Aversion, anger, and hatred are states of mind that strike against experience, pushing it away, rejecting what is presented in the moment. They do not come from without. This insight is a reversal of the ordinary way we perceive life. “Usually,” says Ajahn Chah, “we believe outer problems attack us.” Things are wrong and people misbehave, causing our hatred and suffering to arise. But however painful our experiences may be, they are just painful experiences until we add the response of aversion or hatred. Only then does suffering arise. If we react with hatred and aversion, these qualities become habitual. Like a distorted autoimmune response, our misguided reaction of hatred does not protect us; rather, it becomes the cause of our continued unhappiness.
The Buddha declares, “Enraged with hate, with mind ensnared, humans aim at their own ruin and at the ruin of others.” How do we break this tragic legacy—both in our own lives and in every blood-soaked corner of the globe? Only through a deep understanding of anger, hatred, and aggression. They are universal energies, archetypal forces that cause immense suffering in the world. Their source must be traced in the depths of our human hearts. And then we will discover an amazing truth: that with compassion, with courage and dedicated effort, we, like the Buddha, can meet the aggressive forces of our own mind and of others, and these energies can be transformed.
Freud and his followers believed the aggressive instincts to be primary. Culture’s “commandment to love one’s neighbour as oneself…is really justified by the fact that nothing else runs so strongly counter to original human nature as this.” Later, in the aftermath of World War II, sociobiologists such as Konrad Lorenz and Robert Ardrey hypothesized that our species, like our predecessor apes and many other animals, had necessary and inevitable instincts of territoriality and aggression.Today, evolutionary biology and neuroscience are carefully charting the genetic function and neural mechanisms of aggression.
But the fact that aggression, anger, and aversion are built into our universal heritage is only the starting point in Buddhist psychology. After we learn how to face them directly, to see how they arise and function in our life, we must take a revolutionary step. Through the profound practice of insight, through nonidentification and compassion, we reach below the very synapses and cells and free ourselves from the grasp of these instinctive forces.With dedication, we discover it is possible to do so.
Aversion and anger almost always arise as a direct reaction to a threatening or painful situation. If they are not understood they grow into hatred. As we have seen, pain and loss are undeniable parts of human life. Buddhist texts speak of a mountain of pain. They tell us our tears of grief could fill all four great oceans. When our experience is one of pain, hurt, loss, or frustration, our usual habit is to draw back in aversion or strike out in anger, to blame or run away.
Like pain, fear is the other common predecessor to anger and hate—fear of loss, of hurt, of embarrassment, of shame, of weakness, of not knowing. When fear arises, anger and aversion function as strategies to help us feel safe, to declare our strength and security. In fact, we actually feel insecure and vulnerable, but we cover this fear and vulnerability with anger and aggression. We do this at work, in marriage, on the road, in politics. A fearful situation turns to anger when we can’t admit we are afraid. As the poet Hafiz writes, “Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I’d rather see you in better living conditions.” Without insight, we are doomed to live our lives in this cheap room.
Fortunately, we can train ourselves to live with mindfulness, to meet fear and pain with wisdom instead of with the habits of aversion and anger. When a painful or threatening event arises, we can open our eyes to it. When we learn to bear our own pain and face our own fears, we will no longer blame and inflict it on others, neither family members nor other tribes. With mindfulness, instead of reacting, we can respond with spacious clarity, purpose, firmness, and compassion. A wise response includes whatever action, fierce at times, is the most caring toward life, our own and others’.
Imagine a healthy mind as one that is free from entanglement in any level of hatred. At first this might seem impossible, an idealistic attempt to impose decorum on our innately aggressive human nature. But freedom from hatred is not spiritual repression, it is wisdom in the face of pain and fear.
In a healthy response to pain and fear, we establish awareness before it becomes anger. We can train ourselves to notice the gap between the moments of sense experience and the subsequent response. Because of the particle-like nature of consciousness, we can enter the space between instinct and action, between impulse and reaction.To do so we must learn to tolerate our pain and fear. This is not easy. As James Baldwin put it, “Most people discover that when hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with their own pain.”
That’s why we start by paying attention to small things, small pains and disappointments. When I start to get into an argument with my wife, if I pay attention I notice that I usually feel hurt or afraid. If I speak to her angrily, she will become defensive and the argument will grow. But if I’m mindful, I can talk about the hurt or fears instead of being lost in anger and blame.Then my wife becomes interested and concerned. Out of this a different and more honest conversation occurs.
“The Scream” by Edvard Munch
TO UNDERSTAND FEAR, one has to go into the question of comparison. Why do we compare at all? In technical matters comparison reveals progress, which is relative. Fifty years ago there was no atomic bomb, there were no supersonic airplanes, but now we have these things; and in another fifty years we shall have something else that we don’t have now. This is called progress, which is always comparative, relative, and our mind is caught in that way of thinking. Not only outside the skin, as it were, but also inside the skin, in the psychological structure of our own being, we think comparatively. We say, ‘I am this, I have been that, and I shall be something more in the future’. This comparative thinking we call progress, evolution, and our whole behavior—morally, ethically, religiously, in our business and social relationships—is based on it. We observe ourselves comparatively in relation to a society that is itself the outcome of this same comparative struggle.
Comparison breeds fear. Do observe this fact in yourself. I want to be a better writer, or a more beautiful and intelligent person. I want to have more knowledge than others; I want to be successful, to become somebody, to have more fame in the world. Success and fame are psychologically the very essence of comparison, through which we constantly breed fear. And comparison also gives rise to conflict, struggle, which is considered highly respectable. You say that you must be competitive in order to survive in this world, so you compare and compete in business, in the family, and in so-called religious matters. You must reach heaven and sit next to Jesus, or whoever your particular saviour may be. The comparative spirit is reflected in the priest becoming an archbishop, a cardinal, and finally the pope. We cultivate this same spirit very assiduously throughout our life, struggling to become better or to achieve a status higher than somebody else. Our social and moral structure is based on it.
So there is in our life this constant state of comparison, competition, and the everlasting struggle to be somebody—or to be nobody, which is the same thing. This, I feel, is the root of all fear, because it breeds envy, jealousy, hatred. Where there is hatred there is obviously no love, and fear is generated more and more.
FROM: Saanen, 22 July 1965
Is IT POSSIBLE to end all fear? One may be afraid of the dark, or of coming suddenly upon a snake, or of meeting some wild animal, or of falling over a precipice. It is natural and healthy to want to stay out of the way of an oncoming bus, for example, but there are many other forms of fear. That is why one has to go into this question of whether the idea is more important than the fact, the what is. If one looks at what is, at the fact, and not at the idea, one will see that it is only the idea, the concept of the future, of tomorrow, that is creating fear. It is not the fact that creates fear.
For a mind burdened with fear, with conformity, with the thinker, there can be no understanding of that which may be called the original. And the mind demands to know what the original is. We have said it is God—but that again is a word invented by human beings in their fear, in their misery, in their desire to escape from life. When the human mind is free of all fear, then, in demanding to know what the original is, it is not seeking its own pleasure, or a means of escape, and therefore in that inquiry all authority ceases. Do you understand? The authority of the speaker, the authority of the church, the authority of opinion, of knowledge, of experience, of what people say—all that completely comes to an end, and there is no obedience. It is only such a mind that can find out for itself what the original is—find out, not as an individual mind, but as a total human being. There is no ‘individual’ mind at all—we are all totally related. Please understand this. The mind is not something separate; it is a total mind. We are all conforming, we are all afraid, we are all escaping. And to understand—not as an individual, but as a total human being—what the original is, one must understand the totality of man’s misery, all the concepts, all the formulas that he has invented through the centuries. It is only when there is freedom from all this that you can find out whether there is an original something. Otherwise we are secondhand human beings; and because we are secondhand, counterfeit human beings, there is no ending to sorrow. So the ending of sorrow is in essence the beginning of the original. But the understanding that brings about the ending of sorrow is not just an understanding of your particular sorrow, or my particular sorrow, because your sorrow and my sorrow are related to the whole sorrow of mankind. This is not mere sentiment or emotionalism; it is an actual, brutal fact. When we understand the whole structure of sorrow and thereby bring about the ending of sorrow, there is then a possibility of coming upon that strange something that is the origin of all life—not in a test tube, as the scientist discovers it, but there is the coming into being of that strange energy that is always exploding. That energy has no movement in any direction, and therefore it explodes.
FROM: Ojai, 8 May 1982
One ASKS WHY human beings, who have lived on this earth for million of years, who are technologically intelligent, have not applied their intelligence to be free from this very complex problem of fear, which may be one of the reasons for war, for killing one another. And religions throughout the world have not solved the problem; not the gurus, nor the saviours; nor ideals. So it is very clear that no outside agency—however elevated, however much made popular by propaganda—no outside agency can ever possibly solve this problem of human fear.
You are inquiring, you are investigating, you are delving into the whole problem of fear. And perhaps we have so accepted the pattern of fear that we don’t want even to move away from it. So, what is fear? What are the contributory factors that bring about fear? Like many small streams, rivulets that make the tremendous volume of a river; what are the small streams that bring about fear? That have such tremendous vitality of fear. Is one of the causes of fear comparison? Comparing oneself with somebody else? Obviously it is. So, can you live a life comparing yourself with nobody? You understand what I am saying? When you compare yourself with another, ideologically, psychologically, or even physically, there is the striving to become that; and there is the fear that you may not. It is the desire to fulfill and you may not be able to fulfill. Where there is comparison there must be fear.
On Fear 3
And so one asks whether it is possible to live without a single comparison, never comparing, whether you are beautiful or ugly, fair or not fair, approximating yourself to some ideal, to some pattern of values. There is this constant comparison going on. We are asking, is that one of the causes of fear? Obviously. And where there is comparison there must be conformity, there must be imitation. So we are saying that comparison, conformity, and imitation, are contributory causes of fear. Can one live without comparing, imitating, or conforming psychologically? Of course one can. If those are the contributory factors of fear, and you are concerned with the ending of fear, then inwardly there is no comparison, which means there is no becoming. The very meaning of the comparison is to become that which you think is better, higher, nobler, and so on. So, comparison is becoming. Is that one of the factors of fear? You have to discover it for yourself. Then if those are the factors, if the mind is seeing those factors as bringing about fear, the very perception of those ends the contributory causes. If there is a physical cause that gives you a stomachache, there is an ending of that pain by discovering the cause of it. Similarly, where there is any cause there is an ending.
"Three Reflections on Fear" — Jiddu Krishnamurti
FROM: Saanen, 21 July 1964
---“The Scream” by Edvard Munch
What do we mean by fear? Fear of what? There are various types of fear and we need not analyze every type. But we can see that fear comes into being when our comprehension of relationship is not complete. Relationship is not only between people but between ourselves and nature, between ourselves and property, between ourselves and ideas; as long as that relationship is not fully understood, there must be fear. Life is relationship. To Be is to be related, and without relationship there is no life. Nothing can exist in isolation; so long as the mind is seeking isolation, there must be fear. Fear is not an abstraction; it exists only in relation to something.
The question is, how to be rid of fear? First of all, anything that is overcome has to be conquered again and again. No problem can be finally overcome, conquered; it can be understood but not conquered. They are two completely different processes and the conquering process leads to further confusion, further fear. To resist, to dominate, to do battle with a problem or to build a defense against it is only to create further conflict, whereas if we can understand fear, go into it fully step by step, explore the whole content of it, then fear will never return in any form.
As I said, fear is not an abstraction; it exists only in relationship. What do we mean by fear? Ultimately we are afraid, are we not, of not Being, of not becoming. Now, when there is fear of not Being, of not advancing, or fear of the unknown, of death, can that fear be overcome by determination, by a conclusion, by any choice? Obviously not. Mere suppression, sublimation, or substitution, creates further resistance, does it not? Therefore fear can never by overcome through any form of discipline, through any form of resistance. That fact must be clearly seen, felt and experienced: fear cannot be overcome through any form of defense or resistance nor can there be freedom from fear through the search for an answer or through mere intellectual or verbal explanation.
Now what are we afraid of? Are we afraid of a fact or of an idea about the fact? Are we afraid of the thing as it is, or are we afraid of what we think it is? Take death, for example. Are we afraid of the fact of death or of the idea of death? The fact is one thing and the idea about the fact is another. Am I afraid of the word 'death' or of the fact itself? Because I am afraid of the word, of the idea, I never understand the fact, I never look at the fact, I am never in direct relation with the fact. It is only when I am in complete communion with the fact that there is no fear. If I am not in communion with the fact, then there is fear, and there is no communion with the fact so long as I have an idea, an opinion, a theory, about the fact, so I have to be very clear whether I am afraid of the word, the idea or of the fact. If I am face to face with the fact, there is nothing to understand about it: the fact is there, and I can deal with it. If I am afraid of the word, then I must understand the word, go into the whole process of what the word, the term, implies.
For example, one is afraid of loneliness, afraid of the ache, the pain of loneliness. Surely that fear exists because one has never really looked at loneliness, one has never been in complete communion with it. The moment one is completely open to the fact of loneliness one can understand what it is, but one has an idea, an opinion about it, based on previous knowledge; it is this idea, opinion, this previous knowledge about the fact, that creates fear. Fear is obviously the outcome of naming, of terming, of projecting a symbol to represent the fact; that is, fear is not independent of the word, of the term.
I have a reaction, say, to loneliness; that is, I say I am afraid of being nothing. Am I afraid of the fact itself or is that fear awakened because I have previous knowledge of the fact, knowledge being the word, the symbol, the image?
How can there be fear of a fact? When I am face to face with a fact, in direct communion with it, I can look at it, observe it; therefore there is no fear of the fact. What causes fear is my apprehension about the fact, what the fact might be or do.
It is my opinion, my idea, my experience, my knowledge about the fact, that creates fear. So long as there is verbalization of the fact, giving the fact a name and therefore identifying or condemning it, so long as thought is judging the fact as an observer, there must be fear. Thought is the product of the past, it can only exist through verbalization, through symbols, through images; so long as thought is regarding or translating the fact, there must be fear.
Thus it is the mind that creates fear, the mind being the process of thinking. Thinking is verbalization. You cannot think without words, without symbols, images; these images, which are the prejudices, the previous knowledge, the apprehensions of the mind, are projected upon the fact, and out of that there arises fear. There is freedom from fear only when the mind is capable of looking at the fact without translating it, without giving it a name, a label. This is quite difficult, because the feelings, the reactions, the anxieties that we have, are promptly identified by the mind and given a word. The feeling of jealousy is identified by that word. Is it possible not to identify a feeling, to look at that feeling without naming it? It is the naming of the feeling that gives it continuity, that gives it strength. The moment you give a name to that which you call fear, you strengthen it; but if you can look at that feeling without terming it, you will see that it withers away. Therefore if one would be completely free of fear it is essential to understand this whole process of terming, of projecting symbols, images, giving names to facts. There can be freedom from fear only when there is self-knowledge. Self-knowledge is the beginning of wisdom, which is the ending of fear.
"Fear can only exist in relationship; fear cannot exist by itself, in isolation. There is no such thing as abstract fear; there is fear of the known or the unknown, fear of what one has done or what one may do; fear of the past or of the future. The relationship between what one is and what one desires to be causes fear. Fear arises when one interprets the fact of what one is in terms of reward and punishment. Fear comes with responsibility and the desire to be free from it. There is fear in the contrast between pain and pleasure. Fear exists in the conflict of the opposites. The worship of success brings the fear of failure. Fear is the process of the mind in the struggle of becoming. In becoming good, there is the fear of evil; in becoming good, there is the fear of evil; in becoming complete, there is the fear of loneliness; in becoming great, there is the fear of being small. Comparison is not understanding; it is prompted by fear of the unknown in relation to the known. Fear is uncertainty in search of security.
The effort to become is the beginning of fear, the fear of being or not being. The mind, the residue of experience, is always in fear of the unnamed, the challenge. The mind, which is name, word, memory, can function only within the field of the know; and the unknown, which is challenge from moment to moment, is resisted or translated by the mind in terms of the known. This resistance or translation of the challenge is fear; for the mind can have no communion with the unknown. The known cannot commune with the unknown; the known must cease for the unknown to be.
The mind is the maker of fear; and when it analyses fear, seeking its cause in order to be free from it, the mind only further isolates itself and thereby increases fear. When you use analysis to resist confusion, you are increasing the power of resistance; and resistance of confusion only increases the fear of it, which hinders freedom. In communion there is freedom, but not in fear."