What is fear? Fear can exist only in relation to something, not in isolation. How can I be afraid of death, how can I be afraid of something I do not know? I can be afraid only of what I know. When I say I am afraid of death, am I really afraid of the unknown, which is death, or am I afraid of losing what I have known? My fear is not of death but of losing my association with things belonging to me. My fear is always in relation to the known, not to the unknown.
My inquiry now is how to be free from the fear of the known, which is the fear of losing my family, my reputation, my character, my bank account, my appetites and so on. You may say that fear arises from conscience; but your conscience is formed by your conditioning, so conscience is still the result of the known. What do I know? Knowledge is having ideas, having opinions about things, having a sense of continuity as in relation to the known, and no more. Ideas are memories, the result of experience, which is response to challenge.
I am afraid of the known, which means I am afraid of losing people, things or ideas, I am afraid of discovering what I am, afraid of being at a loss, afraid of the pain which might come into being when I have lost or have not gained or have no more pleasure.
There is fear of pain. Physical pain is a nervous response, but psychological pain arises when I hold on to things that give me satisfaction, for then I am afraid of anyone or anything that may take them away from me. The psychological accumulations prevent psychological pain as long as they are undisturbed; that is I am a bundle of accumulations, experiences, which prevent any serious form of disturbance - and I do not want to be disturbed.
Therefore I am afraid of anyone who disturbs them. Thus my fear is of the known, I am afraid of the accumulations, physical or psychological, that I have gathered as a means of warding off pain or preventing sorrow. But sorrow is in the very process of accumulating to ward off psychological pain. Knowledge also helps to prevent pain.
As medical knowledge helps to prevent physical pain, so beliefs help to prevent psychological pain, and that is why I am afraid of losing my beliefs, though I have no perfect knowledge or concrete proof of the reality of such beliefs. I may reject some of the traditional beliefs that have been foisted on me because my own experience gives me strength, confidence, understanding; but such beliefs and the knowledge which I have acquired are basically the same - a means of warding off pain.
Fear exists so long as there is accumulation of the known, which creates the fear of losing. Therefore fear of the unknown is really fear of losing the accumulated known. Accumulation invariably means fear, which in turn means pain; and the moment I say "I must not lose" there is fear. Though my intention in accumulating is to ward off pain, pain is inherent in the process of accumulation. The very things which I have create fear, which is pain.
The seed of defence brings offence. I want physical security; thus I create a sovereign government, which necessitates armed forces, which means war, which destroys security. Wherever there is a desire for self-protection, there is fear. When I see the fallacy of demanding security I do not accumulate any more. If you say that you see it but you cannot help accumulating, it is because you do not really see that, inherently, in accumulation there is pain.
Fear exists in the process of accumulation and belief in something is part of the accumulative process. My son dies, and I believe in reincarnation to prevent me psychologically from having more pain; but, in the very process of believing, there is doubt. Outwardly I accumulate things, and bring war; inwardly I accumulate beliefs, and bring pain. So long as I want to be secure, to have bank accounts, pleasures and so on, so long as I want to become something, physiologically or psychologically, there must be pain. The very things I am doing to ward off pain bring me fear, pain.
Fear comes into being when I desire to be in a particular pattern. To live without fear means to live without a particular pattern. When I demand a particular way of living that in itself is a source of fear. My difficulty is my desire to live in a certain frame. Can I not break the frame? I can do so only when I see the truth: that the frame is causing fear and that this fear is strengthening the frame. If I say I must break the frame because I want to be free of fear, then I am merely following another pattern which will cause further fear.
Any action on my part based on the desire to break the frame will only create another pattern, and therefore fear. How am I to break the frame without causing fear, that is without any conscious or unconscious action on my part with regard to it? This means that I must not act, I must make no movement to break the frame. What happens to me when I am simply looking at the frame without doing anything about it? I see that the mind itself is the frame, the pattern; it lives in the habitual pattern which it has created for itself. Therefore, the mind itself is fear. Whatever the mind does goes towards strengthening an old pattern or furthering a new one. This means that whatever the mind does to get rid of fear causes fear.
Fear finds various escapes. The common variety is identification, is it not? - identification with the country, with the society, with an idea. Haven't you noticed how you respond when you see a procession, a military procession or a religious procession, or when the country is in danger of being invaded? You then identify yourself with the country, with a being, with an ideology. There are other times when you identify yourself with your child, with your wife, with a particular form of action, or inaction.
Identification is a process of self-forgetfulness. So long as I am conscious of the `me' I know there is pain, there is struggle, there is constant fear. But if I can identify myself with something greater, with something worth while, with beauty, with life, with truth, with belief, with knowledge, at least temporarily, there is an escape from the `me', is there not? If I talk about "my country" I forget myself temporarily, do I not? If I can say something about God, I forget myself? If I can identify myself with my family, with a group, with a particular party, with a certain ideology, then there is a temporary escape.
Identification therefore is a form of escape from the self, even as virtue is a form of escape from the self. The man who pursues virtue is escaping from the self and he has a narrow mind. That is not a virtuous mind, for virtue is something which cannot be pursued. The more you try to become virtuous, the more strength you give to the self, to the `me'. Fear, which is common to most of us in different forms, must always find a substitute and must therefore increase our struggle. The more you are identified with a substitute, the greater the strength to hold on to that for which you are prepared to struggle, to die, because fear is at the back.
Do we now know what fear is? Is it not the non-acceptance of what is? We must understand the word 'acceptance'. I am not using that word as meaning the effort made to accept. There is no question of accepting when I perceive what is. When I do not see clearly what is, then I bring in the process of acceptance. Therefore fear is the non-acceptance of what is.
How can I, who am a bundle of all these reactions, responses, memories, hopes, depressions, frustrations, who am the result of the movement of consciousness blocked, go beyond? Can the mind, without this blocking and hindrance, be conscious? We know, when there is no hindrance, what extraordinary joy there is. Don't you know when the body is perfectly healthy there is a certain joy, well-being; and don't you know when the mind is completely free, without any block, when the centre of recognition as the`me' is not there, you experience a certain joy? Haven't you experienced this state when the self is absent? Surely we all have.
There is understanding and freedom from the self only when I can look at it completely and integrally as a whole; and I can do that only when I understand the whole process of all activity born of desire which is the very expression of thought - for thought is not different from desire - without justifying it, without condemning it, without suppressing it; if I can understand that, then I shall know if there is the possibility of going beyond the restrictions of the self.
Source: from Jiddu Krishnamurti Book "The First and last Freedom"