Reconsidering the Master Game
In Robert De Ropp’s book, The Master Game, published in the 1960s, the word “game” is used with deliberation, distinguishing trivial or frivolous games played for amusement, entertainment, or distraction, from those serious and significant life games that present us with challenges and objectives that contribute to our personal growth and to the greater good of society and the world around us.
It is in response to these life games that our constellation of survival skills and abilities is formed and sharpened, enabling each of us to succeed in becoming who and what we are. Without such “games worth playing” life becomes filled with repetition and boredom, giving rise to an ever-growing cycle of existential meaningless and disharmony, depression and despair.
De Ropp divides the life games that people choose to play into two basic types: the object games and the meta games. The object games are those played to explore, master and acquire the things of the outer world, especially the “physical foursome”: money, power, sex and status. The meta games are played to master the things of the inner world, intangibles such as knowledge, beauty, and the salvation of the soul. He points out that the different life games we choose to play are indicators of the type of individuals that we are, and also provide signs of the level of our own inner development as souls.
De Ropp ranks the object games as hierarchically lower and describes them as more or less pathological, in that the players who win emerge with little that they can truly call their own. In addition, the object games such as the money game, the fame game, the political power game, and the military game, tend to harm both the players as well as the society of which the players are a part.
He ranks the meta games as hierarchically higher—games such as such as the science game played for knowledge and meaning, the art game played to create images of beauty and power, and the religion game played for deepened self-awareness, yet each has both a positive and negative polarity.
The religion game, for example, had fairly well defined rules in the past, determined by a paid priesthood who made their livelihood by serving as intermediaries between the populace and various alternately wrathful or beneficent gods that they, or their predecessors, invented. Unfortunately, some of the players began to insist that their god was the only god, their truths the only truth. And so eager were these priests to keep the game entirely in their own hands, that they did not hesitate to torture and kill all whom they viewed as outsiders, exhorting their followers to slaughter unbelievers as a sure way of gaining supernatural favor and guaranteeing entry into a hypothetically blissful afterlife state called “Heaven” or Paradise.”
Fortunately there was, and is, another quite different element to the Religion Game. This is the great game that has been played across time by the shamans and mystics, saints and sages of all the world’s cultures, who explored and mastered the inner world through the vehicle of their own mind and consciousness. This is the Master Game that De Ropp places at the apex of all the meta games.
The Master Game involves the quest for spiritual awakening, enlightenment, and by association liberation. The goal is to discover one’s own true nature and to know from direct empirical experience that this nature is both sacred and immortal.
In De Ropp’s words (written in the 1960s): “The Master Game remains the most demanding and difficult of games, and in our society there are few who play. Contemporary man, hypnotized by the glitter of his own gadgets, has little contact with his inner world, concerns himself with outer, not inner space. But the Master Game is played entirely in the inner world, a vast and complex territory about which men know very little. The aim of the game is true awakening, full development of the powers latent in man. The game can be played only by people whose observations of themselves and others have led them to a certain conclusion, namely, that man’s ordinary state of consciousness, his so-called waking state, is not the highest level of consciousness of which he is capable. In fact this state is so far from real awakening that it could be appropriately be called a form of somnambulism, a condition of waking sleep.”
The Master Game is still with us and I suspect that it is being played by considerably more people today than when De Ropp wrote his book. There is a general spiritual reawakening going on in the Western world, one in which increasing numbers of individuals are seeking to experience the direct transformative experience of the sacred that defines the mystic.
Due to the relative ease with which the time-tested techniques of the shaman can be learned and practiced, even by non-tribal urbanites, there is a resurgence of interest in the ancient shamanic methods for entering mystical states of consciousness. More and more contemporary Westerners are learning how to access the ordinarily hidden dimensions of reality to make contact with their inner sources of knowledge and power to facilitate healing and problem-solving. In the midst of a world obsessed with money, power, sex and status, these heroes are quietly rediscovering the Master Game.
This is the game that my great Hawaiian friend Hale Makua referred to as The Ancestral Grand Plan, described in a chapter of my newest book, The Bowl of Light. In our discussions, he often observed that no one culture or tradition has a corner on the spiritual market of truth. What he called The Ancestral Grand Plan lies ever ahead of each spiritual seeker as an evolutionary stairway, inviting each of us to step up and into becoming players of the great game. And once we do, it becomes the only game worth playing… and then nothing is ever quite the same again.