Some have referred to it as The Master Game, that grandest of all pursuits which rests upon winning or losing, that is to say, attaining or failing to attain, a mysterious state conceived of as spiritual freedom, and which goes by many names. Whilst the spiritual fainéant plays the game less intensely, casually group-thinking or timidly timing yoga minutes early each morning, others of a thirstier nature may make of it a lifelong contest of quite epic proportions. The gambits and stratagems of the spiritual aspirant are variously natured, being adopted as befits the character, with artifice and sophistry deployed pragmatically in subconsciousness so as to procure or sustain advantage over the player’s occasionally contrarian or doubt-inducing reflections. Stakes are high, and with each earnest investment of personal identity, emotional capital, and inner resolve, can only escalate. It is a contest without frontiers; a test of self-contra-self: The Master Game.
In a bid to escape their emotional and existential lacuna, the participant may devour the pabulum of self-help writings, or strain at obscurantist commentaries upon the alleged utterances of long-dead sages. They may cultivate a sapient and sciolistic presence which infrequently matches its promise in action, humility or compassion. Each of these, though the worst of the matter, are game strategies thought eventually to deliver a certain freedom of the psyche, something beyond the ordinariness of the world-perceiving mind, and which hence is often characterised as being spiritual in nature, whatever that means. The prize is imagined as an object acquired by a subject, or as the subject absorbing into an object. The game player may speak of enlightenment, self-realization, perhaps even God-realization, as if these were objects that could somehow be absorbed by the self, or vice versa, and The Master Game concludes only once such fallacies are realised.
Given these seemingly intractable and specious predispositions, then it’s understandable that some should conclude this can only be a losing game, which it is. That which is lost will not be mourned though, no more than one would grieve over the ending of a perpetually deceitful relationship. Although finally revealed as ill-conceived, one’s approach to playing the game, if earnestly pursued, will yield many boons, and may yet result in victory, even though paradoxically, it will be known that there is no victor. That is why this is The Master Game; it can never itself be mastered by any, and instead will vanquish all contestants. The aspirant accepts this intellectually, freely entertaining ideas of non-duality, or the dissolution of enduring identity, intensively ploughing their phenomenological reductions as if beneath lay proof that the self was only ever a mythogenic cauldron. Yet the intellect has no capacity beyond thought, no real freedom.
The problem here is not so much that this spiritual freedom, however vaguely conceived, is being sought, rather that we presuppose the found freedom will attach to us, will be acquired and thus become ‘mine’. In other words, we imagine this freedom to in effect become enslaved to the self, which is no kind of freedom at all. Intellectually, we can accept the loss of the self, whilst emotionally, we still yearn for possession. Saying that we do not wish to acquire such liberty solves nothing, because the root of the problem remains, and the self has simply morphed desire into aversion. Besides, a psychological and emotional freedom – abandoning the adjunctive ‘spiritual’ – is far preferable to its opposite. We need to remain earnestly in play, whilst abandoning hope of gaining freedom. This is not to reject the liberation of the psyche, but to accept that by definition freedom cannot be possessed, acquired, forged, or accumulated, by any self-entity.
The Master Game finds its end in the realisation that it was played by the wrong set of rules all along. Issuing its stratagems from inside the self, the imagined subject-entity could not conceive it was no more than a mind-creation. Further, and due to its own presence, the subject-entity knew only of an isolative consciousness which enduringly apprehended awareness as if appearing here not there, as knowing all phenomena as internally possessed or as objectivised and thus forever apart. Then one day, the subject-entity forgot all about The Master Game; in a flash what was an impossible outcome was made possible; awareness realised and released itself; the world realised and released itself, and the futile contest was over. This came as a laughable surprise to the ghost-player left behind, who tried and failed to make sense of it all. Now and again, the phantasm may wander into the deserted arena, scratch its head, and wonder why it ever existed.