PLAYING THE GAME OF LIFE
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When I wrote this article in 1997 I was still following Sathya Sai Baba, because I had become deeply involved in his service organisation and had mostly very positive impressions of him through experiences I had. I found much of what he said to seem very wise (a view I have long since abandoned) though I also found his repetitive discourses and teachings to be too superficial in the long run. The aphorisms which were the backbone of this appeal to the great majority of his followers were often too generalising without further explanation of how they should be interpreted. Therefore I supplied some attempts at reconciling them with one another and with the rest of my vision of his doctrine. As one can see, they mostly give no practical guidance and are really superficial or empty statements. Ti is what I wrote then in my zeal to promote his vision... one which on deeper understanding is seen to be extrmely flawed, inconsistent and not seldom backward-looking and outdated pseudo-knowledge.
When Baba says, Life is a game, play it, it can be taken to mean different things by different people. Can it mean, for example, that life is not to be taken seriously? Here we think of the ups and downs in life, or the undue seriousness with which we tend to take its pains and pleasures, failures and successes. Also, we need to be able to laugh at life and not least at ourselves. Take oneself and one's life etc. too seriously and one may soon be unable to laugh or even smile. If one cannot be a good loser and always has to be the winner, the game ceases to be played and becomes competition, business, prestige or even out-and-out warfare. All this is fully illustrated in the professional sports' world today. But to play properly one must rather be non-attached and realise that 'the game is in the playing', not in the result or in gains or losses incurred.
Sathya Sai has pointed out that, in order to play any game... including that of life itself, one must know the rules and stick to them. Otherwise all the fun simply goes out of it and it ends in argument or ill-feeling. To learn the rules may take some application and experience, but questioning them leads only to wasted energy, because they are there only so that the game can go ahead. Some choose to argue endlessly about the various rules and codes of life and other make rigid doctrines to prove their opinions. Murder is done and war is made for such futile reasons. The game of life can indeed be spoiled by considerations having nothing to do with the actual playing.
"As long as I can play the game, I can play it, and everything goes smoothly," said the philosopher Wittgenstein, by which he meant that that we don't always need an analysis of the whys and wherefores of everything, and even if we made need one now and again, all explanations still have to end somewhere. When we tidy up a room, for example, we don't give a running commentary or explain each action and its reason, we don't criticise what we're doing or defend it. All this helps me understand why Baba so often gives us brief aphorisms, straightforward examples and very general guidelines rather than going into details and explaining precisely how and what. A mere gesture is often sufficient. His teachings are universal - for the whole of mankind - and do not therefore specify unduly much or go into every detail from all people's perspectives. They are still adequate as secure overall guidelines for all cultures and societies while leaving room for each of us to interpret them in relation to our own situations. It is our task and privilege to do this and to apply them accordingly.
Baba's advice on study circles underlines this, for the purpose is not to theorise but to clear up any problems of practical understanding of spirituality in daily life so that we can 'play on' confidently and according to the guidelines.
To play the game that life is can also mean that we must exert ourselves to live with a positive orientation towards the goal, not just keep going through the motions of eating, working, talking, sleeping and dreaming.
REALISING THE DREAM
Baba's inimitable illustrations echo Shakespeare's: "all the world's a stage" and "we are such stuff as dreams are made on". But Baba also adds valuable advice to them, as in: Life is a dream, realise it. This has at least two distinct possible interpretations.
Firstly, it obviously suggests that living is like sleep-walking until one realises this and begins increasingly to work consciously for realisation. We speak of having a dream, that about which our life revolves. As long as we simply dream, the ideal gets no nearer, so it has to be made real. Realising an ideal is always the result of concerted thought, action, patience and determination. Relying on gratuitous grace to solve everything or resting on one's laurels will hardly do.
Secondly, as Baba has often said, at bottom the world itself is unreal, while only God is real. To be deluded into thinking otherwise and forgetting life's impermanence is not to realise the purpose of life, which can sentence us to rebirth into yet another and another such dream.
A world which is basically unreal ties in neatly with the previous line in Baba's aphorism, for a play is essentially fiction and unreal. Baba describes life as some large-scale drama in which the players act according to a script, some more and some less aware of its meaning and thus how best to play their parts. Accordingly, Baba has very often asserted the unreality or illusory nature of the world we live in. Sometimes, quite to the contrary, he has insisted that we accept it as real:
"Do not tell students that the world is 'illusion' (mithya). It is intensely real so long as we are present here." (Sathya Sai Speaks Vol XV. p. 112).
This is apparently self-contradictory. One may wonder what a philosopher like Wittgenstein have said to this. He regarded using language as being like playing a game. The many languages with all their local dialects, technical or private jargons, literary styles, slang and so on he compared to a collection of different games... board games, ball games, athletic games, party games etc. Each specific game has a number of rules that distinguish it from other games, and each group of games mentioned above have both similarities and differences. The same applies to language, no usages of words and sentences are standardised everywhere or once and for all. None have universal validity, for they are really only tools with temporary usefulness for communicating for some purpose. The meanings words have ultimately all depends on the persons involved, their activities and their aims etc. Therefore, no system of words can ever give one single and consistent system of truth, complete for all times and differing societies. What the same words say in one situation or for some person can say something very different in other cases - sometimes even the exact opposite! Thus, when Baba says the world is 'unreal', this answers the ultimate question from an eternal viewpoint, but we also find it 'real' enough - perhaps all too real - when having to face up to its challenges!
MEETING LIFE'S CHALLENGE
In the third line of his aphorism, Life is a challenge, meet it, Baba moves logically to the problems met during the game of life and in the dream, calling these 'a challenge'. That we must meet the challenge of life, explained to us so lucidly by Baba throughout his many discourses, emphasises the inescapable reality of the world as we must live in it. Indeed, Baba has also once said "Life is a prison, you must endure it." and also even, "Life is a bed of bugs." (but we note that Baba did not add that we have to go to sleep in it). Baba tells us that our imprisonment in the body and ego is the cause of the dream, the ignorance that is expressed in the first cry of the newborn 'Who am I?' (Koham) So, though he also says 'Life is awareness', this can only be relative to one's personal development. Oddly, the lengthiest challenge in the real world seems to be recognising its ultimate nature as 'illusion' (Maya) while remaining engaged in the activities that this destiny on earth requires of each of us.
SHARING AND ENJOYING LIFE AS LOVE
Through the years, Baba has given two different endings to the fourth line: Life is love, enjoy it or Life is love, share it. This may well be hinting that only by sharing can one enjoy and vice-versa too. In any case, this line certainly contains the overall practical answer to the enigmas and challenges in the foregoing lines. Baba once put it simply as, Life is Love, Love is Life. None who have heard Baba talk, seen Him or been with Him can fail to know that his Message is, above all else, to love.
(Robert Priddy. July 1997)
FOOTNOTE: The self-proclaimed omniscient avatar and Creator of the Universe also made other quotes:
"Life is a prison, you must endure it" and "Life is a bed full of bugs", "Life is a jungle", "Life is a see-saw", "Life is a game of football: you are the ball", "Life is one long ordeal, do not forget that" and the immensely wise "Life is an interlude between birth and death", even better than "Life a three-day fair, fast moving to burial ground ","Life is one long railway journey" "Even "Life is a car..." (analogy of driver, key etc.), and "Life is itself a long elaborate car festival" "Life is a long journey through time". Well, you don't say!