The Theosophical Society in America


By Betty Bland

Originally printed in the MAY-JUNE 2005 issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation: Bland, Betty. "Sandcastles." Quest  93.3 (MAY-JUNE 2005):84-85

Betty BlandTHE SEASHORE IS A MEETING GROUND FOR LAND and sky, sea and sand, water and air, leisure and learning. Children and adults can while away many hours building among the lapping waves and warm sands on the shore. In the early years, a child or two might begin very awkwardly by filling up a bucket, packing the sand tightly, and then inverting it on the selected spot to create a magical flat-topped volcano. The children and the volcano both stand proudly above the surrounding sand.

As children develop over weeks, months, and years, their creations become more complex. The shape of the upturned pail spurs the imagination, and the beach becomes a building site for mountains, castles, roads, and tunnels. Sometimes, the children add interesting shells, toy cars, and actions figures to enhance a growing fortress.

The children build and build—their structures grow and grow—until a stray animal or person comes running through, knocking things helter-skelter. Or a wave of the incoming tide overreaches the water¹s former bounds and melts their masterpiece.

At first, the children are disturbed that anyone or anything might tamper with their work of art, but soon they come to terms with its impermanence. In fact, as part of the learning process, or perhaps as an expression of frustration at a fickle universe, the children might begin building fantastic creations‹and tear them down before the waves can get them.

The children grow through their frustration, through their creativity, and through the rebuilding process. Over time, it matters less when a wave washes the work away; the children know they can rebuild. Gradually, they become better sandcastle builders. They incorporate their growing skills until the sandcastles always exist in potential—just waiting for the right sunny day at the beach.

In our daily lives, we are constantly invited to learn new skills. As the skills develop, we create products—a painting, a paper, decorated house, a bit of software. Each product becomes a source of pride. We may begin falteringly, but after we invest a project with our time, energy, creativity, and commitment, we slip easily into feelings of ownership. We become attached to the permanency of the thing we¹ve made.

As the Buddha said, clinging to permanency in this impermanent world causes a great deal of pain. I experienced some of this kind of pain when I worked with mainframe computers as a supervising systems analyst in state government. Sometimes we would spend weeks, or even months, on a particular project and just when we felt it was coming together, the entire definition of the project would change. Funding would be diverted, politics would change, or the state would reassess its needs.

Whatever the reason for the sudden change, the fact remained that a huge wave had washed over our machinations, and we felt crushed. There were many things we could still be thankful for. We still had our paychecks, our families, our health. But at the moment, those things didn¹t count. We team members were caught up in an attachment to our investment. At times like these, it was helpful to take a step back from those attachments and look at the bigger picture. Our project was much like a sandcastle at the beach. It changed, as everything will change.

The tighter we hold on to things, the more easily they seem to crumble. And yet each time we build, we gain wisdom about the process. We gain powers of concentration and greater delivery skills. We gain inner resources and strengths. Those, we can keep. And through them, we develop the ability to build better sandcastles.

If we apply ourselves to kindness and service, they too become a part of our inner reserve. This can be what Jesus meant when he said, ". . . store up treasure in heaven, where neither moth nor rust will destroy nor thieves break in and steal." The great treasures we are storing are tendencies and qualities of being, built by the ordinary days of our lives, well lived.

Hindu philosophy calls these bundles of characteristics the skandas those tendencies which are carried over from lifetime to lifetime and are very much a part of the mechanism through which karmic predicaments are met. The skandas become treasures as they are gradually transformed through our efforts to live conscientiously.

The waves of time do not destroy the beauty of skill in action, single-minded commitment to the betterment of humanity, and a loving heart. These continue as lasting treasures—the sandcastles stored within our inner beings.