All of us, at one time or another, must have been captivated by beauty, be it in the sunshine, in music, or in a bewitching smile. Appreciation of beauty is sometimes we wish to experience, as it enriches our lives. Yet, when we ask what beauty is, we encounter one of the oldest and most baffling questions of mankind. Many people have tried to define beauty, suggesting different definitions with varying manifestations; but no one has succeeded to define beauty satisfactorily enough. Many of these definitions, like many familiar sayings on beauty, are actually not on beauty itself, but on its attributes. Beauty, like love or poetry, is quite difficult to define. We know beauty as if by instinct; we realize its presence when we experience it.
The many aspects of beauty are manifested by the various tributes different people have paid to it. To an artist, beauty is a source of inspiration; to a priest, it is the grace of God; to a philosopher, it is virtue; to a child, love. Consequently, many people think that beauty is merely a matter of opinion. A masterpiece of modern art, they say, may be a beauty to an art critic, but to the uninitiated, it may well be a drunken splash of colours. A Beeethoven symphony that charms and dissolves music lovers like a dream, may equally be as boring as a toothache to the unmusical laymen. These instances prompt the saying that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.
Although this is true to some extent, beauty, nevertheless, is not as subjective as it may seem. Beauty to one person is very seldom ugliness to another, except perhaps in extreme examples of modern art or Beethoven symphony mentioned just now. A beautiful scene is generally beautiful to one person as well as to other people, though that beauty may enthrall each person in varying degree. It is the difference in intensity of appreciation of that beauty, not the beauty itself, that matters. Beauty has certain generally accepted values. It pleases the admirer, satisfies his aesthetic desires, often sends a wave of thrills down his spine, and usually leaves with him a definite impression.
Many philosophers have been deluded to believe that beauty and truth are the same, and they call them the ultimate reality. Some even call this reality God. The difference, they reason, is only a matter of approach. For example, an artist admiring the form and suppleness of flowers, sees the beauty of Nature, whereas a scientist admiring the mysterious growth of the flowers from unnoticeable seeds to full blossoms, sees Nature's truth.
This oneness of beauty and truth is not always applicable, for while there are many happy co-incidences where beauty is truth, there are also occasions where beauty is not truth, nor truth beauty. A rainbow is very beautiful, but it is not real, as it vanishes on being approached. The fascinating silver moon reflected in a placid stream is another example of illusory beauty. On the other hand, truth can be ugly and painful. This is often experienced by idealistic adolescents growing into the adult world, discovering some ugly truths of harsh, unsympathetic society. Besides beauty, the world is also full of ugly truths -- of human sufferings, of hideous wars, of corruption, of humiliation, and of the unscrupulous rich getting bloated at the expense of the ill-fated poor.
Beauty and truth are distinctly different values. They sometimes conflict with each other, and in such conflicts, it is frequently justifiable to concede truth for beauty. For instance, it is ethically justified if a person conceals painful truths with sincere intentions to prevent the otherwise torments of many people. It sometimes need much moral courage to concede truth for beauty. Sheer frankness without thoughtful judgement, after all, is not necessarily a virtue.
Beauty should not be confused with mere prettiness, for they are not identical. While prettiness is superficial, beauty is deep and lasting. There is a quotation of Confucius, mis-translated as "she who is born beautiful is born with sorrow for many a man". What is meant here is prettiness, not beauty. Beauty is a joy of life, and a woman born with beauty is one of the best gifts for man.
Beauty is lasting, though it may seem transient at times. The permanence of beauty, as contrast with its apparent transience, is illustrated by Keats in his famous poem "Ode to the Nightingale". The beauty of the nightingale's song lasts forever, although the song itself may fade away and the bird be forgotten. The beauty of the song lasts, because that beauty which has been expressed by nightingales in the past, will be expressed forever by nightingales in the future. Similarly, the beauty of a flower will remain forever, even though the flower may wither, because that beauty will be manifested in other flowers. The nightingales and the flowers, incidentally, are just media, instrumental for the expression of their beauty. The media may be transient, but the beauty is permanent. Moreover, beauty once absorbed by the admirer, will remain permanently with him.
Beauty is a joy forever; it touches our eyes with wonders and fills our heart with happiness. It makes life worth living. Yet beauty is all around us. We only need to cultivate our appreciation and sharpen our sensibility. Not only is beauty found in rainbows, or lovely faces, in success or poetry, it is found in sympathy, devotion, kind deeds and even in our daily work. We come across it every time, everywhere; only we are unaware of it. To appreciate beauty to the fullest, we have to prepare ourselves to receive it. We should rid ourselves of vanity, avarice, hatred and similar negative attitudes, because they tempt us to accept beauty with suspicion and jealousy, instead of allowing it to envelope us with all its sweetness.
Yet, the highest form of beauty is found not in art galleries nor concert halls, not in glow-flies nor silvery moons. No, not even far up in the imaginary heaven with God. It is with us, ourselves; it is deep inside us, inside our heart. This highest form of beauty, the beauty of the heart, is the source of all beauty as well, because a beautiful heart sees things beautiful. The answer of all prayers, the fulfillment of all religions, is here!