A very basic Buddhist teaching is that all sentient beings are constantly striving for happiness and freedom from suffering. This happiness can be defined in many ways such as a sense of peace, contentment, serenity, purpose and fulfillment. I also believe that for many people happiness would be described as a sense of security, reliability, predictability, and stability. As children we are certainly looking for these qualities. In fact, multiple studies have shown that children who grow up in situations lacking that loving and nurturing security often have deep psychological issues. I was fortunate to have two loving parents, although I never quite forgave them for getting rid of my blankey. I guess, at the age of 15, it was time. But that soft cuddly object gave me a tremendous sense of security.
As adults we never quite grow out of that need for security, reliability, predictability, and stability. We look for these qualities in our relationships, jobs, activities and identities. How often have we been deeply disappointed when something that we thought would last forever, doesn’t? But we continue to search on and on, hoping to find something that we can truly rely upon, something that can give us security in a very unpredictable, insecure world. Perhaps this is where religion comes in. For some a belief in God is very satisfying. It fulfills that need to find something larger than ourselves that is permanent and reliable. Something we can take refuge in.
So, what about us Buddhists? How can we fulfill our basic human desire for security, reliability, predictability, and stability in a world that is changing moment by moment, where everything is empty of inherent existence? I have studied emptiness for several years and believe I understand the basic principles at least conceptually. I have no arguments with the logic and reasoning behind the fact that nothing exists inherently, independently, or from its own side. Everything depends on causes and conditions, parts, and is merely conceived and designated in dependence upon those parts. Yet I still long for something that is secure and permanent. One part of me says everything is empty of inherent existence. While another part of me says “Yes, but I want something anyway.” Perhaps that is why all the lower tenet systems of Buddhism recognize dependent arising but still believed in inherent existence. Unlike the Prasangika’s, the lower tenet systems couldn’t make that final connection between dependent arising and emptiness.
We are taught to take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. Yet I say to myself that even the Buddha is no longer with us and the Sangha (Sravasti Abbey) is changing moment by moment and will not last forever. And what about the Dharma? There will be periods of time when the teachings will not be given. But what will never disappear are the principles, the basic rules of the universe. Principles of impermanence, dependent arising, emptiness, karma, and suffering due to ignorance. These principles are always present even if the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are not with us. Perhaps this is what I can hold on to for security. Truth, knowledge and wisdom can be my adult blankey. Keeping these principles in mind and living by them can provide me with something reliable and predictable in a world than is anything but reliable and predictable.
Ken Mondal is a retired Ophthalmologist who lives in Spokane, Washington. He received his education at Temple University and University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and residency training at University of California-San Francisco. He practiced in Ohio, Washington and Hawaii. Ken met the Dharma in 2011 and attends teachings and retreats on a regular basis at Sravasti Abbey. He also loves to do volunteer work in the Abbey's beautiful forest.