Radhanath Swami – What We Have Got Wrong About Beauty

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Published on May 10, 2020 by Radhanath Swami

I was once walking alone in the wilderness of the Himalayan mountains, when I came across a crowd of homeless starving people. Some were naked, others in filthy rags. Their bodies were deformed by disease. I had stumbled into a leper colony. “Baksheesh baksheesh! Alms alms,” they cried as they tugged and pushed one another in a desperate attempt to grab whatever they could take for me. After a short while of searching me, realizing that I had nothing to give, they dispersed. Then I happened to see on the side of the path, there lay an old woman with a whole of decaying flesh where her nose had once been. As my eyes met with hers, she gently smiled. I could see that she understood the shock that I was in because of what her people had done to me. In that moment of exchange of glances, she conveyed to me wordlessly the tender sympathetic love of a mother. Her look assured me that she wanted nothing from me, rather she pitied me. She held out her hand to bless me. Moved, I approached her coming down on my knees. She placed her fingerless palm on top of my head and whispered, “May God bless you my child, may God bless you.” I looked up at her face, it was lit up with joy. She was beautiful. I felt that she was experiencing the joy of doing the one thing that any mother rich or poor, healthy or sick has the right to do – bless a child. The poor leper woman was plagued with disease, but she had depths of beauty invisible to the eye. Beauty is not just about external looks. It is about a genuine heart that loves, that cares, that feels for the pain of others. That’s what makes a person truly beautiful, regardless of what they look like on the outside. 36 years later, I returned to that leper colony. Public funding had moved it to a more accessible location and created housing and food programs. These residents of the colony were living in conditions vastly better than what I had encountered as a young man. I did not expect to find the woman who blessed me, and of course I didn’t. But I remembered her, and I remembered how before any evidence existed that anyone in the world cared about her, she had cared for me. Her blessing had penetrated to the core of my heart. A reminder that beyond the differences that divide us nationality, religion, gender, race, appearance, health or illness, lies the common essential quality that we all share – the soul’s inherent ability to love.

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