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October 2018 – Spiritual Refinement
Emotions and Ethics (Notebooks, Vol. 5)

With world situations erupting all around us, it seems pertinent to seek wisdom from a philosopher like PB on how to handle our responses to today’s troublesome times. Volume 5 of the Notebooks, “Emotions and Ethics,” gives helpful suggestions. Section 5, “Spiritual Refinement,” reminds the spiritual seeker of the importance of practicing philosophic discipline in dealing with others.

“He shows an uncommon patience because that is Nature’s way. He expresses an impartial understanding because that is Truth’s way. He accepts people just where they are and is not angry with them because they are not farther along the road of life.” (para 6.5.72) 

Other paras speak from a different view. In the next para (para 73) he writes: “He is not only different in that he seeks both to commend and to criticize, whereas the ordinary man seeks only to do the one or the other, but also in that he seeks to understand the world view and life-experience which have given rise to such a viewpoint.” (6.5.73) 

Para 76 cautions with these words: “It is time to stop when such a flexible all-things-to-all-men attitude begins to destroy strict honesty of purpose and truth of speech. No sage can stoop so low, but pseudo-sages may.” 

Another quote to add to our inquiry: “He is neither a sentimentalist nor a simpleton but expects from humanity that dual nature, that thorn with the rose, which corresponds to the positive-negative nature of the universe itself.” (6.5.86)

Understanding contrasting thoughts requires a mature, insightful individual. “It would be a mistake to believe that because he makes no sharp exclusions, and practices such all-embracing sympathy toward every possible way of looking at life, he ends in confusion and considers right and wrong to be indistinguishable from each other. Instead of falling into mental vacillation, he attains and keeps a mental integrity, a genuine individuality which no narrow sect can overcome. Instead of suffering from moral dissolution, he expands into the moral largeness which sees that no ideal is universal and exclusively right.” (6.5.61)

The section on Spiritual Refinement emphasizes courtesy to others. PB references Emerson and Confucius as valuing the connection between the good life and good manners. He writes: “The refinement of tastes, the improvement of understanding, the betterment of manners—this is the cultural preparation for the path.” (6.5.185) 

He also praises the Discipline of speech: “When a man has this feeling of inner tension with them. He can sit, unspeaking, unplagued by tacit suggestions from society to break into his mind’s stillness with trivial talk, useless chatter, or malicious gossip.”  (6.5.230)

PB advises the seeker to “… continue inner work upon himself until it becomes perfectly natural and quite instinctive for him to react in this philosophic manner to every provocation, temptation, or irritation… he needs to continue the inner work upon himself. He needs to drill himself every day in those particular qualities in which he is deficient. Each new problem in his relations with others must be accepted also as a problem in his own development, if the foregoing is to be practiced. But after that has been done and not before, since it is an indispensable prerequisite, he may dismiss the problem altogether and rise to the ultimate view, where infinite goodness and calm alone reign and where there are no problems at all.” (6.5.359)

PB uses the masculine reference because it was the literary custom at the time that he wrote, but he always meant his writings for everyone interested in them.