“The Scream” by Edvard Munch
TO UNDERSTAND FEAR, one has to go into the question of comparison. Why do we compare at all? In technical matters comparison reveals progress, which is relative. Fifty years ago there was no atomic bomb, there were no supersonic airplanes, but now we have these things; and in another fifty years we shall have something else that we don’t have now. This is called progress, which is always comparative, relative, and our mind is caught in that way of thinking. Not only outside the skin, as it were, but also inside the skin, in the psychological structure of our own being, we think comparatively. We say, ‘I am this, I have been that, and I shall be something more in the future’. This comparative thinking we call progress, evolution, and our whole behavior—morally, ethically, religiously, in our business and social relationships—is based on it. We observe ourselves comparatively in relation to a society that is itself the outcome of this same comparative struggle.
Comparison breeds fear. Do observe this fact in yourself. I want to be a better writer, or a more beautiful and intelligent person. I want to have more knowledge than others; I want to be successful, to become somebody, to have more fame in the world. Success and fame are psychologically the very essence of comparison, through which we constantly breed fear. And comparison also gives rise to conflict, struggle, which is considered highly respectable. You say that you must be competitive in order to survive in this world, so you compare and compete in business, in the family, and in so-called religious matters. You must reach heaven and sit next to Jesus, or whoever your particular saviour may be. The comparative spirit is reflected in the priest becoming an archbishop, a cardinal, and finally the pope. We cultivate this same spirit very assiduously throughout our life, struggling to become better or to achieve a status higher than somebody else. Our social and moral structure is based on it.
So there is in our life this constant state of comparison, competition, and the everlasting struggle to be somebody—or to be nobody, which is the same thing. This, I feel, is the root of all fear, because it breeds envy, jealousy, hatred. Where there is hatred there is obviously no love, and fear is generated more and more.
FROM: Saanen, 22 July 1965
Is IT POSSIBLE to end all fear? One may be afraid of the dark, or of coming suddenly upon a snake, or of meeting some wild animal, or of falling over a precipice. It is natural and healthy to want to stay out of the way of an oncoming bus, for example, but there are many other forms of fear. That is why one has to go into this question of whether the idea is more important than the fact, the what is. If one looks at what is, at the fact, and not at the idea, one will see that it is only the idea, the concept of the future, of tomorrow, that is creating fear. It is not the fact that creates fear.
For a mind burdened with fear, with conformity, with the thinker, there can be no understanding of that which may be called the original. And the mind demands to know what the original is. We have said it is God—but that again is a word invented by human beings in their fear, in their misery, in their desire to escape from life. When the human mind is free of all fear, then, in demanding to know what the original is, it is not seeking its own pleasure, or a means of escape, and therefore in that inquiry all authority ceases. Do you understand? The authority of the speaker, the authority of the church, the authority of opinion, of knowledge, of experience, of what people say—all that completely comes to an end, and there is no obedience. It is only such a mind that can find out for itself what the original is—find out, not as an individual mind, but as a total human being. There is no ‘individual’ mind at all—we are all totally related. Please understand this. The mind is not something separate; it is a total mind. We are all conforming, we are all afraid, we are all escaping. And to understand—not as an individual, but as a total human being—what the original is, one must understand the totality of man’s misery, all the concepts, all the formulas that he has invented through the centuries. It is only when there is freedom from all this that you can find out whether there is an original something. Otherwise we are secondhand human beings; and because we are secondhand, counterfeit human beings, there is no ending to sorrow. So the ending of sorrow is in essence the beginning of the original. But the understanding that brings about the ending of sorrow is not just an understanding of your particular sorrow, or my particular sorrow, because your sorrow and my sorrow are related to the whole sorrow of mankind. This is not mere sentiment or emotionalism; it is an actual, brutal fact. When we understand the whole structure of sorrow and thereby bring about the ending of sorrow, there is then a possibility of coming upon that strange something that is the origin of all life—not in a test tube, as the scientist discovers it, but there is the coming into being of that strange energy that is always exploding. That energy has no movement in any direction, and therefore it explodes.
FROM: Ojai, 8 May 1982
One ASKS WHY human beings, who have lived on this earth for million of years, who are technologically intelligent, have not applied their intelligence to be free from this very complex problem of fear, which may be one of the reasons for war, for killing one another. And religions throughout the world have not solved the problem; not the gurus, nor the saviours; nor ideals. So it is very clear that no outside agency—however elevated, however much made popular by propaganda—no outside agency can ever possibly solve this problem of human fear.
You are inquiring, you are investigating, you are delving into the whole problem of fear. And perhaps we have so accepted the pattern of fear that we don’t want even to move away from it. So, what is fear? What are the contributory factors that bring about fear? Like many small streams, rivulets that make the tremendous volume of a river; what are the small streams that bring about fear? That have such tremendous vitality of fear. Is one of the causes of fear comparison? Comparing oneself with somebody else? Obviously it is. So, can you live a life comparing yourself with nobody? You understand what I am saying? When you compare yourself with another, ideologically, psychologically, or even physically, there is the striving to become that; and there is the fear that you may not. It is the desire to fulfill and you may not be able to fulfill. Where there is comparison there must be fear.
On Fear 3
And so one asks whether it is possible to live without a single comparison, never comparing, whether you are beautiful or ugly, fair or not fair, approximating yourself to some ideal, to some pattern of values. There is this constant comparison going on. We are asking, is that one of the causes of fear? Obviously. And where there is comparison there must be conformity, there must be imitation. So we are saying that comparison, conformity, and imitation, are contributory causes of fear. Can one live without comparing, imitating, or conforming psychologically? Of course one can. If those are the contributory factors of fear, and you are concerned with the ending of fear, then inwardly there is no comparison, which means there is no becoming. The very meaning of the comparison is to become that which you think is better, higher, nobler, and so on. So, comparison is becoming. Is that one of the factors of fear? You have to discover it for yourself. Then if those are the factors, if the mind is seeing those factors as bringing about fear, the very perception of those ends the contributory causes. If there is a physical cause that gives you a stomachache, there is an ending of that pain by discovering the cause of it. Similarly, where there is any cause there is an ending.
"Three Reflections on Fear" — Jiddu Krishnamurti
FROM: Saanen, 21 July 1964