Lila (Sanskrit: लीला), or Leela is a concept within Hinduism literally meaning "pastime", "sport" or "play". It is common to both monistic and dualistic philosophical schools, but has a markedly different significance in each. Within monism, Lila is a way of describing all reality, including the cosmos, as the outcome of creative play by the divine absolute (Brahman). In the dualistic schools of Vaishnavism, Lila more simply refers to the activities of God and his devotees, as distinct from the common activities of karma.

Some Modern Interpretations

Ram Shanker Misra in "The Integral Advaitism of Sri Aurobindo" -

"Brahman is full of all perfections. And to say that Brahman has some purpose in creating the world will mean that it wants to attain through the process of creation something which it has not. And that is impossible. Hence, there can be no purpose of Brahman in creating the world. The world is a mere spontaneous creation of Brahman. It is a Lila, or sport, of Brahman. It is created out of Bliss, by Bliss and for Bliss. Lila indicates a spontaneous sportive activity of Brahman as distinguished from a self-conscious volitional effort. The concept of Lila signifies freedom as distinguished from necessity."

Rohan Bastin in "The Domain of Constant Excess: Plural Worship at the Munnesvaram Temples in Sri Lanka" -

"The relation of Purusa to Prakrti - the unfolding force of nature - becomes here a relation of male to female. This is expressed in the Siva temple in the core image of the sivalinga, an expression of male (linga) and female (yoni) union. The basic cosmogonic motif of an unfolding or flowering cosmos is expressed here specifically in the relation of male to female, as well as in terms of consciousness and intentionality (in the concept of lila as the divine play of male and female). As such, the core saivite image of cosmogony as the flowering of consciousness and sexual union rather than the sacrificial act. This theme resonates with other Hindu doctrines, such as Tantra and Sakta."

Heinrich Zimmer and Joseph Campbell in "Philosophies of India" -

"The Vendantic yogi never tires of stating that kaivalya, 'isolation-integration,' can be attained only by turning away from the distracting allure of the world and worshiping with single-pointed attention the formless Brahman-Atman; to the Tantric, however - as to the normal child of the world - this notion seems pathological, the wrong-headed effect of a certain malady of intellect. (...) 'I like eating sugar,' as Ramprasad said, 'but I have no desire to become sugar.' Let those who suffer from the toils of samsara seek release: the perfect devotee does not suffer; for he can both visualize and experience life and the universe as the revelation of that Supreme Divine Force (shakti) with which he is in love, the all-comprehensive Divine Being in its cosmic aspect of playful, aimless display (lila) - which precipitates pain as well as joy, but in its bliss transcends them both."

Implications of Lila

Hindu denominations differ on how a human should react to awareness of Lila. Some emphasize a joyful embrace of all aspects of life ("intentional acceptance") while maintaining distinction from the Supreme, while others advocate striving for oneness with the Supreme. Lila is an important idea in the traditional worship of Krishna (as prankster) and Shiva (as dancer), and has been used by modern writers like Stephen Nachmanovitch, Fritjof Capra, Alan Watts and Robert M. Pirsig.

Lila is comparable to the Western theological position of Pandeism, which describes the Universe as God taking a physical form in order to experience the interplay between the elements of the Universe.

See also


  • The Ramayan, Maharshi Valmiki
  • The Mahabharat, Ved Vyas
  • "Philosophies of India," Heinrich Zimmer and Joseph Campbell, Princeton University Press, 1969.
  • "The Integral Advaitism of Sri Aurobindo," Ram Shanker Misra, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt Ltd, Delhi, 1998.
  • "The Domain of Constant Excess: Plural Worship at the Munnesvaram Temples in Sri Lanka," Rohan Bastin, Berghahn Books, 2002.
  • "Purifying the Earthly Body of God: Religion and Ecology in Hindu India," Lance E. Nelson, State University of New York Press, 1998.
  • "The Gods at Play: Lila in South Asia," William Sturman Sax, ed., Oxford University Press, 1995, ISBN 0-19-509102-7.

External links

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