1. Don't willfully take life. What we
cannot create, we ought not destroy.
2. Pay attention to what you say.
Hurtful words, untrue words, words that
set the world on fire: we would be
better off saying nothing than saying
3. Sex is a wonderful thing, so treat it
with respect. Respect not only the act,
but those with whom you have it.
4. Don't take what isn't yours. In fact,
"Do unto others as you would have
them do unto you" is a pretty good
summary of ethics.
5. Pay attention to what you put into
your body. Some substances, some
attitudes, can send us ages out of our
way. Know when to say, "Thanks, but
no thanks," even to yourself.
(with thanks to Siddhartha Gautama)
©2008, John G Cunyus, All Rights Reserved
|Words, Images, and
©2008, John G. Cunyus
All Rights Reserved
John Cunyus is
working in North
Texas. His work may
be viewed online at
|Three Marks of Existence:
Lack of Self
According to Buddhist thought, existence has three
marks: impermanence, dissatisfaction, and egolessness.
This isn't a teaching that sits well with modern hearers.
Many of us react by condemning Buddha as negative.
Life should focus on positive truths, we believe. Yet the
teaching is what it is. Why do we react the way we do?
Deep down, in what we imagine to be our "heart of
hearts," we wish it weren't true. Many of us would rather
pretend life was something different. We partake in the
cult of optimism, hoping against hope that someday,
somehow, things will be better. However often those
hopes are dashed, we would rather keep on believing
than come to terms with an unpleasant reality. At least we
think of it as unpleasant.
Yet from a brutally honest perspective, Buddha's
teaching is right on the nose. Life is impermanent. The
only constant is change. Our jobs, our relationships, our
circumstances, our bodies themselves, all are in
perpetual change. Things in the natural world that seem
permanent aren't really. The earth lasts longer than we
do, yet even its forms pass a way over time. There is
nothing in life we can hold on to, a fact that seems bleak
and hopeless on the surface.
Dissatisfaction is also a way of life. We are seldom
content with things, at least not for long. When we do
arrive at a place of contentment, we find it slipping out of
our grasp before we even have an opportunity to enjoy it.
No matter how much we buy, have, or make, there is
always a gnawing unease beneath it. This unease makes
the world go around in a sense. Only dissatisfied people
keep pushing on to find a better way. Even so, the reality
Egolessness, the Buddhist idea that there is no self,
strikes us as the least likely conclusion of the three. After
all, most of us have a strong sense of self. We know who
we are. We live in a culture that celebrates, even
worships, individuality. How can someone say there is no
self, no ego?
Buddha tells us that the ego is just an idea. In fact, it is a
collection of ideas, memories, emotions, sounds, and
sights, all clustered around our physical existence. When
we dissect any one of those ideas, memories, and
emotions, though, we find the thread unraveling. Am I the
45 year old man now alive or the 17 year old youth of
memory? Is "John," my name, anything more than a
particular sound associated with particular memories?
One ancient meditation technique strikes at the heart of
this sense of ego, so much so that it often comes with a
warning label from meditation teachers: Don't try this
exercise unless you are prepared for where it might lead.
The exercise is simple. Ask yourself the question, "Who
am I?" Then, negate every answer.
I might answer, "I am John Cunyus." In response, my
mind would point out that "John Cunyus" is just a sound.
Well then, am I this physical person? This so-called
physical person is an ongoing biological event that will
one day end. Am I the thought-process behind it? Well,
that thought-process too will end. And onward it goes.
Buddha insists there is nothing in reality corresponding
to our notion of self. The notion of self is itself
impermanent. This impermanence is the source of much
of our dissatisfaction.
What possible benefit comes from reflecting on these
three, unpleasant-seeming marks of existence? If we are
content with life, then perhaps none. If we're not, though,
then the three marks start us toward a deeper
At some point, mental health comes from being able to
see life as it is, without fooling ourselves. Genuine life is
found when we know our actual condition, not when we
convince ourselves things aren't as they seem. We don't
grow in life by running away from our situation as it is, but
by changing our relationship with our real situation.
How does this happen? In Buddhism, it starts by
understanding the role desire plays in the suffering that
so often fills our days. We desire a world that doesn't
change, at least when we are content. The fact that we
don't live in such a world causes us to suffer. We desire
a life that isn't full of dissatisfaction, at least on a material
level. The fact that life isn't that way causes us to suffer.
We desire a state where our sense of self is permanent,
assured, unchanging. The fact that this never happens
causes us to suffer.
Is it easier to change the outer reality of life or to gain
control of the desire to have what we cannot have?
Making life permanent, removing its dissatisfaction, even
establishing an immovable sense of self, these things are
beyond our ability. Yet if we understand this, clearly, we
can change our attitude toward it.
Buddha challenges us to come to terms with our own
desires. Wanting life to be something other than
impermanent won't make it so. How will we relate to the
impermanence around us?
It's easy to misunderstand the Buddhist answer to that
question. For instance, I love my children more than life
itself and want only blessing for them. Reality, however,
is that they will suffer in life, regardless of my desire.
Someday I will either lose them or they will lose me.
Would I be better off not having children, then, since I
know that pain is unavoidable?
No, I wouldn't. I have to learn, though, how to love without
blinders. I have to learn to love them as they are, not as I
wish they were. I have to learn to love without being
attached to outcomes I can't control. Is it enough for me
to love them fully in the present moment, doing the best I
know how to do with and for them, fully understanding
that sometimes things will go well and sometimes they
won't? Can I love and then leave the outcome alone,
since I can't control it? Or must I worry obsessively about
matters beyond my control, even after having done my
In this sense, the answer seems obvious. Wisdom points
us back to this present moment as the only possible time
to love our families, do meaningful work, and build
meaningful relationships. And accepting life as it is, not
as we wish it would be, makes building meaningful lives in
the present moment more of a possibility, not less.
Life is impermanent. As we commonly live it, it is
dissatisfying. Nothing in life corresponds to our
customary idea of self. Coming to terms with this certainly
undercuts one of society's primary ways of
understanding. Yet it also frees us to love without
illusions, to work without getting hung up on outcomes, to
be fully and freely alive in the here and now.
Is it a brutal truth? Only experience can say.
(with thanks to Siddhartha Gautama)
©2008, John G Cunyus, All Rights Reserved
*Buddhism in Espanol
*Clown Wig, The
*Disciples of Christ: Past and Future
*Doug Skinner Profile
*Flames of Faith: A Thumbnail Guide to World
*Five Things I Believe
*Flames of Faith Press Release
*Handbook for Christian Healing
*Introduction to A Handbook for Christian Healing
*Handmade Christians in a Cookie Cutter World
*How To Meditate
*How To Prepare and Preach a Sermon
*Steve Digby Profile
*Om Namah Shivaya
**Someone Else to Meet in Heaven
(A Story by Norman Stolpe)
*Teaching Our Children to Pray
*Three Marks of Existence
Weekly Bible Study