Nature is not Beautiful, Life is not Suffering

Beautiful Termite Structure

Ugly Termite Structure

I just read a post where someone raved about how beautiful nature is.  The sentence, “Nature is beautiful” can have different meanings for different people.  If uttered by a microbiologist looking through a microscope at a cancer cell it could mean, “Wow, the amazing complexity of nature’s organisms and their mutual evolution is awe inspiring”.  If proclaimed by a business man while on a camping trip while he looks over a mountain range, it could mean, “Wow, this feels so good — that view is so gorgeous.”  I am sure you can see the difference in the two emotive proclamations.

And perhaps few people actually declare “Nature is beautiful”  philosophically — probably few actually mean that Nature is, by its very nature, beautiful.  But if that were the case, I’d have to object.  For nature is not beautiful, nor is it ugly, it just is.  And I feel that the desire to imagine Nature as “in-its-very-nature beautiful” is as perverse as describing all existence as “suffering”.

Beautiful Forest

Ugly post-fire Forest

In Buddhism, the first noble truth states that “there is suffering”.  Some take this to mean life is inherently unsatisfactory.  I think this is as mistaken of a generalization as the notion that “Nature is, of-its-very-essence, beautiful.”

My generous translation of the first noble truth would be: “Interacting with reality through twisted vision can lead to unnecessary dissatisfaction and suffering”.  I think this is uncontroversial.  And indeed, perhaps Buddhism’s first noble truth was not meant to be controversial.  It is the “correct interaction” solution that contains the controversy — why start out with unnecessary controversy?



Filed under Philosophy & Religion, Uncategorized

16 responses to “Nature is not Beautiful, Life is not Suffering

  1. i think you have to figure out what things mean on your own, for you. the statement ‘nature is beautiful’ i think is dependent on what you’re looking at. flowers? yes, they often are. a dingo eating a baby rabbit? not so much. best to approach things on a metaphorical level me thinks.

    also like your generous translation. good stuff.

  2. Ed

    Eye is in the “beauty” of the beholder… seriously.

  3. @ Zero1Ghost:
    I’d wager that two people could look at the same thing and say “Nature is Beautiful” and still mean something totally different. So it does not totally depend on what you are looking at.
    A loving family at a gorgeous Thanksgiving Turkey meal would look barbarian to a vegetarian, not to mention a Turkey.

    Give me real observation before abstract metaphysics any day!

  4. Chapter Five in Thich Nhat Hahn’s The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching is titled, “Is Everything Suffering?” There he expresses his view—a view really quite similar to your view. The First Noble Truth affirms the existence of suffering. The Second Noble Truth states that there are causes for suffering. The Third Noble Truth quoting TNH here, “is the cessation of creating suffering by refraining from doing the things that make us suffer.” And the Fourth Truth is the path that leading to refraining from doing the things that cause us to suffer.

    Quoting TNH again, “the Buddha taught the truth of suffering, but he also taught the truth of ‘dwelling happily in things as they are.’ To succeed in the practice we must stop trying to prove that everything is suffering.”

    Again and again throughout the Nikayas you’ll find the Buddha declining to engage in controversial debate. I don’t think he was looking for controversy. I think he simply wanted to point out ways to help people avoid needless suffering.

  5. Dan, I agree with you 1000% (well put)

  6. theskeptnik

    Seems like both the beauty we appreciate and the suffering we feel comes from our perspective out. To our minds the way nature organizes seems so complex and unlikely and such a wonder that it seems to us beautiful. Then when it disorganizes itself involving things we have attached to it seems ugly. Our very unique (as far as we know) and small perspective makes us susceptible to a sort of delusion that it is that out there that is so wonderful and horrible. We understandably overestimate the value of our perspective.
    Thanks for the stimulating observations.

  7. Much suffering comes from mind, but lots comes from brain. Without trying to get in complex mind-brain stuff, I am simply saying, some stuff simply hurts: a red hot iron thrust into your eye hurts no matter what your view is — but even that could be tamed with different views, I guess — but just tamed.

  8. Can’t say I have anything meaningful to add “Interacting with reality through twisted vision can lead to unnecessary dissatisfaction and suffering” is great.

    Though, I may add one tiny little thing, that ‘interacting with reality’ may confuse some to feel that they are seperate from reality. Maybe also adding “forgetting we are part of reality” is another cause of dissatisfaction and suffering might make it more complete. I could be wrong though.

  9. “I’d wager that two people could look at the same thing and say “Nature is Beautiful” and still mean something totally different. So it does not totally depend on what you are looking at.”

    yeah, thus is the limitation of language. better if i could just project my view and feeling directly to your brain… sadly, we haven’t evolved this method. and if Clan of the Cave Bear is any evidence, we killed those who could do this. oopsie!

  10. Did you just refer to a work of fiction to support your preferred vision? It seems you have a consistent, indominable, unabashed modus operatum. 😉

    Pecked out quickly on my DROID phone !

  11. I agree, it is distorted vision/thinking that causes the sense that life is suffering.
    first noble truth: life is dissatisfaction, second noble truth: there is a way out. Inquiry into the distorted thinking is useful. And yes, a red hot iron in the eye hurts. Being shot in the head hurts.

  12. Ed

    I have enjoyed this post and the comments. It points to something very fundamental about human beings. My take is that the beauty or ugliness we “see” is at least in part a result of our inner self (beauty) which affects the eye (judgement). We see what we see because we are who we are… or, “the eye is in the beauty of the beholder”…

  13. Hello all participants here on this post !
    I am a Norwegian musician/artist, working with a performance right now with my trio BOL , the title and “theme” of the performance being “Nature is not beautiful”. When googling the title, i came to this interesting post, and I see that if possible, I might want to use some quotes from your conversation here as part of the spoken-word material in the performance. It will not be printed, just spoken and possibly processed electronically as sound material. Possibly there will be made a recording of the project as well, that will be published or at least made public, some time in the future. I have conferred with Sabio , and he invited me to ask you all by leaving this comment. Some of my work can be seen at

  14. Hello Tone Åse,
    Absolutely — feel free to use any of my comments or post writings in your performance. I can contact any of the other folks you need permission from if they don’t stop in.

    Please let us know what you use and give us a link so we can listen. Heck, you might even get a purchase!

    Thank you for stopping in and asking!

  15. Ano Humano

    Repeating theskeptnik’s response in perhaps a less elegant way: The ability to perceive and evaluate something as beautiful or ugly is an intrinsic property of the brain, whether it was evolved as a survival mechanism or the result of an emergent property. There is no beauty or ugliness or suffering or even indifference in Nature, it is all only in the brain. As said, Nature just is.

  16. @ Ano Humano: I’ll have to agree with you!

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