Overcoming Fears

Hi there! Zen Master Rama here. It’s about 2:15 in the morning on Sunday, December 7, 1986. I’m visiting Boston. I’m downtown, looking out the window at the city, watching the cars circling around. The lights of the taller buildings are in the distance.

I came here to make a series of tapes because there’s a special energy available in the downtown Back Bay area of Boston. The power lines here—the lines of energy that run through the earth—the luminous lines are very clear, particularly around this time of the morning.

This morning I’d like to talk with you about overcoming your fears, whether they’re small fears or large fears, fears that you’re aware of or subconscious fears, fears that you don’t know you have.

What is fear anyway? It’s a feeling that we feel in the pit of our stomach, in our body. It’s very physical, isn’t it? And when we experience that feeling, it really cuts us off from our strength, our power. It cuts us off from knowledge and experience. It’s a guillotine that falls and separates.

Fear is an interruption in the normal flow or routine of life. Some fears appear to be more sensible than others, in a way. There are programmed biological fears. The fear of falling is there so that we’re careful not to fall, so that we don’t suffer bodily harm. Fear of pain is a very good fear, in a sense, in that it helps protect us—until we understand that we don’t need to have a fear of something in order to avoid it.

Fear. What are you afraid of? I bet you’re afraid of lots of things. You might be afraid of being alone. You might be afraid of dying. You might be afraid of living. You might be afraid of being close to someone.

Everyone is afraid of enlightenment, knowledge, completion. People are afraid of being exposed—the thoughts they think, the actions they partake in—they’re afraid that those thoughts and actions will be seen by others and misunderstood or perhaps even understood.

We have lots of fears. We’re taught to fear. The operative condition on this particular planet, the central mode which human beings follow, is fear—not love, fear.

Love, of course, is the opposite of fear; or understanding and knowledge are the opposites of fear.

We’re taught to fear.

People are kept in line in society because they fear punishment.

It’s necessary, it would seem, in a world in which people lack control. One nation doesn’t attack and overrun and destroy the other nation because of fear of reprisal. We call it détente. It’s fear. The assumption that underlies this mentality is that anarchy is a natural state or one of the natural states of the human condition; that a human being, without given proper restraints, will follow their desires without mitigation; and those desires will usually cause them to injure others, either because of a pure enjoyment of injuring others or because they want something; and another’s well-being or happiness will not intervene between a person’s lusts and appetites and desires and that which they seek. So if you’re walking down the street and somebody wants the money in your handbag or your wallet, they’ll attack you and take it away, unless they fear going to jail, being punished, being exposed.

People are taught to fear God. They’re taught to fear – everything, just about. It’s become such a natural state that no one questions it, or practically no one. Hardly anyone considers that we live in a world that’s predicated upon fear. The underlying assumption is that human beings are innately evil and they must be carefully governed and controlled. That’s the dichotomy that’s set up within the human mind. One side of you is reasonable, the other side is not. One side of you lusts after power, possessions and so on. The other side is reasonable, is moderate and believes in restraint. But the libido, that part of our being that wants to just lash out or plummet itself into orgies of sensual passion, be they orgies of the flesh or blood or destruction or whatever it may be—we don’t follow those impulses because we fear.

We might like to eat forever but we don’t because we’re afraid that we’ll get too fat and our clothes won’t fit or that people won’t like us—we won’t be thin enough. Or that we’ll get sick and get heart disease; the cholesterol level will go too high. Fear governs. Or it will cost too much or someone will think you’re a gross pig (Rama laughs). Or whatever. Fear.

There’s the desire for achievement, the desire for excellence, of course. The desire to create, not just to destroy, the desire to experience beauty, love, light, knowledge. But in this world, we see more passion than dispassion. We see more fear than knowledge. Armies rule the world, nuclear weapons. I’m not against armies and nuclear weapons. I’m not for them, but as a social commentator who has seen many worlds come and go, I’m just observing the state of evolution of this particular planet. Fear-net is happening. Consequently, everyone is raised with fear embedded in their consciousness, and the big problem is, of course, fear makes you miserable when you no longer need it.

Granted, some people need it, it seems. That’s the only language they understand at their current status of evolution. You can reason with someone who wants to go out and commit heinous crimes, and they may smile and listen and think you’re a jerk and then go out and commit heinous crimes. Reason doesn’t always work. Love doesn’t always work in a practical, pragmatic, immediate sense. It’s the only thing that works ultimately. Fear works, definitely. Definitely.

A good friend of mine—I’ve been telling him to lose weight for years. He had a heart operation, and he lost a lot of weight afterward and then, of course, he gained it back. I’ve been saying, “Lose the weight. Drop the 15 or 20 pounds.” It didn’t do any good. I was explaining that he’d look better, feel better. Positive inspiration didn’t work. He went in to the doctor because he was having chest pains. The doctor said, “If you don’t loose the 15 or 20 pounds, you’re gonna die, sir.” Lost it in about ten days.

Fear does work, yes. But it’s a great limitation when you reach the point where you no longer need it. You know what you want to do. You know where you want to go or what you want to be. You have that knowledge. But yet—in other words, you don’t need someone standing over you telling you what you can’t do and what will happen if you do that. You’ve reasoned life out to the point where you know that it’s good to have self-control, where you don’t wish to injure others for self-gain and so on. [You are] intellectually and spiritually aware, evolved. But fear, which has been embedded in your mind since you were a tiny tot, doesn’t go away easily. It’s conditioned in. And because we have fear, we fail to fulfill and realize our potential as human beings. So overcoming fear is a critical factor for anyone who wishes to be really happy, or anyone who wishes to become enlightened. Because fear hangs you up.

Attraction and aversion. The reason a person is in a particular state of mind is primarily because of attraction and aversion. Attraction and aversion, like and dislike, cause us to format a mental or intellectual program. The mind is like a computer. It runs programs. It can run one program at a time, many, and most of the software that’s written, that runs on the computer of the mind, has been very poorly written. It’s primitive. Outdated. It’s written in the language of fear. There are many more languages, advanced languages that you can run.

As you study the ways of enlightenment, you’ll learn these advanced languages and be able to do things with your mind that you can’t conceive of now, feel things that you’ve never felt, have realizations that you were unaware of.

Life is perfect. It glows.

Everything that you see before you with your physical eyes is an illusion. In other words, you’re not seeing it correctly. It seems hard and surface to you. Life is made up of light. It’s made up of light. But if you’re only looking through the senses, it seems solid and physical.

Nothing is solid, nothing is physical. There is only light. You perceive yourself as being solid and physical, limited to a body. You are made up of light, endless mind. But you don’t perceive that, that is to say, you don’t see life correctly. I mean, the way you see life is correct, certainly. It’s a way of seeing; it’s a state of mind. But it’s a limited state of mind.

You don’t see life fully or feel it or experience it, and conversely, you do not see and feel and experience yourself fully and completely and happily because of attractions and aversions, and, of course, memory, a sense of self.

These are the components that create self —attraction, aversion, memory, longings, cravings, desires and wishes about the future or the present.

But mostly the self —the idea of self—that is to say the state of mind you’re in, the way you perceive yourself, the universe, the world, life, everything that you know or don’t know, is dependent upon

And memory is simply a serial account of attractions and aversions that don’t exist now except in imagination—imagination holding the past—or that don’t exist now except in some possible future that has not occurred, that will never occur.

There is no future. There is only now, a continuous now. But we’ve become so wrapped up in the past and the future that we don’t see the continuous now. There is only now. There is no future. It’s an idea that you have. That’s what you call the future—an idea.

There’s only now.

But we particularize, we cut into consciousness, we cut into states of mind. We take a big hacksaw and we cut up time and space and mind and place and being and non-being. We create a world of ideas, a world filled with beauty and horror, life and death, high and low. This is duality, pairs of apparent opposites.

Attraction and aversion are the principal limitations, if you will, or constrictions of consciousness.

In other words, what you are, in essence, is indescribable. I can’t explain it. That’s why one meditates—to experience what you really are.

At this point, you’re so far away from what you really are, it’s ridiculous.

But the good news is that every step you take within to become more aware makes you more conscious, brings you more in touch with that which you really are and lends a rightness and completion and beauty and perfection to everything in your life.

The world glows all the time.

All of the things that you’ve come to understand aren’t. The greatest thinkers in this world see very little compared to the enlightened who are aware not just of a day or a week or a month, but forever. They’re aware of forever. Not just a single lifetime but forever. Pain and suffering only occur in temporal time. They don’t occur in the world of forever. Frustration and anger, disappointment, injustice, the strong victimizing the weak—these things don’t occur in forever. They only occur in limited transient time, which is a state of mind. Everything is a state of mind.

In the study of Zen we classify ten thousand different states of mind, different ways of seeing life. And in Zen, you learn them all. Then, of course, there’s something beyond the ten thousand states of mind that we call nirvana, which is endless reality. No limitations. The limitless. Not just another state of mind.

Attractions and aversions—take two.

An attraction obviously—something that you want, desire, crave, need, have to have. She’s gotta have it. Aversions—something that you don’t want to have or experience. (Rama’s voice changes with each phrase) “Get it away; ooh! It’s gross. It’s disgusting. Aaaah! I don’t want to come near it. Oh, it hurts! Take it away. I don’t want to go through that ever again. I don’t like it. It’s not beautiful.” Aversion.

Fears are aversions, and attractions and aversions lock you into limited states of mind.

Who are you anyway? You are an idea. What distinguishes “you” from that great endless universe out or in there? Just the concept of self. In other words, you think, “I am.” You don’t just think, “I am.” You think, “I am this,” and if you think, “I am this,” therefore you are not that. You think, “I am not that,” therefore you are this. “I like blue better than green. I like girls better than boys. I like Boston better than Cincinnati”—things like that, those sorts of thoughts. Everything you like, every attraction, sets up an immediate aversion.

Oh, there are things that you vibrate with. It’s not really attraction or aversion; it’s just the way it is. Some vibrations are more similar, some are dissimilar, but we create a sense of self. We get our idea of ourselves through attractions and aversions. Gradually, as you are able to eliminate attractions and aversions, the idea of yourself washes away and with it, so do your limitations.

You have an endless, infinite mind that’s filled with bliss. I don’t know, pick a good word, ecstasy? All of these words are ridiculous. I mean they don’t possibly, they can’t possibly, and don’t describe the fathomless wonder of what infinite mind is like.

What I experience is infinite mind.

There are no words that can describe its perfection. All of the experiences that all beings throughout all universes have ever had or will ever have or are having right now cannot possibly equal what I feel in limitless mind because they are all limited experiences and transient planes of awareness. But they’re unnoticed in enlightenment. Take a match and light it and hold it up during the day to the sun, and you won’t see it. It goes away. Its light is insignificant compared to the light of the sun. All the best things you can think of are absolutely nothing compared to enlightenment. That’s why it’s worth striving for. It’s the best. Everything else—hey, it comes and goes, let’s face it. Nothing lasts around this planet.

The streets change, the towns change, the cities change, the people change, the things that make you happy today will be gone tomorrow. New things may come, but everything changes all the time. The one constant in this universe is change.

And you need to change. You need to let go and allow the river of life to sweep you along in its currents wherever it will. But you don’t keep moving when you hang on or when you push away.

Attraction and aversion create a sense of self. There is no self, in a way of speaking—a self, meaning a fixed idea of who you are. In other words, they’re just thoughts. They’re not substantial. They don’t last.

When you die, all the ideas you had of self will go away, won’t they? They don’t last. But there is something that lasts, that is forever. It is forever. That which lasts is Forever, with a capital “F.”

Forever is not an idea or a concept, it is reality. All of the things here come from Forever. We call Forever nirvana in Zen.

You could call it God, truth, Forever, anything you like.

Everything comes forth from Forever and returns to it, in a way of speaking.

And that’s your mind.

Your mind is that limitless expanse of endlessness. But in human life, very few people have that awareness and so they suffer because they don’t understand.

Fear creates limitation. Fear hangs you up, as does attraction, but our subject today is fear. So it’s necessary for a person who wants to be happy and complete and who wishes to move beyond the pleasure and pain of this world into the limitless wonder, the amazing perfection of endless mind—somebody who wants to do that now, here, today and every day, tonight and every night—needs to overcome all fears. All fears have to go—final clearance sale. Everything must go. Fear has to be dissolved.

The student of enlightenment, the student of life who wishes to be happy, has to take on their fears one by one and overcome all of them. It’s not at all impossible because fears are learned, and just as they were learned, they can be unlearned. When you were born, the fears were not there. They were taught to you. We call this conditioning, mental conditioning. Mental conditioning can be overcome through meditation, analysis, intuition, feeling, new experiences—by learning, in other words, that there’s nothing to be afraid of.

There’s pain. There’s pleasure. There’s life, death and so on, but even the way you perceive these things isn’t correct because your mind is in limited states of awareness.

There are limitless states of awareness in which all of the things that you perceive will be different. Frightening, no. Wonderful. Wonderfully different. Wonderfully the same.

So then, the raison d’être for overcoming fear is that it limits you. We live in a world that’s on fear-net. And of course, it’s on attraction-net also. Desire. But let’s stick with fear.

How do you overcome fear? Well, there are different methods, naturally. First, you need reasons for overcoming fear, other than the fact that it feels kind of unpleasant when it seizes you and ruins your life, when it prevents you from doing what you might like to do, from experiencing who you really are.

Fear limits you. You’d like to go to the Virgin Islands or to Hawaii or Japan or Australia or some place exciting for vacation, but you’ve got no one to go with and you’re afraid. So you don’t go, and you stay at home because it’s all foreign. If you went, you’d have a good time, chances are—if you prepared yourself properly. But you don’t go because you are afraid.

You’re afraid to get a better job, to start a new career, to meet someone new, to experience something different. You’re afraid to go back to something that once was good for you and that you think you’ve outgrown.

Or there are just paranoid fears—fear of success, fear of failure, fear of fear. There are phobias for everything—fear of computers, fear of music (Rama laughs). There are all kinds of fears, but they’re all the same. They’re based on falsehood.

There’s nothing to be afraid of, ever, ever.

Fear is just an idea in the mind that limits you. It’s only an idea. There’s pain, there’s pleasure, there’s life, there’s death and the things that happen between life and death. There’s enlightenment, there’s ignorance but there’s nothing to be afraid of, yet we are afraid sometimes.

And you can’t become enlightened if you’re afraid, nor can you become happy, nor can you just act in a responsible, effective way if you have conscious or subconscious fears.

Step one in overcoming fears is to make a fear list. Take out a piece of paper or sit down at the terminal and type it up. Make a list of all of the things that you are afraid of. It doesn’t matter what their order is at this point. Let’s just list them all. Think of all the things that you know immediately that you’re afraid of. Then start to dig. Think of all of the things that you’d like to do that you’re not currently doing. In other words, make a desire list. And if you’re not doing those things, chances are the reason is because you are afraid. So it’s another way to find out fears.

There are the obvious fears and there are the fears that are not quite as apparent, and then, of course, there are the very deep, subconscious fears. When you were two, your mother told you to be afraid of dogs, and you don’t remember that; it’s in there somewhere. When you were two, they told you to be afraid of strange men, or whatever it was. Maybe your parents or those who were around you had ridiculous fears. Maybe you should watch out for strange men, but you don’t have to be afraid of them. You don’t want anything to do with them, but a feeling of fear will not effectively help you. Actually it interferes with seeing and knowing and becoming and acting.

If you’re attacked on the street and if you’re afraid, aside from a slight adrenaline rush that fear can create, usually you don’t fight as well. Everybody experiences some fear. It’s a bodily response, and it’s a good one. It gets the adrenaline going if you’re attacked. But if fear clouds your mind, then your strength is cut in half. It’s cut to a tenth, so therefore fear is not useful.

Make a fear list. List them all. Once you’ve got them all listed, all the ones that you can possibly come up with, then let’s rank them, particularly let’s say the top ten, the ten things you are most afraid of. Now, we’re not talking about positive fears. What I would call a positive fear, again, is that bodily feeling of, “Gee, I’m not going to go sky diving without instruction. I’d be afraid to”—you know, that sort of thing. That is a sensible fear, or it’s a sensible thought. We’re talking about fears that interfere. In other words, overcoming fear has nothing to do with abandoning common sense. We retain our common sense, but we lose that emotion that is fear. You know not to go out on a ledge of a building and jump off. Fear doesn’t have to keep you from doing that. Common sense keeps you from doing that. The feeling of fear, however, will not help you.

So you make a list of the top ten and rank them. Number one, public enemy number one, is your major fear, the big one. Then list them down. After that [number one], it doesn’t really matter. Just list them all. Type them up neatly. Put it on your wall in your bedroom or near the medicine cabinet in the bathroom, some place where you go a lot. Put it on the fridge with a magnet. Review it. Look at it on a regular basis, and let’s take those fears on, one by one or a few at a time.

Now, there are three approaches—the random approach, starting at the bottom and starting at the top. I would suggest for most people starting at the bottom with the fears that are below number ten and taking them on, because I’m a great believer in little steps. I’m a professional educator. I used to be a university professor. And in my experience in education, I’ve learned that success in education comes by developing a winning profile.

It’s no different in Zen. It’s no different with overcoming fears, for most people. There are exceptions. There are other ways to do things, but for most individuals, small successes create a sense of encouragement and they lead to larger successes. Whereas to take on challenges that you will fail at, at least initially, will very often cause an individual to back off and not accomplish anything, or perhaps even to gain a more negative attitude towards the subject or themselves than they had before. So I like the little steps method. Start out with small fears and go after them and successfully conquer them. Well obviously, the way you do it is by doing it.

I mean you can reason through fears and that’s helpful. You know that there’s nothing in the dark. Well, of course there are things in the dark (Rama laughs), but they’re in the light, too. It’s just easier to see them in the dark. So it’s silly to be afraid of the dark or what’s in the dark—it’s in the light too. I’d be more afraid of the light, personally. Anyway, you can reason through fears, but that doesn’t make them go away. You know that that cat shouldn’t make you afraid, but you’re afraid. But it never hurts to reason through.

What you need to do, gradually at your own pace, is confront your fears one by one. There’s an intelligent way to go about this and most things. Start with those small fears, the fear of the vacation by yourself. Take the vacation by yourself, but first talk to someone who can give you information. Perhaps there’s a hotel to stay at in that foreign land where they speak your language, where they have tours available to you, where other people go who go by themselves whom you might meet. And so on.

You have to take on your fears one by one. You need to work at them every day. Oh, that top ten list is there, and you might start with public enemy number one, the fear of enlightenment, the fear of perfection—that’s number one on everybody’s list. It might be unconscious, but that’s the biggest fear. The way you overcome that fear is by meditating, by having mini-enlightenments.

When you sit and meditate and stop all thought and you begin to experience expanded states of mind, you will be afraid. Suddenly you’ll find that life is beautiful, life is perfect. And a part of us is threatened. Plato’s cave, the light at the end of that cave, makes most people very, very afraid.

There is nothing to be afraid of, and the only way to overcome the fear is by walking down into the light, and then, of course, you see that there was never anything to be afraid of.

Everything is God. Everything is light. It’s only when we live in illusions, when there are shadows in our mind and we don’t see clearly [that] we feel afraid.

The ultimate way to overcome all fears is by meditating and by acting. When you meditate, you clear your mind. When you still your thoughts and go within, you experience the countless universes of mind. You blend with that eternal light and you see that you are that eternal light. You’re not just a transitory being in a body. You are eternal. And then there’s nothing to be afraid of. Fear melts away, just as the match held up to the sun—we don’t see the light [of the match]. In deep meditation, the fears just melt away because you see that you are something that cannot be created or destroyed or interfered with. That comes from the silence of meditating. It’s most beautiful.

The other thing is to go out and do the things that you’re afraid of—again, things that won’t injure you— in a sensible way, starting perhaps with the easier things and becoming more successful and working your way up. Or maybe you’ll just go for it and take public enemy number one or two on, or maybe you’ll just have a random approach, intuitively, just taking one on your list for no special reason, but it seemed like a good one to start with—not by ranking.

Meditating will give you the power to overcome fear. It will give you the power to go do those things. As you sit and meditate each day, it makes you stronger. The power of the universe flows through your mind and through your body and through your life. Gradually you will overcome the aversions, one by one or two by two or ten by ten. And your life will be better. There will be peace in your mind and in your life. There will be clarity in your purpose. There will be more laughter because you’re not afraid anymore.

And when it comes time to die, you will not be afraid because by meditating, you will have already seen beyond life and death, and you’ll see there is nothing to fear. We’ve all died many times and we don’t look any the worse for it, right? Right? Right!

Laughing at fears is one of the best things that you can do—I mean seriously laughing, happily laughing. When you’re afraid, instead of just plunging into panic—laugh. Make yourself laugh. Laugh at the fear, at the thought of it, and the fear gets really uptight and leaves. It beats feet.

How to overcome fear? Be around people who are fearless.

If you’re afraid of other people—a lot of people are, they don’t want to admit it, they’re afraid of violence—take a martial arts class. Best way to overcome fear is learn to be proficient in martial arts.

In other words, you have to get out there. You can say, “Well, I’m not afraid of that guy,” or “I’m not afraid of some mugger on the street,” but when you’ve taken martial arts classes, if it’s physically appropriate for you health-wise and so on, then gradually, little by little, as you learn the arts of self-defense and you interact with others, you’ll overcome your fear. I mean, it’s no fun to be afraid, even just on a physical level, of those around you. The best way to deter the feeling is by being competent, in my opinion, in martial arts. That’s why they were invented. They’re not arts of offensive fighting; they’re arts of self-defense.

Most martial arts have to do with the mind, ultimately, not simply the ability to knock somebody down—the ability to be unafraid, to walk away from a fight without fear, without having to fight. That’s control.

Control is the key in all of this, naturally, to overcoming fear. You will learn that control as you gain control of your time, life and mind through the practice of Zen meditation and through the study of the ten thousand states of mind.

Don’t be afraid.

Stop thought, meditate and feel eternity all around you.

Realize that you are alive now. You are as alive as anything else is alive. And your right to be alive is as great as the right of anything else or anyone else.

Fears are just conditioning; they don’t exist, per se. They’re something that we learn, or that we’re taught by people who are afraid or who seek to make us afraid. You weren’t born with these fears. We pick them up along the way, or maybe you picked them up in another life. It’s time to unload the baggage.

Gradually overcome your fears one by one, through meditation, and by seeing and being with people. I can’t express this enough. Be around people who are fearless.

Naturally, be around someone who’s enlightened. They’re afraid of nothing. They’re neither attracted nor repulsed in a deep sense, by anything in the universe.

Be around people who are just brave and courageous, who are able to do the things that you’d like to do. It’s catching. You’ll say, “Gee, if they can do it, I can do it.” Sounds simple, but it works.

Keep that fear list and work on it. When you overcome one,

Go out and do the things you are afraid to do gradually, and gain the power to do that through meditating. In meditation, you will find the strength to become fearless. You will find yourself, which is not a thought or an idea but an endless, limitless reality that knows no fear. That’s the real secret in overcoming fear. Good luck.

This is Zen Master Rama in Boston at around 3:00 in the morning saying, “Don’t be afraid of the dark (Rama laughs). Don’t be afraid of the light. Don’t be afraid of what’s inside you.”

The limitations you see now will go away when you come to know who you really are. You are endless mind, perfection. Think about it.