Fear about the world

Fear about the world

A series of talks on the many aspects of of our lives that we may have fear towards—death, identity, the future, health, the economy, loss, separation, and more; touching also on the wisdom of fear and the different antidotes to ease our fears.

  • Reflecting on the world in an unskillful way causes distress
  • We may confuse compassion with despair
  • How the media portrays a skewed view of the world
  • Reflecting on the kindness of others helps relieve the anxiety

Fear 03: Fear about the world (download)

Okay so; some of you in the retreat may be reflecting a little bit on the state of the world. That is if you can stop thinking about yourself for a minute. Have you ever noticed on retreat how the main object is me? My worries, my problems, my neurosis, all the things I want, the things I used to have that I enjoyed so much that I want to have again, yes? So, we might reflect on the state of the world, but sometimes we don’t know how to reflect on the world in a skillful way and it becomes a state of distress for us, you know, and our mind gets quite tight and quite fearful. And you can see within that fear there’s a lot of ‘I’ grasping. But sometimes we get that confused with compassion and we think “Oh, when I look at the world and everything is so messed up I have compassion for the world.” But we’re feeling miserable and a sense of despair, and fear and depression and so on, okay? And then we think, “Wait a minute, how can that be compassion?” or we think, “Wow, compassion is terrible; I don’t want to cultivate that.” Okay? And that’s very dangerous, because we’re not feeling compassion at that moment.

Confusing compassion with despair

Compassion is focused on the suffering of others, but when we feel despair and fear, we are focused on our own suffering, okay? In other words, not being able to see others suffer makes us feel bad and we don’t like the bad feeling within us. So what we’re reacting against is the unpleasant feeling in us, not the unpleasant feeling that others are experiencing. So it’s not compassion, it’s personal distress. Okay? So it’s very helpful to notice in your meditation, if you seem to be sliding into that state of despair.

Media portray a skewed view of the world

Together with despair comes fear, okay? Like “Everything is so screwed up, what’s going to happen?” Now, I remember, it must be 1993, when His Holiness was in Seattle and there were a bunch of reporters at the conference and he said to them “You know, you people do a lot of good things, sometimes you have a big long nose and you search out all the naughty things people are doing and you point them out and that’s good.” You know, in other words, when the press reveals scandals and so on and stops harm in that way. “But,” he said, “but sometimes you focus just too much on the negative.” So, how many people in one city are killed every day? Are murdered? Sometimes nobody, sometimes one, but what happens if there’s one person who’s killed in the city? That gets on the front pages, all over, everybody obsesses about it. But none of the good things people do for each other are put on the front page, or very seldom are they put on the front page. You know, once in a while a philanthropist will leave some money in a will to a charity and that will make the front page. But most often what the media emphasizes are things that make us afraid. And so, when we read the newspaper, when we watch the news, we get a very skewed view of the world. Because we just see the harmful things that people do to each other and we’re not seeing all the helpful things.

Seeing the kindness of others

Because if you look within one city on one day; how many people are helped by healthcare professionals on that day? Incredible number! How many people are helped by teachers that day? So many adults and children! How many people are helped by people fixing their car? Or people fixing their telephone? Or people fixing their computer? There are actually computers that maybe people can fix, and there are kind people who are able to fix computers. I’m not one of them. But, you know, if we look, all over any town or city or rural area there are people helping each other all the time. But we take this for granted and instead what goes on the front page is the unusual thing that causes us fear. Okay?

Maintaining a balanced view

So, I would like to suggest that if we are suffering from a lot of fear and despair, about the state of the world, that we are having a very skewed and unbalanced view of what’s going on. Okay? Of course this doesn’t mean that we say “Oh, everything is cheery and wonderful and there aren’t any problems,” because that’s not true. But we do see that there is a continuous base of kindness in this world. And then, when we can pay attention to that and increase the kindness within our self and point out the kindness that there is to others and increase other people’s kindness that they show to each other, then there is actually a possibility to change the situations that cause the fear and the despair. Okay? So, when we are suffering about fear from the state of the world, ask yourself “Am I seeing things correctly?” You know? And try and make your mind more balanced so that we see the things that are horrible, but we also recognize the goodness. So we recognize the goodness, then we also can see the chance to change the horrible things. When we only focus on what is horrible, then we sink into despair and when we are overcome by despair, we don’t even try to change anything. Okay? So it’s very important to see the goodness and then let the fear go.

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.