Chapter 38: A Heart Aflame, a Soul Enchanted
It is one of the most mysterious phenomena. Almost everybody knows what beauty is. You say the rose is beautiful, but unless you know what beauty is, how can you say the rose is beautiful? You say the sunset is beautiful, you say the child is beautiful - but how can you use the word beautiful if you don’t have any idea what beauty is?
Perhaps everybody knows something - some taste, some glimpse - and the poet, the painter and the musician know much more, they are drunk with beauty. But don’t ask for a definition of what it is.
Once Immanuel Kant became very angry when somebody asked him, “What is truth?” He said, “Before I answer you, I will ask a few questions which you know perfectly well. Have you ever loved?”
The man said, “Yes.”
Immanuel Kant asked him, “Then tell me, please, what is love?”
The man said, “I have loved and I have enjoyed all the pleasures and the blessings of love, but forgive me, I cannot say what love is.”
Immanuel Kant said, “Don’t feel sad. I myself can’t say what is truth, what is love, what is beauty - although I am surrounded by all these experiences continuously. My whole life has been nothing but a search, a seeking. And it is not that I have not found; but I’m afraid to say to anybody that I have found it because immediately the question will be asked: ‘Then define it’ - and the definition is missing.”
This poet is not asking about something that he does not know. He knows it, that’s why he is asking; perhaps Kahlil Gibran may be able to give him some indications about beauty. And Kahlil Gibran begins in a very significant way. He says:
Where shall you seek beauty, and how shall you find her unless she herself be your way and your guide?
Beauty is not something out there, it is something in here; where are you going to seek it? And how shall you find it, unless you have already found it?
In ancient Egyptian parables there is a beautiful statement: that you start searching for God only when you have found him. It looks very strange, but it is very true. You cannot even raise the question, “What is beauty?” if you have not found it. So, rather than making it a question, allow beauty itself to become the way and the guide. He is saying that nobody else can take you to that space, to that experience, unless you have already arrived there.
A Zen master had given to one of his disciples a famous koan. It is a special Zen device to help you get rid of all your thoughts - the device is so absurd that there is no way that you can find the answer. There are many koans, but this is the most famous: “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”