What does Buddhism say about the mechanism of fear in general and in current circumstances?
Fear is an emotion that we feel both in our body (stomach aches for example), in our energy (we are disturbed by disturbing affects) and in our head (we start imagining films when are fabrications of the mind). It is the result of a shock. The announcement of containment was for some a short and violent event which generated in them the feeling of being in danger. Everything happened really fast. Having no choice or control over the situation has also sometimes added to them a sense of helplessness. Some of them passed in less than two days from a relative tranquility to a state of post-traumatic stress, manifested by symptoms such as alcoholism, smoking, taking drugs, strong agitation, sadness , sleep loss, anger, etc.
In Buddhism, fear is a disturbing or afflictive mental factor (Klesha in Sanskrit) that arises when the mind takes hold of a disturbing circumstance. To understand its mechanism, let's observe what happens. The mind-situation interaction gives rise to a stream of consciousness with which we identify, and we project a multitude of disturbing aspects onto the situation. This is due in particular to various factors, including the five “poisons”: desire-attachment, ignorance, anger-aversion, pride and jealousy, which make us twist reality and falsify lived experience. As a result, we identify with an illusion created by our psyche. We don't see how the phenomena are linked to each other and we project our beliefs onto others and onto ourselves. Buddhism teaches that everything is impermanent and interdependent, and subject to the law of cause and effect.
How to react to fear?
The first thing is to recognize that you are afraid. The Buddhist practitioner begins by observing his body, his fears and his thoughts, without analyzing them, in order to stop conditioning his conduct to the outside world. He knows that his suffering is generated by himself, his perceptions, sensations and thoughts. The prostrations, small or large, performed with the whole body, can help him, on a physical level, to rebalance his energies. For a yoga practitioner, it may be the Sun Salutation. It is also possible to practice ecstatic dances or dances of wisdom. They have the advantage of combining contemplation and movement at the same time. The main thing, in any case, is to move. It feels crazy good.
“This virus, this pandemic and this confinement are therefore opportunities to develop our qualities, take a retreat, dance, read, contemplate…”
Another possibility is to use sound energy. In Buddhism, as in Hinduism, we have healing sounds. Sound is a vibration that elevates the subtle body. For some, this may be reciting the Chenrezig mantra: “Om Mani Padme Hum”. For others, it will be the sound "OM" or "HOUNG" that we can sing or let vibrate silently in us.
Finally, to calm the mind, one can practice "shine" (meditation of mental calm) while remaining seated, the spine straight to balance the energies and using a support. I advise beginners to vary them so as not to get bored and not risk dispersing. For example, we can follow the air that enters and leaves our nostrils, listen to the subtle sounds of the house, focus on the sensation of a candy in the mouth or on an object placed in front of us.
When fear overwhelms us because, we believe, of a person, how can we not let ourselves be overwhelmed by anger?
When the internal suffering is too strong, we repress it or project it, because we do not know how to recognize it and treat it in ourselves. The Buddhist approach is to turn our gaze within, because the source of anger is within us. We can experience it physically through tensions, pains in the body; energetically through our emotions; cognitively through our thoughts. Becoming aware of this helps to slow down the projections we make on the other. Through practice, we manage to take a step back and then, little by little, the anger melts away like ice melts into water.
How do we turn our anger into love?
We can do this by deepening the knowledge and practice of the four seals of impermanence, the fact that nothing has reality and existence in and of itself, the understanding that emotions are suffering and that wisdom ultimate lies beyond concepts.
If we follow the Hinayana teaching, we will study the mechanisms by which we create suffering. The exercise consists first in withdrawing and keeping at bay the factors likely to increase our disorder (agitation, anger, excess of information, etc.). Then to practice mental calm and higher vision.
In the Mahayana (Way of the Bodhisattva), the practitioner considers that the suffering of the other is more important than his own. This is the case, for example, at the moment with all caregivers and caregivers. The practice here will consist in engaging in actions or meditations turned towards the other, which will have the consequence of treating our own disorder at the same time.
Practitioners of Vajrayana (Way of transforming our emotions into wisdom) followed a specific course in which they learned to visualize a deity, such as Avalokitesvara (Tchenrezi), Buddha of love and compassion, or Sanguye Menla, Medicine Buddha. They recite their mantra so that love and compassion arise in them. The qualities of this deity will be the antidote to their anger.
Finally, the fourth way, more direct, consists in remaining in a state beyond the concepts, in a very great relaxation, and to remain in the full presence in oneself, without grasping the emotions or the cognitions that emerge in us.
How can we protect ourselves at this time, in particular to feel better?
In the Buddhist way, we protect ourselves on two levels, namely the relative level by our behavior (by following health instructions for example) and the ultimate level by raising our field of consciousness beyond the intellect. For the effort to last over time, it is wise to have a higher motivation. Mindfulness meditation generally pursues an individualistic goal, because it consists of meditating for oneself. If we also practice for the good of others, action, joy and love are our instruments. This virus, this pandemic and this confinement are therefore opportunities to develop our qualities, take a retreat, dance, read, contemplate...