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No Quick-Fix Manual to Remove Fear
Allen: I have read some satsangs at ShiningWorld on the subject, but was looking for a direct plan for resolution. Here is the question:
Please, can Sundari offer a step-by-step practice (with examples) for destroying the fear samskara, which can manifest as anxiety?
Sundari: You say you have read a few satsangs on ShiningWorld, but what is your sadhana? Have you followed our instructions on how to conduct Self-inquiry? If you are not a serious inquirer and are simply looking for easy answers, “a direct plan for resolution” as you say, you will probably not be happy with my answer. The way this inquiry is worded, it sounds to me like you do not understand what Vedanta is or what Self-inquiry entails, but I could be wrong, so I will reply in detail in any case.
To begin with, there is no ““a direct plan for resolution” to remove ignorance. It would be so easy if we could hand out a quick-fix “how to be free of ignorance” manual, but sadly, it does not work that way. Vedanta is a valid teaching for the assimilation of Self-knowledge, but it is not theory in practice. And it is not easy; it is hard work. Although ignorance works the same way for everyone, it plays out according to your particular vasana load, so “your” ignorance is personal to you. And although Self-inquiry must be conducted according to the progressive methodology of the teachings and not according to your own ideas about it, there is no one-size-fits-all formula available to combat fear or any other samskara other than following the methodology for Self-inquiry. Specifically, values/qualifications and lifestyle issues, dharma, karma yoga, guna/mind management and jnana yoga, with a qualified teacher to unfold the teachings. There is no fine print to Vedanta if you want it to work in your life. It requires an ability to be ruthlessly honest and to have the courage to look at how your mind works and your lifestyle objectively and impersonally in light of the scripture. It is for mature people who have had enough of suffering, who have dealt with their psychological problems and are not looking for easy answers on a plate. You need to “do the work.” I have outlined a short version of what Self-inquiry entails, in case you don”t know, further on in this document.
Fear/anxiety and desire are the result of ignorance of one’s true nature. In fact 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. Existential fear is the “wound of humanity,” as I sometimes call it. Fear manifests in many variations and intensities, from mild anxiety and worry to panic attacks and free-floating anxiety, which causes a non-specific, unnamed, existential fear or, worse, dread. It is the constant (but often unnoticed) fear of things going wrong, of the next shoe to fall, of terrible, unavoidable loss. The ONLY way to destroy the fear samskara for good is with Self-knowledge, which requires dedicated Self-inquiry to bear fruit.
You may or may not have any knowledge of the three gunas that run and govern everything in the Field of Existence. Sattva is the mode of revelation, clarity, peace. Rajas is the mode of passion, of action, of doership. Tamas is the mode of inertia, of dullness, of denial. Fear is primarily, but not solely, tamas. Rajas and tamas are impossible to separate, because they always work together. In fact you could say they are two aspects of one guna – projection and denial. The reason we say fear is primarily tamasic though is that it dulls the mind, causing delusion, loss of memory and loss of discrimination.
Rajas blinds the mind because desire or fear/anxiety extrovert it, pushing it towards or away from objects. Desire is a positive fear and fear is a negative desire. Rajasic types are always worried they will not get what they want or lose what they have. Tamas covers the mind, making it incapable of seeing what is right in front of it. Tamasic types are thus often consumed by fear, too dull to care enough they miss the boat because they don”t take appropriate and timely action to get what they want or respond correctly to what life requires of them. This habitual pattern compounds the tamas, giving rise to feelings of worthlessness and shame, which creates more anxiety/fear, i.e. more tamas. The gunas always build on themselves if they are not understood and managed.
All jivas are born in fear because they are born in ignorance. The ego is a fear-thought born of the belief in separation. Fear and worry are built-in for the jiva because the environment it lives in, including the body, are always changing and the jiva is not in control of the objects, the results of actions or the Field. Life in samsara (the hypnosis of duality) is unpredictable and stressful, so security is thus the primary motivation for most jivas – the futile attempt to shore up protection from the uncertainties of life. There is no security in the apparent reality other than realizing the Self through Self-inquiry, which provides the understanding of the gunas and how to manage them, among much else.
If moksa (freedom from dependence on objects for happiness/security) is the aim and fear is a powerfully binding vasana it may be necessary to sublimate the fear samskara until Self-knowledge removes the ignorance anchoring it in the subtle body. But this kind of renunciation is not denial. It is the understanding that nothing is gained by indulging the fear/worry vasana, so one makes a very conscious, deliberately different choice every time the fear- (or desire-) thought arises, by sublimating the fear/desire/worry with the opposite thought, and of course karma yoga. See the fear-thought for what it is, only apparently real. Fear stands for False Evidence Appearing Real. This is called “taking a stand in awareness AS awareness” and is the “work” of Self-inquiry, even if it involves “faking it till you make it” because you can trust Self-knowledge to remove the ignorance standing in the way if you are doing Self-inquiry properly.
It will take a while, and it will often be hard, but what price freedom? Observing the mind and how the vasanas play out in the light of Self-knowledge is the main step towards rendering the vasanas non-binding. What this entails is to track the mind and see what the trigger was for the disturbance whatever it is in a given situation, what guna was in play and what value underpinned the guna. Ignorance works the same way every time, so it should not be difficult to track. Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. Sometimes though, when it comes to deeply entrenched samskaras like the fear samskara or the love/need samskara, it can take repeated observation, discrimination and determination to render them non-binding, because they are so hidden but all-pervasive. They influence everything we think and do, mostly unconsciously.
Thus samskaras will take time to go away. They will fade more quickly when they are fully understood. Applying the opposite thought works because it objectifies the anxiety/need – IF one can remember to think the opposite thought when in the grip of this fear/desire. Karma yoga works when worry is there; it is perfectly designed to destroy samskaras. However, the nature of rajas (desire) is such that the tamas (denial, blindness/fear) that accompanies it causes one to feel that one does not have “time” to deconstruct the desire/fear on the spot! The doer forgets that it is now an inquirer and that it is supposed to free the mind of the like/dislike through Self-knowledge, not to get the object in the world. It thinks that the results of the action will free the mind, which they will temporarily, leaving the samskara carefully concealed and intact, however. The doer acts to correct the situation instead of turning around and correcting the thinking behind it.
To ameliorate the effect of a samskara it is very effective to dismiss the present thought by taking the line of reasoning it represents to its logical conclusion, thus defusing the power of the samskara in the moment. The key to most samskaras is the word “time.” Time represents the pressure of the samskaras. When it is operating, the thought/word “time” is meant to refer to something real, something substantial. But all it refers to is “I want.” We know what is behind that: “I am insecure, I am afraid, I am incomplete, etc.”
Samskaras are never about what they purport to be about. An unnamed fear lurks behind them all. No matter what you do or don’t do, the fear/desire is there attaching itself to an action. One needs to be sick and tired of the kind of mind this pattern creates, because it causes so much unwanted karma and psychological suffering.
There are three basics types of samskaras: one is like smoke on the horizon which is easily dismissed; the second is like grime on a mirror, which takes a little work but not so hard to remove; and the third type are like the fetus in the womb. These are much harder to remove and will only surface from the depths of the causal body when it’s time for them to do so. Prarabdha karma plays out the way it plays out, and Isvara gives us the karma we need to see what we need to resolve when it is time to heal. The psyche has a drive for wholeness because it knows it is the Self and suffering is not natural. But the effects of ignorance have been there for a long “time” and mostly do not dissolve overnight.
What Does Self-inquiry Entail?
A great deal can be said about this all-important topic, but here is a brief explanation to explain the basics.
Self-inquiry is the application of Self-knowledge to one’s life. For the mind to assimilate Self-knowledge, all stages of inquiry must be completed, methodically and thoroughly, for moksa to obtain. Vedanta pramana is a valid means of knowledge to discriminate satya from mithya, the real (that which is always present and never changes) from the apparently real (that which is not always present and always changing), which is the essence of moksa. It offers a “toolkit,” as it were, which if applied to your life with utmost dedication will result in permanent peace of mind and freedom from the limitations of the doer, the egoic small-self. For this to take place, your lifestyle (work, money, sex/pleasure, relationships, etc.) MUST be in accordance with the scripture, not the other way around. Everything that is not in line with the teachings must be renounced.
The three stages of Self-inquiry are:
1. Sravanna – Listening and Hearing the Scriptures
The first stage of Self-inquiry requires that you start at the beginning with the teachings, sign on to the logic and stick with it. It is taught in a progressive and methodical way to answer all doubts that can arise at each level of understanding. It is very important not to rush seeking instant answers (which is often what spiritual types are after), because that will NOT work. Ignorance is treacherous, tenacious and hardwired. The methodology unfolds in careful stages to address this in James’ books, specifically How to Attain Enlightenment or The Essence of Enlightenment, and in thousands of pages of satsangs on our website as well as videos of James teaching. If you are too attached to your own ideas, beliefs and opinions acquired and developed from your exposure to multiple teachings, Vedanta is probably not for you. It requires that you admit to yourself that what you think you know has not worked thus far, so there must be something you don’t know. If you are chasing a life-changing spiritual experience, Vedanta is definitely not for you.
Very importantly, this stage requires that you make sure you understand the qualifications required for Self-inquiry, check if they are in place, develop the ones that are not, track yourself on them on a moment-to-moment basis. Conduct a fearless moral inventory on your values and lifestyle, and implement necessary changes that you stick to. Your sadhana (Self-inquiry practice) should be the most important part of your day, not incidental to it, if you truly want freedom from existential suffering.
2. Manana – Reasoning, Contemplation
The second stage of Self-inquiry requires thinking about what the scripture is saying, examining the unexamined logic of your own experience and starting to apply the teachings to your life. At this point, you look at your beliefs and opinions in the light of what the scripture says, NOT the other way around. If you have not developed the qualifications for Self-inquiry, do not have faith in it and are not dedicated to it or find yourself making excuses for the way you live because you are in denial about binding vasanas, you will not progress. Even if you do realize the Self, it will not stick. You will not actualize Self-knowledge unless you surrender to the teachings and address every aspect of the jiva’s life.
Even though this stage is about contemplating the scriptures, it overlaps with the last and final stage so you begin applying karma yoga and guna management. Karma yoga, the knowledge that you can act to gain a certain result, but you are not in charge of the results, will eventually destroy the notion of “doership” if properly understood and faithfully adhered to in every thought, word and deed. In the manana stage, it is meant to clear the mind of enough likes and dislikes until it becomes composed enough for sustained Self-inquiry.
Guna management (also called jnana yoga) is understanding the forces/gunas that run the Field of Existence and everything in it (including of course “your” body-mind), how they work and generate vasanas and why the mind modifies to them. It is essential for managing thoughts and feelings that dominate the mind. Jnana yoga is also understanding Isvara, the ordainer of the Field, and the identity between the jiva and Isvara, why they are the same and what is different. Without this understanding it is impossible to negate the jiva/doer and all its fear/desire programs, so you will not progress to the last and final stage of Self-inquiry. Many people do realize the Self at this stage, but that is really where the “work” of Self-inquiry BEGINS. To progress to the final stage requires full and complete faith in and compliance with the scripture – it alone is the boss of your life, not the jiva, and it requires the final stage of karma yoga, nididhyasana.
3. Nididhyasana – Self-Actualization
Self-realization is not Self-actualization. Nididhyasana is the final “stage,” which comes after all the previous stages mentioned so far, and the hardest. It usually takes the longest. The knowledge that you are the Self has obtained, but complete freedom from the jiva program has not. For most people who have realized the Self but not actualized it, this stage in a way is like “requalifying” – re-examining qualifications and strengthening those that are weak. It requires the final negation of the idea of yourself as an individual, a jiva. Karma yoga is a preliminary form of nididhyasana. Up to now, karma yoga went from relinquishing results of action to Isvara and taking given results as prasad, a gift, to the next level, karma jnana sannyas – renunciation of the idea of doership and of desire.
But here in the last stage of Self-inquiry, karma yoga becomes a different kind of mind management – it is the transformation of our remaining binding mental/emotional conditioning into devotion to the Self, along with the final renunciation: renouncing the idea of seeking moksa, because you ARE moksa. As the Self, you have never been bound.
Nididhyasana is managing the mind’s involuntary, habitual thoughts and feeling patterns, which are bedrock duality and often survive Self-realization. These patterns can still hijack the mind without a moment’s notice, denying it access to the Self in the form of Self-knowledge, so you are still bound to the jiva program. There is nothing inherently wrong with involuntary thoughts, but they tend to immediately morph into actions which are liable to create unwanted karma in the form of obscuring thoughts and emotions. Therefore guna/mind management continues. Until this stage is complete, Self-actualization has not taken place and discrimination can be lost, if not permanently, at least temporarily. You are not free, because limiting thoughts/feelings like fear, smallness, need, shame, confusion, low self-esteem, etc. can still strike, destroying peace of mind.
To be fully Self-actualized means (1) that you have fully discriminated the Self (consciousness/awareness) from the objects appearing in you (all objects, meaning all gross objects as well as one’s conditioning, thoughts and feelings – all experience) and do so spontaneously, 24/7, and (2) Self-knowledge has (a) rendered the binding vasanas non-binding and (b) negated your sense of doership, completely. In other words, the jiva program is understood and fully negated. The jiva still exists with its inborn nature and operates in the world, but it is like a burnt rope – it no longer has the power to bind. It is as good as non-existent and rests in the fullness of the Self. The world neither attracts or repels it. There is nothing left to identify with other than your Self.
Therefore once Self-knowledge is permanent, you never think of yourself as a person again, your primary identity is fully established as the Self. And you are totally fine with the apparent person as they are and their role in the world. All desires from here will be not opposed to dharma, they are preferences, no longer binding. Karma yoga is no longer a practice as such, it is just knowledge. It can be said that nididhyasana never ends even when Self-actualization has taken place, because the jiva, although no longer binding, is a constantly changing entity due to the gunas and lives in the Field, which is also always constantly changing because of the gunas. Thus though the mind may no longer condition to the gunas, mind management continues but Self-knowledge works spontaneously and instantly to nullify any effects.
There is no karma for the Self, and no rules for it either. Adharma is no longer possible once Self-knowledge has actualized, because as the Self you know there is nothing to gain in the world and it is all you.
~ Love, Sundari