Friday January 13, 2006
A couple of days ago there was a report in the Guardian on a new Buddhist board-game invented by Emily Preece, an artist from (where else?) Totnes. The game is based upon the Tibetan Wheel of Life. The object of the game, you’ve already guessed, is to attain Enlightenment. But that’s not all – once you have done so, you can go back into the game and, Bodhisattva-like, help all the other players to awakening as well.
I have to make a confession here: I tend to avoid board games because there is no activity more likely to bring out my latent desire to crush all opposition to my every move – the Napoleon within who surfaces from nowhere with a terrible lust for the ultimate conquest – than a protracted game of Monopoly or Scrabble. And whilst board-game manufacturers like to show pictures of happy families crouched around a board with smiles upon their faces, an image of sublime domestic harmony, my own long and bitter experience has been that at any one time, at least one of the players will be hunched into a glowering ball of resentment as they peer out at the board through half-closed eyes, brooding over the humiliation of defeat, comforted only by the thought that, eventually, the game will end.
There is no such comfort when it comes to the Wheel of Life. The Buddhist texts like to remind us that it is possible to circle round and round the cycles of Samsara for innumerable aeons which, now I come to think about it, is as good a description of playing Monopoly as you will find anywhere. And when you reach your goal, it is not even over then. Being a good Mahayana game, back you can go for further interminable aeons to help other suffering beings who continue to cycle round and round and round…
Except by this time the aeons will no longer be interminable, Samsara will no longer be Samsara, and instead of endless suffering you will experience continual delight at the helping of others. You will plunge, to use an image from Shantideva, from one supremely generous act to another – shedding lives and limbs on the way – as joyfully as an elephant leaping into one cool lotus pool after another on a hot afternoon.
Whether Emily’s game will contribute to domestic harmony, turning the players one-by-one into happy Bodhisattva-elephants à la Shantideva, or lead to its diminishment, could only be established by rigorous experimental testing. But my fear of the inner Napoleon is such that I probably won’t be risking it…
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