Being without fear, you create fear.
The renown of fear cannot be feared.
When through fear you examine yourself,
You trample on the egg of fear.
Fear & Fearlessness, by Chogyam Trungpa.
The crazy wisdom approach to fear is to not regard it purely as a hang-up, but to realize that fear is intelligent. It has a message of its own. Fear is worth respecting. If we dismiss fear as an obstacle and try to ignore it, then we might end up having accidents. In other words, fear is a very wise message.
You can’t con fear, or frighten fear. You have to respect fear. You might try to tell yourself that it’s not real, that it’s false, but such an approach is questionable. It is better to develop some kind of respect, realizing that neurosis is also a message, rather than garbage that you should just throw away. The whole starting point for working with fear and other emotions is the idea of samsara and nirvana, confusion and enlightenment, being one. Samsara is not regarded as a nuisance alone, but it has its own potent message that is worthy of respect.
Fear contains insight as well as the panicky blind quality we often associate with it. The element of panic has a deaf and dumb quality—you know: doing the best you can, in spite of your fear, hoping everything will be okay. But fear without hope seems to be something very insightful. If you give up your hope of attaining something, then tuning into fear is tuning into its insightful quality. Then, skillful means or action arises spontaneously out of the fear itself. Fear can be extremely resourceful rather than representing hopelessness. It is the opposite of hopelessness, in fact.
Student: Is fear insightful, in that it points out to you why you were afraid in the first place?
Chögyam Trungpa: It’s not only that. It has its own intuitive aspect going beyond just logical conclusions. It has spontaneously existing resourcefulness. When you connect with your fear, you realize you have already leapt, you are already in mid-air. You realize that, and then you become resourceful.
S: You said that fear without hope would be intelligent. Could the same be said about working with other emotions?
CT: Hope and fear largely constitute all the emotions. Hope and fear represent the kind of pushing and pulling quality of duality, and all the emotions consist of that. Emotions are different aspects of that duality: they all seem to be made out of hope and fear of something—either pulling and magnetizing, or fending off.
S: Is having fear also based on a desire for the same thing you are afraid of?
CT: Yes, that’s the way it is. But when you realize that there is nothing to be desirous of (you know, the desire is the hope aspect of the fear), when you realize that, then you and your fear are left nakedly standing alone.
S: So you just connect with the fear without hope. But how do you do that?
CT: It’s relating without feedback. Then the situation automatically intensifies or becomes clear.
S: Can you apply the same approach to anger? If I’m angry, instead of either expressing or suppressing it, can I just relate to it? Can I stop the anger and just relate to the thought process?
CT: You don’t stop the anger, you just are the anger. Anger just hangs out as it is. That is relating with the anger. Then the anger becomes vivid and directionless, and it diffuses into energy. The idea of relating with it has nothing to do with expressing yourself to the other person. The Tibetan expression for that is rang sar shak, which means “leave it in its own place.” Let anger be in its own place.
Chögyam Trungpa gave many teachings on working with fear and fearlessness, as well as how to transform confused emotions into wisdom. This month’s column is based on material in Crazy Wisdom, one of Chögyam Trungpa’s books about the tantric teachings of Buddhism. The poem that is included here was originally published in another of his books: Great Eastern Sun: The Wisdom of Shambhala. Column editor Carolyn Gimian is currently working on a book by Chögyam Trungpa, to be entitled Conquering Fear: The Heart of Warriorship.