What is 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.  Then, when we opened our eyes, we saw a projected image of a beautiful peach-coloured 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.


The most important lesson for me was acknowledging that I could only know the external beauty of the rose if I knew that the same beauty was within myself as well.  Seeing beauty outside was an act of recognition.


So what is that Beauty?


Sanskrit has several words for Beauty that fill out our understanding.  Saundarya (सौन्दर्य) which means graceful, elegant and lovely, and also refers to noble conduct and generosity; Chārutā (चारुता), which carries a sense of loveliness, and of that which is agreeable and beloved; and finally, Shobhā (शोभा) which relates to brilliance, lustre and splendour.


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 splendour.  This gives us a very full description of Beauty.  It certainly includes the physical beauty of a handsome person, a harmoniously designed building, an expertly executed work of art, a finely crafted piece of jewellery.


We can move beyond the physical to beautiful behaviour and actions.  What of a mother caring for her child, attending to a grazed knee, wiping away 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?


In the world of science and technology isn’t there something beautiful in a matrix of commerce and invention that can deliver fresh milk to your refrigerator, your favourite movie to your TV, and a gift to your beloved?


And finally, what about the highest values and principles that make life worth living – honour, integrity, 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 behaviour, and acts of kindness to friends and strangers alike.


These are all examples of Saundarya – elegance, grace, nobility, generosity; Chārutā – loveliness, and love itself; Shobhā – radiance, lustre and brilliance.


Beauty is all around us.  And it is within each of us.  At any time, we can rest in a still place inside and look out and see a world of beauty, brilliance and nobility.


The timeless wisdom of Sanskrit lays out a pathway to a marvellous world of love and beauty.  It is a path that is open to all of us.  The destination is well-worth the journey.


Sarah Mane

July 2020