Fear is an inherent emotion that is wired in our psyche, as it primarily comes out of the necessity to live (either in this life or after – whatever we believe in). In order to survive, we have been wired to fear the unknown. Will the one that we don’t know help us or hurt us? We then take appropriate defensive actions to protect ourselves from such perceived dangers. As we gain awareness and increase our knowledge about our environment, our fears start to subside.
So, what should we fear and what shouldn’t we? As always, our good teacher ThiruvaLLuvar gives a pithy kuraL as a guiding principle:
அஞ்சுவது அஞ்சாமை பேதைமை அஞ்சுவது
அஞ்சல் அறிவார் தொழில் (428)
anjuvadhu anjaamai pEdhamai anjuvadhu anjal aRivaar thozhil
Not fearing those that are to be feared is ignorance. The learned fear (are wary of) those that need to be feared (and don’t fear those that do not need to be feared).
Seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it? However, how do we know when and when not to fear?
Why we fear
To answer the question, let us try to understand the reason why we fear something. There are many triggers that cause fear in a person but can broadly be classified into five categories. Interestingly, only the first on (carnal or physical) is involuntary fear while the rest, including materialistic, are worries that are voluntary (that is, created by ourselves), which leads to the sensation of fear:
- Physical fear: We are afraid of known or unknown adversaries who can cause us physical harm to us or those we care about deeply.
- Materialistic fear: We are worried about not having proper shelter, food, sleep, money, or fear losing our safety.
- Emotional fear: We are worried about not having good friends and family, and even if we do, worry about the relationships lasting long, or about the survival of our near and dear ones.
- Mental fear: We are worried about not having accomplished enough in our lives – be it for our progeny, our work, or even our hobbies. We worry about not being able to leave a lasting legacy that will make us live beyond our lives.
- Spiritual fear: We are worried about not having lived a full life, not knowing who we are and why we were born, and what will happen after we die.
While there is not much we can do about externally imposed fears other than facing it or stepping away from the situation, we try to overcome our worries in various ways:
- Work and Action: Some people try to overcome their fears by immersing themselves in various activities. They either face their fears by taking action or avoid their fears by not doing certain actions but focusing on others instead. When channeled positively, this can give physical and emotional satisfaction, but can also build greed (trying to overcompensate the physical fear) or jealousy (trying to overcompensate mental fear).
- Knowledge: Some try by gaining knowledge. We get less afraid when we reason. With fear arising from the unknown, the more we know, the less afraid we become. However, not all fears can be addressed by reason. This approach is most commonly used to address our mental fears.
- Devotion: A way of mitigating potentially irrational fear is through faith or ardent belief. There are many examples where people with strong belief face their fears better – both positively and negatively. Typically this is done through a religion that one subscribes to, but can be a person or an object. Like others, positive devotion can be foundational for moral actions and negative or fanatical devotion can be heavily destructive. This approach is most commonly used to address our spiritual fears.
- Willpower: Few tend to mitigate fear is by raising their inner consciousness or willpower. They keep a calm head by transcending beyond what they face. This is of course, rarely used than the other approaches as it takes enormous discipline and practice. However, such an approach can conceivably address our spiritual as well as other fears.
You may have noticed patterns emerging in the above classifications – the categories of fear are related to the four purusha arthas (purposes of life), namely பொருள் (poruL – physical / materialistic), இன்பம் (inbam – emotional / pleasure), அறம் (aRam – mental / moral), and வீடு (veedu – spiritual / after-life).
Similarly, the ways in which we attempt to handle fear seem aligned to the four ways of yoga, namely karma (action), gnana (knowledge), bhakti (devotion), and rAja (self-awareness) yogas.
So, a wise person from the perspective of VaLLuvar will have enough knowledge to know what is to be feared, whether the time and context is appropriate enough to face the fears, and how to overcome such fears in one’s own terms.
This is all great in theory, but is there a role model that we can potentially emulate or at least use as a reference point? It turns out that there is one – if we are to listen to our other good friend – Kamban.
அனுமன் (Hanuman) – Personification of fearlessness
Hinduism as a religion is often characterized as polytheistic, comprising of millions of Gods – often stated as a matter-of-fact and sometimes, in mockery. While this is not the forum for us to take a side, what we see is that in most cases a particular deity is anointed for a set of beliefs – akin to ‘idolizing’ the characteristics. In that line, Hanuman is often associated with bravery and fearlessness. Given our topic for this post, it is worth exploring why that is the case.
காப்பு பாயிரம் (Kaappu paayiram – verses for protection)
It is a common practice to have a few verses as part of a broader work to request the Gods that be to protect the hard-written work from errors, criticisms, and other ills and have it shine through ages. For his epic, Kamban deems it fit to request Hanuman to be the protector via a beautiful verse:
அஞ்சிலே ஒன்று பெற்றான், அஞ்சிலே ஒன்றை தாவி
அஞ்சிலே ஒன்று ஆறு ஆக, ஆரியர்க்காக ஏகி
அஞ்சிலே ஒன்று பெற்ற அணங்கை கண்டு, அயலார் ஊரில்
அஞ்சிலே ஒன்று வைத்தான் அவன் நம்மை அளித்து காப்பான்
He who is the son of one of the five elements (wind),
He who crossed one of the five elements (water – ocean),
He who flew in one of the five elements (sky) for the sake of the Aryan (rAma),
He who saw the one who was born in one of the five elements (sIta was found when plowing the earth),
He who unleashed one of the five elements (fire) to the foreign city (Lanka),
May he (Hanuman) be kind to us and protect us!
Hanuman – the central character
In rAmAyana, Hanuman plays a central role in the epic, arguably second only to the hero and villain characters. Even though he comes only in the middle of the story, he plays a pivotal role from the point he is introduced through the end.
In his book அண்ணல் அனுமன் (Annal Anuman), author N. Subbureddiyaar gives an interesting take on one of the verses, which happens when Hanuman crosses the sleeping quarters of rAvanA’s brother KumbakarNan.
செவிக்குத் தேன் அன்ன இராகவன் புகழினைத் திருத்தும்
கவிக்கு நாயகன், அனையவன் உறையுளைக் கடந்தான்.
The traditional meaning is “The darling of monkeys (கவி – monkey) – Hanuman – who serves (திருத்துதல் – serving) rAmA’s fame that is honey to ears, crossed the sleeping quarters”.
The alternate meaning is “The primary character of this epic (கவி – epic) – Hanuman – who adjusts the epic (திருத்துதல் – corrects) at various places so as to make rAmA’s story as pleasant as honey, crossed the sleeping quarters!
அஞ்சா நெஞ்சன் (braveheart) – Picture of fearlessness
When we visualize someone who is fearless, we conjure up images of those who are comfortable even when put in uncomfortable situations such as an intrepid explorer, adventurous traveler, a scout, a spy, an ambassador to a hostile nation, or a warrior in a battlefield against odds. Guess what – Hanuman dons all these roles in the epic with ease and hence becomes a personification of fearlessness, and rightfully so.
In addition, we also see him practicing all the four yogas mentioned above to address fear: he is a man of action, is praised for his sound mind and knowledge, has absolute devotion to rAmA, and is known for his willpower. These are highlighted by Kamban in many places – a sample of which is below:
Righteousness and Knowledge (gnAna yOga)
நெறி தரு மாருதி என்னும் நேர் இலா அறிவினை நோக்கினான், அறிவின் மேல் உளான்
Raamaa – the one above all knowledge – looked at Hanuman – the most righteous and one whose knowledge has no comparison – for his input (when making a decision on Vibheeshana’s surrender).
Mental fortitude (rAja yOga)
அஞ்செனும் புலன்கள் ஒத்தார் அவனும் நல் அறிவை ஒத்தான்
He killed the armies headed by five generals of rAvana as easily as he can control his five senses and channel them per his will.
Belief and Devotion (bhakti yOga)
ஏறுவகை ஆண்டையை இராமன் என எல்லாம் மாறும்;
அதின் மாறு பிறிது இல் என வலித்தான்
When one sincerely thinks of rAmA, there is no reason to worry about salvation.
Action (karma yOga)
Hanuman’s actions are prevalent throughout the epic, with the sole focus of providing service to rAma.
அன்னவற்கு அடிமை செய்வேன் நாமமும் அனுமன் என்பேன்
My name is Hanuman and I am here to eternally serve rAmA (when introducing himself to rAvana)
What’s more, he is portrayed as someone who never sought materialistic wealth, was a brahmachAri (celibate), always acted per the morals of the role he took, and was considered a chiranjeevi (immortal).
Perhaps recognizing this, Kamban has waxed eloquence about Hanuman in his poems.
When and when not to act
Lastly, Kamban also provides great examples of when and when not to act – through Hanuman. Though they are not due to fear, they serve as a guide for lesser mortals than Hanuman when faced with fear.
One is when Hanuman faces Indrajit – rAvanA’s son – after seeing sIta. In the preceding verses, Kamban establishes Hanuman’s bravery and fearlessness and his potential to defeat Indrajit and even rAvanA. However, sensing that such an act would not be wise for various reasons, he decides to act as a messenger instead – showing that he know what battles to fight and when to step away wisely, while still achieving his goals.
Our aim here is not to prescribe or proscribe a religious position, but rather to point out the literary beauty in the verses across literature and the invisible threads that connect them. Regardless of whether one believes in Hanuman or not, it would behoove us to learn ‘best practices’ that have been made available through him to serve as a good guiding post for overcoming our own fears.
- Annal Anuman by N. Subbureddiyaar
- Image Credit: http://krishnasmercy.blogspot.com/2010/07/madana-mohana-mohini.html