My fear and doubts have vanished like mist
into the distance, never to disturb me again. 

I will die content and free from regrets.
This is the fruit of Dharma practice.

Milarepa, from 'Fruit of Dharma Practice'

Fear plays a very important part in our daily life, and in human society as a whole. Fear comes in many shapes and forms, but it could be described as: an unpleasant feeling of perceived risk or danger, real or not. It functions to make us alert and ready for action while expecting specific problems.

As is often said, fear lies at the basis of all religions. At the time humans were gatherers and hunters, little was understood of the world around them, so without understanding the causes for many everyday experiences there is logically existential fear. In search for understanding the world around them, shamans and mystics tried to explain the world with invisible and incomprehensible aspects aspects like spirits, gods, nature itself, the sun and moon etc. which also gave the possibility to do something about 'the unexpected' by pleasing the gods and spirits with prayers and rituals. Later on, more advanced ideas and philosophies developed, and of course, organized religions.

Also Buddhism is to an extent based on fear; the fear of suffering. The historical Buddha went out on his spiritual quest when he realized that everybody is subject to discomfort, problems and pain, and with the goal to find a way to end it alltogether he discovered a 'way out'.
In fact, this is not too different from the main motivation to develop human civilization: we fear discomfort so we store food for more difficult times, we prepare ourselves for dangers like wild animals, or to defend ourselves from other humans. This fear of discomfort and attachement to comfort has driven humans in their development from a type of smart monkey to a creature that has gained control over nearly all other living beings on this planet.

Our most basic fear is the fear of death, which functions to make us alert in dangerous situations, and can thus be a very healthy emotion. But much less dramatic reasons of fear are found everywhere in our daily lives: 'Did I lock the house?', 'Isn't this food unhealthy?', 'Is my health insurance high enough?', 'Shouldn't my daughter be home yet?'. These worries can be based or quite baseless. Problematic types of fear can be when we are afraid of things that do not pose any real threat, like fear of spiders or large spaces. Fear and paranoia, together with attachment, craving and hatred are usually responsible for wars.
In all cases, we could say that fear is a reaction to something that may happen in the future, be it realistic or not, it is always uncomfortable. And here we find one of the contradictions of fear itself: it should work to keep us from discomfort, yet it is uncomfortable itself.
Any happiness there is in the world ultimately turns to pain. Why? Consider the two sides of a coin: just because what we desire is to be seen on the front does not mean that dislike won’t soon appear on the back. Likewise, hope and fear are a single coin, one entity with two faces—on the other side of a moment in which we hope for more happiness will be our fear of more suffering. Until attachment is eliminated, we can be certain of having both hope and fear. As long as there is hope and fear, the delusions of samsara will be perpetuated and there will be constant suffering. Thus attachment is the nature of both hope and fear: looking at the ultimate emptiness of the self-envisioned magical illusion of hope and fear, we should hang loosely in the flow. 

From The Great Secret of Mind: Special Instructions on the Nonduality of Dzogchen, by Tulku Pema Rigtsal


As fear is based on something that we think may happen in the future, it is clearly a mental process which tries to predict the future - in that sense, the reason of fear is a projection of our mind.
We can be afraid to fall, but once we are falling, we are afraid to hit the ground, once we hit the ground, we may fear we have a bad injury, once we know we have a bad injury, we may fear the pain and the consequences of not being able to work for some time or become disabled etc. So one could say that fear is always based on something that has not happened yet, and is therefore a fantasy of our mind rather than fact.

Source http://viewonbuddhism.org

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