by Gary Fear, Lay Minister, O.B.C.
(Reprinted with permission from the Spring 1994 issue of the Journal of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives)
Several years ago, I experienced a fear of being violently attacked by humans. This fear developed and grew in intensity over several months. I thought it might be helpful to share how this particular emotion of fear grew over time, eventually reaching a critical point, and how it was finally dealt with.
I didn’t really know at the time why this particular fear of attack took a foothold and developed. I had worked in the heart of the same crime-ridden neighborhood for years without incident. I had learned to be cautious and respectful of the potential dangers constantly around me, without the anxiety of being harmed. Gang shootings, murders, robberies, drugs and violence were, and still are, commonplace in that area.
I do know of a rash of crimes that began hitting close to my place of employment. A gang shooting and a drug shooting took place within a few blocks of my work. A transient male was found, stabbed to death, at our company’s doorway when we arrived at work one morning. A fellow employee was also attacked coming into work early one day, barely escaping serious injury and possible death.
I began to fear for my own safety and gradually became more and more anxious about arriving and leaving my workplace. I found myself picturing in my mind possible attack scenarios with growing frequency. These imaginings seemed to grow one upon the other, increasing in intensity and emotional impact. I became very concerned about protecting myself, even to the point of thinking about carrying a weapon of some sort, which was totally contrary to my usual way of thinking.
It wasn’t long before I had a close call when I was leaving from work alone one evening. I got away with only a dent in my car where a thrown rock hit my vehicle as I hastily left the scene. This incident served to fuel my fears even more.
A few weeks after my close call, I remember standing in line at a gas station to pay my bill. For some reason, I began to see the person in front of me as a potential attacker. I can still vividly recall the feelings of separation that I felt from this other human being as I perceived him as a possible threat.
At this point, I felt I had quite literally experienced Dogen’s words: “…for, when the opposites arise, the Buddha Mind is lost.” My fear had reached a point of causing a division, a split in what had formerly been experienced by me as being fundamentally one. There was now a “me” that was strongly reacting to and completely separated from “them”.
As l drove from the gas station, I felt a bit stunned by my new change of perception. At that moment, it became clear to me that the worst violent death I could possibly imagine could not compare with the spiritual harm I felt from living with the effects of my fear. The minute I realized this, the fear that had been building in intensity for many weeks, and which had come to dominate my thinking, seemed to vanish in an instant without a trace.
As I write this now, several years later, I have not experienced this fear returning. I still work in the same neighborhood and I still remain cautious, but without the accompanying anxiety that so burdened me.
I remember a teaching from many years ago that used an analogy of going down into a deep hole with a rope tied around one’s waist. To me, this rope has stood for faith which, through constant training, we can come to know and rely upon as a means to true safety in the Eternal. This refuge is constantly present, no matter what situation or how dark the circumstances we find ourselves in.
I feel as if I had lowered myself into a dark hole of fear. Had I not looked up, I would not have seen that there was an opening above and a rope leading to safety. As depicted in the Buddhist painting of the six worlds, a Buddha sits patiently in each of the worlds, ever present, and quietly ready to help.
“Om to the One Who leaps beyond all fear!
Having adored Him, may I enter into the
heart of the Noble, Adored Kanzeon!
His life is the completion of meaning;
It is pure, it is that which makes all beings
victorious and cleanses the path
of all existence. ”