Our Basic Insecurity
by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche

In many countries and on many occasions Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche has taught about shamatha or "calm abiding" meditation as a means to stabilise and focus our minds. Here is an excerpt from the shamatha teaching he gave in Sydney, Australia.

To begin with we must find the reason why we're doing shamatha meditation. Basically, we're doing it so that we can gain a certain control over ourselves. This means that we have no control over ourselves right now. And out of the many different problems that we face, I think one of the fundamental anxieties or sufferings that we experience is that there's a basic insecurity within us. And that insecurity is what we need to destroy or at least understand.

The basic insecurity that we have is about our identity. And more specifically than that, we have this insecurity about whether there's such a thing as "I" or "the self". Now we may not ask this question normally, but we do pose this question unconsciously or semi-consciously all the time. The Buddhist reason for having such insecurity within us is that if we go on checking our life, especially our day-to-day life, we'll realise that there's doubt about our existence. For instance, we introduce ourselves to someone by saying "I'm so and so". We may print our names on cards or we may try to achieve a certain promotion or a certain title. And more subtly than that we experience all sorts of extreme emotions like passion and aggression. All these are actually more than a person becoming passionate or angry at someone else. The cause of all this aggression and passion is the need to convince ourselves that the self exists, that I do exist.

But still it doesn't help. Still we're constantly insecure. So out of this insecurity we create lots of false hope and expectations. And millions of expectations aren't really fulfilled. Indeed, we often also experience what we don't expect. In fact, what we don't expect seems to happen all the time. And when this keeps on repeating itself, then people begin to lose respect for themselves, begin to lose respect for the environment, and there's no trust. So that's why, for many of us, having a sacred outlook towards someone or something is so difficult to achieve. There's no sacred outlook towards ourselves. There's no certainty. Let's not even talk about a sacred outlook as being something to do with religion, like God or pure soul or anything like that. We're not even sure of our own existence. We're always in doubt. Even though, of course, we do pretend a lot of the time that we exist.

But somehow we're quite intelligent. We know that we're pretending and we want to cover that up. We don't want to admit to ourselves that we're pretending. And to cover it up we do extreme things like maybe have an affair or yell at someone. And when you go through that kind of extreme emotion, it gives you a certain satisfaction that you do exist. And you live your life with this sort of shallow satisfaction all the time. But it doesn't actually give you stable confidence in yourself.

And then we begin to lose our appreciation of life... I think we should develop a certain appreciation of our life. When I talk about appreciation of life, it includes everything. For example, as I eat this biscuit and it goes down my throat, I should actually feel, "Wow! Incredible! It's so good that I can actually eat a little bit of biscuit. That's amazing!" You see, it may never happen. For example, while I'm chewing this biscuit, while it's melting in my mouth, suddenly this roof may collapse and I may die. This biscuit may never go down my throat! It's so important to develop this appreciation of our life. And shamatha meditation is one key, a very special key, to developing this appreciation.

So we have two goals now. Through the meditation we build a certain confidence, in other words, eliminate that basic insecurity that we have, and we learn how to appreciate our moment-by-moment life. This isn't really Buddhism, it's a very human thing to do. You can't say that this is a religion. In fact, many shamatha meditation masters often say that the aim of shamatha meditation isn't necessarily to gain enlightenment in the sense of getting rid of all sorts of emotions and reaching the stage where you completely abandon all sorts of dualistic phenomena. The aim of shamatha meditation has nothing to do with that. The aim of it, as I was saying earlier, is to gain control over ourselves. And by gaining that control, we gain a certain confidence and appreciate our life moment by moment, day by day.