Behind every emotion there is a lesson to learn. Anger, as described in our last blog, wants to give us an indication that something needs to be changed. In today’s blog, we will look at another basic emotion - Fear!
What is fear and why does it exist? „Fear arises when a living entity misidentifies himself as the material body because of absorption in the external, illusory energy of the Lord. When the living entity thus turns away from the Supreme Lord, he also forgets his own constitutional position as a servant of the Lord. This bewildering, fearful condition is effected by the potency for illusion, called māyā.“ (1)
As spiritual souls we do not have to be afraid of anything but due to our identification with the body, anxieties manifest. We become afraid to be hurt, to be attacked by someone else. We fear to lose something or someone who is dear to us and in this way we are always worried.
It is said that the spiritual world, Vaikuntha, is a place without fear. If the environment we live in is based on eternity, knowledge and bliss there is no reason to be afraid of anything, but the material world, on the other hand, is temporary, a place full of ignorance and miseries. As the Bhagavatam says: padaṁ padaṁ yad vipadām: "There is danger at every step.“ (2) Naturally fear is a very prominent emotion for the conditioned souls in this world.
How does one become fearless? We just need to remember our true identity and again accept the shelter of the Lord. Just like a little child, a small boy, when he's near his father, he knows he has nothing to worry about. His father will protect him. Similarly, one who has taken shelter of the Lord will feel „I am protected!“. Prabhupāda further explained: „Fearless because devotee means one who has taken shelter of Kṛṣṇa. He is devotee. He's fearless. And one who has not taken shelter of Kṛṣṇa, how he can be fearless? Suppose there is epidemic disease. If you have got vaccination, then you can remain fearless. Otherwise, the epidemic will contaminate and you'll have to suffer. So Kṛṣṇa is the vaccination to remain fearless.“ (3)
But if fear is born out of illusion, how can it be useful and teach us something? We need to discriminate between two kinds of fears. We might speak of helpful fear and unnecessary fear. Unnecessary fear is disconnected to the present moment, it’s just some anxiety about the future and is caused by illusion. That kind of fear is unhealthy and unnecessary.
Helpful fear is a very instinctive emotion that wants to tell us that something important needs to be known. Something that is not being faced. Fear is the body’s way of saying „Wake up!“ On the highest level of understanding this would mean: „wake up, you are not the body, you are a spiritual soul and therefore there is nothing to worry about!“
How fear gives us an indication that we need to focus more, is another way to understand the same „wake up call“. For many speaking in public, for example, seems to be even worse than death. Being nervous or being afraid to do something we have never done before is actually not bad, it’s just the emotion that wants to tell us: „Hey, wake up, now you really need to be fully present, this will require all your awareness!“
And again, as fear can be a sign of illusion, it can also be a sign of intelligence in the sense of making us aware of danger. Once Srila Prabhupada commented that there is just one problem with his Western disciples, that they are not sufficiently afraid of maya!
We complete this blog with a statement by H.H. Jayapataka Maharaja, that points out how a devotee’s fear of maya can be a supportive element for one’s surrender: „One should not confuse the fear experienced by a devotee with that of a materialist. The devotee's fear of māyā helps him to cling to Kṛṣṇa's lotus feet, and Kṛṣṇa, in turn, bestows fearlessness upon His devotee. Therefore the devotee's fear of māyā and utter dependance upon guru and Kṛṣṇa gives transcendental ecstasy to the devotee. Fully in transcendental knowledge the devotee is free of the fear of death.“ (4)
This blog was inspired by the Chapter `The Wisdom of Feelings` from the Book `The Fifteen Commitments of Conscious Leadership` - https://conscious.is/15-commitments
1 - Srimad Bhagavatam 11.2.37
2 - Srimad Bhagavatam 10.14.58
3 - Srila Prabhupada Morning Walk, June 13, 1974, Paris
4 - Vaisnava ke - Commentary by Jayapataka Swami