On the nature of Beauty

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On the nature of Beauty

Postby Jeffrey » Wed Dec 19, 2012 3:56 am

I am interested in the intersection of dhamma and art and have come across something of a puzzle. Maybe some of you here have insight, or can point me in the right direction for further reading or investigation.

Contemporary theories of learning rely on an interactive model, in which subject and object build meaning. This seems to fit pretty squarely with Buddhist concepts of the ultimate nature of emptiness. But recently reading text from Ven Pategama Gnanarama, I was surprised by his assertion that beauty, in Buddhist thought, is objective and resides in or with the object.

I’d like to learn more about this, but not sure where I would go to look up additional resources. What field of philosophy are we dealing with here? What related concepts may be relevant? Do you know of any sources that discuss this specifically related to art and aesthetics, Buddhist or otherwise?

Aspects of Early Buddhist Sociological Thought pp111-114
http://www.buddhanet.net/pdf_file/social-thought6.pdf
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Re: On the nature of Beauty

Postby Ben » Wed Dec 19, 2012 5:24 am

Hi Jeffrey,

Our friend, Zavk, is a PhD student in cultural studies, specifically Buddhism and postmodernism and popular culture. He doesn't post here much but I often see him on facebook. I'll send him a note to come and check this thread out as I am sure he will be a good contact for you.
kind regards,

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saṇantā yanti kusobbhā,
tuṇhīyanti mahodadhī.

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Re: On the nature of Beauty

Postby zavk » Wed Dec 19, 2012 5:48 am

Hi Jeffrey

I don't know of any particular works that approach the topic from the angle that Ven Pategama Gnanarama takes. It seems to me that others here who are more well read and conscientious in studying the Pali Canon could help to clarify your question: it appears that Ven Pategama Gnanarama's argument turns on a so-called 'objective' understanding of 'dhamma' as mental objects.

In terms of Buddhist-inflected discourses on art and aesthetics, the first things that come to mind are mostly Mahayana-related works, such as D.T. Suzuki's Zen and Japanese Culture, and also the works of Chogyam Trungpa. These would typically adopt the perspective that you mentioned: the co-dependently arisen relationship between the subject and object. Some resources are (I may be able to help you access academic journals if you can't access them; in fact, the one about bell hooks looks very interesting!):

'Buddhism and bell hooks: Liberatory Aesthetics and the Radical Subjectivity of No-Self'
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1 ... x/abstract

'Aesthetics and Art in Modern Pure Land Buddhism'
http://japanese-religions.jp/publicatio ... _Porcu.pdf

'The Buddhist Aesthetic nature: A challenge to rationalism and empiricism'
http://ccbs.ntu.edu.tw/FULLTEXT/JR-ADM/indian.htm

This one by Padmasiri de Silva touches on the topic of aesthetics but it's main concern is with Buddhist understandings of emotions: http://www.what-buddha-said.net/library ... /wh237.pdf

So, this is really all I can suggest on the matter. I will have to leave to others who are more knowledgable about Ven Pategama Gnanarama's preferred mode of discourse to explicate his arguments.

All the best.
With metta,
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Re: On the nature of Beauty

Postby Jeffrey » Wed Dec 19, 2012 2:39 pm

Thank you, Ben, for calling Zavk, and thank you Zavk for the links. The Inada article didn't seem to say very much - the aesthetic is asymmetrical - but maybe I read it too quickly. Kalmanson appears even more mystifying - and that was only the abstract! Inada was interesting, but at the moment I'm curious about what the Pali sources have to say. Still haven't looked at de Silva. Maybe on the plane tomorrow. Off for a little year-end vacation.

Anyone else care to take a shot at Gnanarama's idea?

All the best.
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Re: On the nature of Beauty

Postby detrop » Wed Dec 19, 2012 3:42 pm

Jeffrey wrote:But recently reading text from Ven Pategama Gnanarama, I was surprised by his assertion that beauty, in Buddhist thought, is objective and resides in or with the object.


Hello,

I think that this Venerable is right. Where else should beauty reside if not "in" or "with" the object? I think the problem is our temptation to explain the experience in terms of what is not experienced but only assumed. If we resist that temptation, i.e. if we don't try to "explain" things (away) by assuming "hidden mechanisms" that make them work, then we are left only with descriptions of an already given state of affairs (that neither can nor needs to be "explained"). And that means that beauty belongs to the thing that "has" it instead of being "mine" or a result of "my" interactions with the object etc. I think this is where anatta or not-self comes into play. No thing in the world is our creation, so we can only find them to be already there. Even if I come up with an "explanation", this will change nothing in the original experience, i.e. it's still the thing that appears as beautiful, and my denial or disbelief will only bring me suffering, because I deny what cannot be denied and I believe what cannot be experienced.

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Re: On the nature of Beauty

Postby DAWN » Wed Dec 19, 2012 5:11 pm

Beauty is harmony.
All is beautyfull.
Sabbe dhamma anatta
We are not concurents...
I'am sorry for my english
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Re: On the nature of Beauty

Postby gavesako » Wed Dec 19, 2012 5:55 pm

Compare:

'Noble power' ariyā-iddhi is the power of controlling one's ideas in such a way that one may consider something not repulsive as repulsive and something repulsive as not repulsive, and remain all the time imperturbable and full of equanimity. This training of mind is frequently mentioned in the Suttas e.g. M. 152, A.V. 144, but only once the name of ariyā-iddhi is applied to it D. 28.

http://what-buddha-said.net/library/Bud ... .htm#iddhi

This would put the idea of beauty clearly "in the eye of the beholder" rather than in the object. But the Abhidhamma theory tends towards objectification and putting such subjective qualities into the objects out there.
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Re: On the nature of Beauty

Postby Dhammanando » Wed Dec 19, 2012 6:15 pm

gavesako wrote:Compare:

'Noble power' ariyā-iddhi is the power of controlling one's ideas in such a way that one may consider something not repulsive as repulsive and something repulsive as not repulsive, and remain all the time imperturbable and full of equanimity. This training of mind is frequently mentioned in the Suttas e.g. M. 152, A.V. 144, but only once the name of ariyā-iddhi is applied to it D. 28.

http://what-buddha-said.net/library/Bud ... .htm#iddhi

This would put the idea of beauty clearly "in the eye of the beholder" rather than in the object.


Oh? Doesn't the phrase something not repulsive in the first passage in bold indicate exactly the opposite?
    ...and this thought arose in the mind of the Blessed One:
    “Who lives without reverence lives miserably.”
    Uruvela Sutta, A.ii.20

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Re: On the nature of Beauty

Postby mirco » Wed Dec 19, 2012 7:59 pm

Jeffrey wrote:Contemporary theories of learning rely on an interactive model, in which subject and object build meaning. This seems to fit pretty squarely with Buddhist concepts of the ultimate nature of emptiness.

MN 148: Chachakka Sutta wrote:"'The six classes of craving should be known.' Thus was it said. In reference to what was it said? Dependent on the eye & forms there arises consciousness at the eye. The meeting of the three is contact. With contact as a requisite condition there is feeling. With feeling as a requisite condition there is craving.

MN122, Mahasuññata Sutta, The Greater Discourse on Emptiness wrote:"Ananda, there are these five strings of sensuality. Which five? Forms cognizable via the eye — agreeable, pleasing, charming, endearing, fostering desire, enticing....

These are the five strings of sensuality where a monk should reflect on his mind : 'Is there within me, in any circumstance or another, any engagement of awareness that arises with regard to these five strings of sensuality?'

If, on reflection, the monk discerns, 'There is within me, in one circumstance or another, an engagement of awareness that arises with regard to these five strings of sensuality,' then, this being the case, he discerns that 'Desire-passion for the five strings of sensuality has not been abandoned by me.'
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Re: On the nature of Beauty

Postby Jeffrey » Thu Dec 20, 2012 3:46 am

Good morning, all, and thanks for joining in.

Dhammanando, it appears so based on this quotation. Repulsiveness is of the thing, which the arahat can see through. So, if beauty resides in the object, detop, how do we properly distinguish beauty? Is beauty available to anyone but arahats? Is beauty inherent in all things?

Micro, what is it you want to say?
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Re: On the nature of Beauty

Postby gavesako » Thu Dec 20, 2012 10:20 am

It seems that feelings and perceptions signifying "beauty" arise for most people within a reasonably similar and overlapping range, so certain things would be conventionally known as beautiful and attractive and others repulsive. However, it also seems possible, with the development of the path, to influence and change the way that feelings and perceptions operate. See this passage in particular:

"And how is one a noble one with developed faculties? There is the case where, when seeing a form with the eye, there arises in a monk what is agreeable, what is disagreeable, what is agreeable & disagreeable. If he wants, he remains percipient of loathsomeness in the presence of what is not loathsome. If he wants, he remains percipient of unloathsomeness in the presence of what is loathsome. If he wants, he remains percipient of loathsomeness in the presence of what is not loathsome & what is. If he wants, he remains percipient of unloathsomeness in the presence of what is loathsome & what is not. If he wants — in the presence of what is loathsome & what is not — cutting himself off from both, he remains equanimous, alert, & mindful.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
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Kiṃkusalagavesī anuttaraṃ santivarapadaṃ pariyesamāno... (MN 26)

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Re: On the nature of Beauty

Postby detrop » Thu Dec 20, 2012 11:32 am

Jeffrey wrote:So, if beauty resides in the object, detop, how do we properly distinguish beauty? Is beauty available to anyone but arahats? Is beauty inherent in all things?


I think we need a "sense of beauty" (related to our eye, ear etc.), but this sense doesn't create beauty, it just discovers it (and it might also be refined or lost). So I would say that beauty is available to anyone who is able to "see" it. I would agree that without a sense of beauty, which belongs to the "subject", we could not speak of beautiful objects, but my point is that the beauty belongs to the object because it is perceived there and also not a matter of arbitrariness, i.e. we can't help but finding certain things beautiful.
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Re: On the nature of Beauty

Postby Sylvester » Thu Dec 20, 2012 2:47 pm

I think the suttas do describe the objective potential of contact, which may account for the Abhidhamma taking up the same position.

A prime example is SN 36.10, which looks at the standard description of 3 feelings. Each of these 3 feelings are generally described by the term "tajja.m vedayita.m" (corresponding feeling) and it seems that each specific contact is seeded with the objective potential "to be experienced" (vedaniya) in a particular hedonic tone.

The special cases mentioned in MN 152 can still fit into this objective scheme, given that meditation furnishes the necessary sankhara to condition contact.
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Re: On the nature of Beauty

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Dec 20, 2012 5:45 pm

Hi Sylvester,

That is an interesting sutta in the context of this discussion:
"Dependent on a sense-impression that is liable to be felt as pleasurable, there arises a pleasant feeling. When that very sense-impression liable to be felt as pleasurable has ceased, then the sensation born from it[Tajjam vedayitam] — namely the pleasant feeling that arose dependent on that sense-impression — also ceases and is stilled.
...
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .nypo.html

Bhikkhu Bodhi's translation makes it sound less "likely":
“In dependence on a contact to be experienced as pleasant, bhikkhus, a pleasant feeling arises. With the cessation of that contact to be experienced as pleasant, the corresponding feeling—the pleasant feeling that arose in dependence on that contact to be experienced as pleasant—ceases and subsides.

Though his translation ends with:
In dependence on the appropriate contacts the corresponding feelings arise; with the cessation of the appropriate contacts the corresponding feelings cease.”


:anjali:
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Re: On the nature of Beauty

Postby daverupa » Thu Dec 20, 2012 5:50 pm

I'm away from my books, but there's a sutta which declares that the same contact can be pleasant or unpleasant for different people; so, there's no objective pleasant or unpleasant stimulus which can be parsed apart from the experiencing of it.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: On the nature of Beauty

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Dec 20, 2012 8:06 pm

daverupa wrote:I'm away from my books, but there's a sutta which declares that the same contact can be pleasant or unpleasant for different people; so, there's no objective pleasant or unpleasant stimulus which can be parsed apart from the experiencing of it.
It is starting to sound like Yogacharins here.

Did not the Buddha comment of the beauty of natural scenes. Also, given the beauty of Buddhist art and architecture, it seems that beauty was certainly prized among Buddhist historically.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
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Re: On the nature of Beauty

Postby daverupa » Thu Dec 20, 2012 8:20 pm

tiltbillings wrote:Did not the Buddha comment of the beauty of natural scenes.


Actually... where might this have happened? Because all I can think of is that if the underlying tendency to lust is not abandoned, then pleasant feeling can be fixated on and clung to. Basically, inappropriately attending to objects to be taken as beautiful causes lust to arise and aggrandize, and this goes for any sense input involving natural scenes...

Snp 2.11 wrote:"Practice mindfulness of the body and continually develop dispassion (towards it). Avoid the sign of the beautiful connected with passion; by meditating on the foul cultivate a mind that is concentrated and collected.


AN 5.57 wrote:"Now, based on what line of reasoning should one often reflect... that 'I will grow different, separate from all that is dear and appealing to me'?


..presumably including beautiful nature scenes...

AN 5.144 wrote:Now, with what purpose should a monk remain percipient of loathsomeness in the presence of what is not loathsome? 'Don't let passion arise within me in the presence of things that excite passion.' With this purpose should a monk remain percipient of loathsomeness in the presence of what is not loathsome.


&tc.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: On the nature of Beauty

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Dec 20, 2012 8:43 pm

daverupa wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:Did not the Buddha comment of the beauty of natural scenes.


Actually... where might this have happened?
Vague recollections of that; however, the Buddha very directly told Ananda, as they were looking down upon rice paddies to have the monks cut and sew their robes to look like that. Vin Mv Kh 8 (The Life of the Buddha, 168) He did not say to Ananda that that the rice paddies were beautiful, but they so often are.

Snp 2.11 wrote:"Practice mindfulness of the body and continually develop dispassion (towards it). Avoid the sign of the beautiful connected with passion; by meditating on the foul cultivate a mind that is concentrated and collected.


AN 5.57 wrote:"Now, based on what line of reasoning should one often reflect... that 'I will grow different, separate from all that is dear and appealing to me'?


..presumably including beautiful nature scenes...

AN 5.144 wrote:Now, with what purpose should a monk remain percipient of loathsomeness in the presence of what is not loathsome? 'Don't let passion arise within me in the presence of things that excite passion.' With this purpose should a monk remain percipient of loathsomeness in the presence of what is not loathsome.
It would also seem that context, as always, is key here. As I said, the history of Buddhist art and architecture is one of producing great beauty. My guess is that the Buddha statue on you altar (assuming you have one) is not ugly.
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This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
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Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
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Re: On the nature of Beauty

Postby Sylvester » Fri Dec 21, 2012 1:00 am

mikenz66 wrote:Hi Sylvester,

That is an interesting sutta in the context of this discussion:
"Dependent on a sense-impression that is liable to be felt as pleasurable, there arises a pleasant feeling. When that very sense-impression liable to be felt as pleasurable has ceased, then the sensation born from it[Tajjam vedayitam] — namely the pleasant feeling that arose dependent on that sense-impression — also ceases and is stilled.
...
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .nypo.html



Thanks Mike.

I have to confess that I was a bit puzzled by Ven Nyanaponika's translation of tajja as "born from it", as that would entail parsing the word as if it were a compound of ta and ja. Elsewhere, tajja crops up in MN 28's discussion of tajja samannāhāra as a condition for the arising of tajja viññāṇabhāga (tajja type of consciousness). What would be the "it" that engagement (samannāhāra) and type of consciousness (viññāṇabhāga) be born from, if "it" as a pronoun had not been referenced earlier so that "it" can be identified?[/quote]

Bhikkhu Bodhi's translation makes it sound less "likely":
“In dependence on a contact to be experienced as pleasant, bhikkhus, a pleasant feeling arises. With the cessation of that contact to be experienced as pleasant, the corresponding feeling—the pleasant feeling that arose in dependence on that contact to be experienced as pleasant—ceases and subsides.

Though his translation ends with:
In dependence on the appropriate contacts the corresponding feelings arise; with the cessation of the appropriate contacts the corresponding feelings cease.”


Do I understand you to read BB's translation as being probabilistic, rather than deterministic? Hope I've not misunderstood you. I'm still vacillating on the issue of whether the forward order of Dependant Origination ought to be read as a sequence of mere necessary conditions (ie probabilistic) , or if it should be read as a sequence of sufficient conditions (ie deterministic), or as suggested by Ajahn Brahm - somewhere in between.
Last edited by Sylvester on Fri Dec 21, 2012 1:31 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: On the nature of Beauty

Postby Sylvester » Fri Dec 21, 2012 1:30 am

daverupa wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:Did not the Buddha comment of the beauty of natural scenes.


Actually... where might this have happened? Because all I can think of is that if the underlying tendency to lust is not abandoned, then pleasant feeling can be fixated on and clung to. Basically, inappropriately attending to objects to be taken as beautiful causes lust to arise and aggrandize, and this goes for any sense input involving natural scenes...




Hi Dave

The pleasant feeling as hedonic tone would fall within the kāyika (bodily) feelings. How one reacts to it as a result of a particular anusaya appears to be the sequel to the cetasika (mental) feeling. I think the problem here is the grasping of the sign (nimittaggāhī), but it does not suggest that the sign (nimitta) is a subjective experience.

We probably need to dive into that formulaic phrase "to be experience/felt as" (vedanīya). It's all over the suttas, and here's an interesting take on it -

"Monks, for anyone who says, 'In whatever way a person makes kamma, that is how it is experienced,' there is no living of the holy life, there is no opportunity for the right ending of stress.

But for anyone who says, 'When a person makes kamma to be felt in such & such a way, that is how its result is experienced,' there is the living of the holy life, there is the opportunity for the right ending of stress.

Yo bhikkhave evaṃ vadeyya: yathā yathā'yaṃ puriso kammaṃ karoti, tathā tathā naṃ paṭisaṃvediyatī'ti. Evaṃ santaṃ bhikkhave brahmacariyavāso na hoti. Okāso na paññāyati sammā dukkhassa antakiriyāya.

Yo ca kho bhikkhave evaṃ vadeyya: yathā yathā vedanīyaṃ ayaṃ puriso kammaṃ karoti, tathā tathāssa vipākaṃ paṭisaṃvediyatī'ti. Evaṃ santaṃ bhikkhave brahmacariyavāso hoti, okāso paññāyati sammādukkhassa antakiriyāya.

AN 3.99


There's still that mysterious and unbridgeable process which should account for how kamma ripens in particular ways...

Perhaps you are right that nimittas will be subjective, in the sense that different people may experience the same sense object but not perceive the nimitta uniformly. But I suspect that what makes nimittas also objectively "encoded" into each contact is the fact that the suttas resort to the vedanīya and tajja vedayita concepts. This objective potentiality for one's future enjoyment of a sense object might come from the mental state accompanying the kamma - see SN 3.20.
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