Chapter 1 Can Playing a Game be Therapeutic?

Chatranga poster

Chapter 1

Can Playing a Game be Therapeutic?

View of life

Int. I interviewed some CHATRANGA players and many of them think that it’s a game where people can really express themselves.

R.E. If so then I think it’s because CHATRANGA has the strategy of war, meaning facing an extreme situation. So in that desperate situation, how a person behaves, what strategy they use to survive , what to sacrifice and what to keep, the assessment of the overall situation, comes out from the subconscious and the person’s view of life.

Int. I see.

R.E. Also the CHATRANGA player is playing two parts at the same time in their subconscious, commander and soldier. The part of the commander who might need to send and sacrifice the soldiers to die in a desperate, battle filled war zone, and the part of the soldier who may have to face a life or death situation on the battlefield.

Int. I see. I remember a film which really shows the desperate situation of war. That film shows 12 days of buildings collapsing etc. the last days of World War II. It is called “Hitler the Last 12 Days” made by Germany, Austria and Italy. Have you seen this film?

R.E. Yes, the Russian army coming and the Nazis had to really face hopelessness, some drinking themselves stupid and having crazy parties, others escaping by mixing with the civilians. The part that moved me most in that film, was that there were still officers and regular soldiers who faced up to their responsibilities and tried to protect the city and the civilians until the very end. Some officers and soldiers ran away and escaped saving their own lives, others gave their life to protect the civilians. I am sure that some became prisoners of war and were sent to Siberia for years unable to return to their homeland.

Int, It was probably the people’s view of life, how to live, coming out in that desperate situation.

R.E. Yes, but I wonder who didn’t regret when they became aware of their own death. I think the person who didn’t throw away their responsibility and kept doing their job didn’t regret it.

Int. Yes, I think so too. I also heard from CHATRANGA players that by playing it , they feel something is moving deeply in their subconscious. I couldn’t figure out what would make them feel like that, but after hearing that the commander and soldier are in some ways opposite to each other are going backwards and forwards in player’s subconscious, I thought that this might be why.

R.E. Yes, the commander and the ground soldier are really opposites. A commander’s victory doesn’t exist without the soldier’s sacrifice, ordered by that commander. The soldiers were ordered by their commander to go to the front line, to live or die, facing really desperate situations and conditions. The other possibility or reason why CHATRANGA players say that their subconscious is moving by playing CHATRANGA , might be because CHATRANGA can have an element of Sandplay Therapy.

Sandplay Therapy and the Stone Gardensandplay therapy

Int. What is “sandplay therapy”?

R.E.  It was created by Dora Kalff, a Jungian therapist from Switzerland.
To explain simply, it is a box filled with sand and then you can put various models like animals, houses, angels and monsters into the sand creating a set, making a drama. It is a method of psychotherapy. After creating the set, making the drama, you talk to the psychotherapist.

Int. What part of CHATRANGA is the sandplay therapy like?

R.E. For the CHATRANGA players , to make a strategy by moving the pieces is like making a war Diorama, a three dimensional theatre, making a war camp. At the same time the players are expressing their own sub-conscious. So that’s why CHATRANGA is a kind of sandplay therapy.

Int. Is that why CHATRAGA player Mr Mogi living in Canada, says that he can analyse a relationship by watching how a couple move their pieces when they play CHATRANGA?

R.E. I think so. When Sandplay therapists, from Switzerland, came to Japan and saw the stone garden in the temple in Kyoto, they were impressed and said “This is sandplay!”. The stone garden is designed so that just by looking people can automatically be in a meditative state. Actually when I was designing the CHATRANGA board, where to locate the forest and the buildings etc, I was making it with image of making a stone garden.

Int. Is that so?

R.E. A Jungian psychologist Hayao Kawai started the Sandplay Therapy in Japan and he also played Shogi with children as a play therapy. He also wrote in one of his books that if hidden aggression is expressed when playing Shogi then the player becomes more assertive.

Int. Really? Actually I also interviewed some other people who don’t like to play CHATRANGA even if their friends and partners are keen to play. They say that if they play CHATRANGA their true character or nature is coming out, so they don’t want to play.

R.E. I think it means awareness and awakening of their subconscious is coming out.
Simply put, “True Human Nature” is “Buddha Nature”. During the process of Buddha Nature coming out, people will be aware of various parts of their subconscious. Sandplay therapy and stone gardens are for people to realize or to become aware of their subconscious.

Int. Isn’t it also for the purpose of Buddhist training?

R.E. Yes. And this applies to studying Tao Shiatsu as well. Also the same as receiving practical psychological counselling. That’s why in that process the time will come when you have to face the negative emotions that have been pushed into the bottom of your heart, the scars of your heart. But for that you have to suffer, you have to experience pain because you are passing through a severe way. This is why some people give up studying Buddhism or Tao Shiatsu. For the same reason people often quit psychological therapy counselling.

Wildness makes people attractive

Int. Being aware of the subconscious is exactly the same as facing the negativity or scar of your heart, this is really important for people, isn’t it?

R.E. For example Mr, Hayao Kawai, who I mentioned earlier, wrote in a book, when talking about midlife crisis, “Everybody has a scar in their heart, but many people don’t face this or are not aware of it and it is generally these people who hurt the heart of others (unconsciously).

Int. I see …

R.E. The scar of the heart changes to an internal aggressiveness or violence. Hayao Kawai said in his book that it is really necessary to be aware of this internal violence and that middle aged people who don’t have a wild part will lose their attractiveness.

Int. I see.

R.E. It is really suffering to be aware of the subconscious but by coming aware people grow psychologically and also become more attractive. So from ancient times humans always created a culture of competing for example in sports, martial arts and games like Shogi, transforming the internal violence into a wildness which makes humans more attractive

Int. I can understand that.

R.E. CHATRANGA shows the player’s subconsciousness on the board just like sandplay therapy. Subconsciously (including internal violence), so if somebody is looking at someone with empathy it can become therapy.

Int. I see

R.E. When I first recognized this was a long time ago when I used to teach Shiatsu in a mental hospital in OKinawa (South Island of Japan). It was a psychologist friend of mine who introduced me to that hospital, he also worked there. He loves CHATRANGA and we used to often play together.
Interestingly, win or lose, every time we finished a game he would say “ah this is a catharsis, I feel refreshed. * Catharsis is the purification or purging of suppressed emotions. It is a psychological word.

Alice SchmitzhoferAlice Schmitzhofer (Austria): Medical Doctor with three children in Vienna. She says playing CHATRANGA is similar to watching a film.