The Beauty of the World and Our Essential Humanity

Glen T. Martin

July 2010

During my lifetime I have spent a great deal of time in a cabin on a mountain lake in New York State, surrounded by forest and the beauty of nature. I have come to realize that that beauty is not separable from me in my purely human nature. The glory and beauty of the world arises through us, and its majesty calls us to live with serenity, dignity, justice, and nobility within this unspeakable splendor.

As a boy of 12 or 14 years, I was curious about the mysterious ever-changing patterns in the waters of the lake.  There would appear dark areas in the bay or long, straight streaks which appeared without ripples within the regular waves of the bay. The water displayed as many moods and varieties of motion, light, and texture as did the sky with its immense clouds, modes of lighting, and innumerable hues of color. In those days I rowed a boat or paddled a canoe all over this large, beautiful bay. I repeatedly rowed or paddled to where the dark, calm, or steaks on the water appeared to be only to consistently find that the water in these places was no different in its wavelets, motion, or coloration than any other location. The phenomena that I observed from afar did not appear to be there upon close inspection

I understood something then that only later dawned on me in its implications. The sparkles on the waves, the light and dark variations in the water, the changing patterns and shapes on the bay, were the product of a vast multiplicity of factors – sunlight, winds, temperatures, and the ever-moving waters viewed from ever-changing angles of observation and perceptual conditions. The amazing lines, designs, shadows, and light patterns in the water were inseparable from the observer, from the angle of light and the many ambient conditions surrounding the observer at the time of observation. Like the rainbow, the patterns and lines on the water were not observable apart from the observer, from the light entering the eye and the unique angle and conditions of vision. I was inseparably connected to the world. The beauty of the world did not exist except for me in my essential humanity. Yet the beauty of the world was the most real, the most objective possible phenomenon.

“The observer is the observed,” as J. Krishnamurti declares. The beauty of the world is not “merely” subjective. The split of human subjectivity from “the objective world apart from our perception of it” is a very limited distinction, useful in science and other circumscribed circumstances. However, there is a deeper level transcending this distinction. The beauty of the world rises to the status of objective reality as human beings emerge out of the foundations of the universe, actualizing the potential for beauty, meaning, value, and delight inherent in its foundations. Sri Aurobindo writes, “the universe and the individual are necessary to each other in their ascent.”

The beauty of the world remains and inexplicable mystery that no aesthetic theory has been able to fully explain. The complex play of light and dark, the dynamic of form and shape, the subtlety of hue and tone, the delicacies of texture and depth, the angle and conditions of observation, the synthetic composition of the whole – all this happening every moment as we look at the water, then the sky, then the forest.

The sacred value of the world, like the sacred value of our lives within the world, connects in some way with this beauty, which includes not only the beauty of nature but the beauty of the human form and face. As D.H. Lawrence proclaims, “whatever the unborn and the dead may know, they cannot know the beauty, the marvel of being alive in the flesh…. We ought to dance with rapture that we should be alive and in the flesh, and part of the living, incarnate cosmos.” We also have the sense that the universe expects something of us, that we should be doing something that we are not now doing.

We ourselves manifest that incarnate cosmos bringing beauty and value to the world with our ineluctable emergence into self-awareness and the splendid radiance of the world’s beauty. The moonbeams on the rippled water always follow our canoe and always point directly from the moon to each of us, anywhere in the world. The sun always shines directly to each of us, the precious “eachness” of our humanity, inseparable from our common essential human being. We have burst upon the world only in the past few thousand years after the long evolutionary process of 12 billion years of cosmic preparation. The universe now shines in immense glory after eons of silent, unselfconscious nurturing.

In the 18th century, the great philosopher Immanuel Kant identified the two things that filled him with awe and wonder the more consistently and profoundly he reflected on them: “the starry skies above and the moral law within.” Kant articulates the great dual glory of our emergent human nature: we are at once a personal freedom through whom freedom enters into the universe in the form of the moral dimension of personal choice, responsibility, and action, and we are the integral source of the beauty of the cosmos, its starry skies, its astonishing patterns, the emergent fullness of existence for which we “ought to dance with joy.” We are at once the eachness of personal freedom and dignity and the generic appurture through which the glory of the universe bursts into being.

The limited distinction between the “merely subjective” and “objective reality” independent of ourselves yields to a deeper, more fundamental level of awareness. The glory of our evolving humanity is that we bring emergent qualities into the universe integral to both the cosmos and our humanity. The freedom of the universe expresses itself through us, and the beauty of nature scintillates into actuality through our essential being. As a boy I knew nothing of this, but only intuited the inseparability of the observer from the observed. These many years later, I understand and feel that oneness with the universe, and that cosmic destiny, ever-more deeply. The beauty of the forest, the water, and the sky burst into radiance through me, through my humanity, through my potential divinity.