Thought is the Root Cause of Our Fear

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Most of us rarely put any time to stop, think, and reflect about life. The majority are nothing more than skimmers, and before they realize the meaning of life, aging, sickness, and death suddenly creeps upon them. Likewise, when I read books, I like to pause, enquire, and reflect to how it relates to life, instead of merely leafing through the pages without any understanding whatsoever when finished with.

You know, I still don’t understand why people read Disney fairy tales and Harry Potter stories, since none of them have any relation to reality. Perhaps, the sole purpose of reading such useless books are merely to caught themselves with the habit of reading.

That said, I love books that teaches me about life, about reality. One of the books that still resonates in my life today is “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho. I read this book when I was fifteen. Now, I’m rereading this book again with many of my students as they enter their summer holiday.

The book is about a young shepherd boy named Santiago, traveling around the world in search of a treasure beyond his wildest dreams. During his journey, he met a strange wise man who claims he is a king from a far-off land. The man believes that the most important thing in a person’s life is to succeed in discovering his or her destiny. Santiago didn’t know what destiny was, so the wise man explained, “It’s what you have always wanted to accomplish. Everyone when they are young, knows what their destiny is. At that point in their lives, everything is clear and everything is possible. They are not afraid to dream, and to yearn for everything they would like to see happen to them in their lives. But, as time passes, a mysterious force begins to convince them that it will be impossible for them to realize their destiny. It’s a force that appears to be negative, but actually shows you how to realize your destiny. It prepares your spirit and your will, because there is one great truth on this planet: whoever you are, or whatever it is that you do, when you really want something, it’s because that desire originated in the soul of the universe. It’s your mission on earth. To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only real obligation.”

At this point, I would usually ask learners to pause and think about the wise man’s words. Most learners didn’t really grasped wholly what he was talking about, but one did caught my attention. “It’s the unknown that people are afraid of - where they might go and where they may end up,” said an eleven-year-old boy. “Look, these artists, writers, movie stars, all risk everything. They quit school and just do what they believe in. Then you have someone like Lincoln who became president and was very successful. But a guy, like my father, who is just an average person, only wants to go through with what is safe. So I think the mysterious force is the fear of the unknown.”

“First of all, how does fear arise? How do you know what you call the unknown is something you should be fearful of?” I added.

“Well, maybe because we think about it. I suppose if we never think about fear, we’re not afraid of it,” said the boy.

“Precisely, so you have learned your first lesson. Now, why do you think about fear? Where does this idea of fear come about?”

“Umm...I don’t know,” sounding a bit unsure.

“Is it possible that fear comes from memory - something you remember? Whether from other people’s images and ideas, or from your own experiences?”

“Well, I’m still a kid, I don’t have a lot of experiences.”

“If I’m a primitive person, that is, I’m born at the time before books and technologies exist; the weather is harsh, and it’s snowing very very hard, and the wind is freezing. As I’m searching for shelter, I come upon the entrance to a dark cave. What is the first thing I would do? My instinct would tend me to enter the cave, right? Because in there, I would have 100% chance of survival. But if I’m born right in the middle of technological advancement, with all the information from books, the internet, society, and so forth - including experiences from that of your parents - how would I think when I encounter a bad weather during a forest expedition and I come upon a cave?”

“I would think a bear or snake might be inside. The cave may also get flooded while I’m inside.”

“Exactly right. All those information causes you to think over and over before entering the cave. This constant thinking causes a deep sense of fear, that you may end up sleeping out in the rain. You know, I remember a quote that said: the cave you fear to enter, holds the treasure you seek. Somehow, I found that to be the irony of life. Similarly, a young child is still innocent and pure. But, after he grows up to become an adult, his mind gets filled with all kinds of mental pollution - experience, tradition, influence - so this mysterious force the author mentioned in the book is really our thought, our own thinking, fear of the unknown as you called it. And is it possible for you to not be bounded by these thoughts when you begin to walk your own life one day? Or will you always be bonded by these memories and experiences so you too will end being an average person?”

I have asked countless times to learners, “Why are you being educated?” but sadly, many do not have the slightest clue why. And I get it, parents have the obligation to put their children in schools, society demands them to do so. Otherwise, how would they face their pride and honor in the face of others?

There is a rather interesting story about a student asking his teacher: “Before I heard you, I was keen about my studies and making a good career for myself. But now it all seems so futile, and I have completely lost interest in my studies and in a career. All this has left me very confused. What am I to do?”

Here’s what the teacher said:

“Have I made you confused? Have I made you see that what you are doing is futile? If I have been the cause of your confusion, then you are not confused, because when I go away you will revert to your former confusion or your clarity. But if this questioner is serious, then what actually has taken place is that by listening to what has been said here he has awakened himself to his own activities; he now sees that what he is doing, studying to build up a career for the future, is rather empty, without much significance. So he says, ‘What am I to do?’ He is confused, not because I have made him confused, but because by listening he has become aware of the world situation and of his own condition and relationship with the world. He has become aware of the futility, the uselessness of all this business of building up a future career. He has become aware of it, I have not made him aware. 

I think this is the first thing to realize: that by listening, by watching, by observing your own activities, you have made this discovery for yourself; therefore it is yours, not mine. If it were mine, I would take it away with me when I go. But this is something that cannot be taken away by another because it has been realized by you. You have watched yourself in action, you have observed your own life, and you now see that to build up a career for the future is a futile thing. So, being confused, you say, ‘What am I to do?’

Well, you have to go on with your studies, have you not? That is obvious, because you have to have some kind of profession, a right means of livelihood. You have to find out for yourself what you really want to do, and not rely on your father, on your grandmother, on some professor, or on anybody else to tell you what to do. And what does it mean to find out what you really want to do? It means finding out what you love to do, does it not? When you love what you are doing, you are not ambitious, you are not greedy, you are not seeking fame, because that very love of what you are doing is totally sufficient in itself. In that love there is no frustration, because you are no longer seeking fulfilment.

But you see, all this demands a great deal of thinking, a great deal of inquiry, meditation, and unfortunately the pressure of the world is very strong - the world being your parents, your grandparents, the society around you. They all want you to be a successful man, they want you to fit into the established pattern, so they educate you to conform. But the whole structure of society is based on acquisitiveness, on envy, on ruthless self-assertion, on the aggressive activity of each one of us; and if you see for yourself, actually and not theoretically, that such a society must inevitably rot from within, then you will find your own way of action through doing what you love to do. It may produce a conflict with the present society - and why not? A true man, or the man who is seeking truth, is in revolt against the society that is based essentially on respectability, acquisitiveness, and the ambitious search for power. He is not in conflict with society, but society is in conflict with him. Society can never accept him.

So the student who has been listening is now confused. But if he does not escape from that confusion - by running off to a cinema, by going to a church, by reading a book, or by turning to a guru - and realizes how his confusion has arisen, if he faces that confusion and in the process of inquiry does not conform to the pattern of society, then he will be a man who knows his destiny. And such men are necessary for it is they who will bring about a new world.”

This circles back to the motto: find what you are good at and what you love to do, but more importantly, follow it. Once you do, your life will be fulfilled. After all, isn’t the basic function of education to help you find out what you really love to do? So that you can put your whole mind and heart to it - because it creates human dignity and sweeps away mediocrity? That is why it is important to have the right teachers, the right atmosphere so that an individual will grow up with the love that expresses itself in what he or she is doing.

Loving your work is the only thing that is causeless, that is free. It is beauty, it is skill, it is art. Without this love, there is no art. Without this love, your examinations, your knowledge, your reputation, and your possessions are just ashes, they have no meaning - nothing. Without this love, your actions are going to bring more violence, conflict, jealousy, envy, hatred, mischief, and destruction.

You may think this is a Utopian dream that can never be brought upon in life; but I’m not talking about Utopia, that would be nonsense.

All this may seem nothing to you now, but I hope this will mean something to you - and to your children, and to their children - someday.