The Dune Litany: Fear is the Mind Killer

by Tai Chi Master Bruce Frantzis

Sand Dunes_H Dragon

Death Valley (Photo by: H Dragon)

A lot of people don’t know this about me, but when I was young I was an avid reader. I could read a 500-page book in a day and a half or two and actually digest it. Then, I went through a long period where I didn’t read at all, especially not in English.

I didn’t particularly like fiction when I was young. In fact, I almost exclusively read non-fiction with two exceptions. I actually really liked  Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, which is about the French Revolution. In junior high school, when I was 12, I picked up the book The Hobbit on a Friday afternoon and I had read the entire Lord of the Rings series before the weekend was out.

Even still,  I really didn’t care for fiction. I still find most fiction novels boring as hell.

One of things that I did when I came back from China, at some point in the 90’s, was pick up the book Dune by Frank Herbert because a friend of mine said that it was really cool. I found that there are many ideas in Dune that mirror those in Taoism…

The Dune Series and Taoism

I read a big chunk of the Dune series. It’s one of the few fiction books I’ve enjoyed, and there are a lot of things about the book that are very interesting. It has an immense number of quotes and ideas that either parallel Taoist philosophy or let’s just say they can appreciate the point of view–whether or not they agree with it.

I think there are a lot of things in the Dune series that are relevant to my blog subscribers and my students. I would say that my personal appreciation and the Taoist appreciation is that if anything is true you are going to find it popping up in all sorts of different places, times and ways. It isn’t like something is true only for this moment. Truth has a way of repeating itself throughout history.

Contrary to the idea that history begins at breakfast, it actually started before you were born.

So there are lots of points in the Dune book that are relevant. Frank Herbert is a great writer. His message is delivered in a very concise way and leads into some points with which Taoism is concerned. The guy hit the nail on the head on a lot of points.

Fear is the Mind Killer

The Dune series is based 10,000 years into the future. In the world at that time there is a small segment of the population called the Bene Gesserit. “The Bene Gesserit are a powerful and ancient order of women whose objectives and actions formed a critical element in the evolution of humanity and many of the major plot developments.” These women have, shall we say, taken all the esoteric sciences to the highest level and are able to do the most spectacular things with their body chemistry, such as literally changing it at will, and changing their biochemistry if they get a disease.

The Bene Gesserit are trained from a young age and part of their training is learning to tame and use the mind. This of course is one of the purposes of Taoist meditation.

In the Dune series, when fear appears, the Bene Gesserit would repeat an incantation to help move their minds past the fear. The Litany goes as follows:

“I must not fear.

Fear is the mind-killer.

Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

I will face my fear.

I will permit it to pass over me and through me.

And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.

Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.

Only I will remain.”

Now this is a nice way to look fear in the face and to dissipate its effects when faced with a dangerous situation. It helps to focus the mind inward and to have courage. However, this incantation does not really get to the root of fear and how it arises…to get to that point you have to go much deeper.

Two Perspectives of Fear

When it comes to going beyond fear you can use two different methods. One is the method of hypnosis, which is offered in a lot of the self-help material these days. The other, which is very different, is the method of meditation.

The perspective of hypnosis, to a great degree, uses mind tricks for dealing with fear at a moment in time. Repeating “The Litany Against Fear” in Dune induces a hypnotic state, so as to allow fear to wash over you.  That lasts for a few seconds but it doesn’t necessarily get you beyond fear. It is useful in the moment, but the change is not everlasting, for that we must dig deeper.

From the perspective of Taoist meditation, to get beyond fear you have to go to a place where the mind simply has the ability to stay open–allowing anything to flow through it.  Anything occurring in your outer environment does not close down that space within your mind. Fear is essentially a closing down of the space at the center of the mind and spirit or soul (depending on which term you care to use).

It is impossible to go beyond fear permanently by only having this trick or that trick that can help you for a few minutes. To get beyond fear, you essentially must change your internal landscape. So when fear attempts to grab hold of you, you reside in a place where it can’t.

Part of the process to get beyond fear will involve strengthening your kidneys. At a biological level, at least in terms of the way the Taoists and Traditional Chinese Medicine thinks of fear, it’s essentially a bodily reaction that is rooted in your kidneys.

Once your kidney’s are strong, then that fear-trigger won’t be activated as much. You can then go beyond fear to where the space of the mind, the openness of the mind, the flow of the mind is able to maintain that which allows spontaneity.

Real Fear and Fake Fear

If fear arises it may be a real fear, such as I’m going to walk over a cliff, then you just step back. Or, if a car is moving toward you at a high speed, you must be motivated to move out of the way. But that’s not really the kind of inner fear I’m discussing.

It’s the kind of fear that eats away at your insides. Real fear is nothing more than heightened awareness. That is awareness of a real situation and the fear that arises to protect you.

It is important to recognize that most fear has nothing to do with reality. Most of the time people are afraid of things that will never happen to them. This is an effect of the mainstream media and news constantly bombarding the public with negative images. This puts people in a weakened state of fear and decreases the immune system of the body. Often your mind picks up these pictures and replays them, creating a story about them. This is not useful nor is it good for the body.

So to go beyond fear, one of the first steps is to recognize that fear which is truly helpful: It makes you more aware, in real situations, in real time. Inside your fear is something that says, “Wait a minute, I think we have to do something sensible and prudent here,” rather than running around like a chicken with your head cut off, or becoming paralyzed and ducking under a chair, hoping that everything will pass one day.

Next, to really go beyond fear, you must summon the courage to look at all the fears that are inside you. Fears arise from childhood experiences and from terrible events that have happened to you or that you witnessed.

When you find these fears you can use meditation to get to a place where you simply can move to the space of awareness. Otherwise, you’ll too easily go to a space that contracts your awareness into a tiny, little box that scares the living hell out you.

As you move into the space of awareness, you can then release what is not real. This is the path to finding a peace place inside. This is a destination that can be achieved through Taoist mediation.

A lot of people don’t know this about me but when I was young I was a veracious reader. I could read a 500 page book in a day and a half or two and actually digest it. Then I went through a long period of time where I didn’t read all that much for a lot of reasons and especially not in English.

I didn’t particularly like fiction when I was younger; as a matter of fact I read almost non-fiction exclusively, the two exceptions being that I actually liked Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, which is about the French Revolution. In Junior High School when I was 12, I picked up the book The Hobbit on a Friday afternoon and I had read the entire Lord of the Rings series before the weekend was out.

But I have to say that after that I really didn’t like to read fiction. I find most novels just boring as hell. Anyways, one of things that I did when I came back from China at some point in the 90’s I picked up the book Dune by Frank Herbert because a friend of mine said that it was really cool. What I found was there were many ideas in Dune that mirror ideas in Taoism…read more

The Dune Series and Taoism

I read a big chunk of the Dune series. Its one of the few fiction books I’ve liked, and there are a lot of things about that book that are very interesting. It has an immense number of quotes and an immense number of ideas that to a certain degree are either paralleled to Taoist philosophy or lets just say they can appreciate the point of view, whether they agree with it or not.

I think there are a lot of things in the Dune series which are relevant to my blog subscribers and my students. I would say that my personal appreciation and the Taoist appreciation is that if things are true you are going to find them popping up in all sorts of different places, times and ways.

It isn’t like something is true only for this moment, usually things that are really true just keep on repeating themselves through history, contrary to the idea that history begins at breakfast, it actually was going on before you were born.

So there are lots of things in the Dune book that are relevant. I thought Frank Herbert was a great writer, and I think that he said things in a very concise way that kind of leads into some points that Taoism is very concerned with. It may or may not be exactly what he did, in fact it may actually be something that is contrary to it but I have to say I thought the guy hit the nail on the head on a lot of points.

Fear is the Mind Killer

The Dune series is based 10,000 years into the future. In the world at that time there is a small segment of the population called The Bene Gesserit. “The Bene Gesserit are a powerful and ancient order of women whose objectives and actions formed a critical element in the evolution of humanity and many of the major plot developments.” These women have, shall we say, taken all the esoteric sciences to the highest level and are able to do the most spectacular things with their body chemistry such as literally changing it at will, and changing their biochemistry if they get somebody’s disease.

The Bene Gesserit are trained from a young age and part of their training is learning to tame and use the mind, which it can also be said is one of the purposes of meditation.

In the Dune series when fear appears the Bene Gesserit would repeat an incantation to help move there mind past the fear. The Litany goes as follows:

“I must not fear.

Fear is the mind-killer.

Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

I will face my fear.

I will permit it to pass over me and through me.

And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.

Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.

Only I will remain.”

Now this is a nice way to look fear in the face and to dissipate its effects when faced with a dangerous situation. It helps to focus the mind inward and to have courage. However, this incantation does not really get to the root of fear and how it arises…to get to that point you have to go much deeper.

Two Perspectives of Fear

When it comes to going beyond fear you can use two different methods. One is the method of hypnosis which is a lot of the self-help material these days and the other which is very different is the method of meditation.

The perspective of hypnosis, to a great degree, uses mind tricks for dealing with fear at a moment in time. Repeating ‘The Litany Against Fear’ in Dune induces a hypnotic state, so as to allow fear to wash over you. That lasts for a few seconds but it doesn’t necessarily get you beyond fear. It is useful in the moment, but the change is not everlasting, for that we must dig deeper.

From the perspective of Taoist meditation, to get beyond fear you have to go to a place where the mind simply has the ability to stay open allowing anything to flow through it. Anything occurring in your outer environment simply does not close down that space within your mind. Fear is an essential closing down of the space at the center of the mind, the soul, the spirit, whichever term you care to use.

It is impossible to go beyond fear permanently by just having this trick or that trick which can help you for a few minutes. It has to be something that’s going to essentially change your internal landscape so when fear attempts to grab hold of you, you reside in a place where it doesn’t.

Part of that will involve truly strengthening your kidneys because at a biological level, at least in terms of the way the Taoists and Traditional Chinese Medicine thinks, fear is essentially a bodily reaction that is rooted in your kidneys.

Once your Kidney’s are strong, then that fear trigger is not going to be activated as much and you can then go beyond that, to where the space of the mind, the openness of the mind, the flow of the mind, is able to maintain that which allows spontaneity.

Real Fear and Fake Fear

If fear arises it may be a Real Fear such as I’m going to walk over a cliff, then you just step back. Or if a car is moving toward you at a high speed you move out of the way. But that’s not really the kind of inner fear we are talking about—the kind that eats away at your insides. Real fear is nothing more than heightened awareness, that’s awareness of a real situation and the fear that arises then protects you.

It is important to recognize most fears do not to deal with real things. Most of the time people are afraid of things that will never happen to them. This is an effect of the mainstream media and news constantly bombarding the public negative images. This puts people in a weakened state of fear and decreases the immune system of the body. Often your mind will picks up these pictures and replays them, creating a story about them. This is not useful nor is it good for the body.

So to go beyond fear, one of the first steps is to recognize what fear truly is helpful for—that it makes you more aware, in real situations, in real time. Inside you fear is something that says, wait a minute, I think we have to do something sensible and prudent here, rather than running around like a chicken with your head cut off or getting paralysis and ducking under a chair and hoping that everything will pass over you one day.

Next to really go beyond fear you will need the courage to look at all the fears that are inside you. Fears arise from childhood experiences and from terrible things that have happened to you or that you witnessed.

When you find these fears you can use meditation to get to a place where you simply can move to the space of awareness rather than to a space which simply causes your awareness to contract into a tiny, little box that scares the living hell out you. As you move into this space of awareness and release what is not real you will find a place of peace inside. This is destination that can be achieved through Taoist mediation.

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Creating New Worlds: Frank Herbert’s Dune « synkroniciti
January 27, 2013 at 3:25 pm

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Philippe Piriou January 14, 2010 at 8:20 pm

Hi Bruce, I hope you and your family are fine. Great thanks for your books and other teaching material. It proves most useful to me. Actually, I found one of your books by luck one day at the library while waiting for one of my daughters to finish her maths tuition. Over the years, I tended not to look anymore at libraries because 99% of books of my interest, meaning related to China globally and Tai Ji Chuan or Chi Kung in particular and written in English, were not very good, to say the least. Cheers. Philippe

[Reply]

Derek January 14, 2010 at 11:09 pm

I’ve been an avid reader of Frank Herbert’s books since they were first published. I have read all the later Dune books written by his son Robert Herbert with Kevin Anderson. I wondered if there was anyone else out there in the Internal Arts communities who had made these connections with Taoism, Meditation and the Internal Arts. I was very pleased to see your blog. As you say there are in “immense number of quotes” that parallel Taoist thought and it makes one wonder about Frank Herbert and how he put all this together?

[Reply]

Nelson January 22, 2010 at 10:18 am

interesting that i just finished reading dune last night and saw a post about dune today.

derek, i also saw a number of connections with taoism and meditation. without spoiling the book, a passage that i found interesting:

“there is in each of us an ancient force that takes and an ancient force that gives. a man finds little difficulty facing that place within himself where the taking force dwells, but it’s almost impossible for him to see into the giving force without changing into something other than man. for a woman, the situation is reversed…these things are so ancient within us…that they’re ground into each separate cell of our bodies. we’re shaped by such forces. you can say to yourself, ‘yes, i see how such a thing may be.’ but when you look inward and confront the raw force of your own life unshielded, you see your peril. you see that this could overwhelm you. the greatest peril to the giver is the force that takes. the greatest peril to the taker is the force that gives. it’s as easy to be overwhelmed by giving as by taking.” the main character then says he’s at the “fulcrum” where he cannot give without taking and cannot take within giving.

a parallel between yin/yang, the balance between the two, and dissolving the ego perhaps?

[Reply]

richard January 24, 2010 at 10:53 am

bruce
great post. thx.

loved dune since I was in high school. it was one of the things that got me interested in MA training, dealing with and approaching fear.

another writer that puts lots of taoist stuff into her fiction is ursa K leGuinn.

I particularly enjoy her series, the wizard of earthsea.

thanks for doing these posts, and I hope maui is treating you well.
it’s cold here in phx…
:-)

[Reply]

bett l.martinez January 25, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Wow! very helpful. may I utilize, with credit of course, some of your thoughts in my presentation to Veterans?

Here’s something that may interest you:
http://www.moongadget.com/origins/dune.html
has lots of good stuff on Herbert, life and influences. Scroll way down & you’ll find a heading on
TAOISM
where you’ll find the comment:
Dune alludes to Taoism throughout. The very first line is “A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct.” Compare with this fragment of chapter 63 of the Tao-te-ching, Consider Beginnings, as translated by Ursula LeGuin:
Study the hard while it’s easy.
Do big things while they’re small.
The hardest jobs in the world start out easy,
the great affairs of the world start small.

So the wise soul,
by never dealing with great things,
gets great things done.

there’s more, but this should give you the general idea.
thanks for the handedness info as well. I agree.

bett

[Reply]

Stevie February 2, 2010 at 7:22 am

Great post Bruce… I can definetly relate to what you are saying!

[Reply]

Goran Smolčić February 19, 2011 at 12:11 pm

Actually the Dune novel was inspired by the Zen Buddhist thought and philosophy.
Let me quote wikipedia:
“Early in his newspaper career, Herbert was introduced to Zen by two Jungian psychologists.Throughout the Dune series and particularly in Dune, Herbert employs concepts and forms borrowed from Zen Buddhism. The Fremen are Zensunni adherents, and many of Herbert’s epigraphs are Zen-spirited. In “Dune Genesis” he wrote:

What especially pleases me is to see the interwoven themes, the fuguelike relationships of images that exactly replay the way Dune took shape. As in an Escher lithograph, I involved myself with recurrent themes that turn into paradox. The central paradox concerns the human vision of time. What about Paul’s gift of prescience-the Presbyterian fixation? For the Delphic Oracle to perform, it must tangle itself in a web of predestination. Yet predestination negates surprises and, in fact, sets up a mathematically enclosed universe whose limits are always inconsistent, always encountering the unprovable. It’s like a koan, a Zen mind breaker. It’s like the Cretan Epimenides saying, “All Cretans are liars.”

[Reply]

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