Bhaya-Bherava Sutta – Fear and Terror, Majjhima Nikaya 4

The Brahman’s Question

The Brahman Janussonin asked the Buddha about what happens to the hermits, who retire in terrible, deserted places in the forest thicket. It is difficult to remain in seclusion to those who have not mastered the art of concentration. Is not the mind of the hermits who are inexperienced in the concentration, abducted with fear and horror that arise in solitude?

The Buddha’s Answer

The Buddha replied to the Brahman: “When I was young and only started looking for the Truth, I also asked this question. And then I pondered this: if those hermits and Brahmans who have not cleansed the actions of the body, speech and mind retire into the forest, their minds will be abducted. But I cleared the actions of the body, speech and mind.
Further, I reflected: solitude can be dangerous for the minds of those hermits and Brahmans who have created the hindrances of greed, ill will, laziness, restlessness and doubts in the Path. But I eliminated these five hindrances.
Then I thought about those Brahmans who praise themselves and belittle others, those who crave riches, praise and recognition, who tremble with fear and desire – solitude is dangerous for their mind. I had few desires.
And those Brahmans and hermits who have not developed enough the qualities of remembering impermanence, who are not vigilant, diligent or focused, whose mind is foolish and wandering, not having support in wisdom – their mind can be abducted by solitude. But I developed all the qualities leading to wisdom and concentration.
Clearing my qualities, not creating hindrances, not wanting the worldly, developing the conditions for concentration, I felt confident that the seclusion and asceticism would do me good.

On a new moon and on a full moon, or at a time when the moon is half visible, I retired in terrible places at night. I waited for fear and terror to seize me: various frightening sounds awakened it. Then I kept the position of the body in which I was at the moment, until I completely subdued this fear and horror. Whether I walked, stood, sat or lay – I continued to remain in this bodily position until I overcame my fear and horror.

Then, Brahman, I exercised my mind in the passage of the four Jhānas: with the direction of the mind, with balance, with vigilance and with uninvolvement. When my mind became clear, soft and flawless, I directed it to acquire the three kinds of Higher Knowledge: in the beginning I remembered my past births and learned the truth about them, then I saw the ways of the rebirth of beings, according to their karma. Finally, I comprehended the Path of the cessation of suffering, the complete elimination of excitation spots and impurities of the mind.

You, Brahman, could think: “Why does the hermit Gotama continue to retreat? Maybe the truth he knows is not yet perfect? Or Gotama himself didn’t comprehend this truth completely?” I will answer you this doubt: I continue to retire, first, because solitude is good and comfortable for me. Second, because I intend to give future generations an example of good behavior.”

Conclusion

Hearing the story of the Buddha, the Brahman Janussonin was filled with deep faith and took refuge in the Three Jewels.

The ability to be in solitude appears in the contemplator as a result of the purification of consciousness and the cultivation of good qualities in it. The detailed description of the stages of this preparation can be found in Subha Sutta, Digha Nikaya 10.

Vladimir Pyatsky and Smadar Pyatsky
Translation: Natalia Tsimbler