LEELA — the Play of the Divine
If mind is crippled, life untaught and crude,
If brutal masks are there and evil acts,
They are incidents of his vast and varied plot,
His great and dangerous drama’s needed steps;
He makes with these and all his passion-play,
A play and yet no play but the deep scheme
Of a transcendent Wisdom finding ways
To meet her lord in the shadow and the Night…
SRI AUROBINDO (Savitri, Bk 10, Canto 3, p. 624)
Leela literally means play, and is the word commonly used in India for the play of the Divine. This point of view, naturally, assumes that there is a Divine; that having ‘created’ the universe, It is actively engaged in the affairs of Its creation; and that for It all the happenings of the universe that we sometimes take so seriously are a mere game. The game consists of changing forms, and new experiences, somewhat like what happens on a movie screen. Since Vedanta looks upon the material world as a manifestation of the Divine, the play consists essentially of the Divine creating and recreating Itself. As Sri Aurobindo says, the Divine is “Himself the play, Himself the player, Himself the playground.”
Why should the procession of forms and events in the universe be looked upon as a play? Going back to the beginning, when the Divine created the universe, It was not compelled to do it, because the possibility of an agency capable of compelling It is itself incompatible with the concept of the Divine. If the Divine did it voluntarily, it may be assumed that It did so for pleasure. Any pleasurable activity may be looked upon as a play, a game, or leela. However, even a game has a direction, a goal towards which it moves. Which way is the leela of the Divine going? The game began with the Divine concealing itself very effectively in matter. How difficult it is to see the all-knowing, all-powerful Divine in dead inconscient matter! Then the Divine started unfolding in successive forms of Its creation through the agency of first the life force, and then the mind. The game became more interesting after the creation of man, because here was a creature who is dimly aware of its true identity, and seeks to discover the divinity that it conceals. Now it is truly a game of hide and seek: the Divine hides, and man seeks – often erroneously everywhere else except where it is easiest to find It, i.e., within himself. That is why man has been compared to the deer who runs in search of fragrance all over the place, little realizing that the source of the fragrance is within itself. However, occasionally, man does discover the Divine within, and goes into an ecstasy. The Divine shares the ecstatic experience because man is nothing but one of the infinite forms of the Divine. The joy of discovery cannot be experienced unless one starts with ignorance. That is possibly why the Divine started with the creation that hid it so well.
This view of the universe also explains why the perfect Divine has created an imperfect world. Since the Divine hid itself in Its creation, and even the most highly evolved form of creation (man) manifests only a small fraction of the perfect Consciousness of the Divine, the creation is inevitably imperfect. The Divine is perfect, but if It does not reveal Itself fully in the creation, It cannot reveal its perfection in the creation. Lack of perfection is imperfection, lack of perfect knowledge is ignorance, lack of perfect power is weakness, lack of perfect delight is suffering. Thus ignorance, weakness and suffering in the world are an inevitable consequence of the grossly incomplete expression of the Divine Consciousness in the creation. Ignorance is not just absence of knowledge; it may also mean incomplete knowledge or erroneous knowledge, as in man. The best tool to which man may turn confidently for approaching the truth is reason. But reason is not an infallible guide to truth. Better tools, such as intuition, are rather rudimentary in man, and therefore he is not confident in using them. However, the game is on. Going by the trend so far, one may hope for a fuller manifestation of the Supreme Consciousness of the Divine in Its earthly manifestations. The mental man would give way to a supramental creature. The unique privilege of man is that he can consciously work towards a rise in the level of his consciousness, and can thereby contribute to the emergence of a new level of consciousness on earth.