Within maya, the realm of physical manifestation, for every gain there is a loss. Each new day brings a sunrise and a sunset. For every in-breath, there must be an out-breath. When young we wish to be old, when old we wish to be 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 enough.
Life is a zero-sum game because lasting happiness cannot be found in objects or experience in 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 the blue sky.
If it is true that happiness can not be found in objects or experience, why do we keep chasing them? When we obtain the object of our desire, we temporarily feel the joy that we are 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 through exploring the roots of desire.
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 maya’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 and collective dharma. Personal dharmas are the instructions written upon our soul: 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 all to live together like: do no harm, respect for others, taking responsibility for our actions, and being honest. Break these dharmas and negative karma results that one day will have to be met and processed.
When we come to know 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 for the greater whole. Most of the time we are not in balance. We are living the life our parents, spouse, religion or culture want us to live, or we are caught in the web of samsara, chasing security, pleasure, and virtue in the material world, while our gifts and passions lay dormant.
So how do we align with personal dharma? The first step is bringing our focus inward instead of outward, exploring our fears and desires instead of unconsciously acting upon them. We also have to release our story of self importance, entitlement, victimization, and/or jealousy and come to understand we are totally responsible for our life and it has been perfectly designed for our personal evolution.
In addition to coming into alignment with personal and collective dharma there are two qualities 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 am not concerned with the results of my actions. I do what’s right in every moment according to dharma, while releasing attachment to results. This is the essence of karma yoga but runs counter intuitive to the present day norm of achievement and success.
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 because it’s our duty, with no need for reward, recognition or control.
When we chase objects and experience, we honor only one of two realities. There is maya, the material world in which the laws of cause and effect apply and there is brahman, the limitless, non-dual sea of consciousness. In maya, life is a zero sum game and suffering abounds. In brahman, there is no game, only being, awareness and bliss. 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 James Swartz for his teachings of Vedanta.