Marvin the manically depressed robot

My parents were staying with me early this year, which was lovely, and one night we watched Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which was entertaining enough if you had no expectations whatsoever and were in the mood, which we were.

how to deal with depressionMarvin the manically depressed robot got me thinking. He’s a robot with the brain the size of a planet, but a brain he only uses to find faults with everything, now and in the future. He cannot be happy about anything. He thinks too much, but all the wrong thoughts, despite his vast knowledge. There are a lot of very intelligent people who do the same. Sometimes the more intelligent someone is, the more they tie themselves in unpleasant knots with discursive thinking.

We can grasp at things as being a certain way, and then pride ourselves on our fine critical abilities and poetic sensibilities. We may be in a place that many people find beautiful but we still find fault everywhere we look. “Oh, that is so ugly, what a shame they built it!”, we might say, looking at a building. And we believe our own hype – the person we are with, who finds the building rather appealing, is simply naïve or lacking in discrimination.

Never is this clash more obvious than in the reactions of people watching a politician whom half the country loves and the other half hates, which seems to have happened a lot recently, but hopefully is over for the time being. In Understanding the Mind, Geshe Kelsang says:

The defining characteristics of an object to not exist from the side of the object but are merely imputed by the mind that apprehends them.

He uses the example of a person called John, and for the sake of argument I will use the name Mitt, though I could just have easily have used the name Obama or even Luna or in fact any name at all as there is no one on this planet who gets perceived in just one way.

If one person identifies Mitt as a friend and the other identifies Mitt as an enemy, and the characteristics of friend and enemy existed from the side of the person, there would be two possibilities:

(1) There is a contradiction here as Mitt cannot be both a friend and an enemy from his own side.

(2) One of the people would be wrong. Of course, that is what we normally think.

However, neither of these is correct because “friend” and “enemy” are merely imputed onto the person by different minds:

From his own side, [Mitt] does not have a fixed set of defining characteristics waiting to be discovered by various minds; what he is depends solely upon how he is identified by the minds that apprehend him.

That is clearly a far-reaching statement.

Discrimination associated with conceptual minds functions to impute, label, or name objects.

With our thoughts we create our world.

Marvin of course doesn’t see it that way. If the world is fixed, as he assumes, and inherently depressing, there is no point in changing our mind as our miserable world will just stay the same. It is clear how he makes himself live in a depressed world and how everyone else finds him irritating and hard to be around. We can recognize this behavior as self-indulgent and also a bad habit in Marvin, and if we look closely we may discover that we are doing it too. But in fact, changing our attitude actually changes our world, which shows that the world is not fixed.avoiding self-pity and manic depression

We label things to get a handle on them, but then make the mistake of believing that our rather random labels are 100 percent accurate. “Delicious home-made jelly 2012”. If someone puts another label on it “Gross home-made jelly 2012”, we think they’re wrong and might even get in a fight about it.

In fact, it is even more subtle than that, because there is no object existing above and beyond our label. Everything is mere name. We create our world with conceptual labeling and then think there is something behind the labels when in fact it all comes from the side of our mind. We projected the world and now we have to live in it.

Unpleasant thoughts have only the power to harm us that we give them. Marvin would be better off thinking not ‘Oh I’m so depressed” but “Depression is arising in my mind like a cloud in a clear blue sky, temporary, fleeting, not me.” We need that space to be able to let our negative labels go and think differently, to come up with more constructive labels eg, “This person is my kind mother” as opposed to “This person is a big idiot.”

We have the choice, exercise it

glass half empty and BuddhismWe choose how we discriminate the world. Choose carefully, for our world depends on these discriminations. If we want to see the glass half-full instead of half-empty, we can, and that recognition will be accurate because our world is dependent on our thoughts. If the glass really was half-empty, what would be the point of thinking it is half-full!? We’d be deluding ourselves. But everything is relative because everything is empty and unfixed, and everything is empty and unfixed because everything is relative – it only exists in relation to our thoughts.

If we do understand that we can choose our world by changing our thoughts, and change our world by choosing our thoughts, Lamrim offers 21 powerful methods of thinking that will lead us bit by bit from manic depressed self-centered misery to other-centered permanent bliss!

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 40 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to improve and transform our everyday lives and societies. I try to make it accessible to everyone anywhere who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

14 thoughts on “Marvin the manically depressed robot”

  1. Hahhaa — “This will all end in tears, I just know it!” Sounds like one of my Eeyore moments. I MUST stop that. Thanks for the post. <3

  2. Boy oh boy, “That is clearly a far-reaching statement” … Isn’t it just! One ‘simple’ observation and the rabbit hole appears… 😊

    Thanks as always Luna, and its so true, especially very clever people I think often have a very particular and sticky suffering, another reason why the relying on a realised/wise teacher is indispensible.

  3. Yes! Marvin the Paranoid Android! Love him 🙂
    Go to admit to being a fan of Hitchhikers – old BBC 2 TV, new movie and books – just brilliant! Thanks for the different points on emptiness, depression, and changing our world from within. It’s all so true! From one point of view, the glass is always half full; because there’s always some water and some air in it. All depends on the mind, doesn’t it.

  4. Great post. Enjoyed reading it, thanks.
    So how do we choose to see the current Israeli-Palestinian situation as something other than awful? How do you think Gesh-la views this?
    I don’t believe we can always choose how we discriminate, much like we can’t choose to dislike chocolate, though I do believe we can work on our mind so more/different options are available.
    What do you think?

    1. @ Anon, if I may venture an answer? (Just while you’re waiting for Luna’s proper reply)
      • While you’re right, we can work on our mind to explore the different options; we most certainly can choose to dislike chocolate! Meditation just goes deeper into that same questioning process. After all, our preferences don’t exist from their own side, and aren’t nearly as fixed as we believe them to be. You can probably see this in your own experience.
      • Geshe La knows that neither the Israeli or Palestinian peoples want war, and would be in agreement with them that it doesn’t help anything. But he would also be seeing the Mid-East conflict with a mind of blissful compassion… and this I’ll leave to Luna, because she understands it far better than I.

      1. Thanks for your response Jas. I appreciate answers that make me think.
        So how would you choose to dislike chocolate? I mean, when you bite into a piece, you actually dislike the taste. Doesn’t it take training?
        I think that’s a great point that Geshe La views the conflict with compassion for both sides. When I think about it, I immediately put a label of ‘bad’ on it. My mind goes negative. Perhaps Geshe La never imputes negative labels on it and just remains with compassion.

        1. Hi Steve and Jas, seems to me like you both got it all figured out 😉

          I think it is true that to exercise our choice to discriminate, we have to increase the control over our mind. However, just knowing that we have a choice makes it easier to control our mind.

          There are so many ways to view that situation in Israel. It is mistaken appearance, but it feels very real for those caught up in it, so it is also the case that one “good” response would be compassion, including compassion observing the unobservable, which has the solution in it. But I think pretty much any Dharma mind would work to start transforming that situation. Including prayer.

          (I wrote an article about what can we do about Homs, Syria, which addressed some of the things we can do when we see such tragedies.)

  5. Thankyou so much Luna.. Just fab and such medicine as always. May you be blessed. Love to you.. 🙂 x

  6. don’t post this – it’s a private message. great post! i’ve always identified with poor old maudlin Marvin’s (tho’ my brain appears to be shrinking these days to more like the size of a walnut…) something that jumped out at my Marvin-like fault-finding mind: maybe in the quotation you should put ‘Mitt’ in square brackets, to avoid misquoting Geshe-la?

    i know, i know – i’m a pedant… 🙂

      1. Sorry Atisha’s cook, your comment was pre-approved so went through… thank you for pointing out the square bracket idea, i was wondering about that.

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