Ramana 3 sw Lila, Nataraja and the great game of life.

Sri Ramana Maharshi (1879 – 1950) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In India when some great drama happens it’s not uncommon for some chai-stall pundit to wave a hand and grunt ‘It’s just Lila’. Hindu’s use this wonderful word ‘Lila’ to describe reality as an outcome of creative play by the Absolute. It’s a way for us to gain perspective on epic events, a reminder that we are not any one event that happens, nor the ones catastrophe happens to, but the arcing sweep of change itself. We humans are not hapless playthings of the Gods (“Playthings are we to the Gods: they kill us for their sport”. King Lear), so much as that we, Consciousness, are play itself.

Play is one way, perhaps, to describe all of this. Political rallies and comets, lottery wins and Ebola, riots and jihadis, peanut butter and football, aliens and yes even Russell Brand. Even hypotheses about what Consciousness is are part of the whole game. Peter Brown, a very eloquent speaker on all this, talks about the seeming proclivity of consciousness to break itself apart into multiple versions of itself. When consciousness has identified itself as an apparent mind/body organism it seems to enjoy this stratagem particularly. Put yourself in a terrifying situation and watch the mind continually running through possible worst-case scenarios: it’s as if we’re generals continually rehearsing battles which haven’t actually occurred yet. Do these battle plans make us feel more safe? Or can we watch the mind at work with a sort of clinical detachment, recognising that it’s simply doing its thing, just as chlorophyll absorbs frequencies of light, and bacteria multiplies through the process of binary fission.

Like all of my ramblings on this subject it all leads back to one thing. Advaita Vedanta, or Non Duality, can sound complex and wordy and even nonsensical but it’s actually so simple it’s beyond belief. If you need to think about it you’ve already missed it. This teaching points to an ever present reality which is always already here, eternally present, pristine and complete. We are that. And that can never be spoken about. The only truth comes from being it, which is why Ramana Maharshi chose to keep silent most of the time.

And yet part of the whole deal seems to be a sense of play. A sense of pleasure at talking about it, riffing on basic themes, and apparently particularly enjoying the game of forgetting and remembering, in which a human being might suddenly wake up walking across an open pasture looking at the world with fresh eyes, utterly amazed at the beauty and staggering splendour of this field of light.

Play is the simple delight in taking form, and in dropping form altogether. It’s the creative force itself, the pure joy of dancing as the All. Nataraja, the Lord or King of the Dance, is another popular figure in Hindu mythology. Moving within an arc of flames, he performs the dance in which the universe is created, maintained and dissolved. These are difficult, beautiful concepts to bring into our lives, especially when things are falling apart. Can we be the dance even as the breaking happens? Can we see the seed of creation in the most destructive acts? It’s interesting to note that the place of the dance, Chidambaram, which is portrayed as the center of the universe, is actually within the heart.