questions about fear and "advancement"

General discussion, particularly exploring the Dharma in the modern world.
[N.B. This is the forum that was called ‘Exploring Buddhism’. The new name simply describes it better.]
User avatar
Posts: 1081
Joined: Tue Apr 07, 2009 12:39 pm

Re: questions about fear and "advancement"

Post by Anders » Tue Nov 20, 2012 7:35 pm

undefineable wrote:Anders, I'm curious about your post, and wonder which teachers/teachings have informed it. It reminds me of Chogyam Trungpa more than of any other Buddhist teacher, and leaves me with the same impression of a religion that aims to expand human suffering as fully as possible without clear goals.
Oh nothing like that. What I meant was something along the lines of: It is hard to liberate what you haven't clarified.
It also sounds like existentialism, a normal reaction to simple nihilism (i.e. the belief that nothing is), or a normal reaction to a sense of 'emptiness' in the usual western sense. Since we know 'emptiness is also form' etc. etc., I'd have thought a more nuanced reaction were possible from the start.

Nonetheless, my own case fits into your framework - up to a point. In fact, I took on Buddhism in early adulthood because -since childhood- I'd not found any means to convince myself that there was any solid 'I'. Atfirst, I'd believed others had solid selves while I lacked one, but as my understanding matured, I realised their 'raw materials' were better balanced towards convincing them and everyone else (just a little atfirst, but enough for the subconscious to 'latch on to' sufficiently to keep up that impression)of their essential existence. I still haven't shifted a fear of dealing with other people, yet here I am starting to realise emotionally that if nothing needs a self then there's nowhere to fall to and nowhere to get (permanently) stuck. {I've quoted elsewhere on this forum from sources that support this view.}

The obvious problem here is that many with full-on mind/brain 'issues' -such as myself as I just described me, along with a proportion of western Buddhists that may be too large- shouldn't -by dint of old and new karma- be able to make much progress along the Path. Nonetheless, since -like the world and his wife- I suffer excruciating mental pain and probably inflict in on others by failing to fully conceal it, I am not awakened; nor, since I spent many years 'afraid of emptiness' while working on understanding it, has my intellectual understanding advanced without taking some of 'the wishes and fears of [my] heartmind' with it.
Oh, that is quite inevitably I think. It's always a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to the mind.
For all the 'macho talk', I feel those of us who've somehow got past the 'collar-grabbing' stage should be willing to help dispel some of the misunderstandings of those new to emptiness, alongside any confirmation we may give of the challenges. As a common example, in 'visualis[ing] the impact and consequences such a realisation would have on your own life', I originally imagined everyone to be cold, dead, and robotic as a consequence of emptiness. Now the reverse seems true.
Well, emptiness is a curious case in that it quite literally is never what we imagine it to be. And this fact is itself what is so liberating about it.

But actually, what I was really getting at here was not so much to talk about emptiness and how it is visualised, but rather what obscures emptiness. As well as the means for addressing such obscuration. Being willing and able to step into the sea of uncertainty with open hands is, to the mind of fear, extremely scary. And I don't know of a way of meeting and illuminating these fears in a way that allows for proper insight into them that doesn't, at one point or another, feel quite scary. And by and large, we can't see what the fears are hoping to avert our eyes from until we look through the fears on the other side of them.

That said, all this is mere appearance and it is not in the nature of fear to be fearsome. They only appear to us like that. Meeting and exposing one's fears isn't necessarily stressful and frightening. Sometimes, through whatever 'accidents' of our present psychological and spiritual makeup we current enjoy, it can be characterised simply be determination, or humble surrender, and sometimes pure relief. At the other side of the fears, generally a great coming to rest (until new fears begin to stick their heads out in the space that is now open to breathe in and the process gets repeated in a perhaps somewhat more refined manner. Or perhaps this time, we don't have quite the same resolve and have to ride the merry-go round with these fears a bit more before their pangs generate the sufficient resolve).

So, I don't mean to say that facing one's fears will have to be unpleasant business. But I do mean to say that they will almost inevitably present themselves as such ('they' are, after all, afraid) and that in order to turn inwards and truly look at them we must come mentally prepared to face these appearances. And what we are afraid of is generally only half the story. The good part usually only present itself when we begin to clarify our fears and learn to enter the place these fears seek to avoid and familiarise ourselves with it.

This is all getting a bit abstract I think (apologies), I'll try and get into an example, of a sort:

To the mind that believes happiness requires a foundation, that it ought to be solid in order it may weather storms of suffering, Groundlessness frankly does not look very appealing at all. You could even go as far as saying, that the mind of ignorance is innately afraid of such a scenario and has invested a great deal of energy into avoiding this.

On a gross level, this is easy to discern - All of us have a need of security of some sort, something tangible we can vest our happiness in. On a deeper level, it is perhaps less difficult to notice it is groundlessness itself we are scared of. Usually, the appearances of loss of our chosen securities, and the coping mechanisms particular to our own situation to try and fix this somehow, kick in so fast it hardly ever presents itself as a conscious impulse. How are we to fix a problem that doesn't even feature in our conscious experience, a phenomena we can only deduce by logical inference?

The throat-clutching man is fortunate in the sense that when he hears of emptiness his fears doesn't hide under layers of attempted coping mechanisms and contrary wishes and desires. He thinks of emptiness and some of the implications of this groundlessness become evident to him. It threatens what his mind instinctively believes is required for happiness, suggests happiness is where his mind instinctively perceives suffering. Alas, the Buddha always did insist his teaching is one that goes against the stream of the world and that "where sages find happiness, worldly people see only suffering. Where worldly people see happiness, the sage sees only suffering).

The throat-clutching man has several recourses. He can forget about emptiness and go back to a non-spiritual life. Or perhaps he can think to himself "one day, but I am not ready now. I will need to prepare". And so he may engage in various palliative treatments for his fear while he prepares - Perhaps by acquiring an intellectual understanding of emptiness as a placeholder he can recourse to for psychological comfort, perhaps by resorting to various remedial practices that will pacify his fear.

The Throat-Clutching man enjoys another recourse - he can simply step into the place that fear is trying so desperately to avoid (This is, in many ways, the intention of Hua-tou practise in Chan - To unearth the great doubt at the heart of this and enter it).

To know groundlessness is to step into the sea of uncertainty with open hands, in the very place that part of the mind fears most of all and see for oneself if the fear is justified or not. We don't know yet after all - It is a dilemma born out of dissatisfaction with the answers following the mind like this has born so far and an intuition that there really is a liberation beyond it. And fear lashing out that we are entering into the place we have invested so much energy into avoiding is probably going to be the outstanding feature of the landscape to begin with. "Empty vessels make the loudest sound" is perhaps apt here (Pun not intended. I only realised when re-reading. oh dear).

I don't mean to suggest this fear will be the abiding impression of making such a step. But being willing to make the step in spite of it goes a very long way. I do think there is a time and place for assurances about emptiness - that it really is worth it, that the mind of fear tells only a very limited part of it and the greater part, that can simply not be imagined, far outshines all that in all ways. At the same time, for someone who looks at it all and feels ready, I feel one should have a decent idea of what one may come to face to get there.

I fear I may have strayed a bit from what you were getting at, please re-direct if so. I just wrote a bit from the heart and it babbles a bit when it gets too much leeway.

"Even if my body should be burnt to death in the fires of hell
I would endure it for myriad lifetimes
As your companion in practice"

--- Gandavyuha Sutra

User avatar
Johnny Dangerous
Global Moderator
Posts: 7354
Joined: Fri Nov 02, 2012 10:58 pm
Location: Olympia WA

Re: questions about fear and "advancement"

Post by Johnny Dangerous » Wed Nov 21, 2012 6:42 pm

Thanks very much for the responses everyone!

I have been trying to deal with the fear in mediation, to let it come and just slowly to find the root of it, and it definitely is helping. Some really interesting and surprising experiences from doing this. One interesting thing, while anger often seems quite "shallow" and easily identifiable for me, finding the root of fear is like going down a big knotted tree made of thunder and lightning that seems to just go on and on.

The recommendation of altruistic practices like Metta also seems to help alot.
"it must be coming from the mouthy mastermind of raunchy rapper, Johnny Dangerous”

-Jeff H.

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Dharmasherab and 37 guests