"We Don’t Believe. We Fear.”

Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu

"We Don’t Believe. We Fear.”

An anthropologist once questioned a native Alaskan shaman about his tribe’s belief system. After putting up with the anthropologist’s questions for a while, the shaman finally told him: “Look. We don’t believe. We fear.”

In a similar way, Buddhism starts, not with a belief, but with a fear of very present dangers. As the Buddha himself reported, his initial impetus for leaving home and seeking awakening was his comprehension of the great dangers that inevitably follow on birth: aging, illness, death, and separation. The awakening he sought was one that would lead him to a happiness not subject to these things.

After finding that happiness, and in attempting to show others how to find it for themselves, he frequently referred to the themes of aging, illness, death, and separation as useful objects for contemplation. Because of this, his teaching has often been called pessimistic, but this emphasis is actually like that of a doctor focusing on the symptoms and causes of disease as part of an effort to bring about a cure.

The Buddha is not afraid to dwell on these topics because the awakening he teaches brings about a total release from them.

This reflection by Ajaan Geoff is from the Study Guides book, Beyond Coping—A Study Guide on Aging, Illness, Death, & Separation, “Introduction.”