Dao Du Jour II, Day 44: The Sandcastle Sutra

Chapter 43: Water and Stone

“What’s softest in the world rushes and runs

over what’s hardest in the world.

The immaterial

enters

the impenetrable.

So I know the good in not doing.”

~ Tao Te Ching: A Book about the Way and the Power of the Way, trans. Ursula K. Leguin (Shambhala, Boulder: 2019)


Carl Jung—the Swiss psychoanalyst and disciple of Freud whose ideas are enjoying a resurgence of late—inspired a novel form of therapy: “sand play.” Jung speculated that playing in the sand freed up repressed emotions and fostered a kind of circulation between the different and often dissociated parts of the psyche.

This raised a question: what is so attractive about playing in the sand and, in particular, building sand castles? Answer: sandcastles reflect the incarnation, in Christian categories, and the polarity of yin and yang, in Daoist terms. They are the diamond hard distillation of what draws us to the beach.

Sand stands in the bardo between water and stone. Sand is like water shot with a tranquilizer. Slow, dumb, and dead, it moves and flows, but unmusically. Wet, though, sand gives water shape, and plays at being stone. Like the rock of a cliff face, a sandcastle can resist water, but only for a time.

Water stands in for life and spirit, stone for death and matter. Inland, in the adult world, we forget that all castles are made of sand. However impenetrable we try to make our fortresses—our houses, our bank accounts, our psyches, our stories, our ideologies, our religions, our polities—the immaterial always finds the hidden entrance. We forget, in other words, that all castles are made, that time is a circle, that the tides—or the storm—will come.

This is a powerful spiritual teaching. The sandcastle is a sutra. The term, which is attached to Buddhist scriptures—the heart sutra, the lotus sutra, and so on—is related to our terms “thread,” or “string,” and “suture.” No doubt this has to do with the physical binding of the texts. But it also connotes the message of healing, weaving, and mending the texts aim to foster. “Not doing” is building in a spirit of serious play.

The Kingdom of Heaven, as Jesus says, is “at hand,” and it is built of sandcastles.


New to the Dao Du Jour? Check out “Day 0.”