Fear and Paranoia

Fear and Paranoia

Date Posted:
August 2009

A student suffering from debilitating fear and paranoia wrote to Rinpoche asking for advice. His letter and Rinpoche’s response are below.

Student's letter

I am a 22-year-old man. For the past year until now, I have been facing problems coming from my mind. I have this unexplainable fear and feel paranoid, which come from my mind. It has been plaguing me almost every day and it happens mostly when I am driving or taking the train or bus. When I am in those three modes of transport, most of the time I feel compressed and tight, with sudden heat and anxiety generating in my body, making me extremely uncomfortable in my mind. I feel lost, almost like I’m losing control of my mind, and feel very scared. My heartbeat increases and I get sweaty palms occasionally. When I experience this unexplainable feeling, I convince myself in my mind that there is nothing to worry about or fear, or I look at my mobile phone to distract myself from thinking about it. Sometimes, before I fall asleep at night, I feel anxiety and an increasing heartbeat. Then, once again, I will somehow convince myself that it is nothing and then gradually fall asleep. When I watch movies in the cinema, I have the same tight and compressed feeling as well, tension arises, and my heartbeat increases. But gradually I settle down and feel alright again. There have been occasions when I’ve been having meals with people (my family, my girlfriend's family, my friends) together, and I would have this anxiety and tight feeling again. The unexplainable fear arises again. Even having a simple meal with people all seated around me, sharing one table, I will have such feelings of paranoia, fear, and anxiety. It puzzles me greatly. All the time I am able to tell my mind it is nothing and life continues, but it will come out again anytime, almost immediately, or whenever.

I don't know why I have such terrible feelings coming from my mind. I know all of these are from my mind, but my mind can't convince itself completely that there is nothing to worry about or fear. Recently, I have had sweaty palms and feet more often, especially when driving, or even when I feel the slightest fear of the unknown. I recently read your book Ultimate Healing: The Power of Compassion, and I came across a section which was about schizophrenia, or wind disease, or spirit harm. I am not sure if I have this illness. I know that everything which I am feeling is coming from my paranoid mind, but I find it unexplainable why I feel this way.

I believe Dharma practices will cure me and make my mind stronger. So, for the past month I have been chanting 10 malas of OM MANI PADME HUM every day, and sometimes do the Blessing Water practice, or meditate on my breath for 10 to 15 minutes every day. But is this the correct antidote? I do feel slightly better, but the unexplainable fear in my mind remains. I have taken Green Tara, Amitabha, and Guru Rinpoche initiations before. Will chanting any one of these mantras be a more suitable approach?

I have participated in two 100 million mani retreats, in both 2003 and 2004. However, in 2005 (my third year), I lasted only three days out of the seven-day retreat. I left midway and have never returned since. I could not take it, because I had that strange kind of feeling again. I felt a strong sense of guilt, and my mind could not concentrate on chanting the mantra for ten hours every day. My mind was constantly thinking of the worldly pleasures I have enjoyed in the past year. The fear, the guilt, and the anxiety got so much that I got up from my seat halfway through and left after three days of retreat. The first retreat I went to was bliss; the second one wasn't as blissful as the first and I felt slightly uncomfortable, but it was manageable; the third was when it all erupted and I felt terrible. I wonder if it is the force of the Dharma that has gotten me to feel this way right now? I was in the army from April 2004 to June 2006. For the first year, I felt great suffering being there, and I often sought help by reading Dharma books and chanting mantras. When I started to settle down from 2005 onwards, I got engaged in worldly activities and started to neglect the Dharma. As such, during my third retreat in 2005, I could not concentrate and was feeling guilty. I believe that was how my fear started and escalated until now.

Ever since I left the army in 2006 until now, my life has not been smooth. I stopped university after three months because I felt that I could not adapt to life there, and I seemed to lack confidence in meeting new people. I never faced such problems in my life before the army. I was full of confidence and loved to make friends before my army life. I enjoyed life and felt happy-go-lucky all the time. But since I left the army, this fear has started appearing from nowhere and I feel lost now. I feel most relaxed when I am at home doing my own things, without any pressure from anyone. Currently I am not working nor studying, and I do not know what to do with my life. The saddest thing is the unexplainable fear which has been affecting me, which is making me lose confidence in doing anything. However, I strongly believe that Dharma practices will cure me and make my mind stronger.

Generally, this is the problem that I face and it's being generated from my mind. Is it because I fear outside pressure? Or is it guilt? I really have no idea and I do not know what has caused me to feel so helpless and paranoid.

Please advise on what practices will be good for my condition.

Rinpoche's response

My very dear John,
Thank you for your kind email, and I am very sorry for the long delay in replying. Regarding your question about chanting ten malas of OM MANI and sometimes blessing water – yes, it is good to continue.

You should think that this is just a sickness and it forces you to purify. It is very important that you chant the mantras for the benefit of all sentient beings, for them to be free from the oceans of suffering in samsara and to be able to achieve enlightenment. Make sure this is your motivation when you chant the mantras.

At least have the motivation to purify your defilements, negative karma, so that you can become enlightened and as quickly as possible enlighten all sentient beings. It is more important to focus on this as a motivation rather than just this particular harm or sickness. Also, it is good to remember that if you did not create the negative karma, then the sickness would not have happened. If there were no cause, then you would not be sick – the sickness does not come without a cause. It is good to continue the practices but important to emphasize the correct motivation.

Regarding your sickness, it seems that maybe it is a sign of purification, that through Dharma practice negative karma is being purified. This must have been heavy negative karma, which you would have experienced in the lower realms for many eons, so now it is getting purified.

The purification goes through different levels, depending on how strongly you do the purification practice. The first one is that you never have to experience the suffering of the lower realms – which is the result of the negative karma. The second one is that you don’t experience the lower realms, but instead you experience something in this life, such as a sickness or disease. That means you don’t need to experience many eons in the lower realms, which would have been the result of some heavy negative karma you must have created.

Now, you can see this is a positive thing. It is like when you wash clothes, so much dirt comes out. Maybe before you washed the clothes you did not notice they were dirty, but then when you put them in soap and water, suddenly you see all the dirt come out. In the same way, when you do very intense practice, then heavy negative karma, which would have resulted in many eons suffering in the lower realms, manifests in this life in the form of some harm. You can see this is very positive. Now you don’t need to experience many eons suffering in the lower realms. Similarly, when one has a disease, sometimes you have to have an operation to cure the disease, so you can live longer. The surgery is something positive that you should do. Similarly, here, you have to experience this now, so that you don’t have to experience something much heavier in the future.

The next level of purification is that one does go to the lower realms but for a very short time, even just one minute, one hour, or just a moment. There is one moment in the lower realms, and then it is finished. This is a sign of purification. It is still positive compared to staying for many eons suffering in the lower realms.

According to my observation, you need to do either Secret Hayagriva retreat or Most Secret Hayagriva retreat. Either is most beneficial. If you are able, receive the initiations and then do the retreat. Until then you can recite the mantras.

You also need to wear two protections:

  • White Umbrella deity protection
  • Black Manjushri protection

See if you can ask the geshe at the Dharma center to make these two protections for you. If it is hard, let me know and I can send them. But it would be quicker and easier if Geshe-la can make them for you. You can mention to Geshe-la that I asked you to request him to do it.

There is also the protection called Protection from Fearlessness – I can send you this one. Please e-mail me your postal address and I will mail it to you.

Also, it is very good if you can do Black Manjushri retreat to also do the practice. My attendant can send you these practices.

It is good to continue doing these practices, not just for healing your sickness. Please do them with a bodhicitta motivation. All beings want happiness and do not want suffering, all beings want to be free from samsara, so in order to benefit them you need to actualize the path. The only way to actualize the path is to practice Dharma. This is more important than anything else.

You need to eat the mantra of Padmasambhava: 500 times. For this, you roll the mantra into a small size, put it inside bread, and swallow it (without chewing). Make sure the head of the mantra enters your mouth first. Eat seven mantras a day until they are finished. Please request the geshe (on my behalf) to make these for you to eat (500 Padmasambhava mantras), or he can write it once and then you print it on very, very light paper, then roll the mantras from the end of the mantra, so you know which is the top, and swallow seven a day (throughout the day).

I am also making prayers for you, as well as the Sangha in my house.

With much love and prayers...