I have rekindled an old practice of mine when I use to visit Bhavana before living here. On nights where my bravery and/or peace held, I would go up the mountain, deeper into the woods, to meditate at night. I’ve decided to make this a regular occurrence on full moon nights, as those are special nights in the Buddhist calendar called Uposatha:
The Uposatha (Sanskrit: Upavasatha) is Buddhist day of observance, in existence from the Buddha’s time (500 BCE), and still being kept today in Buddhist countries. The Buddha taught that the Uposatha day is for “the cleansing of the defiled mind,” resulting in inner calm and joy. On this day, lay disciples and monks intensify their practice, deepen their knowledge and express communal commitment through millennia-old acts of lay-monastic reciprocity.
So I’ve decided to give this practice a name “ Full Moon Fear and Dread”, catchy isn’t it? This night is the perfect time for such activity, as we see here from one of my favorite Suttas:
Majjhima Nikāya 4 : Fear and Dread
“That is so, brahmin, that is so. Remote jungle-thicket resting places in the forest are hard to endure, seclusion is hard to practice, and it is hard to enjoy solitude. One would think the jungles must rob a bhikkhu of his mind, if he has no concentration.“
I considered thus: ‘There are the specially auspicious nights of the fourteenth, the fifteenth, and the eighth of the fortnight. Now what if, on such nights as these, I were to dwell in such awe-inspiring, horrifying abodes as orchard shrines, woodland shrines, and tree shrines? Perhaps I might encounter that fear and dread.’ And later, on such specially auspicious nights as the fourteenth, the fifteenth, and the eighth of the fortnight, I dwelt in such awe-inspiring, horrifying abodes as orchard shrines, woodland shrines, and tree shrines. And while I dwelt there, 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?’
The other night when I took that video I was able to stay there and meditate for an hour. I had fear with me almost the whole time, but It did not cause me to run this night. About 10 minutes into meditating I saw a bright light arise thought my closed eye lids. This light frightened me at first but when I opened my eyes I saw that the full moon had burst from the clouds and shone bright all around me, making the forest almost as bright as day and reminding me of the Dhammapada quote used by the Buddha “one who abandons the evil for the good illuminates this world like the moon freed from clouds”. The rest of the hour was more of awe of beauty rather then fear. I watched some of the stars come out, the clouds moved rapidly across the sky illuminated by the moon.I was able to see the ridges of mountains in the far distance to my front and right, and distant lights signaling humanity dotted the mountains.
At one point I heard something moving about 40 feet behind me and it gave me a startle to the point where I jerked around to see what it was. Turns out what it was was a small deer that I scared half to death and it went running through the woods making a loud ruckus. Looks like I was the one doing the scaring that time! It reminds me of Ajahn Brahm’s story about being in the jungle at night and loud scary noises ended up being a small mouse. Fear distorts our senses so that every leaf falling sounds like the footsteps of something in the dark coming to devour you!
This post is on fear, terror, and dread, one of the most interesting and important aspects of meditation practice. The practice in and of itself is one of going against the grain, standing firm to be with mental and physical states that most people avoid like the plague. Aversion is the root issue here. Fear stems from aversion. We as beings have a strong aversion to any kind of loss, and fear only exists in relation to said loss.
The last eight years has seen me embracing my fears, observing them, staying with them as much as I can, allowing them to be. This is how I’ve gained insight into how this whole fear thing works. Even before I “became a Buddhist” I was doing things like camping out in areas away from other people, first in a tent but then working my way to no tent at all.
A tent is an interesting thing. We have this feeling of safety and security while in a tent because the dark woods outside are “out of sight, out of mind”. But in all reality all that keeps you from anything lurking outside is a think piece of cloth. A tent is more like a coffin then a house, but when we go in the tent we feel safe, but when we stay outside we feel exposed. The tent is an analogy for many things in life we run to for shelter when we feel exposed, and yet those things just cannot give us the shelter and security we seek.
If you want to conquer your fear, you have to bask in it, to stay with it, to observe how it arises, how it abides, how it ceases. This may only be for 10 seconds at first before you run away, but as I’ve said before in the past, you start out small and continue the practice until you can stay out in the woods for an hour and not run away, even though the hair on the back of your neck is raised and you feel the fear within you.
So who’s willing to join me up the mountain for some Full Moon Night Fear And Dread!!!? 🙂
I will close this thread on fear with some of my favorite quotes from the movie Batman Begins, who’s whole theme is on fear and fits this well, and two of my favorite fear memes:
“You traveled the world… Now you must journey inwards… to what you really fear… it’s inside you… there is no turning back.”
“To conquer fear, you must become fear. You must bask in the fear of other men. And men fear most what they cannot see. You have to become a terrible thought. A wraith. You have to become an idea! Feel terror cloud your senses. Feel its power to distort.. to control. And know that this power can be yours. Embrace your worst fears. Become one with the darkness.”