8

(I know there have been some questions about this same topic but each one is a particular issue)

I have started taking the buddhist path not long ago, less than three years. Life felt too heavy and it felt like it was pushing me towards not wanting to play the game anymore. So buddhism seemed like the way to go. I was pretty excited about it for quite some time, hearing about the mystic expeciences, the idea of feeling the float from releasing from ego and the satori experience itself - but only as long as it was a distant, remote possibility.

As soon as I started digging deeper into this reality, investigating it for what it really is, things changed. I started feeling afraid of it and then terribly afraid. I can't forget the first time I faced the idea of vanishing from this existence forever, the true death; never being able to come back once I 'saw it'. Nevertheless I kept investigating. Then I contemplated the idea of being trapped in this. Existence has no way out, anywhere you go there is still existence. In other words 'What if it has been like this for millions, billions of years, maybe even for eternity? What if I am stuck in this illusion, completaly alone, unable to get anything out of it, for the eternity, and this is what the whole, me, ultimately is?'. Having seen this brought me to an unforgettable state of total dispair.

Some months have passed and now the whole thing feels weird. The more I look at reality, the more weird it gets and if I look hard enough it becomes dreadful. How strange is this thing we call death, or enlightenment, or time or self. I can't put in words how weird life feels for me. Sometimes when I wake up in the morning there is a strong sense of feeling weird to have hands and to move and to be in a body. Indeed, the I does not make sense, nothing makes sense. And I am afraid of being stuck in this forever. But if enlightenment is the only scape, I am afraid of never being able to come back. I am afraid everything is just an illusion, that there aren't others, just images and I'm alone. Sometimes I fear there isn't even enlightenment to save me.

My question is: Am I going crazy? Am I getting it all wrong? I just wanted some light. Also, I am asking here because I know other people won't understand what I am talking about. Sorry for the long question.

  • i think the abhidharma kosa bhasyam says something about being afraid of nirvana thinking it's annihilation. hth, and i'm right – sorta_buddhist Jul 31 '17 at 8:39
  • I have suffered from the same problem since years. But it happened suddenly, without any reason i started to feel scared by my own self, similar to the way you have mentioned and it was terrifying. I was in search of any such medical condition which can justify this extreme fear of my own existence, as if I am only the one in Universe and will always exist. I am still finding my answers, but with meditation i have gained control over my thoughts so the fear has reduced. – Sona Jun 21 '18 at 12:12
  • @Sona You are describing solipsism and existential dread. This feeling of solipsism can be described as falling to the extreme of eternalism. The counterpart dread is that this "I" that is the only one that truly exists can be annihilated by nirvana. Luckily, both views are completely wrong. That is why the Buddha taught the truth: The Middle Way free from extremes. – Yeshe Tenley Jun 21 '18 at 15:43

10 Answers 10

5

As Buddha said:

Just as faeces always have bad smell, even a tiny bit of, so does the [projected] existence. I do not recommend even a tiny bit of [projected] existence, not even for so long as a fingersnap.

This phenomenal world is a horrendous, weird, strange, awesome place. The good news is, the experience of the world is our own projection and is therefore in our control. The power of the enlightenment is in being able to stop projecting the experience that makes one miserable.

Thinking these thoughts of yours is exactly the act of projection that makes you feel weird and scared. Do not feed them.

  • Are you saying experience is completely inside my control? – Dhiego Magalhães Jul 31 '17 at 22:01
  • 2
    Much of experience is in our control, specifically what we pay attention to. The rest that is not in our control is subject to interpretation. Interpretation is in our control, how we assemble the pieces we see and what we assemble them into. The attitude to experience is in our control. – Andrei Volkov Aug 1 '17 at 14:19
5

fear of liberation from 5 skandhas is normal for those who haven't studied Dhamma. Buddha mentioned it in (Udana Sutta,

"There is the case where an uninstructed run-of-the-mill person ... falls into fear over what is not grounds for fear. There is fear for an uninstructed run-of-the-mill person [who thinks], 'It should not be, it should not occur to me; it will not be, it will not occur to me.' But an instructed disciple of the noble ones does not fall into fear over what is not grounds for fear. There is no fear for an instructed disciple of the noble ones [who thinks], 'It should not be, it should not occur to me; it will not be, it will not occur to me.'

Quite long sutta but it answers your question.

4

Am I going crazy?

The scriptures (SN 4.77) say thinking about Buddhism & life in the wrong way can bring madness & vexation.

Am I getting it all wrong?

Basically, yes, you are getting it wrong.

Buddhist practise begins with calming the mind with meditation, such as breathing meditation. When the mind is calm, it will not have fear in relation to the strangeness of life. In Buddhism, we try to stop the thinking & feel peace.

  • 2
    Yes, I should definitely develop samatha. – Dhiego Magalhães Jul 31 '17 at 22:01
  • Would metta meditation help? Could be too much focus on illusion/reality and not enough on generosity and kindness. – Simon H Aug 1 '17 at 8:13
  • 1
    Hi Simon. This is not a discussion chatsite & i think your comment is not really related to my post in the context of the purpose of the comments facility here. I think you should write your own answer to the question. Kind regards. DD – Dhammadhatu Aug 1 '17 at 9:28
4

“Bhikkhus, whatever a bhikkhu frequently thinks and ponders upon, that will become the inclination of his mind." (MN 19)

I see some parallels of what you have described with a discourse in the pali canon, MN 2. In it, the Buddha called this a "thicket of views":

“This is how he attends unwisely: ‘Was I in the past? Was I not in the past? What was I in the past? How was I in the past? Having been what, what did I become in the past? Shall I be in the future? Shall I not be in the future? What shall I be in the future? How shall I be in the future? Having been what, what shall I become in the future?’ Or else he is inwardly perplexed about the present thus: ‘Am I? Am I not? What am I? How am I? Where has this being come from? Where will it go?’"

“When he attends unwisely in this way, one of six views arises in him. The view ‘self exists for me’ arises in him as true and established; or the view ‘no self exists for me’ arises in him as true and established; or the view ‘I perceive self with self’ arises in him as true and established; or the view ‘I perceive not-self with self’ arises in him as true and established; or the view ‘I perceive self with not-self’ arises in him as true and established; or else he has some such view as this: ‘It is this self of mine that speaks and feels and experiences here and there the result of good and bad actions; but this self of mine is permanent, everlasting, eternal, not subject to change, and it will endure as long as eternity.’ This speculative view, bhikkhus, is called the thicket of views, the wilderness of views, the contortion of views, the vacillation of views, the fetter of views. Fettered by the fetter of views, the untaught ordinary person is not freed from birth, ageing, and death, from sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair; he is not freed from suffering, I say."

The same goes for speculations about the world, universe, existence, in the past or future. These speculative views can be challenging when our imaginations are given wings to fly wild, and when we are sensitive to the places it takes us. But they are just that: imaginations.

For a buddhist, one thing that might be useful here is to revisit the teachings on Right View (and on Wrong View, such as above). These may help prevent the mind from wandering on thoughts that are unhelpful and only disturb it (again, that's an important point here: the thoughts and imaginations are the cause of disturbance and fear, not the reality itself. For example, your body and mind are likely fine and possibly comfortable while imagination trips away and disturbs everything).

When imagination is getting in the way, the one "place" one should go is to the experiences of here and now: that which is felt and perceived with the senses as they occur. It might be useful also to look for comfortable and pleasing places, since irritable or painful situations can only increase the anxiety caused by these imaginations and fears, feeding them once more. When the mind is pleased, it feels no need to look out there for answers to fill voids. Then, one can direct the mind inwards, and inwards it will go.

In other words, with Right View in place and a mind that is not distracted, it can be more easily brought to unity:

"But with excessive thinking and pondering I might tire my body, and when the body is tired, the mind becomes strained, and when the mind is strained, it is far from concentration. So I steadied my mind internally, quieted it, brought it to singleness, and concentrated it. Why is that? So my mind should not be strained."

-- MN 19

So, subsequently (or alternatively, if reviewing Right View doesn't help), one can direct him/herself to the sublime (non-sensual) pleasures of the path that lead to Nirvana: the footprints of the Tathāgata (MN 27), the tastes of nirvana itself, the Jhānas. Abiding there, there's no anxiety or fear, but confidence that this is indeed the path to solving the problem of suffering.

“Having thus abandoned these five hindrances, imperfections of the mind that weaken wisdom, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, he enters upon and abides in the first jhāna, which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought, with rapture and pleasure born of seclusion. This, brahmin, is called a footprint of the Tathāgata, something scraped by the Tathāgata, something marked by the Tathāgata [...]’"

-- MN 27

  • I liked the second MN 19 quote (and also the first) - "But with excessive thinking and pondering I might tire my body, and when the body is tired, the mind becomes strained, and when the mind is strained, it is far from concentration. So I steadied my mind internally, quieted it, brought it to singleness, and concentrated it. Why is that? So my mind should not be strained." – ruben2020 Aug 2 '17 at 15:35
3

You are afraid not of enlightenment but of your thoughts.

All those emotions and conditions you develop - they are because of thinking and imagination. Those thoughts do not really correspond with reality.

So the most basic answer is: stop generating all those scary thoughts and unusual conditions. They look more like a sign of hypochondria rather than spiritual practice.

Actually nirvana means "to cease shaking".

Or "to extinguish vexations".

When you stop shaking your mind, it stops to appear as existing. Imagine that you shake a bowl of water, and so you see moving plashes of reflected sunlight on the ceiling. When you stop shaking the bowl, and the water stands still, plashes disappear. There is some light in the room, but it doesn't appear as the result of the activity of the bowl.

Likewise, nirvana means natural abiding, which is also non-abiding.

No plashes, so no "existence", because "existence" is a concept that appears as the result of activity.

In nirvana, there's no more of your activity. The body functions naturally, dissatisfaction disappeared.

The body doesn't appear existing as some highlighted entity, it's just a part of natural life of the intertwined causes. It was actually the same when you "existed". You just had an illusion of some "existing self". It was always just a play of intertwined causes. So the point is: not that you lose existence in nirvana, but it becomes clear that this existence was illusory.

Your births and deaths are ended, but there is neither existence nor non-existence.

If you form new concepts from this explanations and start to play with them intellectually, that's probably not a correct practice. Better come to the natural state. Buddha explained nirvana not to feed people for mental games, but to explain how to cease mental stirring. What is there? Explore by your experience, not by developing more stirring!

PS. See more about being "afraid of no-self" in the Dharma talk by Chan Master Simon Child, "Constructing a Sense of Self" (Chan Magazine, 2016 Winter). Free download: http://chancenter.org/cmc/publications/chan-magazines/

2

At least from a Theravadin perspective of the Buddha's teachings, the world and everything in it are not an illusion. However, they are not constant, not permanent and subject to change. This is anicca. Therefore you should not feel that the world and the people around you are illusions and that you are, in some sense, alone, and make yourself depressed.

The self is also existent and is not an illusion. However, the self is not an independently existing entity or agent, but rather arises out of the inter-workings of the five aggregates. A working wristwatch is composed of various parts such as the battery, strap, housing, glass cover, needles, gears etc. but doesn't exist as a standalone entity apart from these. It appears as a working wristwatch only when all these things work together. It is the same with the self. This is anatta. Therefore, you should not feel that you yourself are some kind of illusion and make yourself crazy.

All these exist, but are not constant or permanent or absolute.

However, there is also suffering, because of pain, disease and death. Suffering due to the inconstancy of everything that makes us happy, including the people that we love. Suffering because we cannot always avoid things that make us unhappy. This is dukkha.

You wrote that "I am afraid of never being able to come back", therefore displaying that you have the craving to be (bhava tanha) - you want to exist. Therefore, you should not feel trapped in this existence. After all, you are here, because you want to be here. And as long as you have this craving, you will definitely continue to be here in this life and future lives. This is one of the causes of suffering. One type of craving. But there are also other types of craving like sensual pleasures.

The Yamaka Sutta (SN22.85) is very suited to the next part of your question on the fear of enlightenment.

The monk Yamaka once had this wrong view:

"As I understand the Teaching explained by the Blessed One, a monk with no more effluents, on the break-up of the body, is annihilated, perishes, & does not exist after death."

Your fear is based on his wrong view that on achieving nirvana, you would cease to exist, or as you wrote, "I am afraid of never being able to come back."

Ven. Sariputta corrected Yamaka and Yamaka now understood:

"Then, friend Yamaka, how would you answer if you are thus asked: A monk, a worthy one, with no more mental effluents: what is he on the break-up of the body, after death?"

"Thus asked, I would answer, 'Form is inconstant... Feeling... Perception... Fabrications... Consciousness is inconstant. That which is inconstant is stressful. That which is stressful has ceased and gone to its end."

Stress here is the same as suffering.

Furthermore, Ven. Sariputta taught him that:

"Now, the well-instructed, disciple of the noble ones — who has regard for noble ones, is well-versed & disciplined in their Dhamma; who has regard for men of integrity, is well-versed & disciplined in their Dhamma — does not assume form to be the self, or the self as possessing form, or form as in the self, or the self as in form.

(and the same applies to the other four aggregates of sensation, perception, fabrications and consciousness)

Hence, you should not feel trapped to be here now and you should not feel the fear of not existing after enlightenment. Rather, you should understand and acknowledge that there is suffering, and find means to become free of that suffering. This then leads to the Noble Eightfold Path.

2

It is gradual training. Take one step at a time. Do not try to eat the whole elephant in one bite. -)

1

You should know how lucky you are to be on this path. In my opinion if there is any fear it's not the real you it's the mind that is afraid .So it's your ego justifying it's existence. Ego doesn't want to let go. And that glimpse you had is not all. Trust me . Have you heard about this Buddhist monk/teacher Bhante Vimalaramsi? He describes nibanna and many other things and methods as well. Please, i want you to know that things will get better indeed. This ''depressive state'' will pass and it can pass really fast if you practice mindfullness ,watch your thoughts and understand that your feelings usually are thoughts in motion . Once you stop the thought and replace it with positive your experience changes immediately. You can go crazy only if you believe in your thoughts...Relax

1

I think that Buddhism categorizes things (including thoughts, views, intentions, habits) into categories of "good" and "bad".

For example something is good if it's "moral/ethical", "kind", "harmless", "skillful", "helpful", "benevolent", "conducive to ease", "conducive to non-delusion" and so on.

Conversely something is bad if it's immoral, unkind, harmful, unskillful, unhelpful, malevolent, conducive to disease, conducive to delusion, and so on.

"Enlightenment" is meant to be a good thing ... so if you're not seeing it that way, perhaps it's your view of enlightenment that's wrong, not enlightenment itself that's wrong.

More specifically I think of enlightenment as being intended to counter-act (it acts as an antidote to) a pre-existing unenlightened fear of death. It's meant to be an escape from death (and rebirth).


I am afraid everything is just an illusion, that there aren't others, just images and I'm alone.

Also I think the fact that other "people" exist is axiomatic, a feature of Buddhist belief. Buddhism is meant to be a Middle Way between extremes.

  • One extreme (to avoid) is to over-value sense-impressions ... if you put too much value on a ruby, for example, you might use the distaste for (detachment from) sense-impressions to tell yourself "Of that's just a red stone and some light, I won't become attached to it"
  • An opposite extreme (to avoid) is to assume that nothing is real ... for example to assume that there are no other people, that other people don't suffer, that actions don't have consequence.

But if enlightenment is the only scape, I am afraid of never being able to come back.

I guess this too is one of the problems which enlightenment is intended to solve. I think it looks like the problem you're describing happens because of view that there's an "I" which might come and go (or an "I" which might "go" and not "come back") -- at least according to the Pali canon this sounds like an "identity view", which is an unenlightened view and part of the problem (it's a view that leads to suffering, as you say).

  • Well, makes sense.. and doesn't haha. I guess enlightenment isn't meant to make sense to a thinking mind anyway. Identity view is indeed very strong "I AM here, am I not? Isn't there a self?" Well, I guess at least there are experiences, right? And there is the fear of not having any more experiences. I am afraid. But there is no me so... there is fear. No one is fearing, it just happens. Okay, what can I do to get out of this? nothing because there is no me to act. It's a paradox. – Dhiego Magalhães Aug 21 '17 at 18:03
0

Fear not included in sobhana-cetasika (wholesome mental factor group). Fear is dosa-akusala-cetasika (unwholesome mental factor group).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.