Abhayam: Context Specific Fearlessness
In this morning's class the speaker discussed 'fearlessness' and that it was an admirable quality in Prahlada, a young devotee. As the Puranic story goes, when God appeared in his most terrifying form, where all others were afraid, Prahlad approached him without fear. Abhayam or fearlessness is therefore a symptom of spiritual progress, indeed the Bhagavata exclaims that 'fear' only exists where God realization is absent.
Having said that, it would appear (as with many other qualities) that to accept fearlessness as an absolute trait of singular meaning and universal application is a misinterpretation of the characteristic and a meaningless exercise. Aside from being situated in an impersonal state of liberation (moksha), such a absolute is neither possible nor wanted.
In material consciousness fear may have a practical justification in relation to self preservation, however excessive and unwarranted fear is clearly not helpful. Fear arising from bodily identification requires to be kept in perspective by a spiritual practitioner. Fear beyond that which facilitates a sustained life and becomes an obstacle to spiritual realization, must be overcome. But then again, fearing the seduction of material life or for the safety of another,are perfectly appropriate forms of fear. Even the fearless Prahlad expressed certain fears himself.
Further to this, fear is found in Krishna (God) himself, as he participates in variant cosmic dramas (lila). He may fear his mother's chastisement or for the safety of his friends--the cow-herders. Fear is also found in his eternal companions and in those who have attained perfection. In this case, fear is an expression of ecstatic love and attachment. However, we are told that in this transcendental form, fear consists of an abundance of incomparable pleasure.
In the stage of spiritual practice (vaidhi-sadhana), fear is evoked to dissuade the neophyte from deviation, and to sustain a reverential mood before God. For some who progress but retain a tremendous reverence for God, fear remains always present.
In this we can see that a state of absolute fearlessness, for a devotee, is neither warranted nor aspired for. It is not an achievable or coveted concrete or absolute state. Fear must always be studied and understood specific to the sentence and context within which it is situated. Where it is justifiable and of important utility and not in breach of, nor an obstacle before our growing spirituality, fear is welcome; that is--it is not to be 'feared'. Then on the attainment of a personal engagement with God, and for the sole purpose of his pleasure, we may very well find ourselves indulging, ecstatically, in fear.