We can't avoid it. But what about life's non-athletic,
I was only half correct when I began to suspect, around age twelve, that life didn't make any sense, and that although I dearly wanted to be distinguished and accomplished, any accomplishment or distinction was ultimately useless and stupid. What was the value of studying math, English, Latin, and science, of making the soccer team, or of practicing the piano? Mr. Shakespeare had already said that life "is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." What more could be said or done?
I hadn't yet heard that only material life is an idiot's dream and that there are activities of self-realization that are full of pleasure and meaning. So I said and did very little.
But I was ambitious, too, and by my second year in college the gap between my ambitions and my lack of determination to fulfill them had torn my ego with a pain that only sleep and other forms of forgetfulness could soothe.
My opposite number, or one of them, was a certain classmate who was both hero and nemesis to me. He was strong and handsome, an athlete and an honor student. At our preparatory school he won the most-likely-to-succeed award. In his enthusiasm and confidence many of his classmates detected a streak of conceit, but it was hard to fault him, because we admired him, and because an honest critic had to admit envy as well. Lately, after an interval of twenty years. I have seen his by-line in prestigious magazines.
One encounter in particular, one of maybe a hundred in the six years of our distant camaraderie as classmates in a large school and a larger university, one casual exchange at lunch our sophomore year (my last year in college), remains in my memory, embalmed in liquid nostalgia.
We were sitting at a table in our dining hall with five or six other lunchers, bland food, and the ghost of midyear doldrums, the talk turning in eddies of banter around professors and courses and examinations, with undercurrents of Are we learning anything? All this work to get a job? and Is it worthwhile? The conversation dwindled and began coming to a close as one luncher stood up with his tray and facetiously offered, as a conclusion, that life was but a game.
The remark pleased me, but my hero/nemesis, in one of the bursts of sobriety and assertiveness to which he was prone, even during bull sessions, responded. "Just because life is a game doesn't mean we shouldn't enjoy playing it." Although he didn't direct this response at me. I received it with embarrassment and despair. Here he was, a player, an athlete of life, and here I was, a quitter.
It wasn't that bad, though. I valued life and had a sense of my self-worth, a sense that there was meaning if I could only find the right atmosphere for it. Nevertheless, the encounter set me thinking, and never a master of quick repartee. I gradually formulated and am still honing my answer to the "play life's game" challenge.
Here's what I should have said, given that I then knew nothing of Krsna consciousness.
I agree that we ought to play the game of life. In fact, we can't avoid playing to some degree. Even catatonia is an activity of sorts on life's playing field. We must act.
But that's the problem. In a normal game there are time-outs, and the entire game is only a part of one's life or of one's day. After the competition you head for the locker room, doff your uniform, take a shower, slake your thirst, joke around with both your teammates and your opponents, go home and have dinner with your family, get on with life's non-recreational, non-athletic business.
If, however, life itself is a game. then where are the time-outs, the relaxation, the post-game festivities? I've been playing for too long and want to go home. Where is home? "Game" means there is also real life. How do we live it?
That's what I should have said. And here's how I now answer that last question.
We live a meaningful, individual eternal life, the Gita says, not by acting to please our bodies, our minds, or even our souls, but by serving the transcendental body and senses of the Supersoul. Lord Krsna advises. "Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer or give away, and whatever austerities you perform—do that, O son of Kunti, as an offering to Me."
This advice is for our benefit The Supreme doesn't need our offerings. He is ever self-satisfied and independent.
We, on the other hand, as part of Him, can enjoy a meaningful life only by pleasing Him. Just as your finger receives nourishment by feeding your stomach, so the individual soul enjoys life by "feeding" Krsna. Your finger has unlimited value when attached to the rest of your body, but if severed from your hand it is a useless piece of flesh and bone.
Life is truly meaningless when we sever our souls from the Supersoul, and truly meaningful when we link up with Him.
Originally, the only alternative I saw to life's meaningless activities was equally meaningless inactivity. But the true alternative is enthusiastic, confident activity in Krsna consciousness. In leaving college and joining the Hare Krsna movement I did not shirk life's duties or avoid its challenges. On the contrary, having played enough, I headed for the locker room, doffed my uniform, took a shower, went home, and got down to business.