Inquiring Mind —Editor's Notes

Spring 2003 (Vol. 19 #2)
Fear and Fearlessness

In Buddhism, we say there are three kinds of gifts. The first is the gift of material resources. The second is to help people rely on themselves. . . . The third is the gift of non-fear.

                  —Thich Nhat Hanh

 In a world where our choices as individuals and nations seem so often to be driven by terror of death, loss or uncertainty, Inquiring Mind decided to address the theme of fear. I recognize myself as a fear-type—scared of driving on freeways, of small enclosed spaces, of sudden catastrophes of almost any kind—so this focus was particularly resonant for me. But almost immediately I saw that the theme of fear was too narrow. As I discussed fear with Tenzin Palmo, a British-born nun who meditated for twelve years alone in a Himalayan cave, I was met instead by fearlessness.

So we recast our theme as “Fear and Fearlessness.” The task of dharma practice, after all, is to see not simply suffering but also the end of suffering, not simply greed but also fundamental abundance. The dharma teaches us how to recognize fearlessness, the inner freedom that is possible in the face of fear.

Many of our contributors explore the relation between fear and fearlessness, each from her or his own angle. In the practice column, Joseph Goldstein describes working with fear as the very essence of meditation practice: “We are afraid at any particular moment of what is the truth of that moment.” Fear comes up at the boundaries of where we feel comfortable, offering occasions to move beyond those boundaries; it becomes, as Lama Surya Das describes in his article on the Tibetan practice of Chöd, an ally in our search for freedom of mind.

Stories recounted in this issue describe a range of fear-inspiring contexts that led their authors to forge fearlessness—to open more fully to their own distress, and through that, also to the distress of others. Ajahn Chah meditates through nights in a charnal ground. Darlene Cohen grapples with the loss of her physical abilities. Charlie Johnson relives the memory of almost being lynched. Jarvis Masters faces his confinement in a prison cell with a newly installed impermeable door.

In working with these pieces, something shifted for me. Through reading about the fears that so many of us experience, of all that we cannot control, I tapped into a sense of our commonality as humans—our awkwardness, suffering and confusion as we just try to find our way. I was able, at moments, to consider some of my own habitual fears as a challenge: to take on the task of knowing them more intimately yet not being driven by them. I invite you to do the same. As fears come up, take the opportunity to open to what seems uncomfortable, to transform those fears into fearlessness.