Digital Dharma

The Middle Path, One Day At A Time

Buddhist psychiatrist Dr. Mark Epstein answers the top three questions from Tricycle readers


1- What does Buddhism say about “mental illness” and why does it occur in people? Is it considered a biological condition as it is in the West or not? And is it seen as an issue of burning off negative karma?

2- My teacher discourages use of antidepressants but my therapist recommends them strongly. I’m at a loss and am not finding middle ground. What is your take on this?

3- Muslim and Christian fundamentalism seem to be moving the world toward a polarization that is very frightening. Are you frightened by these movements? How do you imagine engaging with them in a meaningful way?

Link to Tricycle Q & A: Mark Epstein

Author: Bill

Stumbling down the Middle Path, one day at a time.

2 thoughts on “Buddhist psychiatrist Dr. Mark Epstein answers the top three questions from Tricycle readers

  1. Your comments on the PBS documentary “The Buddha” were excellent and I would be interested in your take, the Buddhist attutude towards mental illness, especially schizophrenia. RJS

    • Some Buddhists believe that mental illness is a matter of working off negative karma. I find this explanation far less than satisfactory, unless someone can show me a consistent sort of behavior in this life that has led to that degree of negativity, because I do not personally believe in previous lives nor (obviously) the concept of “working off” karma. I covered my take on that issue here.

      Generally-speaking, I think traditional Buddhist attitudes toward mental illness are pretty sensible, given what was known about the subject until recently. However, I do not claim to be anything like an expert. My take is pretty mainstream Western. I’ve read a bit about the acceptance and mindfulness of Buddhism having a useful effect on folks with mental illness, and certainly that would be beneficial in the case of schizophrenics, who don’t get much of it elsewhere, but when it comes to actual treatment I’m pretty much a believer in antipsychotics and cognitive-behavioral therapy (and, of course, unconditional acceptance).

      The Wikipedia entry on Buddhist Psychology is pretty good, with some good references.


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