How Buddhism Saved Me
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How Buddhism Saved Me

Buddhism taught me how to fix my sufferings by seeking answers from within myself.

How Buddhism Saved Me
Rajan Thapaliya

My journey into Buddhism began my sophomore year of high school. As with most spiritual paths, the beginning of my journey toward what many Buddhists refer to as “enlightenment” was rough at best. This was the first time in my life that I really began to address mental illness as it applies to my own life and to other’s as well. It was around this time that I began to seek treatment for my anxiety disorder.

My anxiety always felt like a heavy metal block weighing down on my chest, willing me to drown- these were my panic attacks. These attacks snuck up on me rather quickly- I can’t even remember the first time I had one. But by the time my sophomore year came around, the drowning sensation that anxiety causes began to make me feel that I wasn’t able to breathe.

My sixteen-year-old self was sick of feeling this way and I decided to begin my healing process by seeking help from a mental health counselor. Before I knew it, the counselor had sent a recommendation to my doctor that I be prescribed Zoloft.

I feel that it is important to mention that I’m not completely opposed to pharmaceuticals. Zoloft has helped me combat my anxiety in more ways than one- including relieving me of that god awful metal weight on my chest. Playing magic pseudo-science medicine man when it comes to serious medical conditions can be a dangerous game, and I do not suggest doing anything that your doctor does not advise you to do.

With all of this being said, the one thing that I didn’t like about Zoloft (or any pharmaceutical, for that matter) is the sheer dependency it causes. While I was on Zoloft, my mom would often mail order prescriptions directly to our house.

While this was certainly convenient, it often meant that there would be a 3-4 day period between prescriptions where I was without my Zoloft, causing issues like mood swings and weight gain like I had never seen before. After experiencing these issues, I began to search for alternatives. The first of these alternatives was meditation.

Beginning in my junior year in high school, I was eager to begin exploring some of the religions and cultures that practice meditation for guidance. Buddhism was beginning to catch my eye around this time, but I wasn’t yet ready to be a part of something I didn’t understand.

It actually took me a while to grasp the concept that Buddhism isn’t some complicated, other-worldly religion only for monks meditating in the mountains. In fact, Buddhism isn’t a religion at all. Buddhism is more of a philosophy that anyone- yes, anyone- can incorporate into their everyday lives.

During the first semester of my senior year of high school, I decided to take a college course on Eastern religions- one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I was eager to study Buddhism from an academic perspective, ready to see if it was for me or not. With a very wise teacher and seven more dedicated students, we explored the realms and philosophies of Buddhism beginning with a book called “The Accidental Buddhist” by Dinty W. Moore, a read that I highly recommend!

Throughout the book, Moore describes his journey into Buddhism while living in a fast-paced, very Western society (AKA, the United States). While reading the book, we were also learning about Siddhartha Gautama, the original Buddha, and his journey toward enlightenment as well as his teachings. I think that one of the most important things to know about Buddhism starting out is that the Buddha (meaning “enlightened one”) was not a god, deity, nor a prophet, and he never claimed to be. The Buddha was, quite simply, a teacher.

Siddhartha Gautama was born in the sixth century B.C. in modern-day Nepal to a life of comfort and luxury. Upon stepping out into the world a few decades later, he discovered that the world is wrought with suffering. After seeing a monk meditating, he became convinced that asceticism is the only way to avoid suffering. He then set out on a dangerous journey of asceticism for many years, going as far as meditating for hours a day and even starving himself.

Gautama eventually fell ill and the few followers he had decided that they could no longer take their teacher seriously and abandoned him. Gautama eventually realized that extreme asceticism was not the means to achieve enlightenment. After coming to this realization the same night, Gautama came to a Bodhi tree and sat beneath it, seeking answers to his many questions.

When he finally emerged from this meditative state, Gautama officially became the Buddha (or, "enlightened one.") After reaching this pivotal awakening, the Buddha’s former followers returned to him to help him profess his newfound knowledge to others. Together, they returned back to Nepal, where the Buddha was reunited with his family. He then went on to help them discover the path to enlightenment as well as many others.

Two of the fundamental pillars of Buddhism- the 4 noble truths and the eightfold path- were central to the Buddha’s teachings and are a major part of what has helped me to change my own worldview for the better. These two teachings have alleviated many sufferings in my own life including (but certainly not limited to) my anxiety disorder.

Applying these Buddhist philosophies to my own life wasn’t easy at first. Training the mind to think a certain way after having been programmed to think a different way is not only a long process but a continuous one. Many Buddhists do not view the path to enlightenment as a straight road, but as a spiral, meaning that along our journey, we often learn the same lessons more than once.

This in and of itself is comforting, seeing as the path we’re walking can surely be a treacherous one and many mistakes are often made along the way. In this way, patience is very much a virtue within Buddhism- which is certainly a welcome change in worldview compared to our Western system that is dedicated to the notion of instant gratification. This shift in thought has drastically relieved me of many unnecessary tensions because the truth is, in the real world, our expectation of something doesn’t always match the reality.

Another large aspect of Buddhism is the promotion of change throughout life. As a matter of fact, within Buddhist philosophy, change is the only constant thing in our lives! Not only does Buddhist philosophy encourage us to expect change, but also to learn how to enjoy it. Due to these reasons and more, Buddhism changed my life perspective because it taught me how to change my own perception of reality. When my perception of reality changed, my mental and emotional state changed as well.

None of these changes came to my life quickly, and there is still a long way for me to go. True enlightenment takes time- it’s about the journey, not the destination, and I’m more than willing to be patient.

By the end of my senior year of high school, I was able to stop taking Zoloft with help from my doctor. I haven’t been on pharmaceuticals for anxiety since. In terms of mental illness, I understand that quitting medication altogether isn’t an option for everyone. I do, however, encourage the exploration and education of philosophical systems like Buddhism. Change of perception in a more positive direction can only help- not hurt.

On one final note, another thing that I love about Buddhism is that at the end of the day, the real change stems from within the self. In this respect, I suppose my title is a bit misleading. You see, Buddhism didn’t exactly save me. But it sure did help me to save myself.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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