There are two ways of seeing the material world that often overlap. To put it very simply, one is that the circumstances one finds himself in is a result of past karma. The second is that of “lila” – that the world is but the “play of God”.
Karma is the principle upon which many branches of Hinduism base their explanation of “why we are here.” Cause and effect. You get what you give. “The love you take is equal to the love you make,” to quote the Beatles. Though there is a bit of misunderstanding of karma amongst the general populace, I don’t want to go on about it too much. Suffice to say it can appear “good”, or “bad”. It can seem a curse, it can be your friend. But when it comes down to it, it is merely “cultivated luck” if you ask me.
Lila, on the other hand, is the principle that all the world is a stage, life is but a dream, all that, and we are but players, each dutifully playing our part, but the Cosmic Writer is running the show based on whimsy. I am simplifying both, and I am admittedly being a bit whimsical myself, as is my habit when I get off on subjects so weighty as “The Meaning of Life.” And let’s face it, that is the issue at hand. Lila is the angle taken by the Srimad-Bhagavatam, or Bhagavata Purana. It tells the story, often anecdotal, of Krishna’s childhood.
Both the philosophy behind karma, and of lila are a bit dualistic as both put us jivans at the mercy of “Something Higher” to some degree, whether it be karma already set in motion, or the playful gopal, Bhagavan Krishna himself. The first gives each individual entity a large degree of control over his destiny, while the second is more fatalistic.
But it does not have to be. Not completely.
When tragedy befalls us, we don’t like to think of it as part of the “play” of God. Some would say “If that is the kind of God who rules this universe, then I don’t want any part of it.” But I am telling you, it is better to be in on the joke than to be a victim all your life.
When one looks at “lila” as purely “a show” it becomes a very random universe. You lose control of the situation. All you can do is enjoy the show or not enjoy it. Certainly the principle of karma provides some meaning, but we still have a tendency to ask “why me?”. But if we accept the fact that there are three types of karma, and one of them, Prarabdha karma, has already been set in motion no matter what we do, and we accept that part of our sojourn through life as a show, for our growth, then we can in fact marry the two worldviews. We understand that this is the part we must play at this particular time in our path toward moksha, because of what we have cultivated.