Fear and Anxiety

Simple|Suttas reader Luke Avendon requested the S|S treatment for Majjhima Nikaya #4. Good choice, Luke! This is a quite long sutta, so I have scooped out some of the juiciest selections.

Once when the Buddha was living at Savatthi, the Bhramin Janussoni came to talk with him.

“When people ordain as Buddhists,” he asked, “do they take you as their leader and example?”

“Yes,” the Buddha replied, “that is so.”

“But living in the jungle all by yourself is very difficult. Most people would go mad if they don’t have strong samadhi [deep states of meditation].”

“Yes,” the Buddha replied, “that is so. Before my Liberation, when I was still a spiritual seeker, I also worried that the deep jungle would drive me mad if I couldn’t develop my samadhi. But when I thought about it, I realized: ‘When spiritual seekers that have not yet perfected their practice of virtue go into the jungles, they are full of fear and anxiety. But I have perfected my virtue.’ When I realized this, the jungle was a place of peace for me.

The same is true for speech, thought, and livelihood. For one imperfect in these things, the jungle is a place of fear and anxiety. For one perfect in these things, it is a place of peace.

When spiritual seekers are full of lust, hate, laziness, anxiety, or doubt, the jungle is a place of fear and anxiety. But I am free of lust, hate, laziness, anxiety, and doubt.

When spiritual seekers praise themselves and criticize others, when they are easily frightened, when they constantly desire honor and fame, the jungle is a place of fear and anxiety. But I do not praise myself and criticize others. I am free from fear. I am not easily frightened. And I do not desire honor and fame.

When spiritual seekers lack energy, are unmindful, do not practice deep meditation, and lack wisdom, the jungle is a place of fear and anxiety. But I am energetic, ever mindful, practice deep meditation, and have wisdom.

So I thought, ‘What if I were to spend certain special days in especially scary places like shrines deep in the woods? Then I too might feel that fear.” And as I sat in those deep woods, wild animals would approach me, a branch would snap, or the leaves would flutter in the wind.

I thought, “Now will I feel that fear?” And then: “Why am I always expecting to feel fear? If fear does arise I should just stay in the same posture and work to overcome that fear.”

When I was walking one day, that feeling of fear did arise. So I just kept walking until I had overcome that fear. I did the same when I was standing, sitting, or lying down. I simply stayed in that same position until I had overcome that fear.

Tremendous energy course through me. My mindfulness was strong. My body was peaceful and calm. My mind was concentrated. So immediately I set to practicing first jhana. And when my mind stilled even further, I entered and dwelt in the second jhana. And when my bliss subsided, I entered and dwelt in the third jhana. And when I finally went beyond all pleasure and pain, I entered and dwelt in the fourth jhana.

When my mind was concentrated, pure, bright, and secure, I directed it to remembering my past lives. I remembered many thousands of past lives in all their details. This was the knowledge I gained in the first watch of the night. I was freed from ignorance, my insight was true, a light arose inside me. This is something that can be accomplished by any who seek diligently.

Then I directed my mind to the death and rebirth of others. I saw how their actions in this life lead to rebirth in the next. This was the knowledge I gained in the second watch of the night. Again, I was freed from ignorance, my insight was true, a light arose inside me. This too is something that can be accomplished by any who seek diligently.

Then I directed my mind to spiritual purification. I understood directly:
1. This is suffering
2. This is why we suffer
3. This is how we bring about the end of suffering
4. And this is the path leading to the end of suffering

When I saw this, my mind was freed from lust, freed from self, freed from ignorance. I knew for a certainty: “I have lived the holy life through and through. I have done was must be done. I will never more be reborn.” This was the knowledge I gained in the third watch of the night.

Now, you might not believe that I am really free of desire, hatred, and delusion. You might think this is why I still go to the jungle to practice. But this is not the case. I still go into the jungle both because it is enjoyable for me now and out of compassion for generations of future spiritual seekers.

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