Transcending Fear

MLK 16-jan-2020


This Monday we celebrate Martin Luther King Junior’s (MLK) birthday.  With this in mind, Tesshin continued his discussion on MLK’s teachings, but from a Zen perspective.  This week Tesshin wanted to focus on the sermon “Antidotes for Fear” which while not as famous as the “I have a dream” speech, still has quite an impact when you really consider it.


Tesshin shared two quotes from the sermon …


“The New Testament (John 4:18) affirms, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear.” The kind of love which led Christ to a cross and kept Paul un-embittered amid the angry torrents of persecution is not soft, anemic, and sentimental. Such love confronts evil without flinching and shows in our popular parlance an infinite capacity “to take it.” Such love overcomes the world even from a rough-hewn cross against the skyline.”


“Everywhere men and women are confronted by fears that often appear in strange disguises and a variety of wardrobes.  … When unchecked, fear spawns a whole brood of phobias – fear of water, high places, closed rooms, darkness, loneliness, among others – and such an accumulation culminates in “phobia-phobia” or the fear of fear itself.”


Tesshin stopped here and asked the group how we can apply this wisdom to our current life.  Needless to say, there is no shortage of fear considering events of the prior year.  We need only to consider Covid, political unrest, economic turbulence, and continuous isolation to experience fear.  Tesshin pointed out that each of us is part of this multi-dimensional fear which is why this particular MLK teaching is so timely.  


Tesshin next discussed some of the antidotes to fear we should consider …


1)  We must face our fears honestly and ask why we are afraid.  

Radical honesty will grant us power over our fears.  We will not solve anything by escapism.  It has been said that many of our deepest fears were generated from childhood experiences.  Perhaps we had overbearing parents, or conversely, parents who abandoned us.  The key is to stop and explore your inner feelings and try to name that “thing” which is generating the fear.  Tesshin reminded us that practice can really help here.  Practice is all about slowing the mind from distractions and exploring what “really is.” 


2)  We can master fear through the supreme virtue of courage.  

It is said that nothing which is worth doing is easy.  Confronting fear will not be easy.  Courage does not need to be violent or showy.  Courage can be something as simple as deciding to stop, sit, and face your “daemons.”  This is what MLK meant when he said that which confronts evil is not soft or anemic, rather it is unflinching. 


3)  Fear is mastered through love.  

It should come as no surprise that the New Testament, which is a document of love and compassion, talks about a strong and unflinching love.  Love is faith and faith is love.  Love provides the WHY which can drive you to actually confront your fear.  Nietzsche said that, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”  Now, if we have the New Testament and Nietzsche agreeing on a point, we are really on to something!


4)  Fear is mastered through faith.  

Here Tesshin mentioned that the common source of fear is the realization of insufficient “spiritual resources.”  Of the four antidotes, Tesshin through this last one was the most interesting because faith is a bit different in Zen than in MLK’s Christianity.  The anger and fear we see in the public realm are from a sense of false scarcity.  We may feel that our needs mean you need to take something away from someone else.  As an example, “My wins are your losses.”  Zen teaches us that there is no scarcity of anything.  We say this every time we chant the Heart Sutra.  Life is complete in and of itself – nothing is missing.  You may not realize this today, but through practice you will discover that inner perfection of life.  This faith is what keeps Tesshin going through the ups and downs of life.  This is the core of an unflinching faith which can continuously and confidently confront fear.


Tesshin wrapped by asking us to do a small “homework” assignment.  He challenged us to do the “KEEP – START – STOP” exercise… 


KEEP:  What are the three things I have been doing which I will continue to do this year.  

START:  What are three NEW things I will try or begin this year.  

STOP:  What are three things I will eliminate or stop doing this year.