Autumn is now upon us, giving a hint of the winter weather to come. I always find this time of year beautiful. The trees putting on a show of autumn colour can sometimes stop me in my tracks, making me realise how beautiful the world around me can be. It is strange that we only see beauty around us on some special occasions. We make a judgement about what is beautiful and what is ugly, but mostly we stick with a neutral response to the world around us and miss all that beauty.
The Buddhist life has been long associated with beauty and the word ‘Kalyana’ as in Kalyana-Mitra, often gets translated as ‘Spiritual’ but a closer translation is beautiful. This becomes obvious when we meet someone in whom the Dharma is really alive. They do indeed look beautiful and shining as an external reminder of the deep understanding that is part of their consciousness. We can see that inner beauty bursting out in those who have recently been ordained or are approaching ordination. If you get a chance to meet in person, Nagarani or Akshayadhi you may see what I mean. It is more difficult to spot over zoom.
I can still remember returning home from just being ordained and standing on the steps of my home, readying myself to re-enter the secular world. In my head the recent words of my preceptor were circling, “Look to the beautiful in the everyday”.
Back to those beautiful Autumn colours. I am sure you have experienced this: that the beauty of nature can leave you just standing, lost in that beauty for maybe only a few moments, but in those few moments we forget about our cares, woes, hopes and dreams and just take in fully the beauty presented before us. Some of Sangharakshita’s words from his essay the Religion of Art come to mind to describe this experience, “Conscious surrender to the beautiful”.
We may even see that this scene before us is a perfect example of Pratitya-Samutpada, conditionality. As the conditions change, summer turns to winter, the trees respond with a beautiful display as they prepare to cast off their leaves, no longer required. Nature is always showing us the beauty of impermanence.
Being able to immerse ourselves and really see the beauty around us is part of the spiritual life. It is a way of realising how far we have come on our journey.
As Sangharakshita makes clear, looking and seeking out beauty is a spiritual practice that is worth exploring and forms the sixth Emphasis of Triratna. Maybe going to art galleries, museums or taking walks in the beautiful East Anglia countryside. These activities will all help to attune us to the beautiful so that eventually we can see the beauty in everything around us. We will stop making those judgements about what is and isn’t beautiful and go beyond our ego’s preferences.
This month there are many opportunities to take part in the events organised by the Ipswich Buddhist Centre some of which will help us to explore the topic of beauty.
There is also the opportunity to help the IBC continue to provide the legacy of the beautiful Dharma for future generations in Ipswich when, inevitably, we too must face impermanence. Making a will that includes the IBC is a very positive step in keeping the Dharma alive for those to come.