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The Relentless Fear Samskara
Sam: Dear Sundari, thank you for your very helpful and supportive email.
Yes, I think the hardest thing is to forgive this jiva for its past actions based on fear and desire.
I am finding that it is easier to see through and let go of desires than fears.
Perhaps this is just a temperamental thing.
It is easy at this point to see a desire arise and follow it through mentally – seeing the futility of following it.
So many desires followed in the past and never a satisfactory result.
The fears seem to have more weight: this jiva will die, this jiva will get sick, this jiva doesn’t have direct control of the results of action, this jiva has performed adharmic actions in the past – etc. – etc.
It seems to me that for many people the fear of death, defeat, loneliness – etc. – is what spurs desire – it seems to be true, at least in my case.
These dark feelings are hard to bear but there is only one way to go.
I am doing my best to hand them to Isvara and to assert my identity as the Self – I do this first thing in the day and throughout the day.
It has been good to come away for a month.
We have not had what you would call a holiday for many years – I go away but only to work.
Currently I’m reading Mandukya Upanishad, Bhagavad Gita and Swami Chinmayananda’s book on meditation.
Thank you for your wonderful support and the Song of the Self.
~ With love, Sam
Sundari: This is the “work” of Self-inquiry. I am not sure if I have given you the teaching on this topic before, but in case I have not, this might help you, as we all go through what you are experiencing. I have posted this satsang many times, but it won’t hurt to read it again if you have read it. It might also help to remind you that everyone faces the same challenges in overcoming the binding effect of the predictable thoughts/feelings rajas and tamas give rise to.
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, is always changing and the jiva is not in control of the objects, the results of actions or the Field. We know for sure “we” as a jiva will die. Life is risky, unpredictable, defined and fuelled by the need for security, of which there is none of the lasting kind in Maya, sad to say. We learn to be distrusting pretty quickly, as gullibility and credulity are seldom rewarded to our benefit. Most people, despite success or failure, have erected fortresses of bloody-battle disappointment, within and without by the time they reach early adulthood, if not before, to protect and defend what cannot be protected. The wolf at the door (ignorance) is already inside, devouring hope in great big gulps. Thus most people are afflicted with the fear/need samskara, so have hidden agendas to get, keep or avoid what they want or don’t want from others.
There is no solution in Maya, other than Self-inquiry with a valid means of knowledge for the Self, Vedanta, which provides the understanding of the gunas and how to manage them. When tamasic fear or rajasic desire-thoughts dominate the mind, they cause much distress and suffering. Tamasic thoughts give rise to “motivated blindness,” the unique ability all jivas have which inhibits their ability to perceive inconvenient data, much like confirmation bias gives rise to the cult of denialism.
The more user-friendly and kinder term for the fear samskara is “free-floating anxiety,” which, if Self-knowledge is not firm, causes a non-specific, unnamed, existential fear, or dread. It is the fear that causes knots in the solar plexus. It is sometimes called the fear of “being and becoming.” It is always present, yet hidden in the causal body and it is looking for objects to attach to. It is related to “others”; it is the ultimate experience of duality or “otherness.”
Not everyone experiences it directly and acutely but the skyrocketing number of people on pills or experiencing anxiety attacks is a testament to how powerful and prevalent it is. It’s the perfect combination of too much rajas and along with it too much tamas. It is the hangman’s noose that beckons so many to end it all because its name is despair. In most samsaris it 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 samskara, etched in faces inured to disillusion. Self-realization is no guarantee that it has been rooted out and often does not slay the need/fear dragon for good. For most people, it disappears for a bit, then reappears. There is no quick easy fix. The only solution is to apply Self-knowledge when it arises and see it for what it is, a paper dragon. For most people, fear is so ever-present that it goes unnoticed because it is considered “normal,” even smart. Cynicism and lack of trust are the mark of a “worldly person.”
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.
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 samskara. 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.
As the serious inquirer you are, the final stage of Self-inquiry, nididhyasana, is the toughest part. It’s where “the rubber meets the road,” as Ramji is fond of saying, no place to hide anymore. Swami Paramarthananda calls nididhyasana “requalifying.” There is no easy way to resolve what is hidden in the unconscious – and no way to stop it from emerging when the time is right. Nobody said that the road to freedom is easy for the ego. It is, more often than not, brutal. Self-knowledge is not an instant panacea. While it undoubtedly works to end suffering, the jiva must walk the talk and apply the knowledge to every aspect of its life, no fine print. A good thing is that Isvara has built in a drive for wholeness in the psyche because suffering is unnatural for the Self.
You never know when, during the manana phase, firm Self-knowledge will take place, and you never know how long nididhyasana will take. In fact, if Self-knowledge makes you a perfect spontaneous karma yogi, it doesn’t matter, because time doesn’t exist for you. So, if you don’t experience perfect jiva satisfaction when Self-knowledge is unshakable, you need to remain humble and keep up the practices that qualified you for understanding, as they will eventually remove the obstacles to limitless bliss. You are doing just great, don’t lose hope.
The mind is an incredibly conservative and ignorance is tenaciously resistant to removal! Jivas are a flawed bunch and there’s not much can be done about it. We are all a mixed bag on that level. Nobody is doing anything, so there is no blame, either. Our jiva program plays out the way it does, and we are either tied to it or not. At the same time, being free of it does not mean we stop thinking and feeling; all that changes is the import we give to our thoughts and feelings, and how they impact us. To be truly free I must be free to be upset, disappointed, angry, etc. as well as happy and peaceful. But if negative feelings loom large and take up residence in the real estate of my mind for longer than it takes to recognize that they are there, I am clearly not that free. Freedom means I see my thoughts and feelings as they arise and the knowledge kicks in instantly to dissolve them.
Keep up the good work.
~ Much love, Sundari