When I looked up Wikipedia for the meaning of the word fear, this is what I found;
b) It is a basic survival mechanism occurring in response to a specific stimulus, such as pain or the threat of pain. Psychologists have suggested that fear is one of a small set of basic or innate emotions which also includes emotions such as joy, sadness, and anger.
c) Fear always relates to future events, such as worsening of a situation, or continuation of a situation that is unacceptable.
These lines define what fear is but to explain the emotion we need to go deeper. Fear rules our lives and this is the bare truth for each one of us. Given the uncertainties of life with much of it being beyond our control, we all fear losing everything that we have created and call our own, we fear pain and we fear humiliation. I would like to emphasize the fact that fear rules our life or rather we allow ourselves to be ruled and controlled by fear. Most of the actions and decisions that we undertake are primarily based on the emotion of fear. The mere task of eating can have fear at its root. Too much of eating represents depression and apprehension of unknown problems. Too little eating represents health related problems. Likewise laughing, crying, studying, raising of voice during arguments, etc can all be because of fear. Fear is a negative emotion and therefore every action or decision which is based on fear has a 50:50 chance of failure. This also means that there is an equal probability for success. That is why in this world it is said that neither success nor failure is permanent. Philosophically we also add that up’s and down’s are all a part of life.
A parallel can be drawn from the financial sector where risk management is an art as well as a science and well deliberated decisions are made on the risk – profit trade off. The market uncertainties have to be managed and profits optimised / losses minimised. Every step is taken with a prayer, every success celebrated, every failure mourned.
The fundamental reason for this emotion of fear being so primal in our lives is because of the ‘me and mine’ belief. I am so-and-so, I have a reputation and identity, I have a name and designation. These valuables are mine, this work is my doing, I am the protector and money / care provider for such and such people. We feel we have created and earned all this and therefore it has to be protected and maintained for all times to come. If protection was so simple then fear of its destruction would not have existed. The problem crops up because the concepts of ‘me and mine’ are creations of the mind and impermanent. When our life itself is impermanent, there is hardly anything to say about the creations of the mind which is after all only a component of life. But we refuse to believe this. Our sense organs can see, hear and touch the outcome of ‘me and mine’ efforts. It keeps telling the mind that this is real. As a result we believe in our sense organs. Inspite of knowing that we won’t live forever and that there is no permanency in all this, we continue believing. This is Maya, the illusion of permanence. Therefore, it follows that we continue fearing.
This phenomenon is evident in humans as well as animals and birds. They also have a sense of ‘me and mine’. Animals are extremely territorial and do not appreciate competition for food. Animals take extreme care of their body because food depends on their ability to hunt. Animals take care of their young ones in very loving ways.
Fear gives rise to anger in some people and causes sadness in others. It is quite natural also. When you realise that your wants may not be fulfilled, that which you want to protect may be destroyed, angry and / or sadness is consequential. Sometimes anger or sadness is visible very prominently on even minor provocations. You have people who are short tempered or depressed. Such people often do not realise the cause behind their emotional outbursts. Being clueless they blame everything and everybody else instead of their own self. People who fear more have a very deep realisation of the fact of impermanence. In their hearts of hearts they know and that is why they fear. Such people are spiritually inclined.
Lack of fear gives rise to joy. This is not in the sense of a hardened criminal who does not fear the law. Even such a criminal would fear the rise of another more vicious criminal as a competitor. Lack of fear comes from the true understanding of the law of impermanence. This is evident in the lives of saints. They don’t crave for anything and don’t have an aversion for anything. They are truly happy with life because they have nothing to lose. They fear nothing and have only joy to spread around. That is the main reason why people flock around saints.
Some social scientists consider that fear is a result of learning that is we learn to fear. I do not agree. Fear is a basic human nature linked to survival. Any threat to survival is feared.
Fear should also be distinguished from the related emotional state of anxiety, which typically occurs without any external threat. Fear is related to the specific behaviors of escape and avoidance, whereas anxiety is the result of threats which are perceived to be uncontrollable or unavoidable.