Here’s another fun game. Imagine that everyone who comes into your experience is enlightened, a fully realized Buddha. Every one of them understands the ultimate nature of reality, and they all know you, fully and completely. Every thought you think, they hear. Every fear and desire, even the ones you can’t see yourself, they see. They feel what you are feeling, even if your words attempt to disguise, and they know why you’re feeling it, even if you don’t. In other words, there is nothing you can hide from anyone, and nowhere to hide, even if you tried.
How would you live, then, naked like that?
It’d be like everyone was in on this secret, and you were the only one who wasn’t. They all got together while you were asleep and agreed to play make believe when you woke up, to pretend that they’re not all Buddhas, and that they’re not all trying to get you to see that you are, too. That’s when the game will end, when you receive the realization that you are no different, that you are on their side. And since there were only ever two sides – you and them – this realization ends the game, because now there aren’t two sides to play anymore. Just one. But for now, you have to play the game because you can’t believe, or you won’t.
Playing this game increases the volume of my attention, sensitizes me to what’s being communicated in any given moment, opens me to the possibility that there could be something instructive inside. Suddenly, anything might advise me about the process of my own human experience. In fact, everything is. It’s all poetry: the words are not tethered to any obvious or absolute referent, so the verses could mean anything. Why not make it my own? Why not let it speak directly to me, as I do with poems? What makes a poem moving isn’t the context in which it was written, but the context in which it is read. I shiver at the words not because they meant something to the poet, but because they mean something to me. The efficacy of a poem’s ability to transform me is directly correlated with my openness to it, my readiness to receive the words as my own.
You have to be careful with the Buddha game, though. There’s the trap of narcissism, solipsism. Making it all about you. Forgetting that everyone else is living this thing, too, that each individual is also the referent of any given moment’s verse. You’re not the only one after all, not special. Priceless and sacred, yes, but not special. The Greek philosopher Timaeus of Locri described God as a circle whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere. Remembering this paradox will keep you safe when you get deep into the Buddha game and start perceiving a seemingly impossible conversation occurring between the inner world and the outer world, when everyone and everything is suddenly speaking directly to you. Relax. You are speaking to them, too. It’s all speaking to itself.
This game exaggerates the absurdity of the dualistic mind, the mind that constantly divides this from that, assigns hierarchies, divvies out stingy judgments of worth, assumes it’s capable of knowing enough to make fair judgments about anyone in the first place. This kind of mind is like a grenade, shattering unity into fragments. The Buddha game simplifies that shattering. Countless fragments are reduced to just a single basic split: me versus them. What I like about this is that it becomes easier to address that habit of splitting. Instead of having to confront one split after another ad nauseum – this tribe, that sect, this gang, that nation, this person, that person – I can work on the root from which all the other splits break: the delusion that I am somehow fundamentally separate, the fear that I do not belong, the conviction that I am not a Buddha, too, in my own way, just as everyone else is in theirs. It’s one way to work toward the realization that it is not me versus the rest of you, that it is, in fact, us.
What would it look like to win this game, to actually realize just how inextricably I belong, how I can’t not belong, and how everyone else around me belongs, too, exactly as they are, even the boogeymen? What if everyone in the world played this game and won it? Imagine that world: billions of Buddhas passing each other on the street each day, nodding in recognition. If you were a Buddha, how would I treat you? If I were a Buddha, how would I treat myself?
And if the word “Buddha” turns you off, say “Christ.” And if “Christ” is a trigger, say “beloved” or “presence” or “cosmic offspring of the one Big Bang.” Whatever you want. The words don’t matter. What matters is the realization, learning how to see it, and more, learning how to be it.