I want to talk about something that has been bothering me a lot lately in the aim of perhaps disentangling my neural circuitry just a little bit. This is the concept of beauty. I an inclined intuitively to believe that Absolute Beauty exists and that the spirit can readily and effortlessly distinguish between beautiful and ugly. This speaks to the actual existence of an aesthetic sense established by its own power and untarnished by petty human contemplation. But this notion receives its rival in the alternative concept of Objectivity. And here, I do not refer only to objectivity as applicable in science, rationality, and the intellectual pursuits, but also an Absolute Objectivity which transcends humans. One good way of thinking about it I have is by imagining a world without humans. Really what I am trying to imagine is a world without consciousness – this is in fact what I mean. So, in this world empty of consciousness, can beauty really be said to exist. In fact, a more important question to ask is, can anything really be said to exist if there is no consciousness to experience it? So, perhaps this is too extreme a way to conceptualize objectivity and a deflated one is required. Well, I guess a simpler way to define it would be the following: objectivity is a consciousness not discriminating between any two objects in its entire universe. In this way, one can express the concept of objectivity as a doctrine of neutrality. So, in this utterly neutral point-of-view, can beauty really exist? Can a non-discriminative consciousness see beauty? Essentially, I am starting to see that this is a dispute between the two worlds humans naturally reside in: the subjective world, and the objective world. And I am simply trying to determine whether or not beauty can exist in the objective world. Okay, let’s try this from a different angle: can roundness be said to exist in the objective world? Well, here we can either be talking about the concept of roundness, or the actual physical existence of roundness as perceived by the senses. The concept of roundness exists in the realm of the subjective world since it can arise in the context of a personality’s thoughts. However, even the concept can be thought of as an objective occurrence. I had been going with the idea that thoughts are all subjective by their very nature, yet I think there may be a framework for conceptualizing objectivity that includes even thoughts, emotions, and feelings. But in this case, we’ve stolen away all of subjectivity’s realms; what’s left to subjectivity now? How do we define properly the realm of subjectivity? This is the challenge for me: defining the line dividing subjectivity and objectivity. There are many points in life where one comes across the distinction between subjective and objective, and yet still it remains difficult to demarcate it reliably. Humans have a natural inclination to gravitate towards polar opposites and to split the world up into a collection of dualities: night/day, good/bad, white/black, beautiful/ugly, male/female, us/them, etc. And here, I am doing the same thing trying to split the world into subjective versus objective. However, it might be useful to do so from a philosophical perspective simply as an aid to the daunting task of reasoning. So, if we begin with this starting from linguistics, we can define the difference between subjective and objective as a difference of grammatical placement. The subject is the “actor” and the object is the “acted upon”. If we attempt to extend this linearly into the everyday world we experience, it would seem suitable to claim that “I” is the subject and anything else that this “I” acts upon is the object. However, this turns out not quite as suitable as we suspected because it doesn’t clearly express where “fluffy” things like emotions or feelings lie. This is a good enough definition for linguistic purposes but not quite so for our purpose here. But starting from there we can begin to refine and adjust the argument: so, I am the subject and anything I act on is the object. Effectively, this places the whole world perceivable to the senses as the object, as we can rightly make the claim that to see an object is to act upon the object in a certain sense. (I’d like to also tangentially ask, can a subject be acted upon, or does that automatically make him an object?) But what of ideas, thoughts, emotions, and feelings? If we observe closely enough we can learn to realize that ideas, thoughts, emotions, and feelings are just mental objects that we can act upon in various ways. So, in that sense then, even do all these things that we experience fall into the objective realm. But again, we are left with the question, what’s left for the subjective? Well here we can answer it by saying: “I” is the sole inhabitant of the subjective world. But this “I” is quite large indeed. It is full to the brim with ideas, thoughts, emotions, and feelings that it keeps close and labels with LARGE BOLD LETTERS: MINE. So these end up contributing to the subjective world as do many things, in fact, from the physical world which we had shelved quite contentedly on the objective bookshelf. If we make the claim that an “I” can attach to certain colors, musical varieties, taste in cuisine, etc…, then we arrive at the conclusion that even inanimate objects in the physical world can contribute to the subjective world.
Now we have successfully divided up subjective from objective and it’s actually quite amusing to see this duality transmogrified into another. Now we have effectively split the world into “I” consciousness versus universe. This “I” consciousness naturally reaches out and attaches its tentacles to various objects it perceives which it then uses to construct its own identity. In this way, the subjective world begins to leach off of the objective world and this clear boundary becomes hazy. Returning to the concept of beauty, we can conclude that this distinction exists in the objective world, but we must beware to not let our subjective attachments to get in the way. The distinction exists in the same way that there is a distinction between red and yellow. However, if I favor red because of an attachment I feel to the color red and then attempt to construct an argument on why red is better, I am doomed to failure. So, the important thing is to realize where an attachment is obscuring clear view, that the natural and radiant beauty inherent in life can be truly known.
However, here we are still in a bit of a tangle. For although we have identified that certainly distinctions exist in the objective world, we have not been able to reliably identify which distinctions can be labeled beautiful and which can be called ugly. Is this purely due to subjective ego-derived attachments or is there something deeper and truer behind this? Let’s take music as an example since music is an area of creative expression where I can detect some of the deepest forms of beauty. Yet, it is still a task of extreme difficulty to attempt to clearly determine what is exactly about a certain song that makes it more beautiful than competitors. I had for a while been satisfied with a certain definition of “art” that I felt served this purpose for me and it is done by no more than three words, namely: creative self-expression. Creative means it must be original and fresh. This element is always present in works of art in which I detect vast and luminous beauty. They must always be spontaneous expressions molded and formed in the midst of a mind drowning in chaos, and synthesizing out of the boundless insanity of limbo, a volitional act of primordial communication. Self-expression means it must convey a feeling, atmosphere, idea, or any other purely human experience. It must divulge secret and important information lodged and subsequently dislodged out of the hearts of the in-lookers. So it seems with this definition that I hold, I have leached out into the subjective world to draw borders between original and unoriginal, self-expressive and non-self-expressive, and to use this definition as an integral part of “my personality”. It would seem from the previous treatment of subjective and objective worlds, then, that this way of conceptualizing beauty is fully and wholly a delusional attachment of the ego residing in the realm of subjective influences.
But, what of natural beauty which exists at the core of all forms and entities in the entire universe. This is another feeling which I am sometimes confronted with and somehow this seems more absolute and objective. This is because this feeling seems totally unconnected with any philosophy or definition or, in fact, any intellectual effort whatsoever. This feeling seems to emerge out of nothingness of its own accord and it is always associated with an increase in mindfulness and a much heightened awareness and sharpness of the senses. It sometimes seems to me that when I just look carefully enough at the world, I come to realize that everything is beautiful and that beauty is a fundamental characteristic of all manifested forms in existence. And if this is really the case, it would imply that to divide the perceivable objects in the universe into beautiful and ugly is to artificially impose subjective preferences upon an indivisible and undifferentiated oneness totally immersed in a homogeneous layer of natural and absolute beauty.
But, again this poses a major challenge to our previous treatment of beauty. If everything is beautiful then what use is it to even talk about beauty? Does not the very claim that everything is beautiful in equal amounts automatically imply the superfluousness of such a property? I can just invent a new property inherent to all forms in the universe and say that it applies equally to all but at the same time avoiding a clear and coherent definition of this property. This is effectively what we have done here with beauty. Perhaps it is pertinent to pose the question in the case that all objects in the universe are beautiful: must they necessarily all be beautiful in the same way? If we realize that every single object in the universe is different from every other object, then what use is to talk about a beauty that is common to all? In this sense the beauty will be different from one object to the next. However, does it still make sense here to talk about certain things being more beautiful than others? It might be that this itself is the very source of the delusion, the core veil of ignorance blinding true and direct sight into the nature of things. It is this mental factor which seeks to split the world into a million and one dualities out of which this false idea of “more beautiful” or “less beautiful” arises. In reality, there are infinite ranges of difference between every object and another. However, it is this very difference between them which gives them their individual radiant beauty. It is plausible that a certain merging of the previous discussions could solve this dispute finally. Here I mean merging the ideas: a) that beauty can be defined as creative self-expression, and b) that every object in the universe is beautiful in a unique way and that it is nonsense to talk of different “levels” of beauty.
So, arriving finally at a flimsy sort of conclusion, we can claim the following: beauty can be construed as an original expression originating from a plane of existence deeper and more fundamental than the physical world, and that in this sense, if everything is a manifestation of pure consciousness, then everything is beautiful in its own unique and individual way. So, it is unfruitful to attempt to construct an argument positing that certain objects contain more beauty inherently than other objects. This is where the subjective, ego-clinging self begins to interfere with its attachments and preferences. The truth involves observed the world with a detached equanimity resting faithfully in the natural beauty of existence as it is seen reflected through the kaleidoscope that this universe is.