Saturday, January 8, 2011

True beauty of being

In Galsworthy's Forsyte Saga, Soames, the rich and acquisitive Man of Property, is enthralled by the beautiful Irene.

He wants to possess her beauty, the way he possesses the grand mansion he buys for her, full of exquisite and expensive works of art. But the harder Soames tries to claim her as his own, the more he repels Irene. The only man she is comfortable with is the elderly Jolyon. While conscious of her beauty, the ageing Jolyon has no desire to possess it. In the twilight of his life, he basks in her radiance as a man warming himself in front of the glowing embers of a fire on a cold day.

Soames and Jolyon represent two very different perceptions, not only of beauty but of consciousness itself. Like most of us, Soames wants to lay claim to the beautiful – which is another word for perfection – and make it his own. In his case, the beautiful, or the perfect, is represented by a woman. In the case of a poet or an artist, the beautiful could be represented by the music of language or the splendour of a sunrise which the creative imagination seeks to capture in a line of verse or by brush strokes on canvas.

But beauty can't be owned by an individual: the poet and the artist know that what they create is of value only if it belongs to the whole world and not to themselves alone. Unlike Soames, the Man of Property, Jolyon, like the poet and artist, understands that beauty can never be a possession; it is always and essentially a celebration, a glimpse of perfection all the more haunting in its elusiveness. As William Blake said: "He who bends to himself a joy/ Does the winged life destroy;/ But he who kisses the joy as it flies/ Lives in eternity's sunrise."

Soames wants to possess Irene's beauty, and is doomed to fail; Jolyon celebrates her beauty and is rewarded by the glow of her presence. These two ways of perceiving beauty belong to two distinct categories of consciousness: being and having.

Being is consciousness without the attached strings of attachment and ego. Being is a way of seeing the world, and everything in it, through the consciousness of a poet, or an artist, or a sage. Being has no title deed, no desire of possession, no stamp of ownership.

The polar opposite of being is consciousness in the mode of having. The world and everything in it – beauty, wealth, power and fame – is perceived as possession, something to have and to hold on to at all cost.

If being is pure consciousness without ego, having is pure ego without consciousness. In having, the ego becomes all-consuming: my wishes and desires that must be fulfilled, my ideal home, my perfect family, my enviable collection of art and beauty, my good name and reputation, the world as my private property to do with as i will.

Without Irene and her unattainable beauty which he covets to keep for himself, the Man of Property becomes a spiritual vacuum. Without the desire to have and to possess, Soames's counterpart, Jolyon, is enriched beyond measure by Irene's beauty. Jolyon has discovered the beauty of being.

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