Viewpoint: The Many Forms of Beauty

Printed in the  Summer 2022 issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation: Hebert, Barbara "The Many Forms of Beauty" Quest 110:3, pg 10

By  Barbara Hebert
National President

barbara hebertIt is often said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This statement suggests that beauty is subjective and that each of us has our own perspective of what is beautiful and what is not. Yet culture plays a tremendous role in our perceptions of beauty. This means that our perceptions of beauty are not our own; rather they are inculcated by the ideas of those around us. In other words, our perceptions of beauty are conditioned by both the world and the era in which we live.

On the other hand, we realize that many discussions of beauty are about the physical body. Since we inhabit physical bodies, the beauty of the body may be important, but those who are seeking deeper truths may choose to look beyond temporal beauty.

Therefore we ask: what is beauty? In her book Truth, Beauty, and Goodness, Radha Burnier, the late president of the Theosophical Society, quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson: “The question of Beauty takes us out of surfaces to thinking of the foundation of things” (Burnier, 27).

A statement such as this is very appealing to those of us who are seeking deeper truth. Our examination can take us beyond a surface discussion of beauty to its deeper, and perhaps even foundational, aspect. In his book Talks with American Students, J. Krishnamurti writes:

Beauty is not in the museum, in the painting, in statues, or listening to a concert; beauty is not in a poem or in the lovely sky of an evening; or in the light on the water; or in the face of a beautiful person, or in a building. There is beauty only when the mind and the heart are completely in harmony and that beauty cannot be gotten by a shallow mind that is caught in the disorder of this world. (Krishnamurti, 174)

Burnier tells us that we can find beauty in the most ordinary things, but we must be open to it. We open ourselves to the essence of beauty through silence, meditation, contemplation, and awareness. We open ourselves up to it by stepping away from the multitude of duties and responsibilities in our daily lives, from what Krishnamurti calls “the disorder of this world.” Burnier goes on to say that “beauty can be perceived only in that condition of freedom which is aloneness.”

Why does it require aloneness to perceive beauty? Burnier uses the example of a flower. She reminds us that a flower is a physical manifestation that lives for only a very short time. It will wither and die; however, the truth behind the flower is eternal:

The object, in the world of sense, is a symbol of what is beyond sense. The flower that the eyes perceive perishes, but beauty remains in the heart. The object is a partial revelation of that which is not limited to any particularity. The forms are transitory, Beauty eternal. (Burnier, 44)

In order to connect with beauty, one must look beyond the physical. This requires a willingness to quiet oneself and go beyond, to remove oneself from the hustle and bustle of daily life and see the Reality beyond it. By so doing, we move into a state of aloneness.

We recognize the difficulty of removing ourselves, even for a short time, from the busyness of daily life. Yet on our spiritual journey we are continually encouraged to take some time away for meditation, contemplation, and silence. The way we do this will likely be different for each of us; however, it is an essential part of our path forward. The Ageless Wisdom tells us that by finding this time for silence and inner focus, our consciousness will expand over time. In the meantime, we may have brief moments in which we will glimpse the Reality that always lies behind physical manifestation.

In regard to contemplating and meditating upon beauty, Burnier tells us that “when pure beauty is touched upon even for a moment, the consciousness is in a state of release for that moment from the impediments and limitations which normally distort and cramp it” (Burnier, 36).

What a truly motivating statement! Just imagine the feeling of freedom we might experience if we perceived the inner world, even for a moment. The English Theosophist Laurence Bendit writes: 

Experience of the beautiful is not anything intellectual. It reaches one through the feeling aspect of the mind. It is not subject to rational analysis except in a very superficial way, yet it is something which is known with certainty and in depth. And it changes and transforms the consciousness so that the individual can never be quite the same again. (Bendit, 3)

Bendit goes on to say: 

When [beauty] is found and experienced, it lifts the mind of the individual out of the level of personal likes and dislikes into that of enlightened spiritual consciousness. Something happens . . . at the personal level, [the] psyche is changed, a new ray of understanding comes . . . and in short, [one] has had the same experience as the devotee or the mystic or any other seeker, whatever way [one] chooses to seek . . . God. (Bendit, 7)

Experiencing beauty even for a moment transforms us forever. We are no longer looking at the material object, but rather at the Truth behind the object. Truth and beauty, therefore, are linked. Plotinus also linked the Good with beauty, indicating that both goodness and beauty emanate from the Divine, which some may call Truth.

Burnier also talks about beauty, goodness, and truth. She tells us that perception of beauty is a form of yoga or union with the Divine: we have been able to perceive the existence of the eternal and for that brief moment have united with it. She says, “The realization of beauty in all things is itself goodness, for it is the knowing of a universal truth. So Beauty is the constant companion of goodness” (Burnier, 64).

Bendit expands upon the concept of beauty and yoga, telling us, “The search for Beauty is a yoga in itself. It is akin to the path of the mystic of bhakti, in that it follows the feeling aspect of the mind; and it is not to be found as does . . . the occultist by intellectualization and thought” (Bendit, 7). Once again, we are encouraged to seek beauty through silence, meditation, and/or contemplation.

We are reminded that physical beauty is temporal. Beauty coexists with Truth and Goodness, and we find it only through inner awareness. The path to inner awareness, as we know, is complex and involves a long-term process. Yet we begin the process, regardless of its length, because of the urge within us that may be called “divine discontent.” We strive to find goodness, truth, and beauty by looking within. Bendit talks about this process, saying:

So, all in all, the person whose yoga is the search for the Beautiful has to start from the background of . . . conditioning: racial, cultural, and purely physical. But as [one] progresses and develops, [the] field widens and [one] will find [oneself] responding to an increasingly wide range of experiences: just as the true mystic sees “God” in more and more places as . . . inner consciousness changes. (Bendit, 11)

Radha Burnier tells us, “If the Truth or Reality behind all forms is perceived, there is nothing which is not beautiful” (Burnier, 27‒28).  

May we experience beauty in all of its forms.


Bendit, Laurence J. The Yoga of Beauty, Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 2004.

Burnier, Radha. Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1985.

Krishnamurti, Jiddu. Talks with American Students. Boulder, Colo.: Shambhala, 2001.