Understanding Fear

From Krishnamurti’s Book THE FLIGHT OF THE EAGLE

Most of us want freedom, though we live in self-centred activity and our days are spent in concern about ourselves, our failures and fulfilments. We want to be free – not only politically, which is comparatively easy, except in the world of dictatorships – but also free from religious propaganda. Any religion, ancient or modern, is the work of propagandists and is therefore not religion at all. The more serious one is, the more one is concerned with the whole business of living, the more one seeks freedom and is questioning, without accepting or believing. One wants to be free in order to find out whether there is such a thing as reality, whether there is something eternal, timeless, or not. There is this extraordinary demand to be free in every relationship, but that freedom generally becomes a self-isolating process and therefore is not true freedom.

In the very demand for freedom there is fear. Because freedom may involve complete, absolute insecurity and one is frightened of being completely insecure. Insecurity seems a very dangerous thing – every child demands security in its relationships. And as we grow older we keep on demanding security and certainty in all relationships – with things, with people and with ideas. That demand for security inevitably breeds fear and being afraid we depend more and more on the things to which we are attached. So there arises this question of freedom and fear and whether it is at all possible to be free of fear; not only physically, but psychologically, not only superficially but deep down in the dark corners of our mind, in the very secret recesses into which no penetration has been made. Can the mind be utterly, completely free from all fear? It is fear that destroys love – this is not a theory – it is fear that makes for anxiety, attachment, possessiveness, domination, jealousy in all relationships, it is fear that makes for violence. As one can observe in the overcrowded cities with their exploding populations, there is great insecurity, uncertainty, fear. And it is partly this that makes for violence. Can we be free of fear, so that when you leave this hall you walk out without any shadow of the darkness that fear brings?

To understand fear we must examine not only physical fears but the vast network of psychological fears. Perhaps we can go into this. The question is: how does fear arise – what keeps it sustained, gives it duration, and is it possible to end it? Physical fears are fairly easy to understand. There is instant response to physical danger and that response is the response of many centuries of conditioning, because without this there would not have been physical survival, life would have ended. Physically one must survive and the tradition of thousands of years says ‘be careful,’ memory says ‘be careful there is danger, act immediately.’ But is this physical response to danger fear?

Please do follow all this carefully, because we are going to go into something quite simple, yet complex, and unless you give your whole attention to it we shall not understand it. We are asking whether that physical, sensory response to danger involving immediate action is fear? Or is it intelligence and therefore not fear at all? And is intelligence a matter of the cultivation of tradition and memory? If it is, why doesn’t it operate completely, as it should, in the psychological field, where one is so terribly frightened about so many things? Why doesn’t that same intelligence which we find when we observe danger, operate when there are psychological fears? Is this physical intelligence applicable to the psychological nature of man? That is, there are fears of various kinds which we all know – fear of death, of darkness, what the wife or the husband will say or do, or what the neighbour or the boss will think – the whole network of fears. We are not going to deal with the details of various forms of fear; we are concerned with fear itself, not a particular fear. And when there is fear and we become aware of it, there is a movement to escape from it; either suppressing it, running away from it, or taking flight through various forms of entertainment, including religious ones, or developing courage which is resistance to fear. Escape, entertainment and courage are all various forms of resistance to the actual fact of fear.

The greater the fear the greater the resistance to it and so various neurotic activities are set up. There is fear, and the mind – or the ‘me’ – says ‘there must be no fear,’ and so there is duality. There is the ‘me’ which is different from fear, which escapes from fear and resists it, which cultivates energy, theorizes or goes to the analyst; and there is the ‘not me’! The ‘not me’ is fear; the ‘me’ is separate from that fear. So there is immediate conflict between the fear, and the ‘me’ that is overcoming that fear. There is the watcher and the watched. The watched being fear, and the watcher being the ‘me’ that wants to get rid of that fear. So there is an opposition, a contradiction, a separation and hence there is conflict between fear and the ‘me’ that wants to be rid of that fear. Are we communicating with each other?

So the problem consigns of this conflict between the ‘not me’ of fear and the ‘me’ who thinks it is different from it and resists fear; or who tries to overcome it, escape from it, suppress it or control it. This division will invariably bring conflict, as it does between two nations with their armies and their navies and their separate sovereign governments.

So there is the watcher and the thing watched – the watcher saying ‘I must get rid of this terrible thing, I must do away with it.’ The watcher is always fighting, is in a state of conflict. This has become our habit, our tradition, our conditioning. And it is one of the most difficult things to break any kind of habit, because we like to live in habits, such as smoking, drinking, or sexual or psychological habits; and so it is with nations, sovereign governments which say ‘my country and your country,’ ‘my God and your God,’ ‘my belief and your belief.’ It is our tradition to fight, to resist fear and therefore increase the conflict and so give more life to fear.

If this is clear, then we can go on to the next step, which is: is there any actual difference between the watcher and the watched, in this particular case? The watcher thinks he is different from the watched, which is fear. Is there any difference between him and the thing he watches or are they both the same? Obviously they are both the same. The watcher is the watched – if something totally new comes along then there is no watcher at all. But because the watcher recognizes his reaction as fear, which he has known previously, there is this division. And as you go into it very, very deeply, you discover for yourself – as I hope you are doing now – that the watcher and the watched are essentially the same. Therefore if they are the same, you eliminate altogether the contradiction, the ‘me’ and the ‘not me,’ and with them you also wipe away all kind of effort totally. But this does not mean that you accept fear, or identify yourself with fear.

There is fear, the thing watched, and the watcher who is part of that fear. So what is to be done? (Are you working as hard as the speaker is working? If you merely listen to the words, then I am afraid you will not solve this question of fear deeply.) There is only fear – not the watcher who watches fear, because the watcher is fear. There are several things that take place. First, what is fear and how does it come about? We are not talking about the results of fear, or the cause of fear, or how it darkens one’s life with its misery and ugliness. But we are asking what fear is and how it comes about. Must one analyze it continuously to discover the endless causes of fear? Because when you begin to analyze, the analyzer must be extraordinarily free from all prejudices and conditionings; he has to look, to observe. Otherwise if there is any kind of distortion in his judgment, that distortion increases as he continues to analyze.

So analysis in order to end fear is not the ending of it. I hope there are some analysts here! Because in discovering the cause of fear and acting upon that discovery, the cause becomes the effect, and the effect becomes the cause. The effect, and acting upon that effect in order to find the cause, and discovering the cause and acting according to that cause, becomes the next stage. It becomes both effect and cause in an endless chain. If we put aside the understanding of the cause of fear and the analysis of fear, then what is there to do?

You know, this is not an entertainment but there is great joy in discovery, there is great fun in understanding all this. So what makes fear? Time and thought make fear – time as yesterday, today and tomorrow; there is the fear that tomorrow something will happen – the loss of a job, death, that my wife or my husband will run away, that the disease and pain that I have had many days ago will come back again. This is where time comes in. Time, involving what my neighbour may say about me tomorrow, or time which up to now has covered up something which I did many years ago. I am afraid of some deep secret desires which might not be fulfilled. So time is involved in fear, fear of death which comes at the end of life, which may be waiting around the corner and I am afraid. So time involves fear and thought. There is no time if there is no thought. Thinking about that which happened yesterday, being afraid that it may happen again tomorrow – this is what brings about time as well as fear.

Do watch this, please look at it for yourself – don’t accept or reject anything; but listen, find out for yourself the truth of this, not just the words, not whether you agree or disagree, but go on. To find the truth you must have feeling, a passion for finding out, great energy. Then you will find that thought breeds fear; thinking about the past or the future – the future being the next minute or the next day or ten years hence – thinking about it makes it an event. And thinking about an event which was pleasurable yesterday, sustains or gives continuity to that pleasure, whether that pleasure be sexual, sensory, intellectual or psychological; thinking about it, building an image as most people do, gives to that event in the past a continuity through thought and breeds more pleasure.

Thought breeds fear as well as pleasure; they are both matters of time. So thought engenders this two-sided coin of pleasure and pain – which is fear. Then what is there to do? We worship thought which has become so extraordinarily important that we think the more cunning it is, the better it is. In the business world, in the religious world, or in the world of the family, thought is used by the intellectual who indulges in the use of this coin, in the garland of words. How we honour the people who are intellectually, verbally clever in their thinking! But thinking is responsible for fear and the thing called pleasure.

We are not saying we shouldn’t have pleasure. We are not being puritanical, we are trying to understand it, and in the very understanding of this whole process, fear comes to an end. Then you will see that pleasure is something entirely different, and we shall go into this if we have time. So thought is responsible for this agony – one side is agony, the other side is pleasure and its continuance: the demand for and the pursuit of pleasure, including the religious and every other form of pleasure. Then what is thought to do? Can it end? Is that the right question? And who is to end it? – is it the ‘me’ who is not thought? But the ‘me’ is the result of thought. And therefore you have again the same old problem; the me, and the ‘not me’ which is the watcher who says, ‘If only I could end thought then I’d live a different kind of life.’ But there is only thought and not the watcher who says, ‘I want to end thought,’ because the watcher is the product of thought. And how does thought come into being? One can see very easily, it is the response of memory, experience and knowledge which is the brain, the seat of memory. When anything is asked of it, it responds by a reaction which is memory and recognition. The brain is the result of millennia of evolution and conditioning – thought is always old, thought is never free, thought is the response of all conditioning.

What is to be done? When thought realizes that it cannot possibly do anything about fear because it creates fear, then there is silence; then there is complete negation of any movement which breeds fear. Therefore the mind, including the brain, observes this whole phenomenon of habit and the contradiction and struggle between the ‘me’ and the ‘not me.’ It realizes that the watcher is the watched. And seeing that fear cannot be merely analyzed and put aside, but that it will always be there, the mind also sees that analysis is not the way.

Then one asks: what is the origin of fear? How does it arise? We said that it came about through time and thought. Thought is the response of memory and so thought creates fear. And fear cannot end through the mere control or suppression of thought, or by trying to transmute thought, or indulging in all the tricks one plays on oneself. Realizing this whole pattern choicelessly, objectively, in oneself, seeing all this thought itself says, ‘I will be quiet without any control or suppression,’ ‘I will be still.

So then there is the ending of fear, which means the ending of sorrow and the understanding of oneself – self-knowing. Without knowing oneself there is no ending of sorrow and fear. It is only a mind that is free from fear that can face reality.