The Path to No Path

Fear

Fear is just a form of energy – no more, no less. I discovered this fact when I was living in Amaravati, a Thai Buddhist monastery in Britain. One of my duties as anagarika (a lay person who intends eventually to become a monk) was to take turns in formally asking the monks to give a talk after the evening meditation on Saturdays.

At the correct moment and without a cue, I was supposed to get up from my cushion on the floor, get on my knees, bow three times to the shrine, chant in Pāli the formal request for a talk, and bow three times again. It was essential to memorise the chant, as there was never enough light at these times to be able to read it, and in any case it is difficult to project one's voice while peering down at a book on the floor.

I was terribly embarrassed about raising my voice in public in a hall or temple where there were usually a minimum of thirty people, and sometimes a hundred or more, all sitting silently, listening and waiting. I therefore had made a point for a long time of avoiding this duty.

Then, on one winter retreat, the abbot proclaimed that he expected that by the end of the three month retreat, every one of us anagarikas would have formally requested a talk. I felt panicky, for I knew I could not avoid the situation for much longer.

I had read Krishnamurti's excellent little book Freedom From The Known Jrishnamurti - Freedom From The Knownmany times, and I remembered vaguely what he had written about what to do about fear, namely to look directly at fear itself, rather than look at the factors that trigger it. I therefore resolved to carry out this experiment.

At the next opportunity, probably the following evening meditation, I waited until the mind had become reasonably quiet, and then deliberately contemplated the idea of chanting a formal request for a talk. Fear arose almost immediately. I then moved my attention to the fear itself, ignoring the triggering factor, and watched as the fear spontaneously faded away.

I again brought up an image of chanting the formal request, and again the fear came up. I switched to watching the fear itself, and again it spontaneously faded. After doing this a few times, I found that I could turn the fear on and off as if it were a light bulb. I was so amazed that I spent some time reflecting on what I had learned.

Some evenings later, I decided that it was now time to try out what I had discovered. I had memorised the chanting many months earlier, and after a quick revision I felt reasonably confident that I would remember it. At the appropriate time, I rose on to my knees, bowed three times, and, in a loud voice, began to chant.

Fear arose immediately. I allowed the fear to be there, neither trying to get rid of it nor trying to deny it, and focused on the task in hand. I chanted all the words correctly, and sat down again, relieved that I had at last managed to do the chanting, and glad that I had done it. I chanted a formal request for a talk on several succeeding evenings until I no longer felt any fear. Meanwhile, I discovered that the fear gave me energy to do the chanting. This is surely akin to the phenomenon of stage fright.

All fear is the same – fear is the fear of not surviving. It is like a computer program that we have from birth. All desires are the same as fear – desire is a fear, expressed in a positive kind of way. If I want to be powerful, this means that I am afraid of being weak. If I want to be in control, this means that I am afraid of losing control.

Fear and desire come from the same space. I only use the mind when I'm afraid. All desires express fear. Everything we do with the mind is an expression of fear – it works from the original program: the fear of not surviving, the desire to survive. A desire is a fear – a fear is a desire. So every time I have a desire, I can ask: “What am I afraid of?”, and behind this is the original fear.

The mind (which is a defence system) can be compared to an army. An army exists because of fear: the fear of losing a war, which is the desire to win. On a day when everything goes badly in a war, one feels depressed. On a day when everything goes well, one feels good. Thus feelings are just battle reports.

Any attempt to get information – the intelligence branch – is part of the defence system. All thoughts are part of this defence system, gathering data on potential enemies and perhaps some useful allies.

When a mystic says “Drop thoughts”, he means that thoughts are not necessary for survival. Needs are so simple to meet. The mind is a worry machine. Every time it moves (i.e. when I think), I am worried – about survival. Behind all emotions is fear. Happiness means “I'm not so afraid right now.”

The only thing to do in response to the original fear was to contract, to be tense. So tension is fear. Complete relaxation implies that there is no fear, which means that there are then no thoughts; this leads to directly to enlightenment.

Let it be the four-year-old in you that does the thinking, the worrying, the fearing, and let it be there and accept it and remember that it is worried about survival. There is no need to fight it, no need to try to stop it – in fact, this is counterproductive. Just bring it up to date with reality.

You don't even have to know what it is worrying about – remind it that it is worrying about survival and that survival is no longer a problem. Just relax.

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If you should wish to contact me about anything you have read here, especially if you feel strongly for or against what you have read, or if you feel that something is missing, I offer you an opportunity to share.

I look forward to hearing from you.

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