The Nature of Fear

From the teachings of Swami Sivananda Saraswati

Fear is universal. It is an instinct common to everyone. Fear can come at any time. Fear is an emotion excited by threatening evil or impending pain, accompanied by a desire to avoid or escape it and to provide for one's security. There are various degrees of fear. They are simple fright, timidity, shyness, alarm, terror and terrible fear, hear assumes various forms. Some are afraid of ghosts. Some are afraid of diseases. The vast majority of people are afraid of public criticism.

Normal fear and imaginary fear

Fear is of two kinds, normal and imaginary. Normal fear is only five percent, whereas imaginary fear is ninety percent. Normal fear is healthy. It paves the way for progress. It preserves life. A headmaster is afraid of the school inspector. He takes a keen interest in training his students. All are successful in their examinations. A railway engine driver is afraid of his superior officer. He is very careful in the discharge of his duties. No collision occurs. A physician is afraid of getting a bad reputation. He takes great care of his patients. Imaginary fears cause disease, deplete the energies and produce all sorts of feverish excitement, low vitality, uneasiness, discomfort and disharmony. When there is an epidemic, people worry and imagine that the germs have entered their body. Imagination plays serious havoc. They become a victim of the actual disease itself! Some develop a fear that they will lose their job. Some fear, "What can I do if my business fails?" A student prepares day and night for an examination.

He has passed creditably in all the class examinations, but he develops a kind of imaginary fear - examination fear - as soon as he enters the examination hall, becomes nervous and gets confused. His hands tremble. He is not able to write. He fails in the examination. There is no end to such imaginary fears.


Peculiar, private, irrational, unnatural fears are called phobias. Phobias have no objective reality in the environment, yet people cannot free themselves from fears and negative feelings. Some are afraid of rats. Some are afraid of thunder. Some are afraid of walking in the dark. Some are afraid of seeing great multitudes of people. This is plurophobia. Some are afraid to remain alone. Some are afraid to sleep in a room without a lamp. Some are afraid of closed spaces such as tunnels. This is claustrophobia. Some are afraid of open spaces. This is agoraphobia. Though the doctor has definitely said that there is nothing organically wrong with some patients, they still think that they have heart trouble, kidney disease or liver complaints. These are all phobias of the body. Some are afraid of anything and everything. The Americans are afraid of the Russians. The Russians are afraid of the Americans. Phobias are endless. The causes are nervousness, stupidity in a mild or intense form, and lack of right thinking and right understanding.

A word to parents and teachers

The origin of most neurotic fears can be traced to childhood. The seeds of fear may lie dormant in childhood in the subconscious mind. They sprout forth during a period of crisis or stress. The minds of children are very impressionable. Mothers and teachers should be very careful not tell children anything that will frighten them. They should tell stories which will make them bold and courageous. During pregnancy, mothers should read inspiring books like the Ramayana, the Bhagavat and the Mahabharata if they wish to bring forth intelligent and brave children. Mothers, fathers and teachers should have an elementary knowledge of psychology. Only then can they mould children properly.

Ill effects of fear

From fear proceeds misfortune. Constant fear saps your vitality, shakes your confidence and destroys your ability. It is an enemy of success. Fear paralyses the mind. It is the most destructive emotion. Fear breaks down the nervous system and undermines the health. It creates worry, and renders happiness and peace of mind impossible. Fear is the greatest enemy. It destroys happiness and efficiency. It has made more people cowards and failures. Fear kills effort and stultifies - endeavour. Poverty and failure are due to thoughts of fear. Fear blights many lives, makes people unhappy and unsuccessful. Fear is a negative thought. Fear is your worst enemy.

Cause of fear

Raga or attachment is the cause of fear. When you are attached to an object, however small, there is fear of losing it. Fear and raga coexist. Attachment to name and fame causes fear. Attachment to money causes fear. Any attachment is the womb of terrible fear. One who has renounced everything, who perceives the atman in all, has no fears. Clinging to life and body or love of earthly life is the main cause of all fears.

Many people undergo sleep disturbances due to loading the mind with stray thoughts while retiring. Avoid going to bed in a state of worry or fear, or with a heavy heart, or when brooding over an impending evil. Before retiring, evacuate all such thoughts. Meditate on Cod. Develop perfect peace in mind and soul. If you are unable to meditate on God, loudly recite a poem or hymn. You are sure to have peaceful, deep sleep.

Drowning waves of fear may at times rush down upon us. We may lose mental balance for a while. We may be oversensitive and agitated. Memory of the past gallops with winged speed. Imagination soars, and we picture disaster after disaster awaiting us. Yet, under all these circumstances, we must lay our fullest faith in God, take refuge in Him, and fully believe that He alone can deliver us.

Conquest of fear

To overcome fear you must first face those situations you are afraid of. If you are afraid of facing an audience, it must be your foremost duty until you are free from stage-fear and nervousness. If you tremble to approach a superior, or any other person you think is endowed with superior powers, that must be taken up as your first duty every day till you gain sufficient moral strength. If you are afraid of something, look it in the face. The fear will vanish.

Sit for a while. Reflect well. Introspect. All imaginary fear will take to their heels. They will dwindle into an airy nothing. The mind deceives you with imaginary fears. Learn to discriminate. The mind will lurk like a thief. You will feel now that you were duped all these years by this mischievous mind and that fear is a nonentity, a big zero. Put the seeds of courage in your heart. Allow courage to grow. Fear will die by itself. Positive always overcomes negative. This is an immutable psychological law. This is the pratipaksha bhavana method of raja yogis. Try this method again and again. You are bound to succeed.

Develop your willpower. Develop mental endurance. Be courageous and patient in times of trouble. God bestows perfect security on His devotees and removes all sorts of fears. He transforms insecurity and fear into confidence and faith. He saves us from panic and despair. Abandon attachment through the practice of non-attachment or vairagya. Even if there is attachment, it will be mild.

An error of psychologists

Psychologists are of the opinion that there cannot be absolute fearlessness, and that only determined effort can be made to conquer fear. This is incorrect. Psychologists have no transcendental experience. A perfect sage who has knowledge of Brahman is absolutely fearless. The Upanishads declare in a thundering voice, "The knower of the fearless Brahman himself becomes absolutely fearless."

There can be fear only where there is duality. You are afraid of the other person. How can there be fear for one who experiences non-duality? The perfect sage who is established in non-duality is the most courageous of men. The courage of a soldier or a robber is only tamasic courage. It is only brutal ferocity born of hatred and jealousy. Only sattwic courage born of wisdom is real courage.

When there is love and brotherhood, there is no enmity. There is no superiority or inferiority. This is a partial stage. The final stage is feeling the oneness of all. Brahman alone pervades the universe. There is no second thing in His creation at all. This knowledge entirely uproots fear and brings one into eternal peace.