by Satyanarayana Dasa
Two thousand years ago, there was a great king in India named Bhartrihari. Besides being a ruler, he was a grammarian, poet, and philosopher. He wrote many wonderful books on various topics. He used to say, “Sahitya-sangita-kala-vihinah saksat pashuh puccha-vishana-hinah.” It means, a person devoid of knowledge of aesthetics, music and arts is indeed an animal, albeit without a tail and horns.</p>
Why did he utter these harsh words? Was he frustrated with life or with the behaviour of people? No, such indeed was not the case. He spoke a fundamental truth, i.e. the difference between a human being and an animal. He is not interested in the external appearance of these two; all of us know that distinction.
What makes a human being a human being is not that he can stand on two legs and eat with a fork and knife, but his/her character. An animal is called pashu in Sanskrit. It means – sarvam aviseshena pashyatiti pashuh – one who looks at everything without any sense of discrimination. A cow cannot discriminate between a good and bad piece of music. She is not more elated by hearing a Beethoven symphony than rap music. Put some grass in front of her and she will eat without bothering whether you are in a pleasant mood or sad. A dog is not going to ;discriminate among his mother, sister or a stranger female dog during their rut period. May be some animals like dogs are a little more sensitive to the mood of their master than others, but in general, they are just happy to get their food. They do not have any sense of beauty. To appreciate beauty one needs a higher intellect. Those human beings who do not have that are like animals in the words of king Bhartrihari.
One who cannot appreciate poetry, arts, music, and aesthetics lacks the finer sentiments of human life. He will be brutish in his behaviour or at best apathetic. Such a person may be beautiful to look at but have a cruel heart. He is compared to a beautiful, artistic scabbard, studded with gems, but contains a sharp sword within which is only used to slit the throat of others.
The concept of beauty, therefore, is not merely external looks but the state of one’s heart. Hence, ‘beauty is skin deep’ is a misconception. Real beauty is the deepest thing. There is nothing deeper than that. There have been many great people in history who were not so-called beautiful externally, but had a beautiful heart and were full of love for their fellow beings.
In today’s world, the focus seems to be on ‘looks’. External beauty is considered as paramount. Especially, the youth of today is mesmerized by external looks. But the externals do not last long. Hence, one who is enticed by it is bound to be frustrated in due course of time. Moreover, one deals with the behaviour of a person, not with the external looks. And even if someone is enchanting now, he or she may look boring after a few days. The mind is whimsical. What appeals to it in the morning may not cast a spell in the evening and vice versa. Therefore, in the opinion of King Bhartrihari, the concept of beauty should not be limited only to the external looks, but should also extend to the character and state of the heart, which is more stable.
When the heart is clean and soft, it can reflect the emotions and moods of fellow beings which are necessary to be different from animals. There is a statement I have heard time and again — ’You should not judge anyone’. What does it mean? Shall I close my eyes and condone everything around me? Then how do I become greater than an animal that does not have the ability to judge to begin with? How will I be superior if I were to do that? Is it really practical not to make any judgements in our life? If someone is looking for a life-partner, should she judge or close her eyes? What is the meaning of education if we should not make any judgements? If I want to learn music, shall I not make judgements between a good and bad teacher? The very function of intelligence is to make judgement or to discriminate and take decisions. If this faculty is not used, it is tantamount to be equal to an animal or an insane person. An insane person is one who does not have any sense of discrimination. He can eat inedible things, speak unspeakable words, or display any such forbidden, abnormal behaviour.
When it is advised not to judge others, it means not to be exploitative or biased unnecessarily. To appreciate beauty, one must know what beauty is and one must have the sense of discrimination. Aesthetics, music, and art help us to develop finer sentiments in our life and thus rise above the animalistic platform. Bhartrihari is not cursing people by calling them animal, but indirectly imploring that everyone should develop these finer sentiments to earn the title of being called a human being.
In another place he writes about beauty:
Shrotram shrutenaiva na kundalenaDanena panirna tu kankanena
Vibhati kayah karunaparanam
Propakaraairna tu chandanena
“The beauty of ears is by listening to proper knowledge not by the earrings;
The beauty of hands is by giving in charity not by bracelets;
The body of compassionate people shines by welfare deeds not by cosmetics.”
Here again, he stresses that the good heart of a human being is the real sign of beauty and not external ornamentation.