Q: In the Kashmiri tradition, how is beauty seen? Can you say this is beautiful, this is not beautiful? Is a decomposing body beautiful, or not?
A: Of course, a dead body is very beautiful. I remember a friend of mine, many years ago, the first day he was all gray, then he became white, and then green… But actually, we don't talk about aesthetic beauty in Kashmir. We talk about the feeling of beauty. Abhinavagupta is very clear that when you see a beautiful show, it is not the beauty of the show which comes to you, it is your inner beauty which is revealed by the show. So basically the beauty of the show, you can only see with closed eyes. And beauty is not something which we see, it is an inner feeling, a sense of harmony. When you travel along, sometimes you see a sky, and it's so beautiful you cannot even say it's beautiful. It is like that. Or sometimes you're sitting with somebody and you feel this intimacy and intensity, and it is beautiful. So it is this intensity which we call beauty.
Of course, it can manifest at the visual or auditory level, but only in a symbolic way. Because the beautiful body will become a decaying body, and if you look without the psychological mind, you can see the beauty in a decaying body and in a dead body. But only if you see it with no psychological interference.
So, beauty is everywhere, but there are certain ways in which beauty touches us more, and that isn’t universal, it depends on culture. If we listen to Bach, maybe we will feel beauty, but if you play it to somebody from Amazonia, maybe they won’t like it as much. It’s the same for painting, sculpture or any art. So beauty belongs to culture. The way beauty unravels within us depends on our culture. And some people are more open than others. They can be stirred by more culture than others. Some people can only be stirred by their own culture.
In any case, in Tantra we emphasize the fact that when you see something beautiful, whether it's a man, a woman, a cow, the sun, the moon, anything, what is important is to shut your eyes and to feel the beauty. It's very important. Like when you finish making love, you shut your eyes and you feel the beauty. If what stimulates you is to steal a red car, steal the car. But after you steal the car, shut your eyes—of course after you stop the car—and feel the beauty.
Happiness never comes from the situation. It only seems like it does. So actually, what seems to bring us to beauty does not bring us to beauty. It just brings us back to our inner beauty. So at some point, when you realize that nothing as such contains beauty, but that everything can bring you back to your own beauty, the drive to live your life looking for beauty will reduce and then extinguish. When you stop looking for beauty, you will feel the beauty more and more. When you stop looking for pleasure, for happiness, you feel pleasure and happiness more and more.
If I look for something, in a way I go away from it. If I think the beauty or the joy is in this situation, the moment the situation ends, of course the pleasure or the joy goes away. But when I feel the joy of the situation, if I'm taught to shut my eyes, to shut all my senses and to feel it, very soon I will see that every situation can bring me to this beauty. And then there will be more and more moments in my life when beauty comes to me. My husband sleeps with somebody else, my lover is in a bad mood, my child is sick and my body is not better. I have no money to pay my rent and I’m walking down the street, and here comes a moment of happiness, of joy. Why, I don't know. And when you begin to feel moments of joy for no reason, you lose even more the impetus to look for joy in some reason, in some situation. And when you stop looking for beauty in any particular direction, joy will be coming more and more, from everywhere.
So in Tantra, we don't emphasize beauty. We emphasize the inner feeling of beauty. And we forget what is beautiful. What is beautiful can help us feel this beauty, in the beginning. There is nothing wrong with looking at the moon, with looking at the beautiful whatever, with listening to music. But I must know that beauty is here, I feel it here, in my heart. That's very important, and that will help us see later, that beauty is really everywhere. It is our bourgeois mind that says this is ugly, this is beautiful.
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