In our current issue, Andrew Olendzki writes a piece titled, Castles Made of Sand, in which he discusses a conversation that took place between the Buddha and an elder monk named Radha in the Samyutta Nikaya.

Interestingly, the conversation is about sand castles, showing that over 2,500 years that creating sand castles was just as much a beloved pastime of children as it is today. In the conversation between the Buddha and Radha, the Buddha points out that the meaning and value placed upon sand castles is temporary and is rooted in nothing beyond the mind of whoever perceives it. Olendzki continues on to explain that this teaching in fact relates to much more than just sand castles—it applies to everything: meaning is created, not discovered.

I never thought of this piece as controversial in any way, so was surprised when gave rise to a somewhat charged debate.

One community member challenges the piece, writing:

How strange.. “meaning is something created rather than discovered.”

In FACT, the world is nothing BUT meaning made manifest.. every mineral, plant, bird species, is nothing other than meaning. And mind itself is wholly built on that meaningful pattern. The relative world is non other than a display of those basic building blocks of meaning. What are those meanings? Well, talking about those inherent meaning-patterns is moot, since in this discussion, they are arbitrary and self-invented, instead of inherent and actual.

Another person challenges the piece, asking:

Would you say that Bodhi and Nirvana are not real? Would you say that compassion and loving kindness are devoid of meaning and value? Would you say that the truth of suffering is not true? Does that mean that the four noble truths are no longer true? If all meanings and values (e.g. Buddhism) are (as you say) empty and subject to change, then there is no truth and that is a very empty doctrine: Truth, Meaning, Reality and Value all become empty and meaningless.

But perhaps you are right. Perhaps the only truth is that there is No truth and the only reality is that there is No reality. This is a form of nihilism. What would the Buddha make of such a view? Perhaps his answer is here in the Āmagandha Sutta: ”… in this world those individuals who are of nihilistic views, [which are] crooked and difficult to follow, this is stench… “

To which a man replies,

Bodhi and nirvana are real insofar as they connect to the reality of daily life. By themselves they are just words, like those on billboards. They may conjure certain notions and theories, but they have much more value when put into practice in real life, don’t you think?

Which is met with,

To deny meaning is delusional. Face facts, this discussion (exchange of ideas) would not be possible without words.

The man responds,

No denial of meanings intended. Simply placing those meanings where they can create the most value, as in this discussion among people.

I find conversations like this to be quite interesting. So much in the dharma is beyond words, and Buddhist discourse can so often run right up to the edge of what language can accommodate.

Any thoughts?

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