There are two expressions of the central message of Buddhism. Call them ‘liberal’ and ‘radical’. The liberal view is that life is full of unexpected twists and turns, so we shouldn’t become too attached to our good fortune, and (more important?) shouldn’t despair over our misfortune. The radical view is that all values, all judgments (good and evil), indeed all preferences are creations of our own minds and therefore ephemeral.
The liberal view is hardly unique to Buddhism; it echoes old-fashioned wisdom that arises and gains its power from life experience. The radical view is pregnant with paradox. After all, if values are arbitrary, why should I meditate this morning, rather than eat sausage or rob a bank? When the mantle of authority is lifted not just from my preferences but also my most deeply-held values, where, then is the motivation to pursue spiritual practices, or to avoid harming others, or to regulate my activities in any way? But, if I cease to regulate my activities, won’t I then become dissolute and miserable, mired in exactly the desperate illusion that Buddhism seeks to dispel? Does Buddhism offer me no guidance whatever to inform the choices I must make? How can this be the rock of my belief system if it offers no support for my choice of life in preference to death?
These questions have no resolution within the framework of human thought. Contemplation of their essential paradox leads out of language and thought, toward another relationship with self.