By Swami Veda Bharati July 2006 Cultivation of perfect equanimity can be assisted by the conquest of fear. Roman philosopher Seneca was a stoic, belonging to the school of Greek philosophy that taught, like the Bhagavad Gita, the principle of equanimity in all situations. It particularly emphasized the practice of deep spiritual peace, tranquillitate animi and constantia sapientis (maintaining a constant state of wisdom) in all aspects of life. These titles of two of Seneca’s essays echo the wisdom we also learn from texts like the Gita, proving that this has been the basic theme of the wisdom of all philosophers of the East and the West. Seneca was spiritual adviser to several Roman emperors, including the infamous Nero. Nero, finally tiring of his advice, ordered him to commit suicide (out of respect, he would not himself kill him outright!). Seneca surrounded himself with his disciples and opened his veins, and continued his discourse. As the flow of blood was a little slow, he asked for a large bowl of hot water to keep his foot in so that the wound would open wider to make the blood flow. I have recently seen a painting by Luca Giordano at the Louvre (well-known museum in Paris), showing all his disciples eagerly writing down his instructions in philosophy, while the blood flows and Seneca sits with a perfectly calm countenance, carrying on the discourse to the end. Seneca’s last moments remind us also of those of Socrates. Condemned to death or exile by the Athenian government for his unconventional teaching techniques, he chose death and drank the poison he was administered with similar equanimity, carrying on his philosophical discussions till the last moment. These philosophers had no anger towards their prosecutors. One reads similar stories of great yogis of India. One yogi knew that his cook had been bribed to poison him. The yogi had the mastery to not let the poison adversely affect him, so no harm ensued. A few days later, the food had a little excess salt. The yogi called his cook and admonished him, ‘What is going on with you? One day you add poison to the food, another day you put too much salt! What is the matter?’ For him, the excess salt and poison were at the same level. We refer to these stories to show that it is possible for a human being to rise to such heights. At that height, one no longer thinks ‘I am at a great height’. To others it may be too great a height to reach; to the accomplished one, that ‘height’ is the norm. Such stories show a remarkable absence of fear. Let us therefore examine the nature of fear and how to conquer it. At the philosophical level, we first cultivate a buddhi-yoga, whereby we can see through the appearances of maya. Secondly, as we advance, the true sakshatkara, spiritual realisation, ensues, and washes off all possibility of our recognizing duality as real. At the mental level, we first take cognizance of the general principle of fear. In this, fear and all other adhis (mental diseases in ayurveda), subsist, unparticularised. It is just the principle of fear, and such other diseases, shared by all minds. This is not the fear of a snake or a rat but simply the fact that ‘fear is’, as a generalized principle, which then takes on individual hues. Then, we view ourselves in the duality of subject, object, interaction, events, and the particularized fears that arise. Placing fear and all such other mental diseases in the philosophical and archetypal contexts will enable us to understand our individual fears better and therefore conquer them. We recognize that fear is part of the cosmic disease of maya in general and its consequent duality, and when duality becomes part of the collective consciousness, it exists as a generalized potential which, upon encountering external stimuli, takes on a particular nature and name such as ‘I am afraid of cats’ or ‘I am afraid of barking dogs’. Through buddhi-yoga we too can become like Socrates, Seneca and the poison-digesting yogi.
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