Life is a Zero-Sum Game

3435906_xxlWithin Maya, the realm of physical manifestation, for every gain there is a loss. Each new day brings a sunrise but then a sunset. For every in-breath, there must be an out-breath. When young, we wish we were old, when old, we wish we were young. Vedanta, the science of consciousness, teaches that Isvara, the creator, seeks balance. This law of balance plays out within creation and the sum is always zero.

Ancient Egypt and Rome both rose to incredible heights, then fell. The US is presently the most powerful country in the world but its reign will one day end. There will always be someone faster, smarter, richer and more beautiful.

Most of us believe, that if we just make enough money, we’ll feel secure. However, the more money we have, the more we spend and we end up with less time and fewer dollars in the bank. If we are lucky enough to have our basic security needs met, we then seek pleasure in food, wine, sex and entertainment. When the emptiness of pleasure is revealed, virtue is chased because deep down we feel we’re not good enough.

Life is a zero-sum game because lasting happiness cannot be found in objects or experience within Maya. Objects don’t contain happiness, though they temporarily allow us to feel it. Experience by its very nature is limited, it comes and goes like clouds passing through a blue sky.

If it’s true that happiness cannot be found in objects or experience, then why do we keep chasing them? When we obtain the object of our desire, we temporarily feel free because for a moment in time, our fear or desire has been removed. We then associate happiness with the object or experience rather than realizing we are the source of happiness. The key to joy is not in obtaining objects but in realizing we are whole, complete and good.

What is an object? Anything other than the subject (awareness/our true self), that appears in the subject/awareness, including physical objects, experiences, thoughts, feelings and sensations.

So if life is a zero-sum game and there’s no way to win, should we simply give up and do nothing? One of Ishvara’s main directives is balance (zero sum) and we each have a part to play in the grand scheme. Just like each cell in our body is unique and separate, they all work together to support the functioning of the whole.

Within Maya (creation) there are laws called dharma which are the rules creation follows. “The dharma field is made up of physical, psychological, and moral laws.” James Swartz

There is both personal dharma (svadharma) and collective dharma (samanya). Personal dharmas are the instructions written upon our soul (subtle body): the reasons we incarnated, the lessons to be learned, the karma to be assimilated and the sharing of our gifts and passions.

Collective dharmas include the laws of physics, like gravity on planet earth but also spiritual values that allow us to live together like: do no harm, respect for others, taking responsibility for our actions, and being honest. Break these dharmas and negative (papa) karma results that one day will have to be met and neutralized.

When we gain knowledge of our personal dharma and begin to live it, and this dharma is in alignment with the larger collective dharma, we experience contentment and balance because we are doing our part within the greater whole. Most of the time we are not in balance, living the life our parents, spouse, religion or culture want us to live, or we are caught on the wheel of samsara – chasing security, pleasure, and virtue in the material world, while our gifts and passions lie dormant.

So how do we align with personal dharma? The first step is bringing focus inward and exploring our fears and desires instead of unconsciously acting them out. We also have to release our story of self importance, entitlement, victimization, and/or jealousy and come to understand we are totally responsible for this life that has been perfectly designed by us, for us, through our past actions.

In addition to coming into alignment with personal and collective dharma there are two qualifications of enlightenment that provide a means through the zero-sum game dilemma – discernment and dispassion.

Discernment means, I realize that objects, including experience, can never bring lasting happiness. I then choose to stop chasing objects of desire and running from fear, both of which are ghosts of past action which need to be assimilated.

Dispassion means I have no attachment to outcome, I do what’s right in every moment according to dharma. I realize that I am already full and no object or experience can complete me. Dispassion is a key aspect of karma yoga along with receiving all results, both good and bad, as gifts.

With discernment, we realize that happiness gained from objects and experience is short lived. In removing our ignorance, the jewel of true self – being/awareness/love is revealed. This is the meaning behind Om Mane Padme Hum, the jewel is in the lotus. Dispassion is a form of unconditional love. We do what needs to be done in service to the whole and with gratitude for all we’ve been given.

Vedanta teacher us that there are two orders of reality, satya the everlasting truth of self and mithya, the apparent realm of limited objects and experience. When we chase objects and experience, we deepen our identification with the material world and suffer as the wheel of karma turns. When we identify with the self, limitless awareness, there is neither the zero sum scale dissolves. The secret to happiness is living in both realities simultaneously and understanding the relationship between the two. This is the path of knowledge that Vedanta reveals.

Eaden Shantay owns True Nature Healing Arts in Carbondale, CO with his wife and partner Deva. True Nature is an invitation to learn, heal, love, be and serve. Offering great gratitude to my teacher James Swartz for the teachings of Vedanta, that have been passed down for millennia.


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