Oakville Zen Meditation

#201 Fear: attributes by Harish Verma

                     Fear, its attributes and how to try to overcome it. By Harish Verma

Fear is an emotion that is our companion from the womb to the tomb. The cave man lived with the fear thunder, going hungry without food etc. And we live in the ultimate fear our safety and well-being. In 1933, Franklin Roosevelt coined the phrase “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. So let us try to understand what fear is, how it affects us and how to deal with it. First of all we must understand that fear is a function of the mind, not of the intellect. We must also understand that it is an integral part of the human psyche. We are born with this. It is what might be termed as a “Manufacturer’s Defect”. The nature of our mind is such that it runs in all directions because it has a special characteristic, which is called “Association of Ideas”. When confronted with a certain situation, we get an idea about it, and through association, project that idea into the realm of unknown.

It is this projection of idea that results in the emotion of fear. Non-apprehension of the situation leads to misapprehension. In the spiritual literature, two famous examples and often quoted. The first is the example of snake and rope. When we are going on a path that is dimly lit, we see a coiled object on the road, because we do not see it clearly, our mind projects the object to be a snake. When we approach the object and put a flashlight on it, we suddenly realize that it is not a snake but a coiled rope. So what is the thought process that goes on in our mind? Since we did not have complete data or information about the object, our mind projected it to be different from what it is. As soon as we obtained the data or information about the object, by shining a light on it, the image of snake disappeared from our mind, and was replaced by the image of a rope.

This example illustrates what one must do to overcome the emotion of fear. We have to shine the light of knowledge on the object or being, so that we see the object in the light of knowledge, and not as falsely imagined by the mind.

2) Another source of the emotion of fear is “attachment” which actually is a mental bondage. When we are attached to an object or being, the first thought that comes to our mind is the fear of losing that object. If we were not attached to the object or being, there would be no fear of losing it. Obviously it is impossible to be completely devoid of attachment. What one can and should do is to reduce the level of attachment so that the fear of losing the object must become less. Some people overcome fear by thinking of the “Worst Case Scenario”. They mentally prepare themselves for meeting the situation by thinking as to what is worse that can happen.

This approach, unfortunately does not work all the time. The ultimate fear of man is the fear of death. Various masters, saints and sages have given ideas as to how one can deal with this ultimate emotion. Here again a correct understanding of the phenomenon of death can help us cope with this fear. We have to kill the demon of fear with the sword of knowledge. First of all we have to accept the inevitability of death. Whoever is born is sure to die. This is the law of nature. In nature, we see this happening all around us. Once we have understood and accepted this, we can continue to live our normal lives, doing our obligatory duties and hope that things work out all right with us.

All around us are very enlightened people, who, having understood and accepted this, continue to do the noble work of serving mankind and in the process paving the way for their own peace and tranquility of mind.