How is fear covered within the EBTs?

Fear seems to have a universal primal place in sentient beings and is often behind powerful expressions of thought, speech and action.

In MN4, the Buddha describes his dealings with and overcoming fear of the situation of living and mediating alone in the forest. But besides physical danger like that, fear can come from many mental situations and its presence, affect and effect isn’t always clearly evident.

What do you know about what the Buddha said about fear and how does fear place within his teachings?


The primal drives are greed, hatred and delusion, being the necessary motivations for survival in the physical world, for obtaining and protecting food, shelter etc. The arahant is able to overcome the primal drives. Fear arises basically from delusion about situations, and fear of the suffering (dukkha) which is inherent in the world.

“With ignorance
the world is shrouded.
Because of stinginess,
it doesn’t shine.

With longing
it’s smeared — I tell you.
its great danger & fear.”—Sn 5.1

So fear arises in the ordinary person in response to dukkha and the lack of any knowledge of it, or how to overcome it. Therefore the removal of fear is achieved by the gradual removal of ignorance. In MN 4, the Buddha points out that ascetics who resort to wilderness abodes and experience fear, do so because of lack of sila. Sila gives rise to tranquillity. He also says they are “drooling idiots”, that is they have not developed discernment (insight).

Fear arises from attachment and so is common in the ordinary uninstructed person, this is why it doesn’t feature in the suttas, but is more often mentioned in the Dhammapada (188-192, 216, 317, 351). Logically as the practitioner approaches stream-entry fear diminishes.


Thanks, Paul. I don’t disagree with what you’ve written, but I don’t see in those examples of the Buddha mentioning fear directly.


Fear is the natural response to selfhood with which all living beings are endowed. Beings develop greed and hatred because they are deluded to assume that there is a self that benefits from greed and hatred.
The Buddha spoke about the impermanence and suffering. He said if anything is impermanent it must be suffering. Then he went further stating that if anything is impermanent and suffering it cannot be self.
This is how he proclaimed the three characteristics of all formations sankhara which includes the living being.
So the only way to overcome fear is to get rid of the notion of self. And it can only be done by understanding dependent origination. This is why dependent origination is the quintessence of the Buddha’s teaching.
With Metta

You may want to clarify that you are looking for citations from the suttas, otherwise (as you see) people are going to just give you general ideas.

I’ve always been interested in this passage SuttaCentral

Mendicants, there are these four ways of making prejudiced decisions. What four? Making decisions prejudiced by favoritism, hostility, stupidity, and cowardice.

In this case, Bhante is translating bhaya as cowardice.

You will actually get a lot of good hits if you just search for fear. And I guess cowardice.


There’s also a couple suttas on fear in the subject index. :smile:


Conventionally one fears suffering and seeks happiness.
Unconventionally, one fears the pursuit of conventional happiness.

AN4.121:1.1: “Mendicants, there are these four fears. What four? The fears of guilt, shame, punishment, and going to a bad place.

Ajahn Brahm, after six months of retreat, spoke on this.


This is actually opposed to The Buddha’s definitive teaching on understanding non-self, in which it depends on impermanence:

“Bhikkhus, how do you conceive it: is form permanent or impermanent?” — “Impermanent, venerable Sir.” — “Now is what is impermanent painful or pleasant?” — “Painful, venerable Sir.” — “Now is what is impermanent, what is painful since subject to change, fit to be regarded thus: ‘This is mine, this is I, this is my self’”? — “No, venerable sir.”—The Discourse on the Non-self Characteristic, SN 22.59

Form refers to the body, which is most commonly associated with self, beginning at birth with an arbitrary name applied to it. On the basis of this name, all the institutional connections are made and this is the illusory fabric of conventional reality. CR has an authority concerned with support of the body in this life, but is a lesser reality than ultimate, whose existence has to be proved by investigation of the application of dhamma.

Thanks for responding. As you have pointed out impermanence is the criteria for understanding suffering and non-self as per SN 22.59. But if we look for a reason as to why something is impermanent then we have to go back to its origin. For example the body is impermanent because it has come to be due to causes without any controller doing the coming-to-be. This is what IMHO dependent origination is.
With Metta

“The other two characteristics of conditioned existence – dukkha
(unsatisfactoriness) and anattã (absence of a self) – become evident
as a consequence of a direct experience and thereby realistic appreciation of the truth of impermanence.”—Analayo

‘Direct experience’ means the observation of impermanence at every opportunity so it is reinforced in the mind. This includes the three exercises on impermanence of the body described under the first foundation of mindfulness, as well as opportunist registering of impermanence in humans and natural materiality.

Also the removal of personality-view at stream entry is due to the recognition of impermanence:

“That is what the Blessed One said. Gratified, the group of five monks delighted at his words. And while this explanation was being given, there arose to Ven. Kondañña the dustless, stainless Dhamma eye: Whatever is subject to origination is all subject to cessation.”—SN 56.11

Presenting the three messengers, repulsive to humans, as necessary conditions to seeking spiritual life is an acknowledgement of the role in fear. The Vinaya rules, choosing homelessness is stripping serious practitioners from the relative security of the household life, an antidote to fear. Turning homelessness into strict rules is an antidote to wandering aimlessly, another antidote to fear, leaving Buddhist bhikkhunis and bhikkhus with no way to escape but confronting fear.

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