The Life Gamble
Along with Professor Mark Griffiths who is one of the world’s leading experts in the study of behavioural addictions, we recently published an article in the Journal of Behavioural Addictions entitled ‘Buddhist Philosophy for the Treatment of Problem Gambling’. In our article, we made reference to a phenomenon that we call ‘the life gamble’.
The life gamble refers to a basic ‘universal choice’ that all people have. It is a choice that transcends religion, ethnic origin, wealth, sex, and culture. What we are referring to here is the choice of whether or not to engage in spiritual practice. Given that this is a choice that affects everybody, then we might all be referred to as ‘life gamblers’.
On the one hand, the life gambler can choose to adopt a self-centred outlook and bet ‘all-in’ on the belief of no ‘afterlife’ and no karmic consequence to actions in this life or beyond. After all, if this life is all there is then why should we waste our time thinking about anything other than ourselves? On the other hand, the life gambler can choose to ‘hedge their bets’ and integrate spiritual practice (in whatever guise) into their life in order to cultivate spiritual wellbeing during this life, and to prepare themselves for death.
According to the Buddhist perspective, the first scenario reflects a ‘high-risk low-reward’ strategy because if the life gambler is wrong and ‘mind-essence’ continues beyond this lifetime, then there is a strong probability of mental anguish, regret, and disorientation during the death phase transition. The second scenario therefore reflects a ‘low-risk high-reward’ strategy because if it transpires that there is no ‘existence’ after death, then there will be no stream of consciousness to experience regret due to having needlessly engaged in spiritual practice.
However, if it transpires that the thread of subtle-consciousness does indeed endure throughout successive lifetimes, then the life gambler not only reaps the benefit of spiritual practice during this life, but is also better prepared for experiencing the various (and otherwise petrifying) death visions, sounds, and faints with greater confidence and awareness. Similarly, they are also in a better position to further their spiritual progress during subsequent lifetimes (i.e., until the attainment of liberation).
The saying ‘gambling with their life’ is sometimes used to refer to people who engage in life threatening or potentially harmful activities. However, from the Buddhist perspective, the person who doesn’t engage in spiritual practice might be said to be ‘gambling with their lifetimes’.
Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon
Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Griffiths M. D. (2013). Buddhist philosophy for the treatment of problem gambling. Journal of Behavioural Addictions. DOI: 10.1556/JBA.2.2013.001