M. Fethullah Gulen
Beauty elevates our hearts, awakens our souls with sweet excitement and appreciation, and then becomes the esthetic of our inner self. This hard-to-describe phenomenon, this sense that is present in our most joyous moments, is beauty. Even though this definition might seem too narrow, it is one interpretation. There have been elaborate interpretations on the notion of beauty from the point of view of esthetics. The focus now shifts on the relation of beauty with existence, nature, and human beings, or even beyond nature.
The meanings of beauty need to be redefined all together in order to be properly appreciated. Even though this has been done many times by masters of esthetics, we will try to explain our understanding of beauty in the context of our philosophy and belief, where every beautiful object is a mirror image or a reflection of Divine Beauty. Furthermore, anything that incites appreciation, love, and astonishment is seen as a reflection of Divine Beauty. Therefore, when our hearts are filled with these everlasting reflections, we are always able to perceive ourselves within beauty.
Through such a perspective, we conceive of even seemingly sad things, like death and decay, as being the essence of the most amazing harmonies, thus feeling ourselves to be among infinite beauty. In this way, we never feel upset or discouraged by the fading of our attachments. On the contrary, we experience the outward beauty of faith, breathe in the motivating air of hope, strive to do righteous deeds in the hope that we will fulfill our spiritual desires, seek sincerity in every deed, struggle to be tolerant, merciful, and constructive in all our behavior, and we strive to accept those deeds done for the sake of God as being the best moments of our lives. For us, faith becomes the light that illuminates our horizons, and a source of hope for our expectations. Only through faith can the chaos of nothingness be overcome. Only through faith can we reach the happiness that spreads from our hearts to the infinite Paradise. Through its vastness and power, faith becomes beautiful. Through faith one can find the Divine Unity, turn toward the Truth, and reach worldly and heavenly bliss, being released from all worries.
These are all the beauties within beauty that can be enjoyed through faith in God. The universe, events, objects, and human intellect that can evaluate these are all beautiful in that they help us find faith. Likewise, all righteous acts that stem from faith, good morals, and the desire to reach real faith and progress in the spiritual ranks of love and knowledge of God are also beautiful. Even acts of worship, or calamities that strike us, or sins that we find hard to resist, all of which may seem like hardship from the outside, represent beauty if we adopt the right attitude toward them. Real beauty belongs to God. He necessitates perfection, which is unique to Him alone. All of existence is a different mirror of God, reflecting His beauty as much as its potential allows. Stars sing of the beauty of light every night, they wink at us and remind us of Him through their unbelievable beauty. Moonlight touches the hearts with its softness and beauty and the sun spreads its mercy on each and every thing without distinction. It pours down its light and colors all day long, and sets, giving us another marvelous scene. The seas rise and fall through the tides, and take care of millions of living beings, like a merciful mother. Mountains, with a sheer size that makes our hearts pound, seem to be whispering something to the skies, playing along with the clouds. Mountains invite the rains, and stop the oceans with their proud look, yet they become mere earth. All the voices from the birds, sheep, forests, and mountains make up such a harmonious song, feeding our souls with the most peaceful rhythms. Yes, everything from the smiling skies to the thousands of glories of the Earth is so beautiful that they make us aware of the beauty of Heaven and we simply say “it just could not have been more beautiful!” And human beings themselves seem to be the most beautiful among all this beauty. With our outward looks, our inner world of senses, thoughts, and faith, we are like a sample, a replica of the universe. It is therefore apparent that humans have been created as a key to solve the riddle of creation. This is the way we should perceive beauty, seeing it only as a tool to interpret the real meaning of existence. In this enormous arena of beauty, everything can be seen as a point referring to the Creator. If, with our pure intentions and the right perspective, we can perceive existence as a mirror reflecting the beauty of The Beautiful, we can experience spiritual joy.
In fact, it should not be difficult to be aware of this. Sometimes, only a beautifully designed city or a place of worship is enough to make us enjoy this holy pleasure. Sometimes, a nice poem, a legend, a well-told story, or music that is meant to touch our human sensibilities, that wafts harmony into our soul, can draw us to this beauty, and make us hear the beauty of some other abode. However, the continuity of the joy that these spiritual pleasures give us and the avoidance of suffering depends on relating this worldly beauty to its real Owner. Otherwise, all will end at the most unexpected moment. The Sun will set and the Moon will disappear as our soul sinks into the darkness. It is impossible for souls in decline to appreciate and enjoy beauty. Since every beauty of this world fades away and leaves us one day, for our soul not to despair and to be able to enjoy the real and infinite beauty, it is necessary to establish the true Owner and Originator of the beauty we observe. A poet, relating this concept to a Qur’anic verse said: “Even faces as beautiful as the Sun set in the end. Thus I love not the temporary ones, but the infinite beauty that does not fade away.” Rumi illustrates the same point in the following verses: “My God, after seeing You, knowing You, I do not see the beauty of this world anymore . . .”
Yes, material beauty is just a means to acknowledge the Most Beautiful. Getting stuck at the “means” and not realizing the ultimate goal of this beauty, which shows us the real Beauty of God, is nothing more than being blind to the real goal, the real Truth. The Creator has placed all sorts of beauty and signs along the way so that we will not be blinded; however, for souls that have not reached this realization and which lack the faithful perspective, this beauty is nothing but a source of mischief, or means leading them to sin. But for those who can think clearly, even the love for the beautifully created is only the shade of the shade of the shade of the Beauty of the Beauty of God. As long as we are able to distinguish between the Real Source of Beauty and its reflection, the love we feel for the created is harmless. In this sense we can accept the created as beautiful.
Sometimes, we are aware of the innermost feelings in our souls which sense only the abstract beauty that fills our hearts with God’s love alone. At these moments, when beauty and love become intertwined, the soul, with its unique ability to see, feel, and hear, senses the Real Source in everything that it meets. Through its heavenly bestowed mechanisms, our soul perceives the essence of everything and attributes this to its real owner. It is the lack of this mechanism that renders the materialists and the naturalists short-sighted; they only observe the outer beauty of things, and fall short of perceiving the spiritual and infinite horizons. However, all beauty exists to take us to the Heavens, to the Godly realms.
Every human being displays themselves, their feelings, and their abilities in their works. This means that they are presenting something for others who will observe and perceive through the prism of their insight. God presents His works embellished with color, meaning, and content in order to make Himself known and loved for those seeking Him. We are sent to this world with the responsibility then, to affect and reshape things with His permission, to reflect our understanding, but also to be attentive to the true purpose and meaning of the creation of things. The universe and the happenings in it are thus perfect examples to imitate. However, no matter how perfect the example is, everyone will draw and interpret objects according to their abilities. Charles Lalo, commenting on esthetics once said: “The magnificent scene taking place at the time of sunset will remind a farmer of the rather unesthetic thought of dinner; the physicist, not of beauty or ugliness, but of rightness or wrongness of the analysis of a matter. Thus, the sunset is beautiful only for those who are aware of beauty.” Therefore, only those who see with God and hear with God can appreciate the beauty that spreads throughout existence as their senses are tuned to the spiritual realms.
A heart that beats with God’s love and which desires to meet Him, will be aware of many signs from God along the way. Such a heart will feel the excitement of meeting Him, as it reads the messages from the Moon, the sunset, the twinkling stars, colorful nature, the blowing of the wind, the snow. . . And such a heart would utter, in the words of one who has reached unity of sight and heart, “Everyone from everywhere is coming to watch Your beauty. From beneath and from above, every being is declaring You, displaying the reflections of Your beauty.” This heart looks at nature and objects, but sees the Unseen spiritual realms. This is the point of love and connection with God.