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Fear Of The Unknown Is The Mother Of All Fears

Fear of the unknown is the mother of all fears. Much of our anxiety and dread pertains to things and events of which we have no good knowledge. Looking these fears squarely in the face can often make them vanish into thin air, or at least make them appear less formidable. The story of Swami Vivekananda’s confrontation with an irate bunch of monkeys during his itinerant days in Varanasi is the perennial favorite as an illustration of this point. The herd had melted away as soon as he had faced up to them. Referring to this incident in a New York lecture years later, he observed ‘That is a lesson for all life - face the terrible, face it boldly. Like the monkeys the hardships of life fall back when we cease to flee before them. If we are ever to gain freedom, it must be by conquering nature, never by running away.’

Even in our more mundane moments, sorrow is a great benefactor. It is sorrow that spontaneously collects our scattered minds and it is in sorrow that we usually turn Godward. Moreover, it is the contrite heart that is graced by God. It is for these reasons that Swami Vivekananda, echoing Mother Kunti, once prayed: ‘Bhagavan, place me in a position where all others may criticize and abuse me, so that all my heart, mind, and love may turn to you alone.’ Suffering may well be the remedy for evil.

A far more radical approach to sorrow and misery is offered by the goddess Kali, whose name spells terror, whose very breath is death, and who with ‘every shaking step destroys a world forever’. Kali is the Mother, the guardian of her children, the bestower of boons and blessings, and the guide to the highest good. If she symbolizes death and destruction, it is to her that we must turn, it is she whom we must love.