The Bhaya Bherava Sutta (MN4) states the following:

...I stayed in the sort of places that are awe-inspiring and make your hair stand on end, such as park-shrines, forest-shrines, & tree-shrines. And while I was staying there a wild animal would come, or a peacock would make a twig fall, or wind would rustle the fallen leaves. The thought would occur to me: 'Is this that fear & terror coming?' Then the thought occurred to me: 'Why do I just keep waiting for fear?

What if I, in whatever state I'm in when fear & terror come to me, were to subdue that fear & terror in that very state?' So when fear & terror came to me while I was walking back & forth, I would not stand or sit or lie down. I would keep walking back & forth until I had subdued that fear & terror. When fear & terror came to me while I was standing, I would not walk or sit or lie down. I would keep standing until I had subdued that fear & terror. When fear & terror came to me while I was sitting, I would not lie down or stand up or walk. I would keep sitting until I had subdued that fear & terror. When fear & terror came to me while I was lying down, I would not sit up or stand or walk. I would keep lying down until I had subdued that fear & terror.

However, it does not say how the Buddha subdued the fear and terror while standing, sitting, etc. How could a practitioner understand and use this method?

  • Because the tag is personal-practice I must ask; why are asking such question, are you trying to find a "self-help" solution in Buddhism ?
    – user13383
    Jul 9, 2018 at 18:20
  • 1
    I marked the question down because the sutta actually says the method Gotama used. The method is when fear & dread arose in a certain posture, Gotama did not change the posture or the activity. In other words, Gotama simply endured it, until it passed away. It knowing it passes away, the fear was no longer feared. Jul 10, 2018 at 0:41
  • @Dhammadhatu You can add that as an answer.
    – ruben2020
    Jul 10, 2018 at 3:38
  • @dhamma4life Indeed, everything about Buddhism is "self-help". According to DN16, "Therefore, Ananda, be islands unto yourselves, refuges unto yourselves, seeking no external refuge; with the Dhamma as your island, the Dhamma as your refuge, seeking no other refuge."
    – ruben2020
    Jul 10, 2018 at 12:23
  • @ruben2020 That is no what I meant - it was a standard question of type "Are You Looking to Buddhism When You Should Be Looking to Therapy?" sort of a question.
    – user13383
    Jul 10, 2018 at 20:20

4 Answers 4


There is another sutta in SN (very hard to find, so not giving a reference) in a group of suttas that speak about Four Right Exertions. In that sutta Buddha speaks about unwholesome states and how the bhikkhus should not let the unwholesome states linger, but subdue them right there and then, on the spot. He then gives a very similar elaboration to that in the Bhaya Bherava Sutta, saying that if a bhikkhu is standing he should subdue it while still standing, if he is sitting - then while still sitting etc. To me it looks like this emphasis is about focus: putting 100% of one's attention onto dealing with the problem at hand rather than "kicking the can down the road".

My teacher(s) taught me the following methods for dealing with fear and anxiety:

  1. If fear and/or anxiety is very strong (to the point of vomiting) - one should dissipate it by doing any physical exercise. Jogging or sit-ups or push-ups or pull-ups work well for this.
  2. When fear/anxiety is medium - one should repeatedly tap one body in those areas where the fear is felt: abdomen, solar plexus, chest, throat, sides of the head etc. - trying to relax corresponding muscles and through that let go of the preconceptual fabrication. An intermediate practice in this vein is spontaneous dancing a-la qi-gong with focus on one's emotional projections in and around the body.
  3. When student becomes relatively stable and can deal with strong fear/anxiety directly, he or she should stare directly at fear, trying to go "as close" to it as possible and even "go inside". When this is done, through gazing at fear it can be "transmuted" into its pure form, that of energy, without being colored by an attitude.

Buddha has given a detailed answer to handling fear and trepidation in the Sutta SN 11.3. Below I quote the relevant part:

“But, bhikkhus, I say this: If you have gone to a forest or to the foot of a tree or to an empty hut, and fear or trepidation or terror should arise in you, on that occasion you should recollect me thus: ‘The Blessed One is an arahant, perfectly enlightened, accomplished in true knowledge and conduct, fortunate, knower of the world, unsurpassed leader of persons to be tamed, teacher of devas and humans, the Enlightened One, the Blessed One.’ For when you recollect me, bhikkhus, whatever fear or trepidation or terror you may have will be abandoned.

“If you cannot recollect me, then you should recollect the Dhamma thus: ‘The Dhamma is well expounded by the Blessed One, directly visible, immediate, inviting one to come and see, applicable, to be personally experienced by the wise.’ For when you recollect the Dhamma, bhikkhus, whatever fear or trepidation or terror you may have will be abandoned.

“If you cannot recollect the Dhamma, then you should recollect the Saṅgha thus: ‘The Saṅgha of the Blessed One’s disciples is practising the good way, practising the straight way, practising the true way, practising the proper way; that is, the four pairs of persons, the eight types of individuals—this Saṅgha of the Blessed One’s disciples is worthy of gifts, worthy of hospitality, worthy of offerings, worthy of reverential salutation, the unsurpassed field of merit for the world.’ For when you recollect the Saṅgha, bhikkhus, whatever fear or trepidation or terror you may have will be abandoned.

To answer the question How did the Buddha manage fear? I would say that he recalled Dhamma. If anyone recalls Dhamma, all the fear will vanish or fade away.

  • 2
    Gotama was not yet enlightened when the fear & dread happened therefore he could not recall the Dhamma. Jul 10, 2018 at 0:34
  • "then you should recollect the Saṅgha thus"
    – OyaMist
    Jul 10, 2018 at 14:05
  • @OyaMistAeroponics There is no need to recollect Sangha when you have faith in Dhamma. Jul 10, 2018 at 16:55
  • @DheerajVetma Yes. Faith in Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha per the sutta. And I was responding to Dhammadhatu, who pointed out that Gotama had no access to the Dhamma at the time of his need. I was suggesting that the sangha of Gotama's fellow seekers might have offered solace. Sorry for the confusion, I tend to be stingy on keystrokes. I upvoted your answer and was not requesting a change.
    – OyaMist
    Jul 10, 2018 at 19:10

There're a series of repetitive paragraphs at the beginning of MN 4 that list the reasons why fear and dread arise, starting with unpurified bodily conduct and ending with lack of wisdom. Purifying those aspects is the way to subdue fear and dread:

I considered thus: ‘Whenever recluses or brahmins unpurified in bodily conduct resort to remote jungle-thicket resting places in the forest, then owing to the defect of their unpurified bodily conduct these good recluses and brahmins evoke unwholesome fear and dread. But I do not resort to remote jungle-thicket resting places in the forest unpurified in bodily conduct. I am purified in bodily conduct. I resort to remote jungle-thicket resting places in the forest as one of the noble ones with bodily conduct purified.’ Seeing in myself this purity of bodily conduct, I found great solace in dwelling in the forest.

  • I'm not sure this is well reasoned, since the Buddha ends each of those mistaken or idiotic reasons for fear and dread with his own immunity to those reasons. The passage continues to the section quoted by OP, at which point the Buddha nevertheless does feel dread. It may be the case that he faltered in some way and takes mental stock to the checklist that began the sutta; assuming he was already perfected, however, the order implies that there are (in addition to the brahmins' various mistakes and idiocies) some additional well-reasoned or proper further sources of fear and dread.
    – lly
    Jul 10, 2018 at 9:39
  • He is still able to overcome them, but the method would be something different from his answers to the list of unskillful problems at the beginning of the sutta.
    – lly
    Jul 10, 2018 at 9:43
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    Notice at the very beginning, the Buddha mentioned He was still an "un-enlightened bodhisattva", so of course even with a purified physical and mental state, certain level of fear and dread still arise and one still has "more work to be done" to completely abandone them once s/he's attained enlightenment.
    – santa100
    Jul 10, 2018 at 13:06

In vipassana terms one would simply acknowledge 'fear, fear, fear' and observe in an objective way.

  • While acknowledging fear as you have described is an appropriate method, this is not "vipassana". It is merely a form of clear-comprehension (sampajanna). Jul 10, 2018 at 0:35

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