Taking a Wholistic Approach to ADHD

Understanding ADHD through Buddhist Therapy

How does ADHD lead to the common predispositions and personality traits found in those with ADHD? The ‘Skandha process’ is described under Applied Buddhism. This process describes the way we often struggle when we misunderstand or in Buddhist terms ‘attach’ to something or someone in our environment (including ourselves!). In ADHD, rather than beginning with a ‘misread’ you usually begin with an ‘incomplete read’.

You may be very bright but there is a partial disconnect between conscious and unconscious mind. In computer terms this may look like plenty of 'ROM' but a lack of 'RAM’. This may cause you to miss valuable queues in the environment which may misfits everyone involved! For example, say that a young boy with ADHD is bouncing up and down in their seat in front of a class room. The boy will be shocked when the teacher reprimands him as it seems to him to be totally uncalled for. He may become angry at such an embarrassing injustice. This event is added to the many embarrassing injustices he may have faced in the past from such ‘awful teachers'. He forms his opinion of what teachers are like, how difficult the classroom setting is and begins to generalize all such situations. This includes parents, and in the future, his bosses and intimate partner.

After he leaves the classroom he will likely discuss with his fellow ADHD friends how he was ‘balled out unfairly’ in his last class. He then enters his next class expecting much of the same. Since his ADHD he will likely be bouncing in his seat again. Also, there is the tendency for us to find what we look for. As you might expect, he will likely meet with a similar outcome. By the way, the teacher will likely be convinced that he was disrespecting her. More likely, unaware of how he was coming off, he was may have been watching a squirrel outside.

So...he may begin to develop new strategies. He may become very shy so as not to elicit this kind of consequence in the future. Another response might be to include bouncing in his seat as part of his persona as a class clown because ‘everyone loves a clown.’ Until they don’t. This is because he never turns off the strategy. That would require that he assess each moment of his life for the appropriateness of this strategy. This would require more RAM than he possesses. Folks with ADHD often tell friends and family, “This is just the way I am, you need to accept it.” But while a little clowning around can be appropriate in some settings, a constant diet of clowning around can become very limiting. This is particularly true when one is otherwise intelligent. It just doesn’t make sense to others and negative assumptions are made like, "He really doesn't care about anyone but himself!". Another coping strategy might be, the quiet and shy approach. It may be endearing at times but a steady diet of this personality type can also be very limiting in the long run e.g. "The poor guy (or gal) just can't say, No!"

Controversies Surrounding Diagnosis and Treatment of ADHD: Buddhist Thoughts on Delusion

ADHD will be easier to discuss when we have specific studies to help us actually diagnose the problem more clearly. Although people will likely still struggle as the tendencies exist in the unconscious realms. This leads to a person being labeled or labeling themselves lazy, crazy or stupid as per the name of a book by Kate Kelly. Additionally, there are always very human reasons why people don’t want to believe that it is true and the name calling and blaming can reach truly life crushing, family distroying  proportions.

There are disagreements within the professional community over details of any diagnosis or symptom cluster. There are also disagreements about optimal treatments. In general, professionals will tend to agree with whatever group they have spent the most time with. Proximity creates within us associations that are both conscious and unconscious. Professionals will attract a certain kind of following by their knowledge and style. Some of the people they attract may do well with their approach. When this is true, they may often hear from those they help that other approaches ‘never worked for'. Everyone, including professionals, preferentially see and remember what supports their viewpoint. Many will thus tend to remember their successes and often not hear back from those they were unable to help. There also is an unfortunate human tendency to denigrate other groups we feel we are in competition with either professionally, financially or socially. None of these very human tendencies are helping for a person who is simply looking for a little help!

Buddhists put all of this under the heading ‘delusion’. This is another example of the greatest ‘delusion maker’ in our armament, our self view. It is our need to be right and our tendency to project this onto any group we identify with these same tendencies. “Yes! We are right, others are somehow faulty, and we find these truths self-evident!” (Or...we 'find' the 'evidence' along the way!)

A Holistic Approach to ADHD and the Heart Sutra

These are a few of the reasons I suggest a more holistic approach to ADHD or 'Wholistic Approach', as I like to describe it...with a 'W'. I use this spelling so that the word’s meaning more closely matches its use. Excluding ideas, people and efforts is yet another example of one of the three poisons in Buddhism called delusion. It is also an example of dualism. It is one of the most difficult forms of 'attachment' to resolve. Please see The Heart of Understanding: Commentaries on the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra by Thich Nhat Hanh for more information on these concepts.

One of the greatest difficulties that I see in those I serve is a lack of realization of personal strengths. This also leads to a lack of wisdom in wielding these strengths. We do well to be open to our strengths and understand our past use of them in a variety of situations. We then can project potential future outcomes as we optimize the use of our strengths. All of this we dynamic use in service to each moment.  When our life course does not match what our strengths and surrounding conditions would suggest, this causes us pain. As a condition like ADHD is unconscious, looking carefully into our pain may lead us to discern that something is going on outside of our awareness. This can be a very growthfull process that serves us in the future!

Learning how to maximize and manage our strengths helps us to both grow and contribute to others. Spending time trying to understand ourselves through 'our weaknesses' tends to feed a perception of brokenness. Our neurons don’t know how to respond when told where not to grow! Most of our percieved 'weaknesses' are misunderstandings around the perception and use of our strengths.

With the Wholistic Approach, our intention is to remain open to what life has to offer. This helps allow the ‘Right View’ of Buddhism’s noble Eight Fold Path. We don’t pretend to know what we can’t yet know. We remain open to the variety of suggestions offered by the efforts of others. We understand that various experts will propose what they have found to be true and that their views may conflict with others and yet hold value for us. If an individual's views includes a blanket negative of others these views may hold less of our interest, other than to suggest a person's present state of wisdom. We are all in this together and we are all very human. It's all OK!

The Oneness Approach may offer many ways to provide additional help to you and your supports. Please continue to read on and consider joining one of the classes if you wish!

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Recognizing the Sypmtoms
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2 replies
  1. Sue Angell
    Sue Angell says:

    Dear Dr. Seng,

    Hello! I’m a past patient, treated by you for ADHD. Can you explain more about how to use the Heart Sutra to heal relationships, specifically with an intimate partner?

    Thank you!

    • Michael Seng
      Michael Seng says:


      Congratulations and great question! We have a Buddhist Monk who has Sutra classes you may want to call. His name is Rikk Mayr. Please call the office if you wish for his number!

      Great Choice!

      Start with a brief breath meditation for a few minutes just out of each other’s eyesight. Let your sense of love for each other permeate the air around you.

      Prajna Paramita means to see into the heart of the matter.

      Chant the Sutra together, it avises we let go of old stories, let go of other’s stories and allow your inner sense of love and compassion be your Way.

      Let the mantra (a true word) at the end of the Heart Sutra be the guardian of your relationship
      “Enlightenment is to go beyond..utterly beyond”

      The Bodhisattva of wisdom is Manjushri, is pictured meditating on a beast. This encourages us to remain composed in difficult situations. The practice of the Heart Sutra encourages the four wisdoms of Prajna (compassion and love):
      – Generosity (giving w/o expectation)
      – Loving words
      – Goodwill (Always thinking of ways to benefit others)
      – Identifying with compassion

      Begin each day with this practice allowing each day to transform your practice. During the day allow a deep breath to bring you home!

      Consider joining a Buddhist meditation group if you feel into it with your love and both agree!


      Dr. Seng


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