Lila, or divine play, pastime, is a philosophical/theological necessity arising out of metaphysical worldviews such as Sri Caitanya’s acintya-bhedabheda [inconceivable simultaneous oneness and difference — both horizontal and vertical: soul-soul, God-souls], as well as other Vaishnava interpretations of revelation/Vedanta. Lila also plays a prominent though secondary role in Advaita Vedanta, where the divine play of Godhead is said to be a manifestation of ultimate reality in this world that does not endure in liberation.
The Bhagavata[Srimad Bhagavatam] itself is decidedly theistic and embraces a post-liberated life of participation in lila with God as its end (prema prayojana). Thus it was firmly embraced by Sri Caitanya. Although Krishna lila as depicted in the text represents an impression of the nature and basic structure of his transcendental lila, it at the same time represents an approximation of the lila, for Krishna lila lies beyond the scope of thought and language.
"A post-liberated life of participation in lila with God", in one of the five relationships,rasas. Arjuna on the left: friend.
Suffice to say that God plays. God celebrates himself and thus dances out of fullness. The nature of his static (unchanging/passive) reality is that it is simultaneously dynamic (active). Thus in various forms, his reality overflows into the world of our experience, and sacred texts such as theBhagavatatry to capture and relate to us the essence of that expression. While Krishnalilarefers specifically to the romantic, carefree life ofsvayam bhagavan [Krishna Himself], in a broader sense it refers to all forms of divinelilaon the part of the various Vishnu avataras. Allegory may play a role in describing such divine expressions, but thelilaitself is an ontological reality.
In some respects the descriptions of lila need not be taken literally, for the experience of lila transcends any attempt to describe it. However, the descriptions of lila represent the bhava [internal feeling-experiencing] of devotees immersed in love of God, their attempts to describe their experience. People sometimes question if the lila is real as described. It is as real as the bhava of the devotee who experiences and describes it, and bhava is about as real as one can get.
However, most important in all of this is entering the flow of the lila oneself. Dhara means stream, and the name Radha, in which the same syllables are found in reverse, implies that the stream of love of God flows two ways: from Bhagavan [God] to bhakta [devotee] and from bhakta to Bhagavan. Bhagavan is the ocean of rasa[taste or emotional rapture]and the bhakta is a drop, which the stream of love — best exemplified by Radha — connects to the ocean of rasa.
Love, giving, is at the heart of lila. Give yourself and try to enter the stream of love — Radha Bhagavatam, Srimad Bhagavatam. Taking the description of lila in the text literally may be helpful in this pursuit, in bhajana. No harm. Our interest is in jnana sunya bhakti, devotion unencumbered by knowledge or the need to know. And for that matter, to love is to know in the full sense of the term.