Sunday, 13 July 2014

The Bodhisattva Aspiration

Statue of a Bodhisattva from Ghandara
2nd-3rd century CE. Source:
Lately I have been deepening my understanding of what Bodhisattvas are, including the aspiration to attain this state. Loosely put, Bodhisattvas can be described as Buddhist deities, or if one comes from a Christian background one might understand them to be like saints. Bodhisattvas are particularly important within the Mahayana tradition and practitioners are encouraged to aspire to become Bodhisattvas themselves. The history of the Bodhisattva concept is described thus:
“The term ‘bodhisattva’ appears first as the title the Buddha used to refer to himself before he realised nirvana. The Jataka Tales, popular scriptures of Theravada Buddhism, extend the concept of bodhisattva to include previous lives of the Buddha before he was born as Siddhattha Gotama [Skt. Siddhartha Gautama] … Already on the path to Buddhahood, the bodhisatta (Skt. Bodhisattva) in these stories exhibits many of the qualities of a Buddha, most notably a selfless desire to serve others regardless of the consequences for himself.  
… Mahayana Buddhism … seized upon the concept of the bodhisattva as one of its most important spiritual ideals. Followers of Mahayana Buddhism are expected to take and repeatedly reiterate the ‘bodhisattva vow’, a promise to dedicate one’s life to the welfare of other beings and to forgo final realisation of nirvana until all beings have been led to release. In essence, the bodhisattva vow replaces nirvana, the supreme goal of Theravada Buddhism, with the supreme goal of Mahayana Buddhism: Buddhahood [Reat, Buddhism: A History at 50-51].”

Saturday, 14 June 2014

The Ketogenic Diet and Bipolar

"Cheese paradise" by dreamcatcher-hina
In 2012 Phelps, Siemers and El-Mallakh published a study with the following findings:
“Successful mood stabilizing treatments reduce intracellular sodium in an activity-dependent manner. This can also be achieved with acidification of the blood, as is the case with the ketogenic diet. Two women with type II bipolar disorder were able to maintain ketosis for prolonged periods of time (2 and 3 years, respectively). Both experienced mood stabilization that exceeded that achieved with medication; experienced a significant subjective improvement that was distinctly related to ketosis; and tolerated the diet well. There were no significant adverse effects in either case. These cases demonstrate that the ketogenic diet is a potentially sustainable option for mood stabilization in type II bipolar illness [The Ketogenic Diet for Type II Bipolar Disorder].”

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Schools of Buddhism

Footprints representing the Buddha, 2nd century CE, Ghandara, Afghanistan
I have been studying and practicing Buddhism on and off since my teenage years. As a child my father was interested in Vajrayana (Kagyu) Buddhism and so inevitably I was exposed to this form of Buddhism first. Later, when I was in my mid to late 20s I became quite devout but found myself most drawn to Theravada Buddhism. More recently, I was going to a Vajrayana (Nyingma) centre for about a year, but stopped a couple of months ago – somehow it just didn’t seem to be quite working out, despite my genuine respect for its teachings and many of the wonderful people I met there. In recent weeks I have developed an interest in Nichiren Buddhism (a Mahayana lineage from Japan), after discovering I know a couple of people who are involved with it and reading parts of the Lotus Sutra and Nichiren’s writings (Nichiren was a Buddhist monk in 13th century Japan), but I confess that I am becoming confused – there are so many schools of Buddhism and just about all of them are represented in multicultural Sydney, where I live, such that spiritual shopping seems to be becoming a habit. At some point I would like to have enough confidence in a path to stick to it. In an attempt to make sense of these many paths I will attempt to summarise the core teachings of Buddhism, as recognised by all the schools, and then look a little at the different practices associated with various lineages.


Friday, 28 March 2014

Bipolar Anger

"Anger, frustration" by
I have been intermittently angry for at least a month now. In keeping with the general pattern of anger I feel justified in my anger but that doesn't make it any easier to deal with. Actually that makes it worse. The trigger is a whole lot of stuff going on where I work and whichever way I look at things I can't see how I am going to get out of this situation in a satisfactory manner. I need some tools to deal with this, because I can't stand feeling this way and it is starting to feel ... like a relapse, after years of good health. The intensity and prolonged nature of this anger probably isn't normal. Thus I reproduce the following extracts from Berk et al, Living with Bipolar:
"... anger can be a sign that you are feeling frustrated due to stress, or because someone has done something that that doesn't fit with your expectations ... If your irritability or anger is intense, persistent and not too discriminating in whom it targets, you should consider whether it might be a symptom of illness. 

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Daily Meditation Practice

Over the last few months I have taken a break from daily meditation practice and it has left me determined to bring myself back to it  definitely my overall sense of well-being and contentment was enhanced last year when I meditated nearly daily for over seven months. I also felt less prone to emotional outbursts and anxiety. I have recited a mantra a number of times in the last few days but I'm a bit rusty regarding the whole practice I was doing. Here follows my notes reminding me how to do a daily meditation practice.* 

Find a place to meditate
Ideally one should create a special place where one goes to meditate. This place should be laid out in a way which promotes meditative practice. A comfortable place to sit is essential. A small table with ritual items (the ritual being meditation) may also help.  These items are essentially meditative aids and will necessarily differ from time to time and person to person. 

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Probiotics as Psychobiotics - Part of an Antidepressant Diet

"Yogurt with berries" by LilyBrilliant
A recent article published in the Biological Psychiatry Journal has suggested that probiotics - usually ingested via fermented milk products such as yogurt - may produce a health benefit in patients suffering from psychiatric illnesses, such as depression, when ingested in adequate amounts. The authors, Dynan, Stanton and Cryan, noted that not all probiotics produce this benefit and therefore those strains that are effective have been labelled "psychobiotics", with Bifidobacterium infants cautiously put forward as amongst the probiotic strains most likely to be effective. They conclude:
"Preclinical evaluation in rodents suggests that certain psychobiotics possess antidepressant or anxiolytic activity ... So far, psychobiotics have been most extensively studied in a liaison psychiatric setting in patients with irritable bowel syndrome, where positive benefits have been reported for a number of organisms including Bifidobacterium infantis. Evidence is emerging of benefits in alleviating symptoms of depression and in chronic fatigue syndrome. Such benefits may be related to the anti-inflammatory actions of certain psychobiotics ... 

There are sufficient preclinical data to support the view that clinical studies with probiotics in depression are worth conducting ... There is no doubt that many patients would value the emergence of nonconventional antidepressants in the form of psychobiotics."