter of "issues," that it fine; deal with the issues. But in my experience, it is extremely hard to deal with "issues" until one gains better neurotransmitter balance. 

RE: Can a Sotapanna experience (extreme) depression?
Answer
9/9/14 6:59 AM as a reply to Piers M.
If someone was depressed do you think he/she reached for a bottle of prozac? Of course not, but surely some of them also had those issues too?

IMO, depression is common in our society for a number of reasons, none of which I have scientific support for. Hectic schedules, jobs that don't provide a sense of meaning, extremely limited contact with nature, reduced exposure to natural sunlight, unhealthy diets, fragmentation and isolation of family units, and so on.

I'm not saying that modern society is awful, but something is definitely wrong when over half the population is medicated for some variety of depression or anxiety. I suspect mental illness was less common in pre-industrial societies, such as India during the time of the Buddha.

RE: Can a Sotapanna experience (extreme) depression?
Answer
9/9/14 12:08 PM as a reply to Jenny.
You know a lot about this field. More than I can possibly comment. Perhaps it is something I should look into. I haven't even heard of SNRIs, 5HTP or MTHFRs (looks like an abbreviation for a rather rude word)  :-) 

@ ERIC MW: Good answer.