27 Dec A Dangerous Game

What a strange title for a blog post, I hear you say. Well, I don’t actually hear you say, as I am not able to hear the thoughts or words of those who read my words. Nonetheless, the sentiment stands. What am I going to talk about? What is this dangerous game of which I speak?

Actually, there’s a lot in that little phrase, a lot to be explored and pondered upon, and a lot of material to delve into. However, let me begin by suggesting that the most dangerous game of all is life itself. Viewed from the traditional vantage point of the ancient sages of India, from various philosophical standpoints, life is indeed a game we all play, and unfortunately become stuck in, not realizing we are playing! It all becomes incredibly serious and overly sincere, rather than being the joyous endeavour it has the potential to be. All the trials and tribulations of life are known as samsara in Buddhist tradition, as Prakrti in the Samkhya tradition (which classical yoga was founded upon), and various other terms in various other teachings. Essentially, all these terms point us toward the apparent truth that none of it is ultimately lasting or worthwhile hanging ourselves upon, as it is all in constant flux.

In terms of our experience, we feel pleasure, we feel pain, we feel pleasure again, which turns to pain, and so on. We are enjoying our life, we stop enjoying it, we enjoy, we dislike, and so on. We are in love, we fall out of love. We have plenty of money, we don’t have enough. Up and down, up and down, up and down.

The yogi, or any sincere practitioner within any system aimed at unveiling reality, seeks to see the game for what it is, and looks to stop the cycle, become free from it. How that occurs is subject to a great deal of debate and varying views, but the consensus by all the practicing traditions of the world is that something actually has to be done; we can’t just sit on our hands and hope for the best. One very important point here is that we do not throw the game off the table and walk away. We do not renounce the world and dissolve ourselves into nothingness, as is sometimes misunderstood in certain modern takes on the ancient philosophies surrounding yoga and meditation. Instead we finally see, viscerally experience, that this world is an ephemeral game, or dream, and the moment we see that (also known as awakening or enlightenment), we can play with joy and love and laughter, and become very good indeed at winning. However, we no longer care about winning or losing!

Life is only a dangerous game when we become convinced that it is the only reality; that all our trials and tribulations is all there is, that we live in a dead universe, and that there is nothing out there to see or feel other than getting more pleasure and escaping discomfort and pain. This conviction takes us into very murky and dark waters, a morass of tension and anxiety and depression waiting to take us over.

Reginald Ray, a truly wonderful teacher within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, once stated that we only really embark on a spiritual path fully when we realise we are never going to be happy! At first glance, this sounds like a pretty pessimistic view of the world, but if we really examine this statement, the opposite is true. We realise we are never going to be happy IF we spend all our time trying to get more comfortable, feeling more pleasure, and if we stake all our happiness on whatever happens to us in our daily life. A spiritual quest, if you will, is sparked off on the realisation that there is something deeper and far more mysterious at the heart of ourselves and world, something far more satisfying than mere pleasure can offer, so we begin to take steps to look for that.

To summarise all of that sound and fury (hopefully not signifying nothing), life is the ultimate game, and the moment we finally see that reality as truth, we really begin to live.

By Bernd Windhofer