What Shakespeare Can Teach Us About Enlightenment: All the world’s a stage
When I was an undergraduate at university many years ago, my deep enjoyment and love for the works of William Shakespeare blossomed. I had the privilege of taking a Shakespearean class and then during one summer in my undergraduate years, I was able to travel through Europe inexpensively on a bike and a Europass to see the great sites. A memory I remember most is going to Stratford-upon-Avon and watching a William Shakespeare play. I don’t know where my passion and love for his plays comes from but it has been a deep part of my life. His writings have also taught me many things.
When I was in England many years ago for the first time, I was standing in the back of the audience watching the play ‘As You Like It’ that was performed not too far from the birth place of William Shakespeare. These are the words I heard: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances. And one man in his time plays many parts; his acts being seven ages.”
William Shakespeare goes on to describe the seven ages that humans go through, from birth to death. But his words are not merely those of a playwright; his words are those of an enlightened being because he describes who we are.
Everything is one. There can only be that which is permanent. That which is permanent has always been and always will be. So, everything arises from that oneness, that non-dual, that supreme self or supreme reality.
Anything that is impermanent will change. It won’t last so it cannot be that which is real. It can only be a reflection or, in this case, it can only be a play. It is a play that we’re playing and it’s being played so well that we’ve forgotten that we’re the director, the players, the stage, the words and everything.
Forgetting this important information has caused suffering upon ourselves. If we awaken to the reality that life is but a stage on which everyone is playing their parts and that all that we are is a witness to that play, then the suffering can end. We may roar out with laughter during the happy parts of our life play and we may cry out with pain during the suffering parts, but we stand back and we realize it’s just a play.
All the world is a stage and we are merely the players. We are that out of which everything comes. When we awaken to this truth, then we discover who we are. When we do this, we cause life to become a joyful play that we can deeply enjoy. We enjoy the comedies, we enjoy the tragedies and we enjoy the dramas. We can enjoy them because we don’t identify with the players anymore. We realize that life is being played and we awaken to the fact that we are the dreamer of this play as well as its playwright. Ultimately, we are the William Shakespeare of the Universe and all we have to do is play our part, witness who we are, and enjoy the journey of life which has gone on forever and will go on forever.
New universes will be created, new plays will be enacted, but we will remain the playwright and the players, the ultimate supreme reality of everything. We create our lives, we preserve the stories and we also destroy or end them. We are the creator of an infinite number of universes and we will continue to create an infinite number of new universes that will come and go.
When we identify with ourselves as that out of which everything comes, we awaken to who we are. We can then be the supreme reality out of which everything arises, ever will arise and ever will be. The only thing that can ultimately be is that which is permanent. On our world stage that we call life, the only thing is our awareness and witnessing of the play of life. When the play ends, or when we sleep at night, we return to the supreme reality out of which everything comes, everything is and everything will be. Wake up and see the world is a stage!
Our suffering begins when we identify with the players and we attach to their desires and fears. The same is also true that the suffering comes to an end when we stop identifying with our part that is being played. We realize who we really are, and yes, there is still pain and pleasure, but because we don’t identify with these parts, they come and go – we, however, remain the true self of who we are.
When we identify with our true selves, our natural state of happiness and bliss is how we live our lives and it becomes who we are. Without the stories of attachments, pain, suffering and all the stories we create with these experiences, the suffering ends. We end the stories and just be with life; we flow with it and accept it.
Our lives are being completely played and they have been written long before we were born. Perhaps our role in this play called life is to wake up to who we are, and to discover that we are the director, producer, player and the ground on which the play is being played. We are every part of the play. Ultimately, we are that which proceeds and precedes the play, out of which every play in this universe and every universe that ever will be, arises. We are merely players; we have our exits and our entrances. We are playing all the parts of the play, and all the world’s a stage.
Dr. Robert Puff, Ph.D. is clinical psychologist, international speaker and meditation expert who authored, Spiritual Enlightenment: Awakening to the Supreme Reality. A contributing writer to Psychology Today, he has authored numerous other books and creates weekly podcasts and articles on spiritual enlightenment at http://www.EnlightenmentPodcast.com He also creates podcasts and articles on meditation http://www.MeditationForHealthPodcast.com and podcasts and articles on happiness http://www.HappinessPodcast.org