Spirituality & Mental Health: Part I

How the Satsang Diksha Explains Mental Heath

Disclaimer: This article talks about mental health and suicide. The purpose of this article is to show how spirituality looks at mental health in the context of Hindu scripture. However, we highly encourage getting professional assistance/help if needed. Visit the NAMI website or the Healthline website for resources.

If you are in crisis or you think you may have an emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. If you’re having suicidal thoughts, call 1–800–273-TALK (8255) to talk to a skilled, trained counselor (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline).

According to the Mental Health Foundation, “The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that between 35% and 50% of people with severe mental health problems in developed countries, and 76–85% in developing countries, receive no treatment.”

Today, more and more people are becoming aware of the need to discuss the importance of mental health and act upon those discussions towards progress. Especially during the lockdowns in the COVID-19 pandemic, the discussion on mental well-being has accelerated.

Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash

With more people better understanding mental illnesses, it is equally as important to look at the prevention of mental illness and developing positive coping mechanisms. Although each person is psychologically different, we all can take steps to prevent severe mental illnesses as much as possible. Again, there is no such thing as “one-solution fits all,” but there are common preventative measures we all can take towards living healthier lives.

Professor of Psychiatry, Abraham Verghese, wrote, “Mental health has two dimensions — absence of mental illness and presence of a well-adjusted personality that contributes effectively to the life of the community.” He goes on to explain how spirituality is an important aspect of mental health, providing both dimensions, through various studies conducted in the past.

Dr. Deborah Cornah wrote an article on the various benefits of spirituality on mental health through various studies conducted in the past. She explained the effects of spirituality/religion on mental illnesses and various mechanisms including coping styles, locus of control, social support networks, physiological mechanisms, etc.

Hinduism promotes healthy living in the body, mind, and soul. Ancient Hindu scriptures advocate for healthy mental health practices, such as meditation, breathing, gratitude, treatment, etc. One such scripture, the Satsang Diksha, even explains some of these concepts further to safeguard one’s mental health. In the next few articles, we will dive into the Satsang Diksha from a mental health perspective.

Background: His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj (the current spiritual leader of the BAPS Swaminarayan tradition) had written the Satsang Diksha.The Satsang Diksha is a contemporary Hindu scripture encompassing the commands, daily practices and philosophy established by Bhagwan Swaminarayan. This scripture was written as a guide for those of the BAPS diocese, however it has many values that people around the world can learn from. Read the full Satsang Diksha text in Gujarati-Sanskrit-English here. All references will be referenced as the verse number.

Suicide

The first topic we will look at is, unfortunately, suicide.

Verses 41–48 of the Satsang Diksha are specifically dedicated towards the spiritual thoughts to give strength to oneself during troubling times. Mahant Swami Maharaj writes three verses specifically towards suicide…

Suicide is also a form of violence. Therefore, never commit suicide by falling from heights, hanging oneself, consuming poison or any other means. (41)

No one should kill oneself or others out of grief, shame, fear, anger or due to illness and other adversities, not even for the sake of dharma. (42)

A spiritual aspirant should never commit suicide even at a place of pilgrimage. One should never commit suicide at pilgrimage places even with the hope of attaining moksha or merits. (43)

In the eight verses prior to Verse 41, Mahant Swami Maharaj begins the topic by first writing about not committing violence or himsa.

Hinduism promotes living non-violently or living with ahimsa. Hinduism promotes a non-violent lifestyle and through this belief, suicide is contradictory to that value.

Mahant Swami Maharaj took verses 33–40 to explain the different forms of violence that one should not commit, including killing other humans or animals, eating meat, sacrificing animals, insulting another person, or even inflicting any type of mental, verbal, or physical violence.

This build-up leads to the last form of violence in verse 41, where it explains that suicide is even a form of violence.

Bhagwan Swaminarayan in the Shikshapatri, the scripture on the code of conduct for those within the Swaminarayan fellowship, states in verse 1

Do not commit suicide; not even in a place of pilgrimage or a holy shrine. Whether in a fit of anger or out of guilt for a sinful act, do not commit suicide (Shikshapatri 14)

If people take the time to read and think about this, it may change the stigma around suicide. Hopefully, this is one of the many helpful thoughts that could help a person setter away from such behavior.

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The unfortunate statistic is that suicide is the 2nd leading causing death among people 10–34. The gravity of the situation can be seen merely though verse 41. If the verse states some common forms of suicide, that just goes to show how prevalent of an issue this is in our own times.

There are many reasons why someone may commit suicide, which is listed in verse 42:

  • Grief
  • Shame
  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Illness
  • Dharma (righteousness/responsibility)

These points being listed is enough to allow the sigma of mental health and suicide to subdue. There are many factors which contribute to one thinking of such an act and there is no one answer to solving this issue.

But identifying the factors that can trigger such an incident as well as looking at other factors, such as prevailing mental and physical health, genetics, environmental effects and more, can help people assist their loved ones.

The last bullet point may seem contradictory to some. In Hinduism, there are many stories of individuals committing suicide, thinking it was out of their duty to others. For example, such behavior was prevalent in the past through the tradition of sati (in which a widow sacrifices herself by sitting atop her deceased husband’s funeral pyre) or jauhar (self-immolation by women to avoid capture and enslavement). These traditions may have been seen as important or necessary in the past due to the circumstances. However, traditions evolve over time. Today, these traditions are not proper for the integrity of the individual to live their life filled with love and devotion.

Going back, Verse 43, the third verse on suicide, explains to never commit suicide at a place of worship or holy site. There are some who may believe that committing harm at a pilgrimage site will bestow some merits upon them. Clearly, this verse condemns such behavior as it is improper to commit suicide in the first place as it is a form of violence.

Rare and Perishable…

Before moving forward, this is a good place to pause and look at another verse.

The following verse encompasses the importance and rarity of this body, which can provide another perspective onto why suicide can be detrimental:

This body is a means for moksha, not merely a means for indulgence [in sense pleasures]. Rare and perishable, this body is not repeatedly attained. (2)

Mahant Swami Maharaj extends the idea in Hinduism that the body is a vessel for performing good actions, specifically towards spirituality. Understanding that our body came from dust and we will ultimately return to dust is a grim thought, but it allows us to live life with purpose.

For example, if you buy a limited edition iPhone that Apple only made for you, you will take care of it more than your life because you understand how rare it is. But at the same time, you understand that the iPhone will break down at one point and become useless. As such, you make the most of the limited-edition iPhone right now before it stops working.

In the same way, one would try to not listen to their mind to commit harm to oneself because they understand how rare and unique of an opportunity they have to not only impact the world but also grow on the spiritual path.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

We saw why one should not commit suicide, but what direction does the Satsang Diksha give on ways to stay courageous during troubling or tough times?

Along with medical attention, what are some thoughts one can keep to steer away from a state of despair, sadness and emotional instability?

Click HERE to read Part 2 of this series.

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