Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sri Aurobindo describes “three dynamic images” through which one makes contact with “supreme Reality”

The beautiful, the true, and the good — these are the fundamental values that have been recognized since antiquity as the intrinsic qualities from which all values are essentially derived. Just as a million shades of color can be mixed from three primaries, so too can a million shades of quality be traced back to these primary values.
The first writer to associate the beautiful, the true, and the good together, and to exalt these three as primary was the famous Greek philosopher Plato. And since Plato in the 4th century B.C., this triad of terms has continued to impress itself upon the minds of thinkers down through the centuries. This is not to say that all the proponents of beauty, truth, and goodness have been followers of Plato; some have discovered the significance of this triad through decidedly non-philosophical methods. But whether they are arrived at through intuitive inspiration or rational deduction, these three terms keep showing up in the writing of a wide variety of notable luminaries, including thinkers as diverse as Immanuel Kant, Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein and Mohandas Gandhi. Even the Encyclopedia Britannica acknowledges the significance of this ubiquitous trio, stating that:
Truth, goodness, and beauty form a triad of terms which have been discussed together throughout the tradition of Western thought. They have been called “transcendental” on the ground that everything which is, is in some measure or manner subject to denomination as true or false, good or evil, beautiful, or ugly.
In addition to philosophers, scientists, and politicians, many mystics and spiritual teachers have also championed the idea of these three essential “windows on the divine.” This list includes Rudolph Steiner, Sri Aurobindo, Thich Nhat Hanh, and even Osho Rajneesh. For example, Sri Aurobindo describes what he calls “three dynamic images” through which one makes contact with “supreme Reality.” These are:
  • The way of the intellect, or of knowledge — the way of truth;
  • The way of the heart, or of emotion — the way of beauty; and
  • The way of the will, or of action — the way of goodness.

Aurobindo comments further that “these three ways, combined and followed concurrently, have a most powerful effect.” [1]

The triad of beauty, truth, and goodness has also garnered considerable attention from the founders of integral philosophy itself. Alfred North Whitehead devotes a significant portion of his book Adventures of Ideas to the discussion of the primary values, which he calls the “eternal forms.” Likewise does Ken Wilber acknowledge the priority of the beautiful, the true, and the good by connecting them with the three main “cultural value spheres” of art, science, and morals, which he further equates with the subjective, objective, and intersubjective domains of evolution, respectively.
Now, of course, the idea of any kind of “primary values” drives deconstructionist postmodern academics crazy. For them, values are arbitrary interpretations imposed by establishment power structures, so the proposition that there are three fundamental values is the height of idealistic pretense. After all, beauty, truth, and goodness are just conceptual categories, just abstract words that point to nebulous ideals that perhaps everyone can agree about, that is, until you actually get specific. There is certainly no “hard proof” that all human values can be captured and expansively described using these three concepts. But there is a remarkable degree of “consensus evidence” about the special significance of beauty, truth, and goodness...
Steve McIntosh is the author of Integral Consciousness and the Future of Evolution (Paragon House 2007). He was an original member of the Integral Institute think tank, and has taught integral philosophy to a wide variety of audiences. An honors graduate of the University of Virginia Law School and the University of Southern California Business School, today McIntosh is president of Now & Zen, Inc., and director of The Project for Integral World Federation.

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