It's All About Play: Lila 101
Muktananda (1971) describes the universe as a Play of Consciousness. The playful nature of the Divine is ancient and pervasive, going back as far as the RgVeda and the Upanishads (Coomaraswamy, 1941), although the word lila itself was first used in the Vedanta Sutras of Badarayana 2.1.33: “the supreme Lord creates the world merely in play (lilakaivalayam)” (Sax, 1995, p. 4). The word lila means play, and is most often associated with the play of the Divine, who creates freely, merely for the joy of it, out of spontaneous creativity, not by any need, lack or desire.
Sax (1995) notes that lila is an important concept and remains part of ordinary Hindu life. When he asked Indian people what lila meant, they would often tell him that “God created the world in the spirit of Lila, like a child who builds sandcastles and then unattached to his or her creation knocks it down and builds it again” (p. 3). In Gitanjali, Tagore uses this same image adding "in truth, in self-willed joy, there is something in common between the lila of childhood and the works of God” (Sax, p. 3). The notion of lila is also used to explain human suffering. Mysterious and tragic events are viewed as part of the mysterious play of the gods. Lila reflects the spontaneous nature of the Divine, being not entirely predictable. Sax notes that while this concept could lead to resignation, when it is embraced, it is often regarded as emancipatory.
Although most modern Hindu spokesmen are not enamored of the concept of lila, Sri Aurobindo has embraced lila’s world-affirming cosmological implications: “to support appreciation of the world in a spirit of religious wonder and to sustain a joy in living” (Hein, 1987, p. 551). Aurobindo (2000), in The Life Divine, teaches that the Divine is “a free artist” who creates real worlds and beings, and plays with and in souls in order to “lead them to ever higher levels of consciousness” (p. 553).