If this is a game, what are the rules?

"The unwise cling to their actions, watching for results, the wise are free of attachments, and act for the well-being of the whole world" --Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 3

I love games. Not for the winning, just for the playing, though the game experience is definitely diminished if any of the contestants doesn't care about winning, or losing, as caring about one is caring about the other. A good game can unfold when everyone cares, but the best game is when everyone is committed to winning while at the same time actually not caring who wins (or loses). The best game is possible when everyone understands that this embracing of opposites is what is required. It's karma yoga: you pursue your dharma in the game with all the sraddha you can muster without being attached to the outcome.

It's players' attachment to results that undermines and ruins the game experience, because the playing is no longer the focus, the winning and losing are all that matter, and the game is not a game anymore but a vehicle to inflate or deflate egos. The game is replaced by the players' desires for attainment of one sort or another. I don't wonder why my son insists he doesn't want to play this game, like a lot of people, young and old, some just surveying the field and thinking about joining the contest, others having competed for some time and given up. Playing such a game doesn't appeal, and it's not difficult to understand the feeling, considering how the game plays out.

The rules, such as they are, are set by the winners and designed so that the winners always win. The rules seem to be such that it is acceptable and expected that the winners will--and do openly, and without shame--cheat to insure that they always win. Who would want to play this game unless he or she were one of the winners who always wins? Who wants to play a game that rewards cheaters?

Appallingly, though, cheaters always prosper in the game, and that's just the way of the world, according to the winners, so don't be a spoilsport and get all up in your moral outrage--join in to show your support to the winners and stop complaining. The winners need your chips in the pot, they need your body on the line, they need your cooperation to keep the game they always win going. So I understand my son's reluctance. He's not a sucker.

But remember that Krishna exhorted Arjuna to play and lead the Pandavas in battle against the Kauravas, advising him that he must follow his dharma. For Arjuna not to engage in action, not to play, would be spiritually disastrous, according to the divine charioteer, and really, not playing, not taking action, is just another form of action. We're all on the playing field whether we like it or not. Not playing is still playing. Your staying on the bench is just your part in the game.

Still, a game designed to keep the winners winning perpetually, where cheating is condoned and even encouraged, is not a game so much as a slaughter, a blowout, a thrashing expected and endured by the losers. Not much fun, for sure. Easy to give up and take your pat on the butt from the ever victorious, as they are carted off the field in luxury, enjoying once again the fruits of triumph. Pretty easy to become cynical and say WTF you assholes, this game sucks!

The perpetual winners protest: "You always have a chance. You've just got to play harder. You've got to sacrifice. Who said life was fair? Play the hand you're dealt and don't complain. Keep trying. Don't be a quitter." And so on. But if you protest about the nature of the game and the fact that it's designed to keep the winners winning and the losers losing, well, then that just means you're a loser, right? Yeah.

Just play harder. I remember Matthew Dellavedova, undrafted, squat, unsmooth and unheralded guard (aside from his lobs) from St. Mary's taking on Steph Curry, in the NBA finals last year, game 4 I think, playing as hard as he will ever play, ever, somehow locking up Steph Curry. No one thought he had a chance to check Steph Curry, basketball royalty, son of a former NBA star, first-round draft pick, and eventual MVP of the league, but check him he did, much to the astonishment of everyone watching and playing in the game and probably astonishing to Matthew Dellavedova himself. During the game he had to have an IV to stay hydrated. After the game, he threw up for a long time. In the next game, he had no chance against Steph Curry, of course, and he never will again. The effort he put out in that game probably took a few years off his life. He was a winner, briefly, and the perpetual winners can point to what Matthew Dellavedova did, and others like him have done, as what we losers can accomplish if we just dig deep and give it our all. The winners, in fact, very much want all of us to give them our all, all the time, until God bless our souls, we RIP.

Not much of a carrot. I get why my son really doesn't want to play, why he wants to go his own way, far, far away from the sanctioned field of action. He may believe (I haven't asked him) there is another field where the losers can have a good game, maybe even the best game, where we can all play with sincerity and faith, caring about winning and losing while simultaneously not caring. Caring for the game. Caring for the players. Where we can all follow our dharma. Where no one cheats. Let's find it.

Om Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu