=1 "Is our world too beautiful?"
Is our world too beautiful?
“The question we space travellers are usually asked when we land on a strange planet is: ‘Are other planets as beautiful as ours?’ ”
“And what is your answer?”
“My answer is never satisfactory,” said the space traveller, smiling.
“Tell us anyway,” I insisted. But he hesitated.
“For you this planet is of course the most beautiful.”
“Why ‘for us’? I was not satisfied either.
“Beauty is always something we are born into. It is in the eyes of the beholder, something he compares with his normal view of the universe. It is an ecstatic emotion, and its strength depends on you, on what you expect, on what you are accustomed to and on how well-educated the eye is.”
Still I was not satisfied. “You have evaded my question. Are there planets which to you seem more beautiful than ours, your own excepted?”
“The answer to that question would be even less meaningful to you. Your Eskimos live in what to you are desolate stretches of ice and snow. Your bedouins live in an untamed desert. But both think theirs the most beautiful place on the planet. They would not accept a tropical forest or a south sea island in exchange.
“I am a space man, and to me space is more beautiful than the most marvellous of the planets. And even the most marvellous planets are more beautiful seen from space.”
Then I knew how to ask my question.
“Do you think that there are earth-like planets which earth men would think more beautiful?”
He smiled again.
“There are trillions of planets in this galaxy alone. There should be some which you would like.”
I had to surrender. Then I asked,
“I thought empty space was desolate. How can you say it is more beautiful than a planet?”
He was silent for some time. Then he said,
“Beauty, like truth and love, is one of those cover words which hide a secret, a secret of being, of pure being as opposed to being something, or being somewhere. We call a thing beautiful when we can see it in a detached way, in itself, when it detaches us from our ego shell. The utmost beauty puts us in ecstasy. So when we live on a planet our evolution, perhaps through millions of years, has accustomed us to the beauty of the planet. We have surrounded ourselves with a protective shell, a sieve which allows impressions only so attenuated to pass that we can calmly stand back and say, ‘Oh, this is a mountain’, or a tree, or a river. Nature does not allow us to be overwhelmed by her beauty. We have seen it a million times, and her beauty does not hurt us any more, or strike us, or throw us into ecstasy. Our analytical mind steps in between and explains, filtering the beauty.
“Nature, just as she normally prevents us from perceiving the oneness of things in all her multiplicity so that we may not be overcome and are able to function in our little separate ways of being, hides her beauty behind a veil. But that veil is in our own eyes.
“So long as we live on a planet, its beauty cannot hit us directly. Our mind as a protective screen steps in between. It has been evolved for that purpose through millions of years side by side with our esthetic sensitivity to protect us from overpowering experience. Otherwise the simple beauty of a thing – of a stone, a plant, a tree – would be too much for us. We could not bear the blueness of the sky, the greenness of the grass, the grayness of a stone, without that mind stepping in between. But under the influence of certain drugs, or by yogic exercise, or by divine grace, this stepping between is eliminated or attenuated for a moment, and the experience hits us with all its primeval force. Then witnesses tell us about the astonishing blueness, the marvellous greenness, the luminous grayness of things.”
“Yes,” I said. “I have met people like that. Are not all artists like that?”
“When we travel in space,” he continued, “we are in a world to which our racial mind has not been accustomed by millions of years of evolution. Even the noisiest mind has to admit: ‘I didn't know the universe was like this. I didn't know that the stars are all different colours. I thought there would only be empty space...’ Here the mind becomes silent, and that is why we space travellers on long trips are alone with our silent mind. We just look at the stars – and the light years pass. Only the computers measure time in space. There is no perceptible movement; all around you is eternity. Even if you travel almost as fast as light, you seem to stand still in space and time. The beauty of the stars fills you like the universe to the brim. And for long moments it is simply too much for a little being evolved on a planet, too much for the veils and the filters. There is only one place you can go then, and that is outside of your mind, out of your little ego, out of your small body. So there you sit in the ecstasy of pure being, one with the universe around you, looking at the stars and letting the light years pass, till your computer rings the bell: You have arrived at your destination.
“ ‘How can this be?’ you ask. ‘I just sat down a moment ago.’ Yes, but in the company of the stars, facing a beauty in all its non-mental purity, with its primeval impact, a beauty which up to now only the gods could see, a beauty too much for a limited mind but bearable for a pure being devoid of its veils.
“And behind that beauty you can see God.”