The Art Of Positive Thinking: Freedom From Fear

Published: 18.01.2010
Updated: 02.07.2015

"I salute the great preceptors who, on their part, have bestowed upon all total freedom from fear."

The above salutation occurs in a paean to Indra in the Namaskar Sutra. The preceptors are revered because they offer protection to mankind by investing living beings with fearlessness. To be subject to fear or subject others to fear is a material process; both impede spiritual development.

We talk about religion, about spirituality, but we never expe­rience the essence of cither religion or spirituality. No man who is fearful can ever be spiritual. Fear and materialism are synonymous terms. He who calls himself a spiritualist and is yet fearful is a spiritualist only in name, externally as it were; in actual fact, internally, he is a materialist. On the other hand, the man who is fearless, who is not afraid of anything, may call himself a materialist, and yet he is a spiritualist in the true sense of the word.

Fear is inevitably linked with body-perception which has two aspects—perception of body and perception of something beyond the physical organism. He who perceives the body alone, creates fear; mere perception of body is the root of all fear. The man whose vision docs not go beyond the body, will never know true fearlessness.

All unconsciousness proceeds from the body, and unawareness of this fact is the root cause of fear. Fear can only exist in a state of unawareness. In a state of full consciousness fear cannot exist.

From the psychological point of view, emotional conduct and behaviour arise from the hypothalamus—a part of the brain which makes up the floor and part of the lateral walls of the third ventricle. There are such centres in our body from where different kinds of inclinations flow. Passions flow from the body. All the emotions have their origin in the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is the centre of fear.

The doctrine of Karma postulates unconsciousness. It is ignorance which gives rise to fear. Among the various states of unconsciousness, one is fear. It is because of fear that man cannot perceive the reality. Due to non-perception of the truth, he unwit­tingly passes into a state of fear. It seems to him that the body is everything, and if the body dissolves, everything else would come to an end. The beginning, the middle, and the end of his perception is the physical organism. Apart from that of the body, he does not recognize any other perception. Such deep attachment to the body is bound to give rise to great fear, especially of losing the body.

In today's society, particularly among the intelligentsia, a campaign is going on with the catchy slogan, "End poverty!" The slogan undoubtedly is very alluring. But if we examine it closely, we shall find that this campaign is likely to further complicate the problem of poverty; it is certainly not going to end it. There is the problem of providing food to the hungry; and providing food to the hungry is good. But the "End poverty" campaign is not going to accomplish it. It often happens that man is not able to grasp the whole; he gets involved in a mere part. But partial understanding is no understanding. It is in the understanding of the whole that a part reveals its true significance.

A case was in progress in a court of law. The thief s counsel argued thus before the judge: "Sir," said he, "the hand has committed the theft. Why punish the whole body for this crime? Punishment should be awarded to the real culprit, the hand, which has committed the deed, and not the whole body." The judge appreciated the advocate's plea and gave his verdict accordingly. "The plea of the counsel for the defence is accepted. The hand which has committed the theft is hereby sentenced to 10 years' rigorous imprisonment."

The thief immediately advanced and spoke thus: "I joyfully accept the verdict of the hon'ble judge. My left hand committed the theft. It must be punished." Saying so, he quietly severed his left hand (which was an artificial limb made of wood) and placed it on the judge's desk, and walked away. Everybody including the judge was stunned.

When we are preoccupied with the part, we are liable to ignore the whole, and everything gets topsy-turvy. The hand has commit­ted the theft, we say, and punishment must be awarded to the hand. It sounds so plausible, but negates the larger truth and therefore serves only to complicate the issue.

Of similar nature is the slogan "End poverty!" Unless con­sciousness is awakened, how will poverty end? If the tremendous amount of effort hitherto spent on the campaign has not resolved the issue, it is because in our preoccupation with the part, we have neglected the whole. This is not the way to end hunger or poverty.

Consciousness is one and indivisible. All that happens, happens because of consciousness. A part of consciousness is busy creating the problem of poverty, and another part is preoccupied with its resolution. Thus consciousness is falsely divided. If we try to resolve the issue without reference to the whole, all our effort is wasted. The problem continues as before. Therefore the greatest problem facing mankind is the awakening of consciousness so that it is no longer divided but remains one and indivisible. The movement for the awakening of inner consciousness is gradual and slow, without any fuss, whereas the campaigns for ending poverty and providing food to the hungry are conducted with ostentatious fanfare and slogan-mongering, which ultimately resolve nothing.

Some people, believing in changing the system for resolving the problem of food, have actually introduced a new pattern. With the introduction of the socialistic or communistic pattern, it seems at first that the issue has been resolved but when we inquire into the matter more deeply, we find that the problem of food has been further complicated, that man has lost his humanity and freedom and has instead become a mere cog in a gigantic set-up. His consciousness has grown mechanical; his emotional responses stand dulled.

Emotional responses of a man who drinks become slackened, his whole body staggers and his sensory centres are rendered inactive. His capacity for action lapses. As long as the intoxication of liquor lasts, his capacity for action is either wholly stilled, or partially damped. All solutions that adversely affect the vigour of consciousness, however plausible and tempting, ultimately prove futile. They only serve to create suspicions all round and the whole atmosphere becomes charged with fear.

Fear is a great motivating force. In psychological terms, escape is a tendency whose mainspring is fear. Man fears and tries to escape from his fears. Escape and fear are inseparably linked. In a state of fear, one wants to run away, is reluctant to face facts. Sometimes in sleep a man has a frightening dream and he gets up in a state of fear and starts running.

I remember an incident of my childhood. I was a small boy when I became a monk. One evening I sat against a wall dozing. All of a sudden a senior monk came and woke me up. I started in fear and instantly escaped into the courtyard. I was not conscious at the time; I fled in a state of sleep.

Even during sleep man is assailed by fear and he wants to escape. No one wants to continue in a state of fear; everyone wants to escape from it. This is but natural. Often we hear of a son or a brother or a wife or a husband running away from home. Fear is the main reason for such escapes. It may be the fear of losing honour, or wealth, or the fear of disappointment in love.

To escape is a natural tendency. When a man sees a dog, he runs away from it, and likewise a dog flees from man. Both run in fear. The man is afraid of the dog and the dog is afraid of the man. Each one is afraid of the other. The dog bites because it fears man, and the man flees because he is afraid of the dog.

Fear inspires escape. In a state of fear, certain reactions take place. Resistance to fear calls for greater energy. As soon as the emotion of fear is aroused, the adrenal gland becomes very active; more energy must be provided. Such energy would not be forthcom­ing without the additional flow of adrenal secretion. As fear grows, the secretion of adrenal also grows providing additional energy to escape or to resist. It is a fact that a man in a state of fear is charged with greater power than otherwise. Sometimes in a state of deep fear unusual strength is awakened in the organism.

There was a man sitting at dusk in the growing darkness. Presently he fell asleep. In sleep he had a frightening dream, and started screaming in a fit of fear, "Look! I see a ghost in that corner! In this corner too! There is a spectre wherever I look and all these are advancing towards me!" People around him said, 'There are no ghosts. Please be quiet!" But the man was in a daze; he saw and heard nothing and continued with his act. They tried to raise his hand, but such strength he had at the time that even ten men failed to lift it.

Wherefrom this sudden acquisition of power? There was no ghost, no spectre, nothing. Only the man's adrenal gland was greatly stimulated and secreted more than usual, filling his body with such strength that even ten men could not control him. When someone has an attack of hysteria and falls into a swoon, his body is charged with extra energy and people think it to be the work of some invisible spirit. "Some demon must have possessed him, or he could never display such strength," they say. As a matter of fact, however, there is no ghost or ghoul; only increased adrenal secre­tion, creating a superhuman effect. The adrenal is the ghost, the spectre, the phantom great. As long as it is under control, all goes smoothly; the moment, however, it gets out of control, it begins to secrete heavily and then becomes a monster indeed. The additional secretions which in the beginning fill the organism with extraordi­nary energy are also responsible for extreme exhaustion and wea­riness after the fit is over. When the adrenal is active, one feels in oneself an upsurge of energy, when it is inactive, one grows very lax and spiritless.

There are four main causes of fear:

Ignorance of the laws of nature;
Ignorance of the laws of physiology;
Ignorance of the functioning of the mind;
Ignorance of the nature of consciousness.

The man who acquaints himself with the laws of nature, and those governing the body, the mind and consciousness, is freed from fear. On the other hand, a person who lives in ignorance of these laws, is afflicted with fear. He is frightened of everything. A child fears many things which an adult does not, because the latter has come to know many laws. The more one knows, the less one fears.

The practice of meditation is a good way of knowing these laws. Through preksha meditation, we come to know the laws governing the body, the mind and consciousness.

In this context, the achievements of modern scientists are highly significant. Through their research, many complex laws of the body and the mind have been adequately explained. The expositions found in ancient texts are not so full and detailed. Thanks to modern scientists, our concept of every part of the body today is clear and elaborate as never before.

I look at materialism and spiritualism from a different angle, the traditional view of these being highly inadequate and unjust. One is often asked whether one believes in the existence of the soul or God. I am not interested in asking or answering such questions. I instead ask if you recognize the body. Do you know your own body or not? Leave alone God or the soul! Attend to your body first. Know it fully. If you do not know the body, how will you ever come to know the soul? If you remain unacquainted with the body, how will you ever find God? We have certain well-established notions. We use words mechanically and thus get ourselves confused, besides confusing others. I wish to ask if you have any means of knowing the soul. Do you hope to get acquainted with the soul or with God with the help of the senses? Where are the means? We seem to be living in a fool's paradise. Man's condition is really very pitiable - with feeble means he wants to fly high. First of all we must procure suitable means. As it is, our feet are not strong enough to tread the ground and we want to conquer the Himalayas. Our senses through which we gather knowledge are too weak for the task. Whatever we know about God or the soul is either based on ancient books, or is the result of mutual discussion, of argumentation. There are only two means at our disposal—scriptures or rationalisation. Without enquiring deep into the meaning of ancient texts, how can we say what we read is the truth? There is no way to measure truth. Secondly, the ancient authors are not unanimous. One says there is God, the other says there is none. There is no accord; no unanimity. How can we say that a particular book contains the truth while the other does not? Is there a dependable criterion? Reason is man's only measuring rod. And what is the basis of reason? Knowledge accumulates through sensory experience and from that the brain generalises. Generalisation and sensory perception provide the foundation for conjecture and argument. So weak is the foundation that one argument cuts another. Often a man finds himself lost in a process of self-contradiction. The mind presents one argument and instantly supplants it with another. All our knowledge is based on authority. Unless based on direct experience, all action flowing from some belief or tradition will be unreliable - like a house built on sand, without much substance.

Reason furnishes no reliable basis. Preksha, direct perception, is the only strong foundation. Preksha is the way of direct experience which is not vitiated by any argument. Preksha means, "know and see for yourself." Here there is no belief involved, no verbalisation, no choice—only perceiving and knowing. Whatever is known and seen is valid, the rest is unknown and dark. One knows and sees what is, the real. Acharya Bhikshu said, "If doubt arises in the mind, resolve it at once." Consult others and try to understand what they say. If what is said is logical, accept it; if not, forgo it, saying, "It is beyond me right now. I can't perceive the truth of it." After all no one man holds the monopoly of truth. You can't say, "Whatever I think is right." Such an assumption can never be valid, so abandon it. No stubbornness! Don't be too cocksure. At the most one can say, "I am not able to see what you mean. May be you are right, my understanding is at fault. But I cannot accept it until I see the truth of it." This is the straight and sole path to arrive at truth.

Let us tread the right path. The right path is to know the body, to learn the laws governing it, to perceive how ignorance prevails. Ignorance has two factors—a subtle body (in the terminology of the Karma doctrine) and a gross body with glands and glandular systems (in the terminology of science). In the subtle body are accumulated a multitude of impressions, elements of physical ignorance in such abundance that when these get activated, they give rise to a diversity of emotional situations. Now it is anger, now pride, or lust, or hatred, or envy or attachment, or it may be like, dislike, or fear - all these impulses and emotions are different forms of ignorance. And these emotional behaviours are continually coming into being. That is what the doctrine of Karma lays down.

The other view—that of physiology—traces the origin of emotions and impulses, of fear, anger, bellicosity, etc. to reactions caused in the body by outer stimuli.

We have to understand the gross body, also the subtle body. Without knowing both these bodies, the talk of knowing the soul appears to be meaningless. I am not saying that you should not believe in God or the soul. I only suggest that you need not confine yourself to merely believing - you need not get stuck up there but may forge ahead into the sphere of perceiving. In childhood one accepts what is given. But to be stuck up in childish mentality, never to outgrow it, cannot be right. If one remains a child for ever, never grows up to be an adult or a mature person, it would look odd. The child takes his mother's word for granted; he obeys his father and brother, and other elders of the family. But when he becomes mature, he no longer accepts things at second-hand, but wants to gain direct knowledge of them. Mere belief is supplanted by direct experience.

That should be the way in the sphere of religion and philosophy. At present, however, it is not so. Even in this field, people have taken to believing rather than knowing for themselves. And this passive acceptance lasts all through one's life. There is never any true knowing, which is on the face of it highly ridiculous. A man must progress from a state of believing to that of knowing.

The practice of preksha is a process of knowing, not merely believing. First of all one comes to know the laws governing the body; later laws governing the subtle body. A spiritual practitioner must be well-acquainted with the anatomy of the body; also he must study the doctrine of Karma and know the structure of the subtle body and the factors influencing it. When we come to know the laws governing the gross and the subtle bodies, when we understand the doctrine of Karma, we shall find ourselves entering into the realm of true seeking. Questions will then arise in the mind- Is there a soul? Is there something beyond the body? Does God exist? This basic enquiry will lead to still deeper secrets. The door to true knowledge is not opened till then. Merely to accept is to shut the door. Acceptance is easy; I tell you something and you accept it. But what do you really get? There is no effect whatsoever. To know, one has to work hard, sometimes for thousands of years. The path of acceptance is an easy path, that of knowing a very arduous one. To know, to find out, one has to put in a great deal of effort. Whereas mere acceptance demands no effort. You say something and I accept it. I don't have to do a thing. Nevertheless, those who merely accept the truth at second-hand, are stuck up in belief. It is only those pioneers who, laying aside all belief, have sought to know things for themselves that have proved to be the true benefactors of mankind. Here a difficulty arises. Those who have realised themselves find a great many believers. One man becomes enlightened; a million follow him, often blindly. The centre is a mere dot, but the periphery is large. All the problems arise on the periphery, not at the centre. If all became knowers, if all realized themselves, there would be no difficulty.

Lord Mahavir said, "He who is not a knower and a seer, faces obstructions time and again. He who does not know and see for himself is ever beset with obstacles. He who does not know from his own experience, does not see with his own eyes, is interrupted at every step." Opportunities offer themselves for knowing and seeing, but a man deliberately shuts his eyes to them. He deprives himself of vision and is consequently surrounded by impediments. Our effort is aimed at knowing and seeing - attainment of ultimate knowledge or vision is our goal. For this, one has to experience for oneself the supraphysical state.

The one great aim of spiritual endeavour is the experiencing of the supraphysical state. One has to go beyond mere body-perception. Two things are connected with body perception—life and death. Both are inseparably linked with each other. When we look at life, we experience attachment; when we look at death, we experience fear. Both these aspects of unconsciousness—attach­ment and fear—are connected with the body. The care of the body gives rise to attachment. We do not want to be unattached. The giving up of the body, on the other hand, causes fear. What is fear after all? A fable from Uttaradhyana Sutra will illustrate the point. King Samprati went out hunting. A deer came across his way. He shot the arrow and the deer was killed. The king drew near and presently he saw a monk sitting under the tree in kayotsarg. The king was filled with fear. He said to himself, " I have done a great wrong. The deer probably belongs to this monk. I have killed it. What will the monk say? He appears to be a great ascetic. If he lays a curse on me, I am undone!"

Even a killer is afraid of death. He does not want to die. He dishes out death to lots of people, but is reluctant to face death himself, and is terribly concerned with ensuring his own safety. His fear is so intense that he employs a great many people for his own protection. The killer is even, more afraid of death than the killed.

So the king was gripped by fear. He alighted from his horse and prostrated at the feet of the monk. The monk completed his kayotsarg and motioned him to speak. The king, with folded hands, said, "Sir! pardon me! I did not know that that deer belonged to you. Not knowing this, I have killed the deer. Kindly pardon me!"

The monk sat still. Then he said in a quiet tone, "O King, I will pardon you, but then you must deserve it. You will deserve it only when you yourself accord protection to all and sundry. All fear you. Not only the deer that you have killed, but the whole kingdom fears you. You want to be free from fear. You must also learn to offer this freedom from fear to others. If you give protection to all and ensure for others full freedom from fear, you will enjoy this freedom for yourself. Tell me one thing, O King! Why in this short life of yours are you doing so much violence to others? Are you going to live here for ever? Are you immortal, will never die? Pause and consider! Nothing is immortal. Nothing is going to last for ever. Why do you then commit so much violence? What for?"

Only that man can give others freedom from fear who has attained such freedom for himself, and whose whole being is resonant with vibrations of fearlessness. These vibrations radiate fearlessness all around. Only that man has complete protection from fear who offers such protection to others. Only that man radiates fearlessness who is himself totally without fear.

It is necessary to be completely free from fear because only through fearlessness can fear be eliminated.

Title: The Art Of Positive Thinking
B. Jain Publishers (P) Ltd.
Reprint Edition:
R.K. Seth

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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Acharya
  2. Acharya Bhikshu
  3. Adrenal Gland
  4. Anger
  5. Bhikshu
  6. Body
  7. Brain
  8. Consciousness
  9. Fear
  10. Fearlessness
  11. Hypothalamus
  12. Indra
  13. Karma
  14. Kayotsarg
  15. Mahavir
  16. Meditation
  17. Perception Of Body
  18. Preksha
  19. Preksha Meditation
  20. Pride
  21. Science
  22. Soul
  23. Sutra
  24. Uttaradhyana Sutra
  25. Violence
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