Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore
According to psychologists, the basic human emotions are only a few. It is these emotions that form the underpinning for all our actions, good and bad. Though we may talk about nava rasaas or nine fundamental emotions, these in turn are the outcome of a few more basic sentiments. And of these emotions which form the very core of all human action and reaction, Fear is perhaps the most important, along with anger and love. It is perhaps the most all-pervading emotion, present in man right from the time of birth, up to his death-bed. The new-born child fears separation from its mother, who symbolizes security and safety, and expresses the same through its shrill cries. As boys, we have experienced all types of irrational fears of the dark, of a strict parent or teacher, of bigger boys and of all sorts of things. We are surprised to find a mention of such juvenile fears in no less a work than the Mahopanishad, which describes infancy as the repository of all types of fears and phobias-
“Saisave guruto bheeti: maatruta: pitruta: tathaa
Janato jyeshtta baalaaccha saisavam bhaya mandiram”
Fear of exams is something all of us have experienced at various stages of our academic career. Fear is thus an all pervading phenomenon which haunts us right from birth. It transcends all barriers social, economic and otherwise. While the poor are afraid of penury, the rich are afraid of being deprived of their wealth. In fact, the fears of the wealthy arise from several quarters from the Government which can take it away in the form of taxes, from relatives who covet the riches with envy, from robbers who await an opportunity to grab the same and from natural elements like fire and water which can burn down or wash away the hard-earned wealth. And the fears of the filthy rich on account of their wealth are similar to those of the ordinary man towards death, says the Mahabharata?
Raajata: salilaat agne: chorata: sva janaat api
Bhayam artthavataam nityam mrityo: praana bhritaam iva
Every one of us fears old age and ill health, while the fear of death too is universal. The Jitanta Stotram effectively summarises this thus “Aham bheetosmi Devesa! Samsaare asmin bhayaavahe”.This material world and the life it offers are the root cause of all fear. At all times, everywhere and wherever we go, in all walks of life, fear haunts us unceasingly, points out the Jitanta Stotram again “Sarveshapi cha kaaleshu dikshu sarvaasu cha Achyuta! Shareere cha gatou chaapi vartate me mahat bhayam”. And all types of fear are born out of our attachment to matters mundane, says the Mahabharata:
Sneha moolaani du:khaani snehajaani bhayaani cha
Shoka harshou tathaa aayaasa: sarve snehaat pravartate
In this article, shall we see a few causes and effects of this universal phenomenon, as depicted in our scripture?
If we think that we human beings are the only victims of Fear, we would be wrong. We can derive consolation from the fact that this most basic of emotions affects exalted entities too. For instance, the Sun God, the powerful deity of the Wind, the potent God of Fire who is in turn feared by all, Indra the Chief of all Celestials and that most-feared of all “the God of Death – Yama” all these deities who wield considerable influence over human lives, are themselves in mortal fear of someone. It is out of this fright that each of these deities performs his assigned duty with perfection and punctuality, says the Taittireeya Upanishad.
The Sun rises with clock-work precision, the winds blow and refrain from blowing according to the season and climate, Fire merely cooks and doesn’t burn the house down and the God of Death rushes about his duties unbidden and with precision, taking the lives of only those whose time has come. And of whom are these deities afraid? It is none other than the omnipotent Paramaatma, in whose cavernous belly all these deities and other beings find refuge, during the Cosmic Deluge. Here are the words of the Upanishad, describing the fright of exalted entities like the Sun, the Wind, the Fire, Indra and Yama “Bheeshaasmaat Vaata: pavate, bheeshodeti Soorya: bheeshaasmaat Agnischa Indrascha. Mrityu: dhaavati panchama:”. The same idea of various Devatas functioning out of a fear of the Lord is reiterated in the Katopanishad too-
Bhayaat asya Agni: tapati, bhayaat tapati Soorya:
Bhayaat Indrascha Vaayuscha Mrityu: dhaavati panchama:
We have seen that of all types of fears, those on account of death are the most widespread and intense. Fear of death is perhaps the fear of the unknown, of what might happen after death and perhaps the possibility of nemesis catching up with us ultimately for all the evil that we have done during our lives. However, we know too that death is inevitable and has to be faced with certainty at some point or the other in our lives “Jaatasya hi dhruvo mrityu:” While we cannot escape death, is there a way to rid ourselves of the fear of death? Yes indeed, says the Mahabharata. Death would no longer haunt us every waking moment or in sleep, provided we adhere to the following:
1. speak the truth always, without for a second falling prey to untruth, lead a life of righteousness, performing duties enjoined upon us
2. if at all we speak of others, speak only of their goodness, eschewing at all cost adverse criticism of their conduct
3. feed guests and servants to their heart’s content and live in a holy land made sacred by mahaatmaas and bhaagavataas.
All these are a sure cure for the malady of death-fear, says the Epic. Swami Desikan too has a prescription for ridding ourselves of fear of all sorts. All that we have to do is to adulate the Lord, keep Him firm in our mind, sing His praises, bow down to His majesty, circumambulate at His sannidhi’s or know at least one of His innumerable auspicious attributes. And for those of us who don’t even know which holy name of His to utter, the Acharya gives us a ready list of short and sweet names of the Lord which we can keep on our lips, thus eliminating the fear of persecution by the deity of death or the fires of hell.
Ramaa Dayita! Ranga bhoo Ramana! Krishna! Vishno! Hare!
Trivikrama! Janaardna! Triyuga naatha! Narayana!
Iteeva subhadaani ya: patati naamadheyaani te
Na tasya yama vasyataa naraka paata bheeti: kuta”
The Vishnu Sahasranama Stotram too is touted to be a destroyer of all fears “bhaayaan muchyeta bheeta:”. And devotion to Sri Vasudeva ensures that fear doesn’t haunt us through our lives.
na Vaasudeva bhaktaanaam asubham vidyate kvachit
Janma mrityu jaraa vyaadhi bhayam naiva upajaayate
We thus find that basically the hallowed names of the Lord are capable of destroying all fear and ensuring that we are not plagued by this debilitating emotion.
All of us know that it is cowardly to be afraid of anything. However, one should indeed be afraid of certain things and to be bereft of fear in such matters is sheer foolishness, says Valluvar “anjuvadu anjaamai pedamai”. What are the things one should be afraid of?
First and foremost, we should be mortally afraid of causing offence to the Lord’sdevotees “Bhaagavata apachaaram”.
Secondly, when we offer charity, we should be fearful of not giving enough, not giving with the correct attitude, not offering alms befitting the recipient, etc. Hence while giving, we should give with a healthy fear, says the Upanishad “Bhiyaa deyam”. If the act of charity is not done in the prescribed fashion, and is contaminated by insincerity, pride or highhandedness, it is likely to prove counter-productive. A healthy apprehension of counter-productivity due to incorrect attitude or procedure, should characterize an act of charity, so that the giver would always be on guard against attitudes incompatible with giving. Hence the Upanishad says, “Give with fear”.
A third matter of which we should all be fearful is this mundane existence. “Samsaaram” is something terrifying, for it has the propensity to suck us in deeper and deeper like quicksand, with hope of redemption receding with each birth that we take, as the dual chains of good and bad deeds bind us inexorably with matter. Fear of this Samsaaram is an indispensable precursor of a desire for liberation. Samsaaratthai paartthu bhayappattilan aagil Samsaara svabhaavam arindilanaam says the commentary to Tiruviruttam, emphasising that we should be not merely afraid, but terrified of Samsaaram. Sri Tirumangai Mannan shows us the way in this regard by repeatedly expressing his fear of getting caught in the interminable cycle of births and deaths. In several paasurams in the 11th centad (8th decad) of Periya Tirumozhi, Azhwar gives expressive examples of his state of constant fear of Samsaaram,
1. “Aatrankarai vaazh maram pola” tree standing alone on the riverbank has to be in constant dread of being washed away when the river is in spate.
2. “Paambodu oru kooraiyile payindraar pol” the very sight of a snake in enough to terrify whole armies. Such being the case, how would it be if we were forced to spend an entire night in the company of a serpent, that too at close quarters?
3. “Irupaadu eri kolliyin ul erumbe pol” just imagine the terror an insignificant ant would feel, when caught on a log which is blazing on both sides!
4. “Vellatthu idaippatta nariyinam pol” Azhwar’s dread of Samsaaram is akin to that of a pack of foxes marooned on an islet, with the swirling waters of the river menacingly closing in on them, with no way out of the deluge.
The Paramaatma is utterly without fear. He has absolutely none and nothing of which He need be afraid. The Sahasranaama Stotram praises Him as “veeta bhaya:”. However, during His avataaraas, we hear of a few instances where He displayed fear. These, however, are only instances of the Lord acting according to the play He has scripted for Himself, calling for the display of various emotions at the appropriate junctures otherwise, He has no need to fear anyone. During the Ramavataram, we are told that Sri Rama was assailed by great fear. “Rama and fear!” I hear you exclaiming. Can one of unparalleled bravery and courage like the Prince of Ayodhya (“Asahaaya Soora! Anapaaya Saahasa!”) ever be plagued by such a base emotion as fear? But the fact remains that fear did envelop Rama and He was taken aback as if bitten by a serpent, all with good reason.Listen to Sri Valmiki chronicling Rama’s fear-
Tat apoorvam narapate: drishtvaa roopam bhayaavaham
Raamopi bhayam aapanna: yadaa sprishtvaiva pannagam
Summoned to the Chakravartthi’s presence on the day fixed for His coronation, Rama finds the emperor totally depressed, dejected, desolate and mentally and physically drained. Gone are the majesty and magnificence which are the hallmark of Dasaratha Chakravartthy, replaced by misery and depression, occasioned by cruel Kaikeyee’saudacious demand for the banishment of Rama and the coronation of Bharata. It is this sad state of His beloved father that prompts fear in the tender heart of Raghunandana for the former’swellbeing.Readers would agree that such fear, born out of love and concern for one’sdear most, is no blemish at all, but a quality to be admired.
Another episode, when the Lord displayed an endearing fear of His mother, is chronicled by Swami Desikan in Sri Gopala Vimsati. Tied up with difficulty to a grinding stone by an exasperated mother to prevent Him from indulging in further thievery of dairy products, Sri Krishna nevertheless keeps on the move, dragging the grindstone with Him, with apparent difficulty. And during His progress onward, He keeps glancing back with fearful eyes to verify whether His mother has detected His escape and is following with more instruments of retribution. When He finds that He is indeed not followed, Krishna’sfear changes into a smile of satisfaction at having successfully evaded His mother. Those who were fortunate to witness the Paramatma’s fear on the occasion must indeed have found it extremely enchanting and endearing. Here is Swami Desikan’s beautiful couplet,
Parivartita kandaram bhayena smita pullaadara pallavam smaraami
vitapitva niraasakam kayoschit vipula ulookala karshakam kumaaram
Having seen how the Lord subjects Himself to fear, we are not surprised to find that the immaculate Vedas too are fearful on occasion. This august body of knowledge is in constant dread of people like me, who, with their half-baked understanding, interpret Vedas incorrectly, twisting their purport to suit their own theories. Impostors and charlatans often quote the Vedas, distorting their true meaning and assigning connotations totally at variance with the ones propounded by great Acharyas. It is of this class of people that Vedas are afraid of, we are told by the following slokam,
Itihaasa puranaabhyaam Vedam samupabrihmayet
Bibheti alpa shrutaat Veda: maam ayam pratarishyati iti
We find the Vishnu Sahasranaamam assigning two mutually contradictory sobriquets to the Lord, that too in close succession. “Bhayakrit” and “Bhayanaasana:” are two of the tirunaamams enumerated in the Stotram, which portray the Lord in diametrically opposite roles one of the Creator of all Fear and the other, the Destroyer of all Dread. To those who might wonder how it is possible for Emperuman to act in dual and mutually exclusive roles, Sri Bhattar has an explanation
Aagyaa atilanghinaam pumsaam narakaadi bhayankara:
Bhayakrit sa samaakhyaata: saptaarna bhava vardhana:
The Lord speaks through the Scriptures, laying down what we ought to do and what we ought not. These dicta have been formulated for our own welfare and when we transgress them, we contract sin and as such, are liable for a tenure in terrifying hell. Thus, when we refuse to be guided in our conduct by divine dictates, the Lord generates fear for us.
On the other hand, when we faithfully tow the line of the Shruti and Smritis, which are guidebooks of good conduct representing the Lord’sown commandments (“Shruti: Smriti: mamaiva aagyaa”), Emperuman acts as a dispeller of fears for us, from whatever source they surface,
Aagyaa anuvarthinaam svasya bhayam naasayati iti Sa:
Bhayanaasana: ityukta: navaarna: karma kaaraka:
Confirming this dual role of the Lord, Sri Periyavaacchaan Pillai says, in his commentary on Periya Tirumozhi 11-8-1 “Bhayatthukku parihaaramum utpaadakanum neeyaay irundaai”. Sri Andal’slines, ?Thingalum Aadityanum ezhundaar pol angam irandum”, tell us that Emperuman is capable of simultaneously exhibiting these contradictory characteristics of creating and destroying fear generating fear in sinners while destroying the same in devotees. What better example of this could there be than the Nrisimhavataram! While the entire world stood frozen in terror at the unprecedented and fierce form the Lord had assumed for slaying Hiranyakasipu, there was not an iota of fear in the heart of Sri Prahlaada, who could approach the ferocious man-lion with impunity and be fondled by the Lord with love and unbridled affection. This is why, perhaps, the word “Bheeshanam” (meaning fearsome) in the Nrisimha Mantram is immediately followed by the word “Bhadram” (most auspicious).While the fears of the Lord’sdevotees are instantly destroyed, to those who do not plight their troth to Him, life is but a series of fears, each one bigger than the previous, says Swami Desikan. The Acharya adds that whichever deity in this wide world is recognized as the source of fear and considered capable of providing relief from the same, is a mere puppet, controlled by the Lord, who is the ultimate dispenser of both fear and relief from the same?
Abheeti: iha yat jushaam yat avadheeritaanaam bhayam
bhaayaabhaya vidhaayina: jagati yat nidese sthithaa:
tadetat atilanghita Druhina Sambhu Sakraadhikam
Ramaasakham adheemahe kimapi Rangadhuryam maha:
However, if you really want to know about the Lord’srole as a “Bhayakrit”, it is Maareecha you must enquire with. Thrashed twice by the Raamabaanam, Maareecha is so terrified of Rama that you need not even utter the full name of Rama to make the raakshasa tremble with terror even an ordinary word beginning with “R” gives him the jitters. And Maareecha is so obsessed with Rama and terrified of His prowess that he tends to see Rama in every nook and corner of the jungle. This fright makes him see the Prince of Ayodhya, with His deadly bow and arrow, everywhere he looks to his fevered imagination, it appears as if a thousand Ramas are standing everywhere in the jungle like so many avenging angels, ready to finish him off — he sees not one Rama, but thousands of Him, filling all directions, the earth and the skies above “api Rama sahasraani bheeta: pasyaami Ravana!”. Mareecha, in his mortal fear, sees Sri Raghava in every tree and shrub of the forest he lives in,
Vrikshe vrikshe cha pasyaaAmi cheera krishnaajinaambaram
girheeta dhanusham Ramam paasa hastam ivaantakam
It is this mortal fear of Rama that drives Maareecha to a life of austerity and penance, forsaking all the normal activities of a raakshasa and resigning from his ministership in Ravana’sadministration, according to the Mahabharata-
Tatraabhyagacchan Maareecham poorvaamaatyam Dasaanana:
Pura Rama bhaayaat eva taapasyam samupaashritam
Reading this, don’t you wish for a moment that you were born as Maareecha, who, notwithstanding his earlier career, could see and think of the Lord every moment of his waking life and in his dreams too (which is much more than any of us can boast of), though the reason for this transformation was not devotion but fear.
We understand that the residents of a particular country were absolutely free from fear, during the reign of a particular monarch. The citizens of this model nation had nothing to fear either from fellow men or from the elements of nature. Due to the administration being deeply rooted in Dharmam, none had cause for any fear from any source whatsoever. Can you guess which nation it was and who the monarch? Since almost everyone would know the answer, no marks are given for guessing, it was of course in the Rama Raajyam that people knew not what fear was, as everyone was performing the duties enjoined upon him or her and was a model of righteousness,
Na vaatajam bhayam kinchit na apsu majjanti jantava:
Na cha agnijam bhayam kinchit yathaa Krita yuge tathaa
This is perhaps not so surprising, considering Valmiki’sassertion that fear has no place wherever Sri Rama is present-
Yatra Ramo bhayam naatra naasti tatra paraabhava:
Sa hi sooro mahaabaahu: putro Dasarathasya cha
And why has the poet singled out Rama for praise as the destroyer of fear? With good reason indeed, for it was Rama who declared that He would provide all creatures “abhayam” or freedom from fear of all sorts, once they surrender to Him “Abhayam sarva bhootebhyo dadaami”. In fact, Raghunandana states the provision of relief from fear to be His life’s incontrovertible mission”etat vratam mama”. Even in the Arcchaavataaram, the Lord takes this business (of providing relief from fear) very seriously, as can be observed from His palm being held upright in a protective gesture the “abhaya hastam”.
I am “afraid” that this piece has grown rather long. To conclude, let me pose to you a rather simplistic question. It is customary to describe an ethical person as a “God-fearing” man. Do you feel this to be appropriate? I, for one, feel that we need not “fear” God, nor does He expect us to exhibit this emotion towards Him. Even granting that He is the most powerful person, capable of destroying whole worlds in a trice without exerting Himself in anyway, there is no need for us to fear Him. Instead, what we ought to feel towards the Lord is an uncontrollable love and affection. If the intention of being “God-fearing” is to ensure adherence to canons of ethics and morality, the same would equally well be served if we love God instead of fearing Him, for, our love would make it impossible for us to defy any of His dictates and thus cause Him pain and anguish.
Srimate Sri LakshmiNrisimha divya paduka sevaka SrivanSatakopa Sri Narayana Yatindra Mahadesikaya nama:
Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore