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The Role of Fear (Bhaya) in the Nikāyas and in the Abhidhamma

Abstract

According to Buddhist soteriology, fear is a direct cause of suffering and one of the main obstacles in the path to liberation. Pāli Suttas and Abhidhamma present a number of sophisticated strategies to deal with fear and to overcome it. Nevertheless, in the Nikāyas and in the Abhidhamma there are also consistent instructions about implementing fear in meditative practices and considering it as a valuable ally in the pursuit of nibbāna By means of a lexicographical study of selected passages and especially of two compounds (bhayūparata and abhayūparata), this paper demonstrates that fear may have the crucial function of stimulating the meditator: through reiterated admonishments and reflections that evoke a feeling of dread, the meditator gets weary of unwholesome patterns and is prompted to put effort in his/her own practice. Evidence proves that this set of instructions is ultimately consistent with the several teachings that emphasize the importance of counteracting fear and fostering fearlessness, which is described as a quality of liberation as well as an attitude to be cultivated. In fact, a close analysis of the dynamics involved in bhaya (fear) and abhaya (fearlessness) as graphically depicted in the Nikāyas and in the Abhidhamma texts, reveals that stirring fear and letting go of fear are two essential steps of the same process.

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Abbreviations

A:

Aṅguttara Nikāya

Abhis:

Abhidhammatthasaṅgaha

AVS:

Arthaviniścaya Sūtra

AVSN:

Arthaviniścaya Sūtra Nibandhana

Cone:

A Dictionary of Pāli

CSCD:

Chatta Saṅgayana CD

D:

Dīgha Nikāya

Dhp:

Dhammapada

Edgerton:

Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Dictionary

Jā:

Jātaka

Jā-a:

Jātaka-aṭṭhakathā

M:

Majjhima Nikāya

Mil:

Milindapañha

Monier-Williams:

A Sanskrit-English Dictionary

Mv:

Mahāvagga (Vinaya Piṭaka)

Mv-A:

Mahāvagga-aṭṭhakathā

Paṭism:

Paṭisambhidāmagga

Parjt:

Paramatthajotikā

PED:

Pali English Dictionary

Peṭ:

Peṭakopadesa

Pp:

Puggalapaññatti

Pp-a:

Puggalapaññatti-aṭṭhakathā

Ppsud:

Papañcasūdanī (Majjhimanikāya-aṭṭhakathā)

PTS:

Pali Text Society

S:

Saṃyutta Nikāya

Saund:

Saundarananda

Sd:

Saddanīti

Skt:

Sanskrit

Sn:

Suttanipāta

Spk:

Sāratthappakāsinī (Saṃyuttanikāya-aṭṭhakathā)

Th:

Theragāthā

Vism:

Visuddhimagga

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Correspondence to Giuliano Giustarini.

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Giustarini, G. The Role of Fear (Bhaya) in the Nikāyas and in the Abhidhamma. J Indian Philos 40, 511–531 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10781-012-9164-1

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Keywords

  • Buddhist meditation
  • Abhidhamma
  • Suttas
  • Fear
  • Mindfulness of death
  • Theravāda
  • Nibbāna
  • Puggalapaññatti