Whether a beautiful person, place or piece of artwork, they all have a magnetic pull that captures our imagination. Knowing this, we invest so much in trying to own that beauty so we can attract and enchant others! Last year, US consumers spent $154 million dollars on nail polish, $278 million on eye makeup, $291 million on lipstick, and $12.4 billion on plastic surgery. The trend continues, with no sign of easing.
In Chapter Ten, Krishna explains that behind all the beauty of the world stands the all-attractive and enchanting Personality of Godhead. The word bhagavan, indicating God, literally means He whose qualities are so charming that everyone is irresistibly drawn to invest themselves in Him. Why then, one may wonder, are we drawn to the beauty of this world? Because, Krishna says, everything beautiful in this world springs from but a spark of His splendour! We can look at an attractive person and consider: “If they are that beautiful, imagine how beautiful the creator is!”
Some see the material world as an object of enjoyment – they look AT the world. This is known as the path of karma. Because they approach the various aspects of material nature with a view of exploitation, everything backfires. For those who embody this selfish, enjoying spirit, Krishna rubber stamps the material world as temporary and miserable (dukhalayam asasvatam). When we look AT the world, we are looking for the right thing (happiness), but in the wrong place, and in the wrong way.
Others see the material world as an illusion – they look AWAY from the world. In a world where leaders are brainless, politics is shameless, people are heartless and desires are endless, they conclude that everything is useless! Having been frustrated in their attempts to enjoy the world, they become averse and desire to escape the world. This can lead to an impersonal vision where they label the entire creation as an illusion, and instead aspire to enter an eternal nothingness. The Bhagavad-Gita, however, clarifies that though the material world is temporary and unsubstantial, it is not unreal. A photocopy may lack the clarity, quality and colour of the original, but it’s still a real document that provides information. In the same way, the material world, though lacking the fullness of the spiritual world, has its part to play and can render us great benefit if we interact with it appropriately.
The bhakti-yogis look BEYOND the world. They see it as a bridge leading to our true home, and things within it can be appropriately engaged for the purpose of pleasing Krishna. Devotees find a way to interact with the world which elevates themselves and others. This is known as yukta-vairagya, or the process of engaging worldly things for a higher cause and spiritual purpose. The bhakti-yogis see the world, but on the backdrop of eternity.
It would be crazy to say there is no beauty in this world. That beauty keeps the world revolving, as people run around madly in pursuance of it. Rather than avoiding it, spiritualists learn to acknowledge it, appreciate it and contextualise it. Instead of trying to exploit or ignore that beauty, they engage that beauty in the service of the most beautiful, and in that way get connected to the source of all beauty.
“Know that all opulent, beautiful and glorious creations spring from but a spark of My splendour. (Bhagavad-Gita 10.41)