Being an Integrity

by Peter Saint-Andre


Yesterday while reading an old book on East Asian folk crafts (The Unknown Crafstman by Sōetsu Yanagi, p. 153), I came across the following passage:

When I am asked for a Buddhist explanation of the perception of beauty, my answer is a simple one: "One must discard one's self". But of course the process is not easily accomplished; grasping the reality of beauty is no easier. In looking at objects, a man makes use of his intelligence; he evaluates on the basis of his own conceptions, he passes judgement on the basis of his own experience. In so doing, "I" become the master pronouncing on the "object", which I regard as my guest. Since one's self does not disappear in this process, "I" and "it" remain two different entities; no union between the two occurs.

The lingering on of the self may be likened to looking through coloured spectacles: one is gazing at objects through the colour called ego and therefore one cannot see them as they are, one can only see them enveloped in something else. Often a man, in attempting to see things, makes use of some form of measurement, its degrees marked in accordance with his own intellect; with it he tries to appraise everything quantitatively. But many things do not permit of such treatment, so as a result he sees only those parts that do. Whenever fixed rules are applied to an object, only certain parts of it may be perceived. But an object is an integrity; when, therefore, we force dualistic distinctions upon it, its reality has already fled.

This thought is fascinating: "an object is an integrity". Or, as we might say more naturally in English, "an integrated whole" (I have never seen "integrity" used as a noun, but I like it!). Although Yanagi was talking about pottery and other folk crafts, the idea applies even more deeply to living things and especially human beings. Indeed, it's not all that different from Aristotle's suggestion that "a loved one is another self", for love involves recognition that the person you care for is an independent and integrated and beautiful whole. This of course implies that you, too, are "an integrity" and that you deserve to treat yourself as such and in turn deserve to be treated as such by others in a flourishing community of mutual respect and benevolence.

(Cross-posted at

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