What is beauty?


Beauty is not a romantic or sentimental ideal, it is a real phenomenon that can be sensed consciously, but what is it and where does it originate from?

It appears that, for many people, beauty is believed to be intrinsic to a material object. We hear many speak of a beautiful painting, a beautiful view, a beautiful woman, and so on, but is that really where beauty lies? One may look at a painting and feel a sense of beauty and then attribute that sense of beauty to the painting, but is beauty something sourced through a material object that results in a temporary emotional response, or something far more fundamental and persistent?

We are going to explore together whether beauty is an ephemeral emotion that acts only in response to something perceived, or whether beauty is a persistent quality of consciousness that is most of the time inhibited from expressing itself.

To understand beauty, we have to observe with great sensitivity how this sense of it comes into being, so we ask:

How does beauty operate?

  • One sees that view – glorious mountains. Then, the sense of beauty comes into being.
  • One sees another view – a glorious beach. Then, the sense of beauty comes into being.

These examples can be related to similar experiences that you will have undoubtedly encountered in your life, and from these we can together further explore beauty and ask:

What is the sense of beauty intrinsic to?

Is beauty intrinsic to the mountains or to the beach?
The first time I saw those views they brought about a sense of beauty, but when I observed them again the next day they did not arouse a similar sense of beauty.

There are two points to note here:

  • 1. That each time one observes those views they do not create a sense of beauty.
  • 2. The mountain and the beach are perceivably different, yet, strangely, created that same sensation of beauty in the first instance.

These two factors suggest that beauty is not intrinsic to the mountain or the beach, but is instead sourced from something far more fundamental than a mere sensory form.

To dig a little deeper, we have to follow the trail that caused beauty to appear consciously in the first place, and this means probing into the response we had to the view itself. If the view isn’t responsible for the sense of beauty we felt, then perhaps our response to that view is the source of it.

So, let’s expose the response we had to the mountain and the beach further:

  • Upon the perception of the magnificence of that mountain, the brain became absorbed, and in that state of absorption beauty was sensed.
  • Upon the perception of the magnificence of that beach, the brain became absorbed, and in that state of absorption beauty was sensed.

First, the view was seen. Then, following that, the magnificence of that view caused an immediate interest in the brain to acquire that view and the result was that one became absorbed in it (‘one lost oneself in the view’).

The next question is, therefore, to find out whether this phenomenon of absorption is responsible for beauty, or whether beauty is caused by something more fundamental than absorption.

Is absorption the source of beauty?
Absorption is the expression of a high state of interest. Thus, in order to answer this you must enquire into interest.

Is the source of beauty interest?
Interest is not only a phenomenon that is temporary (i.e., it may last for only a second or for many years), but also has a certain level of intensity (we can experience a minor interest or an immense interest). To question the relationship between interest and beauty, we must observe the operation of interest in our daily lives.

You must endeavour to understand:

  1. When interest is aroused, is beauty simultaneously aroused?
  2. Does the intensity of interest coincide with the intensity of the beauty felt?

If one observes the operation of beauty and interest very carefully, then one will undoubtedly discover:

  1. That there is no exact correlation between the appearance of interest and the sensation of beauty.
  2. That there is no exact correlation between the intensity of interest and the intensity of the beauty felt.

It is possible to feel a sense of beauty through interest, but there is not a direct correlation between these two occurrences.

So, we come back to absorption.

What quality accompanies absorption that could be responsible for this sense of beauty?
In order to apprehend this fact you have to observe the experiences we alluded to above (i.e., the mountains and beach) very carefully. If you do, you will uncover that the quality that accompanies absorption when we feel a sense of beauty is silence.

We now understand the experiences above to play out like this:

  • There was the perception of a magnificent mountain. The brain became interested in that mountain, absorbed in it, and as a result the brain fell silent. In that silent state beauty was sensed.
  • There was the perception of a magnificent beach. The brain became interested in that beach, absorbed in it, and as a result the brain fell silent. In that silent state beauty was sensed.

Interest is the expression of the desire to acquire information. The brain falls silent in this instance because it wants to acquire the view and the requisite for acquiring such knowledge is silence. Absorption, being a state of high interest, has the capacity to cause the brain to fall silent as a result of an intense demand to acquire information, and it is in that moment that beauty is sensed.

So, is silence the source of beauty?

Absorption is one activity that can cause the brain to fall silent, but its source is interest, and interest is only temporary and, therefore, so is the silence it results in. Absorption is the act whereby an object is responsible for igniting an interest and producing a quality of silence; it is a phenomenon commonly known and regularly used by people. An example of this might be the way in which a parent gives a small child a toy in order to keep him quiet, or takes slightly older children out for an ‘active’ day.

The difficulty here is that by examining silence through absorption, the experience is always mixed with interest, and this prevents a clear perception of the possible correlation between silence and beauty. In order to investigate the relation between silence and beauty, we must isolate silence. This raises the question:

How can we be silent?

One way in which one can be silent with minimal distractions is to meditate. To close one’s eyes and be still is a state that begins to remove the inevitable distractions caused by the five physical senses. In this state one will be left with thought, and one will experience thoughts passing through consciousness, but this is normal. What is important here, though, is that one is not enquiring into thought and becoming interested by its contents, but instead one is simply being silent and discovering whether silence has any correlation to beauty at all.

Here, one will discover that silence and beauty have a direct correlation with each other. The extent to which one is silent is the extent to which one feels the immensity of beauty. That is why one who meditates and resides in this silence without a mantra will simultaneously be abiding in beauty.

Beauty is, therefore, not the result of an ephemeral emotional response but is a persistent quality that is only capable of being inhibited, but not created. Beauty is intrinsic to silence, not to the object that brings about that silence, and that silence is always abiding within each of us. It is, therefore, the prevention of a silent mind that is responsible for the prevention of beauty appearing in consciousness.

The silent mind is a beautiful mind.

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