Have you experienced fear at any stage in your life? Do you think fear can make one do certain things and prevent from doing other things? Do you believe that fear is a required ingredient in the social structure of this world? If your answer is Yes, you are a normal person. For the rest, we will come back to it later in this article.
Fear can cause stress, anxiety, restlessness, loss of sleep, loss of health, and even death. What it actually is and why is it so powerful? How to deal with it and how to eventually overcome it?
First, let it be clear that to have fear is not a matter of shame. What, however, is a matter of shame is to not fear things that one should be afraid of.
Fear moves the world
Fears are of different types. Some fears are legitimate and most others are products of one’s own weakness. Likewise, some fears are voluntary while others are forced. Fear in itself is not bad. For example, fear out of respect is praiseworthy. Fear out of selfishness is uncalled for.
A child may be afraid of doing wrong out of fear of the parents. This is wanted. A citizen may be paying government taxes on time due to fear of income tax department, a driver may not drive too fast to avoid police case, a patient may not eat certain food items due to fear of worsening his health, and a politician may work hard in order to not lose the next election. These are compulsory yet healthy fears.
A circus tiger obeys the orders of his ring master due to fear of being chastised, a thief hides himself due to fear or getting caught, a ruffian behaves well in the prison house out of fear of longer term, or a terrorist uses mask while giving a video threat due to fear of being identified. Similarly, a state government keeps police force due to fear of lawlessness. Nations make their own immigration rules due to fear of other nationals entering theirs unchecked. The massive weapon build up in the world today points at the fear of war. One may argue that it is caution and not fear, but think deeper and you will realize that caution is nothing but healthy fear. These also are forced fears but they fall under a different category. In all these examples the party involved is afraid of losing something of its own.
Some fears are voluntary and are due to sensitivity towards others. They are not forced in the way we discussed above. For example, a father may not let his child know that he is leaving home for work because he may be afraid that the child may start crying. A pregnant mother may not eat too spicy food fearing it could harm the baby. A teacher may not smoke in front of his students for fear of setting a wrong example. A son may not tell his ailing father about his financial difficulties due to fear of causing him increased tension. These are some examples of voluntary fear when the person involved is afraid of causing difficulties to others. These fears are better and less selfish.
Hold on! Did you wonder why this type of fear is considered less selfish; in other words, selfish, although it looks like personal sacrifice? Read on.
All types of fear mentioned above, the voluntary ones and the forced ones, for one’s own gain or for others’ benefit, are essentially connected with one’s own self, albeit extended. The second type is less selfish as it is not gross and damaging. However, it is selfish in the sense that the fear is related one’s own dear and loved ones, hence indirectly connected to one’s own satisfaction. A father is satisfied to see his child not cry, a son is relieved to see his ailing father out of anxiety, a mother is ensuring that her baby remains healthy, and so on.
One thing must be pointed out here. Mother’s affection and sacrifice for her child is considered almost selfless. Still, a mother is more affectionate towards her own child, more than others’, because she has bodily connection with her own child. This is why it is not cent percent pure and has a tinge of selfishness. Or else it is the finest quality of love available in this world. As a side point, there exists another world beyond the material sky where all relations are full of pure, unalloyed love, without any tinge of self interest. That love is not possible in the material realm.
The examples mentioned above show how the world moves by different types of fear and how it is manifested in various ways. In fact, according to the Vedas, the innumerable planets in the universe remain within their orbits and the oceans restrict their waters within a certain limit due to fear of God. Here is just one such statement spoken by the Lord Himself:
mad-bhayad vati vato ’yam suryas tapati mad-bhayat
varsatindro dahaty agnir mṛtyus charati mad-bhayat
TRANSLATION: It is because of My supremacy that the wind blows, out of fear of Me; the sun shines out of fear of Me, and the lord of the clouds, Indra, sends forth showers out of fear of Me. Fire burns out of fear of Me, and death goes about taking its toll out of fear of Me. (S.B. 3.25.42)
To be in the material world and not fear anything is a myth. A person may be fearless in terms of physical harm, financial loss or tarnished reputation, or one could claim to be fearless of anything that he can think of, but still, so far one does not transcend material consciousness, he or she is bound to be afraid of some aspects of life, at some stage of the journey.
Here is why.
Root cause of Fear:
While there are innumerable factors that cause varieties of fear among varieties of individuals and under varieties of circumstances, there is a fundamental principle identified as the root cause of all fears.
All living beings in this world have accepted false identity. Not only that, under the spell of Maya, the eternal potency of the Supreme Lord, they keep changing that identity. Some think they are Indians, Americans, Europeans, black, white, rich, poor, etc. Some think they are cats, dogs, tigers, insects, reptiles, microbes, and whatever else. There are other conscious beings in the universe who think they are demigods, demons, ghosts, angels, mountains, rivers, and so on. But such bodily identification changes either in the same life or in the next. An American becomes Indian, rich becomes poor, a friend becomes enemy and a businessman becomes street beggar. Or, a human becomes dog, a cat becomes mouse, and a demigod becomes demon in the next life. It all happens according to the law of karma.
When we take shelter of falsehood, hide the truth, when we become dishonest, desire undesirable things, or knowingly support a wrong cause, we become fearful. If a thief pretends to be a policeman, he is bound to be fearful of real police. An impostor claiming to be the authority is bound to be afraid of real authorities. Similarly, all of us, being the parts and parcels of the Supreme Lord, are His eternal servitors, but are pretending to be gods in some ways, and that is the root cause of all fears.
Since we do not realize our permanent identity, since we are not the controller of the law of karma, and since we are unaware of the future, we, at some stage in our life, become fearful of the unknown situation that may be lurking at us.
How to overcome Fear:
As explained above, fear comes from weakness, from illusion, from ignorance, from material desires, and on top of all, from false self identification. In other words the root cause is our identification with what we are not; neither this body nor the absolute controller of it.
Conversely, fearlessness comes from strength, from reality, from truthfulness, and on top of all, from the knowledge of the self and the source of it.
People say might is right, but, to put it more correctly, it is the other way around; right is might. History teaches us how extremely powerful monarchs and emperors have fallen when they took shelter of falsehood. And history also tells us of those apparently insignificant individuals who rose to the highest position by the strength of truthfulness.
The most powerful force that can set one completely free from all fears is the knowledge of the self, the knowledge of the absolute Truth, the Supreme Lord, and the knowledge of our eternal relationship with Him. How can one be afraid of anything if the most powerful person is his or her closest friend? It is like if you have the president of the country as your friend you have no reason to be scared of ordinary people.
One very important question is, if the world moves by fear, if fear is natural, and if fear is indispensable, why do we want to be fearless? What motivates us to be so?
The secret is this: the most powerful person in the entire existence, who is known by different names, like the almighty, God, Allah, or Bhagavan is our friend. God Himself has declared this in Bhagavad Gita (5.29)- suhridam sarva bhutanam – that He is the ultimate friend and benefactor of all. He also says mattah parataram nanyat kinchid asti dhananjaya (B.G. 7.7)– that there is no Truth superior to Him. It is the ignorance of this knowledge allows fear to haunt us. Dispelling it sets us free from it.
The almighty Personality of Godhead has three potencies—internal, external and marginal. The conditioned souls, who are condemned due to their forgetfulness of the Lord, are put under the control of the external potency when she creates the material world. The three modes of material nature keep the living entity in a constant state of fear (bhayam dvitiyabhiniveshatah). The conditioned soul is always fearful due to being controlled by the external potency; therefore the conditioned soul should always pray to the almighty Lord to conquer the external potency (maya) so that she will no longer manifest her powers, which bind all living entities, moving and inert. (Cc Madhaya 15.180 purport)
The reason we want to be fearless is, originally we are parts and parcels of the supreme person, God, who is all-powerful and omniscient. Fearlessness is our fundamental right, but forgetting our relationship with God we are forced to come under the influence of fear.
There is a class of unfortunate people who want to be fearless and claim to be so without acknowledging God, not to speak of their relationship with Him. They are like the frogs who attract snake, their death, by making noise in the dark. Such people’s bragging ends with their death. God, who is fear personified for atheists, says in Bhagavad Gita (10.34)- mrtyuh sarva-haras chaham– “I am all-devouring death”.
There also are lunatics who, apparently not afraid of anyone, roam around freely. They speak anything and do anything. Only until they kill themselves in madness or government authorities take them to asylum.
But those who are fully engaged in pure loving devotional service of the Supreme Personality of Godhead are truly fearless. They dread nothing of this world. Their strength is derived from the almighty and all merciful Lord, who, in His own words- bhaktya mam abhijanati– can only be known by those engaged in bhakti yoga. It is this process that enables one to realize his true identity as the eternal servitor of the Lord and it is only then that a person rises above all types of fears experienced here. To such devotees, the Lord, whose lotus feet are known as abhaya charanarvinda, grants abhayam, or fearlessness.