At the heart of symbolism

Beauty in all its states


Sunset over the sea

How beautiful!

An old monk lived in a Taoist temple, lost in the mountains. Every year, he used to visit his fellow believers in another temple hung to the side of a rock sinking like an arrow into a vast plain. Only a rocky path strewn with thorny bushes allowed him to get there.

The old monk's advanced age worried the Master of the place. One year he decided to appoint a strong young monk to accompany him throughout his journey. The Master summoned the young monk, asked him to accompany the old monk and warned him that his presence would not be welcome. He had to be as discreet as possible and follow him as “a silent shadow”.

With his stick as only support and his bundle as only viaticum, the old monk greeted the Master and set off without even looking at the young acolyte. Equipped with the same attributes, the young monk did his best to put his steps into those of the old man. The path was going up and the slope already promised to be steep. Shortly afterwards, the stones began to roll under the young monk's feet, the brambles scratched his hands, but no complaints came out of his mouth. The following descent was not much easier; the sandals slipped over the stones, while one hand was grabbing what it could grasp and the other holding the stick firmly on the ground in order not to fall down the slope. Other climbs and descents followed one another and our young monk soon wondered when this abominable adventure would end.

After having covered many “li”, the silent young monk made a pause. Being short of breath, having sore feet and bloody hands, he thought his last hour was coming. Looking up at his companion in misfortune, he saw him slowing down, reaching the ridge step by step and contemplate a landscape that seemed familiar to him. The young monk regained hope and walked up as fast as he could the last steps of his ordeal. When he reached the old monk, he was invaded by a wave that glued him to the spot. The setting sun flooded the plain with reddish light reinforced by the first glimmers of a twilight sky. The reflection of this same light on the walls of the temple on the mountainside haloed the surrounding air with the same tones. Dazzled by the show, he could not help but exclaim: “How beautiful!” Then the old monk suddenly turned around, seized the young man by the collar and shook him, screaming: “You dumb idiot, can't you shut up! I'm not blind…”

What is beauty ?

The wisdom of this story invites us to contemplate beauty in silence... Why ?

As far as we know, the beauty perception is unique to human beings. Beauty appears as a sudden, fleeting manifestation that breaks the monotonous flow of time. As far as I am concerned, such a perception fills me to the full and lets me reach inner wholeness. I miss nothing, I am completely filled in. We have all experienced, one day or another, a moment of wonder that often leaves us speechless. In such a state of grace, we deeply feel 1 something unspeakable. Otherwise, we would not content ourselves with an exclamation such as "It's beautiful!" and would not stop adding a comment. Instead, we project that state of being, shared or not, onto the source of that feeling and call it beauty. From that to say that things are not beautiful in themselves, that it is our contemplative state that makes us experience them as beautiful, there would be one step only: “beauty is in the eyes of the one who is watching.” (Oscar Wilde).

Knowing that we can share the same state of being should be enough for us. So why do we still want to share it verbally and thus break an inner silence ? What is the point of talking when there is nothing to add! Because we are incorrigible prattlers. We cannot help but talk about everything and especially nothing.

Many artists, poets, writers, philosophers and even scientists have tried to capture, represent, evoke or write about beauty. Let us mention some of them among many others: Plato (428-347 before our era), Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863), Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). And let us try to approach their own visions of beauty.

1 back The German “einfühlen” (feeling inside) better captures the inner aspect of that feeling.

Detailed page