The Heart Sutra contains the lines, “...The Bodhisattva depends on Prajnaparamita and the mind is no hindrance. Without any hindrance no fears exist…” Rather than as some intellectual concept that is to be learned, does that have any real application to real life as we live it? Obviously, there is fear. People are afraid because of some imminent threat or a projection of a threat that is in the future, and therefore hasn’t happened, isn’t happening at this moment, and possibly won’t happen. It’s one type of fear when there’s a hungry-looking tiger in front of you and you’re wearing a suit made out of steak. It’s a different type of fear to think, “Maybe this isn’t a good day to wear a suit made of steak, because it might attract hungry tigers.” Both of those are good sense, based in the reality of the moment, because you’ve heard of other people’s experience that tigers do attack and eat people, tigers like steak, ergo, this may not be a good combination of steak suit and tiger, and backing away from said tiger would probably be a good way not to be eaten. The second type is based on others’ experience much like the first, but while a projection, it’s not unreasonable to think that learning from others’ mistakes might be a good way not to make the same mistake.
Sometimes “learning from others’ mistakes” is classified as ‘wisdom,” but I think that stretches that definition far beyond what I’d say is just common sense. Perhaps “wisdom” might be earned by looking at Lady Gaga’s meat dress idea, and saying to yourself that tigers or no tigers, that wearing a suit made of steak was just a plain old garden variety bad idea, never was a good idea, and in a very small number of cases will never be a good idea, unless attracting hungry tigers is your aim. I can’t imagine where that would be a reasonable aim, but I’m not so bold as to think it’s beyond the realm of possibility. Likewise, it wouldn’t have crossed my mind to wear a meat dress to an awards show, and not just because I don’t have the legs for it. If people were looking at my legs when I was wearing a meat dress, I would be reasonable to think that a parallel universe had been entered where meat-based clothing was the norm. But then there’s that other kind of fear, the fear that is a hindrance. In this case, it might be that you’re convinced that wearing a meat dress even with your legs is a good idea, but the start second-guessing it as soon as you are ready to go on stage.
This type of fear could also be called worry. If the fear is based in how others might perceive you, and what in turn they’ll think of you, and how they’ll treat you, and what they’ll say behind your back, then that is worry. While the “imminent threat” type of fear may only rarely come up, and the notion that if you do A, then B might be a reasonable result, while that may be fortune-telling, it’s not fact-based, if not in this particular moment factual. If you think that not drinking to excess might lead to drunk driving, which in turn might lead to a ticket, arrest, loss of driving privilege, and worse yet, getting involved in a accident and getting injured, even worse than that, that someone else might be who gets injured, then the foresight that not drinking and driving would lead to a better outcome than the possibilities that drinking and driving might lead to is a pretty good analysis of potential future situations. I’m not sure that it’s anything that I’d spend much time meditating on, because one would hope that I’m not contemplating going on a bender after I leave the cushion. But that may be a viable focus point to others, so I won’t discount it.
I've live with someone who is spending a lot of time crossing from legitimate “this could kill me fear” to “what if” worry a lot lately. It's a situation that deserves as much concern as can be applied to it, in fact. To briefly recap my partner’s health issues over the last 18 months or so, first was the breast cancer, followed by radiation, which may have contributed to her pneumonia during the fall and winter of that year. Not just pneumonia, but COP: cryptogenic organizing pneumonia. The key word there is “cryptogenic,” as in, “Well, it's not bacterial, because antibiotics aren't doing anything. And it's not a virus either. We don't know what it is, but we do know it's pneumonia, so we'll give it an important-sounding disease name that sounds a lot more important than ‘we don't know what in hell it is.” That was treated with over a year of Prednisone.
A follow-up X-ray revealed a neuroendocrine tumor or her pancreas, which was successfully removed, but with about half her pancreas being removed with the tumor. Somewhere between that and the year of meds, we ended up in the ER one day to find out that not only did she have diabetes, but she also had a small stroke. There was an old MRI which when compared to a new one, corfirmed the stroke. Another week or two go by, trying to figure out the lancets, test strips, and the glucometer, and something was not quite right again. Back to the ER, admitted again, another MRI, and there was evidence of a second stroke. Her vision was affected by the strokes, but none of her motor skills. The dizziness seems to have abated. She's on a slew of medications now, dealing with everything from the breast cancer to the diabetes to the stroke.
And here's the rub--there is copious worrying about a recurrence of pneumonia, whether the Prednisone had anything to do with that and/or the diabetes, and what she'd be treated with if she had another bout of pneumonia. To me, two strokes in a month was the lurking hungry tiger, the specter of pneumonia and the meds were in the back of the bus. Her daughter’s well-meaning but potentially misplaced concern about hiring a cook for the diabetes, finding a new pulmonologist for the pneumonia recurrence which hasn't happened, to needing to find a different doctor to deal with the brain-based vision issues, has only fed my partner’s feelings of concern. We've got a tiger right here in the kitchen, and as much energy is spent worrying about the potential other tiger that isn't here yet and she's not wearing a meat dress.
One of the hindrances to Awakening is what I translate as “worry.” Sometimes it's said to be “doubt,” but I think that is a miss. I'd even throw “second-guessing” as an alternate. It's that type of fear that's not only based in projection, but a paralyzing racing-thought type of fear. The challenge is to help keep her from getting too stressed out by just talking to her daughter and others. My middle-type fear is that her getting too wound up is probably not a good thing for someone who has had two strokes. I can't say for sure that will lead to another stroke, but not poking that tiger seems reasonable. Where it gets tricky, requiring real observation, analyzing situations as they arise, and not compounding what's already tenuous, is how to do this with compassion. Inside my head there's a little voice saying, “Enough with the pneumonia! You've had two strokes!” What comes out my mouth has to have a touch more finesse than that.
But how about this “no fears exist” part? The part where the Bodhisattva relies on what creates no hindrance, and with no hindrance, comes no fear. The practice of Zen is to accept what reality is. The reality is that as of today, she has diabetes, but pays attention to her diet and takes her meds, and so far as we’re aware it’s under control. Acknowledging that there is a history of health issues, and that they may return or that others may yet come, that’s also reality. A sense of mortality for her is probably very different for her than it is for me, and regardless of how accurate either of our thoughts about it are, that’s reality. Reality also includes that sometimes there will be worry about it, and fear.
Being able to face all these facets of reality, just facing them, acknowledging them, just dealing with feeling them when they’re there, letting them change into the next feeling, letting the next element of reality come along, acknowledging that it’s here and going to go, even when that means it might be even more unpleasant when this reality moves into the next unfolding reality, and facing that head on, that’s fearless. That’s looking the tiger in the eye without hindrance. For this moment, no fears exist, and when we next feel fear, we’re not afraid of fear.