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The Fear Samskara
Matheen: Hi, Sundari.
Thank you very much for your reply to my earlier email. Have read and thought a lot. My problems seem to be entirely physical, which then leads to mental involvement!
I have had two occasions so far where my heart developed abnormal rhythm for brief periods, and when that happened it seemed like a tidal wave of fear arose and for a while there was only this fear! At this time I (mind) did cling with desperation to the thought “I am awareness, not this fear, this is an object only!” But it happened few more times, doing the same thing…
Sundari: All experiences take place in the mind, even the ones that seem to come from the body. The body is just meat, it is inert – a counter across which experience transacts. The body does not experience directly, because it is not conscious, although consciousness pervades every atom, so it appears to be conscious and to experience. The gross body is called the sthula sharira in Sanskrit; it refers to the five elements because it is made up of them and sustained by them. It is basically just food. It is a means for awareness to have contact with objects and to experience pleasure and pain. The gross body and all it (apparently) experiences are objects known to you and exist as thoughts in the subtle body, and the subtle body is a thought appearing in you, awareness. In deep sleep or when your attention is on a thought, a feeling or an experience that does not involve the body, the gross body does not exist for you. It only exists for you in the waking state when you pay attention to it – such as when a fear-thought appears in the mind about ill health or pain in the body.
There is always something “wrong” with the body, even when we are experiencing good health. It is not static but fluid, like a river, always changing and in a state of flux, and in a constant symbiotic relationship with the environment (Isvara, the gunas). It is a product of the gunas. The body you had a year ago, a month ago or yesterday is not the same body you have today, because the gunas are always changing, constantly revolving. Thus nothing in mithya ever stays the same. The body belongs to Isvara, and we have no control over it other than to look after it to the best of our ability. With knowledge about healthy lifestyles and especially guna management, you can do a great deal to maximize health, well-being and therefore peace of mind. It is very difficult to maintain a sattvic mind if your lifestyle is a mess and the body is in bad health as a result. But no matter how well we look after the body, Isvara is the final (and only) determiner of how long the body will sustain life. What use is control?
The body is on loan to you; you are not meant to and (definitely) will not be allowed to keep it! Take appropriate and timely action to look after it but surrender it to Isvara, who will take care of it. The right attitude, which is an attitude of gratitude for the gift of life “in a body” is the best and sanest approach to the body and to life. It is a privilege to be born with a human body because only in a human body can moksa obtain. And when the time is right, the body will be withdrawn and returned to the five elements from whence it came, and you will not be affected by that one bit.
Your problems are not coming from your body and its good or bad health. They are coming from ignorance, from fear-thoughts, the main one being fear of death. Why not embrace that fear, make peace with it, take it as prasad? There is no point in denying it if it will not leave you alone, but you can remind yourself that fear is something known to you, the self, so it cannot be you. And if it is not you, then it will pass because it is not real, real being defined as “that which is always present and never changes,” which only applies to you, the knower of the fear-thoughts. Resistance is futile. All egos must face this one, the fear of death, of non-existence. Death of the body/ego is inevitable, so why not die now? Die to fear and live with impunity, with the confidence that as the self you are beyond life and death? Say NO! to fear by turning around and facing death.
Matheen: I am beginning to feel that I am not able to get handle on this yet. At such times, how do I actually do karma yoga? I’m looking for more help and advice. There have been few times when things are calmer, and I am able to keep that thought in mind more constantly. Please tell me how/or what I need to do or do differently. I’m grateful for any further help. Thank you.
Sundari: When such deep fear samskaras arise, karma yoga does not work, and therefore self-knowledge cannot disarm the trigger for the fear, which is always ignorance of course. Making your life and particularly self-inquiry work for you is all about managing your primary instrument, the mind, which means managing the gunas. Fear is rajas and tamas working together, it comes with the territory of being human. Sometimes fear is very smart and can save your life (or your sanity) in the right situations. The kind of fear you are experiencing is not smart or helpful, but it is unavoidable because the fear of non-existence, of death, is a universal vasana. It is macrocosmic, or universal, rajas (projection) and tamas (denial), and it is part of the dharma field. Fear and worry are built in for the jiva because the environment it lives in (including the body) is always changing and the jiva is not in control of the objects. Security is the primary motivation for most jivas – the futile attempt to shore up protection from the vicissitudes of life.
All jivas are born in fear because they are born in ignorance. The ego is a fear-thought born of the belief in separation. Without self-knowledge, most people are at the mercy of deeply rooted fear samskaras. Fear manifests in many variations and intensities, from mild anxiety to worry to panic attacks to free-floating anxiety which causes a non-specific unnamed existential fear or worse, dread. Fear is another name for primordial beginningless ignorance, or maya. It is the king of all vasanas – and it teams up with other similar and seemingly personal vasanas to form samskaras, meaning a conglomeration or complex of vasanas, having a common source and playing out differently for individual jivas.
The more user-friendly term for the fear samskara is “free-floating anxiety.” Existential fear is the “wound of humanity,” as I sometimes call it. It is the fear that causes knots in the solar plexus. It is sometimes called the fear of “being and becoming,” what Christians call “original sin.” All religions have used this fear to their great advantage in recruiting believers and controlling them. The world of business has tapped into and mined this unconscious fear like an endless vein of gold. This macrocosmic fear is always present, yet hidden in the causal body, and it is looking for objects to attach itself to. It is related to “others.” It is the ultimate experience of duality, or “otherness” – separation.
Not everyone experiences it directly and acutely as you are now, although many do without even knowing it much of the time. The skyrocketing number of people experiencing anxiety/panic attacks is testament to this. In most samsaris fear works out in petty mundane and indirect ways all day long, year after year, a death by a thousand cuts. You can see the accretions in the faces of samsaris as they age – the exhaustion of existential suffering, the weight of the vasanas etched in faces inured to delusion, the mask of the (mostly) failed attempts to protect ourselves from the uncertainty of life and the certainty of death.
The fear-thought is reinforced at every turn in our society, through advertising, the media (only bad news sells, after all) and of course through “entertainment.” The more violence or threat of violence in a book or a movie, the more it sells. It seems jivas are addicted to fear and are drawn to it like moths to a flame.
When the body starts packing up, bringing to the surface of consciousness of the inevitability of our mortality, this fear can be all-consuming. If fear takes over the mind, discrimination is impossible and so is dispassion (indifference to results), karma yoga. In this case, the knowledge that our true nature is unborn and undying awareness is totally covered up by this paralyzing fear. In other words, the mind is not qualified for self-inquiry.
You will notice that this ignorance is called “beginningless” ignorance. The implied meaning of this phrase is that it is not endless, because self-knowledge ends personal ignorance (avidya) for good. It also ends fear for good. However, the nameless fear samskara is one of the last to go for most inquirers. Self-realization is no guarantee that it has been rooted out. For most people, it disappears for a bit, then reappears, from which we can determine without doubt that fear is not real. Unfortunately, self-realization is often not enough to slay the fear dragon for good. There is no quick, easy fix if fear is playing out in the mind. The only solution is to apply self-knowledge when it arises by taking a stand in awareness and practising the opposite thought – see the fear for what it is, only apparently real. Go into it, face it. LOVE IT.
Even if you don’t believe it is not real, fake it till you make it, because FEAR IS NOT REAL. It stands for False Evidence Appearing Real. The universal fear samskara forms a kind of background disturbance in the mind, which is so prevalent and pervasive most of us have normalized it. We don’t even notice it is there anymore, yet it colours and distorts our every experience. And because there are so few truly fear-free people in this world, there is nobody to model for us what it is like to live free of the jiva, free of the causal body and free of fear. We don’t believe it is possible. The only jiva I have met who is 100% free of the jiva and of fear is Ramji. For many, fear is considered “normal,” even smart. Cynicism and lack of trust are almost admired as the mark of a worldly, experienced person. The cult of fear is prolific and many feed off it, like sharks in a feeding frenzy, gorging on the gore of darkness, tamas. Fear is a multi-multi-billion-dollar industry, and many profit greatly from it.
Stress, the seemingly more benign form of fear, is also ever-present (but mostly unseen), and is a more common by-product of this very deeply rooted fear samskara. Usually, vasanas will exhaust themselves after a while, even though they inevitably return, but this one, this unnamed fear samskara, is constantly “on.” Everyone identified with being a person (not self-realized) is affected by it to some degree. For those who are self-realized but not self-actualized, this unnamed fear will come and go, depending on the assimilation of knowledge and the level of qualification of the inquirer. As the self, it doesn’t bother you at all of course, even if it should arise, as existential fear is over for you. A free person sees the program of fear playing out and does not identify with it, because they are trigunaatita, beyond the gunas. Ram hates fear-thoughts of any kind and will not tolerate them, ever. He is fierce about it. One needs to be because fear is very sneaky.
Observing the mind and how samskaras play out in the light of self-knowledge is the main step towards rendering all vasanas non-binding. What this entails is to track the mind and see what the trigger was for the disturbance, what guna was in play and what value underpinned the guna. All three gunas are very predictable. Ignorance works the same way every time, so it should not be difficult to track the origin of the thought, assuming some ability to be objective. Sometimes though, when it comes to deeply entrenched samskaras like the fear samskara, it can take repeated observation and determination to render non-binding because it is so hidden – so camouflaged by maya. It will strike when we are least prepared for it and take over the mind, unless we are extremely vigilant and self-knowledge is firm.
Maya makes the world of objects look so sexy and juicy, shimmering like jewels dancing in the light. It so easily and effortlessly attracts and deludes the gullible and ignorant mind to fall hopelessly under its dangerous spell, just like the delicious monster plant attracts insects to their doom. If only Isvara made the world of objects a little less attractive…