Fear and Fearlessness in Life and in Yoga

Fear arises in the lower vital, in some instances, as a direct vital response to an energy that threatens health and safety of the individual; in other words, it is part of the survival instinct. But it also arises through social acculturation, such as in issues of stage fright, or through imagination of situations that ‘might’ come about, based on societal habits and pressures. All of the various causes of fear, however, act upon the lower vital chakras and raise up biochemical responses which then impact the mind and the will-power. In society, those seeking power frequently prey upon fear to motivate people to do their will. They manipulate the mind and the emotions to create fear, in many cases, of artificial constructs that are not probable events.

Within limits, in the general life of humanity, the fear-reaction can provide life-saving reactions. In some cases, the sensation is felt without conscious awareness of the cause, such as when individuals point out that they suddenly had a ‘feeling’ in the pit of their stomach, that something was wrong in a situation.

When we turn, however, to the practice of yoga, we recognise that the fear reaction, like every other lower vital reaction, needs to be observed, and overcome. Swami Vivekananda declared that abhaya, fearlessness, is an essential quality for the yogin. The entire process of yoga takes one into realms of consciousness and awareness that can be quite unknown and disturbing. Some of the vital realms can actually be quite dangerous, and if one is forced to traverse them, one must do so without any fear whatever, as all vital beings can ‘smell’ the fear and they respond by attacking whatever is exhibiting fear. We see this frequently in the animal kingdom in the interaction between predator and prey.

It is a well-known occult phenomenon that fear actually can call upon one the thing one fears. The vibration that is set up in the being through fear creates a relation to the feared being or event, and thus, opens up a pathway into the being.

Fear is based to a great degree on a sense of survival, whether this is an animal vital instinct, or an acculturated fear. As the yogin begins to experience realms of consciousness beyond the normal body-life-mind complex, there comes a point where the ego can react strongly under the fear of dissolution or death. If this reaction is allowed to control, the practitioner falls back into the normal outward consciousness and does not make it over the threshold into the higher state of consciousness. Thus, fear, which aided the individual survival, becomes counter-productive when the goal is to transcend the individuality.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “If you want to do yoga, you must get rid of fear. Yoga and fear do not go together.”

“… fear creates imaginary terrors — even if there is real danger, fear does not help; it clouds the intelligence, takes away presence of mind and prevents one seeing the right thing to do. Let the Force at work increase, till it clears out the mixed consciousness altogether.”

“It is true that what one fears has the tendency to come until one is able to look it in the face and overcome one’s shrinking. One must learn to take one’s foundation on the Divine and overcome the fear, relying on the help to carry one through all things even unpleasant and adverse. There is a Force that works even through them for the seeker and carries him towards his goal.”

“[Ways to remove fear:] By bringing down strength and calm into the lower vital (region below the navel). Also by will and imposing calm on the system when the fear arises. It can be done in either way or both together.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 10, Difficulties in Transforming the Nature, Fear, pp 308-309