FEAR AND HOW TO OVERCOME FEAR: A BUDDHIST PERSPECTIVE
Bhante T. Seelananda, Bhavana Society Forest Monastery, High View, WV, USA
Fear is an unpleasant emotion that arises mainly because of craving. Craving and attachment are the causes for many unwholesome, unpleasant, and evil things in life. It is because of these two that we wander in samsāra, the cycle of birth and death. In contrast, fearlessness is the state of perfect peace, tranquility, and the highest bliss that which is possible to be achieved by us all.
Naturally, all beings experience fear. They all are afraid of either of their present, past or future. All beings are called beings (satta) because they all are clinging to the five aggregates: form, feelings, perception, volitional formations, and consciousness. As long as we are clinging to these five aggregates, we have fear. Only arahants are entirely freed from fear. They have achieved the state of fearlessness. That is why they are called non-beings (asatta).  We cling not only to the five aggregates of existence, but also to many other material and immaterial things around us. Therefore, as long as we attach, grasp, and cling to things we have no escape from fear.
With this short article I intend to clarify the Buddhist perspective on fear and how to achieve the state of fearlessness. If one were able to observe and read our mentality right now, one would be able to see that we all are like spiders entangled in our own woven webs. We wove our webs of attachment and expectations and got trapped. That is why we are suffering from fear of getting lost and fear of many different things about us and around us. For instance, as we see here in the West, many parents are fearful of things such as their children's moving out after they turn 18, job security, mortgage payments, debts, credit card bills, etc. which contribute to constant distress. At the same time, children themselves fear for their parents' insecurity, such as fear of aging, sickness, and death. Then, at least for some extent, because of their untrustworthiness both husband and wife may fear that the other one could leave them at anytime. Likewise, regarding many other factors contribute to the rise fear in individuals. Fear does not arise by itself alone, but in combination with other factors, such as suspicion, presumption, jealousy, misleading information, vanity, and hostility.
The Greatest Fear
In daily life, most people fear separation from their family members temporarily or permanently. The Buddha said, "Separation from loved ones is sorrow." Not only actual separation, but even thinking of their future or past, based on the experience they have gained, most people undergo unutterable agony and create anxiety and worry. Mainly, because they do not think of and are not ready to accept the fact that all animate or inanimate things are changing (anicca) they have fear and suffer. As the Buddha taught us, nothing is certain or permanent. In other words, nothing remains the same. That is one of the fundamental teachings of the Buddha. Most people simply go with the flow, but they themselves do not know that it means that they are simply floating. The teachings of the Buddha is not to simply float along in the river of existence. It is to strive and get out of the river of existence to the state of non-existence where there is no fear, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, or dispair at all because it is not an existence. Those who have achieved that experience enjoy that bliss.
Fear of Death
As the Buddha said, "All beings die, but death is not the end of all things. Death is only the end of one life." Thereafter, one will have to go according to the volitional actions (kamma) done while living here, in this world. We all experience fear of facing death. Actually, for the worldlings, their greatest fear is death. That is why even the Buddha said, "All tremble at violence; all fear death. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should neither kill nor cause another to kill."
(Sabbe tasanti dandassa- Sabbe bhāyanti maccuno
Attānam upamam katvā-Na haneyya na ghātaye) 
However, if we get ready for that we can face death bravely. The Buddha's instruction for that is to develop and cultivate mindfulness. This is the way to the state of fearlessness as well.
How to Face Fearful and Stressful Situations
The old saying goes "every dark cloud has a silver lining." Even beyond the fear of death with the guidance of the teachings of the Buddha in our daily lives we can find positive results or aspects of the fearful and dreadful situations we encounter. With fear of future uncertainties about their own jobs, mortgage, children's schooling, college or university entrance or exams and so on, day and night people are suffering from boundless fear to achieve these so-called goals. However, unexpectedly fear arises and collapes the mansion of hope. What should be done then? Nothing but coming to the present moment to understand the situation mindfully and make up your own mind to face it more positively, productively, and rewardingly.
The best thing to do is seek the cause of the problem objectively. That means removing the focus on individuals. Strive to find the root of the situation as not his, her, or their faults, but as based on conditions. Then seek the cause and remove the cause of the action. If you can remove the cause you can definitely remove the fear, perhaps to a certain degree or even completely. Unfortunately, human nature is to panic, suffer or obsess over every single unachievable target. Whatever your targets they should be achievable, goals should be realistic, expectations should be real, worthy to achieve. Always be positive and strive to understand the benefits you have gained from blessings in disguise rather being in a panic.
Suppose you are laid off – think of your own quality time with the family and friends. It could be a wonderful opportunity to teach your culture, language, mediation, dhamma to your kids, to limit your children’s screen time in order to save their eyes, teach them how to cook, give the essential life skills, improve themselves with meditation, learn the dhamma, original discourses of the Buddha, and enjoy the free time visiting a nearby park with the friends and family. Parents, creating memorable experiences with your family is more important than having money. Kids grow up quickly, so it is worthwhile to spend time with the kids when they are young. They feel it, enjoy it, appreciate it. When you hear the news "laid off," parents and kids get the message differently. While the kids may celebrate it, parents will take it as it is the end of the world. Although you need money, if the given situation cannot be changed, you have to learn how to turn the bad news or bad period to an advantage. Positive mindset is important. Learning Buddha's teaching will definitely guide you to see and accept the facts and the situation positively.
Fear and Emotion
As an emotional arousal fear arises in the mind as a mental state. When there is fear, our mind is directly connected to our heart. Therefore, by that time, both our brain and heart are guided not by intelligence but by emotion. Emotion is always harmful. Emotions are based on greed, hatred, and delusion. This is why one has to develop intelligence and wisdom by developing the intellectual aspect of mind and perceptional aspect of mind through mental development(bhāvanā). Emotion and fear are interdependently existing like a cycle. Where there is fear there is emotion and where there is emotion there is fear. Therefore, as long as fear exists emotions exist and vise-a-versa. However, when we are intelligent and wise enough to understand and control our emotions we can come to the state of peacefulness and calmness of mind.
Fear is caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous or likely to cause pain or a threat. According to the teachings of the Buddha, all those who have not yet completely eradicated their defilements are under the influence of fear. That means only the Enlightened Ones are entirely be free from fear. With their enlightenment they come to the state of fearlesness (abhaya or akutobhaya).
Fear Directly Springs from Craving
As the Buddha very clearly and comprehensively said in the Dhammapada, fear arises because of craving (tanhā).He said, "From craving springs grief, from craving springs fear. For him who is wholly free from craving there is no grief, whence then fear?
(Tanhāya jāyati soko-Tanhāya jāyati bhayam
Tanhāya vippamuttassa-Natthi soko kuto bhayam) 
One should not forget that the cause of all dukkha, unsatisfactoriness is craving. Once the Buddha himself said that the world is ensnared by craving (Tanhāya uddito loko).  In accordance with the teachings of the Buddha craving should be tamed and entirely eliminated by mindfulness. This is why the Buddha taught us the technique of Samatha-Vipassana meditation to understand the real refuge and to go to the real refuge, rather going to refuge of many things in the world blindly. It is because of fear they go to many a refuge. We have to understand the real refuge and go to the real refuge. Refuge is never found in another person.
The Real Refuge for Fearlessness
In the Dhammapada, the Buddha pointed out what happens when fear arises in the minds of uninstructed, worldly people, average persons. Since they have fear of many things, they search for safety. Therefore, they go to many a refuge. The Buddha explains,
They go to many a refuge,
Those who have been struck by fear:
They go to the mountains and forests,
To parks and trees and shrines.
But none of these is a secure refuge:
None is the refuge supreme.
Not by relying on such a refuge
Can one be freed from all suffering.
But one who has gone for refuge
to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha,
Sees with perfect wisdom,
The Four Noble Truths
Suffering, the arising of suffering,
The transcending of suffering,
And the Noble Eightfold Path
That leads to suffering's final end.
This is the refuge that is secure:
This is the refuge that is supreme.
By relying on such a refuge as this,
One is released from all suffering. 
Personalization and Depersonalization
In accordance with the above explanation, when fear strikes one cannot understand things clearly. Therefore, one does not know what is to be done and what is not to be done. As a consequence, they go to many a refuge without understanding the real refuge. Not only that, with their perverted perception, they grasp things as mine, me, and myself and then they take whatever is impermanent as permanent, unsatisfactory as satisfactory and selfless as self. That is the danger in them. Therefore, seeking to allay their fear they start to do many types of rites and rituals. This is because of their fear of losing of what they have grasped with delusion. As a result, they are entirely engaged in personalization, doubt, and rites and rituals (sakkāya ditthi, vicikiccā, silabbataparāmāsa). In such away they are tightly fettered to the cycle of birth and death (samsāra). Hence, for them depersonalization is impossible. Moreover, due to their fear, they believe that there is a permanent entity as a soul or self that needs to be protected and will save them from fear. They mistakenly think that this form is myself, feeling is myself, perception is myself, volitional formations are myself, and consciousness is myself. In such a way, they grasp five aggregates into four ways (5x4=20 ways) thinking, "This is my form, this is myself, my self is in my form or my form is in myself." Such thinking is called personalization or personality belief. With that they have doubt about themselves referring to the past, future, and the present. For them there is no way to come to the path of fearlessness at all. As the Buddha said one has to cut off the above three fetters first and follow the path to fearlessness based on the only real refuge which is the Four Noble Truths.
Fear and the Three Modes of Good Conduct
The Buddha has talked about fear even before his enlightenment. According to the discourse titled "Fear and Dread" in the Majjhima Nikaya  he clearly said that fear and dread arise because of impurity of bodily conduct, verbal conduct, and mental conduct. He said,
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. ... in verbal conduct... in mental conduct...
In this manner, it is clear that fear arises because of impurity or imperfections of mind as well such as covetousness, lust, ill will, hate, sloth and torpor, envy, avarice, restlessness and un-peacefulness of mind, and doubt. In short, as long as we have attachment by any means, we have fear. Again, it is clear the words of the Buddha, “Attachment arises because of craving and fear arises because of craving. Those who have no craving have no attachment and no fear.”
How to Overcome Fear
1. Overcoming of fear is not that easy. First and foremost, it is very clear that in order to overcome fear one has to remove the cause of fear. That is the most practical method. Once the Buddha said,
Bhikkhus, whatever fears arise, all arise because of the fool, not because of the wise man; whatever troubles arise, all arise because of the fool, not because of the wise man; whatever calamities arise, all arise because of the fool, not because of the wise man. Just as a fire that starts in a shed made of rushes or grass burns down even a house with a peaked roof, with walls plastered inside and outside, shut off, secured by bars, with shuttered windows; so too, bhikkhus, whatever fears arise … all arise because of the fool, not because of the wise man. Thus the fool brings fear, the wise man brings no fear; the fool brings trouble, the wise man brings no trouble; the fool brings calamity, the wise man brings no calamity. No fear comes from the wise man, no trouble comes from the wise man, no calamity comes from the wise man. Therefore, bhikkhus, you should train thus: 'We shall be wise men, we shall be inquirers'. 
Those who find the way to overcome fear should understand this as a fact. So in short, fear arises because of foolishness. Being wise we can keep fear at bay. No doubt that if we are wise enough we can understand many things regarding fear and we do not want to be fools to fear anything material or immaterial. So let us be wise enough and strive to find the cause of fear. That is the first method to overcome fear.
2. Secondly, we must understand that as long as we are under the influence of fear we cannot understand that we are dwelling either in the past or in the future. The problem is nothing but this. That itself is the cause for insecurity. You are not dwelling in the present moment. You are full of delusion, full of expectations, this means either brooding over the past or delving into the future. If you come to the present moment you see what is going on right now. You see what you have grasped as your own is rapidly changing and vanishing. The Buddha said, "All what is dear and delight to you is in the nature of changing and vanishing. This is to be repeatedly collected upon by monks, nuns, lay women or lay men." Therefore, in order to dispel, remove, and completely relinquish your fear the Buddha's instruction is to dispel the darkness of delusion, illusion, ignorance through which you are shrouded from head to toe and come to the present moment which is the precious moment. He says, "Let go of the past, let go of the future, let go of the present, and cross over to the farther shore of existence. With mind wholly liberated, you shall come no more to birth and death."  Once the Buddha said, "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." 
sattā gacchanti duggatim)
In short, one should dwell in the present moment, be aware of what is going on now. Then, one can dispel the darkness of fear. That is the second method we introduce for the overcoming of the arisen fear.
3. Let us come to the third method. Apply the six factors to any object whether animate or inanimate that comes to your mind through the six senses. What are the six factors? Giving full attention and understanding the object as something conditioned, fragile and dependently arisen, mentally repeat, "This is not mine, not I am (not me), not myself. This is impermanent, unsatisfactory, and not self." This is how one comes to understand reality as it is -- to see things as they really are. Then, you can abandon the arisen fear because you see the uselessness and meaninglessness of grasping things as your own.
4. The fourth method is this. For this purpose one has to understand cause and effect or causal conditionality. One has to reason out things, rationalize things with a clear mind applying wise attention. This is the way to overcome fear. The Buddha, even before his enlightenment as an unenlightened Bodhisatta, practiced the same thing while he was at the palace and while practicing as an ascetic in the woods. He said,
And while I dwelt there [in the woods], a wild animal would come up to me, or a peacock would knock off a branch or the wind would rustle the leaves. I thought: What now if this is the fear and dread coming?‟ I thought: Why do I dwell always expecting fear and dread? What if I subdue that fear and dread while keeping the same posture that I am in when it comes upon me? While I walked, the fear and dread came upon me; I neither stood nor sat nor lay down till I had subdued that fear and dread. While I stood, the fear and dread came upon me; I neither walked nor sat nor lay down till I had subdued that fear and dread. While I sat, the fear and dread came upon me; I neither walked nor stood nor lay down till I had subdued that fear and dread. While I lay down, the fear and dread came upon me; I neither walked nor stood nor sat down till I had subdued that fear and dread. ... There are, brahmin, some recluses and brahmins who perceive day when it is night and night when it is day. I say that on their part this is an abiding in delusion. But I perceive night when it is night and day when it is day. Rightly speaking, were it to be said of anyone: A being not subject to delusion has appeared in the world for the welfare and happiness of many, out of compassion for the world, for the good, welfare, and happiness of gods and humans, it is of me indeed that rightly speaking this should be said. 
That is how he dispelled the arisen fear with a clear mind, wise attention and a firm determination. When the people are plagued with delusion and fear they are certainly deluded and perceive things in a distorted way, perhaps completely upside down.
5. One day a certain brahmin ascetic named Bawari sent his sixteen disciples to the Buddha in order to see the Buddha and ask a particular question based on ignorance. As they went to the Buddha as instructed by their teacher they first asked questions mentally and then asked the question on ignorance. Thereupon, the Buddha gave the right answer. Being satisfied and gladdened, they then asked their personal questions as well.One disciple named Ajita asked the following questions first. He asked,
Bhante, the world, by what it's wrapped?
and why it shines not forth?
say too with what it's smeared?
and what's its greatest fear? [The world here means 'person'.]
Then the Buddha answered.
The world is wrapped by ignorance;
It shines not forth due to doubt and negligence;
It’s smeared by longing,
And suffering is its greatest fear. 
According to this expression it is clear that the greatest fear for humans is dukkha or unsatisfactoriness. People are almost always unsatisfied with what they have. This itself is a cause for fear. Therefore, the remedy for this is developing contentment or satisfactoriness. The Buddha pointed out clearly that contentment or satisfaction is the greatest wealth (santutthi paramam dhanam).  Therefore, this is the fifth method for overcoming fear.
6. The Buddha taught that one should not follow wrong courses (agati). Therefore, he taught us four types of wrong courses. We need to remember that one of them is fear. He said, “Bhikkhus, there are these four ways of taking a wrong course. What four? One takes a wrong course because of desire, because of hatred, because of delusion, or because of fear. These are the four ways of taking a wrong course.” What really happens if one takes these four, wrong courses?
If through desire, hate, fear, or delusion
one transgresses against the Dhamma,
One’s fame diminishes like the moon
in the dark fortnight.
If one does not transgress the Dhamma
through desire, hate, fear, or delusion,
One’s fame becomes full like the moon
in the dark fortnight. 
So if one does not take the wrong course of fear, that itself is a way to remove the fear of going off course (agati). When one takes these wrong courses one does evil deeds.
7. For our mental protection, the Buddha expounded many different protective discourses (paritta). Specifically, for the protection from fear and worry he delivered several discourses. Among these discourses, there is one particular called "The Discourse on Banner Protection" (Dhajagga Sutta) where the Buddha said,
Monks, I shall relate a former incident. There arose a battle between the Devas (gods) and Asuras.Then Sakka, the Lord of the devas, addressed the devas of the Tāvatimsa heaven thus: “Happy ones, if the devas who have gone to the battle should experience fear or terror or suffer from hair standing on end, let them behold the crest of my own banner. If you do so, any fear, terror or hair standing on end arising in you will pass away. If you fail to look up to the crest of my banner, look at the crest of the banner of Pajāpati, King of gods. If you do so, any fear, terror or hair standing on end arising in you will pass away. If you fail to look up to the crest of Pajāpati, King of the gods, look at the crest of the banner of Varuna, King of the gods. If you do so, any fear, terror or hair standing on end arising in you will pass away.” “Monks, any fear, terror or hair standing on end arising in them who look at the crest of the banner of Sakka… The Lord of the gods, of Pajāpati… of Varuna… of Isāna, the King of the gods, any fear terror or hair standing on end, may pass away, or may not pass away. What is the reason for this? Sakka, the Lord of gods, O monks, is not free from lust, not free from hate, not free from delusion, and is therefore liable to fear, terror, fright and flight. I also say unto you O monks — if any fear, terror or hair standing on end should arise in you when you have gone to the forest or to the foot of a tree, or to an empty house (lonely place), then think only of me thus: “Such indeed is the Blessed One, Arahant (Consummate One), supremely enlightened, endowed with knowledge and virtue, welcome being, knower of worlds, the peerless trainer of persons, teacher of gods and men, the Buddha, the Blessed One.” Monks, if you think of me, any fear, terror, or standing of hair on end that may arise in you will pass away. If you fail to think of me, then think of the Dhamma (the Doctrine) thus: “Well expounded is the Dhamma by the Blessed One, a Dhamma to be realized by oneself and gives immediate results, a Dhamma which invites investigation and leads up to Nibbāna, a Dhamma to be understood by the wise each for himself.” Monks, if you think of the Dhamma, any fear, terror or hair standing on end that may arise in you, will pass away. If you fail to think of the Dhamma, then think of the Sangha (the Order) thus: “Of good conduct is the Order of Disciples of the Blessed One, of upright conduct is the Order of Disciples of the Blessed One, of wise conduct is the Order of Disciples of the Blessed One, of dutiful conduct is the Order of Disciples of the Blessed One. This Order of Disciples of the Blessed One — namely those four pairs of persons, the eight kinds of individuals is worthy of offerings, is worthy of hospitality, is worthy of gifts, is worthy of reverential salutations, is an incomparable field of merit for the world.” Monks, if you think of the Sangha, any fear, terror or hair standing on end that may arise in you, will pass away. What is the reason for this? The Tathāgata, O monks, who is Arahant, supremely enlightened, is free from lust, free from hate, is free from delusion, and is not liable to fear, terror, fright or flight. 
This is another method to dispel your fear. Recollect the qualities of the Buddha, Dhamma and the Sangha. This works very well. All monastics dwelling in the woods do this for their protection from various spirits and creatures like snakes.
8. According to the teachings of the Buddha it is because of not knowing the fear of samsāra we are wondering in samsāra hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving. This samsāric fear is to be understood properly. Only then, we can find the real remedy for this malady. The Buddha says, "Monks, thissamsāra is without discoverable beginning. A first point is not discerned of beings roaming and wandering on hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving.  If we know this samsāric fear we do not cling to things and strive to live as if we are not dying. Since we all have to face death, having fear of death, we should do more and more good deeds in order to be reborn in good destinations. We should do more and more good deeds for the happy and peaceful samsāric journey as well. So knowing the malady of this samsāra itself is a way to dispel the fear of existence which brings us suffering.
9. In the Anguttara Nikaya (Numerical Discourses), referring to fear or peril the Buddha said how the uninstructed worldling speaks when there are three type of perils where mother and son will be separated (fear of separation). As they say, they are the peril of a great conflagration, a great deluge, and a time of perilous turbulence in the wilderness. However, the Buddha himself pointed out some other times of peril or fear. The Buddha says,
There are, monks, these three perils that separate mother and son. What three? The peril of old age, the peril of illness, and the peril of death. When the son is growing old, the mother cannot fulfill her wish: ‘Let me grow old, but may my son not grow old!’ And when the mother is growing old, the son cannot fulfill his wish: ‘Let me grow old, but may my mother not grow old!’ “When the son has fallen ill, the mother cannot fulfill her wish: ‘Let me fall ill, but may my son not fall ill!’ And when the mother has fallen ill, the son cannot fulfill his wish: ‘Let me fall ill, but may my mother not fall ill!’ “When the son is dying, the mother cannot fulfill her wish: ‘Let me die, but may my son not die!’ And when the mother is dying, the son cannot fulfill his wish: ‘Let me die, but may my mother not die!’ “These are the three perils that separate mother and son. 
So what is to be done? Nothing can be except to be more and more intelligent and wise. Be aware of the nature of change. Nothing is unchanging. Everything is changing, everything is unsatisfactory, and everything is without a core, substance or soul. With this understanding you can dispel and overcome existing fear and fear that may arise in future. That is the ninth method.
10. The Buddha delivered a special discourse on five types of fearful animosities. Here, the Buddha clearly pointed out that as long as one has not subduded the five types of fear one is not safe because one still has tendencies to be born in the animal realm, hungry ghost realm, or other woeful states such as hells. That is the fear in samsāra. No one can escape from this fear, this danger if they have not realized the Four Noble Truths. Addressing the householder, Anāthapindika, very clearly and positively the Buddha said,
Householder, when five fearful animosities have subsided in a noble disciple, and he possesses the four factors of stream-entry and he has clearly seen and thoroughly penetrated with wisdom the noble method, if he wishes he could by himself declare of himself: "I am one finished with hell, finished with the animal realm, finished with the domain of ghosts, finished with the plane of misery, the bad destinations, the nether world. I am a stream-enterer, no longer bound to the nether world, fixed in destiny, with enlightenment as my destination. 
That is how one enters the state of fearlessness. In order to complete his or her final mission there are three more stages to accomplish, namely the once returner, non-returner, and arahantship. The arahant is the real person who has completely cut off fear and attained the state of fearlessness (abhaya). He or she has no fear at all of the defilements greed, hatred, and delusion. The Buddha is the most excellent Fearless One in the world who brings fearlessness to the whole world. In this manner, let us understand the nature of fear and how to overcome fear to attain a state of fearlessness as the Buddha has taught. That is the Buddhist perspective the Buddha well expounded in his teachings.
Fear arises because of craving and attachment. According to Buddhism in order to overcome fear the following ten methods can be applied:
 Dhammapada. Verse 419.
 Dhammapada. Verse 129.
 Dhammapada. Verse 216.
 S.N. I. 67 (7). Ensnared.
 Dhammapada. Verses 188-192.
 M.N. No. 4. Bhayabherava Sutta.
 M.N. No. 115. Bahudhatuka Sutta.
 Dhammapada. Verse 348.
 Dhammapada. Verse 317.
 M.N. No. 4. Bhayabherava Sutta.
 Sutta Nipata. 5. 2. Ajita's Questions.
 Dhammapada. Verse 204.
 A.N. 4. 18 (8). Wong Courses.
 The Book of Protection. Venerable Piyadassi Thero. Kandy, Buddhist Publication Society, 1999.
 S.N. 15. Anamatagga Samyutta.
 A.N. III. 62 (2). Perils.
 S.N. 12. 41 (1). Five Fearful Animosities.