Fundamental Darkness and Clinical Depression are not one and the same, but if they were guests at a dinner they’d surely sit near one another, comparing notes on how to degrade the human spirit and destroy happiness. They’d probably move around the table, too, to spread the misery, taking special care to target anyone who already looked like he/she wasn’t having a good time. And those who tried to get away from them would probably be followed from room to room, unable to escape the persistent voices telling them such things as “you’re not good enough…smart enough…attractive enough…” and/or “no one cares about you…you’re a nobody…a failure…nothing you do matters”.

Okay, so I got carried away. “FD” and “CD” aren’t really actual people, although sometimes it can seem that way, especially when you hear those kinds of words coming at you out of other people’s mouths. Clinical depression (hereinafter referred to as “depression”) is a form of mental illness that takes away your volition. For starters, it can make you sleep too much or not be able to sleep, affect your appetite, your sex drive, and ultimately make you think life is not worth living. It’s different from the sort of “situational sadness” that most of us feel from time to time when something bad happens, that time and friendship and new experiences ease. Depression is essentially incompatible with life…it can make you feel as though you’ve been poisoned, possessed by demons, disconnected from yourself, and then cunningly convince you that the “alternate you” is who you really are, and that there’s no way out.

If depression can do all that, you might ask, what’s left for fundamental darkness to do? Short answer: plenty.

While not everyone will suffer from depression, we all get to experience some other manifestation of fundamental darkness. The SGI dictionary defines fundamental darkness as the “inability to see or recognize the truth, particularly, the true nature of one’s life” (read more here: http://www.sgilibrary.org/search_dict.php). It’s the opposite of enlightenment. Fundamental darkness is the source of all human sufferings (including depression), and as it’s inherent in life, there’s no getting rid of it. The worst thing about it is how insidious it can be. It’s not just a voice in your head that tells you bad things about yourself, that you could maybe drown out with good music and strong drink. Essentially, it’s the negative function in your life that exists to prevent you from becoming enlightened, and it takes many, many forms.

Suppose you have this great idea, but you’re afraid to voice it. If it’s that great, you tell yourself, someone else has probably already had it. Or maybe it’s not such a great idea after all. If I tell anyone about it, they’ll think I’m crazy, or they’ll steal it from me. Meanwhile time is passing, and if someone does happen upon the same idea and does something with it, you find cold comfort in the idea that you were right all along. It just wasn’t meant to be, you tell yourself. I’m obviously not the kind of person who makes things happen.

Or, someone really screws you over. You’re hurt, but tell yourself it’s no big deal, you should just let it go, but inside you the anger boils and seethes. You fantasize about all the wonderfully horrible things that could “just happen” to that person…how happy you’d be, that someone got what he deserved.

Or maybe you have a special talent. You’d like to develop it, but what’s the use? Someone else is always going to be better, or get the recognition, fame, adulation, respect that should be yours. Or perhaps you do pursue your dream, but you can only feel good when your rivals fail. You live for that…at least, that’s what you call living.

These examples may seem too extreme, too dramatic, too over the top. You can be a good person, a happy person, with a family that loves you and a circle of good friends. Why should you concern yourself with this fundamental darkness stuff, and what’s the point of enlightenment, anyway? Life is good. Everything’s fine. (Cue dramatic music…for now.)

Here’s why: life is constantly changing. We are all different people, and yet we are all connected, so even when you think everything’s fine, someone in your life may have an entirely different perspective. Fundamental darkness isn’t always about big emotions and murderous impulses. Sometimes it shows up as boredom, or inertia. That person you thought you’d love forever suddenly irritates you. You realize that years have passed and you can’t remember anything in particular about how you spent them. You have vague plans, hopes, wishes, but you never do anything to make them happen. You accept the status quo and consider yourself lucky that things aren’t any worse. You compare yourself to others and decide that all in all, you’re not so bad.

And that’s how fundamental darkness can work in anybody’s life. Though it’s always lurking, you can minimize its effect on your life, and even transform it. Yes! You can actually make fundamental darkness work for you. The first step is to recognize it for what it is. Life is forward motion; life is progressive. When you feel something is holding you back, when you think you are stuck, when you don’t want to move at all, that’s when you need to make the greatest effort. It’s like spiritual resistance training. When fundamental darkness weighs you down, you push back, and every time you do, you become stronger. I use my Buddhist practice to do this because I love turning the bad stuff into good karma, but even if you’re not a Buddhist, you can learn to recognize negative functions in your life. It’s vital to remember that the negative function is not “you” (nor is depression); the real you is a human being capable of enlightenment, and fundamental darkness may slow you down sometimes but can’t take that away from you.

Imagine the conversational possibilities when you find yourself seated next to “FD” at the dinner party. “So you’re Fundamental Darkness? I’ve heard so much about you!” you proclaim in a bright, carrying voice. “Is it true that you love making people miserable? Do tell…”

Because there’s nothing like telling the truth for making FD shut up.

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