Beauty

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Beauty (kalyàõa or subha) is the quality of being pleasing to the senses and the mind. An object, a sound or even a behaviour or an idea can be apprehended as beautiful. The Buddha said that while personal physical beauty is a blessing it is also true that it can lead to clinging and egoism. However, there is a beauty beyond the physical, what might be called personality and attitudinal beauty. In Buddhist psychology, certain types of thoughts like kindness, generosity and honesty are described as being beautiful (sobhana citta). It was this type of beauty that the Buddha regarded most. In the Dhammapada he says; ‘If someone is jealous, selfish or dishonest they are unattractive despite their eloquence or good features. But the person who is purged of such things and is free from hatred, it is he or she who is really beautiful’ (Dhammapada 262-3).

While it is clear that a fully enlightened arahant may have little use and no attachment to mundane things like the arts, for other Buddhists and those interested in Buddhism, the arts can be a wholesome action and interest. The Buddha saw its value because he said monks and nuns could beautify their monasteries by painting them different colors and decorating them with various geometrical and floral designs (Vinaya 2. 117). As Buddhism spread in the centuries after the Buddha's passing his teachings gave an impetus to all the arts - painting, sculpture, poetry, drama and to a lesser degree music. There are Buddhist Vinaya rules against monks and nuns indulging in arts, shows, and games, but this rule does not apply to lay people. Monks and nuns are supposed to devote their lives to the study and teaching of Dhamma and it would look unseemly for them to be seen by lay people engaged in such things as watching movies, painting pictures, or discussing creative chess strategies.

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