In Buddhism there are three big reasons why we are suffering, and every other smaller reason can be chalked up to one of these three big ones. I’ve talked before about greed and ignorance, but right now the one I see most prevalent around us is fear. If these three poisons, as we call them, are the cause of all of life’s suffering, then perhaps none has caused quite so much actual death, destruction, and mayhem as fear. We’re living in a time when we as a society, at least in the Western world, live, work, create, and exist in an atmosphere of fear. It pervades everything around us, and we are so engulfed by it, so conditioned to accept it as a natural way of things, that we are like a fish who swims in the ocean and never knows that he is in water, we breathe the fear and exhale anger. even those of us on the supposed peaceful path have a lot of anger. And it doesn’t require taking a very hard look to realize how extremely poisonous and harmful of a world this has created for us.
Lets take a look to the news for an example; right now in the United States is a huge debate about gun control, this is mostly the result of a series of tragic mass killings and a growing realization on the part of the average citizen of the extraordinary number of deaths related to firearms in this country. Frankly, my point in this labor is not to take a side, but to simply to show what an environment of fear can do to an otherwise rational debate. If you asked somebody who is against gun control why they don’t want any form of restriction on firearms you can get all kinds of answers that relate to home security or personal safety or hunting, but just getting a little deeper and asking why they are against even seemingly benign and reasonable restrictions you find that 90% of them, the people who are hard-core gun enthusiasts let’s say, will tell you that the real reason they don’t want any restriction at all on firearms is because they feel it is their only defense against our own government. In other words these folks really believe that at any moment an American Nazi-type regime Gestapo could come in and try to ” take over”, and for these folks it is a perfectly reasonable line of argument to say we should have absolutely no restrictions on guns that we should allow the amazing number of killings that we have every single year, and that we should allow tragedies like dozens of schoolkids being shot in mass killings to occur because of a Fear of some fantasy attempt at a ” takeover “occurring. It’s kind of like deciding that we should all live underground concrete bunkers because one day the moon men might come down and try to take our women. The likelihood is almost exactly the same of these two events occurring, and yet otherwise rational people act and believe like this ridiculous notion could occur and furthermore they surround themselves, their families, their neighbors, with frightening firepower and ignore all the studies which are shown that they are far more likely to harm their own children or spouse or themselves than to ever defend themselves from any outside force.
You want talk about one another example that it’s a bit less politically hot? Did you know that up until the turn of the 20th century there was no such thing as mouthwash for bad breath? oh i am sure it existed and that people didn’t like it, but it wasn’t considered a big enough deal to have a whole separate product for it. All it took was one genius to write that first ads tagline along the lines of “I would marry her, but that breath!” And now we have a multimillion dollar industry dedicated to making our breath not smell. The company wanted to sell a product, and so created a fear that has now lasted for 100 years and probably never go away. Need more examples? All it takes is a cursory glance at magazines from the late 1800s to realize that what was once considered a healthy body would today be considered obese. Once again a company(s) wanted to sell a product (or several million products in the case of weight loss and body image) and so they created a fear. Millions of us torture ourselves worrying about whether our bodies are too fat, smelly, dark, or light. Fear is a natural state but these days it is being used for profoundly unnatural reasons by people for both political and financial gain.
It’s incredibly liberating reach a certain age or meditate long enough to get up with the fear and to decide to stop feeling it. And it really does happen that way by the way, one day for whatever reason, you just get tired of accepting it. At least if you’re lucky, there’s a lot of people out there watching news pundits, reading inflammatory website,s believing in obscure ridiculous conspiracies who never get tired of the fear, but man, it’s got a be like drinking poison every day though. No matter how much you think you like the taste, and a how immune you think you are, there comes a time when this will finally beat you down and destroy your health so thoroughly that you ceased to be functional.
FDR is famous for having created a quote” the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” that quote might be more accurate now than even when he when he came up with it during the Great Depression. Fortunately, there is a way out of the fear trap. And like most solutions to the complicated problems of our lives the solution seems goes against the conditioning that we have been indoctrinated with her whole lives. In the same illogical way that the only way to cure hate is with love and the only way to cure intolerance is by understanding the intolerant, it turns out the only way to cure fear is to let ourselves be vulnerable. To accept that these things that happen in our lives are not the end of the world and to see that the real drama and trouble doesn’t come from outside of us but from our own minds. It is true that our nation in particular is subject to pernicious dosing of fear from those who use it to control us ( the gun manufacturers and weight-loss companies and fashion magazines and news pundits make their living because we are fearful) and they do a very good job of convincing us that we need fear, but we don’t. At the end of the day they are afraid, they are afraid of us no longer being afraid. All those groups who make a profit of our paranoia live in mortal fear that one day we will not air each other that we will realize how alike we really are, that we will get to know our neighbors not as foes or potential competition but as people who are very much like us trying to live lives very much like the ones we wish to live. And to start to live this way is the ultimate middle finger in the face of fear, to say “I refuse to drink your poison.”