Vanity thought #1071. Poker face

Gambling has never been my thing. Among all the temptations in the world it’s probably the least likely to affect me. I’ve played cards as a kid, up to the age of twelve, but stayed clear off them since then. My university friends played a lot but I never joined and never listened to their post-game analysis.

My experience with lotteries is similar – when we were ten we wanted to form a band and thought that we could buy guitars with lottery winnings. There were probably ten kids in our group and each bought five or six tickets, we thought that a big win was guaranteed. It didn’t happen and we never brought this topic again.

Every now and then friends ask me for lucky numbers or even let me pick tickets for them and sometimes I oblige. Never won anything. Whatever I choose, it’s bound to lose. It’s just karma, a certain combination of planets which influences my eleventh house in the wrong way, iirc.

It’s a bit different with sports games but trying to guess the winner there isn’t as random as lottery or dice. Brokers there deal with probabilities rather than with outright guesses so predicting a winner doesn’t really count when brought up in casual conversation, some games are just too obvious.

I do have my share of cheering for various teams, however, in a way it’s a lot like gambling because you don’t know what will happen and the result will affect your emotional state, either rewarding or punishing you for your choices, but rooting for a team is obviously a question of your karma rather than random chance.

Some people are just meant to suffer, for years and decades, maybe for their whole lives. If they are meant to celebrate, however, they’ll find reasons even when their teams are losing. They adjust expectations, I guess.

As for me, I generally have a good idea about my impending emotional state and try not to let happenings on the field affect my consciousness. It doesn’t mean I can predict win or loss, it means I can predict severe emotional distress and shield myself from it. It doesn’t matter what happens, win or lose, I withdraw from the “competition” the moment I feel it affects me too much.

It’s just a defensive mechanism that my mind developed based on the previous experiences, so I don’t gamble, it’s not in my nature. Whenever I’m drawn into high risk situations I try to extricate myself from them without committing one way or another.

Watching other people gamble, however, can be very educational. Most do it for pleasure, with very small stakes. Wins make them feel happy and losses make them feel excited. They don’t see them as lost money, they see losses as price of the experience. There are more expensive ways to get an adrenaline rush than a weekly poker night.

BTW, when we say “no gambling” it probably doesn’t mean community games like this. Bingo too isn’t really gambling, it’s a form of socializing, and a short session at the slot machine or a blackjack table isn’t about gambling per se, it’s about “experience”.

I’m not saying that we, as devotees, can indulge in such activities or that we shouldn’t treat them as breaking regulative principles, I’m saying that there’s gambling and there’s gambling. The more serious one is an addiction, like alcoholism, and it can easily destroy one’s life. There’s no question of remaining a devotee if one is addicted to gambling.

Well, that’s not entirely correct either – everyone can be a devotee, just not an exemplary one. All one has to do is to remember Kṛṣṇa favorably and gamblers can offer probably the best prayers in the world. It doesn’t mean we can associate with them closely, only offer respects from afar, but it doesn’t make them into non-devotees.

So, when we see people gambling we can learn a lot about their psyche. They always display two or maybe three personality layers to study. The external one is an image of a man having a good time, or trying to have a good time. Second one is their inner self control – they want to show that they are above the addiction, that they are in control of their mental and emotional state. Addicts also show their “losing” side – you can see that they are totally at the mercy of their addiction even when they try to keep a straight face.

And then there are “winners”, professional gamblers who do not play games of chance but screw others out of their money. Those are the most fascinating type. They seem to be above the hoi polloi, totally in control of their emotions, and they are addicted not so much to gambling but to reading their opponents.

As they say – don’t play the game, play the player. They know odds very well and they have enough patience to disregard minor fluctuations, knowing that the right tactic would pay off in a long run.

They also have “poker faces” – meaning nothing really affects them, they are always well adjusted in any situation, they have absolute faith and confidence in their understanding of the world around them and they cannot be thrown off by anything.

That’s exactly what we need in our devotional service, too. Can we learn it from them? Why not? We just have to do it right, like the Avantī Brāhmaṇa from the Eleventh Canto who had all kinds of unconventional gurus, including prostitutes.

Can we achieve the same level of faith using their methods? That, I’m afraid, is not possible.

Their faith is based on control, remember. They *know* everything around their table, they understand everything, they have experienced everything and they have found and practiced perfect responses to each situation. They earned their confidence.

That’s not how we attain devotional service at all. We can learn everything there’s to know about it, we can offer best courses of action in any situation, we can have a lot of experiences dealing with all kinds of problems and still it wouldn’t make us into successful devotees. We will never *earn* devotion.

I would say that if we attain steadfast dedication and strong faith it won’t be because we know how everything works but because we don’t care. No matter what happens, we keep chanting. We win, we lose, we do something wrong, we do something right – it does not matter. All that matters is that we remember Kṛṣṇa and try our best not to forget Him.

No one wins in the game of life, not even devotees – everyone dies, often in pain and agony, and our goal is not to make our lives or deaths more comfortable than that of non-devotees but not to care about it at all.

We have to develop Kṛṣṇa consciousness and that means forgetting about our own lives altogether. They might look good to others, they might look bad. People might say we are wise and clever, people might say we are stupid old fools – it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that we remember Kṛṣṇa.

Our poker faces should not be faces of people hiding their emotions, they should be faces of people unaware that things around them have any significance whatsoever

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