2.9 sva-rasa-vahi vidushah api tatha rudhah abhiniveshah
Bouanchaud: Fear is present even for the sage and develops from its own inherent source.
Desikachar: Insecurity is the inborn feeling of anxiety for what is to come. It affects both the ignorant and the wise.
Swami J: Even for those people who are learned, there is an ever-flowing, firmly established love for continuation and a fear of cessation, or death, of these various coloured modifications (kleshas).
We all have something we’re afraid of. For me, it’s dentists and spiders. At least those are the two that have blossomed into full-fledged phobias. Fear is part of the human condition. It’s part of our mental wiring. It’s one of the ways we make sense of the phenomenon of the world. Without fear being wired into our mental profile as a species, we wouldn’t be here. Our ancestors would have been lunch for some big animal on the savannah a long time ago.
As much as we like to cast ourselves as evolutionary super-heroes (survival of the fittest and all that), the inescapable fact is that we are the descendents of the Palaeolithic Nervous Nellies. You can see it now – two guys walking through the grassland when they see a large, long, rough skinned animal basking in the sun by the watering hole. Chap A says “Hey, let’s go check that out…”
Chap B didn’t hear him because he was screaming and sprinting in the opposite direction. Which one do we call “Grandpa”? You guess it – the sprinter. Chap A was the crocodile’s lunch.
You can see how this built-in natural sense of fear has its advantages. At the bottom of it, is the very real fear of death. Humans are remarkably conscious of their own mortality and it colours our perception of the world around us. At some, usually unconscious level, we’re all on the lookout for the thing that can “get us”. This worked pretty well when we lived in caves. Now that we live in cubicles and the things that can get us are “the boss’ stare” or “contents of my in-box”, this fear reaction can get out of hand very quickly. We call it ‘stress’. I liked Desikachar’s translation in this sutra – the inborn feeling of anxiety for what is to come. It really captures the essence of the problem.
And here’s the big point – it’s inborn. Everyone experiences it – sage and fool alike. Some of us have better methods for managing it. Some of us have positively destructive methods for handling it. Some of us are better at hiding it from others but we all experience it. Remember that the kleshas are part of our programming and we cannot eliminate them. At best, we work towards reducing their hold on our perception so we can see reality clearly.
How many of us spend our days bouncing between the posts of hope and fear? We hope that the situation will turn out like this but we fear that it won’t. We hope we have enough money for our retirement but we fear that that we don’t. I hope my heart will be healed but I fear that it won’t. I’m scared witless that I’m never going to comprehend my sociology readings enough to pass the exam. It goes on and on. Hope. Fear. Hope. Fear. No wonder I suffer from near permanent emotional whiplash.
The fact is that all my hoping and fearing are just mental distractions. My heart is what it is – regardless of what I hope or fear. My retirement savings are what they are – regardless of what emotional attachment I’ve added to them. Furthermore, worry, anxiety and all the rest of that band of brigands provide no useful action concerning my heart, my retirement savings or my upcoming sociology exam.
This is what it means to be caught in the kleshas. I’m so entangled in their web that I can’t settle myself down enough to see that I need to put more money away, do my readings and accept my heart function for what it is right now. All the energy that goes into the hoping and fearing is wasted energy; however, I believe we’re hardwired for it. It’s our default setting. In order to overcome it, we need to take active measures to reduce it. I don’t believe for a minute that tranquility is our native state. I think a zillion years of evolution has wired our species for hyper-vigilance and predicting outrageous outcomes. If I want to extract myself from this mental stew, I have to take concrete actions towards that goal. For me, that means practice. Postural practice, breath practice, self-reflection practice, study, mantra, mudra, meditation – it doesn’t matter what the form is so long as it is consistent. It’s been discussed before but it always comes back to this: abhyasa
and vairagya. I clean up my head space and my body space when I maintain an abiding practice and let go of the results. I see reality instead of just my fear surrounding it.
For those Canadians in the crowd, Happy Thanksgiving. I hope your Tofukey or suitable substitute is wonderful.
Thanks for reading and Namaste,