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If This Be Madness
Mad as an Arahatter
Ogha: Hello Obo, Tell me if you know, what is the Buddha's position on mental illness? I understand severe conditions bar someone from entering the sangha. I have a friend who just got locked up in a ward (again). Manic episodes that rival anything I could imagine. Seems to be (hyper-) lucid and reflective through or at least after the experiences.
Obo: From what I have read there are several different issues in the suttas with regard to mental illness.
I do not have a citation at hand, but I recall one episode where someone approached Sariputta and asked him if maybe the whole of the Buddha's system was not just some sort of madness. Sariputta's response was, "If this is madness, it is the best of madnesses!"
The case of the first case is what we would call 'going crazy'. Someone because of stress of circumstances goes completely out of character and does a regrettable action. This, in terms of the rules, is a reason to overlook the infraction.
There is one case I remember which comes close to what we call madness. A woman called Cloak Walker had an unbelievable string of bad luck (loss of husband, two children and both parents, bing bing bing) which she blamed on herself. She went round and round in circles walking on her cloak (step, flip cloak, step ... — I see that this story is told somewhat differently in different places) til she round and round came around to where the Buddha was sitting. What happened?
The Buddha looked up and said: 'Sister, recover thou thy presence of mind.' And snap fingers she was restored to good health and became a very advanced bhikkhuni.
At the time there was a very interesting lack of concern over crime and madness. Law was administered by what we might call overlords, Governors of provinces or towns (but these could be learned brahmans) and the headmen of the village were the judges, or a person could set themselves up as a judge, or a person who was considered to be of high ethical understanding could be asked to judge a case. Cases could be appealed all the way up to the king, if a party was of sufficient conviction or courage.) It was only if the people complained that these guys or the king went after a criminal. Or if the crime was to the governor, not paying taxes etc. It was ok to exact justice for yourself if someone injured you. If you made a mistake, of course, they could bring you before a judge.
It is an interesting side note to the issue of legal matters. Nobody lied. Or very few people tried to lie their way out of punishments. The group confessions in the Saṅgha rely on this characteristic as well. In some of the old Kung Fu movies we see something similar when a student breaks the rules and approaches the Shi-fu saying: "I have broken a rule, please punish me." In the suttas and Jataka stories when someone is brought before the king and asked if he committed a crime and he lies, it is always sufficient for the king to say: "I am the king. I am able to punish people at my own discression," for the person to change their position and confess the crime.
As for madness, mostly it was taken in stride. Not even considered madness. Even today they have guys walking around there no clothes, cover themselves in mud and ashes, go into the jungle and live like wild animals, mad as hatters. In fact, both in India and China at the time and even somewhat today a wise man may go around looking and acting mad, hair flying all over the place, just to avoid pests.
The real madness was considered to be doing things that were self-injurious in terms of kamma. Lies, injury, theft were what Gotama would call in-sanity.
I personally believe almost all cases of what we call madness are matters of advanced mental states or special talents occurring to people unaware of magic or advanced mental states or talents connected to an opinion that such a thing is madness. Bring them into a situation where what is happening to them can be put in context with mental development, snap fingers, no more madness.
Paranoia: the ability to see potentialities. Naturally the human being like all animals first looks for dangerous possibilities, but the talent is in the ability to see contingencies. A lot of, if not all, the 'evidence' paranoiacs see is careless observation (a lot of madness is really 'pretending' where the person has lost self-control, something like a child playing a pretend game who has become lost in the story, the reality doesn't matter, it's not relevant to the story) which is not corrected because of bad habits of observation that everyone has. There is over-development on one side and not enough development on the other.
Schizophrenia (multiple personality): making the mistake of identifying with a personality characteristic as 'my self' in combination with the perception of what exists in most people which is groups of characteristics completely in distinction or opposition to other characteristics. Like in a normal person, acting a role, playing a role to get women, get a job, etc. This rather than simply seeing that we are just a collection of 'bits' with consciousness going from bit to bit. And that what we need is a set of rules or supreme court to which each set of characteristics can bring another set of characteristics for a neutral fair ruling according to a standard acceptable to all (say: nothing is allowed that will cause us bad kamma, cause us to end up in an asylum, in the electric chair, etc. ... in other words The Eightfold Way. If you want to do something and part of you thinks it's mad or immoral, you bring it to the Judge, the Magga. And you must train yourself to obey that ruling. Everything else goes. You are allowed to play Dhamma Lawyer. Weazle your way around a rule if you can make your case before the Magga. The other aspect of schizophrenia is the fact of having perception that crosses barriors that are otherwise put up to prevent the conscious self from perceiving contradictory aspects of the personality (one set of characteristics unacceptable to another). The talent there is what we would call deep insights into things.
Manic/depressive disorder is having a lack of understanding of the Seven Dimensions of Self-awakening. No ability to balance the energy creation side (study, energy creation, enthusiasm) with the calming side (impassivity, serenity, detachment) because of poor development of the memory (and, lack of knowledge). This person should make a strong effort to control and calm down the energy when in the manic state; in the depressive state very little can be done because there is no will. (been there, done that)
If pushed, go to a shrink and ask him what his definition of madness is and he will be forced to say: 'the subjective state where a person feels unhappy.'
In other words: madness is when you think you are mad and are not happy with that.
Ogha: As for mania, this 'madness' is a term attributed by 'unhappy' others, most often not the manic individual herself. In many cases, someone experiencing mania feels euphoric, liberated, powerful, or all-knowing. They may test these feelings through action: streaking naked, jumping fences, speaking backwards. It is often an observer's interpretation of 'normal' and fear that causes the manic individual to suffer. An observer often directly or indirectly and often violently restrains the manic individual.
I suppose the manic individual needs to learn to constructively harness these temporal creative powers without freaking out others, without getting locked up and/or drugged. Or the individual must establish conditions (medicine, care, social network) to prevent the states and/or their negative results (asylum, social stigma). As I understand, the mania is most often associated with cycles of depression. It is his or her inability to balance these high and low extremes that is the debilitating condition.
Obo: We see the situation here about the same way. Part of the problem with smoothing out the energy side is that initially it isn't experienced as 'as high'. Like the alcoholic or drug addict trying to live without. If a person gives the balancing method suggested in the Seven Dimensions of Awakening some time, over time there will be a balanced rise to the highest levels possible. They need to be able to accept a period of moderate energy/vision in exchange for a lessening of the depression but should know that eventually there will be nothing lost.
"Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."
"Sometimes it is better to just say nothing."
— Sigmund Freud
There is one other interesting aspect to this. This relates very closely to the issues concerning not denying that there is a self even while knowing that there is no thing there that is the self. It is the deference shown to the consensus reality. The consensus reality is our vehicle. We do not go around saying "You cannot say: 'Please pass me the salt' because there is no self there or no thing there that is really the salt." First off we do not do that because there is no need to cause other people perplexity. Then we do not do that to avoid the asylum. So your point is well taken: in order for the extra-ordinary not-mad person to be not-mad in this madness, they must take cognizance of and respect the ordinary reality. To do otherwise would be madness.