By Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya
Modern America is a land of many interesting, and often painfully ironic, contradictions. On the one hand, we supposedly enjoy more prosperity, longevity, comforts, and conveniences in the United States than any other civilization has even dreamed of in previous history. Supposedly.
On the other hand, however, America is currently going through one of the biggest mental health crises that any nation in history has ever experienced. Various forms of depression, anxiety disorders and neuroses are affecting millions of Americans. Depressive disorders affect approximately 25.8 million American adults, or about 9% of the U.S. population age 18 and older in any given year. For those cases of depression that are reported, many more remain unreported, and thus unknown. This current mental health crisis includes such ailments as major depressive disorder, dysthymic disorder, and bipolar disorder.
What is especially disturbing is that depression is increasingly a common occurrence among the nation's young, a demographic that should be enjoying the fun and carefree life usually associated with childhood. Pre-schoolers are the fastest-growing market for antidepressants. At least four percent of preschoolers -- over a million! -- are considered clinically depressed. CNN recently reported on a study that revealed that as many as 3 million teenagers contemplated suicide in 2006. The rate of increase of depression among children is an astounding 23%.
30% of women are depressed. Men's figures were previously thought to be half that of women, but new estimates show that the actual figures are higher than at first suspected.
Depression will be the second largest killer after heart disease by 2020 -- and medical studies have shown that depression is a contributory factor to fatal coronary disease.
Depression results in more absenteeism and loss of employment than almost any other physical disorder, and costs employers more than US$51 billion per year in absenteeism and lost productivity, not including high medical and pharmaceutical bills.
The treatment modalities often used in the attempt to combat depression are diverse and have varied results. Some of these treatments include talk therapy and anti-depression medications. Currently, several million Americans are on various anti-depressants, including Prozac, Lexapro, and Amitriptyline. Many of these anti-depression medications have had only mixed results.
Antidepressants work for 35% to 45% of the depressed population, while more recent figures suggest as low as 30%. Standard antidepressants, SSRIs such as Prozac, Paxil (Aropax) and Zoloft, have recently been revealed to have serious risks, and are linked to suicide, violence, psychosis, abnormal bleeding, and brain tumors.
Though most doctors advise a combination of therapy and antidepressants, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has an 80% relapse rate in the long term.
While medication and therapy can often take the edge off of the experience of depression, they are far from successful in all instances. The only truly effective cure lies in going to the root of depression. That root is ultimately spiritual in nature.
Depression is itself only a direct symptomatic manifestation of the radical secularization of human society. Previous to secular modernity, depression was a much less prevalent phenomenon. And when it was experienced, the reasons were more clearly environmental and causal than they are now. In the past, depression was directly associated with a specific event or occurrence in the person's life that directly caused the depression. Today, however, an increasing number of depressed persons are experiencing more generalized depression, a type of general existential angst, the exact cause of which is difficult for them to pinpoint. Some of the leading causes of depression today include a sense of meaninglessness; consuming and generalized fear; spiritual crises, and the high degrees of stress and anxiety that has become accepted as normal in modern, radically secularized, everyday life.
For younger people, especially, when asked why they are experiencing deep depression, many youth will point to a complete sense of meaninglessness in their lives. The don't know why they are here, what their purpose in life is, why they are bothering to learn and work hard, and why our present-day, materialistic society is geared in such a way as to provide them with no real answers to their quest for meaning. While pop culture, technology, and the youth scene serves as a temporary outlet for many teens, more often than not it only serves to tremendously exacerbate the problem of depression.
Secular modernity presents us with a social-philosophical construct that is artificial, anti-natural, and ultimately destructive and unhealthy in nature. In our society, we have been deprived of the age-tested, fundamental vehicles through which we can excel spiritually, intellectually, and culturally. Spirituality and Dharma, which form the basis of all meaningful human growth and progress, has been systematically and viciously erased from modern secular societies to such a radical extent that hundreds of millions of persons worldwide are vividly feeling the ill effects of a life devoid of meaning, value, nobility, goodness, heroism, and the quest for Truth.
The search for truth has been replaced in the lives of billions with the search for entertainment.
Rather than encouraging such spiritual values as courage, nobility, and heroism, the modern world today encourages the coldly unsatisfying propaganda of radical egalitarianism. Rather than encouraging the nurturing of the inner life of the spirit, and the natural joy, peace and fulfillment that results from a healthy spiritually-centered life, today it is only selfish economic advancement and the value of purchasing power that is advocated. Rather than a lifestyle of mental, physical and spiritual health, today lifestyles of selfish hedonism, consumerism, greed, fame, and lust are upheld as the ideal course of behavior, and the values toward which all should aspire.
Dharma, the principle of living one's life in accordance with Natural Law and God's will in a manner that is healthy, fulfilling, nurturing, and truly progressive, has now been replaced with an artificial and life-denying lifestyle that only produces a profound sense of meaninglessness and anxiety.
The ultimate cure for society's present crisis of depression and meaninglessness is to re-embrace a life of meaning, a life of Dharma. Dharma, by its very definition, denotes the sustaining foundation of all reality. Dharma is the concept that all that we experience in this world is based upon a higher, spiritual reality that provides the ordering principles necessary for the proper function of the world. To understand Dharma is to understand the world, and the natural laws behind all things that make life a meaningful and beautiful expression of the Divine in spacial-temporal reality. To know Dharma is to know life's ultimate meaning. And the way to fully know Dharma is through the process of meditation.
For millennia, a spiritually based practice of meditation has been shown to be very effective in combating such problems as stress, anxiety, fear, and feelings of meaninglessness. Because meditation addresses the root causes of depression and anxiety, the time honored techniques of meditation can be a much more effective cure for depression than either talk-therapy or medication.
Meditation is a natural, easy and proven method that has been shown in hundreds of clinical studies to bring about deep states of peace, calm and mental clarity. In addition, a specifically spiritual regimen of daily meditation can help to foster a deep sense of meaning and spiritual comfort.
Meditation has been shown to work on two distinct levels: a) the cognitive level, and b) the spiritual level. On the cognitive level, meditation helps to bring about a deep equipoise and a calming relief to one's overactive mind. Today, especially, the mind is constantly bombarded with an unending stream of diverse information - some valuable, most useless. As a direct result of such information bombardment, the mind is in an almost constant state of agitation and confusion. Meditation serves to calm the mind, allowing our attention to shift from the storm of external stimuli to the deep inner peace that is the natural state of the soul. As a consequence of having a calm mind, we then find that we can think and make important decisions with much more clarity, insight, and power. We are now able to process information in a way that serves us, rather than merely being the victims of myriad sensory impressions and information overload.
On the more spiritual level, meditation has the ability to provide us with deep levels of self-realization and God-realization that, up till now, may have seemed to be impossible attainments to many of us. By meditating with the expressed goal of making spiritual progress, and knowing God and self, we then traverse beyond the merely cognitive and mental, and begin to penetrate the inner realms of eternal spirit. When we have self-realization, we now experience the transcendent peace and calm that is the natural result of living in spirit. When we have God-realization, we are now in communion with the very source of our being, the eternal, loving Absolute who is our very best of friends, and greatest of well-wishers. In such a transcendent state of spiritual attainment, no anxiety, stress, depression, or fear can ever burden our minds or hearts again. For we have now, through the process of spiritual meditation, realized the infinite well of spiritual peace that lies naturally within.
The root cause of most depression today, then, is the pervasive sense of meaninglessness that naturally accompanies life in a radically secularized, materialistic society. The cure to such existential meaninglessness is to partake profoundly in the spiritual nature of our true selves and the spiritual foundations underlying our everyday concerns. The artificial construct of materialism needs to be replaced with Dharma, and the natural lifestyle and spiritual way of being that Dharma teaches us to embrace. The most effective way of accessing the spiritual reality that is our true self, and thus to over-come the unnatural state of depression, is God-centered meditation as taught in the ancient tradition of Sanatana Dharma.
For further information about overcoming depressing and learning to embrace happiness again through meditation, please contact the International Sanatana Dharma Society:
About the Author
Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya is universally acclaimed as one of the world's most respected and qualified Dharma teachers and Hindu spiritual leaders alive today. He personifies what it means to be a true and authentic guru.
Dr. Deepak Chopra has exclaimed in 2002: "You've done truly phenomenal work teaching the pure essence of Yoga". In a similar manner, Dr. David Frawley has said about Sri Acharyaji, "Sri Acharyaji represents the Sankalpa [the will] of the Hindu people and the cause of Sanatana Dharma. I urge all Hindus everywhere to give him your full support, assistance, and encouragement in his crucial work. He needs and deserves our help."
Sri Acharyaji began his personal spiritual journey over 35 years ago at the tender age of ten when he read the Bhagavad Gita for the very first time. He coupled his decades of intense spiritual practice and study with advanced academic achievements, earning a B.A. in philosophy/theology from Loyola University Chicago, as well as an M.A. and Ph.D. in religious studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
He has lectured on Dharma at dozens of top universities, such as Harvard, Columbia, Rutgers, Cornell, and Northwestern. He has also served as a consultant for such Fortune 500 companies as Ford Motor Corporation and Lucent Technology.
Explaining to his doctoral advisor that "I don't want to just study the history of religion…I want to make religious history", Sri Acharyaji eventually left academia to devote himself exclusively to spiritual teaching and to the preservation of the great tradition of Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism).
Today, Sri Acharyaji occupies his full time teaching Dharma spirituality to diverse audiences. In addition to leading classes, satsanghas, seminars and lecturing on Sanatana Dharma widely, Sri Acharyaji is a renowned author, as well as a personal spiritual guide (guru) to a rapidly increasing following of enthusiastic students from both the Indian and the non-Indian communities.
Sri Acharyaji was the Resident Acharya (Spiritual Preceptor) of the Hindu Temple of Nebraska (2007 - 2009), which represents the first time in American history that a Hindu temple has ever made such an esteemed appointment. He is the Founder-President of the International Sanatana Dharma Society, a global movement dedicated to teaching Dharma in its most authentic form.
Sri Acharyaji is the real thing: an enlightened guru with the ability to deliver the highest wisdom and spiritual liberation to his sincere students.
Sri Acharyaji's teachings stress the achievement of enlightenment through the practice of meditation, Yoga, and directly experiencing the presence of the Divine. Another overarching aspect of Sri Acharyaji's teachings focuses on the importance of love, compassion and service toward all living beings.
Whether speaking to an audience of thousands, or having a heart-felt discussion with only one person, Sri Acharyaji vividly conveys a deeply moving sense of compassion, peace, humility, and spiritual insight that has endeared him to thousands of students and admirers throughout the world.
Some of his books include:
"Sanatana Dharma: The Eternal Natural Way"
"Living Dharma: The Teachings of Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya"
"Radical Universalism: Does Hinduism Teach that All Religions are the Same?"
"Taking Refuge in Dharma: The Initiation Guidebook"
"The Vedic Way of Knowing God"
"The Shakti Principle: Encountering the Feminine Power of God"
"The Art of Wisdom: Affirmations for Boundless Living"
His latest book Sanatana Dharma: The Eternal Natural Way, is scheduled for publication in 2011.
For more information on following the life-transforming path of Sanatana Dharma, please visit his website:
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