Sunday, January 18, 2009

How does Zen deal with fear?

So, what does Zen say about being afraid? Fear is a prime reason why human beings try to find something superior to them, something that can help them, get them out of trouble. Various religions have used fear as a way of imposing morality - they define someone who can see everything and can punish people for what it defines as wrong. To some extent, it works very well, however - one place it fails miserably is that every religion has its own definitions of wrong. Same thing that is considered right in one society or community or religion can be the opposite in other society, community or religion.

So, this is what got me going - how come six billion people with a history of thousands of years have not been able to converge on one definition of good and bad?? This question was very puzzling. Having been born and raised in east and live my adult life in west, I have come to appreciate differences very well. There are several issues, for which these two societies take completely opposite views, e.g. vegetarianism, arranged marriage, living with your parents - to name a few. I realized there is no absolute defintion of right or wrong. It is very subjective and depends on conditions.

Anyways, so back to question of fear. Fear usually originates for something in future, never ever for something in present. We are always afraid of something that has not happened yet. Once it happens, we deal with it. We are no more afraid, we just plunge into it and deal with it to the best of our capacity. Most of the things that we are afraid might happen, never even happen. If we can stay in present and not plunge into future so much, we can prevent many fears from arising. Zen enables you to stay in the moment, it gives you the gift of being present, being mindful. Granted it does not happen all the time and mind tends to roam in future and past a lot, still even if you are focused in present for 50% of the time, you have chased 50% of your fears. Zen also enables you to break down your ego or self. Most fears are about some sort of destruction of self - destruction of my wealth, beauty, fame or power. Once you see that the so called self neither exists nor controls any of these things which are impersonal phenomena happening based on their own causes and conditions, you can accept change much more easily. Zen also tells you that there is a simple law of karma - as your action, so are the results you get. There is no other authority in some place out of this world that is passing judgement. Neither does it say that if you are a follower of Zen, misfortunes will not happen to you. It leaves it completely up to you if you will be happy or unhappy. You have nothing to fear if your actions are wholesome. According to Dhammapada:
1. Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts suffering follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.
2. Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with a pure mind a person speaks or acts happiness follows him like his never-departing shadow.


  1. Fear controls the masses.
    Just turn on the TV, its all about fear.
    If we were to live our lives without fear the crooks that are controlling the world wouldn't exist.
    Enlightenment is a danger for the capitalist system, there fore you will not find enlightenment taught in our schools.
    Excellent post!
    Keep up the good work.
    Be loved!

  2. How dose your zen deal with fear?

    Mine says "Hi Fear, hows uncertainty and despair doing?"

  3. Fabulous thought-provoking post. As far as the right and wrong question, I like to think there are simply actions that serve us and those that don't.

    Great point that fear really arises out of the future, out of anticipation. And none of that is real.

    Thanks for this post. really great.

    With Much metta,


    P.S. So glad to know that you too will be doing an extended practice.

  4. Most of the things that we are afraid might happen, never even happen. If we can stay in present and not plunge into future so much, we can prevent many fears from arising. Well said. And we should also be friends with our fear. Fear is normal as long as we can be friends with it, we can cope it, we can deal with it - like other emotions, it's a matter of non-attachment and attachment. Through our regular practice we can realize the true meaning of fear: fear is our friend, it is as real as we want it to be. Is it real? :)

    Thank you very much for your marvellous post!

  5. Thank you all for your comments.

    Buddha - Now a days, I really wonder why they do not talk about enlightenment or contentment at school. There is so much talk about competing and being "successful" but very less about how to find peace of mind.

    Nice one Jordan about "your" fear.

    Molly - right on the money about actions that serve us or don't.

    Uku - that is a very good point - about being friends with fear. I did not think about fear in those terms but after reading your comment, it makes a lot of sense.

  6. Nice post , Taru !!it's true that most of the religions except Buddhism create the fear of God not only to impose restrictions in life but also to secure the core word of their religion too .

  7. Yes Chintan, that is another dimension of fear of God - it allows religion to define certain ways by which you can escape the "punishment", if you followed their ways. And it is amazing how same thing that can be done to avoid punishment in one religion, can be used to get punished in another religion.

    BTW Chintan, I was amazed to see your blog! Very nice. This is the first buddhist blog I saw in Hindi! Keep up the good work!!

  8. i came up with a little thought the other day, and this is all knew to me and have never studied Zen or buddhism

    it goes: ' a problem is not a problem untilthe unkown is made known and then and only then, we should dea, the rest is about options and choice'