Written by Cab Van Elk
How do you define courage? To me, it seems that courage is actually a silent force, yet one of the most potent in existence.
On the cover of certain versions of this book, you might find the subscript, “Insights for a New Way of Living.” Yet, dear reader, I am convinced that this is one of the oldest secrets to survival that humanity knows.
How do we even begin to define courage? Courage comes down to facing up to a challenge despite the odds. For some, “the challenge” is ruling a country or wrestling a crocodile; for others, it’s simply finding where their next meal will come from.
As Osho puts it, courage is “not the absence of fear,” but rather the “total presence of fear, with the courage to face it.”
Back in 1933, amid the haunting specter of the Great Depression, America stood on the precipice of despair, and you could cut the sense of fear out of the atmosphere with a knife.
The land of boundless opportunity had transformed into a realm of shattered dreams and desolation for many after the Roaring Twenties. Families huddled together, clutching their hopes against the relentless tides of poverty and uncertainty. Certain creative minds of the time could attest to the strife and the dust-caked grief of their day. Many turned their ideas into now-iconic pieces of art, such as John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes Of Wrath” or Woody Guthrie’s anthemic song “This Land Is Your Land,” as a direct result of the creative courage of standing up to this strife and embracing the challenge through creative expression.
But perhaps one of the most iconic treatises on fear from this era comes from the 32nd American President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was in the process of developing his New Deal plans to bring the country back on the road to economic recovery. His often-under-quoted inaugural speech actually went like this:
“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
Two years prior to this, just over 12,000 kilometers away in a small village in Madhya Pradesh, India, a sage child by the name of Chandra Mohan Jain was born on December 11. From a very early age, he displayed an interest in spirituality and meditation and often questioned traditional religious beliefs and practices. Any clinical psychologist who would analyze this child today would most likely find, thanks to the intervention of some medical scans, that this child, who later adopted the moniker of Osho, most likely possessed a very well-functioning amygdala.
Within the miraculously intricate folds of the grey matter situated in your skull, dear reader, sits an “almond of joy, fear, and rage.” The amygdala plays a crucial role in processing and regulating various emotional and memory-related functions, as well as assisting in forming emotional connections with others on a deeper level. It is the encephalic center in a human where one could say courage is formed on a chemical level.
It is rather serendipitous (or perhaps even coincidental), dear reader, that the amygdala happens to take the shape of an almond. These delectable drupes can be found in symbolism across the world, all of which reflect on divine connections. One great example can be found in the Book of Numbers (also known as Bamidbar) in the Hebrew Bible. More specifically, it is found in Numbers 17:8.
This story is part of the account of how Aaron’s authority as a priest was established through a miraculous sign involving the blossoming of his staff. Aaron was the older brother of Moses and played a vital role in the leadership and religious life of the Israelites.
Here’s the passage from the Book of Numbers (17:8, NIV translation):
“The next day Moses entered the tent and saw that Aaron’s staff, which represented the tribe of Levi, had not only sprouted but had budded, blossomed, and produced almonds.”
This extraordinary sign symbolizes divine confirmation of Aaron’s leadership and priestly authority. The almond tree is known for being one of the first trees to blossom in the spring, and its rapid blooming and fruiting were seen here as a sign of God’s favor and selection.
The almond-shaped amygdala is closely linked to the process of fear conditioning, as it has developed essential survival mechanisms closely related to finding personal benefits in the learnings from our negative experiences. It possesses certain qualities associated with emotional intelligence, empathy, and the ability to connect with others on a deep emotional level.
Gurus often emphasize qualities such as compassion, understanding, and wisdom in their teachings, which might involve a high degree of emotional intelligence. As Osho teaches us in this enlightening book, part of embracing the challenge and possessing courage starts with simply being able to fully understand the challenge to begin with because misunderstanding can lead to great misfortunes.
As Osho says in this book, “Courage is a love affair with the unknown.”
Whether this is a physical unknown, such as the depths of outer space and foreign heavenly bodies in our solar system, or the metaphorical depths of the mind and soul, back in 1967, it seemed that both would seed into a significant fruition that would shape the modern world for many. By this time, Osho had been in India for nearly a decade, teaching philosophy at a university in Jabalpur. It was here that he first met Ma Anand Sheela, upon whom he would later bestow the name “Prem,” which is Sanskrit for love. Love and courage often go together, which is why during this same period, the seeds for another historic institution would develop – that of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), founded in 1969.
Some decades later, both the relationship between Osho and Ma Sheela’s intentions for the controversial mission in Rajneeshpuram in Oregon, as well as the much more recent and victorious Chandrayaan-3, would both visit the dark side of the moon – so to speak, becoming not only the perfect paradox on the idea of the aforementioned lunar metaphor but also joining in relevance in one of Osho’s more poignant quotes from the book we are talking about here today.
The quote from Osho in “Courage” goes: “Listen to your being. It is continuously giving you hints; it is a still, small voice. It does not shout at you, that is true. And if you are a little silent, you will start feeling your way. Be the person you are.”
Individuality is key to courage, as Osho shows us in this book. That’s why he managed to develop distance from many of the controversies caused by those around him while managing to get his message across, something any creative mind strives for, especially those who rely on the art of storytelling.
While a remarkable achievement, Chandrayaan-3 is just another in a long line of remarkable achievements born from India, powered by the vital essence of courage to tell your story. And, as any filmmaker can tell you, dear reader, getting your story told on film is no mean feat. In fact, it takes a lot of courage and vision to be able to choreograph such a large team of individuals to form a single coherent workforce, not unlike trying to govern a small country.
Which is why it is no surprise that back in 1998, while the finishing touches were being put into Osho’s posthumous book “Courage,” another creative mind stood up and faced all the challenges that brought him and his massive crew to be able to complete a masterful retelling of the life of Queen Elizabeth I on the silver screen. Shekhar Kapur’s film “Elizabeth” achieved several Academy Award nominations, partially thanks to the stellar work portrayed by the courageous and enigmatic actress Cate Blanchett.
The life of Elizabeth Tudor, also known as Queen Elizabeth I of England, reminds us of the lessons learned in Osho’s book “Courage: The Joy of Living Dangerously” in several ways.
Queen Elizabeth I faced numerous challenges and uncertainties during her reign. She ascended to the throne in a time of political turmoil and religious conflict. Despite these uncertainties, Elizabeth displayed remarkable courage by making strategic decisions to stabilize her kingdom. Her ability to embrace the unknown and navigate through complex situations reflects the lesson from Osho’s book about facing life’s challenges with courage rather than succumbing to fear.
She defied societal norms and expectations of her time by remaining unmarried and retaining her independence as a monarch. She rejected pressures to marry for political alliances and demonstrated a willingness to break free from traditional conditioning. Similarly, Osho’s teachings encourage individuals to break free from societal conditioning and live authentically, making their own choices rather than conforming to external expectations.
Her reign was marked by her ability to focus on the present moment and make decisions that were in the best interest of her people. She understood the importance of staying mindful of the current circumstances and adapting to changing situations. Osho’s emphasis on living in the present moment resonates with Elizabeth’s approach to governance as she navigated through the challenges of her era with strategic decisions.
Throughout her years in power, she faced various threats to her life and her kingdom, including assassination plots and external invasions. Despite these dangers, she maintained a strong and resolute demeanor, showing resilience in the face of fear. Osho’s teachings encourage individuals to transform fear into an opportunity for growth, and Queen Elizabeth’s ability to confront and overcome her fears aligns with this principle.
As Osho tells us in this book, “A certain darkness is needed to see the stars.” That’s why it seems that our greatest challenges quite often become our most beloved endeavors, almost by default. If it were not for the misfortunes that had befallen the decade before, who knows whether Osho would have returned to India as he did in 1986, settling in Pune. Some of the discourses and meditation sessions that he taught during this period are still among his most popular today.
Which goes to show that the sometimes-misunderstood maxim, “Fortune favors the brave,” can be applicable on many levels, just like the valuable lessons from this book. And when one thinks of the concept of bravery, there are perhaps a handful of varied archetypes that could jump to mind. One of them would be the classic Herculean cut of a figure such as the Norse god of thunder – Thor.
“Bravery” as a concept for the conduit of courage can be fickle and highly subjective; however, in “Courage: The Joy of Living Dangerously,” Osho tells us: “Drop the idea of becoming someone because you are already a masterpiece. You cannot be improved. You have only to come to it, to know it, to realize it.” He also notes here: “Life is not suffering; life is a challenge. It is a great journey, and the greatest journey is from the head to the heart.”
This might run parallel or in clear contrast to what actors do for a living, for they are to become masters at creating a persona that travels from the “heart” to the “head,” so to speak. In psychology, it is posited that we are in a perpetual state of wearing masks for one another and for different versions of our own being, even making us all “actors” in some way. Which is why we might speak of someone as “acting brave” in a situation.
Ironically, one of the bravest tales we find of Thor in Nordic mythology is one in which he dons the draperies of a woman and pretends to be someone else completely. In this tale, it is the giant Thrym who plays the villain, and he is after the covetous joy of having the goddess Freyja as his bride. This is what drives the giant to steal the god of thunder’s beloved armament, Mjölnir, in an attempt to “blackmail” an exchange with Thor for the hand of the goddess. This is when Loki suggests that Thor disguise himself as Freyja and accompany him to Thrym’s court. Thor reluctantly agrees and dresses in bridal attire. At the court, his ravenous appetite and fierce demeanor puzzle the giants, but Loki cleverly explains it away. When the moment is right, Thor reclaims his hammer and defeats Thrym and his allies.
While not devoid of hubris, this tale inspires some notions of fearlessness (and humor) of which Osho would most certainly approve. It certainly requires some level of critical thinking, much like many of Osho’s controversial yet insightful teachings. But just like Thor’s magical gloves known as Járngreipr (meaning “iron grippers”) give him the strength to be able to wield his mighty hammer Mjölnir, a certain computer mogul and self-confessed “hippie” known as Steve Jobs gave his company and its subsequent generations the transformational strength to create technical marvels that align with our modern needs.
Just like Thor, Steve Jobs never feared his own potential for creativity. Thor faces formidable adversaries and dangerous situations, but he confronts them head-on without succumbing to fear – much like Jobs did when he was fired from his own company. Their unwavering resolve and readiness to confront their fears illustrate the lesson from Osho’s book about transforming fear into an opportunity for growth. Both Steve Jobs and Thor’s willingness to face challenges with courage and determination can inspire us all to do the same.
It most certainly inspired the Thespian cousin of Cate Blanchett, one Ashton Kutcher, to do the same in his role of portraying the hippie tech master in the 2013 film “Jobs.” Within the life of this enigmatic historical figure, we find elements of Osho’s teachings for one very good reason – Steve Jobs was a great lover of Osho’s discourses and would most certainly have enjoyed and drawn inspiration from today’s discussed book, “Courage.”
Steve Jobs was an innovative thinker who had a strong vision for Apple, and he was courageous enough to commit to his journey of pushing the boundaries of technology and challenging corporate conventions. He embraced creativity by revolutionizing industries like personal computing, music distribution, and mobile technology. Osho’s teachings emphasize the importance of embracing the unknown and taking risks. Steve Jobs embodied this by venturing into uncharted territories and encouraging his teams to think differently, even when faced with uncertainty.
Jobs was also known for his focus and intensity. He was deeply committed to his projects and often displayed an unwavering attention to detail. Osho’s emphasis on mindfulness and living in the present moment resonates with Jobs’ ability to immerse himself fully in his work, channeling his energy and attention into each endeavor.
There can be no doubt that the level of commitment and focus displayed by characters both real or mythical – whether it be Thor demonstrating a commitment to his duty and the well-being of his realm or Steve Jobs relinquishing his life’s achievement in order to pursue the diligence of his own convictions – that there are aligning ideals with Osho’s most powerful aspect of courage yet – also discussed in this book:
The fact that courage can also take the form of being able to say “goodbye.”
If viewed through this lens, it might seem almost cynical of an ancient nation to come to the conclusions that, because they have had to tragically say “goodbye” to loved ones because they wandered too close to the Nile river and got consumed by a crocodile, that that very creature should gain reverence for its symbolic strength and protection. Yet the ancient Egyptian god Sobek was precisely this, dear reader.
And the Egyptians were not alone in their consideration, as we find that in many strong, ancient civilizations from the frost-tinged Nordic tales to the Chinese and even the Native Americans, the belief was also held that the “alligator god” is a symbol of strength, protection, and bravery. The alligator’s powerful presence and ability to thrive in diverse environments parallel the themes of fearlessness and adaptability. Something ancient civilizations strove for as much as we do today, in order to survive.
In Australian Aboriginal mythology, for instance, we find the saltwater crocodile, which is often revered as a powerful and dangerous creature. It symbolizes both danger and respect for the natural world. The crocodile’s prowess in its environment reflects qualities of survival, adaptability, and the courage to thrive in challenging circumstances.
Yet, in “Courage,” Osho also reminds us: “Don’t be against fear. Don’t be afraid of fear. The fear is there. Tremble with it, tremble with it! Existentially it is very valuable.”
That’s because with fear comes respect. While one American “Steve” in our modern history was famously cast asunder as a pariah, yet managed to rise to the top again – there is another Australian “Steve” in our modern history who never seemed to be able to fail or show any sense of fear at all. Until the fateful day had to have the courage to accept his own fate and say “goodbye” to all of us.
One thing everyone can agree on is that Steve Irwin, the beloved “Crocodile Hunter,” had a deep love and respect for all creatures in nature. His passion for wildlife conservation and his ability to connect with animals showcased his willingness to live on the edge and embrace the unknown. Osho’s lessons in Courage emphasize embracing life’s uncertainties and approaching challenges with a fearless heart. Steve Irwin’s approach to wildlife conservation and education resonates with Osho’s teachings, as he fearlessly approached dangerous situations and educated the public about the natural world.
Many of us wish we could have a personal Steve Irwin to “wrestle the crocodiles” of our daily strife, but through reading a valuable book such as Osho’s “Courage: The Joy Of Living Dangerously,” we might just turn that oh-so-ephemeral force known as “Courage” into something concrete and tangible after all.
In the end, it seems that defining courage might be possible, if highly subjective – but that defining it is not the point. The point might be to allow it to flow through you, much like you allow every other sense of existence to do. To allow yourself access to it, unabridged by your own confinements of comprehension of how it might be currently transpiring within you. Because as Osho teaches us – courage comes in many forms.
I highly recommend taking the first “brave” step to getting a copy of this book in your hands and consuming its content, dear reader. There is a rich connection with courage that your ancestors have given you, that wishes you to do so.