Life on a lifeboat isn’t much of a life. It is like an end game in chess, a game with few pieces. The elements couldn’t be more simple, nor the stakes higher.

This comment appears about halfway through Part Two, as Pi adjusts to life at sea and philosophizes on the nature of being a castaway. In an endgame in chess, most of the game has been played out and the majority of the chess pieces knocked off the board.

Similarly, after the sinking of the Tsimtsum, only a handful of survivors (Pi, Richard Parker, Orange Juice, the Grant’s zebra, the hyena) remain. The few that are left are forced into a strategic battle of wits to see who will ultimately prevail. The tensions between the lifeboat’s inhabitants immediately after the ship sinks are high; each inhabitant knows that the game is “sudden death” and that each move must be considered with special care. The zebra, the orangutan, and the hyena all make missteps and lose. But Pi painstakingly charts out his plan of action, and his diligence and foresight save his life.

Life on a lifeboat is simple, but, stripped of all else, the stakes become considerable: life or death. Pi’s life in the middle of the Pacific has no luxuries, no complex processes to participate in, and no obscure signals to follow. Faced with numerous physical dangers—Richard Parker, sharks, starvation, the blind castaway—his only real choice is whether to fight to live or to give up and die. Though he considers doing otherwise, Pi chooses to fight.

The distilled quality of Pi’s existence is similar to the kind of bare-bones life lived by many religious mystics, for whom stripping down to the essentials is necessary for communion with God. A full, varied life with many distractions can cloud faith or even make it unnecessary. However, within a spare and even monastic existence, God’s presence becomes palpable. To put it another way, within the confines of a lifeboat, spirituality looms as large as a nearly 10-foot, 450-pound Bengal tiger.