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Buddhadharma : Spring 2009
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly SPRING 2 0 09 30 W hen we first set foot on the spiritual path, many of us believed that spir- itual practice was all we needed. Ancient texts spellbound us with stories along the lines of, “They heard the teaching, retired into the forest to meditate, and awoke.” End of story! How simple and easy. But somewhere along the path we ran into a problem—reality. It became glaringly apparent that many classic accounts of spiri- tual life were extremely idealistic, similar to the Hollywood sagas of boy meets girl, where boy and girl fall in love, ride off into the sun- set, and live happily ever after. Anyone in an intimate relationship knows that something has been left out of the story. In short, spiritual practice turned out to be far more complex and demanding than advertised. True, there were many gifts and graces, and some awe-inspiring glimpses of our spiritual potentials along the way. But covering up these potentials were often layer upon layer of difficult emotions, compulsive conditioning, and countless old wounds, fears, and phobias. And ironically, spiritual practice frequently makes these challenges more pain- fully obvious. Clearly we had taken on a big project, and our initial fantasies of doing a few retreats, and thereafter basking in unalloyed bliss, quickly faded as a more realistic appreciation of the path dawned. The enormous challenge of healing and awakening one mind—let alone all minds as per the bodhisattva vow— became dauntingly apparent. Some of us even began to wonder if spiritual practice by itself was always adequate to the task. As a result, many of us who have prac- ticed meditation and undertaken a spiritual path for an extended period have questioned whether there are other methods we can draw upon in trying to optimize our individual and RogeR Walsh is a professor of psychiatry at the University of California at Irvine, as well as author of Essential Spirituality: The Seven Central Practices and The World of Shamanism, and coeditor of Higher Wisdom: Eminent Elders Explore the Continuing Impact of Psychedelics. RobIn bItneR and bRUCe VICtoR are both in the psychiatry department at the University of California at san Francisco, and Victor is also in private practice in san Francisco. loRena hIllman is a family practice physician in the san Francisco bay area. they would like to thank the practitioners who volunteered to be subjects for the research described here. Medicate or Meditate? Trying to heal your depression with spiritual practice alone can make the condition chronic and prone to relapse, says a new study. Physicians and long-term meditators Roger Walsh, Robin Bitner, Bruce Victor, and Lorena Hillman explain why both antidepressants and meditation have an important role to play in treating depression. (Facing page) Small Buddhas with Lots of Tablets in Them from the installation The Buddhist Medicine Temple, 2004 – 2006. Chinese traditional medicine, Western medicine, and other system materials CourTesyofThearTisTandhainesGallery/sanfranCisCo INStaLLatIoN aRt By ZHaN WaNG