Slobodan Škerović

Terror, Trembling...

Cowardice is the greatest sin
M. Bulgakov, “Master and Margarita”

Latins: terror>terrere – to be afraid; IE *ters – to tremble, to shake


Buddhism, especially Zen Buddhism, seldom attempts to explain some concrete concept, and so is the case with the concept of fear. Buddhism is an elegant philosophy, its object is deliverance from suffering, that is, resolving the question of our existence, and that resolving happens as an act of deliverance. Buddhism is active, and its final expression as such, it has found in Zen i.e. Chan. With Buddhist thinkers, or Masters, as they prefer to call them in the East, verbosity, as such, is definitely not a goal. Zen Buddhists will evade any philosophical discourse, and if it ever comes to that, it will be shaped as a mondo – question-and-answer.
Mondo always begins with a question, and that question is a purely philosophical one, although phrases and parables are often in use – for instance, the question of being-and-nonbeing, of reason (vijnana) and intuition (prajna), may be put down as a question of relation between a tree trunk and a vine, winding around it, or as a question of Buddha's origin or the meaning of Buddha, etc. However, it is always about the final question. Mondo is not concerned with concrete questions, such as the question of fear, or the question of living, of the relations between the society and the individual, and the like. This kind of attitude is existentialistic and extremely pragmatic. A serious Buddhist is interested in final, not gradual deliverance and he will not make secondary stops, even if he has to sacrifice all those attractive, joyful and colorful little things, offered by technology and technological (artificial) knowledge, life in happiness – the Buddhist is interested in pure knowledge, the final insight into reality and existence, which, for its consequence, has deliverance. Adopting such an attitude means acquiring the ability to deal with any concrete situation, thus Buddhism is not at all concerned with concrete situations in theory, but exclusively in praxis, actively.

What would a mondo about fear, for example, look like?

Lin-chi asked Hui-neng: “What is fear?”
Master answered: “Whatever happened to your panties?”

If Lin-chi's reaction is to get anxious at the very thought that he has lost his panties, then he has achieved nothing so far, and there can be no talk of deliverance. This situation may be compared with the Expulsion from Eden, and I mean literally, together with the tree of “knowledge” (see later in the text).

The question of fear, terror, is always a personal question, an existential question - it is about our personal relationship to the situations which cause fear. If we rely on common experience, we shall know that we should stay clear of such situations. For such reflex behavior, no special verbose explanations are needed in order to answer the question: What is fear? – running away will be a satisfactory answer in most cases.

There is a common phrase, which says that terror rules in a certain society. As for the understanding of this statement, a mistake has been made at the very beginning. From such statement it simply proceeds that Terror is something outside of us, as if there were some Source or Cause of fear. However, fear is in us, and the cause of that fear is something quite different from what it may appear to be, as, for example, some rule (based on terror). Objectively, the situation looks like this: someone is oppressing us, and we try to slip away (in fear of reprisals). Further, fear of reprisals is fear for one's own skin, for one's family, property, survival, loss of job, etc. These are just some dominant forms in which fear appears to shape itself.

The above statements actually tell us nothing about fear. They are just a description of a specific state of being, but they don't contribute to the resolving of that crisis, for living in fear means living in crisis.

Fear as the expression of a system falling apart

Such a definition of fear enables us to have the insight into the causes of such an event and to finally do away with fear.
We, as is the case, feel fear always when our system is threatened, in any possible way. The intensity of fear depends on how close the threat to the integrity of the system is. If the threat is relatively distant, fear will not be strongly expressed and it will pass almost unnoticed, yet with far-reaching consequences. If the cause of fear is remote, we shall fool ourselves that we still have a good chance to avoid it, for we shall be under the impression that we are not immediately exposed; between us and the cause of fear we shall put a space-time continuum, as some kind of buffer-zone.

This is simply fooling our own selves, the sword is still above our heads and no one knows when it will smack us.

Facing the fear is followed by Courage. The French word courage is derived from the word which means heart, so brave is the one who's got heart. Your heart beats loudly, but you don't step back. Of course, a courageous stand will not eliminate the danger of a system's falling apart, our bodies may be destroyed in a fight with someone stronger than we, we may lose all positions we presently occupy – in one word, there is no guarantee that we shall keep our possessions. And yet, we courageously face the threat.

From the point of common sense, courage is a plain madness. Because reason always demands a guarantee (logic), a brave attitude is eliminated as a solution. A reasonable man starts from the assumption that one has to survive, i.e. to live, and that means that one should avoid all dangerous situations. To live reasonably means to live in constant fear. The philosophy to survive at any cost is the philosophy of slaves, who will succumb to anything, never protesting, always retreating – even when they start to lose, bit by bit (which actually started to happen long ago), part of themselves or of theirs, they will still retreat and never stop to resist. And, stopping, itself, in this case, means to resist.

A reasonable attitude, as is the case, is by no means a wise attitude, i.e. proper attitude (not to mention a courageous attitude).

The problem obviously expresses itself in the concept of property, of our identity with the objects which we consider as belonging to us, but this leads to absurdity, for we lose this property of ours all the time, piece by piece, and still we think that we have preserved ourselves. Such falling into the aporia, into the wasteland of infinity, by rule stays unnoticed, or to put it in a better way, stays intentionally ignored. For the acknowledgment of such a state of being would, at the same time, be the admittance of failure in preserving one's identity, and if the identity is not preserved, that would mean that the system does not exist any more – and the very expression of that is fear. And because a man runs away because of , or from, fear, this may not be allowed (for ethical reasons – it is a sin to be a coward). Thus, man blinds himself, hushes himself, lives in ignorance of his own will.

The consequence of all this is that the question of knowledge is the crucial question. The one who wants to know what exactly is going on, must collect his courage to find out. If he does so, he will inevitably have to face his fear(s). If this person persists in such a standing and uses that time to acquire knowledge, he will find out that parts of the system (not necessarily parts of his body) fly away from his possession, and will see that he is losing control over his "belongings". And already so much is lost, but the subject is still standing there. By observing this, the awareness occurs that, with all those losses, something still is not, and even can't be, lost. Could this something be called the essential, the essence?

One mondo:
“Which is the thing of incalculable value?”
“The head of a dead cat!”

When speaking of the loss of property, we actually speak of the system of evaluation. It can't be said that something is lost if it has no value at all, but only if something has some value and importance to us. If we still survive, even having lost so much, it is obvious that the valuable things we lost were not essential. We may feel wronged or harmed, but – we still live. Here our comprehension enters a big crisis, for the only possible way out would be re-evaluation, establishing a new system of evaluation, which would devaluate our losses – and that really is a radical act and at first it might seem to someone as a total defeat leading to a very depressive death or life.

Thus, we arrive at the crisis of identity. If we stay true to our intent to discover and preserve the essential self, we shall have to make such a step. It is obvious to us that there may be no retreating, if one really wants to deal with fear, i.e. terror.

The difficulty of this crisis is that now it is clearly seen that the cause of our fear is not some oppressor, but our own identity, our image of our own selves, which is so strong and dominant that it cannot stand a radical change. Gradual, reasonable change, when parts are falling off, but the “essence” still stays “hidden” or “dressed up” – this can be, but to completely undress oneself – well, that is unacceptable. So, slowly it becomes clear that we are our own oppressors.

And – now we notice that the ground, which by now can be viewed as a philosophical one, slowly becomes a religious one. Wouldn't Adam and Eve would still be in Eden if it weren't for that fig's leaf? It was so difficult for them to give it up. It turned out that God was insane for expelling them for such a minor thing. And they too turned out insane, for they preferred to suffer, to live by the sweat of their brow, maybe in sweat caused by fear, rather than to keep living in happy communion with God. (I'll paraphrase Christ: You will be with me – naked– or – Leave it all and come with me.)

We are interested here in the mechanism of such psychology of “evaluating”, of existential evaluating. What kind of existence do we want, i.e. do we live?

What is it that is really valuable, and can't be absent, and what is it that we can lose, and still preserve ourselves? Some answers have already been given, they impose themselves according to the principle of the obvious. But accepting such “seeing” presents and objective obstacle. It is difficult to be reconciled with the fact that someone has robbed you and that there will never be any compensation, debts will never be paid back.

In Zen, the concept of “spiritual values” is equaled by the concept of a “dead cat”. The famous replica from the play “The Traveling Theatre Šopalović” says: “What do we need theatre for, don't you see that they are shooting us!” This situation is totally adequate to the present situation in Serbia. But nobody thought of the fact that that may be the very reason they are shooting at us, because we have no theatre – because we are savages. What would a common man do with a “head of a dead cat”? What would he need spiritual values for? Can he eat them, can he drink them?

An existential question: what kind of world do we live in? In the world in which someone steals from us all the time, and we are so helpless? That is the objective world, we can't say its unreal – it is very real. But that is the world of terror, do we want to live in such world? Anyway, who asks you!

Let's go back to Zen Buddhism, not because of Zen, but because of the method which Zen Buddhists use. One of the greatest contemporary, but “mute”, followers of Zen, Carlos Castaneda, sets the principle as early as in his first book (paraphrasing): The first enemy a warrior has to face is fear. if one retreats before fear, the warrior will never become a man of knowledge. (The next enemies are: clarity, power and old age...)

If we chose to speak about nation as a subject to fear, of a terrified, scared nation, it would be easy to chose the Serbian nation as an example of such nation. Zen would never take for granted that a nation is a subject, Buddhism principally does not accept the existence of something like subject, it is the principle of anata (an-ata) no-self, but if one has to speak about it, the analytical method will be applied in order to prove that there really is no subject, that every thing, and accordingly subject, is composed of parts, therefore a subject exists only as such – as a composite, as an idea (Anschauung), i.e. as something nonessential – Indians, or Buddhists, would here, by rule, use the expression sunyata, the emptiness – and let us be sure that here we do not talk of nihilism, but of the form as hollowness, as nonsensicality. If, thus, from Buddhists, who do not admit the existence of self, expect to swallow this implementation of nation as a subject – they would give us a hearty laugh.

Nevertheless, the fact that they would not talk about it, does not mean that they can't deal with it. I will give here another example from Castaneda's opus: When Carlos was telling to don Juan about his father, who hated priests because they strive to make everyone stupid, and so on, don Juan laughed mockingly at him saying it wasn’t them who made us so stupid.

Of course, this is pure Zen, i.e. the foundation (attitude) of Zen, for a Zen Buddhist can not de facto agree with the statement that someone else is responsible for her own state of being (ignorance).

There is a poem (for he was a poet too) which is ascribed to Buddha. In that poem Buddha tells about how he attained the final knowledge, saw through all illusions and thus he was free to leave this world of birth-and-rebirth (Samsara). But, Brahma comes to him and begs him not to do that, but to stay some more, for there are such who only need one little bit to attain such final insight, and Buddha could help them (this is the source of the bodhisattvas – Buddhas in delay, who pledge not to leave here until all living beings are set free – they are here to unselfishly help in that). Many agree that Buddha would not write something like this, because the decision to stay would be actually enforced by some reason (excuse), even though it may look so noble – his decision to stay would be ineffective, inadequate, null. The responsibility for personal deliverance is personal responsibility and cannot be passed on to someone else.

It is now clear, about nation, that a nation, as such, can be saved by no means, because the state in which there is a certain form of government, be it monarchy or democracy, is always ruled by someone in the name of someone else – the distribution of responsibility has been executed, and citizens, the constituents of nations, are not personally responsible for whatever is going on. This is particularly obvious in Serbia, for some kind of way out could be found in calling the people in power to answer, but it never happens. This nation does not want to be responsible, and that's it. Why – the answer is more than obvious – it kneeled before fear, and at the same time the responsibility is being overthrown to the government. And that, it seems, suits everyone. An extraordinary example of self-delusion.

In accordance with this, the question of existence without fear includes the question of belonging to a nation – it can be seen that determining of personal identity by means of belonging to a nation is a dead-end street, for now our personal liberation depends on the national liberation and on the definition of one such freedom, and that puts us into an absolutely passive position and renders us unable to fight for our own freedom (from fear) by ourselves. As a consequence of this, a person who looks for her own identity in belonging to a nation, runs away from salvation, lives in terror and there is no hope that it will escape that damnation.

One more consequence of such understanding of terror is interesting – with its cause outside of us: a total paralysis. Namely, if the cause of terror is a state, how can an individual protect himself from that, when he is in comparison with state so small and helpless, the legal system does not function, etc.? The result of that is apathy, lethargy, and decay - a total defeatism. One such attitude, if we yield to it, really lacks that small crack through which should, as in some phantasm, penetrate a beam of sunshine, a beam of hope. And, as Kafka said, there is hope, but not for humanity.

Nation, humanity, there is no difference. These are synonyms.

Many have objected to Descartes' statement that he accepts the laws, i.e. the system of the state in which he lives and that he would do nothing in the sense of changing such system of evaluation. At first glance it sounds like defeatism, as giving up the fight – a strong argument, but without any substance! And who are the followers of the way Buddha preached? – Beggars! Monks, who leave behind their former way of living, no reminders, they go to the woods and there, undisturbed, meditate. Their only contact with this world is going to beg (they beg for food), but even that begging is not systematical – a beggar does not count that he will inevitably get food, i.e. no one is obliged to give some charity. In this the ultimate existential risk is mirrored, because the nutrition of one beggar is not systematically resolved, it absolutely depends on the will of the giver. The act of giving food became a tradition, as time passed, that is the truth, but in essence it is the interruptus, or a point of interruption, in which an ordinary man, even for a moment, turns to some other values, which are not buying-selling, in accordance with the established system of evaluation. The act of going to beg gives a chance to an ordinary man to stop for the moment and step out of the mainstream which carries him who knows where.

Who, then, can decide to leave all and to make his living from that moment on dependent on the goodwill of his neighbors? Just a few. Not just the fear of loss of possessions or life will arise, of famine and cold, but the fear arises that one will have to have faith, i.e. not to have to be worried, and this means nothing else but disengagement of the established way of thinking, which as its subject has duration, duration of us: past, present, future, “godlike” anticipation of eventual further living, more or less in detail – which is the expression of utmost arrogance!

This is actually the goal of any meditation – stepping out from the realm of differentiation, discernment, from the realm of crisis (for krisein means to secrete, when all secrete is out, what is left is the essence – dryness), a transition from the realm of thinking into the realm of no-thinking, i.e. into the realm of action, decisiveness. “Stopping the world” (by Castaneda), or dhyana, meditative absorption and concentration, the expression adopted by Chinese Buddhists and thus named their sect (in Chinese dhyana is pronounced as chan, in Japanese zen).

The aim of this text is not to persuade someone to become a monk, if he wants to get free from terror. The act of leaving for the forest is an act of stepping out from the known, from the world ruled by suffering – into the world in which a man is freed from any sorrow. This is not a physical movement of taking off one's clothes or throwing ones things out of window, but an act of negation of any dependence on the objective – an act of attaining faith. Of course, faith is not a Buddhist term, it is not mentioned in Buddhism, it is a typically Christian expression, but also Christians refuse to discuss faith – it is attained, but not by means of proofs – and that is a typically “Zen wise” approach.

By attaining faith all fears are transcended.


На Пројекту Растко објављено љубазношћу блога

На Пројекту Растко објављено љубазношћу блога

На Растку објављено: 2007-10-04
Датум последње измене: 2007-10-03 22:35:01

Пројекат Растко / Књижевност / Сигнализам