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The Meaning of Lila or Play

meaning lila sanskrit
Episode No. 133

Shambhavi riffs on the many meanings of the Sanskrit word Lila (Līlā), and their relationship to the cosmology of Trika Shaivism and the fruits of spiritual practice. A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi

Podcast First Words

This new gathering is called the Playground. I thought I would start our Wednesday night gatherings talking about the word play. And then next time we’ll talk about the word ground. Because those are both very important words in our tradition.

What’s the word for play in Sanskrit? Līlā. With a long I and a long A. Liiiilaaaa. Why is that so important? Why do people name their yoga studios Lila? And their kids, their dogs, and maybe their goldfish, too!

Lila is the nature of reality. Lila is what reality is doing. When I say reality I mean everything. All of existence. And because that reality is conscious and self aware and has energy, we also could refer to all of reality as God. Everything that is produced, and what is producing everything. So the nature of everything could be described by the word Lila—play.

Now we think of play as something light hearted. And we’re fine using the word play to describe a pickup basketball game, or some light-hearted thing that we’re doing with our friends. But really we object to using the word play if we have to consider that it includes war, murder, death, and suffering. So there’s the rub.

In the standard Sanskrit-English dictionary the very first definition of Lila is grace. So just riffing on that, if we could through our own senses—our own body, energy, and mind—come to directly experience everything that’s happening as playfulness, including everything in our own lives, that would be grace. Because if we experienced everything as playfulness, as creative, spontaneous play, that would be an end to our suffering.