Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Creation as Play

“To declare that we constantly return to these topics because 'speculation is fun' probably is the best reason I ever heard for philosophy and philosophical argument.”

That pleasant comment by Freyashawk on my “Supernatural?” post reminds me of a favorite notion that I want to mention right away.

It is the theory that the universe was created by the Divine, the Source, in the spirit of play, in the spirit of a game.

When I first read that idea from the ancient Hindu tradition (I wish I knew where), it immediately rang true and has stayed with me ever since.

I just did a little research online, with few results. “Lila” is said to mean “Cosmic Play” (play in the sense of an activity for fun rather than a stage play), an attitude that regards the universe as arising from the joyous play and creative adventures of the Divine. Lila explains the universe as a cosmic playground for the gods. A Wikipedia article says that Lila literally means "play," but that in religious texts refers to "purposeless play" - life as a spontaneous game.

(It seems to me that all play must be purposeless, or else it is something other than play.)

What a welcome contrast to the idea that the universe was created as an educational or judicial system.


  1. The idea of divine lila is open to abuse almost as much as the idea of bhakti yoga, or the yoga of devotion, when a real live guru finds himself able to behave badly and get away with it.

    The Christian lila would be a game of snakes and ladders. We start at the desired goal then go down a great big snake of original sin. Then the gamemaster sensing that things have gone horribly wrong, drowns all the players except those in Noah's Ark. Finally he invokes the ultimate cheat mode by sending his only begotten son, whereby you can be as wicked as you like so long as you believe on him. A cheat mode which manifestly does not work - because it causes too much cheating.

    Lila is an explanation for God's behaviour - call it playfulness rather than incompetence - but to me is another old concept to be swept away in the rivers of Lethe.

  2. I very much enjoyed your characterization of the biblical stories, and I may even read "Genesis" again to see if there is any motive at all ascribed to Jehovah, but I can't agree with your dismissal of the Lila notion. As I said, for me it has a ring of truth.

    Addressing your last sentence, is there any other concept of a Creator motive which appeals to you?

    I don't think this is sheer speculation. We experience our existence in the universe, and I have my own spontaneous feelings about the spirit in which the universe came into being. I guess I would call it "circumstantial evidence" -- not necessarily admissible in court, but meaningful to me.

  3. I don't quite have the notion of a Creator in the sense of a being separate from the Creation. It seems to me that spirit evolves along with living things.

    I'd be very interested in your spontaneous feelings and circumstantial evidence. To me that would be solid stuff, which doesn't need to be generalised any further.