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“Beauty is not in the face,
Beauty is a light in the heart.” ~ Kahlil Gibran
What is Beauty?
I am incredibly grateful that in my life I have had teachers, mentors, and guides who laid out for me the lessons of timeless wisdom and set out a practical path to increased awareness and self-knowledge.
On that journey to higher consciousness, I was guided through many wonderful exercises and practices which led me to the personal experience of higher consciousness. One such exercise was concerned with the contemplation and experience of beauty.
One day, at a retreat—I was quite young at the time—I was in a group, and we were asked to fall deeply still and find a restful place within. When we opened our eyes, we saw a projected image of a beautiful peach-colored rose, bathed in sunlight, with a drop or two of water on the petals. We were asked to simply allow the eyes to rest on this image.
There is much that can be said about such a simple exercise of contemplating a beautiful image with a clear mind and a still heart. For me, the most important thing was acknowledging that I could only know the external beauty of a rose in full bloom if I knew that the beauty was within myself as well.
Seeing beauty outside was an act of recognition.
I knew that beauty was already within myself. And I understood that it was the same beauty. So what is that beauty, that we see around us, and that we experience as part of our own being?
Sanskrit has several words for Beauty that fill out our understanding:
>> Saundarya (सौन्दर्य) means graceful, elegant, and lovely, and also refers to noble conduct and generosity.
>> Chārutā (चारुता), carries a sense of loveliness and of that which is agreeable and beloved.
>> Shobhā (शोभा) relates to brilliance, luster, and splendor.
We can combine the meanings of these three words and say that beauty is lovely, graceful, and elegant, and also noble and generous, it is beloved, and it shines and radiates splendor. This gives us a full description of beauty—one that certainly includes the physical beauty of a handsome person, a harmoniously designed building, an expertly executed work of art, or a finely crafted piece of jewelry.
But this full description of beauty, derived from Sanskrit, with its inclusion of nobility, generosity, love, and splendor, takes us beyond the merely physical.
The sun-dappled rose is a thing of beauty. It is elegant and lovely. In a subtle and magical way, it is also generous. The flower displays its beauty and its radiance to whomever happens upon it, without any judgment or any wish for anything in return.
We can move further beyond the physical to beautiful behavior and actions.
What of a mother caring for her child, attending to grazed knee, wiping away the tears, setting him back on his feet? Here is beauty indeed.
And in the world of creativity and invention, what of a piece of beautiful music that uplifts the hearts and nourishes the minds of the audience and the players alike?
What of a painting that presents to us a view of the world that surprises and delights?
Or a poem or novel that opens a door to intriguing places and allows us to experience emotions and ideas in a fresh way?
Here, in all of these, we also we find great beauty.
And so too in the world of science and technology—the intricacies of the machines and computers within factories, the airplanes, cars, and great ships, that allow us to move around the world, and which bring us all that our heart desires. Isn’t there something beautiful in a matrix of commerce and invention that can deliver fresh milk to our refrigerators, our favorite movies to your TVs, and a gift to our beloved?
And finally, what of the highest values and principles that make life worth living—honor, kindness, courage, respect, justice, and wisdom? Aren’t these perhaps the most beautiful things of all? To see honesty in action, respect in speech, courageous behavior, and acts of kindness to friends and strangers alike?
These are all examples of saundarya in its elegance, grace, nobility, and generosity; chārutā in its loveliness, and love itself; shobhā in its radiance, luster, and brilliance. And we see these everywhere, if we would just open our eyes.
In the exercise with the rose, we were asked first to close our eyes and find a still place of peace within our hearts. Then, when we opened our eyes, we were presented with the sight of the peach-colored rose. It was a wonderful experience carefully created by intelligent and sensitive teachers. But we don’t have to wait for such perfect circumstances.
Beauty is all around us. And, more importantly, it is within each of us. At any time, we can go to a still place inside and see a world of beauty, brilliance, and nobility.
The timeless wisdom of Sanskrit lays out a pathway to a marvelous world of love and beauty. It is a path that is open to all of us. The destination is well worth the journey.