Share This Article:

Depression, Guilt, and Tibetan Buddhism

Full-Text HTML Download Download as PDF (Size:70KB) PP. 805-809
DOI: 10.4236/psych.2012.329122    4,405 Downloads   7,484 Views   Citations


Depression appears to be somewhat epidemic in the modern world. In prior empirical studies we found depression significantly associated with empathy-based guilt, empathic distress, and an overly active or misattributing moral system. In this study, we compared 98 Buddhists, who were primarily Tibetan meditation practitioners to 438 non-Buddhist, non-practicing community adults on a measure of depression along with measures of maladaptive guilt, empathic distress, anxiety and altruism. Our findings demonstrated that practitioners were significantly lower in depression, pathogenic guilt, anxiety, and empathic distress, and significantly higher on agreeableness, conscientiousness, openness to experience and compassionate altruism directed towards strangers. Intensity of practice significantly correlated with positive outcomes. In addition, we found that within the population of Tibetan Buddhist practitioners, those who endorsed the statement that the goal of meditation was other-focused (for the benefit of all sentient beings) were significantly lower in depression, empathic distress, and anxiety, and significantly higher in cognitive empathy (perspective-taking) compared to practitioners whose goal of meditation was self-focused.

Cite this paper

O’Connor, L. , Berry, J. , Stiver, D. & Rangan, R. (2012). Depression, Guilt, and Tibetan Buddhism. Psychology, 3, 805-809. doi: 10.4236/psych.2012.329122.


[1] Breslau, J., Borges, G., Tancredi, D., et al. (2011). Migration from Mexico to the United States and subsequent risk for depressive and anxiety disorders: A cross-national study. Archives of General Psychiatry, 68, 428-433. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.21
[2] Davis, M. H. (1983). Measuring individual differences in empathy: Evi- dence for a multidimensional approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 44, 113-126. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.44.1.113
[3] Green, S., Lambon Ralph, M. A., Moll, J., Deakin, J. F., & Zahn, R. (2012). Guilt-selective functional disconnection of anterior temporal and subgenual cortices in major depressive disorder guilt-selective functional disconnection. Archives of General Psychiatry, 1-8. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2012.592
[4] Hollifield, M., Warner, T. D., Lian, N., Krakow, B., Jenkins, J. H., Kesler, J., Stevenson, J., & Westermeyer, J. (2002). Measuring trauma and health status in refugees: A critical review. Journal of the American Medical Association, 288, 611-621. doi:10.1001/jama.288.5.611
[5] Holtz, T. H. (1998). Refugee trauma versus torture trauma: A retrospective controlled cohort study of Tibetan refugees. Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease, 186, 24-34. doi:10.1097/00005053-199801000-00005
[6] Jang, J. H., Jung, W. H., Kang, D. H., Byun, M. S., Kwon, S. J., Choi, C. H., & Kwon, J. S. (2011). Increased default mode network con- nectivity associated with meditation. Neuroscience Letters, 487, 358- 362. doi:10.1016/j.neulet.2010.10.056
[7] John, O. P., Donahue, E. M., & Kentle, R. (1992). The big-five inventory- versions 4a and 54. Technical Report, Berkeley, CA: Institute of Personality and Social Research, University of California.
[8] John, O. P., Naumann, L. P., & Soto, C. J. (2008). Paradigm shift to the integrative big-five trait taxonomy: History, measurement, and conceptual issues. In O. P. John, R. W. Robins, & L. A. Pervin (Eds.), Handbook of personality: Theory and research (pp. 114-158). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
[9] Keller, A., Lhewa, D., Rosenfeld, B., Sachs, E., Aladjem, A., Cohen, I., Smith, H., & Porterfield, K. (2006). Traumatic experiences and psychological distress in an urban refugee population seeking treatment services. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 194, 188-194. doi:10.1097/01.nmd.0000202494.75723.83
[10] Lutz, A., Brefczynski-Lewis, J. A., Johnstone, T., & Davidson, R. J. (2008). Regulation of the neural circuitry of emotion by compassion meditation: Effects of meditative expertise. PLoS ONE, 3, e1897.
[11] Lutz, A., Slagter, H. A., Dunne, J., & Davidson, R. J. (2008a). Attention regulation and monitoring in meditation. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 12, 163-169. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2008.01.005
[12] Marchand, W. R. (2012). Mindfulness-based stress reduction, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, and zen meditation for depression, anxiety, pain, and psychological distress. Journal of Psychiatric Practice, 18, 233-352. doi:10.1097/01.pra.0000416014.53215.86
[13] Mollica, R. F., Sarajlic, N., Chernoff, M., Lavelle, J, Vukovic, I. S., & Massagli, M. P. (2001). Longitudinal study of psychiatric symptoms, disability, mortality, and emigration among Bosnian refugees, Journal of the American Medical Association, 286, 546-554. doi:10.1001/jama.286.5.546
[14] O’Connor, L. E., Berry, J. W., & Weiss, J. (1999). Interpersonal guilt, shame, and psychological problems. Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology, 18, 181-203. doi:10.1521/jscp.1999.18.2.181
[15] O’Connor, L. E., Berry, J. W., Weiss, J., Schweitzer, D., & Sevier, M. (2001). Survivor guilt, submissive behavior and evolutionary theory: The down-side to winning in social comparison. British Journal of Medical Psychology, 73, 519-530. doi:10.1348/000711200160705
[16] O’Connor, L. E., Berry, J. W., Lewis, T., & Stiver, D. J. (2011). Empathy-based pathogenic guilt, pathological altruism, and psychopathol- ogy. In B. Oakley, A. Knafo, G. Madhavan, & D. S. Wilson (Eds.), Pathological altruism. Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199738571.003.0024
[17] O’Connor, L. E., Berry, J. W., Weiss, J., & Gilbert, P. (2002). Guilt, fear, submission, and empathy in depression. Journal of Affective Disorders, 71, 19-27. doi:10.1016/S0165-0327(01)00408-6
[18] O’Connor, L. E., Berry, J. W., Crisostomo, P., & Yi, E. (2005). Altru- ism and empathy-based guilt across five cultures. In G. Fricchione (Ed.), Identifying altruism. Santa Fe, NM: Symposium Conducted at the 34th Annual Conference of the Society for Cross-Cultural Research.
[19] Radloff, L. S. (1977). The CES-D scale: A self-report depression scale for research in the general population. Applied Psychological Measurement, 1, 385-401. doi:10.1177/014662167700100306
[20] Rubik B. (2011). Neurofeedback enhanced gamma brainwaves from the prefrontal cortical region of meditators and non-meditators and associated subjective experiences. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 17, 109-115. doi:10.1089/acm.2009.0191
[21] Sachs, E., Rosenfeld, B., Lhewa, D., Rasmussen, A., & Keller, A. (2008). Entering exile: Trauma, mental health, and coping among Tibetan refugees arriving in Dharamsala, India. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 21, 199-208. doi:10.1002/jts.20324
[22] Vaux, A., Riedel, S., & Stewart, D. (1987). Modes of social support: The Social Support Behaviors (SS-B) Scale. American Journal of Community Psychology, 15, 209-237. doi:10.1007/BF00919279
[23] Watkins, D., & Cheung, S. (1995). Culture, gender, and response bias: An analysis of responses to the self-description questionnaire. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 26, 490-504. doi:10.1177/0022022195265003
[24] Weiss, J. (1993). How psychotherapy works: Process and technique. New York: Guilford Press.

comments powered by Disqus

Copyright © 2018 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.