Cosmic Play (Līlā)

With a little bit of creative imagination, it is possible to see God as a child.

If nothing is impossible for God, then God can be everywhere and in everyone. God can be immanent as well as transcendent. God can be both personal and impersonal. God can have form and also be beyond form. God can have qualities and also be beyond qualities. God can be whatever I hope God is, and so much more besides. God can be a child too, why not?

Now why would my heart like to think of God as a child?

Before adults get a chance to meddle in the lives of children and kill their spontaneity, the little ones do everything out of the fullness of their joyful heart. It is possible to see the whole world in this light—as a joyful play of God, a play of cosmic proportions. The divine child is playing on the timeless sands on the shoreless ocean of life. In Sanskrit this kind of play is called līlā.

“God has the nature of a child,” said Sri Ramakrishna (Gospel, 769). Galaxies and planets, mountains and rivers, animals and plants, and of course human beings of all colors and shapes and sizes are the toys in the hands of this divine child, who is playing all alone. No one knows when this play began (and the child doesn’t care) and no one knows when it will end (this the child cares even less). All we know is that the play is still going on. The child continues to play. The cosmic play of the divine child is an interesting way to view the phenomenon everyone calls “the world,” but it requires some gumption to appreciate it.

Lila, Cosmic Play (Līlā), Vedanta

It is much easier to be skeptical of the cosmic play idea. It is also natural for questions to arise. Our joys can be a part of the divine play but what about our suffering? Describing our sorrow and suffering, our trials and tribulations, our losses and heartbreaks, as nothing but a “play” feels like a bad joke, even if the play is God’s. Worse, the divine child whose play generates our sorrows is difficult to reconcile with a God who is loving and caring. Has it come to this now that our fate hangs on the erratic whims of a child?

In the course of a conversation (Gospel, 818), Sri Ramakrishna once said, “The Divine Mother is full of bliss. Creation, preservation, and destruction are the waves of her sportive pleasure. Innumerable are the living beings…. Some are being entangled in the world and some are being liberated from it.”

To which a devotee responded: “It may be her sweet will, but it is death to us.”

Sri Ramakrishna’s reply? “But who are you? It is the Divine Mother who has become all this. It is only as long as you do not know her that you say, ‘I,’ ‘I.’”

That’s the crux of the matter. Who are you? To understand what the divine play really is, it is vital that I ask myself, who am I? In this vast universe filled with all sorts of beings and objects, who am I? Where and how do I fit inside this cosmic puzzle?

Consider the author of a novel. She is writing a story. Her story has a riveting plot, an interesting set of characters, the inevitable ups and downs in their lives, and the resulting turns and twists in the narrative. If a character in her story pops out of the book and tells me that he is not happy with the way his life is turning out, what shall I say to him? My most natural response will be, “Hey, who do you think you are? You are a nobody. Your existence, your future, your fate, depend on the stroke of a pen of your creator.”

The truth is that the novelist is playing with her characters. She has every right to do so. It’s after all her story. She can change the plot whenever she wants. She can kill one and crown another. She can make one person a king and another a pauper. If the characters in the novel begin to think that they have an independent existence of their own, is that the fault of the author? As far as the novel goes, the novelist is the only real being. The characters in her novel don’t exist the way she exists. The others are products of her imagination. They don’t exist apart from her creative being.

That is the insight needed to understand and appreciate the divine play. The “many” that we see in the world, including ourselves, are all products of God’s creative energy. Every one of us is a character in God’s story. The moment I see myself as separate from God with an “I” of my own, for me the world comes to life, its narrative becomes the narrative of my life, its problems become my problems, and I suffer because of my “I”. My willful separation, my alienation, from the creator is the source of all mischief.

All of this can be avoided. If I see myself as a toy in God’s hand—a toy the divine child is playing with—the story of the world remains a story. God is the only conscious being. I am only an egoless toy in the divine child’s hands. When I remain just that, I no longer have an “I” and that stops me from bobbing up and down in the tumultuous plot of this complexity known as the world. I am just one among the many toys in the hands of God—and, this is important, God alone exists.

The divine child is playing all alone. There are no “others” there. Vedanta teaches that if I surrender myself to God and remove the sense of “other”-ness from God, I shall cease to be a mere character in God’s story. My little “I” will vanish. As a result, “others” will vanish as well. I will then no longer be a plaything. I’ll be a player in my own right. God’s play eventually turns out to be my own play.

We need to recover the lost innocence, purity and spontaneity of a child. When we regain these, the “I” recedes to the background, we are able to look upon the whole world as the playground of God. Joy and sorrow, good and evil, life and death—everything then can be accepted as a part of the divine play.

Being aware of the divine play does not lead to condoning evil, or ignoring pain, or winking at injustice. On the contrary, we are able to put our experiences in perspective and then, calmly and decisively, do the right thing in every situation. Every play has its rules, after all. When I am involved in the play, I have to abide by the rules of the game.

But I can, if I want, step aside and witness the drama as a bystander. When I step out, I also go beyond the notions of good and bad, right and wrong, joy and sorrow. I simply am, in the eternal now, fully present in the moment. When that happens, there is neither the child nor the play. There is neither the world out there nor the me in here. What remains thereafter cannot be expressed. The moment I try to express it, the cosmic play starts all over again. The goal is not to express but to experience the truth.

from Vedanta Blog - Vedanta Society

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post

Contact Form