Beauty is in the I of the Beholder

by Lama Thubten Yeshe

Lama Thubten Yeshe gave this teaching during a five-day meditation course he conducted at Dromana, near Melbourne, Australia, in March, 1975. Edited by Nicholas Ribush. This teaching appears in the November/December 1997 issue of Mandala.

At some point in your life you are going to have to make the following strong determination: "I'm tired of being a servant to my ego. My ego rules my mind, and even though it gives me nothing but trouble, continuously, continuously, with no time for rest, I spend my entire life as its servant. My mind is constantly in turmoil only because of my ego. I'm not going to be a slave to my ego any longer!"
For example, we would all like to have beautiful bodies; our ego wants our body to be beautiful. But at the same time, our attachment—sneaky, grasping attachment—makes us eat more than our body requires. Thus our body becomes fat and heavy. So all the worry and bother that we experience as a result comes from these two departments, ego and attachment. This is just a simple example, common in many of our lives.
Check it out for yourself. Perhaps your body needs very little food, but your grasping attachment to over-eating makes you fat, heavy and uncomfortable. At the same time, you also worry about losing your beauty; these two things are in conflict. So which do you choose, the ego's wish for a beautiful body or the attachment to eating food? Look into your mind; find the one you cling to most. One mind is there, grasping at beauty; the other is there too, knowing consciously that if you eat too much you'll get fat and destroy whatever beauty you have. Still, you can't stop eating; these two minds agitate you, give you a psychological beating. But despite their constantly mashing you, you keep saying "Yes, yes, yes...." It's funny.
So funny. Completely. The human mind is so funny. So silly, if you really check up. The idea that thin is beautiful, fat is ugly comes from the mind. Of course, I agree, if you are too fat it can be physically unhealthy; that's OK. But the idea, the picture created by attachment and desire of what is beautiful, what is ugly, is so silly, isn't it? It's not the reality of the fat that bothers you but the idea that it's unattractive. Why? Because you are clinging to reputation, worried about what other people think of you. I tell you, the mother sentient beings on this earth are so silly. People in one country think something is pretty; people in another country think the same thing is ugly. Here, this is bad; there, it is good. To some, this is beautiful; to others something else is beautiful. It's all made up; they're just different ideas.
Otherwise, where is the external, permanent, absolute beauty? It is only the way our ego mind interprets objects that makes them beautiful or ugly. You check up; it's so simple. When you do the body sweeping meditation, for example, where your mind examines every part of your body, try to find the beauty. Check up: what's beautiful, which part are you clinging to as beautiful? Check up: your interpretation of what's beautiful and what's ugly is so superficial; it's just your ego's projection, but it makes you so confused. You're confused even now. You don't know any longer what is good or what is bad. Really!
When you go to the bathroom, you don't stand there admiring what you've just deposited into the toilet bowl, do you? Same thing; when you gaze into the mirror at your beautiful body or face, when you get stuck on the aspects of yourself that your ego's projection has deemed attractive, let your mind travel into your body from the inside of your nose all the way down, trying to determine exactly where your beauty is. You'll find that basically, every part of your body is identical to what you've just excreted. This is scientific reality, not a matter of belief. The object of beauty that you cling to is attractive simply because of an extremely superficial judgment made by your fickle mind.
Look at the confused young women of today. They run from one man to another, to another, to another, another man, another man, another man...they experience so much trouble, more trouble, so much trouble. But at the same time, they're expecting, "Maybe this one will be good for me, maybe that one will be good for me...." These are such superficial experiences, all mental projections, projections painted by their egos. "Maybe this, maybe this," with expectation, " Maybe this, maybe this, maybe this...." No satisfaction at all; always trouble.
Perhaps you're thinking, "Oh, Lama's putting women down too much." Men are the same thing! Such deluded men. They change their wives, change, change, change, superficially discriminating, "Good, good, good...." Then, after a while "good" turns to "bad," so they change again. Then good, then bad, then change; then good, then bad, then change. Their judgment, good and bad, beautiful and ugly, is so completely superficial; it has nothing whatsoever to do with reality, either inner or outer. There's no understanding, no communication, and such fear and insecurity, all because of ego and attachment.
All this comes from the mind. We're totally preoccupied with our ego's superficial projections, while we turn our backs on reality. No wonder we're completely confused and unable to communicate properly with any living being. All this comes from our big ego.
Therefore, it is highly worthwhile to switch your mental attitude from the attachment that is always saying, "I, I, I" to purely dedicating your life to the welfare of others. Recognize that you have been building attachment for years and years but still have nothing to show for it; it is so important to be aware of this. When you dedicate your life to others you are acknowledging that true human beauty is not on the outside, that beauty is not the view projected by your ego onto another person's skin, but rather that what is truly beautiful is others' inner potential. When you see that, you respect other sentient beings, instead of respecting only yourself and spending all your time developing your two inner departments of ego and attachment.
Wherever you go—East, West, sky, earth, beneath the earth—there are other sentient beings. If, through having recognized the false conceptions of ego and attachment, you generate the pure motivation of dedicating your life to others, your life will become truly worthwhile, you will give real meaning to being alive.