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Fear and Superstition

By Thangjam Yumjao Singh

There is yet another kind of fear that stalks the human mind. It is the fear of the uncontrollable forces of nature and of the unknown. This fear has dogged man/ woman through the ages as he/she learned to deal with wild beasts and protect himself/ herself from the attacks of other tribes. In that long night of savagery, in that constant effort to deal with the forces of nature, the seeds of superstition were sown in the human mind. And this superstition has persisted and been passed down from generation to generation up to the present day.
Fear in its primitive sense is described as an intense emotional reaction characterized by attempts to flee from the situation which elicits it and by physiological changes such as blanching, tremors, rapid heartbeat, and dryness of mouth, etc. According to a well-known psychologist John Broadus Watson, fear is one of the three unlearned emotional reactions, the other being love and anger. Watson’s view is that fear is induced in the newborn by a sudden loss of support or by loud noises. Even in infant, he believes, must receive affection and re-assurance, ‘mothering’ may ease the tensions arising from basal anxiety. It is believed that certain fears in new born infant could be those associated with its previous existence which have been brought forward and still remain fresh and vivid in its mind and that visions relating to such previous fear do sometimes manifest themselves from time to time during early infancy.
When faced with forces beyond his/her comprehension, the difference between the savage and the beast becomes apparent. The beast adapts itself instinctively and succumbs to this force. The savage, on the other hand, when surrounded by wild beasts stronger than himself/ herself/ herself, or when confronted by the forces of nature like rain, wind, thunder and lightning or natural calamities like earthquake, volcanic, eruptions or epidemic diseases, will prostrate himself/herself in all terror on the ground, pleading protection from unknown powers. From his/ her early perception of a power outside himself/ herself, which he/ she thought could be appeased through the prayer, just as he/ she himself/ herself could be pleased, the savage developed ritual and worship and made the forces of nature as his/ her gods. Good forces became good ‘gods’ while evil forces became evil ‘gods’.
Fear comes to those who are unable to comprehend the basic laws of nature.Either as a principle or motive, fear is the beginning of the superstitious beliefs. The notion of incurring the displeasure of a Creator is instilled into the minds of the followers of many religions who depend on the concept of God for the fulfilment of everything. The foundation of some religious systems and worship is based on the instinctive fear of the unknown. The fear created by religions is the worst form of fear since it imprisons and ensnares the mind. Fear fertilizes the growth of the superstition that flourishes in the fog of the ignorance.
Man yearns for security for himself/ herself and for those whom he/ she loves in this world of constant flux which could offer no permanent solution to his/her problems. The moment he/she thinks he/ she has solved a particular problem, the conditions surrounding the original circumstances will change and yet another set of problems will then emerge, leaving him/her confused and lost as ever before. He /she is anxious, like a child who builds sand-castles on the beach and is afraid of every wave that comes in.

In this craving for security and fear of death, man falls prey to superstition. Surrounded by the mystery of the universe, he develops faith in things that he fears. It is the ignorance and fear of the unknown that gave rise to earlier religious belief, and the workings of the universe are explained in terms of infallible supernatural gods who are supposed to control everything that happens. Even though science have done much to dispel such myths and improve the knowledge of the modern man, much of the superstitions inherited from the past still continue to remain to continue with him/her and he/she/she has yet to break himself/ herself free from this self-imposed bondage. Superstitions weaken and enslave the mind. Superstitions ideas, beliefs and practices are ingrained not only amongst uneducated people but strangely also the well-educated as well.
Society should recall the words of the Buddha who said: ‘Where so ever fear arises, it arises in the fool, and not in the wise man.’


******The writer is lay Buddhist and a Social Activist of People Who Use Drugs (PUDs)

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