Beauty and Perception


P: where is the resting place of beauty? Where does beauty reside? Obviously, the outer manifestations of beauty are observable in the right relationship between space, form and colour, and between human beings. But what is the essence of beauty? In Sanskrit texts three factors are equated—the True, the Good and the Beautiful as satyam, śivam, sundaram.

K: What are you trying to find out? Do you want to find the nature of beauty? What do the professionals say?

P: Traditionalists would say: satyam, śivam, sundaram. The artist today would not differentiate between the seemingly ugly and the seemingly beautiful, but would regard the creative act as the expression of a moment, of a perception that gets transformed within the individual and which finds expression in the action of the artist.

K: You are asking: What is beauty, what is the expression of beauty, and how does the individual fulfil himself through beauty? What is beauty? If you started as though you knew nothing about it, what would your reaction be? This is a universal problem: it was a problem for the Greeks, for the Romans, and it is still a problem for people today. So what is beauty? Does beauty lie in the sunset, in a lovely morning, in human relationships—between mother and child, husband and wife, man and woman? Does beauty lie in the extraordinarily subtle movement of thought and in clear perception? Is that what you call beauty?

P: Can there be beauty also in the terrible, the ugly?

K: In murder, in butchery, in throwing bombs, in violence, in mutilation, torture, anger, in the brutal, violent, aggressive pursuit of an idea, in wanting to be greater than somebody—is there beauty in that? Where is beauty if a man hits another?

P: In all these acts there is no beauty, but isn’t there beauty in the creative act of the artist who interprets the terrible, like Picasso’s Guernica?

K: So we have to ask: What is expression, what is creativity? You ask: What is beauty? Does it lie in a sunset, in the clear light of the morning, the light on the water, in relationship? And does beauty lie in any form of violence, including competitive achievement? Is there beauty per se, or does it lie in how the artist expresses himself? A child tortured can be expressed by an artist, but is that beauty?

P: Beauty is a relative thing.

K: The ‘I’ which sees, which is conditioned and which demands self-fulfilment is relative.

Now, is beauty good taste? Or, does beauty have nothing in common with it, but lies in the artist’s expression and, therefore, in his fulfilment? The artist says: I must fulfil myself through expression. The artist would be lost without expression, which is part of his sense of beauty and his self-fulfilment. We ourselves try to find beauty in other people’s expression, in architecture and in beautiful bridges—like the Golden Gate Bridge, or the bridges over the Seine—in modern buildings of glass and steel and in the gentleness of a fountain. We seek beauty in museums, and in a symphony.

What is amiss in the man who is seeking beauty? So, can we ask what is the inwardness, the feeling, the subtlety in the word ‘beauty’, so that beauty is truth and truth is beauty?

P: The expressions of other people are the only sources of beauty that are available to us.

K: What does that mean?

P: In seeing the bridge a certain quality arises within me which I call beauty. It is only in the perception of something beautiful that the quality of beauty arises in many individuals.

K: I understand that. I am asking: Does beauty lie in self-expression?

P: One has to start with what exists.

K: Which is other people’s expression. Not having the perceptive eye, the strange inward feeling of beauty, I say: How beautiful that picture is, how beautiful that poem is, that symphony. Remove all that, and the individual knows no beauty. Therefore he relies, for his appreciation of beauty, on expression, on objects—on a bridge or a good chair. Does beauty demand expression, especially self-expression?

P: Can it exist independent of expression?

K: Perception of beauty is its expression; the two are not separate. Perceiving is expressing; there is no time interval at all. Seeing is doing, acting; there is no gap between seeing and doing.

I want to observe the mind that sees, where seeing is acting; I want to observe the nature of the mind that has this quality of seeing and doing. What is this mind? It is essentially not concerned with expression. Expression may come, but it is not concerned. Expression takes time—to build a bridge, to write a poem. But to the mind which sees, the mind to which perceiving is doing, there is no time at all. Such a mind is a sensitive mind; such a mind is the most intelligent mind. And without that intelligence, is there beauty?

P: What is the place of the heart in this?

K: Do you mean the feeling of love?

P: The word ‘love’ is a loaded term. If you are still, there is a strange feeling, a movement which takes place from this region of the heart. What is this? Is this necessary or, is it a hindrance?

K: This is the most essential part of it. There is no perception without that; mere intellectual perception is no perception. The action of intellectual perception is fragmentary, whereas intelligence implies affection, the heart. Otherwise you are not sensitive; you cannot possibly perceive. Perceiving is acting. Perceiving, acting without time is beauty.

P: Do the eyes and the heart operate at the same time in the act of perception?

K: Perception implies complete attention. The nerves, the ears, the brain, the heart—everything is at the highest quality. Otherwise there is no perceiving.

P: Is the fragmentary quality of sensory action due to the fact that the whole organism does not operate at the same time?

K: The brain, the heart, nerves, eyes, ears are never completely in attention and, as they are not, you cannot perceive.

So what is beauty? Does it lie in expression, in fragmentary action? I may be an artist, an engineer, a poet; poets, engineers, artists and scientists are fragmentary human beings. One fragment becomes extraordinarily perceptive, sensitive and its action may express something marvellous, but it is still a fragmentary action.

P: What is that state when the organism perceives violence, terror or ugliness?

K: Let us take violence in its multifarious forms—but why are you asking that question?

P: It is necessary to investigate this.

K: Is violence part of beauty? Is that what you are asking?

P: I will not put it that way.

K: You see violence. What is the response of a perceptive mind, in the sense in which we are using the word ‘perceptive’, to various forms of destruction, which is part of violence? (pause)

I’ve got it. Is violence a fragmentary act or is it an act of a totally harmonious perception?

P: No.

K: So you are saying that it is a fragmentary action. Fragmentary action must deny beauty.

P: You have inverted the situation.

K: What is the response of a perceptive mind when it sees violence? It looks at it, investigates it and sees it as a fragmentary action; and therefore it is not an act of beauty. What happens to a perceptive mind when it sees a violent act? It sees ‘what is’.

P: To you the nature of the mind does not change as such?

K: Why should it change? It sees ‘what is’. Go a step further.

P: Does the perceiving mind, observing violence which is fragmentary, and seeing ‘what is’, act on violence? And, in the very act of seeing, does it change its nature?

K: Wait a minute. You are asking: What is the effect of the perceiving mind when it observes violence?

P: You said: It sees ‘what is’. Does it alter ‘what is’? Does the perceiving mind, in the very observing of violence and seeing ‘what is’, act on violence and change its nature?

K: Are you asking whether the perceiving mind, in seeing ‘what is’, that is, the act of violence, asks: What shall I do? Is that it?

P: Such a mind does not do that, but there must be some action from the perceiving mind which changes the violence in the other.

K: The perceiving mind sees a violent act. Such an act is fragmentary. What action can there be on the part of the perceiving mind?

P: The perceiving mind sees violence on the part of x; seeing is acting.

K: But what can it do?

P: If the perceiving mind acts, it must change the violence in x.

K: Let us get this clear. The perceiving mind sees another acting violently. To the perceiving mind, the very seeing is the doing. That is a fact; perception is action. The perceiving mind sees x in violence. What is the action involved in that seeing?—the stopping of violence?

P: All those are peripheral actions. I am saying that when a perceiving mind is confronted with an act of violence, the very act of perceiving will alter the action of violence.

K: Several things are involved here. The perceiving mind sees an act of violence; the man who is acting violently may respond non-violently, because the perceiving mind is near him, close to him—and suddenly this happens.

P: One comes to you with a problem, say of jealousy. What happens in an interview with you when a confused person comes to you? In the very act of perceiving, the confusion is not.

K: Obviously that happens because of contact. You have taken the trouble to discuss violence, and something happens because of a direct sharing of the problem—there is communication. That is simple. You see a man far away acting with violence. What is the action of the perceiving mind there?

P: There must be tremendous energy from a perceiving mind, that must have some action.

K: It may act. You cannot be as certain of that as you can be in close proximity. The other may wake up in the middle of the night; he may become aware of the strange response later, depending upon his sensitivity. This may or may not be due to the perceiving mind and its impact; whereas this close communication is different. It does bring about change.

Let us come back. You were asking what beauty is. I think we can say that the mind which is not fragmentary in itself, which is not broken up, has this beauty.

P: Has it any relationship to sensory perception? If you close your eyes, your ears—

K: Even when you close your ears and eyes, because there is no fragmentation, the mind has this quality of beauty, of sensitivity. It is not dependent on external beauty. Put the instrument of such a mind in the middle of the noisiest city, what takes place? Physically it gets affected, but the quality of the mind that is not fragmented, is not affected. It is independent of the surroundings, therefore it does not concern itself with expression.

P: That is the aloneness of it.

K: Therefore beauty is aloneness. Why is there this craving for self-expression? Is that craving part of beauty—whether it is the craving of a woman for a baby, of a husband for sex in the moment of tenderness, or of the artist craving for expression? Does the perceptive mind demand any form of expression? It does not, because perceiving is expressing, is doing. The artist, the painter, the builder finds self-expression. It is fragmentary; and therefore its expression is not beauty.

A mind that is conditioned, that is fragmentary, expresses the feeling of beauty, but it is conditioned. Is that beauty? Therefore, the self which is the conditioned mind can never see beauty, and whatever it expresses must be of its quality.

P: You have still not answered one aspect of the question. There is such a thing as creative talent, the ability to put together things in a manner which gives joy.

K: The housewife baking bread, but not ‘in order to’—not because of something else. The moment you do that you are lost. The speaker does not sit on the platform and speak because it gives him joy. The source of water is never empty; it is always bubbling. Whether there is pollution or the worship of water, it is bubbling; it is there.

Most people who are concerned with self-expression have self-interest. The artist, famous or otherwise, belongs to that category. It is the self which makes for fragmentation. In the absence of the self, there is perception. Perception is doing, and that is beauty.

I am sure that the sculptor who carved the Maheśamūrti at Elephanta created it out of his meditation. Before you put your hand to a stone or a poem, there must be a state of meditation; the inspiration must not be from the self.

P: The tradition of the Indian sculptor was that.

K: Beauty is total self-abandonment; and with the total absence of the self there is that. We are trying to catch that without the absence of the self; creation then becomes a tawdry affair.