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I have been recently experiencing tremendous fear, but as I look through my eyes at the world and the objects it contains, the fear does not accord with what I see. The world itself is beautiful but people's minds seem tarnished by a neurosis. They seem to define themselves by this very neurosis.

I notice all the little behavioural patterns they play and how they are trapped by them. I find this very fearful, and it affects my ability to integrate with people. Furthermore, I often find myself 'playing along' but knowing that I'm playing along. This seems disingenuous and somewhat incongruent. I have avoided television for 4 years because of this falsity, but it is becoming very prominent just now. Only the other day I caught a few seconds of a TV program where they were discussing Covid-19 death rates like it was some kind of sporting event. I find humans very peculiar.

At the level of mind I am able to see the danger present in the world and act accordingly but this comes from a natural inclination instead of from a fear-based story. This doesn't stop me feeling fear for that mode of being we call samsara.

It is possible - or highly likely - that this fear could be my own samsaric turmoil looking to find a footing in the world as someone who is fearful of others and that its real plight lies in keeping the wheel turning.

My question is, from a Mahayana perspective, how can I come to love the samsara that I see in others?

I'm happy to welcome answers from other traditions.

Be well.

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This is pretty normal, I'm guessing most practitioners go through this phase.

You have a certain - valid but incomplete - understanding of Dharma, and so you interpret your observations from this perspective, creating subjective reality that looks somewhat negative.

What you see is not wrong, these negative observations are not wrong, but they are a small part of the Totality that can be seen once your mind completely opens. You are listening to one radio station that plays sad music.

Luckily, once your perception purifies your attitude to samsara will change. Imagine getting the superpowers that allow you to hear all radio stations simultaneously. Once you are like that, the sad radio station won't bother you like before, although I won't lie: you will keep hearing it for the rest of your life.

The transformed purified attitude to samsara is called "compassion" or "unity of wisdom and compassion". You still see all those childish behaviors, neuroses etc. but you see them as growing pains, as part of an evolution. You see that in the grand scheme of things everything is perfect and is going as it's supposed to. At that point you can try and help as much as you can but you also have patience to let things develop naturally. You don't try to fix the world, if it's raining you let it rain, you also let children be children. Within the reason.

Back to the radio station allegory. Reality is an interpretation we make. Once your awareness liberates from all interpretative frameworks, your experience won't be bounded by one radio channel. The six realms of samsara and even the divine abode of Great Perfection are only small bands in the overall radio spectrum.

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You are beginning to notice the natural behaviors that we all carry out. This is a great thing as most people don't even take a moment to understand their behavior or how/why it functions that way.

As you are noticing like this, all kinds of weird side effects may start arising, as you are really shaking the foundation of the way you perceive the world. Fear for others may arise, sadness for others may arise, meaninglessness of the world may arise, great purpose for the world may arise, all kinds of things may arise because of this new noticing on behavior of others & workings of the world.

What you are experiencing is a normal phase of investigating the spectrum of behaviors. Keep investigating and don't give too much importance to the fear or other feelings that arise from it (otherwise you may feed & strengthen those feelings).

As you keep investigating, you will begin to understand why people play out these behaviors and you will begin to understand why this fear arises in you as a response. As your understanding of these things deepens, it will help you through this phase and eventually it will pass. What you'll be left with is better understanding of peoples behaviors, which parts of them are conducive to their long term happiness, which ones aren't, which ones you should support in them or not and which ones you should "play along with".

If you understand why we all "play out" these behaviors, then it no longer appears as "playing out" because you understand why you are doing it and it's purpose. For example:

"If I don't greet this person I just met kindly and go through the normal interactions they might expect, they may get upset and that would unnecessarily increase their pain/suffering, so better that I help them avoid that pain."

With this kind of understanding in your interactions, the feelings of disingenuousness should fade away.

Keep up this process and you naturally will come to love the world and everything in it. Understanding is love.

Additionally, I recommend meditating on the four Divine Abodes and trying to encompass those attitudes when interacting with others, this may be of great help.

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  • Do you have any audio resources for the Devine Abodes that you could share with me?
    – Max
    Dec 31 '20 at 22:37
  • I've not come across any audio resources that talk about all four, but Ajahn Brahm is a great listen for loving kindness! youtube.com/…
    – Ryan Baker
    Dec 31 '20 at 23:12
  • Thank you. I've always found Ajahn Brahm a bit disorganised in his talks but some of his books are good.
    – Max
    Jan 18 at 8:38
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I have been recently experiencing tremendous fear, but as I look through my eyes at the world and the objects it contains, the fear does not accord with what I see.

The scriptures say there can be valid fear and invalid fear. The scriptures say:

317. Those who see something to fear where there is nothing to fear, and see nothing to fear where there is something to fear — upholding false views, they go to states of woe.

Dhammapada


The world itself is beautiful

The Buddha did not share the above idea.

but people's minds seem tarnished by a neurosis. They seem to define themselves by this very neurosis.

Indeed. The scriptures say:

171. Come! Behold this world, which is like a decorated royal chariot. Here fools flounder, but the wise have no attachment to it.

174. Blind is the world; here only a few possess insight. Only a few, like birds escaping from the net, go to realms of bliss.

Dhammapada


I notice all the little behavioural patterns they play and how they are trapped by them. I find this very fearful, and it affects my ability to integrate with people.

The Buddha did not seek to "integrate" with the people of the world. The scriptures say:

There is this (mental) dwelling discovered by the Tathagata where, not attending to any themes, he enters & remains in internal emptiness. If, while he is dwelling there by means of this dwelling, he is visited by monks, nuns, lay men, lay women, kings, royal ministers, sectarians & their disciples, then — with his mind bent on seclusion, tending toward seclusion, inclined toward seclusion, aiming at seclusion, relishing renunciation, having destroyed those qualities that are the basis for mental fermentation — he converses with them only as much as is necessary for them to take their leave

MN 122


Only the other day I caught a few seconds of a TV program where they were discussing Covid-19 death rates like it was some kind of sporting event. I find humans very peculiar.

Covid-19 is a serious event because its exaggerated danger can cause great harm to the world, including for freedom of religion and spiritual pursuit. You should take an interest in the Covid-19 death rate to learn: (i) suspected 100 million Americans have Covid-19; (ii) 17 million Americans tested positive; (iii) merely 300,000 dead Americans attributed to Covid-19 associated with an average of 2.7 comorbidities; with average age of death around 75 years old; (iv) Pfizer vaccine 5% ineffective even though the death rate is only 0.1%; (v) therefore healthy people may be forced to take a vaccine that is unlikely to work on unhealthy people; (iv) the above appears crazy yet you claim the world is "beautiful" and Covid-19 death rate is trivial.


At the level of mind I am able to see the danger present in the world and act accordingly but this comes from a natural inclination instead of from a fear-based story.

Possibly you are mistaking "fear" with "caution" or what Buddhism called "heedfulness" ("appamāda"). In Buddhism, there is a healthy spiritual fear called "ottappa". "Ottappa" is one of five requirements for the Path.


This doesn't stop me feeling fear for that mode of being we call samsara.

"Samsara" is merely the mind cycling in egoism, as clearly explained in SN 22.99, as follows:

Just as a dog, tied by a leash to a post or stake, keeps running around and circling around that very post or stake; in the same way, an uninstructed, run-of-the-mill person — who has no regard for noble ones, is not well-versed or disciplined in their Dhamma; who has no regard for people of integrity, is not well-versed or disciplined in their Dhamma — assumes form to be the self, or the self as possessing form, or form as in the self, or the self as in form.

"He assumes feeling to be the self...

"He assumes perception to be the self...

"He assumes (mental) fabrications to be the self...

"He assumes consciousness to be the self, or the self as possessing consciousness, or consciousness as in the self, or the self as in consciousness.

"He keeps running around and circling around that very form... that very feeling... that very perception... those very fabrications... that very consciousness. He is not set loose from form, not set loose from feeling... from perception... from fabrications... not set loose from consciousness. He is not set loose from birth, aging, & death; from sorrows, lamentations, pains, distresses, & despairs. He is not set loose, I tell you, from suffering & stress.


It is possible - or highly likely - that this fear could be my own samsaric turmoil looking to find a footing in the world as someone who is fearful of others and that its real plight lies in keeping the wheel turning.

Yes, looking for a "footing in the world" is contrary to Buddhism. The goal of Buddhism is to transcend or be above/beyond the world (called "lokuttara") rather than gain a footing in it.


My question is, from a Mahayana perspective, how can I come to love the samsara that I see in others?

Yes, very Mahayana ideas. Mahayana, similar to Christianity, appears to believe it can save the whole world (even though the Tibetans could not even save themselves), even though it is reported the Buddha himself denied such a possibly (in AN 10.95).

I'm happy to welcome answers from other traditions.

I already provided the Theravada viewpoint.

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  • I like some of your replies, but I sense an element of extremism in the subtext. I never harbour any form of Buddhism with such a concretized mind and I never will.
    – Max
    Dec 31 '20 at 8:32
  • Additionally, it looks like I may not have represented myself very clearly on the covid-19 reference and that this resulted in what appears to be a very passionate response from you. I apologise for my not being clearer about that.
    – Max
    Dec 31 '20 at 10:18
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This answer is from the Theravada perspective.

When you feel like you fear or dislike people because of their mental traps and neurotic dramas, you can use this opportunity to cultivate the brahmavihara of compassion (karuna).

The primary purpose of cultivating compassion is to cure this strong aversion that you have of other people. Aversion or hatred (dosa or dvesha) is one of the three poisons that will prevent your progress. Fear is a type of aversion. The secondary purpose is for you to regain a healthy social connection with the people around you.

Why are they the way they are? For e.g. if your grandmother who has senile dementia lashes out at you in anger or doesn't behave like normal people do, would you be fearful or judgemental or contemptuous against her? No. You would be compassionate towards her, because you understand that she has senile dementia.

Similarly, you can generate compassion by trying to understand that other people are suffering and there may be genuine underlying reasons for their suffering and condition. It could be their life situation (e.g. poverty or undergoing divorce) or even mental states (e.g. ignorance, or clouded by anger or other negative emotions) as you have correctly identified.

Instead of playing the role of a victim or potential victim or a contemptuous person or a hateful person, you can become compassionate towards others by recognizing that people who demonstrate neurotic behavior are actually suffering.

By tending to your own renunciation, you may be feeling more calm, but by cultivating compassion, you can create the balance needed in dealing with others. Renunciation and equanimity is how you deal with your own suffering. Meanwhile, compassion is how you deal with others' suffering.

Ven. Bodhi wrote in "The Balanced Way":

Like a bird in flight borne by its two wings, the practice of Dhamma is sustained by two contrasting qualities whose balanced development is essential to straight and steady progress. These two qualities are renunciation and compassion. As a doctrine of renunciation the Dhamma points out that the path to liberation is a personal course of training that centers on the gradual control and mastery of desire, the root cause of suffering. As a teaching of compassion the Dhamma bids us to avoid harming others, to act for their welfare, and to help realize the Buddha's own great resolve to offer the world the way to the Deathless.

Considered in isolation, renunciation and compassion have inverse logics that at times seem to point us in opposite directions. The one steers us to greater solitude aimed at personal purification, the other to increased involvement with others issuing in beneficent action. Yet, despite their differences, renunciation and compassion nurture each other in dynamic interplay throughout the practice of the path, from its elementary steps of moral discipline to its culmination in liberating wisdom. The synthesis of the two, their balanced fusion, is expressed most perfectly in the figure of the Fully Enlightened One, who is at once the embodiment of complete renunciation and of all-embracing compassion.

Both renunciation and compassion share a common root in the encounter with suffering. The one represents our response to suffering confronted in our own individual experience, the other our response to suffering witnessed in the lives of others. Our spontaneous reactions, however, are only the seeds of these higher qualities, not their substance. To acquire the capacity to sustain our practice of Dhamma, renunciation and compassion must be methodically cultivated, and this requires an ongoing process of reflection which transmutes our initial stirrings into full-fledged spiritual virtues.

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    Thank you. Very helpful. It's difficult to give language in these regions without appearing contemptuous. I guess that's due to the binary function of language alongside perceptual attachments contained inside of that language - feeling and consciousness: components that cannot easily be discerned from one another.
    – Max
    Dec 31 '20 at 10:15
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Fear is internal. The Buddha discusses fear at length in MN4. The first step is to consider personal ethics and purify ones conduct by mind, speech and body:

MN4:4.1: Then I thought, ‘There are ascetics and brahmins with unpurified conduct of body, speech, and mind who frequent remote lodgings in the wilderness and the forest. Those ascetics and brahmins summon unskillful fear and dread because of these defects in their conduct. But I don’t frequent remote lodgings in the wilderness and the forest with unpurified conduct of body, speech, and mind. My conduct is purified. I am one of those noble ones who frequent remote lodgings in the wilderness and the forest with purified conduct of body, speech, and mind.’ Seeing this purity of conduct in myself I felt even more unruffled about staying in the forest.

With ethics mastered, one can then directly face fear:

MN4:20.1: Then I thought, ‘There are certain nights that are recognized as specially portentous: the fourteenth, fifteenth, and eighth of the fortnight. On such nights, why don’t I stay in awe-inspiring and hair-raising shrines in parks, forests, and trees? In such lodgings, hopefully I might see that fear and dread.’ Some time later, that’s what I did. As I was staying there a deer came by, or a peacock snapped a twig, or the wind rustled the leaves. Then I thought, ‘Is this that fear and dread coming?’ Then I thought, ‘Why do I always meditate expecting that fear and terror to come? Why don’t I get rid of that fear and dread just as it comes, while remaining just as I am?’ Then that fear and dread came upon me as I was walking. I didn’t stand still or sit down or lie down until I had got rid of that fear and dread while walking. Then that fear and dread came upon me as I was standing. I didn’t walk or sit down or lie down until I had got rid of that fear and dread while standing. Then that fear and dread came upon me as I was sitting. I didn’t lie down or stand still or walk until I had got rid of that fear and dread while sitting. Then that fear and dread came upon me as I was lying down. I didn’t sit up or stand still or walk until I had got rid of that fear and dread while lying down.

Facing fears, one might come to understand that much of what is seen is misleading. One might understand that makeup is a lie yet still feel an unwholesome attraction. In letting go of the attraction, in seeing the skull behind the makeup, a fear vanishes. Looking further, one might see a peacock, beautiful in its shiny natural animal splendour. Yet looking again, here too, one will see that the plumage of a peacock is nothing other than makeup that has come to exist for the rebirth of peacocks. So gradually understanding arises that humans will always decorate themselves as peacocks do, for the sake of rebirth. And with that understanding fear might vanish with one's own desire for rebirth.

MN4:31.1: When my mind had become immersed in samādhi like this—purified, bright, flawless, rid of corruptions, pliable, workable, steady, and imperturbable—I extended it toward knowledge of the ending of defilements. I truly understood: ‘This is suffering’ … ‘This is the origin of suffering’ … ‘This is the cessation of suffering’ … ‘This is the practice that leads to the cessation of suffering’. I truly understood: ‘These are defilements’ … ‘This is the origin of defilements’ … ‘This is the cessation of defilements’ … ‘This is the practice that leads to the cessation of defilements’.

Live without fear, content without wishes.

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    Thank you for the answer.
    – user19910
    Dec 31 '20 at 2:44
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    A nice skilful fusion of sutta excerpts. Beautiful and progressive finishing with a mellow textual gong. I loved it.
    – Max
    Jan 1 at 18:21

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