Castles Made of Sand

Building sand castles is an activity associated with summertime and the beach.  Most people think of it as a kid thing, but there are adults who engage in this pastime and sand castles can range from the very simple to the amazingly elaborate.

The term ‘sand castles’ can also refer to a notion or scheme that has little substance, or be a metaphor for the transitory nature of things.

kids at beachIn the Edward Conze edited anthology, Buddhist Texts through the Ages, published in 1954, Albert Waley translated this parable from the Yogacara Bhumi Sutra :

Some children were playing [on a beach].  They made castles of sand and each child defended his castle and said, “This one is mine .”  They kept their castles separate and would not allow any mistakes about which was whose.  When the castles were all finished, one child kicked over someone else’s and completely destroyed it.  The owner of the castle flew into a rage, pulled the other child’s hair, struck him with his fist and bawled out, “He has ruined my castle! Co and help me punish him as he deserves.  “me along all of us The others all came to his help.  They beat the child with a stick and then stamped on him as he lay on the ground. . .  Then they went on playing  in their sand-castles, each saying, “This is mine; no one else may have it. Keep away!  Don’t touch my castle!”

But evening came; it was getting dark and they all thought they ought to be going home.  No one cared what became of his castle.  One child stamped on his, another pushed his over with both his hands.  Then they turned away and went back, each to his home.

As Jimi Hendrix wrote, castles made of sand fall into the sea eventually . . . and so, everything we perceive is a castle of sand, impermanent, fleeting, transitory, and yet, even as we know this aspect of existence, we find it difficult to refrain from grasping, seizing, clinging . . . these tendencies are the causes of suffering; suffering is craving, produced by ignorance . . .

In the Samyutta-Nikaya III, the Buddha is reported to have said,

When boys or girls are playing with little sand castles, so long as they are not free from lust, desire, passion, feverish longing and craving for those little sand castles, just so long do they delight in them.  But . . . as soon as those boys and girls are free from lust, desire, passion, feverish longing and craving for those little sand castles, right away they scatter them, break them up, and cease to play with them.  In this way, you should scatter and demolish form, apply yourself to destroying attachments and cease clinging to objects of desire.”

All existence, said the Buddha, has the nature of impermanence, constant change . . . nothing is the same right now as it was a moment ago . . . understand this ‘truth’ is the first step toward understanding the true aspect of things, the way things really are . . . When we see reality as it truly is, then we are empowered to sever the binds of attachment and cease clinging . . .

And then, the wonderful Tibetan sand mandala . . .  The Sand Mandala is a tradition in Tibetan Buddhist tradition where mandalas are painstakingly made from millions of grains of colored sand . . . for hours on end, monks will bend over the mandala, placing one grain of sand after another, creating intricate symbolic patterns. It typically takes anywhere from 75 to 125 hours to create one of these mandalas . . . and when one is created, it is destroyed . . . swept up, handfuls of sand given away or thrown in a stream or river . . . gone . . . impermanent.




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