UpBeat Spiritual Living(tm): Buddhism On Fear
©Kebba Buckley Button 2009. World Rights Reserved.
In a recent piece (see my blog “UpBeat Living”), I reviewed the general experience of fear. I included some initial strategies for fighting fear, including psychological, behavioral, and biochemical tools.
After writing that column, I became curious as to how Eastern philosophies, such as Buddhism, view fear. I wondered what tools a Buddhist would use to respond to the experience of fear. So I turned to my colleague, Rev. Marvin Brown, who has the Peace House omnidenominational church of spirituality in Phoenix, Arizona (www.peacehouseaz.org). Rev. Brown teaches Buddhism and Buddhist meditation technique (www.mindfulnesspractice.com), plus other spiritual skills for individuals seeking inner peace and the realization of a peaceful world. Following are some of my questions to Rev. Brown, and his answers.
Rev. KBB: So how, generally, does Buddhism view fear?
Rev. MB: Fear is always with us. It’s our relationship with fear that is key. We need to observe the fear and acknowledge it. Thich Nhat Hanh says you should make fear your darling, and cradle it like a tiny child who is crying. We should ask ourselves, “What seeds caused the fear to arise?” Once you have that understanding, there’s no need to fear. Often, another fear will rise to take the place of the first.
Rev. KBB: What about specific fear, like fear of violence in a dangerous neighborhood?
Rev. MB: The trick is not to get encumbered by it or dominated by it, or choose your actions as a result of it. Say, “I don’t choose to act that way.” Separate your actions from the cause. Take proper action to keep yourself safe.
Rev. KBB: I’ve heard this separation called “detachment”. Is that correct?
Rev. MB: Yes, detachment, but not compartmentalizing. You have the ability to choose where your attention goes.
Rev. KBB: How can we apply these principles to fear of lack? If a person loses his/her job and is fearful about being unable to support the family, what does Buddhism say?
Rev. MB: Two things. First, take appropriate action instead of allowing overwhelm. Second, use the practice of non-grasping. The Buddha said the cause of all suffering is grasping. Our happiness is not connected to the condition. It is said, “treat and move your feet”. When you have fear, and you know it is fear you are experiencing, you can still act compassionately.
Rev. KBB: Isn’t there a base precept in Buddhism that suffering is always with us?
Rev. MB: Yes, that’s the first of the Four Noble Truths. They are: There is always suffering, there is a cause for suffering, there is an end to suffering, and there is a path to the end of suffering. I really recommend mindfulness practice, to teach the skill and habit of responding to fear in a non-attached way. With more practice comes more inner peace, more right alignment. In his book, The Power of Prayer, Thich Nhat Hanh offers this:
“May all beings have peace.
May all beings be free from fear.
May all beings have enough to eat.”
Rev. KBB: Amen to that. Great thanks, and peace to you.