Dealing with Fear

Types of Fear

The key to dealing with fear is to check which type of fear we have, and to transform our unhealthy fears.

There are two types of fear, deluded or unhealthy and non-deluded or healthy. These can also be divided into fear of the inevitable and fear of the evitable. The key to dealing with fear is to check which type of fear we have, and to transform our unhealthy fears of what we can do nothing about into healthy, appropriate fears of what we can do something about. We can then use these as the motivation to develop refuge and to overcome what is really dangerous, and even eventually to overcome what at present seems inevitable, such as sickness, old age, and death.

Transforming Fear

When we are frightened, we should ask ourselves what we are actually frightened of. Are we frightened of getting sick? But at present we have no choice in that, and so that fear is not constructive. It is wiser to be afraid of contaminated rebirth and the four rivers of birth, ageing, sickness, and death, all caused by our delusions. This fear is constructive, it is called “renunciation”, the wish definitely to escape from samsara’s sufferings, the motivation that will enable us to escape from samsara and all sickness.

Fear of Death

Or maybe we’re afraid of death. Again, though, as we are definitely going to die, that fear is not constructive and will lead to inappropriate responses such as denial or a sense of futility or meaninglessness in our life. However, although we have to die, we don’t have to die with an uncontrolled mind. It is therefore wise to transform our fear of dying into a fear of dying with an uncontrolled mind, the motivation that will ensure we prepare for a peaceful and controlled death.

Perhaps it is the fear of people disliking us.
Change our mind and like them instead.

Fear of Rejection

Or maybe we are afraid of rejection. Again, from where does this fear actually stem? Perhaps it is the fear of people disliking us. So what can we do about that? Change our mind and like them instead. That is in our control.

Fear of Being Trapped

Our fear of commitment, of being trapped, not able to back out, can also be transformed into a constructive fear when we recognize that what is really trapping us is our own mind. Real and healthy fear comes from recognizing that we are not committed to our escape from samsara, and serves as the motivation for seeking that commitment to escape.

Liberation from Fear

In other words, we cannot control whether things will go our way or not, but we can learn to control our own minds, our responses, and our own conduct, and in this way gradually find a genuine liberation from all fear. As Shantideva says in Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:

“Buddha, the Able One, says,
‘Thus, all fears
And all infinite sufferings
Arise from the mind’.”

And:

“.. it is not possible
To control all external events;
But, if I simply control my mind,
What need is there to control other things?”

A beautiful new translation of Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life is available from Tharpa Publications.

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© 2007 Dealing With Fear. All rights reserved worldwide.

All quotations from Geshe Kelsang Gyatso's books copyright The New Kadampa Tradition - International Buddhist Union, all rights reserved worldwide. For more information on Geshe Kelsang's books visit Tharpa Publications.