Ideas of beauty are found in almost, if not every, culture. At almost every period in human history, these ideas have also shared many similarities.
In a world where concepts of beauty have become so detached from moral and ethical considerations, degraded and philosophically reduced to objectification and commodity, is it important within the buddhist traditions that we attempt to reconnect and reconcile with the true nature of beauty as a valid and meaningful endeavor for personal practice and self-improvement? Within the buddhist traditions the experience of beauty intrinsically serves a higher purpose than the object itself. This purpose is ethical or religious in nature and furthermore defines beauty, as a form of knowing not driven by the ordinary senses (I too would hope to understand it this way). It is through the inexplicable nature of beauty that in an instance, outward forms of exquisitely realized deities are de-materialized, giving way to the transcendence of material reality. The earth-bound beauty of everyday customs and daily rituals of small duties stir a deepening of religiosity in our sense of everyday life, linking the finite, human world to the infinite and divine.
This connection with our world through the experience of beauty unites us with our surroundings and, at the same time, serves as a right of passage into the higher realms of buddhist philosophy. Through experiencing beauty we are brought into the presence of the sacred. There is no need for understanding or accepting religious doctrine in the experience of beauty, so it also has a special resonance in daily life, calling upon our higher nature and connecting us to the transcendental, ideal and divine with nothing more than our presence to the world. The beauty we experience does not prescribe faith but places value upon our lives, reminding us we are more than creatures with purely animal appetites and contractual claims to one another. Unexpressed moments in our lives can be expressed through beauty, because they endorse their realities through the representation of things not seen – beauty is not always seen, but always felt.
For those who are in turmoil, deep and troubling emotions can achieve unity and freedom through visualization of the divine and we are reminded of our shared humanity. Through glimpsing these celestial realms of beauty we are moved into feeling as opposed to just knowing what we should feel. And so beauty acts as an essential tool in the practice of Buddhism, and just as religion, is about the inner mind’s ultimate fulfillment.
Peace and Love, Jim