The Root of Fear
What is fear? If we can understand the question and problem of desire then we will understand and be free from fear. ‘I want to be something’ – that is the root of fear. When I want to be something, my wanting to be something and my not being that something creates fear, not only in a narrow sense but in the widest sense. So as long as there is the desire to be something there must be fear.
Krishnamurti in Bombay 1954, Talk 6
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Observing the root of fear
Can the mind observe fear? Your fear: fear of death, fear of life, fear of loneliness, fear of darkness, fear of being nobody, fear of not becoming a great success, fear of not being a leader, a writer, fear of many different things. First of all, is one aware of it? Or one leads such a superficial life, everlastingly talking about something else, and so one is never aware of oneself, of one’s own fears. Then if one does become aware of those fears, at what level do you become aware? Is it an intellectual awareness of them or are you actually aware of your fears, and aware at the deeper levels of your mind of fear, of the deep hidden recesses? And if they are hidden, how are they to be exposed? Must you go to an analyst? And the analyst is yourself; he needs to be analysed too!
So how do you uncover the whole structure, the intricacies of fear? This is a tremendous problem, not just to be listened to for two or three minutes and then forgotten, to find out for oneself whether it is possible to expose all fears, or whether there is only one central fear that has many branches. When one sees the central fear the branches begin to wither away. Is there one central fear like the trunk of a tree, though it has many branches, and if you could understand that single root of fear you have understood the whole network of fear? How do you approach this, from the periphery or from the centre? If the mind can understand the root of fear then the branches, the various aspects of fear have no meaning, they wither away. So what is the root of fear? Can you look at your fear? Please look at it now, invite it. Naturally you are not afraid now, sitting here, but you know what your fears are: loneliness, not being loved, not being beautiful, frightened of losing your job, this or that. By looking at one fear, at your particular fear, you can then see the root of that fear; not only the root of that fear, but the root of all fear. Through one fear, by observing it in the sense of the observer being the observed, then you will see for yourself that through one fear you discover the very root of all fear.
By looking at one fear you discover the very root of all fear.
Suppose one is afraid of loneliness. Have you looked at loneliness or is that an idea of which you are frightened? Not the fact of loneliness but the idea of loneliness. Which is it, the idea or the actuality that frightens you? I have an idea of loneliness, the idea being the rationalization of thought which says, ‘I don’t know what it is but I am frightened of it.’ Or I know what loneliness is, which is not an idea but an actuality. I know it when I am in a crowd and suddenly feel that I am not related to anything, that I am absolutely disassociated, lost, cannot rely on anybody. All my moorings have been cut and I feel tremendously lonely, frightened. That is an actuality. But the idea about it is not an actuality, and most of us have an idea about fear.
So if it is not an idea but an actuality, what is loneliness? Aren’t we breeding it all the time by our self-centred activity, by this tremendous concern with ourselves, our looks, our attitudes, our opinions, our judgements, our position, our status, our importance? All that is a form of isolation. Throughout the day, for years we have done this, and suddenly we find we are utterly isolated. Our beliefs, God and everything goes away. There is this sense of tremendous isolation which cannot be penetrated and that naturally brings great fear. I observe that in my daily life, my activities, thoughts, desires, pleasures, experiences are more and more isolating. And the ultimate sense of it is death. I observe it. I observe it in my daily movements and activities. And in the observation of this loneliness, the observer is part of that loneliness, is essentially that loneliness. So the observer is the observed and therefore he cannot possibly escape from it, he cannot cover it up, try to fill it with good activity or whatever it is, going off to church or meditating and all the rest of it. So the observer is the observed and therefore what happens then? You have eliminated conflict altogether, haven’t you? You have tried to escape from it, to cover it up, to rationalize it. Now you are faced with it; you are that. When you are confronted with it completely and there is no escape and you are that, then there is no problem, is there? There is no problem because then there is no sense of loneliness at all. I wonder if you see this.
So can you observe your fear? Through one fear trace the very root of all fear? That is, through this sense of loneliness haven’t you traced the root of fear? I am lonely. I know what that means not as an idea but as an actuality. There is this extraordinary sense of loneliness, isolation. Isolation is a form of resistance, a form of exclusion and I am fully aware of it. I am also aware that the observer is the observed. And there is fear there, deep-rooted fear. Through one factor of fear, loneliness, I have been able to find out, look at the central fact of fear, which is the existence of the observer. If the observer is not – the observer being the past, his opinions, judgements, evaluations, rationalizations, interpretations, all the tradition – if that is not, where is fear? If the “me” is not, where is the fear? But we are educated, religiously, to assert and cultivate the “me” as the observer. So I am a Catholic, I am a Protestant, I am British, I am this, I am that. And by looking at one fear the mind has been able to look and trace the central fact of fear, which is the existence of the observer, the “me”.
Can I live in this world without that “me”? When everything around me is the assertion of the “me”: the culture, the works of art, business, politics, religion, everything around me asserts, ‘be you’ – cultivate the ‘me’. In this culture or civilisation can one live without the ‘me’? The monks say you can’t, so escape from the world, go into a monastery, change your name, devote your life to this and that. But the “me” is still there because that “me” has identified itself with the image it has projected, as Christ, this, that and the other. The “me” is still there, in a different form.
So can one live – please, this is a tremendously important and a very, very serious question, it is not just something to play around with – can one live without that “me” in this monstrous world? That means can one live sanely in a world of insanity? The world is insane, with all the make-believe of religions. You know everything that is happening, I don’t have to tell you. Can you live in an insane world and yourself be totally sane?
Krishnamurti at Brockwood 1974, Talk 1
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The self is the root of all fear. To inhibit or suppress fear is not to transcend it; its cause must be self-discovered and so understood and dissolved.
From Ojai 1944, Talk 7
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There is only one fear
What is fear? Fear cannot exist by itself. It is not an abstraction. An abstraction comes into being only when one runs away from fear into an idea or concept or activity. Suppose one is afraid. One’s mind is incapable of facing it and seeks an escape from it; then any thought or activity arising from that escape, from that flight from the fact of fear, breeds an abstraction, a life of contradiction. A life of contradiction brings more fear, more conflict, and all the complexities of existence. So you have to understand fear because fear breeds illusions and makes the mind dull. I do not know if you have not noticed when you are frightened, how your mind absolutely withdraws, isolates itself and looks immediately to somebody to help it out; how it builds a wall round itself through activity, through lies, through every form of activity except facing that fact.
So, we are going to face the fact; not the speaker’s fear but your fear. How is one to understand that fear? The understanding of that fear is freedom from that fear. We are going to take a journey, we are going together to commune with that thing which we call fear, because one has to see the importance of understanding fear. It is a necessity to understand it. A mind that lives in fear is a dead mind, is a dull mind; it is a mind that cannot look, see, hear clearly, directly. So it is very important to understand one’s relationships with others, with society, with everything, and to be free of fear totally, not partially, not fragmentarily, not on various occasions, but completely. I say it is possible, and we will go into that. So, fear is not an abstraction, it is not a thing from which you can run away; it is there. Whether you run away for a day or a year, it catches you up wherever you are, and goes with you. You may turn your eyes away from it, but it is there.
To understand consciousness, one has to be really free, totally, of fear.
Fear exists only in relationship to something else. I am afraid of public opinion, I am afraid of my wife, I am afraid of my boss, I am afraid of losing my job, I am afraid of death, I am afraid of pain; I am not healthy, I would like to be healthy, and I am frightened of going back, of falling ill again; I am frightened because I am lonely; I am frightened because nobody loves me, nobody has a warm feeling for me; I am frightened of being nobody. There are various forms of fear, conscious and unconscious. If you are at all aware, not in the narrow sense but extensively, you can see the obvious fears: of losing a job and therefore playing up to the man above you; being frightened of not fulfilling; being frightened of not being somebody, being frightened of going wrong. So we have innumerable fears, and consciously we can know them quite easily. If you spend half an hour consciously, deliberately, to find out your fears, outwardly at least, you can easily stop them. But it is much more difficult to find out the unconscious fears, deep down within you, which have a greater importance and which during your sleep become dreams.
So one has to understand fear. I am afraid of being lonely. Do you know what that word means? Have you ever felt what it is to be lonely? Probably not, because you are surrounded by your family, always thinking about your job, reading a book, listening to the radio or to the infinite gossip of the newspapers. So probably you never know that strange feeling of being completely isolated. You may have occasional intimations of it but probably you have never come into contact with it directly, as you have with pain, hunger or sex. But if you do not understand that loneliness which is the cause of fear, you will not understand fear and be free of it.
Fear expresses itself in many forms but there is only one fear. Fear is fear, not how it shows, not what are the mediums through which you are aware of the existence of fear. I may be afraid of public opinion, of death, of losing my job, of a thousand other things; but the fear is the same. Now, whether that fear is conscious or unconscious, one has to find out, one has to go into it. Unfortunately we have divided life as the conscious and the unconscious. The conscious mind is the educated mind, the modern technological mind that goes to the office every day, which is bored, which is fed up with all the routine of it, the lack of love of doing something for itself. So the conscious mind becomes the mechanical mind. It can think mechanically, it can go to the office and function. It does things mechanically: sex, affection, being mechanically conscious of everything, being kind when it pays, kicking when it does not pay; the whole thing, the strange phenomena of modern civilization. Then there is the unconscious which is very deep, which requires great penetration, understanding. Either one can understand the whole thing, both the conscious as well as the unconscious immediately, with one look, or you take time through analysing all the intimations and hints of the unconscious which arise through dreams and so on. Please follow this.
You can understand this whole structure of consciousness which is you as a human being, the whole consciousness of two million years of man, all that development, all that psychological structure of society can be understood immediately. Also the whole psychological structure of society with its greed, envy, ambition, despair, can be completely eliminated. Or you can analyse the whole process of consciousness step by step. But analysis will not free the mind. Then what will free the mind from ambition, greed, envy, anger, jealousy, and the demand for power? We also have all the animalistic instincts, consciously as well an unconsciously. And we can understand this whole psychological structure and be totally free of this animalistic, instinctual relationship of man with man, immediately. This is the only way to do it, not through analysis.
It is only with direct contact with fear that you are free.
But to understand this thing, to understand this consciousness, one has to be really free, totally, of fear. Fear is the essence of the animal. Now, to understand fear one must come directly into contact with it – that is, nonverbally. Take your fear: you are afraid of something, maybe of your wife, husband, or children. Take it, look at it, bring it out; not suppress it, not accept it, not deny it, but take hold of it, look at it. To look at it demands a mind fully aware, not a vague, dull mind. When you look at fear, come directly into contact with it, non-abstractly, nonverbally. Most of us do not come into contact with fear. The moment fear shows itself in any form, we run away from it. There is the fear of death. When you are afraid of death, your whole defensive psychological machinery is set going immediately; you invent beliefs, you run away from it, you have visions, you have dreams; but you avoid that thing. So the first thing to realize is that any form of escape not only perpetuates and strengthens fear but creates conflict, and therefore the mind is incapable of coming directly into contact with fear. Suppose the speaker is afraid; he has an idea, he has some hope; and that hope, that idea, that escape, becomes much more important than the fear itself because he is running away from the fact, and the running away—not the fear—creates conflict. When one is directly in contact with something, nonverbally, non-abstractly, without escape, there is no conflict. Only one who has ideas, hopes, opinions, all kinds of defences has conflict; and that conflict prevents one from coming directly into contact with fear. The moment you understand that every form of escape from fear only creates more conflict and therefore there is no direct contact with fear, and that it is only with direct contact with fear that you are free – when you understand that, not intellectually, not verbally, not as something you hear from somebody, but actually, for yourself see that, then you do not escape at all. Then the temple, the book, the leader, the guru, all disappear. Then you are not ambitious.
We have to understand fear and be completely free of it, totally, right through your being. You can only do it when there is no escape of any kind. When you understand this, you are directly in contact with fear. In that contact there is no time interval, there is no saying, ‘I will get over it,’ or ‘I will develop courage,’ when you are frightened. We are dealing with facts, and we cannot deal with what is if there is any form of escape, conscious or unconscious.
There is physical fear. When you see a snake, a wild animal, instinctively there is fear; that is normal, healthy and natural. It is not fear, it is a normal desire to protect oneself. But the psychological protection of oneself, that is, the desire to be always certain, breeds fear. A mind that is seeking always to be certain is a dead mind, because there is no certainty in life, there is no permanency. And because you try to establish permanency in your relationship with your wife, with your family, you have jealousy. When you come directly into contact with fear, there is a response of the nerves. When the mind is no longer escaping through words or through activity of any kind, there is no division between the observer and the thing observed as fear. It is the mind that is escaping that separates itself from fear. But when there is a direct contact with fear there is no observer, there is no entity that says, ‘I am afraid.’ So, the moment you are directly in contact with life, with anything, there is no division and it is this division that breeds competition, ambition and fear.
If you seek a way, a method, a system to be rid of fear, you will be everlastingly caught in fear. But if you understand fear, which can only take place when you come directly in contact with it then you do something. Only then will you find that all fear ceases – we mean all fear, not fear of this kind or of that kind. Because out of the freedom and the understanding and the learning about fear comes intelligence, and intelligence is the essence of freedom. And there is no intelligence if there is any form of conflict, and conflict must exist as long as there is fear.
Krishnamurti in New Delhi 1964, Talk 4
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I do not know whether you are conscious of your own conditioning, what it implies, and whether it is possible to be free. Conditioning is the very root of fear, and where there is fear there is no virtue. To go into this profoundly requires a great deal of intelligence, and we mean by intelligence the understanding of all influence and being free of it.
Krishnamurti in London 1961, Talk 6
VIDEO: The total eradication of fear
There is in our life a constant state of comparison, competition and the everlasting struggle to be somebody – or to be nobody, which is the same thing. This is the root of all fear because it breeds envy, jealousy and hatred. Where there is hatred there is obviously no love, and more and more fear is generated.
Krishnamurti in Saanen 1964, Talk 5
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