The Tree of Knowledge
To Our Young Readers
What does fear do to you?
Once when I was out walking in California, I was not particularly looking where I was going, as I was watching a bird. Suddenly I heard a sharp rattling sound. I looked in the direction of the noise, and I jumped back because there on the path before me was a big rattlesnake.
As you probably know, the rattler is venomous. But it is called a gentleman-snake because it generally gives a warning before it strikes. It is not like a cobra or some of the other snakes which just strike without warning. This rattle was quite large and fat. I stood a few feet away from it, and we watched each other. I could clearly see all the patterns on its skin, its large head, its unblinking eyes — snakes have no eyelids — and its black tongue shooting in and out. We continued to watch each other for some time, and then it began to move away, but as it did so I moved nearer, and then it coiled again, ready to strike. We kept this up for half an hour or more. By that time the snake was getting rather tired and didn’t know what to do. Finally it began moving away again, but it kept its head and tail towards me, ready to coil and strike if I came too close. Then it very quietly disappeared in the underbrush.
In the same way, watch every fear that arises within you. Whether it is fear of a snake, fear of your parents, fear of an older boy, fear of your teacher, or fear in any other form, do not run away from it, but observe it, question it, find out what that fear is. Watch your fear and learn from it.
It is very important to understand fear. Do you know what fear is? It begins when we are children and continues throughout our life. We are afraid of our elders, of our parents, of our teachers. As we grow up, this fear continues; and we are afraid of our gurus, afraid of public opinion, afraid of our wives or of our husbands, afraid of not becoming a success, afraid of not being beautiful or clever, and afraid of death. Most people in the world — the old as well as the young — have this extraordinary sense of fear. And when are you afraid? Fear comes when you think of what people may say about you or what your parents may say; you are afraid of being criticized, of being punished, of failing to pass an examination. When your teacher scolds you, or when you are not popular in your class, in your school, in your surroundings, fear gradually creeps in, doesn’t it?”
The older people have the power to punish you, to push you away or ask you to stay in your own room; and so in the school as well as in the home we are continually trained in fear. Our life is moulded by fear, and from childhood till we die we are afraid. And do you know what fear does? Have you ever watched yourself when you are afraid, how your tummy tightens up, how you perspire, how you get nightmares? You don’t like to be with the people of whom you are frightened, do you? You see, with that fear we go to school and college, and with fear we leave college to meet this extraordinary thing, this vast stream with its enormous depth which we call life. So it seems to me that the thing of first importance is that we are educated to be free from fear because fear dulls our minds, fear cripples our thinking, fear makes for darkness, and as long as we are frightened we shall not create a new world.
How will you find out about fear? Are you afraid of public opinion, public opinion being what your friends think of you? Most of us, especially while we are young, want to look alike, dress alike, talk alike. We do not want to be even slightly different, because to be different implies not to conform, not accept the pattern. When you begin to question the pattern, there is fear. Now examine that fear, go into it. Do not say, ‘I am afraid’ and run away from it. Look at it, face it, find out why you are afraid. I think one of the causes of fear is comparison. You know what ‘comparison’ is? To compare you with a clever boy or to compare you with somebody else is the beginning of fear. Our whole society is based on comparison, is it not? We think comparison is necessary for growth. I compare myself with another politician and say, ‘Well, I must beat him, I must be better than him.’ When a teacher compares you with another boy who is perhaps a little cleverer, what is happening to you? Have you noticed what happens to you when you are compared with someone else? The teacher says to you, ‘Be as clever as that other boy.’
To make you as strenuous, as studious as the other boy or girl he gives you grades, he gives you marks and so you keep on struggling, competing; you are envious of the other boy. So, comparison breeds envy jealousy; and jealousy is the beginning of fear… When you compare yourself with somebody, that somebody is more important than you. Is it not so? You as an individual with your capacities, with your tendencies, with your difficulties, with your problems, with your being, are not important, but somebody else is important, and so you, as a being, are pushed aside and you are left struggling to become like somebody else. In that struggle is born envy, fear…
If one has fear, there can be no initiative in the creative sense of the word. To have initiative in this sense is to do something original — to do it spontaneously, naturally without being guided, forced, controlled. It is to do something which you love to do. You may often have seen a stone lying in the middle of the road and a car go bumping over it. Have you ever removed that stone? Or have you ever, when out walking, observed the poor people, the peasants, the villagers, and done something spontaneously naturally, out of your own heart, without waiting to be told what to do?… You see, if you have fear, then all this is shut out of your life; you become insensitive and do not observe what is going on around you.
How are you to be free of fear? There is fear of the snake, fear of the big bully in the class, fear of your parents, fear of society, fear of religious and political leaders. How are you to be free of all this fear, and must you not be free of it? Because if you are not free of fear, you will live for the rest of your life in darkness. You may have a nice house with electric lights, you may be married to a good husband or a sympathetic wife, but if you have fear in any form, you will always live in darkness. So it is very important to find out how to be free of fear. To be free of fear, you must first know that you are frightened. And secondly you must not run away from it; you must not escape from fear, but look at it.
Learn about fear while you are feeling afraid. If you do this whenever fear arises, you will find that you no longer merely accept what older people say; you will find that you have ceased to imitate, to obey, and that you will, instead, be listening to find out if what they are saying is true in itself. When you listen — it does not matter who is doing the talking — you must not only question what you hear, but also observe your response to what you hear so that your mind will not be clouded by fear or prejudice and, therefore, will become sharp, clear, precise, reasonable, healthy. It is only then that you will be able to see the facts as they are.
Source: J.Krishnamurti: What does fear do to you?
You are welcome to contribute. Write to: