[I’m not the first person to feel that spirituality is a bit of a Chinese finger trap, but I haven’t heard it posed in game language per se. For the Future We Deserve collaborative book project.]
Spirituality as a game
“My advice to you is not to undertake the spiritual path. It is too difficult, too long, and it is too demanding. What I would suggest, if you haven’t already begun, is to go to the door, ask for your money back, and go home now. This is not a picnic. It is really going to ask everything of you and you should understand that from the beginning. So it is best not to begin. However, if you do begin, it is best to finish.”
—Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche
Viewing spirituality itself as an evolving, self-perpetuating game may be a potentially useful perspective for a secular monastic tradition (which itself is very much like a game [see “Art Monastery as game”])
Holding a spiritual view and being skilled at distinguishing between the views and goals of others are important skills; some views and goals are more favorable, helpful, or accurate than others.
Should you begin, upon surveying the world’s spiritual traditions by reading texts and attending lectures and meditation retreats for several years, to view spirituality as a pursuit of something you already are, something you already have, you begin to wonder: well why can’t I experience it? Why am I not aware of it? Where can I look or the absolute, God, bodhichitta, pure unborn non-dual awareness, wisdom, compassion, mindfulness, gratefulness, truth, if that’s what I already am? Any goal you might be able to articulate or name is an illusion, you begin to feel, because you immediately are making it something you are not. You begin to desire some kind of relief, some kind of fruition, you want to reach some conclusion, yet you’re trapped in language games, contradiction and paradox.
Very quickly you realize that, despite yourself, you have moved from having spiritual views to having spiritual goals. When you make that transition—from holding spiritual view to having a spiritual goal—you have entered the Game of Spirituality.
The primary goal of the game of spirituality, the only way to win, and the only essential rule, is to see through the game, to recognize the game as a “game”.
Secondary rules are designed to help you see through the game, to get out of your own way. The rules are regularly argued about by all the players. Thus, some rules will be experimented with, and seen as superior or inferior to others.
Secondary goals to spirituality may include things like finding more people to play with, deepening your connection and alignment with your fellow players, crafting better secondary rules or creating more beautiful expressions of the game, but only as long as they serve the primary goal. Secondary goals are not valuable in themselves, but only in relation to the rest of the game, the play, and the fun.
The opponent is your own sense of alienation from the goal.
Winning often happens as soon as you’ve given up playing, or as if by the “grace of God”. Having won the game, a reasonable response is to craft more helpful, better secondary goals & rules. You are still playing until you can see through the game, constantly.
Thus (to use Roger Caillois’s criteria for what constitutes a game), spiritual pursuit is considered a (rather esoteric) sort of fun for a finite period of time, in which we discover, create and follow rules, accomplished nothing useful and all the while acknowledge the illusory quality of the whole affair.