Of Power and Play

The following is excerpted from Aesthetic Vedanta: The Sacred Path of Passionate Love by Swami B. V. Tripurari, available for download.

The lila, or divine play of God, is not easy to comprehend, and the lila of Krishna is all the more difficult. Being play, it is beyond comprehension, rhyme beyond reason. Yet it is not unreasonable. That God “plays” is not a notion outside Western thought. Plato indicated it indirectly when he described human beings as God’s “toys”—“and with regard to the best in us, that is what we really are.” We are thought by Plato to have been the verse of God’s poetry, although responsible for what we are at present. This implies both action under the law of karma as well as God’s life beyond the karmic realm of cause and effect. The phenomenal world is the play of God, and at the time he has his own life transcendent to the phenomenal world. As Meister Eckhardt says, “This play was played eternally before all creatures.” Vedanta tells us that the phenomenal world is caused by nothing more than this play of God. Thus the Absolute moves out of joy in aesthetic rapture.

If we do play, such play arises out of accumulated power, either the power of others or that of our own. As children, our play arises out of the power base of our elders. In adult life, we play as much as we can afford to. If we play without concern for accumulating a power base, we suffer in the long run. If children forgo education, from which one acquires the power of knowledge, their potential for future play is damaged. Thus play requires power, and that expression of the Absolute in which play alone is depicted is also the most powerful.

We are obliged to work as a result of the need born of forgetfulness of our own nature, a need arising out of material identification. This is the karmic struggle. The Absolute, on the other hand, along with those who forget him not, play rather than work. Illusioned souls, ignorant of their potential for relationship with the Absolute, work out of a perceived necessity, while the liberated play not because of what they need, but because of what they are.

In Sanskrit, gods are called devas. The Sanskrit root for the word deva is ‘div,’ which means “to play.” Gods play, and the most powerful God does nothing else. Krishna has described himself thus in the Bhagavad-gita:

O son of Prtha, there’s nothing in all the three worlds that I must do, nothing I need to attain, yet still I act.1

Of all the Gods, no one plays more than Krishna. Krishna lives forever in the magical land of his own fantasy. He does whatever he wants, whenever he wants, and yet in acting so he is loved by all, for he is never proud, or vindictive. He lives not in a palace seated on a throne, but in a common rural setting, accessible to all. Only when the occasional demon enters his play in Vraja are we reminded of his Godhood. Although he descends to earth to destroy the miscreants, his Vraja lila has no purpose, relatively no connection with this aspect of his mission. Thus Vraja Krishna is not an avatara, descending with a mission, but the avatari, the source of all avataras, who has no mission to fulfill. Carefree, beautiful, inviting, he embodies all that is unnecessary in life, its luxuries and leisure, without which life would not be worth living. In all of Krishna’s play, he stands on equal footing with his cowherd friends and lovers, and thus he invites all souls to play with him as well. If we enter his life, we too will play in aesthetic rapture.

  1. Bhagavad-gita 3.22 []

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