|A Path Beyond Suffering:
Working the Buddhist Method
by John Cunyus
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©2008 John G. Cunyus
All Rights Reserved
John Cunyus is a
working in North Texas.
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| Death on the Wheel of Existence
From A Path Beyond Suffering:
Working the Buddhist Method,
by John Cunyus)
A dear friend of mine died of cancer recently.
He was the kind of friend who stands by you
when times are tough. He always had a smile
on his face and brought a smile to mine. His
family reflects him, too.
I know how hard losing a loved one is. I’ve been
through it personally and been with others
through it probably about five hundred times
now, as a minister. I’ve seen sadness and loss.
Let’s examine my friend’s passing, in light of the
Wheel of Existence.
Why did my friend die? Was it something he
deserved? Was God punishing him for sin?
Was there a transcendent meaning to his
suffering? Was his suffering meaningless?
In the simplest terms, he died because he had
been born. Birth is 100% fatal, given enough
time. This is the fundamental reason for his
He was born because his parents existed. They
continued existing because they were attached
to various things in their life: among them, their
own lives, each other (at least long enough to
give birth to my friend), family, and friends.
They desired the things they were attached to.
They found meaning in them. The things they
enjoyed sustained them through good times and
bad. It is well to desire such things.
They felt desire because they felt sensations.
They preferred good sensations to indifferent or
painful ones. Again, that is no surprise. We all
prefer something that feels good, rather than
something that feels bad.
They felt sensations because they had contact
with different things. They had contact through
their senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, smell,
Those senses existed because there was a
world outside of them. They knew the world
outside them because they were conscious.
They were conscious of the outside world
because it changed constantly. Where there is
no change, there is no need for consciousness.
It changed constantly because there is
uncertainty at its core.
Why such uncertainty exists, no one knows.
When this whole process began, we can only
guess, not having been there ourselves.
The point of all this is that the reason my friend
died was because he had been born. The only
way to avoid death is to avoid birth.
None of us had a choice when it came to being
born. I don’t remember asking for it, do you?
Neither do we have a choice when it comes to
Gautama believed he had lived countless lives
in the past. According to the Buddhist
scriptures, he could remember each of those
lives clearly. He spoke about them in his
teaching as casually as we would speak about
our own memories of past events.
For Gautama, life as we normally live it had no
redeeming characteristics. He had been born,
lived, suffered, and died too many times to
harbor hopes about anything in the physical
world outside him.
Nirvana, total extinction, was his purpose. I
understand and respect that, of course. I know
my children are the dance of skandhas. They
are as frail and fallible as me, yet I love them. I
know full well what will happen to them, in the
They will die, as will I. We won’t die because we’
ve done anything in particular wrong or because
we deserve it in a moral sense. We will die
because we were born.
In the interim, while there is life, I will love and
enjoy them as well as I am able. I will remind
myself of what they (and I) are: flesh and blood,
carne y hueso. I’ll remind myself we are not
We and everything about us will come to an
end, sometime in the not too distant future. Yet
while I have life, I will love them. I will not
abandon them until I must.
Gautama’s method helps me keep my balance.
It allows me to understand suffering in a non-
personal way. His method allows me see clearly
what’s at stake in this world and what isn’t.
Some of what’s at stake is worth suffering for. I
choose to suffer for some things. The method
reminds me it is a choice.
Other suffering comes as a matter of course. It
So be it.
©2008, John G. Cunyus,
All Rights Reserved