Hindu, Hinduism and Hindustan: Part XLVII by Jaipal Singh SignUp
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Hindu, Hinduism and Hindustan: Part XLVII
by Dr. Jaipal Singh Bookmark and Share

Loneliness and Depression

Continued from Part XLVI

Among umpteen positive and negative attributes and emotions, classified as the divine and demoniac qualities respectively in Hindu scriptures including Srimad Bhagavad Gita, it may perhaps be unfair to classify loneliness and depression in either of the two categories despite their being negative attributes. It’s so because people both with predominantly righteous as well as unrighteous categories may experience loneliness and fall prey to depressive thoughts depending upon the circumstances. For instance, in the epic war of Mahabharata, the Pandavas fought the righteous war mandated under Dharma while the Kauravas were unrighteous in their action and deeds yet at the end of war the survivors of both sides suffered the same feeling of loss, pain, loneliness and depressive moods. This is evident from the fact that Kuru King Dhritarashtra experienced loneliness and depression due to loss of his sons consequent to war, the elder Pandava brother and crown king designate Yudhisthira had the same feelings having lost their kin and great warriors, so much so that it took considerable efforts to dissuade him to relinquish the thoughts of Sannyasa.

The feeling of loneliness is essentially an unpleasant emotional response to the perceived isolation, desertion or loss. Although most people experience this condition at some or the other point of time in life due to variety of reasons only to recover or achieve normalcy in a span; some others experience it as severe emotional stress which may even trigger a bout of depression. In common parlance, loneliness is found associated with an undesired lack of intimacy and social connectivity; therefore, it is reflected as social pain seeking motivation to fill this void. On the other hand, the depression is reflected in a state of low mood and aversion to any activity by the individual. It may arise out of the sheer sense of loneliness due to some loss or setback in life, or it may even arise as a consequence of undesirable chemical and hormonal changes in the body of an individual independent of the factor of loneliness. Depressive thoughts invariably lead to a feeling of dejection, hopelessness, being unwanted and even suicidal in some cases. In the modern medical science, the depression is treated as mental disorder with the commensurate behaviour therapies and drugs.

Loneliness

The feeling of loneliness is not essentially attached with the condition of isolation; instead, one may have a feeling of loneliness even when a person is in a crowd or company of many people. The reasons could be many including personal, social, emotional, mental, and even environmental but a person who experiences loneliness is certainly lonely. The modern researches suggest that the loneliness is a widespread phenomenon in the society and people even with strong marriage and family bonds, and other relationships experience it occasionally or perpetually. As an emotion, it may be useful in strengthening and sealing strong relationships but chronic or prolonged loneliness might prove harmful too risking a poor mental and physical health of the affected person. There is yet another variant of loneliness which is identified as solitude. Solitude is a state of seclusion or isolation, which may also stem up from the lack of contact with people due to deliberate choice, loss of loved ones, some disease or disorders, but the person converts this into an opportunity and learns to happily spend time very often in creative activities without worrying about anyone else's intervention and feelings.

There is a significant difference between loneliness and solitude; the former being a negative attribute, is characterized by a feeling of isolation while the latter is a state of being alone by choice and without feeling lonely. In Hinduism, traditionally persons seeking solitude in life are those who seek close proximity and surrender to God through devotion or even those who are indulged in creativity of some kind that needs considerable time for contemplation and learning. Loneliness has been increasingly recognized as a personal and social malady in the modern age in all communities and civilizations, and the respective governments, NGOs and individual social workers engage themselves in various ways to tackle it. The chronic or prolonged loneliness often leads to depressive mood and is found to cause negative impact on life of a person and, therefore, it is adjudged and addressed from the lens of social and medical science while the solitude is linked with the spiritual and artistic traditions, and has mixed connotation and impact in the society.

Some people are social and keen for wider attention, and such people easily get frustrated in the absence of requisite social network and interaction; this can be categorized as social loneliness. Similarly certain people in the society crave for strong and caring relationships and bonds among the friends, acquaintances and other members of society often seeking dependence on them during the stressful time or any emergency; in the absence of requisite attention, such people experience emotional loneliness. Many people are attached with parents and siblings with deep affection and love, and in later life seek similar bonding in relationship with wife and children; they are easily unnerved with any setback in these relationships and experience family loneliness. People involved in serious romantic relationship feel romantic loneliness in the absence of the love interest or the requisite response from the latter. Same way loneliness have many other forms and could be categorized or explained in different situations such as cultural, cosmic and existential loneliness.

A person feels loneliness because of ignorance else being lonely is practically impossible. The moment a child is born, he (or she) earns umpteen bonds and relationships. One is attached to father, mother, uncle, aunt, brother, sister, grandfather, grandmother on paternal side and similarly many more relationships from maternal sides. Kind of filial bond and affection shown to a child by the parents and relatives is extraordinary in most cases irrespective of the fact whether one is born in rich or poor household, elite or ordinary family, and so on. This attachment and attention keep on growing with every passing day at every life stage viz. adolescent, young, adult, and so on, new connections and attachments keep on adding in the form of teachers, friends, co-workers, acquaintances and followers, and so on. As the child grows into man, these attachments establish their roots firmly and normally one may not have reasons to feel lonely. Notwithstanding, some people do feel loneliness but usually this is due to their own creation owing to follies and mishandling of situations and people around.

At spiritual level, the loneliness is not reckoned on the basis of the person’s attachments or the number of companions or friends. A person is lonely because he does not like his own company being unaware of the fact; and though he is there (physically!) in a company or location yet he is not there (mentally!) at all. In other words, the feeling of loneliness comes where others can’t really touch or get to him and vice versa. In Kurushetra, when deluded and despondent Arjuna drops his bow Gandiva saying he is not enamoured of kingdom, victory, name, fame and consequent happiness and satisfaction at the cost of killing own kin, Shree Krishna initially reminds him that the war was a collective decision of his brothers, wives, sons and other well-wishers; so where is room for this faint-heartedness and cowardice now. Then Krishna goes on with the teachings what we know as Srimad Bhagavad Gita wherein He inter alia narrates the attributes of soul, which is always there acting as inner voice seated in the innermost recess of the person’s heart and mind. The everlasting, indestructible and all-pervading soul is accompanied with every living being and this company is inseparable during his life. The Shastras too hold that the man is never alone and is silently watched and heard by fourteen observers including the earth, sky and various gods.

Depression

The depression is a state of low mood and aversion to any activity, which has a serious impact on the affected person's thoughts, behavior, feelings, motivation level and sense of being mentally and physically fit. In many cases, it is preceded with the extreme sense of loneliness and reluctance to being part of any social or collective activity. The person afflicted with the depression continuously remains in a sad mood, finds difficulty in coherent thinking and concentration, and spends a lot of time in staying isolated and sleeping. The sad mood with a feeling of dejection and hopelessness is common but some people also develop suicidal thoughts and tendencies. Apart from the feeling of extreme loneliness, the other reasons of depression could be the loss of the loved one due to death or some other reason, any life-threatening disease of self or some loved one or even side effects of drugs. Depression could be short term or it may last long term but the core symptom remains anhedonia i.e. inability to feel pleasure in otherwise pleasurable activities.

While the sense of loneliness is one of the main causes of depression, the modern medical science considers depression as a curable disease with several other causative factors. One of such causes is adversity during the childhood of the person which includes factors like neglect, bereavement, partial treatment by parents and elders, physical and mental abuse, and even sexual abuse etc.; of these, physical and sexual abuses particularly keep bothering and become the cause of depression in adulthood. Certain other life events could also become contributory factors for the depressive thoughts and mood of the person. Such factors include the trauma of childbirth, menopause in women, unemployment among young, financial hardship, stressful life at work, education, family quarrels and miserable living conditions. In fact, there could be many more contributory factors such as medical condition of cancer, HIV, etc., addiction to alcohol and drugs, stigma of rape, social isolation, bankruptcy, losses on account of natural disaster, separation, and so on. Many adolescents and college going students are frequently prone to depression due to fear of failure, peer pressure, and bullying due to ragging and such other reasons.

Depression due to loneliness and aforesaid other reasons is actually a worldwide phenomenon and according to the United Nations World Health Organization, as estimated 4.4 percent world population suffers with this mental disability, the target group majority being the women, young and the elderly people. In Hinduism, it has been traditionally considered as a mental attribute which can be remedied through right counseling and by removing or amending the causative factors. However, with globalization in modern age, it is more considered as a mental disorder that could be remedied through psychotherapy and medical treatment. In majority cases, mild depression may not require any professional treatment; as it may be a temporary reaction to life events, medical condition, or effect of some drugs or medical treatments, it withers with time. However, a continued depressed mood for a long period may require professional attention, diagnosis and commensurate treatment. The traditional yogic practices of Hinduism such as practice of certain yogic asanas, pranayama and dhyana (meditation) are among proven remedies for the anxiety and depression.

Loneliness, Depression and Bhagavad Gita

In Srimad Bhagavad Gita, Shree Krishna advises Prince Arjuna to engage in the righteous duty with an equipoised mind without attachment to the fruits of action for own inner peace and satisfaction. Hindu Puranas and Epics too provide numerous legends and paradigms of exemplary discharge of one’s righteous duty without attachment to the outcomes of such action which in many cases even worked out to doer’s great disadvantage. Shree Krishna says that the people’s infatuation for the sense-objects and attachment for them is the main cause of their miseries in mundane life.

Dhyayato vishayan pumsah sangas teshupajayate,
Sangat sanjayate kamah kamat krodho ’bhijayate.

Krodhad bhavati sammohah sammohat smriti-vibhramah,
Smriti-bhranshad buddhi-nasho buddhi-nashat pranashyati
.

(While contemplating on the objects of the senses, one develops attachment to them. Attachment leads to desire, and from desire arises anger. Anger leads to clouding of judgment, which results in bewilderment of the memory. When the memory is bewildered, the intellect gets destroyed; and when the intellect is destroyed, one is ruined.) (BG: Chapter 2, Verses 62-63)

One could observe from the aforesaid verses of the Bhagavad Gita how a chain reaction of negative attributes destroys the peace and harmony in the life of a person. The attachment with people and sensory objects give rise to expectations, which, when not fulfilled, give rise to resentment and anger. A dissatisfied and angry person cannot have a sound and rational evaluation that affects his judgment. It’s obvious a perplexed and confused mind tinkers with the memory and ultimately the person is unable to think and conduct in a logical and rational way. When the person is unable to communicate properly with the external world as well as inner self, he would naturally feel loneliness and may even drop in a depressed state.

While talking of detached and self-less action, the Bhagavad Gita insists on realizing the inner Self rather than paying too much attention on the external world which is delusional, temporary and deceptive. By looking inwards, a person can realize the truth of life and he would never feel lonely again.

Yo mam pashyati sarvatra sarvam cha mayi pashyati,
Tasyaham na pranashyami sa cha me na pranashyati.


{For those who see me (Universal Self) in all things and see all things in me, he is never lost to me, nor am I ever lost to him.} (BG: Chapter 6, Verse 30)

According to Advaita philosophy, which is in complete unity and consonance with the Bhagavad Gita, Brahman is the root source, origin and end of everything, material and spiritual, in this universe. Brahman (God) pervades the entire universe, and in combination and interplay with nature, He creates, perpetuates and extirpates the world. Also Brahman is not outside and separate but within each living being it exists as Atman (soul). To put it in a simple way, the Atman is the Brahman, the Brahman is the Atman, and Self is not-different from the infinite Supreme Self. The nature and attributes of the soul and Brahman have been explained at length in Chapters 2 and 8 of the Bhagavad Gita. It is Avidya (ignorance and illusion) that keeps away the person from this truth and becomes the cause of human miseries.

A person who realizes the aforesaid truth becomes free from bondage and unpleasant feelings of loneliness and depression. The easiest way to unite the mind with God is to learn to see his presence in everything. For instance, if someone hurts us, our mind tends to nurture the feeling of resentment, hatred or anger against him as a normal worldly reaction. Now, if we visualize God seated in the fellow, we might as well consider “God is testing me through this person. He desires me to imbibe the virtue of more tolerance.” There is a strong probability that such thoughts will save the mind from succumbing to the negative sentiments of resentment and anger. The realization that God is in me and everywhere can easily remove the sense of being lonely; instead, it is more likely that one would start enjoying own solitude. This sense is further reflected in the following verse.

Samo ’ham sarva-bhuteshu na me dveshyo ’sti na priyah,
Ye bhajanti tu mam bhaktya mayi te teshu chapyaham.


(I am equally present in all living beings; I am neither inimical nor close to anyone. But the devotees who worship Me, abide in Me; and I too stand revealed in them.) (BG: Chapter 9, Verse 29)

At the onset of war at the Kurushetra, Prince Arjuna requests Shree Krishna to take the chariot in the midst between two armies so as to enable him to observe the armies on both sides and the warriors whom he would have to engage during the fight. However, after seeing his own elders, kin, and other warriors, he is overwhelmed with deep compassion and grief, so he even dropped his bow and arrows with an idea to relinquish war, and sank into the hinder part of the chariot gripped under the bout of depressive thoughts. That was the stage when Shree Krishna admonished and simultaneously motivated him with a lot of wisdom and encouraging words.

Klaibyam ma sma gamah partha naitat tvayyupapadyate,
Kshudram hridaya-daurbalyam tyaktvottishtha parantapa.


(O Parth, it does not befit you to yield to this unmanliness. Shaking off this base faint-heartedness, stand up, O vanquisher of enemies.) (BG: Chapter 2, Verse 3)

Ordinarily, what a modern day professional psychotherapist does with those who are suffering with stress, anxiety, depression or negative behavior patterns, this is what Shree Krishna did with Arjuna finding him desolate, devastated and depressed. The goal of psychotherapy is not to change the person but to change his bewildered mind and perceptions through building awareness, understanding, empathy and acceptance of self and others while simultaneously allaying dilemmas, apprehensions and fears, which are bothering him. In a long discourse, while imparting the yoga of action, knowledge (Jnan), devotion, soul, Brahman, gunas, and so on, Shree Krishna emphatically reminded depressed Arjuna of his duties as Kshatriya in the contemporary society.

Marching successfully on the path of enlightenment requires optimism, high spirits and morale to overcome the negativities of the material mind. Like a skillful instructor, Shree Krishna used both reprimand and encouragement to remind Arjuna of his righteous duty as an elite born Kshatriya. In the aforesaid verse, he consciously addressed Arjuna (Parth) as the son of Pritha (Kunti’s another name), who worshipped the chief of the celestial gods Indra, with whose blessings Arjuna was born. Then by addressing as “parantapa i.e. vanquisher of enemies”, Shree Krishna again reminded his extraordinary might and valor akin to that of Indra. This is how Shree Krishna motivated and enhanced Arjun’s internal strength to come out of the depressed state by vanquishing the enemy (depression), which was forcing him to abandon the dutiful action as a Kshatriya.

Mtra-sparshas tu kaunteya shitoshna-sukha-duhkha-dah,
Agamapayino ’nityas tans-titikshasva bharata.


(O son of Kunti, the contact between the senses and the sense objects gives rise to fleeting perceptions of happiness and distress. These are non-permanent, and come and go like the winter and summer seasons. O descendent of Bharat, one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.) (BG: Chapter 2, Verse 14)

While continuing his discourse, Shree Krishna again addressed Prince Arjuna reminding him of his elite Kshatriya origin and glorious descent of the time. The glory of King Bharat does not need any further illustration that the very country is named after him. The human body is known to house five senses i.e. the senses of sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing; these senses interact with the sensory objects to give rise to perception of happiness or distress. Shree Krishna reminds that these perceptions are temporary that come and go like the changing seasons. The same cold water provides pleasure in the summer but distress in the winter. Hence a person should be equipoised in being tolerant without getting unduly affected by transitory changes. There is no room for sensory organs based depressive thoughts and person must continue his righteous duty unattached. In another verse, Shree Krishna explains to Arjuna that those who are free from attachment, the main cause of all miseries, indeed experience permanent bliss by uniting with God.

Bahya-sparsheshvasaktatma vindatyatmani yat sukham,
Sa brahma-yoga-yuktatma sukham akshayam ashnute.


(Those who are not attached to external sense pleasures realize divine bliss in the self. Being united with God through Yog, they experience unending happiness.) (BG: Chapter 5, Verse 21)

Hinduism vis-à-vis Loneliness and Solitude

Hinduism has a long tradition of precedence of spiritual growth over the material accomplishments by exercising an equipoise mind, fruitless karma and righteous duties prescribed in scriptures. In this tradition, rather than considering it disadvantage or negative attribute, being alone was traditionally treated as a blessing sort, which provided an opportunity to introspect and realize Self. It is only in solitude that a person could meditate in quiet moments to discover Self and Supreme Truth of the universe. This is the reason why many accomplished Rishis in ancient India preferred to live in isolation in forests, and consequently discovered and gave true wisdom and knowledge to the mankind through infallible Vedas and Upanishads. So in fact, being alone is an opportunity and it is up to the person whether he (or she) makes creative use of it by pursuing spiritual growth and related virtues or continue to feel lonely falling easy prey to depression and other maladies. Notwithstanding, if a person experiences the feelings of loneliness by missing other people in life, he must endeavor to examine the underlying causes and decipher if he can deal with it by learning to like own self and be self. If a person could master this art, he would never ever feel lonely.

Being alone gives opportunity to choose right relationships: We have many people around us in life whom we call family, friends, colleagues, superiors, subordinates, co-travellers, and so on. Our bonding and the level of attachment with these people vary and each of them have their own significance in terms of advantage or disadvantage in our personal and professional life. Loneliness at a point of life gives opportunity to ponder over their positive and negative influence and consequent impact or usefulness in our life. The spell of loneliness could be turned to an opportunity to drop the negative people and consequent influences from out life to move on with the positive relationships or people, who actually understand and care for us.

Also being alone is a brilliant opportunity to introspect: When a person feels lonely, he is usually disillusioned with the surroundings and all his material accomplishments including own job, property and people disappoint him giving a feeling of everything being immaterial or worthless to him. So this is the time when he could introspect to discover his real self and the purpose of life. The Hindu way of life prescribes Purushartha i.e. ‘purpose of human being’ or ‘Object of human pursuit’ as Dharma (righteousness or moral values), Artha (prosperity or economic values), Kama (pleasure, love or inherent psychological values), and Moksha (liberation). This introspection might help him to recognize the cosmic truth and realization of ultimate object of life as prescribed in scriptures.

People feel loneliness and depression because of their attachment to people and things around them and consequent disappointment when expectations are not met. Hence Hindu Shastras always advise practicing non-attachment to people and fruits of action. The following suggestions could be useful in tackling maladies on account of loneliness and depression sans perhaps the clinical depression, which doesn’t have correlation with mundane life occurrences according to the modern medical science.

  • Be physically active to divert attention from negative and strssful thoughts;
     
  • Try to contemplate and derive joy and happiness even in small things like sunshine, greenery, flowers or even children’s play and smiles;
     
  • Try to stay away from unpleasant memories, grudges and reactions by doing regular yogic exercises, pranayama and meditation;
     
  • Try to be content with and express gratitude for what you have rather than what others have but you don’t;
     
  • Feel pleasure and uplifted by helping or doing things for others rather than expecting others to do things for you;
     
  • Realize that happiness and unhappiness are transitory in life and try to take them with an equipoised mind;
     
  • Focus on knowledge, learning and devotional activities, which are useful in building pure consciousness and self-control.

Modern medical science largely based on the Western concepts held chemical and hormonal changes responsible for the depression and mood swings. According to them, neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin, dopamine or norepinephrine, influence the feelings of happiness and their imbalance; particularly too little secretion of serotonin is often considered as the cause of depression in people. Depression is typically treated with counseling and antidepressant medication. However, if the aforesaid tips are scrupulously followed, there is a strong probability that the person will be free from negative emotions ruling out the risk of depression.

Postlude

Being alone has both physical and spiritual dimension, the former is essentially a situation when any other person is not around and the latter is when the person has disconnect with his inner voice (soul). At the material level, the loneliness gives a feeling as if the person is missing someone or something or a feeling of avoidance or rejection by others. In either case, the person feels uneasy and overwrought with the others and self. The person who is in sync with his inner self can easily convert his being lonely in an opportunity. This condition is known as solitude where the person is alone but instead of getting unnerved or anxious, he uses this situation for creative activities. The loneliness is a situation when the person may be in the midst of crowd but he still feels lonely. This kind of loneliness is harmful being mixed with the other negative attributes such as a sense of withdrawal, unhappiness, fear and even depression in many cases. In clinical psychology, such loneliness is attributed to low self-esteem, often with a feeling of remorse and guilt due to which they do not feel good about self and are too judgmental about people and situations.

To avoid falling in the trap of loneliness and consequent illnesses including depression, it is important for the person to accept one’s self and make peace with it. One need not always evaluate self and make amends because others desire or demand so. One should remember that it is his life for own happiness and peace, hence he has to explore self and its potential to reach destination, and not merely to impress or please others. Therefore, it is desirable to develop self-awareness, pay attention to own body, mind and thoughts; this could be achieved through yogic practices including pranayama and meditation. The person must learn to enjoy solitude and spend available time in contemplation, embracing the positive attributes and scrupulously devoting time in creative activities. One rather easy course for an average person to tackle being alone could be to keep oneself busy in mundane skills and hobbies that suit him best and learn to appreciate what one possess rather than cribbing what he doesn’t. However, where the feelings of loneliness and depression are not mere products of lifestyle, one may seek medical assistance. 

Continued to Part XLVIII 
  

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17-May-2020
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