If we were able to see that everything is already OK, actually already more Ok than we could possibly imagine, then this would be the same thing as seeing that everything that happens is play – or to use the Sanskrit word, Lila .
If everything is ‘already better than we could ever possibly imagine it to be’, if it is ‘already more OK then we could ever possibly conceive’ (so that our essential situation could never in any way be improved) then of course everything is play! The only reason we have for purposefully doing this or doing that is to improve our situation – obviously – and so if our essential situation is already ‘beyond improving’ then it goes without saying that there is no need for any improvements! There is no need for any serious, ‘purposeful’ activity – obviously there isn’t any such need because our goals, our purposes, are the improvements we wish to see. As Ram Shanker Misra says (taken from the Wikipedia entry on Lila) –
Brahman is full of all perfections. And to say that Brahman has some purpose in creating the world will mean that it wants to attain through the process of creation something which it has not. And that is impossible. Hence, there can be no purpose of Brahman in creating the world. The world is a mere spontaneous creation of Brahman. It is a Lila, or sport, of Brahman. It is created out of Bliss, by Bliss and for Bliss. Lila indicates a spontaneous sportive activity of Brahman as distinguished from a self-conscious volitional effort. The concept of Lila signifies freedom as distinguished from necessity.
Inasmuch as we are insisting on the very important and serious necessity for the existence of our goals and purposes (and the methods we use for realizing or fulfilling them) then we are denying that our essential situation is ‘already OK’. It isn’t OK, and that’s why we have to make it OK. The more serious we are about doing whatever it is that we are doing (or whatever it is that we are thinking about doing) then more ‘not OK’ we must be feeling, therefore…
This basic idea is of course very well known to us within the terms of an ‘everyday’ frame of reference – if we are feeling OK, if we have a sense that everything is alright, if we have a sense that ‘all is well with ourselves and the world’, then we lighten up, we ‘take things less seriously’. The world doesn’t seem so serious to us. We are more playful in ourselves – we are less direly mechanical in our thinking and behaviour. When some worrying issue or other comes along and we start feeling that everything isn’t OK, then we abruptly lose this playful aspect – we lose the light-heartedness, we lose our sense of humour about things. The playful inner child disappears from sight and is replaced by the stressed out and humourless adult.
So what this all means is that if we are to live in the world where ‘everything is serious’ – which is the world that we do live in – then it is necessary that we be made to feel that everything isn’t OK. It is necessary that we be made to understand in no uncertain terms that “All is not well” (in contradiction to what Julian of Norwich says). If we are to take the purposeful world (the world of rules and goals) as seriously as it demands to be taken, then we must be denied the insight that everything is already better than we could possibly imagine. We must be denied the intuitive understanding that our essential situation is already ‘beyond improving’. This particular insight is not just a dangerous one from the point of view of the game, it is fatal.
The basis of purposefulness (which is the state of being in which we orientate ourselves towards concrete or literal goals) is the understanding that things are not OK, but that if we try very hard (and obey all the relevant rules and regulations) then things may be made to be OK. In traditional Christian terms, we could say that the assumption is that we start off as ‘fallen beings’, we start off ‘mired in sin’, but if we make the supreme moral effort then we may possibly find redemption from our fallen state. This then is ‘serious religion’ – which is a modality of being in which the idea that we might be naturally happy and ‘already redeemed’ (without any strenuous moral effort having to be made) never gets a look in. According to the ‘serious’ mode of religion, happiness is postponed for the next world – it is not something to expected in this vale of tears. We have to be serious here.
The world that we live in is therefore predicated upon the unquestionable assumption that everything is not OK but that it might be if we play our cards right. ‘Not OK’ is the starting point for seriousness, the origin of seriousness, the very root of seriousness. Once this assumption is in place then this becomes the basis for a whole industry of seriousness, an entire self-perpetuating (and self-justifying) world of purposefulness…
We can also talk about this in terms of ‘sufficiency’ versus ‘deficiency’. If there is an inner sufficiency then whatever comes out of this is going to be suffused with the spirit of play. If on the other hand we have an inner deficiency instead of an inner sufficiency then this situation gives to concrete or literal goals, and the type of grimly serious activity that is orientated around these concrete or literal goals. When inner deficiency is the basis then the ‘purposeful world’ comes into existence, and we find ourselves embedded in this world, tied to this world, enmeshed in this world.
The thing is, however, that this state of ‘inner deficiency isn’t a natural one – which is to say, it isn’t there by itself. Because it isn’t there by itself, it is necessary to arrange for it to be there. It is, in other words, an absolute prerequisite for the ‘serious world’, the ‘purposeful world’ that a state of inner deficiency (or ‘lack’) should not only be there, but also that it should be taken as ‘an absolute given’. To say that the state of inner lack should be taken as ‘an absolute given’ means not simply that we never question it, but also that the awareness that we ever could question it never arises.
‘Seriousness’ is therefore a conspiracy. Seriousness is, we could say, the result of a conspiracy to prevent us ever finding out that – in a very profound way – everything we need is already within us. Even using the word ‘need’ in this connection is misleading because talking about ‘need’ implies something that is separate from us, something that is outside of us, and this is not the case. This is exactly what is not the case!
The idea that we already have everything within us is alluded to in the Beatles ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ track Baby You’re a Rich Man. Thomas Traherne was saying the same thing back in the Seventeenth century–
Your enjoyment of the World is never right till every morning you awake in Heaven; see yourself in your Father’s Palace, and look upon the earth and air as celestial joys, having such reverend esteem of all, as if you were among the Angels. The bride of a monarch, in her husband’s chamber, hath no such causes of delight as you.
So if we’re already rich (in the only sense that matters) then what need is there for us to get all serious about things? What need is there for us to lose our sense of humour about what is going on? If we are already rich then what need is there for us to turn life into some drab and thoroughly miserable exercise in bureaucracy? What need is there for us to submit to some dehumanizing societal machine? If we’re already rich then what need is there for us to compromise ourselves with what Thomas Traherne (in his Centuries of Meditation ) calls “the dirty devices of this world”?
The idea that (as Alan Watts says) ‘life is not serious’ generally meets with flat incomprehension. This statement seems reprehensibly irresponsible to us. It seems immature – we are not taking seriously what we ought to be taking seriously. The reason for our lack of comprehension is the fact that we see everything through the narrow slit which is the rational mind and the rational mind does not understand play. The rational mind is constitutionally unable to understand play. It is based upon rules and so rules are all it understands – and there are no rules in play!
What we don’t see is that as soon as we do anything seriously (as soon as we do anything because of a rule that says we have to do it) then we have made whatever it is not worth doing. If I live life because I ‘have to’ then I have made life into a meaningless chore – I have made life into something that I just have to ‘get over with’. It’s just another job, just another task. It’s just another box to be ticked…
If I do something because its serious, because I have to, then this takes the freedom out of what I’m doing and if I’m not freely doing it then there is no joy in me doing it, there is no integrity in me doing it. There’s no true volition in me doing it. In short, the whole thing is meaningless. The task is making me do it, the rule is making me obey it. It’s doing me – I’m not doing it. Everything is backwards – the rule is controlling me and so I don’t really come into it at all!
The lack of freedom that lies behind serious (or non-playful) activity makes that activity into a caricature of what it should be and this ‘lack of freedom’ is the inner deficiency that we have been talking about. The thing about the inner deficiency (or inner lack of freedom) is therefore that no matter where we go (or no matter what we do) on this basis, we are always going to be bringing it along with us. Seriousness just leads to more seriousness.
If we start from the basis of ‘no freedom’ then all we can ever do is keep on enacting this same lack of freedom over and over again in a mechanical fashion and this is the dreadful caricature of life that we have condemned ourselves to when we forget that ‘everything is play’. It is not living playfully (and joyfully) that is the ‘irresponsible’ thing because what we are doing (when we’re being serious) is handing over our freedom in the vain hope of obtaining some prize that – ultimately – is actually no more than our inner deficiency reflected back at us in unrecognizable form!
What is ‘irresponsible’ – if we are to persist in using that much-abused word – is handing over our precious autonomy to a bunch of unquestionable rules (i.e. a ‘system’) in the utterly bizarre belief that this will somehow do us some good…