Philosophy: Leela, the Divine Play


Krishna dances with the gopis, representing God dancing with each soul as part of the divine raas-leela.
Krishna dances with the gopis, representing God dancing with each soul as part of the divine raas-leela.


Like many of you, I wear several names. Perhaps you already know my two given names – Kavita and Shakti – which have their own unique and special meanings in my life.

But there is one name that is more special than the others, a name that is not known, a name that is secret. It was the name spoken by the vibration of the universe at the moment of my birth, according to the Hindu arts. It is the name by which the stars know me, and perhaps more importantly, it is the name by which I secretly know myself.

This name is Leela.

I would like to share with you what leela is and what it means to me, as an exploration of this foundational Hindu concept.

The word leela is Sanskrit for ‘the divine play of God’. Fritjof Capra captures the idea well in his book, The Tao of Physics:

The basic recurring theme in Hindu mythology is the creation of the world by the self-sacrifice of God—‘sacrifice’ in the original sense of “making sacred”—whereby God becomes the world which, in the end, becomes again God.

This creative activity of the Divine is called lila, the play of God, and the world is seen as the stage of the divine play.

Like most of Hindu mythology, the myth of lila has a strong magical flavour. [God] is the great magician who transforms himself into the world and then performs this feat with his ‘magic creative power’, which is the original meaning of maya in the Rig Veda. The word maya—one of the most important terms in Indian philosophy—has changed its meaning over the centuries. From the might, or power, of the divine actor and magician, it came to signify the psychological state of anybody under the spell of the magic play. As long as we confuse the myriad forms of the divine lila with reality, without perceiving the unity of [God] underlying all these forms, we are under the spell of maya.”

As such, leela represents the idea that, as Shakespeare put it, “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” God, which is understood as the Original Consciousness, continually transforms itself into the diversity of creation in order to understand itself from infinite angles.

As Leela, I know myself to be an actor on the cosmic stage, playing a role that was set into motion by causal chains that go all the way back to the Birth of the All Things.

But I am also a spark of that Original Consciousness, and am therefore also the Observer itself – enjoying my own ‘performance’ and that of the others around me, as detached from the ups and downs of my own life as an actor is detached from the ups and downs of his character.

When my mind is clear on this, nothing truly matters except what I am learning in the present moment. Both joy and pain become my equally valued teachers. And I am able to appreciate each person’s body, mind and experience as the unique funnels through which they manifest new perspectives on existence to share with the Whole.

When I am at my clearest and most connected, Leela is therefore the only name by which I can know myself. And I share it with you today as a promise to carry this level of consciousness into everything that I do.

As I am leela, you too are leela, and we both have the choice to be either unconscious or lucid dreams in the mind of God. And how much sweeter would it be, to live in a dream when you are fully awake?

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