Meredith: Recently I’ve been curious about the nature of fear, and how it affects us in ways we may not even realize. It seems to me that fear can be a prison of sorts, keeping us from doing what we might otherwise do if we were not afraid. I’m not necessarily talking about taking big physical risks, but rather the risk to speak our truth, to live our truth, and to love.
Akilesh: Hunter S. Thompson titled his last book, the last book before he committed suicide, The Kingdom of Fear. Where is the kingdom of fear? Where does one look from to see the kingdom of fear?
In our conditioned existence we often harbor an unquestioned affiliation with fear and want. Through our conditioning we are thoroughly and comprehensively programmed in the ways of want and fear. These two factors inform and animate unconscious behavior more than anything else. Ignorance or unconsciousness has the whole conditioning process remain underground, unavailable to conscious awareness.
We are in a trance of self, hypnotized by our programming. Unless we deeply investigate the source of this conditioning, and unconceal it, we are unable to go beyond it. Most people never get past their loyalty and allegiance to self-identity. We will do almost anything to move the discussion away from the examination of self-identity and the role it plays in want and fear, the central role it plays in suffering. An escape from suffering is the major factor motivating most seekers. Yet if ego clinging or allegiance to self-identity is mentioned in the context of the origin of suffering, people often respond with a dazed and confused look, they will look at you as if to say, "What color is the sky in the world you live in? I didn't ask you about my ego or my identity or who I am, I am inquiring into my suffering." The connection between ego clinging and suffering eludes most people. The vast majority of folks do not want to "go there." We simply do not want to examine that connection. Yet that connection relates directly to the root of our suffering. If we do not cut the root, suffering will grow back. If we just address the symptom, the underlying disease continues, and it manifests in a myriad of other ways, lifelong.
Meredith: So to talk about our fears really leads us into a deeper discussion of our very selves, our self identity rather than merely grappling with the threat of suffering.
Akilesh: It is much, much easier talking ad nauseam about our suffering. It is seductive and seems to distract us momentarily. But to actually come to grips with our suffering, to dig down into the layers where the origin of it lay, is difficult work. It is as if we are digging a well. While the water is already present, it is not superficial. It lies deep, below the surface. Many layers of rock and soil need to be penetrated and removed, then the water starts flowing and is revealed. Because of the layers of conditioning, our true nature is concealed, it is not superficial. Just like the layers of rock and dirt need to be removed for the water to be revealed, the layers of our conditioning need to be penetrated in order for Being to reveal itself, and begin flowing in us. One of the deeper layers that must be penetrated is fear.
Meredith: In part, the seed for this discussion began when my friend Larry said, "Radical Christianity is extremely scary." I asked him to elaborate and he replied, "My vision of radical Christianity means that it may very likely lead to the same fate that Jesus, and perhaps, Tom Fox, suffered. That's too scary for me to get very radical. Don't get too radical, or someone will crucify you." However, I asked Larry about the frequency of people being crucified in today’s world, and he affirmed that he believes it still does happen - not in the same way as Jesus, but in other forms. I learned that his Friend, Tom Fox, with the Christian Peacemaker Teams, has been abducted in Iraq. My heart goes out to this Friend - I know that he is held in the Light by many.
Akilesh: I take Larry's reference to "radical" to mean that which goes against the grain of culture and conditioning, against the Pharisees, consensus reality as advanced by our parents, pastors, professors and politicians. If one begins questioning consensus reality, if one begins questioning the understructure of identity, if one begins to question the beliefs and assumptions that undergird the structure of self-identity, it's etiology and persistence, then in one way or another, the identity is vulnerable to psychological crucifixion. Contempt from our peers and elders, social rejection and ostracization is a formidable disincentive to radical inquiry. It challenges our need to belong, and is tied to our survival. Ego fixation and the context of survival go hand in hand. With respect to survival, people get very, very serious. It is a theme that surfaces again and again and again. Why? On some level the mind identified self senses it is a fiction. Exposing this fiction is perceived by the mind as a death sentence. Because we are so closely identified with our thinking and the self that is posited to be doing the thinking, the coming to the end of the self feels like death. Hence the fear. This process welds us to the concept of self-identity. We guard, defend and protect this psychological illusion with the same ferocity as we do with our own physical life. It's about the survival of our self.
Meredith: This is the same self that in terms of coming closer to God, we "die unto." In other words, we willingly give up clinging to this self to inhabit the kingdom, to awaken to our true nature as did the Buddha, to breathe with the spirit of Christ. On the one hand most would say we want to be closer to God, but it is so difficult to really give up this control.
Akilesh: The survival of our self, whether physical or psychological, is facilitated by power and control, acquiring and maintaining control. Digging down through the layers of emotion, down through want and fear, one comes to a deeper layer -- the need to control. This need is deeply ingrained in the conditioned human being, whether President of the United States or a bag lady, in a professor of business administration at Stanford or a primitive tribal hunter deep in the Amazon basin.
Meredith: My sense is that sentiments of fear actually preclude others from enjoying their own ability to witness. This makes me very sad.
Akilesh: Enjoyment, my friend, is far, far away from the serious conversations of this mind. En-joy-ment, authentic joy, a celebratory being is foreign to those preoccupied with the sentiments of fear. Those so absorbed they feel they are responding to a higher order value, a deeper call. To speak to them of enjoyment, while they are engaged with the world's most serious and dire conditions and circumstances, is to appear frivolous and ludicrous. You are dismissed. "Enjoyment? How can you bring up enjoyment and celebration in the face of such suffering in the world? With the world going to hell in a handbasket? Pull your head out of your flatulent, self-involved ass and smell the coffee! When was the last time you turned on your TV or read U.S. News & World Report, or listened to CNN or NPR? Inform yourself, it is grim and brutal out there. Not only is truth, justice and the American way at risk, but our very survival is being challenged."
Meredith: Most of us are not in harms way spiritually, not in the line of fire, so to speak. Most of us live in peaceful stable communities where witness seems an easy and natural way of being. Why we are afraid of dying for our beliefs? Why do we hold this fear, even when the possibility of our demise is so remote?
Akilesh: Because the "possibility of our demise" as a self-identity is far from remote. We are suffering and dying for our beliefs every day. We go to the grave clinging desperately to our beliefs. We forgo the possibility of eternal life by clinging to our beliefs. We cling to our beliefs so tightly that it takes the hand of death to pry our cold, dead fingers from them. Beliefs are not worth dying for, and yet generation after generation, we die for our beliefs. We go to the grave committed to our beliefs instead of seeing through them, and letting them go, releasing them. Why do we cling so tightly to our beliefs? Why we are willing to suffer and die for them, for hot air, words on paper, for transient and impermanent thoughts and feelings? Because the possibility of our demise as a self-identity is at stake, nothing less. Our survival as a separate entity, a self, is felt to be at stake.
Meredith: Beliefs are generally so tightly held; it seems that we allow them to define us in a way.
Akilesh: Beliefs are the mainstays of the mind identified self. When this self-identity is seen through, when we awaken from the trance of a separate self-identity, belief falls away. We do not need to believe anything because we realize we are Truth itself. Realizing we are truth itself makes belief superfluous. Truth does not need belief, it stands on its own. One recognizes at that point how belief was used to bolster and substantiate the ego. We identify with our beliefs, we believe them because not believing put us in the uncomfortable position of not knowing who we are. Without belief we are naked. We use belief to shield us from the open vulnerability, unknowing freshness, and initial insecurity of nakedness. Belief is of the mind. It is insubstantial. When we cling to our beliefs as if they are real, we live in delusion and we suffer. When we open the tight fist of control and release our clinging to belief, initially we feel shaky because of our conditioning . Existing as openness, as the Whole, as Being or pure consciousness feels initially insecure to one who has lived his whole life as a self-identity and ego fixated. But this openness is our true nature. Realizing our true nature has all belief and ideology fall away.
Meredith: Recently I read this wonderful quote by Joseph Campbell: "You have to go past the imagined image of Jesus. Such an image of one's god becomes a final obstruction, one's ultimate barrier. You hold on to your own ideology, your own little manner of thinking, and when a large experience of God approaches, an experience greater than you are prepared to receive, you take flight from it by clinging to the image in your mind. This is known as preserving your faith."
Akilesh: Try to penetrate into these words. What does he mean by "the imagined image." He says we hold on to our own ideology, our own little manner of thinking. We cling to our beliefs, our familiar patterns of thinking, our self-identity. And when existence, God, Being comes to us, to fill us, we are closed, we are filled to the brim with our ideology, our "little manner of thinking." When the whole comes to fill us, we realize that the self-identity, the little me is unable to contain vastness, the Whole so we are resistive, unwilling to let go of who we formally thought we were, Little Me, this small self-identity, and we escape, run away by "clinging to the image in your mind," by clinging, holding on to self-identity, the image of ourselves we are familiar with. Clinging to this image of self, we also project an image of other, the "imagined image of Jesus," or God, or enlightenment. Joseph Campbell says "this is known as preserving your faith." I say, this is known as preserving your self. I see this kind of faith as an accoutrement of self-identity; a prop of the false self; an outgrowth of the innocent misperception that who you are is a mind identified self.
Meredith: It seems apparent to me that clinging to our belief and ideology occludes realization, love, and celebration of life. From what you suggest, releasing our attachment to belief, letting go of our allegiance to a mind identified self, allows our original face to emerge, allows the fragrance of love to blossom in our lives, and allows for a celebration of what is. It allows for deep acceptance. It allows for irrational gratitude. It allows for an intuitive wisdom beyond imagination. I would love to see this blossom everywhere.
A friend, Mark, asked, "How can we overcome this natural defensiveness (to deeper teachings) in a way that doesn't cause people to become defensive or feel like their faith needs defending or that they are being challenged?" I don’t have a perfect answer, but the bridge I would take is to love. The strongest thing I can do is to love openly, freely, unabashedly. I want to be the one holding the other's hand. I want to lead people who are guarded and afraid, deeper into their own hearts to fearlessly meet up with their own tenderness. I want to encourage people to love fully, and enjoy their lives fully.
Akilesh: This does bring us back to love. Contrary to your thinking, you do have the perfect response. What if, in the face of aggression, enmity and greed, we responded from naked Being with tenderness and celebration and love? It seems so obvious doesn't it? Yet this is not characteristically the common response. Why? Because we do not realize who we are. And not knowing who we are, we have no access to authentic love. It is something else, affection, kindness, tolerance perhaps, but not love. Do you see it? Everything stems from the realization of one's true nature. Without this realization our efforts are simply more of the same ego fixated activity. And whatever comes out of ego fixated activity, including our so-called love will not address the root cause of suffering. The symptoms will continue to reemerge unless the underlying disease is addressed.
Meredith: Long ago you suggested that I inquire into my own fear. This has been a dynamic inquiry, one that likely is far from over. However, in the process of this inquiry, when I have utterly watched my own fears rise, and then fall away, the solvency of my fears becomes highlighted. Fears truly seem to dissipate in the light. When I experience my own fears disintegrating, I notice that I am left feeling very refreshed, open to love, open to light, open to love and enjoy this life I have.
Akilesh: A key in your passage are the words, "the light." This light is realization, this light is wisdom, this light is the recognition of your original face, your original nature. This light is the light of pure, naked consciousness. It is without boundaries, without belief, it is open, it is emptiness and the fullness of emptiness. And as you so often, so very often have noted it is warm. In other words it is love, authentic, genuine love.
The entire scope of this dialogue can be summed up in the following: fear "dissipates in the light." We do nothing with fear other than allow it. We don't try to fight it or manipulate it. We don't try to push it away or pull it to us. We simply allow it. It is what is. When it comes, it comes, we don't prevent it. When it goes, it goes, we don't hang on to it. Instead our response is from the light, from wisdom, from warmth. Even though we may be feeling overrun by fear, we respond with openness and light, with an understanding acceptance and warmth. By and by the darkness, the fear dissipates in the light. This is the point. We keep our fidelity to the light, to awakening, to warmth and love. We have had the experience of realizing our original nature. Now we must keep our human fidelity to this realization. This is the antidote to fear -- Love. Don't try to mess with or manipulate the fear. Instead turn up the vibration of love. This love comes out of the realization of our true nature.
This brings us to celebration. To the ego fixated mind, celebrating in the face of suffering, is difficult to conceive. But a rejoicing heart, a celebratory being, a heart filled with love, is the antidote to aggression and to fear. And it starts with each individual, within each individual. So often we are focused externally, looking outward for the cure, the fix, salvation. When we are ego fixated, that's where we look, outside. It is a victim mentality, an impoverished victim orientation. The villain, the evil is seen to be external as is the cure or the answer to that evil. We have discovered the way is within, to look within our own broken hearts to find the wellspring of love, and to celebrate that love as openly and ecstatically as we can. Can you see how questions that come from an external orientation tend to dissolve in the face of a love and joy that comes from within? For example Mark's question, "How can we overcome this natural defensiveness in a way that doesn't cause people to become defensive or feel like their faith needs defending or that they are being challenged?" Such questions dissolve, do they not? They rot on the vine, unanswered, and they just drop to the earth and dissolve. Am I confusing you? Realizing who you are, such questions evaporate - the questions about how to overcome defensiveness, how to interact with people so that they do not become defensive, how to relate to people so they don't feel challenged or don't feel they need to defend their faith. These are questions, which are questions about suffering, that come from mind, from the thinking and feeling of a mind identified self. Let's go of clinging to this mind and the questions dissolve. Address the root cause of suffering and the symptoms dissolve, disappear, dissipate. You may occasionally get caught up with other’s passion about the symptoms, yes? I would nudge you lovingly deeper, to the root cause of the disease. I would nudge you past preoccupation with symptomology to ferret out the more difficult and intractable disease of self-identity. When this deeper causal factor is addressed, the symptoms take care of themselves, they evaporate. But one must be willing to move past belief, belief in the reality of the symptoms, and dig to the deeper layer from which the symptoms arise. Otherwise any medicine that you apply is only addressing surface symptomology. We want to get the medicine applied directly to the root cause. This involves digging into the question, "Who am I?"
Meredith: Ahh... the great question. I love this question. It always draws me into the open. It frees me.
Akilesh: Remember, fear does not imprison. We are not in prison. Our prison walls are illusory. This illusion is a result of an innocent misperception of who we are. This misperception arises from our programming and conditioning. Through this conditioning we cling to a self-identity, and thus live in an illusory prison of our own making. We maintain these illusory prison walls on a moment to moment basis by believing in their substantiality, solidity and permanence; by subscribing to the belief that these walls represent who we are. Without maintaining these walls they crumble. Without giving energy to the illusion, it dissipates. It fades into the background, revealing our original nature which had been covered over by constant thinking and doing, by a preoccupation with the symptoms, by an allegiance to and belief in a self.
Meredith: Thank you so much Akilesh for this potent teaching.
Akilesh: And I thank you, Meredith, for your courage to inquire.