The Need to Overcome Fear in the Realisation of the Atman

In the external world, fear plays a role that can both hinder progress, and protect from impulsive or rash action that would result in injury, loss or death. If fear is excessive, it paralyzes the individual into inaction. If it is insufficient, he may rush into circumstances far beyond his expectation and suffer the consequences. Fear is like a tripwire and a defensive wall. Depending on how sensitively it has been set, we determine the limits of our external life beyond which we do not go.

When one enters the vital domains, and leaves behind the protection of the physical body, the individual can be confronted with forces that are far more powerful and in some cases actually asuric or demonic in their nature and in this realm, fear reactions actually entice and encourage these hostile beings to attack. Fear in the vital world communicates weakness and helplessness, and thus encourages attacks. When one leaves behind the protection of the physical, external body to enter the vital realms, a fearless armor is one of the most important forms of protection, along with a steady focus on the spiritual truth and a call to the forces that guide, support and aid along the way. This is also a reason why the seeker should not rush headlong into an attempt to seize the experiences, as if he is unready and unprepared, he can suffer great harm.

The spiritual seeker, who is consciously delving into the inner realms and leaving the surface consciousness behind during this time, also has to confront various forms of fear, not simply the challenges in the vital arena, but even more existential fears, so long as the ego-personality remains active, organised and dominant in the seeker. An out of body experience for instance not only can subject the seeker to the vital forces, but can bring about the fear of separation or dissolution of the link to the body, and thus, death in the external world of the physical body. In order to traverse the vital worlds in the out of body experience and return, there must be a steady, calm, centred awareness that maintains the link to the physical existence.

Shifting the standpoint of the consciousness to the spiritual planes also requires the being to confront fear. For many, the first approach to the boundary separating the spiritual plane from the external world raises up an existential fear, which is, in reality, the fear of the dissolution of the ego and the individual personality. The rising up of fear during this process pulls the individual back from the boundary and into the external consciousness. Eventually, particularly with guidance from an experienced teacher or guru, the individual can face this fear, go beyond the boundary and enter fully into the spiritual planes of consciousness. If this fear is not surmounted, the individual remains rooted in the external world and its limitations and the spiritual development is limited from that point forward.

As the individual passes into the spiritual planes, an entirely new type of fear arises, in that there is a vast, immense silence that permeates the mind and the rest of the being, and the individual is afraid to release the habitual reliance on the mental processes to act in the world. However, no transformation can take place unless the habits of the lower nature in this regard are released to allow the action of the spiritual principle to take place, and this action operates through the silence of the mind.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “You must dismiss the fear of the concentration. The emptiness you feel coming on you is the silence of the great peace in which you become aware of your self, not as the small ego shut up in the body, but as the spiritual self wide as the universe. Consciousness is not dissolved; it is the limits of the consciousness that are dissolved. In that silence thoughts may cease for a time, there may be nothing but a great limitless freedom and wideness, but into that silence, that empty wideness descends the vast peace from above, light, bliss, knowledge, the higher Consciousness in which you feel the oneness of the Divine. It is the beginning of the transformation and there is nothing in it to fear.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 7, Experiences and Realisations, The Consciousness of the Self, pp. 181-184

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