Originally called Cyan Chaupad (literally Cyan = knowledge; Chaupad = a game played with dice: so “Game of Knowledge”), the game Leela was designed by the seers and saints as a key to inner states and to learn the principles of dharma (1) — usually called Hinduism. With its snakes and arrows and seventy-two squares representing seventy-two planes, the game provides a key to the knowledge of the Vedas (2) the Shrutis (3) the Smiritis (4) and the Puranas (5) Playing the game is playing with the manifested divine knowledge found in the aphorisms and doctrines of yoga (6) of Vedanta, and samkbya (8) which flows in the body of the Hindu tradition as philosophy and lifestyle. While playing, one automatically moves through different squares of the game board. Each square has a name, representative of an inner state as well as a plane. Each name triggers the mind and brings the consciousness of the player to contemplate and ponder the concept behind the word as long as he stays in that square. After a few minutes of playing, the game board starts to play with the mind and intellect of the player—as well as the ego, the strong sense of self-identity, the “isness” of the player.

Neither the author nor the date of origin of the game we now call Snakes and Arrows is known. As a general rule in the Indian literary tradition, the name of the author is considered unimportant. He is but a pen in the hands of God, a tool of expression; and so the name has not been recorded. The influences apparent in the formulation of the game point to an age of at least 2,000 years.

The copy used as the basis of this particular translation was preserved by the family of an author of commentaries, living in Uttar Pradesh about 150 years ago. The present author now has another older, but incomplete, copy of the game board in his possession, which he purchased in Rajasthan from an antique dealer. This copy is much older, but because it is not complete it was not used for writing this version of the commentaries.

A book of chants containing schlokas (9) accompanied the game board. With each toss of the die the player intoned the appropriate chant for the space in which he landed. The schloka described the nature and meaning of the space, represented by a square in the game board. Unfortunately, the book of chants has been lost, and it has become obligatory to write a commentary, showing the network of philosophical ideas indicated by the names of the squares and also introducing the method by which the game board can be used by those who are interested in knowing and playing the game. However, each Sanskrit term has a well-defined connotation within the context of the tradition from which the game sprang. In addition to these definitions, along with information obtained from saints (who played the game when they were young and when they joined their order) and the terminology used in the game board itself, some knowledge came to the author from his own family traditions. All this forms the basis of the present commentaries.

The creators of the game saw it foremost as a tool for understanding the relationship of the individual self to the Absolute Self. Played at this level, the game enables the player to detach himself from the illusion that his personality is firmly fixed. He sees his life as an expression of the macrocosm. Not his identifications but the play of cosmic forces determines the fall of the die, which in turn determines the course of his life's game. And the purpose of this game he sees as nothing less than the liberation of consciousness from the snares of the material world and its mergence with Cosmic Consciousness.

Just as one drop of water, taken from an ocean, contains all the elements present in the ocean that was its source, so too is human consciousness a microcosmic manifestation of Universal Consciousness. All that man can ever know already exists as a potential within himself. For all that man perceives is a product of his sensory organs.

Events in the phenomenal world trigger the five sensory organs (ears, skin, eyes, tongue, and nose). The affected sensory organ initiates in turn a biochemical process, which passes through the central nervous system to be manifested as variations in electrical activity in certain areas of the brain. This play of electrical energy is a gross manifestation of that aspect of consciousness called mind.

The mind presents sensory data to the intellect and ego for evaluation and action. It is from the sensory perceptions that all the desires arise. And desire is the essence of the game—the player would not play had he not the desire to play. Desires are the motivations of life: man lives to fulfill his desires.

Desires can be grouped in three classes, depending on their nature: physiological, sociological, and psychological. The physiological desires are those necessary for survival of the organism. Eating, drinking, sex, and sleep are major physiological desires. The sociological are physiological desires colored by the social context. Rather than one house, a man wants five. His need is for one, the desire for five—a social overlay. His desire for objects of luxury and a better status in society, which he can easily get by display of his achievements, is something that is social, and these desires are different in all parts of the world. Psychological desires all stem from the desire for identification of the self, the ego. The desire for inner growth and spiritual achievements is also a product of the ego. How strange it is that through this path one can lose the ego altogether: the great egotism of becoming egoless.

Physiological needs are recognized by all societies. No restrictions arc placed on their fulfillment. Sociological desires vary from society to society. Psychological needs are common throughout the planet, and include man’s complexes and achievements, disturbances and honors, enjoyments and traumas.

All these desires result from sensory perception and the faculty we call mind. All are biochemical states of the organism: all desires express themselves inside the organism as chemical states. As they produce chemical states, so can they also be provoked by the use of chemicals.

The physiological desires are often called animal needs, for they are the desires man has in common with all other animals. Psychological desires are often called higher needs, for they are concerned with the attachment of ego and the sense of fulfillment that comes from complete identification with the object of desire.

Whatever the source of the desire, the ego acts to fulfill it through five work organs (hands, feet, mouth, genitals, and anus). The action comes only after the sense perception, which was its source, has passed through the mechanisms of mind and intellect.

Each action triggers a reaction. The quality of the action determines the quality of the reaction. The reaction is manifested as a change in working consciousness. Negative actions entrap the player; positive actions liberate. “As ye sow, so shall ye reap": this paraphrase of a Biblical saying points out the law of karma.

Any action the player takes is proper as long as he realizes that all actions plant karmic seeds, which may not bear fruit for years. The fruits of karma may not even manifest in the present life but may submerge only to reappear in some future incarnation. It is these karmas from past lives that determine the course of personality development in the individual.

The real job of the player is to recognize these karmas and their effect on his being. From this awareness comes the knowledge required to raise his level of consciousness. This is the job of karma yoga (10)" And the phenomenal world is the stage on which the Leela (divine game) of karma is staged.

To understand the phenomenal world we must, then, become scientists of the self, exploring the organization of our own consciousness, the planes on which we dwindle all our lives, the snakes that we encounter, and the arrows we find in our upliftment. It is here the game of Leela serves its highest purpose. For it is a map of the self, the playground of the One-becoming-many.


1. Dharma: that which is inherent as law in the very nature of all existing phenomena, that which supports and holds rhe universe together. It is not merely a set of beliefs having no connection with living, but is rather a set of principles for a harmonious and beneficent life. It is a practical doctrine. The etymological meaning of dharma is also “that which binds together.”

2. Vedas: divine knowledge, perfect knowledge, which is omnipresent and sustains all that is manifested. This knowledge is directly realized by rishis (saints, seers, yogis) through samadhi. This knowledge is available as four scriptures:

a. Rig Veda.

b. Yajur Veda.

c. Sanaa Veda.

cl. Atharva Veda.

Each Veda has three generally recognized divisions:

a. Samhitas: collections of hymns or mantras.

b. Brahmanas: containing precepts for establishing the mantras and ceremonies. They are treatises on rituals but are interwoven with many illustrative stories, philosophical observations, and profound ideas.

c. Upanishads: philosophical treatises, based on interpretations given by rishis to whom this knowledge was revealed.

3. Shrutis: cosmic sound frequencies, floating in the cosmos as richis (incantations) revealed to rishis (visionaries). They contain the knowledge of the system by which the energies were vitalized in the universe at its beginning and are still directed by Cosmic Consciousness. Vedas are Shrutis.

4. Smiritis: practical application of divine knowledge and laws inherent in the  objects of the manifested universe. These treatises contain laws that make life divine. They are numerous, but four of them are very much quoted by scholars as the chief Smiritis:

a. Manu Smiriti.

b. Vagya Valka Smiriti.

c. Shamkhya Smiriti.

d. Parashara Smiriti.

Vedas are Shrutis, and all books dealing with the law of dharma are the Smiritis from which the basic structure of Hindu tradition was built by seers.

5. Puranas: next in order after Shrutis and Smiritis. They illustrate the philosophy of the Vedas through stories (from history) of those whose lives reflected the practical application of the law of dharma. They are allegorical in nature and explain the highest philosophy in a very human way. This is the reason the Puranas are called the fifth Veda.

6. Yoga: literally, to join, to unite, to add, union. It is a science of inner growth, which gives peace and the capability to stop mental fluctuations and modifications, which are the root cause of sufferings, miseries, and pain. It provides the ability to rise above the realm of the senses into habitual one-pointedness, undivided attention, perpetual peace, and enlightenment. It has numerous schools, which suggest and provide, each in its own way, methods for an overall development and growth of physical body and psyche (union of solar and lunar principles, control over the autonomic nervous system, etc.). Broadly it can be divided into three branches:

a. Karma yoga: yoga of selfless action.

b. Gyana yoga: yoga of cessation of mental modifications by negation, reaching the ultimate truth.

c. Bhakti yoga: yoga of devotion, love, and surrender.

Famous schools of yoga include:

a. Raja yoga: yoga of the eightfold path—yama, niyama, asana, pranayam, pratiyahar, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi.

b. Hatha yoga: yoga that deals with the training of the senses by working with the body. It helps in achieving the goal designed by raja yoga.

c. Naad yoga: yoga that deals with the sounds of the inner world.

cl. Laya yoga, and cosmic sound; also known as kriya yoga or kundalini yoga.

7. Vedanta: the philosophical doctrine, also called Uttar Mimansa that dominates Indian thought to the present day, dealing with the nature of the self and discriminating between the real and unreal. It explains unity in diversity, the knowledge of noumena. It teaches one to climb from the idea of the individual self, which seems to be a reality apart from Cosmic Consciousness, to the thought that one is a part of the Supreme Self, the Brahman, and can unite with him; and finally that he is and ever has been the Cosmic Consciousness, veiled from himself by ignorance. Vedanta is the science of Self without attributes, and teaches “Thou art That.”

8. Samkhya  : the system of numbers; primarily an account of how creation started. It deals with the evolution of the manifested world.

9. Schloka : a Sanskrit verse.

10. Karma yoga: the yoga of selfless action (karma means action). Actions cover all acts done by the individual from birth to death. A player who performs karma with attachment uses any means that serve his purpose and in his selfishness causes harm to others. One who is not attached to his actions, and performs actions because they are unavoidable, performs karmas with a disinterested interest and does not adopt wrong means. Karmas performed by right means do not harm anybody and are in accordance with the law of dharma. Dharma is inherent in the player’s own nature, if he performs karmas that coincide with the natural bent of his mind.