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When the disease of stiffness starts it badly engulfs the whole body. Joints become stiff. Sitting, walking and other bodily movements become extremely painful. Mind goes numb. Blood becomes cold. Body refuses to obey the brain. These symptoms may be caused by other ailments too but in otherwise healthy persons they appear in the face of grave fear. The sight of a lion mesmerizes the deer; it is transfixed, forgets galloping and gets killed. The same thing happens when a person is faced with unexpected crisis. He is dumbfounded, his mind stops functioning, his body become cold and limp and consequently mishappenings occur.
J. Krishna Murthi in his work " The First and Last Freedom" writes that the popular perception about fear and its causes is not what the reality is. Fear can only be caused by the known, and not the unknown. People fear death. But death per se can not cause fear. In normal circumstances, death can not be known or perceived. How can we fear something which we have not seen or of whose pain or severity we have had no personal experience? Then what causes fear? Krishnamurthy explains that the fear actually comes from the imagined pain of permanent separation from the near and dear ones and from the cherished possessions , luxuries and life’s enjoyments. It is this perception of separation that is the real cause of fear.
Suppose a child who has never heard about or seen a ghost suddenly comes across one. What will happen? It is certain that the child will not run away. Indeed the chances are that he would be glad to find a companion. This is the fearlessness of ignorance. It is for this reason that children all over the world are found much more fearless and bold than adults in general. They have no idea of the all consuming power of fire or the dreadful nature of venomous creatures like snake or scorpion. That is why we often hear of their touching fire or catching poisonous insects and in the process suffering burns or painful stings.
Pious persons, on the other hand, fear God because they are aware of the scheme of karmaphala - law of "As you sow so shall you reap". The presence of lepers, handicapped and diseased persons in the society presents to them visible proofs of the terrible fate, which befalls wrong doers. Hence, they ever remain conscious of avoiding such wrong or sinful acts as would beget them suffering and pain in future time or future birth.
Then there is also a category of persons who are well aware of the risks involved and yet would play with dangerous situations, things or animals. Snake-charmers daily catch deadly snakes, hunters frequently go on tiger hunts. These things do not frighten them. In fact, they keep searching for their prey and are glad to find them, whereas ordinary persons would shiver at the very thought of fiddling with them.
People are scared of darkness. Lonely and forlorn places cause fright. Myriad apprehensions arise in the mind- "What danger is awaiting in the dark? What wild creature is lurking behind to pounce upon?" Heart beat increases. Legs tremble. But when one makes bold to enter with a light and looks around, nothing horrifying is seen. It is the feebleness of mind, which makes a mountain out of a molehill. It conjures up phantom fears and then inflates and embellishes these into a life-threatening calamity, which is just imminent. In reality, only some minor cause might be there, and that too so insignificant as could be dealt with easily.
Millions of people live and work in the dark. In forest regions, lamp is only occasionally used. Tribal families live in small huts in dense jungles. Farmers everywhere sleep in the fields to guard their crops at night. The very rich live in open bungalows on the city outskirts. No body is devoured by robbers and ghosts. Occasional indents do occur, but they may take place even in broad daylight and anywhere. Real situations of fear are few and far between. Mostly, people create imaginary crises in the mind and fear these self-constructed mental images.
Fear is essentially a reflection of cowardice. As are the facial features, so would the mirror show. It is the inner weakness of a coward that is reflected in the world-mirror. Fear begins only when we accept that we are not capable of facing up to a crisis situation. Those who have confidence in their capacity to negotiate difficult times and meet the problems head on, who believe that they possess necessary prudence, and strength for the purpose, and who are optimistic that their friends and even providence would help them are able to successfully banish all imaginary fears from their minds and feel unburdened.
An eminent Hungarian psychologist Ferange Nadestudy has recounted one more cause of fear in his work "Fear or Freedom". He writes that fear arises only when there is a desire to live life in a particular mould; there is a craving for a specific kind of life-style. By breaking this mould or abandoning this desire man can get temporary freedom from fear. But for this to happen it is essential to first recognize the nexus between desire and fear, to realize that a particular desire is generating this fear and the fear, in turn, is strengthening that desire. Even after this realization, according to him, the resulting respite would be only temporary, not permanent. This is because a mould-breaking action would have only limited impact. The only difference it makes is that we would leave one life-style to enter upon a different life-style. If we break this one too, we would get attached to another life-style. All these different life-styles would in turn, produce their own respective fears. The fact is that any such effort directed towards mould-breaking would only produce a new mould, a new system, and ultimately a new fear. Finally, we arrive at the conclusion that freedom from fear is not possible through this process of making and breaking. Enduring peace will home only when the root cause, the mind, is disciplined and purified.
A mind always full of malice, intrigues and plots will know no peace. Such a person is always suspicious of others’ actions, of being betrayed by them or of their revenge. He lives in constant terror that he would be exposed, that people would become wary of him and would no longer fall in his trap, that their condemnation and non-cooperation would make his future bleak. Such thoughts keep haunting him. Wrong and sinful deeds invite punishments- by the society, by the law and by God. He is sure to get these punishments some day either collectively or separately. This thought constantly gnaws at his heart and terrifies him. Other punishments may be late in coming but self-punishment begins the moment one steps on to the wrong path and continually torments the mind and soul.
The British psychologist Richard Garnett writes in his book "Psychology of Fear" that physical pain is a function of nerves, a nerve reaction to some pain stimulus. But mental-emotional pain arises in a condition of man’s deep attachment to an object. In such a condition, nearness to the object is soothing and comforting. But, conversely, one begins to fear any such person or thing as can separate him from the object. Man is an aggregate of accumulated experiences that act as a bulwark against inner turmoil and disquietude. As long as these psychological and physical experiences are not disturbed they prevent any onset of psychological pain. This being so, man fears all such things as can disturb and deharmonise those experiences. His is thus a phobia of the unknown, a fear of those very experiences which he has accumulated to avoid pain and suffering. In the end, Garnett, too, concludes that this knowledge can at best only alleviate pain; it is not a means to secure freedom from fear.
Ignorance, too, is considered a major cause of fear. Primitive man was completely in the dark about natural phenomena; the eclipses, thunder and lightning, the comets and the like. He feared them, held them in awe and resorted to numerous rites and sacrifices to propitiate these ‘deities’. Later, as he gained knowledge of these phenomena, the fear vanished. Interestingly. Even as old fears of ghosts and supernatural things are dwindling away, their place is increasingly being taken over by new fears.
It is an irony that man unnecessarily remains in fear of those whom he should not fear, but becomes quite bold and uninhibited vis-a-vis that of which he should be really fearful. Man should fear God, His karmaphala, divine retribution, sinful acts etc. But he does not. How many people do we see flinching at deceit, conspiracy, backbiting, dishonesty, lying, consuming intoxicants and other immoral acts. Instead we find people living in terror of non-existing ghosts or mortal beings like criminals and terrorists. We should be conscious of this ignorance of ours and refuse to submit ourselves to such persons or things or situations, which are really petty and weak. Fear if we must, should be from God’s Law and our malevolent tendencies. The causes of our sorrow as well as the means of real happiness both are inherent in these. The sooner we realize this truth, the better.
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