More On Lila

KB dancingBy Swami B.V. Tripurari

The sense in which God “plays” in the bhakti yoga tradition 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.” Just as we are thought by Plato to have been the verse of God’s poetry, while at the same time we are responsible for what we are at present, similarly in the yoga tradition we find both action under the law of karma and its repercussions for which we are responsible, as well as God’s life beyond the karmic realm of cause and effect. Furthermore, in each case the phenomenal world is the play of God, and at the same time he has his own life transcendent to the phenomenal world. Meister Eckhardt refers to this latter sense of God’s play when he says that “This play was played eternally before all creatures.”

In the Krishna lila of bhakti yoga we encounter Meister Eckhardt’s “play that is played eternally before [the creation of] all creatures,” and also Plato’s notion that at play God is and we are “what we really are.” Thus Krishna resonates with the Platonic notion, that of an ultimate reality consisting of a transcendent world from which the mental and physical worlds are derived.

Celebrated physicist Sir Roger Penrose believes that the structures of mathematics are intrinsic to nature. Moreover, if the universe disappeared tomorrow, these eternal mathematical truths would continue to exist in a non-physical, eternal Platonic world.  Penrose writes about such a world in his book, The Road to Reality:

Platonic existence, as I see it, refers to the existence of an objective external standard that is not dependent upon our individual opinions, nor upon our particular culture. Such ‘existence’ could also refer to things other than mathematics, such as to morality or aesthetics, but I am here concerned just with mathematical objectivity, which seems to be a much clearer issue … Plato himself would have insisted that there are two other fundamental absolute ideals, namely that of the Beautiful and that of the Good. I am not at all adverse to admitting the existence of such ideals, and to allowing the Platonic world to be extended so as to contain absolutes of this nature.

In the underlying physical reality we find protons and neutrons that are in turn composed of even more elementary ingredients, such as quarks held together by gluons. However, if we ask exactly what electrons, quarks, gluons and the like are, all we can answer with are the mathematical equations that point to them. Are these sophisticated equations merely mathematical language invented to describe the physical reality, or are they underlying truths intrinsic to nature discovered by the human mind? Penrose opines that the very sophisticated mathematical equations that so precisely describe the underlying physical reality are not a human invention and that the notion that mathematical entities inhabit their own abstract world is an idea that a good number of mathematicians are comfortable with, from Pythagoras to Euclid of old, to Eugene Wigner and many in modern times. Because Penrose believes that the truths that mathematicians seek already exist, he compares mathematical research with archaeology, in which the task of a mathematician is one of discovery rather than one of invention. Arguably mathematics existed before humanity and before the physical world and speaks to us of an eternal, non-physical Platonic realm that the physical world is but an approximation of.

This notion is of course similar to the Hindu notion of transcendental Vedic mantras having no human author. Some of these mantras are thought to be eternal sound formulas corresponding with the harmonic motion of the physical world. And as Vedic mantras are thought to also reside beyond the physical realm, similarly harmonic motion vibrating in different patterns can be translated into mathematical equations representing underlying truths of the universe that also reside in an eternal, non-physical realm. Furthermore, in agreement with Plato and Penrose, such a transcendent realm may very well also include an objective absolute sense of ethics and aesthetics. Such is the world of Krishna lila, a world—a sacred geometry—of absolute beauty, charm, love, and feeling centered on the perfect object of love.

In order to further understand the nature of this realm of lila the school of Bhakti-vedanta explains that pure consciousness is reflected in psychic matter resulting in an approximation of consciousness proper. This reflection of pure consciousness is then centered on the physical world, the result of which is our emotional life and its physical ramifications. For example, a smile is the flexing of certain facial muscles but something much more as well. This more is part of our emotional life, our meaningful life. Thus pure consciousness reflected in psychic matter and then centered on physical matter results in both physical transformations and a materially meaningful but limited, non-enduring emotional life, owing to the temporal and mutable nature of the physical world it is centered on. But when pure consciousness is centered on the eternal beatific vision of Krishna at play, this results in an enduring life of emotional ecstasy. In the world of Krishna lila, perfected yogins are at play with Krishna in forms of emotional ecstasy corresponding with his form, and our material minds and bodies by contrast are but approximations of these yogin’s spiritual forms, identification with which involves more of a struggle to exist than the play of existing to love.


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5 Responses to More On Lila

  1. Thank you Maharaja for your insight. I really became interested in Platonic thought when I took my first philosophy class in college after several years of reading Srila Prabhupada’s books. His stance on absolutism and knowledge gained through a descending process is more akin to Vedic teachings than Aristotle’s relativistic though, which stresses knowledge gained through the ascending process. At the present, our culture, and western culture in particular, is dominated by Aristotelian thought and there lies the fundamental error. I feel that if we are really going to establish Vedic culture in the west, we are going to have to combat the stronghold that Aristotle commands on its culture. Otherwise, any attempt at mysticism is completely killed by its influence.

  2. Apparently, intuitions about the truth (“semina verbi”, as the Catholics would call them) can be found in all cultures of the past and present. The metaphysical intuitions of classical Greece are now finding some correspondence in the post-modern mathematical exploration.

    Be as it may, while most people are preoccupied with their “struggle to exist”, the yogi that focuses on and plays with Krsna reaches “an enduring life of emotional ecstasy”. Now, how true is this? Such yogi would have to be at least at the level of nistha. But even so, his or her consciousness will keep showing first-degree characteristics (i.e. at the psychic level) and second-degree characteristics (at the physical level) which, by their nature, will be temporary and unstable. Then how is it that a yogi reaches “an enduring life of emotional ecstasy” if his or her psychic and physical levels are always fluctuating?

    • prahlada bhakta dasa

      Vayu,
      If i understand your question correctly, you mean to say that how can a yogi (devotee) who still has a gross physical body and a subtle psychic body, both of which are temporary, experience an enduring life of emotional ecstasy?
      Well, “enduring life of emotional ecstasy” is technically called as ‘bhava-bhakti’ and it does not correspond to the stage of ‘nistha’ as you have implied. At the stage of nistha, one’s bhakti is steady; no more defeats for the sadhaka in his sadhana. But the emotional life proper begins at the stage of bhava, although one starts having an emotional life in the stage of ruci (taste for bhakti). In the stage of bhava, one experiences an ingress of the Lord’s svarupa-sakti (internal energy) in a substantial way. Bhava here means spiritual emotions.
      So, its described by Srila Rupa Goswami, Jiva Goswami, Visvanath Cakravarti, and other acharyas, that this spiritual emotion then rides on the mind (the psychic body) of the devotee. It takes over the mind, and thus the mind becomes spiritualized. And whatever actions of bhakti the devotee performs, like chanting, dancing, etc. are all a product of his/her spiritualized mind. It means that the actions of bhakti are arising out of spiritual emotion. In contrast, a beginner sadhaka’s actions of bhakti are carried out more or less by a sense of duty that “i must do it because my guru has ordered me to do it, or because the scriptures have recommended it.”

      Because the psychic and physical aspects of the bhava-bhakta’s body are completely under the influence of Krishna’s svarupa-sakti they are spiritual themselves. This idea is spoken about by Lord Caitanya to Sanatana Goswami when he tells Sanatana Prabhu that the body of a devotee who has surrendered completely to Krishna is a spiritual body (cid-ananda-maya) –Caitanya-caritamrta 3.4.92. Swami B.V. Tripurari Maharaja notes in his book ‘Siksastakam of Sri Caitanya’ that, “Notably, Sanatana Gosvami’s body was infected with open sores and thus appeared to be subject to material conditions even though it was filled with bhava.” So, we can understand that although the body of such a devotee may have such material qualities it is nonetheless of a spiritual quality because it is totally immersed in loving service to Krishna, being surcharged with his svarupa-sakti.

      At the stage of bhava-bhakti, one further cultivates his devotion to develop it to prema-bhakti, love of Krishna. Such a devotee cultivates his devotion with his spiritualized mind. Her bhava then intensifies into prema. In prema one’s mind totally melts under the influence of bhakti, whereas bhava is said to soften the heart. Such an intensely overwhelmed mind no longer has any unstability in devotional service (as you said). One’s mind is fully absorbed in unalloyed love for Krishna; no chance of being deviated to anything else. In fact, unstability is seen in devotees prior to nistha. In nistha, although material desires may arise in the mind they cannot affect the sadhana of the devotee. So what to speak of the condition of the mind in bhava and prema; no chance of deviation at all.

      Yes, such a devotee’s physical body will come to an end, no doubt, and when it does this indicates the devotee’s entrance into the higher stages of pure-bhakti, or entrance into Krishna’s pastimes in bhauma-Vrindavan. Thus his/her spiritualized physical body is enshrined in a tomb (samadhi) through a sacred ritual and is worshipped perpetually by his followers. Their presence can be experienced at their samadhis by those who sincerely pray to them.
      I hope my limited knowledge on this subject is of some help to you.

      Your servant,
      prahlada bhakta dasa.

  3. Prahlada, thank you for your kind response.

    Then, “an enduring life of emotional ecstasy” technically means bhava-bhakti. While it is a deep process that begins with diksa, the Krsna’s svarupa-sakti flood the mental and physical aspects of bhakta when he reaches the stage of bhava.

    I hope you don’t mind me saying this but it is not verse CC. 3.4.92, but CC. 3.4.193. And by the way, I think the footnote 9 of verse six from “Siksastakam” should not say CC. 3.4.192, but CC. 3.4.193.

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