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Does anyone know if there was some inspiration behind the 'Litany against Fear' in Dune? Perhaps some philosopher or ancient proverb?

If there is no primary inspiration, were there any fundamental influences?

The Litany against Fear (original Bene Gesserit version in Dune):

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.

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    "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" - FDR First Inaugural Address
    – Valorum
    Feb 22, 2016 at 20:10
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    I've always assumed it was inspired by the biblical verse Psalm 23:4, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."
    – Joe L.
    Feb 23, 2016 at 6:29
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    If you subtract Herbert's literary way of framing the concept, it leaves something that most people learn eventually. Facing a fear is the best way of overcoming it. May 17, 2016 at 22:19

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I believe that Herbert was inspired to a certain extent by Middle Eastern traditions and cultures (very probably romanticized). For example, there seems to be a clear reflection of a Western idea of the Bedouin in the Freemen. It is very likely that he was inspired by T.E. Lawrence and I would be surprised if he didn't know about Rumi.

Rumi Quote about fear:

Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking. Live in silence.

Speculation, but fair I think.

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  • Rumi quote does seem relevant. I will say though, the Litany is a Bene Gesserit thing, not Fremen. But I suppose with common roots in the Spice.
    – Joshua
    Oct 20, 2018 at 2:32
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    @Joshua, I did not say the litany was a Fremen thing. I was analyzing Herbert's sources of inspiration. Fremen are clearly inspired by Bedouins, and clearly by early 20th century romantic depictions of them (T.E. Lawrence). I used the Fremen as an example of his use of westernized versions of Middle Eastern sources. Rumi fits perfectly into that framework. Given that he clearly admired T.E. Lawrence, he probably also admired stories of the "whirling dervishes" and read Rumi as well. It is a very fair guess. Nothing in my answer claims the litany is not Bene Gesserit.
    – JBiggs
    Oct 20, 2018 at 5:03
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Frank Herbert was a former Catholic, and an adherent of Zen Buddhism.

This is the full text of the original Litany Against Fear, from Dune (1965):

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.

The Litany seems to conform to Buddhist, Hindu, Christian mystic and ancient Greek Stoic ideas of how to deal with strong life-directing emotions like fear and anger. Judging the fear or anger as bad things, is counter-productive, strengthening the emotion, by adding discontent with it's existence, and the frustration of self-judgement for supposed failure. One instead witnesses emotion dispassionately, as a natural phenomena like a passing cloud, and lets it pass without assent. One's 'true self' is the witness behind all emotion.

Training of the ability to witness without giving assent, is the object of vipassana meditation, also known as sakshi bhava. Mantras (repeated phrases) are more commonly associated with a different form of meditation, samatha, the complimentary meditation to vipassana, which instead focuses on training deep one-pointed concentration. The litany is an alambana, a supporting object of focus, intended to form a well-eroded mental channel, a samskara. Future repetition quickly returns one to focus, due to this past erosion.

Observe this part of the litany:

Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

Fear can ruin a person's life, or even an entire culture. Think of a human being, who is so afraid, that they restricted their entire life to living at home. They would be out of step with their own welfare, which is a compassionate consideration of their future well-being. It is essential to be able to take calculated risks or efforts like going outside, exercising, eating well, having relationships, raising children, or making decisions for your future welfare. They cannot however be forced, and must be enjoyed, or at least habituated.

Observe this part of the litany:

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.

In Buddhist and Hindu theory, the five senses (touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing), and also the verbal problem-solving mind (which constantly calculates past and future events) are not one's true self. The true self is the observer sitting behind these senses. It cannot be observed itself, because it is the observer; the very field in which all other sense impressions occur. However you know it is there, simply by your ability to perceive. This is 'consciousness', in modern scientific terminology. In ancient India, the word for this true self was 'atma'. In ancient Greece, within 'psyche' consisting of three parts, 'pneuma' had a similar meaning. The ancient Roman equivalent was 'anima'. This is the inner eye, and the 'I' that remains.

Orange Catholic bible: the 'Accumulated Book,' the religious text produced by the Commission of Ecumenical Translators. It contained elements of most ancient religions, including the Maometh Saari, Mahayana Christianity, Zensunni Catholicism and Buddhislamic traditions. It's supreme commandment is considered to be 'Thou shalt not disfigure the soul. -

'Terminology of the Imperium', Dune (1965)

Although people tend to notice Dune's obvious Middle Eastern influences, such as how the Fremen resemble Bedouin nomads, there is a more subtle layer of Western and Far Eastern philosophy present too. Complex literary works are not mere analogies, and it could be argued Dune contains more Zen motifs than Middle Eastern ones. This is reflected in how 'Zensunni', an amalgam of Christianity, Islam and Buddhism, is one of the main syncretic religions of Herbert's far future. All major human belief systems contributed to the 'Orange Catholic Bible', the main religious book of the time, such as 'Zensunni Catholicism', 'Mahayana Christianity' and 'Buddhislam'. Paul is given a small Orange Catholic Bible early in the events of Dune, and the Fremen are descendants of a Zensunni sect that migrated between star systems in the past.

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Job 11:15-17 KJV:

15 For then shalt thou lift up thy face without spot; yea, thou shalt be stedfast, and shalt not fear:

16 Because thou shalt forget thy misery, and remember it as waters that pass away:

17 And thine age shall be clearer than the noonday: thou shalt shine forth, thou shalt be as the morning.

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  • This part of Job 11 seems to be about the benefit of living free of sin; one will also be free of fear, misery, etc. It doesn't appear to be about facing one's fears.
    – DavidW
    Jul 11, 2023 at 13:11
  • @DavidW Remember that the Orange Bible is not our Bible. It is the form of the litany (small not fear, pass through like water, I shall shine forth), and all that is necessary is making "being fearful" a subset of sin - an ethic seen in the series. In this way the facing of sin becomes the facing of fears Jul 12, 2023 at 0:12
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I'm speculating here but this litany seems a lot like mindfulness, a form of meditation coming from Buddhism. It calls to be here in the moment and accept the fear, bear it and let it pass.

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