Buddhist psychology provides an elegant way of tracking the mental and emotional worlds and how these intersect with the physical plane. Fear and shame are not considered or labeled necessarily “bad” emotions. In fact, it is taught that if you do not feel shame for harming another, you are at higher risk for repeating the action that could potentially create negative karma. The same goes for fear. We must stay in touch with a certain level of fear that we might cause suffering for another or others. This is meant to motivate us to continually hold each other as loving and luminous beings who are all worthy of compassion and loving kindness. WOW! This feels to me like the antidote for what ails us as a society today.
Buddhist philosophy goes on to identify eight great fears. The eight great fears each have an inner and an outer aspect (microcosm and macrocosm) to how they show up. They each have different rot causes and conditions for arising that are secondary to destructive emotions that are cultivated as a result of attachment, aversion and ignorance; or the three poisons that keep us cycling through an existence that includes suffering. The outer fears come from dangers we believe threaten our property, life, or loved ones and the inner fears cause spiritual endangerment because of the negative karma they can engender through actions that cause us to turn away from treating each other with loving kindness and compassion.
The way these Eight Great Fears are described are as both inner and outer aspects:
1 . Attachment (inner)- Drowning (outer)
Fear comes from the greatest attachment we as humans have, which is to the self or to “I”. This is the largest source of suffering for us. When we believe we are threatened we suffer. And yet, this “I” is actually a projection on a screen. We are not our roles, our bodies, our lives even. We are actually each an emanation of light that emerges from the joy of creation.
The second greatest attachment is to “my”, such as “my daughter”, “my husband”, “my car”, “my house”, “my image”, “my reputation”, and so on and on and on. When the “I” and “my” are perceived as in danger, the ego alarm bells go off and we start to fight, flee, freeze, or faint. The more possessions, power, and perceived purpose we have in this world, the more we will feel like we are drowning in our attachments. COVID has given each of us an opportunity to really contemplate this attachment issue. The greatest attachment we are getting up front and personal with is our desire to have control, to know the outcome, to survive. Fear is generated when we feel “out of control” or like we are losing all we have become attached to. This kind of fear can feel very much like drowning.
2. Wrong Views (inner)- Thieves (outer)
The reason wrong views are pictured as thieves is because they steal contentment, peace, and equanimity.
If you have the view that reality is only what you can see, feel, hear, smell, or taste then you will suffer when you lose those sensations because you will have the view that you (the “I”) is disappearing and this will create a great deal of fear.
Each of the remaining inner aspects will create its own unique brand of fear that then has an outer symbol or archetype that can serve as a reminder as we travel the road of life.
3. Pride (inner)- Lions (outer)
4. Jealousy and Envy (inner)- Snakes (outer)
5. Anger and Hatred (inner)- Fire (outer)
6. Doubt (inner)- Demons (outer)
7. Greed or miserliness (inner)- Chains (outer)
8. Ignorance (inner)- Elephant (outer)
So, what is the solution? I have found the simple, yet beautiful Practice of Tonglen meditation helps to center me when I am tangled in my attachments, wrong views, pride, jealousy, anger, doubt, greed, or ignorance. HERE is a detailed description of this beautiful practice by Pema Chodron.