Because of its mysterious nature, so alien to the Europeans, the Indian philosophy encourages the Indians create the things which the rest of the world can only stand in owe to, feeling completely breathless and excited to the core.
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With their specific concept of beauty, the Indians offer the aesthetics filled with the religious and philosophic ideas of theirs, which seems so attractive both to the local people and to the tourists who flood the country every year. The Lotus Temple which has been recently built in the heart of India is a perfect specimen of such fusion of philosophy and aesthetics.
Back to Plotinus’ Idea of Beauty
Since the ancient civilizations were the first to introduce the idea of beauty to the world, with their own standards and their demands to what is supposed to be beautiful, it will be reasonable to start with their philosophy, as ancient and as profound as the one of the Indians.
Grounding their ideal of perfection mainly on the shapes, Plotinus argued that beauty must be breathing with certain idea, otherwise only an empty shell of what is supposed to be an artwork will remain. Interweaving aesthetics with philosophy, he filled artworks with sense which allowed artists to make their masterpieces even more meaningful for the mankind.
In his philosophical search for the nature of beauty, Plotinus makes clear distinction between the beauty itself and the nature of beauty, emphasizing that the true nature of beauty is beauty itself (Stamatellos 165). According to Plotinus, comparing objects to each other, people “give relative accounts of beauty and not beauty itself” (Stamatellos 165).
Thus, manifesting beauty as the Divine itself, the nature in its true and only form, Plotinus suggested three levels of reality which beauty is supposed to link into the Universe.
Creating a structure of the cosmos, Plotinus breathes the specific idea into beauty, making it universal and stretching far beyond the boundaries of human imagination. With help of the four-level structure of the universe which Plotinus suggested, the nature of the beautiful became evident: the source of all that makes people gasp in awe is the Divine.
Reminding of the famous Yggdrasil, the tree which linked the Hades, the earth and the Heavens, Plotinus’ system descends from the highest level of communicating the nature of beauty to the lowest one.
Starting from the level of the Divine, which makes the core of beauty in Plotinus’ understanding, the philosopher passes the level of immaterial (level 2), the point at which a human being can approach God and feel the divine touch on his/her soul; concerning the intellectual sphere of people’s lives, the point at which the line between a human and an animal is drawn, it is the very bridge between a man and God, according to Plotinus: ”This beauty is not external, but internal: the inward beauty of the Soul beyond any color, shape, or size” (Stamatellos 87).
In the next level the ideas of the immaterial and the material are combined to create the human being. Uniting body and soul, this sphere makes the basis of human’s existence. Here the beauty principles of the Ancient Greeks are implied, with their concept of the perfection of body and soul. The final fourth level is the beauty of the nature, bare and uncivilized as it is, with the air of the primordial chaos and wildness.
According to the idea of Plotinus, if united, these four levels o beauty will lead to creation of the real masterpiece and to the Divine in it prime form. Passing from one level to the other, the artist will finally see the light of the truth which will inspire him/her with the urge to create and will finally lead to creating a real masterpiece.
In addition, this work will comprise the universal truth and the essence of a human being, which will make it truly cosmic, all-embracing and breathing with the wisdom of the Eternal.
The Concept of the Beautiful That Never Ages
Because of the philosophy which was the foundation of the Lotus Temple, it can be considered a specimen of Plotinus theory of beauty embodied into life. Representing not merely a perfectly built construction, but also a building which breathes with the ideas of the ancient philosopher, this is much more than a construction of metal and concrete.
What stands behind the perfect shape is the ancient concept of the beautiful in its original form. The four levels of beauty can be easily traced in it. The highest one, conveying the idea of the Divine in its true form, is reflected in the lotus blossom which the construction is shaped in. As the Mahabharata says,
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Lord Brahma (the creator god) grew from the lotus flower which was growing out of the navel of the protector god, Lord Vishnu. Avalokitesvara, one of the most popular Buddhist beings, is always pictured holding a lotus blossom. (India 73)
Talking about the way in which the creator of the Lotus Temple represented the second level described by Plotinus, it must be mentioned that the philosophy of the intellectual is also concealed in the original shape of the building.
Making people think of the amazing heritage which the Buddhist philosophy leaves to its adepts, it becomes clear that the building embodies the very principles of Buddhism. Reminding of the famous postulates of Buddha and giving a lot of food for thoughts, this building creates the impression of the treasure trove of the Indian philosophy.
The third level, the realm of body and soul, can also be seen clearly in the shape of the building. Since lotus is the flower which symbolizes the triumph and honor, it can be a hint on human’s immortal soul and the reminiscences of glory which stay even when a person dies. Whether it was the peculiar design or the interference of the Divine, the Temple became the place where faith is focused, which makes it reach the level of communicating the principles of spiritual importance:
Like every other Baha’i house of worship, the Lotus Temple is open to anyone for religious worship. Baha’i law states that a house of worship is for people of any faith to come and praise God. (India 73)
The last, but not the least, the fourth level of beauty which refers to the Material is also reflected in the Temple, namely, in the lotus as the symbol of wealth and earthy prosperity (India 73). Comprising the artifacts of the ancient times and the objects which symbolize the Ancient India and its mysterious religion, the Temple represents the final, fourth stage of beauty which concerns the material world.
Thus, it is quite peculiar that the shape of the building could embrace the entire four levels of beauty in Plotinus’ viewpoint. Embracing the entire four levels, the flower which symbolizes India creates the basis of the spiritual value of the construction and breathes life into the ancient legends, making both the tourists and the locals imbued with the meaning of Buddhism and the postulates of Buddha, the Enlightened.
However, it can be argued whether the Temple can represent the beauty in Plotinus’ understanding at all, being made entirely by people, with no divine force intruding into the process of constructing.
Yet the spiritual ideas which lie in the basis of the Temple and the faith which the place is breathing with, its cosmopolitan ideas allowing the people of any religion entering its walls (India 73), crash this supposition in its bud. The Temple represents all the four levels of Plotinus’ concept of beauty, there is no doubt about that.
India. Japan: R.I.C. Publications, 2010. Print.
Stamatellos, Giannis. Plotinus and the Presocratics: A Philosophical Study of Presocratic Influences in Plotinus’ Enneads. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2007. Print.