My students are always surprised to learn that Chutes and Ladders(the game) is a spiritually-watered-down version of Snakes and Ladders, a Hindu game about reincarnation, karma, and the soul’s journey to God.
In some ways the two games are similar. Both teach lessons in “cause and effect.” In Chutes and Ladders if you do positive things you move positively forward; do negative things and you move backward – such is life. The game teaches values, but has nothing to do with God, heaven, or the soul.
Hindus place great emphasis on the soul. The great Hindu spiritual leader Mohandas K. Gandhi is commonly known as Mahatma Gandhi. The word Mahatma means “great soul,” and Hindus attribute Gandhi’s greatness to his soul rather than to “him.” This emphasis on the soul is a distinguishing feature of Hinduism that sets it apart from Christianity.
In my introduction lecture to Hinduism I ask my students this question: Does your soul have a body or does your body have a soul? My Christian students always answer by saying “the body has a soul.” Their answer is very Western. Why? Because in Christianity the emphasis is on the body rather than the soul. Traditional Christian theology says that what happened to Jesus, his bodily resurrection, will happen to all “true believers.” Hindus disagree.
Hindus see the body as nothing more than a vehicle for the soul. The soul is eternal, but the vehicle is mortal. Consequently, the soul out lives the body and must move into another one after the body dies. “Worn out clothes are shed by the body, worn out bodies are shed by the soul,” says a Hindu text.
The Hindu game Snakes and Ladders is more than a game, it is a tool to teach young Hindu children about karma and reincarnation. Karma is a kind of spiritual law of nature, and we cannot escape its influence any more than our bodies can escape the influence of gravity pulling us down a slide. In a nutshell, this is how it works: if you screw up in this life you will be reincarnated in a less fortunate life. For example, if you live a life of luxury but are selfish, greedy, and never help those in need, you will come back in a less fortunate life – maybe as a homeless person – so your soul can experience lessons in compassion, charity, and humility. In other words, life is a training ground for the soul so it can learn, evolve, and return to its source: God
The soul’s journey (training) can take thousands of reincarnations, and you get endless chances to “move forward” toward heavenly deliverance from rebirth and death (square 100, see below).
Snakes and Ladders beautifully sums up Hindu theology and cosmology. Unlike Christian theology, Hindus believe that souls migrate from animals to humans. The game begins with all players putting their tokens on square thirty-six rather than square one. Square thirty-six symbolizes that moment in soul development when the soul moves into a human and becomes “humanly conscious” and able to determine its own fate.
It is important to note that there is no permanent hell in Hinduism, the soul always gets another chance to “play the game” and move toward union with God. My Christian students find this strange and odd. But to Hindus the idea of a loving father-like God allowing his “children” to burn in a torturous lake of fire for eternity as punishment for a limited amount of mistakes made in a single life time is incomprehensible as it is cruel and evil. The idea of hell is hard to imagine, but it appears that some people have tried (see below).
As a father I love my children. And, yes, I believe they should be punished if need be. But fire? Really? Forever? As a loving father I will always give my children another chance. I will always give them another chance to correct their behavior and learn from their mistakes. I will always give them endless chances to become better people because my love for them is endless, and I can honestly say my approach to parenting is much more in line with Snakes and Ladders than it is with a Father who ultimately gives up on his children and sentences them to eternal pain and unbearable suffering. But… that’s just me I would love to hear what you have to say!