Courtesy, tolerance, considerateness
The philosopher's easy self-assurance and dignified serenity, as noticeable in calamity as in prosperity, mark him as being in some mysterious manner superior to circumstances. He will always be a gentleman, but not in the narrow, formal sense of clinging to a code of etiquette which may become faulty the moment he crosses the border into another country, or which will certainly become falsified a thousand years hence. He will be a gentleman in the broader sense of behaving always with human dignity and kindly consideration towards all others who cross his path.
That alone is true culture which refines taste, improves character, lifts standards, corrects behaviour, and teaches self-control.
A refined taste, delicate and subtle, delighted by the harmonies, melodies, or beauties in Nature and art, offended by the grossness in man, can express itself socially and instinctively only through refined manners. If others lack this taste but for class reasons keep up the appearance of such manners, the outer social value is still present even when the inside is empty.
His general attitude in discussion or study should be unbiased and unprejudiced, his observation of men and their situations impersonal and serene. He must realize that small men cannot entertain large views, that he is called upon to be big enough to put aside his personal sympathies and antipathies at certain times. He must realize too that whilst a man's mind moves at the low level of harsh prejudice or hot passion, it cannot possibly arrive at just conclusions. Before he can arrive at the truth of a highly controversial matter, he must detach himself from partisan feeling about it. Only in such inner silence can he think clearly and correctly about it. Where his criticism is directed against others, it should be the result of calm, impersonal reflection, not of emotional chagrin. This poised spirit will help him to avoid foolish extremes and dangerous rashness. He should not adopt a violent partisan spirit towards a problem or a principle for he knows that such a spirit always obscures the truth. Instead, he should always calmly view all sides in a balanced way. It is because he himself holds no rigidly partisan view that the earnest philosophic student can see better than other people what is true and what is false in every partisan view. It is not often that all the truth lies on one side and all the falsehood on the other. His ethical attitude should be more tolerant and less unfriendly than the average, as his intellectual attitude should be more inclusive and less dogmatic. He should refuse to imitate the irresponsible multitudes, with their surface judgement and facile condemnation. He should seek to understand and to respect the views of others; he should take the trouble to put himself in their place, to give an imaginative sympathy to their standpoint. He need not fall into the error of necessarily sharing them and may still stand on the intellectual foothold which he has secured.
Although this attitude will more and more show itself in personal and social situations and in practical and general affairs as a matter of course according to his growth, it will also show itself in his spiritual life. The unprejudiced study and unbiased comparison of various systems of religions, metaphysics, mysticism, and ethics will be for him valuable parts of philosophic culture. He should be both willing and desirous to understand all of the chief points of view, all the leading variants of doctrine in these systems, but at the same time he will know his own mind and views. Even while he is seeking to know the minds and views of others, he should estimate how limited, how distorted, how falsified, or how large an aspect of truth each represents. He can do this with the help of the philosophic conception of truth, which lights up all these others, because it stands at the peak toward which they have climbed only a part of the way.
Tolerance and mutual accommodation is the way of true spirituality. There is room in life for the other man's opinion also. Let him keep it if he wishes, so long as he refrains from forcing it upon us and so long as he himself does not preach or practise intolerance. His own experience of the ups and downs of life have combined to bring him to that belief; why should he not have it then? We may dislike it intensely but we must admit that from his standpoint he is right enough. When his experience broadens out and he sees life in larger perspective, be sure that he will change his opinion too. When his circumstances alter or his environment changes, he may learn how limited was his former view. When the long-drawn lesson of suffering or a thought-provoking book or powerful personality swings the balance of his mind in a new direction, he will desert his opinion or modify it. Meanwhile, let us set the world an example--and be tolerant.
Those who give enough thought to behaving politely do so from different motives, some of which may be merely hypocritical, others the slavish following of blind custom, still others simple obedience to selfish interest; but there still remains the remnant who do so sincerely, honestly, because generous enough to consider the feelings of those persons they meet.
The good manners prescribed for civilized living may have varied from century to century, or from continent to continent, but whatever their form, they represent that man in society must have some consideration for society, and not be utterly and selfishly indifferent to the effect of his conduct upon others. There is also the further point that if he lacks self-respect he needs to be taught it, to keep civilization from falling back to barbarism; so personal dignity and appearance, cleanliness and inoffensive speech are involved.
At some point and place, whether in the home or at school or in society itself, the young have to learn, and to be trained, in acceptable manners. And this, not chiefly to improve their quality, which it does, nor decorate their behaviour, which it will, or even refine their speech, which it must, but because it lifts them up from being animal to being human and thus contributes toward their spiritualization.
Is it really pretentious to give importance to politeness in behaviour in an age when the decay of manners is plainly visible? To those old enough to have seen better, the difference points up moral value of consideration for others in human society.
It is no man's fault that he lacks breeding, but it is his own fault if he lacks the courtesy which comes from breeding or else is self-acquired.
To become a fuller human being a man must acquire education and culture. Both he and his life will be enriched. But unless he keeps humility, his egoism may grow too.
We may affirm the factuality of caste in nature without turning ourselves into snobs who adopt condescending airs and utter patronizing remarks to those they consider socially below them.
We have to recognize the fact of caste in the development of the human species through successions of repeated earthly embodiments. That which comes through inherited or acquired wealth is not necessarily the same, may be a mere shallow copy, an empty vessel. When caste comes with arrogance, and especially with cruel arrogance, be sure it is not a carry-over from past births. The same situation holds with refinement of nature, conduct, taste, manner, and speech. When it is real, inward, the quality shines through; but when it is artificial, contrived, outward, it comes with snobbishness, especially a proud snobbishness.
All creatures are rooted in the same primal Being, but all remain at different levels of awareness or distance from this Being. Because of the oneness we must practise goodwill to all, but because of the distances we must see them for what they outwardly are.
Those who object--as so many young people do today--against formal social behaviour or conventional courtesy such as Confucius propagated and such as well-brought-up persons were taught to accept in our own modern West until recently, do not see how much it smooths everybody's way including their own and how much it oils the wheels of social existence for all of us.
Behind time and ego, behind all the conditions in which we find others to be, there is that which is divine within them. For the sake of that we may honour them even when their outer self is unworthy of it and dishonourable.
It is not a question of defective social manners or wrong accents but of two traits of good character--consideration for others and respect for oneself.
The conventional and not seldom hypocritical smile, the pretense of goodwill where there is none, constitute false manners, not good manners.
Courtesy is the oil which lubricates the wheel of life.
At a time when goodwill and courtesy seem to be fading out, we need all the more to support them staunchly.
What is called correct social behaviour can vary from period to period, century to century. It is not the same as, and not to be confused with, courtesy.
There are those who dismiss the subject as unconnected with philosophy, unessential to spiritual self-cultivation. But a sage like Confucius thought otherwise and constantly exhorted his disciples to cultivate courteous manners and gentlemanly behaviour.
Is it not better that men should learn to discipline their unpleasant traits, instead of inflicting them on other people? It is not only better for society but also for the men themselves, for it is a part of their spiritual evolution.
If it becomes an empty arid formality, devoid of the corresponding feeling, it is not courtesy, but hypocrisy.
If we are asked to resist our innate natural selfishness and include other people's welfare along with our own, it is only because in this way they too are being asked to include ours. This at least helps us and them. This is the practical benefit of politeness.
Refinement is not so much a matter of birth as of quality, which may be born in a man or fashioned for himself.
The young child should be taught how to grow up into a civilized well-behaved person, who naturally and not hypocritically behaves with consideration for the feelings of others.
Culture is not only the enrichment of personal experience: it is the enrichment of the person himself.
Suppose you knew that this was to be your last day on earth. How would you behave towards others? Would you not sink all short-range attitudes and rise above the petty selfishness, the pitiful enmities, and the harsh discords which may have marred your past? Would you not try at least to feel goodwill toward all men? This is how philosophy bids you behave at all times and not merely on your deathbed.
We must see men not only as they are today, but also as they shall be in an evolutionary tomorrow. If we listen to the voice of experience, we tend to become cynics, if to the voice of the Overself, optimists. A shrewd appraisal of humanity should combine the two, recognizing and not denying ugly faults and dark frailties, but at the same time being graciously tolerant and forgiving.
He is open-eyed enough to see men as they are, but also generous enough to see them as they must one day become.
As the full meaning of reincarnation and of karma sinks deeper and deeper into his mind, a generous tolerance will rise higher and higher in his feelings. He will begin to see that every wrong-doer is what he is because of his past experience and present mentality and has to act in the way he does and cannot act in any other way. The life of such a man develops inevitably and naturally out of his character, out of his mode of thought, and out of his experience on this earth in the present and in former lives.
If a man's attitude towards spiritual truth is determined by the fact that he was born in a particular place and not by wide search and deep thought, he does not deserve and will not find the highest truth.
If he practises goodwill to others, it is more likely that the higher power will bestow grace upon him through others.
There is never any justification for being unmannerly, or worse, rude.
The man of such immeasurable goodwill will express it in all ways all the time.
The more he refuses to let negative emotions capture him, the more will an inner harmony permeate him.
He will keep a secret untroubled poise amongst those who are utterly bereft of any reverence for life's higher meaning as amongst those who possess it.
Beware of projecting your own negative reactions, ideas, colourings, or feelings on displeasing situations and abrasive persons.
If he is to keep his inward peace unruffled he must live above the level of those who have it not. This can be done only if he obeys the practical injunctions of Jesus and Buddha, only if he keeps out of his emotional system all the negatives like resentment, bitterness, quarrelsomeness, jealousy, spite, and revenge. These lower emotions must definitely be outgrown if philosophic calm is to be the supreme fact and philosophic wisdom the guiding factor in his life. When other men show their enmity and meanness toward him, he is to retaliate by showing his indifference and generosity. When they falsely assail his character or enviously calumniate his work, he is to forbear from harsh feelings and not let them forfeit his goodwill. He is not to succumb to the human temptation to retaliate in kind. For he is engaged on a holy ascent, and to succumb would be to slip grievously back. Indeed, out of the base actions of others, he may kindle noble reactions which assist his upward climb.
Whoever expands his consciousness in advance of the contemporary level must not expect more than a few to understand him. Yet it is his business to understand them as it is their misfortune to misunderstand him.
The man who is no longer disturbed by the presence or working or characteristic of his own ego will not be disturbed by that of others. No negative feeling will enter his attitude toward them.
Although the repulsions to uncongenial persons may be acknowledged frankly, he can and should rise high above them. On the practical level it is necessary to rectify the outer and visible causes of the disharmony between him and the other person, as far as that is possible. On the mental level it is necessary to deal with the inner and invisible causes. The easiest way to begin such work is to begin it in creative meditation. There he should take up the picture of that person and mentally rectify the relation with him, adjust the thought of it to what it should be from the highest standpoint. He should finish by prayerfully sending good thoughts for his inner improvement, and by forgiving any sins against himself. Thus instead of criticizing or attacking the person against whom he has a grievance, with results that may provoke still more trouble, he should remain emotionally undisturbed whilst using constructive endeavours in right meditation and unselfish prayer for that person. This may bring about a remarkable change in him, or else in the relationship with him, or at least in the aspirant's own attitude towards that person. For whatever is given out to others, in the end comes back to oneself.
When superior patrician ancestry, or higher education, or greater wealth, or influential social position, lead in speech or behaviour to arrogant hauteur and scornful contempt for the less fortunate, it leads to the snob. In him, outward and formal good manners do not come from the heart; in him, the spirit contradicts the letter. Consequently they are not really good manners at all.
The question has been asked: what is one to do in the face of another person's rudeness pushed to a point which is almost insulting? This could be ignored in many instances if on the belief in reincarnation it is viewed as a sign of the other person's ill-formed character and low caste. But when it is not of such a kind and where one is constantly thrown into contact through work or relationship or residence so that one is exposed constantly to the same kind of contact, how should a spiritual aspirant deal with it?
The answer is to regard it as a test and a challenge. It is a test of certain qualities which must be sought within oneself and drawn upon, such as patience, calmness, and learning. It is a challenge, and if one lacks those qualities it is necessary to seek deeper and try to draw from the inner resources of the Higher Self. This means working previously both in meditation and in thought to picture the needed emotional and mental response, plus the resulting physical conduct, as a daily exercise, until this reaction has become somewhat regular.
Or we can supplement this with moving to the metaphysical field and remembering at the end that it is all part of the dream-like experience which, in appropriate conditions, or on sufficient degree of mental perception being attained, one sees life to be.
When one has had a large experience of the world, with widely different groups of people, races, tribes, nations, classes, and castes, one is unwilling to offer admiration without some sort of qualification to any human institution or any human being. And when one has studied the human entity metaphysically and psychologically, discovering the place and power of the ego, one finds philosophical support of this mental reservation. But this need not imply cynicism: the presence of goodwill and the faith in ultimate salvation of all would preclude it.
No person who is really refined, that is to say by character and taste and not by birth or wealth, can bear the crudity, the ugliness, and the decadence of those literary, artistic, psychoanalytic, or "progressive" circles which take a delight in uttering filthy four-letter words. Spirituality shrinks into silence in such garrulous company, takes curtained-off refuge in its own natural fastidiousness and refinement; but again I say these develop from within and are not imposed by the family or the "finishing school." Whatever superficial interest these circles may take in so-called mystic experience, materialism and egotism are their real religious creeds, just as courtesy is not a genuine characteristic of their behaviour, whatever outward show of it they may hypocritically have to make at times. The noisy cheap mannerless and brassy cafés of Montmartre and Montparnasse are their familiar spiritual homes.
Since he needs to rule emotions and not let them rule him, to overcome passions and not become their victim, he must cultivate a diamond-like hardness. But this is not directed toward others, only to himself, unless evil or foolish influences are seeking to sway him.
One quality of his everyday conduct which will be noticeable to others will be his self-effacement. He is immediately ready to enter into their standpoint, sympathetically and helpfully, to listen patiently whilst they talk only about themselves and their own affairs.
The student of philosophy must free himself from all narrow racialist views, national prejudices, class feelings, and personal selfishness. Philosophy in practice demands no less than this because it brings the realization that in actual fact all men are inseparably linked with each other. "He who regards impartially friends and foes, foreigners and relatives, the righteous and unrighteous, he excelleth."*t--Bhagavad Gita
Racial animosity is really a pathological state which clouds vision and falsifies judgement. It raises prejudice to the dignity of a principle. Hate is a mental poison. It is the worst possible sin of our thought life. It damages those we hate, infects our own environment, and in the end it severely damages ourselves. The ability to treat all kinds and classes of people equally, and with universal goodwill, does not imply the inability to observe the comparative differences and even defects among them.
It is not enough to possess a wide tolerance in these matters; it should also be a wise tolerance. Otherwise one may merely condone and increase self-destruction.
Not to tell another person "No!" when all prudence, intelligence, foresight, and experience bid us do so is simply moral and verbal cowardice.
He can be polite without being fulsome and effusive. His sincerity will dictate the proper measure.
The need for finer manners where coarse vulgarity, aggressive obscenity, and raucous noisiness prevail, speaks for itself to those who seek escape from materialism. In an atmosphere of disorderly or non-existent manners, materialistic thought flourishes all the more.
He has much contempt for human folly but much tolerance for human weakness.
He will keep serene, even-tempered, detached amid the recurring irritations of life and the petty provocations from persons who cross his path. They may affront him but they cannot hurt, much less infuriate, him. But all this aloofness of spirit would not be possible if he identified himself with the ego alone.
But it is not only inner calmness that he needs to acquire; inner clearness is also requisite. Both the intellect with its ideas and the character with its qualities should share this effort to secure greater clarification.
His tolerance is so vast that he will not intrude upon others' freedom, not even to the extent of seeking the betterment of their character or the improvement of their mind.
As a man advances in inward development, gaining ever richer experience in fresh embodiments, he comes to see that he will gain more by practising co-operation than by selfishly seeking his own isolated benefit alone.
It is at such moments of remembrance that he is here also to ennoble his character that it becomes easier to extend goodwill to those he dislikes, or who dislike him, those who have brought him trouble and others who radiate materialism or destructiveness.
It would be a mistake to believe that because he makes no sharp exclusions and practises 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.
Although generally he will be infinitely considerate of other persons, there will be certain situations wherein he will be infinitely hard upon them and utterly indifferent to their emotional feelings.
All are benefited by remembering at all times the practice of harmlessness towards all creatures in thought, word, and action. He should not consider himself alone, but ought also consider his duty to those other beings who cross his path, including animal beings.
Elegance is often found as an accompaniment of refinement. This is not only true of physical things, behaviour, and conduct, but also of character and mind.
The true gentleman does not cast aside fine manners however much one may become intimate, familiar, or friendly with him.
The man of exemplary manners will always have an advantage over those who have none. The charm of dealing, or conversing, with him gives him the preference, all else being equal.
Assert the ego aggressively against others and you provoke their egos to assert themselves. Hostility breeds hostility, violence encourages the others to be violent.
He keeps this composure. If he has moods, ups-and-downs of feeling, others will not know it. By presenting them with an imperturbable front, they are helped without his particularly seeking to do so.
A well-mannered child is a testimony to a well-mannered home.
It does not mean that he is to force himself to like everyone under the sun equally well, or that he is to negate every personal preference and deny every personal repulsion. It does not mean that he is no longer to discriminate his perceptions of human status and quality.
He is never the enemy of any human being, but only of the sin in that being. All his social-relational thinking is governed by goodwill, but his conduct is ruled by reason added to the goodwill. In that way, he does not fall into unbalanced sentimentality nor harm others under the delusion that he is benefiting them.
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.
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.
He must be ready to bestow an intellectual sympathy towards the attitudes of other men, no matter how foolish or how wicked these attitudes may be. Such a sympathy enables him to understand them, as well as the experiences and the thoughts which have led to them. But it does not necessitate acceptance of the emotional complexes and spiritual ignorance which accompany them.
It is not necessary to be sullen in order to be serious. The man who walks rudely through the crowded streets of life, who flings his contempt from mien and speech, is but a melancholy misanthrope, not a philosopher. He thinks he has surrounded himself with an atmosphere of detachment, when he has merely succeeded in surrounding himself with an atmosphere of surliness.
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.
With each coming of this experience, there is a going of bitterness out of his heart. More and more he sees that people cannot help being what they are, the products of their own past experience and present characteristics, the living milestones of a cosmic evolutionary process. How can he blame, resent, or condemn them? More and more, therefore, does tolerance suffuse his attitude and acceptance mellow his contacts with the world.
The blood and violence, the fear and suffering associated with the production of meat, should be enough to make kindhearted, sensitive people shun it.
In the sphere of human relations, he will hold himself to certain attitudes which eradicate the negative tendencies in him and stimulate the positive. When thrown among those who do wrong and practise evil, he will not fall into anger, hatred, resentment, or bitterness, but will use the occasion to rise into patience, detachment, or indifference, knowing that such persons will sometime and somewhere infallibly receive the painful return of what they have given out. When, on the contrary, he is brought into the company of those who do right and practise virtue, he will rejoice in their goodness and be glad to witness their conduct. When he finds himself among those suffering misfortune he will pity, and when among those enjoying good fortune he will feel no envy.
It is not possible for every man to establish harmony with every environment in which he finds himself, but it is possible for him to understand all environments so thoroughly as to react rightly to them.
"You must neither defraud your neighbour nor allow him to defraud you," said the Persian prophet, the Bab, to a disciple who had paid an exorbitant price for some bazaar article.
If he has to resist the influence and pressure of society in many directions to keep his spiritual integrity, he need not do so in an aggressive, uncouth, or tactless manner. Some have unfortunately behaved in this way, not because philosophy bade them do so, but because their individuality was strong and their ego pronounced.
Unless some quirk of destiny puts him in a public situation where duty and responsibility compel attention to negatives and criticisms, he may prefer to draw attention to the good and the beautiful, to spread harmony.
So long as we let other people's faults or blunders evoke our own in angry response, so long do we foolishly add an inner hurt to whatever outer hurt their fault or blunder may have caused us.
Where harshness, coarseness, brutality, and vulgarity reign, where no touch of kindness, beauty, gentleness, or love enters the atmosphere, there the soul stifles.
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.
One may note these defects in a man's character not to judge, certainly not to condemn him, but solely to understand any person with whom one has to deal in some way.
The good have existed in all countries, at all times, among bad people and at bad times. We ought to welcome them as persons whatever low opinion we hold of their kindred.
The idealist who expects too much from people is as mistaken as the cynic who expects too little.
His tolerance is such that he accords to others the right to be, to act, and to live the way they want to be, to act, and to live. He trusts the evolutionary laws to take care of their corrective education.
It is of the highest importance for older people to look after the manners of younger ones. But the bad behaviour of many parents towards one another as well as in society is reflected in that of their children.
Aggressive, naughty, ill-tempered, or disobedient traits in children need a measure of discipline from parents, or life will provide it in later years much more harshly. But there is a special need for parents to provide it lovingly as education, not scolding and punishing.
If we can give nothing else, we can always give others our kindly thoughts and not our personal troubles.
The word ahimsa in Sanskrit signifies harmlessness, non-injury to others. It was a quality at the heart of Gandhi's gospel and Saint Francis' preaching. The saint of Assisi knew no Sanskrit but his instruction "to cause no offense whatsoever to anyone" could also be used as a definition of ahimsa.
It is not always fair to scorn someone as a hypocrite for past frailties and lapses of the bygone past who behaves properly in the living present. There may have been a genuine awakening accompanied by moral reform inwardly and outwardly, so that instead of condemnation, the attitude should be congratulation.
His duty to himself calls on him to protect the personal interests. But his duty to the All calls on him to respect others' interests too.
The practical realistic desire to live well whilst he is living on earth can still leave plenty of room for idealism and spirituality. Free from the mental fatigue of ghost-haunted traditions and emotional poisons which weigh so heavily on others, he is able to search vigourously for great art, vital religion, inspired mysticism, and the highest philosophy--and appreciate them adequately when found.
Good breeding is a quality which must be acquired through the incarnations, for it is a quality of good Quality itself.
There are rude and wild young people who assert that civilities and politenesses intensify class divisions and status differences. They claim that in being wild and rude they are simply being natural and sincere whereas the others whom they denounce as holding bourgeois values are hypocritical and insincere. If the background of these misguided young persons is scrutinized, it will usually be found that at least three-quarters of them belong to working class origins while the others who are themselves probably of comfortable middle-class origin are pathological, mentally disturbed, emotionally upset persons. No, the courtesies of decent social intercourse are part of the proper evolution of the human race, and its refinement from the grossly animal to the truly human. This is an evolutionary advance.
Toleration does not mean acceptance of anything, however evil it be. It means the avoidance of fanaticism, the practice of goodwill, and the recognition that by reason of their past re-incarnatory history, many wide differences of opinion, belief, practice, and character do and must exist in human beings.
It would be of no avail to mention the further stages until he is ready for them. But the teacher can say that the ultimate discovery is of the oneness and infinitude of Mind, hence of all mankind as arising out of That. This provides the basis of his ethics, and makes him seek the common welfare alongside of his own.
The person who cultivates tidy arrangements and orderly habits in the little things of everyday living unconsciously imitates the tidiness and orderliness of the Mind behind the whole universe.
He may still believe as the Brahmins believe that caste is a fact in Nature, but he will be without that pride in social rank which has too often ended with the Brahmins in some sort of arrogance or even cruelty to those of lower status.
The refinement, manners, and culture which Confucius wished to see in a properly developed human being may be different in outer form from those which a modern sage would wish to see, but they are not different in spirit. Those who now denounce them angrily as class-marks must therefore praise grossness, crudeness, coarseness, and ignorance as ideal. And others who can see no spiritual usefulness being served by fine quality simply do not look far enough. The practice of true philosophy should reduce, or remove, coarseness of character, behaviour, and speech.
He will find less and less pleasure in the chatter of society, clubs, and drawing rooms, which when it is about self, is quite inane, and when about other people, is often cruel.
In this world he has to deal with people. To deal efficiently with them he needs to understand their characters. But to turn a blind eye towards their weaknesses will only mar this understanding and spoil this efficiency. Even where he seeks to help them, such results will only hinder his compassionate aim.
The range of his goodwill excludes none, includes all. He recognizes no enemies, only unevolved men.
By "good manners" is not meant "formal etiquette" although the two may often coincide.
Teach elementary manners, that is, a warm smile.
In a truly civilized society courteous manners and refined tastes would be the rule.
One man can hate another man, but if the first has renounced his ego--the source of hatred--how can he continue to do so?
A smile will say to others what words may fail to do, will express your basic attitude of, in Jesus' phrase "good will unto all men."
He will in the end unfailingly draw to himself what he gives out. If hate, hate returns; if love, love returns.
We may dislike a man and disapprove of his opinions but this ought not prevent us from giving him our goodwill.
It is not enough to show an outward good temper--excellent discipline though that be--if thought irritates and feeling boils.
There is a tolerance which springs from mere indifference, but there is also a tolerance which springs from inner largeness of spirit.
Differences between men--whether in external things or internal thinking--there must be. But they need not become the occasion of hate between men.
With enough goodwill on both sides, a compromise can usually be reached in most disputes.
By refinement I mean a quality of good breeding, either natural or acquired.
The easiest way to express this feeling, described by Jesus as "goodwill unto all," is to be courteous to all.
Always good-natured and good-willed because always up-lifted by the Overself, he is a true gentleman, strictly courteous from within, not put on for appearance's sake.
We may practise goodwill untainted by selfishness towards all mankind without becoming mushily sentimental about "universal brotherhood."
The hermit who behaves rudely may be showing his individualism, as he believes, but he is also showing his lack of spirituality. Polite manners imply thought for others.
Nor is his tolerance grown out of laziness. It is grown out of understanding mated to kindliness.
In his upward climb he should slowly learn to drop the emotional view of life and to replace it by the intelligent view. Thus he will show his passage from a lower to a higher level. But it is to be an intelligence that is serene in activity, impersonal in judgement, warm in benevolence, and intuitive in quality. There should be no room in it to hold bias or bigotry, on the one hand, or dead logic-chopping on the other.
He will not only take care not to exceed his own just rights, not only be scrupulous not to invade other people's rights, but he will even take care not to interfere with their free will.
Be strong without being stubborn.
Much good behaviour is thinly veneered, being the consequence of social prudence rather than personal virtue.
There is the danger, however, that those who begin by being spiritually insensitive may end by becoming spiritually offensive.
He should bestow an intellectual sympathy on all, even though he cannot bestow an emotional sympathy.
If you can go to a man you greatly dislike and remember that he, too, will one day discover his spiritual identity and express a finer, more lovable self, it will be easier to be calm, patient, just, and at ease with him.
The relationships which develop between him and other people become a further channel for expressing what he has of this understanding, this peace, this self-control.
He cannot meet hatred with hatred, but only with resignation. His answer to enmity is to condone it. His attitude to opposition is to be tolerant.
Those who are not deceived by the fictitious good-fellowship of saloons and taverns may find his calm cool presence more truly cordial than those who seek emotional displays.
It is not a virtue but a weakness to be unable to stand up for your own rights or to be unable to rightly say "No!" or to submit to being bored by someone you want to get away from.
His actions will affect those with him, his dislike or hatred may provoke theirs, his kindness may create kindly reactions from them. A man needs to be careful in such matters.
It is not easy for any man who has the ideal of living by truth. He will find himself forced to talk little, to cultivate a reticent manner and follow his own way of life.
Bad-mannered children become so partly because of their parents' failure to correct them, which may be through having had similar parents themselves. And where this is shown by the child pointing out and ridiculing a stranger, neighbour, schoolchild, or foreigner because of his different or unusual appearance, clothes, and so on, it is also cruel.
A child whose parents fail to discipline it at the proper occasion in the proper loving way will be encouraged by the omission to continue its mistaken attitude.
Whoever cultivates goodwill to others will inevitably throw out whatever ill will he encounters in himself towards particular persons. For as goodwill grows in a broad generous way so ill will dies in a personal way.
Let him accept others as he accepts himself, with all their and his defects, but with the addition that he will constantly aim at improving himself.
He persists in showing a proper courtesy to those who themselves behave badly.
He may argue if others wish to do so but he will never argue acrimoniously.
When the actions or words of others provoke us, it is easy to become irritable, resentful, or indignant; it is hard to practise a bland patience and exercise a philosophic tolerance. But that is just what the aspirant must do.
Do not expect nobler action or higher motives from any man than experience suggests you should expect.
If they cared enough, they would show it in being affable, pleasant, kind--that is, they would suppress their egoism sufficiently to make such decent manners possible. But they don't: they care too much for their own ego to let it happen.
Knowing the nature of human nature; knowing, too, the universality of Yin and Yang's existence and applicability: there is no need to be surprised at anything which anyone does.
If he must assess men's motives and examine their characters, he will do so only to understand them, not to judge them. He will not use it to gossip about their personal frailties.
Ingratitude fails to embitter him--does not even make him feel hurt.
To a person of refined feeling, the crudeness of animal passion is repellent.
It is true that fine manners may be put on, to make a more favourable impression on his victim, by the exploiter, the swindler, or the seducer. But this is the misuse of manners and offers no valid criticism of them.
Those who make a virtue of bad manners, who know nothing or want to know nothing of the laws of decent social intercourse, should be avoided.
If his family failed to bring him up to practise self-discipline, to control behaviour and refine his speech, to avoid violence and roughness, then he must himself supply these things and acquire these habits.
He not only learns that it is impossible to please everyone but that it is impossible even to avoid giving offense at some time to some human beings.
It was an act of reverence among pious Chinese, or of courtesy among polite ones, to hold the hands with the right palm inside the left one.
He naturally feels a warmer emotion about his own kith and kin, his own friends, than about other people. He not only knows them better but they affect him more deeply.
All reaching out towards the transcendental is to be encouraged, however elementary it be.
The philosopher does not exhibit the common fault of rejecting and condemning every other standpoint in order to support his own.
Neither the mockery of insensitive sceptics nor the malice of sectarian fanatics should be allowed to sway him from a fixed resolve to accord goodwill unto all, including them also.
He should try to keep discussions of opposing views within the codes of amicable courtesy and good manners.
Why must we be always grabbing at others, staking out claims and making demands upon them? Why not leave them free?
He has not only to separate himself from his own lower principles, but just as much from other people's when he is in contact with them.
If disunion reigns in the psyche within, then disharmony must reign in the life without.
A quarrelsome man carries his enemies with him for he creates them wherever he goes. There is no peace in his outer life because there is none in his inner life.
When it is not possible for his relatives or friends to share with him the acceptance of spiritual ideas, he should be tolerant, understanding, and patient toward such disagreement.
The logic of a higher life compels him to recognize the divine element in the hearts of those who hate or malign him, and he honours them for it; but it does not compel him to waste precious years in unnecessary struggles against them. The years which are left to him and to them on this poor earth are too few to be lost in unworthy squabbles.
He will express his faith positively but not aggressively.
Even simple human ethics, let alone divinely given commandments, tell us to treat others as we wish them to treat ourselves.
Whoever looks for the negative aspects of others should also remember that there are usually some positive ones also and that in fairness he ought to recognize them too.
If anyone or anything, a man or a book, can contribute to free us from the resentments towards others or the bitternesses towards life which poison feelings, thoughts, and health, he has rendered us a great service or the book has proved its worth.
His virtue is not cold and selfish and self-admiring, although it may seem so to those who have insufficient knowledge of these matters.
Conformity has its uses, its merits, its place and time. Given these, it is quite acceptable.
Ill-mannered people mistake invective for argument.
The insatiable curiosity whose satisfaction fills so many columns of personal gossip in newspapers, is reflected in those who intrusively ask private questions where they have no right and no encouragement to do so. It is a breach of good manners, a blow at personal rights. It is a lack of respect for human dignity and independence.
Being different from the crowd may mean being lonely but it also means being inspired, protected, blessed. Jesus was not holier in essence than he is, only that man had manifested all this holiness, whereas he has hardly begun to do so. The task is to reflect the attributes of divinity in the conduct of humanity, involving the bringing-in of his metaphysics and his mysticism to actuate his conduct.
Spiritual value of manners
I cannot recall any statement by mystics--ancient, medieval, or modern--that one aspect of spiritual union is an exquisite refinement. Everyone writes of its moral fruits, its religious insights--even its creativity, artistic or intellectual--but who seems to note this aesthetic effect on manners, feelings, speech, and living?
That breeding and culture can contribute to spirituality may not be evident to the ascetically mystic mind or the simpler religious mind. That fastidious refinement (but not arrogant snobbish refinement) can come with inner growth may be likewise obscure. But the long association of holiness with asceticism or with bareness of living has confused the understanding of truth. A lifestyle touched with beauty in manners, surroundings, character, or taste, can better express what philosophy means than an ugly and unclean one. That the lack of opportunity is responsible for a part of crudeness and inferiority and immaturity is, however, obvious enough. But it is a fact which ought not be used to cover up the correct view of these things.
Good manners are not only an end in themselves, emblems of a finer personality, tokens of willingness to be of service, but also part of a means to higher spiritual attainment--the ultimate courtesy and supreme generosity of human behaviour.
Ill-mannered conduct is ordinarily incompatible with spiritual realization: the cases of those Tibetan and Japanese masters who historically behaved badly towards would-be disciples are special cases, and ought not to be taken as guides.
Refinement is as valuable a quality, and as spiritual, as truth-seeking.
Good manners and finer feelings, courtesy and graciousness--these inhere in one who possesses a true spirituality. It is true that many aspirants consider this to be mere surface polish, unimportant, a cloak quite often for hypocrisy and falseness. That may be so in a number of cases. But even it if were correct of all cases the fact remains that the manners which aspirants adopt, the code of behaviour which they practise, possess a definite place on this quest. Those Chinese and Javanese mystical cults which regarded and used etiquette as part of their way toward inner unfoldment, as part of their yoga path, were not wrong. For it creates forms of conduct which not only refine and uplift the practiser's character, but also can be used to defend his inner life--where he is developed enough to possess one--against society's onslaughts. There is a moral element in it, too. For where etiquette trains a man sympathetically to consider the emotional reactions of other persons to his own behaviour, it transfers his point of view from an habitual selfish one to a more impersonal one. Again by smoothing the relations between both of them, it puts the others not only more at peace with themselves but also with him. Lastly it requires and fosters some measure of self-control. For we are not only victims of aggression from our enemies. We are just as much, or even more, victims of ourselves, attacked by our own weaknesses and faults.
We should learn or rather teach children to learn to respect the need for respect--whether it be shown to elders or to authorities, as Confucius taught, or whether it be shown to other people's religious beliefs. Respect is something which can later grow into a higher quality and that is reverence. Through reverence we can begin to sense higher atmospheres which produce a feeling of awe whether the atmosphere be found in the beauties of nature, of music, of art, or of saints and sages. People of the lower classes are apt to loose their temper more quickly than those of the upper classes because they have not been brought up to respect self-control or to value it and thus to respect themselves. Thus self-respect becomes a moral quality and when traced to its ultimate meaning it becomes respect for one's own higher self.
The connection between the good life and good manners is not usually brought out by those who would uplift humanity spiritually, except of course by such shining exceptions as Confucius in the East and Emerson in the West. In a period like the present--when the young generation ridicules all mention of manners, courtesy, etiquette, and so on as hollow, hypocritical, and insincere--the values so criticized must be clarified again and their connection with the higher life made plainer.
Everyone knows the social value of culture and breeding and refinement but everyone does not know that they should, and could, have a spiritual one too. For they share this in common with the value of art that they can uplift a man or, misused, degrade him. The point lies in their effect.
The refinement of tastes, the improvement of understanding, the betterment of manners--this is the cultural preparation for the path.
Philosophy accords a place and value to culture and refinement, to quality of character and enrichment of mind. It rejects the narrowness of view and negativity of attitude which allows salvation only to those who exhibit their detachment in bare squalid homes, devoid of beauty, or their indifference in minds unresponsive to intellectual power and poetic feeling.
Where good manners are sincerely felt and sincerely practised, they represent consideration for other people, abandonment of the self-centered habit we are born with. And what does this in turn represent but a surrender of the ego? This helps to explain why Hilaire Belloc could write:
Of Courtesy it is much less Than courage of heart or holiness, Yet in my
walks it seems to me That the Grace of God is in Courtesy.
The difference between those who behave rudely and those who behave politely is not only a social one: it is also a spiritual one. For it is goodwill which inspires good manners, where they are genuinely felt, that same "good will unto all men" which Jesus enjoined us to practise. The lack of courtesy has a deeper negative meaning than most people comprehend.
Confucius was not merely a teacher of ethics or of etiquette, as is so often believed here. He set up an ideal, called "The Superior Man." He defined the latter's general education, social behaviour, and moral character. He prescribed forms of polite civilized conduct, but these were not at all his sole mission. He made it quite clear that even the finest manners were hollow and vain if not supported by inner integrity and personal sincerity. He tried to show kings, dukes, and government officials their proper functions, responsibilities, and obligations. He taught common men the need of self-control, especially over passions. He sought the reform of education and of scholarship. But although he did not venture outside his proper sphere into religious discussion this does not mean he was without religion itself.
Confucius set up the ideal of what he called the superior person, roughly equivalent to what we Westerners call the "perfect gentleman."
Underbred and overbearing persons imagine that they are showing the world their importance when all the while they are merely showing their littleness. Good manners, when sincere and spontaneous, are spiritual virtue. In all human contacts the good man expresses himself naturally in good manners. In the management of both transient and lifelong relationships the master shows by grace of manner the grace of God.
By upbringing and temperament, by education and environment, a man may grow into refinement from childhood, easily and naturally. But he who comes into it from harsh, low surroundings by his own determination and effort, advances spiritually.
The accepted canons of good manners may vary from one part of the world to another, but deeper than these conventions is a courtesy which relates to the spiritual side of one's nature.
Politeness if sincere is a spiritual quality. Those who lift their eyebrows at such an assertion do not look deeply enough into it. In those cases where it is empty formalism they are right, of course; but in those where it expresses genuine consideration for others, they are wrong.
The thin courtesy which is hollow and insincere, the good manners which are acted and artificial, the pleasant words which are false and untrustworthy, do not of course hold spiritual value.
There are deeper reasons than merely social ones why Confucius preached politeness: their roots go down into moral training.
If people practise good manners merely and only as a part of their paid job--as, for instance, head waiters in restaurants--that is their affair. But the motivation can also be on a far deeper level even in ordinary social intercourse. Under the finest manners there can be--not hypocrisy, as a Colonial once informed me--but utter sincerity and true feeling. They can express goodwill to all, poor and rich, black and white, servant and superior. If the world all too easily puts them on like a mask, to disguise antipathy or even hate, the quester who has had, or hopes to have, a glimpse of his Higher Self, does not need to wear such a mask at all. Without a hollow, ridiculous obsession with formality and decorum, such as Confucian China eventually fell into and then had to rebel against, he can simply be what he now knows a human being ought to be in his relationship with others.
Courtesy should be recognized as one of the desirable spiritual virtues. Social manners and outer etiquette are only the local forms taken by courtesy. They may change or drop out, what matters is the inner attitude.
To be well-bred is not solely an innate blood-born attribute as so many narrowly believe; it can also be shaped by philosophy, which is no less a matter of refinement of manners than it is of consciousness. It is not concerned with snobbish social elegance, as others also narrowly think, but with goodness and with aesthetics. It avoids vulgarity because that is so ugly. All these qualities may not usually be associated with philosophers, but that is because in such cases there is not enough depth in them.
Whether it be in the forms of art, music, poetry, literature, or those of living, dress, behaviour, manners, or speech, the quality of a person reveals himself in his coarseness or refinement. By that I mean whether he is or is not on the quest which is after all an attempt to refine ourselves from materialism to spirituality and therefore from low quality thoughts and feelings to higher and nobler ones.
It is not only manners which must be refined, if higher development is sought, but also consciousness.
Whatever helps to refine character, feeling, mind, and taste is to be welcomed and cultivated as part of the philosophic work.
I think it was Emerson's view, if memory is correct, that a person's manners show outwardly the degree to which the Spirit is working within him. It was certainly the view of some Far Eastern sages, but explanation may be necessary for those to whom it is new.
Without referring to polish and elegance--which are a different thing--decent manners in the sense of being considerate to others come closer to a spiritual man's conduct than rude manners.
The graceless discourtesies and little brutalities of those who are either too ill-bred or too selfish to be considerate of others, advertise spiritual emptiness. They defend themselves by ascribing mannerliness and charm to snobs, because they dare not face what they are and see their own poverty of soul.
Confucius saw the moral worth of proper manners, the ennobling value of dignified living, the formative power of right custom.
If society did to Confucius' canons of propriety and conduct what it did to all religions, if it made the externals and forms more important than the realities and spirit, that was not Confucius' fault.
Mencius makes even the movements of the body one of the features which exhibit outwardly the Superior Man's virtue.
Considerate behaviour is spiritual behaviour.
A formal elaborate politeness, such as the better class Chinese and neighbouring peoples practised for over a thousand years, perhaps under the impetus of Confucius, is not meant here, but rather one coming from the heart.
The awakening of higher quality of consciousness should bring with it a higher quality of manners.
Refinement is a beautiful quality for anyone to possess, but for someone with a soul above materialism it is charged with a higher meaning. It not only involves consideration for others and respect for oneself, but also an attitude of aspiration.
The quality of consciousness is affected by the way we live. Food, hygiene, surroundings, personal habits, speech, manners, and auric atmospheres should be in harmony with the spiritual ideal--that is, sattvik.
Put these qualities in opposition and the truth about them becomes plain enough. Vulgarity contributes nothing to spirituality, but refinement gives much.
If high birth or much wealth makes a man arrogant or snobbish he would not come under the philosophic classification of "gentleman" whatever his society declares.
Discipline of speech
Whoever loves the Ideal must expunge coarse language and obscene words from his personal speech, still more from prose writing offered to the public, and most of all from finely felt and shaped poetry.
Not to stray from the truth is a prescription which is more important than it seems, whether in speech or writing. But in the activities of those seriously set on the higher life, it is even more important. The divorce from outer expression affects the man's inner invisible psyche and harms it. As a sequel it distorts what he believes to be true. The consequences are deplorable.
Discipline of speech. It requires great tact and great wisdom to talk frankly and give someone constructive criticism or make needed correction without hurting him. But even if both are absent, great love will achieve the same result.
The fact that people feel they must speak constantly, talking to each other whenever they are together, is simply an outer sign of their inner restlessness, of their inability to control the activity of thought. That is to say, it is a sign of their weakness.
Discipline of speech.
When a man has this feeling of inner harmony it leads to a harmonious attitude toward all others. He suffers no nervous 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.
In many men silence in conversation may betray their nervousness which is a form of inner weakness. But in the sage such silence is on the contrary a form of inner strength.
Discipline of speech. The man who, in his speech, has no reverence for fact, is unlikely to find truth.
He is friendly without becoming familiar, brief in speech without becoming discourteous.
It is better for him to have a reputation for taciturnity than to be so intimidated by the crowd as to conduct himself and conform his speech to common, shallow, obvious, and vulgar ways.
There is an interchange of trivialities which too often passes for conversation which is both a waste of time and a degradation of speech.
Those who must speak of their emotional distresses or irritating problems, their misfortunes or disagreeable illnesses, should learn something from the Japanese attitude and at least do so with a smile.
He should act on the principle that if he cannot say what he means, he should say nothing.
The Discipline of Speech (Essay)
Too many people use their voices to hinder what is good in their own character, or even to despoil it, instead of using them as instruments of service. How pitiful to see so many employ their tongues in empty chatter and idle gossip for most of their lifetimes! When anyone becomes a quester, this matter may no longer be ignored. Buddha did not ask laymen to undergo, the rigours which he asked monks to undergo but he did state a few rules of self-discipline which were essential for all alike. Among them he included, "Abstain from foolish talk and harsh speech."
Since no utterance can be recalled into the silence whence it came, the quester will be more than ordinarily scrupulous about all his utterances. This does not mean that he is to abjure all trivial talk, certainly not all humorous talk, but it does mean that he is to bring some degree of discipline to bear upon his vocal activity.
He will not, for instance, waste time in uncharitably analysing the character of others when no business in which he and they are involved really calls for any analysis at all, let alone the backbiting uncharitable kind. This practice of criticism and slander is a common one and is often the result of the habit of gossiping. It helps no one but hurts everyone--the speaker, the persons spoken about and those who readily listen to condemnatory gossip.
He must attend to his own life, even to the extent of often refraining from talking about other persons. If this calls for a quality of generosity it is he who will be the gainer in the end. If he cannot say anything good about a person, he will prefer to say nothing at all. If he cannot praise, he will practise silence. And if the situation is one where doing that would ultimately lead to a worse result, then he will criticize helpfully and entirely constructively, not condemn hatefully. If he finds it necessary to be outspoken, he avoids making personal attacks. Sometimes it may be needful to speak sharply, to utter words which may be odious to the other man's ego but necessary to his welfare. In those cases, however, he should first put himself in the calmest, quietest mood and second, speak in the kindest possible way. Is it not better to disagree gently with the other man without being disagreeable to him? When he hears someone filling speech with negative statements and there is no duty laid on him to correct them, he puts his mental attention elsewhere. Better still, he starts affirming and holding the positive ideas which counteract the other person's remarks.
It will help a quester overcome the fault of habitually speaking harsh words or occasionally speaking angry ones, if he practises the following exercise. Let him sit for meditation and think in turn of some of the persons whom he has offended in this way. Then, seeing the other person's face and form before him, he is in imagination to speak with the utmost kindness in the one case or with the utmost calmness in the other. He may take any situation or incident which usually provokes his fault into expression. Let him do so with closed eyes and as vividly as he can bring them before his mind's eye.
Further, the discipline of speech requires him to pause momentarily but long enough to consider the effect his words will have on those who hear them. Too many people--and of course especially impulsive people--are too eager to speak before they are ready, or before their words are chosen. The quester tries to avoid using words without awareness of their meaning or responsibility for their effect.
Since experience properly assimilated tinges the character with caution and the speech with reticence, even the right thing if said at an unpropitious time may too easily become the wrong thing. If energy is often squandered in needless talking and trivial babble, the capacity to concentrate the mind on its deeper levels becomes weakened. This is why the Mahabharata praises the practice of silence for the would-be yogi. The Mahabharata even asserts that the practice of silence is conducive toward gaining the capacity to discriminate between good and evil.
He will not allow a single word to fall from his lips which does not fall in harmony with the ideal in his mind. Even the slightest deviation from this ideal may be followed by uneasiness.
Speech brings down to the physical level, and so puts into swifter activity, what thought has initiated. To a slight or large extent--depending on the individual power--it may be creative. Hence a person whose daily talk is mostly negative, filled with reports of dislikes and aversions, wrongs, evils, mishaps, and sicknesses is a person who is better avoided by those whose own inner weakness makes them susceptible to the influences carried by others.
If evil things are falsely said about him, he is neither to be surprised nor be annoyed. People see themselves in him, as in a mirror, and he must learn to accept what must needs be. Instead of feeling insulted or hurt, he should thank those who criticize him, for letting him see what may be true about himself and therefore need correcting.
Under this discipline he should recognize that searching for truth must begin with speaking it. To be a liar and a hypocrite is as obstructive to the pursuit of truth as it is distorting to the reception of truth. Every lie--and even, to a lesser extent, every "white" lie--obstructs the light on his path and to that extent prevents him from finding his way to that region where the false simply does not and cannot exist. He will be as truthful in his most trivial utterance as in his most solemn one. He will take care to avoid exaggerations and to shun mis-statements.
The pursuit of truthfulness must be inflexible, even in situations when it becomes uncomfortable. All questions ought to be answered correctly but awkward questions may be answered with part of the truth, if that will be less harmful than the whole of the truth. The changing circumstances of life will present him with temptations from time to time when it will be much easier to speak falsely than truthfully, or with opportunities to exaggerate for the sake of personal vanity or selfish gain.
If he has trained himself to love truth and abhor falsehood, to fortify the respect for factuality and avoid even the slightest tendency to desert it, there may grow up inside his consciousness a remarkable power. He may be able to detect instinctively when other persons are lying to him. But whatever unusual psychic power unfolds in him, he must protect it well. In this matter prudence puts a bridle on his tongue, which he uses to conceal rather than to reveal, if that should prove necessary. He may not talk to others about the higher teaching or the inner experiences if the act of talking about them makes him feel self-important, if it is stained with conceit and egotism. He must discipline himself to keep silent about them and, when this power has been attained, to give truths and revelations to others under the restriction of their real need and degree of receptivity. It is a foolish aspirant who rushes to tell of each new inner experience, each fresh glimpse that he gets, each little psychic happening or occult revelation that comes to him. The price of babbling verbosely and egoistically about his experiences and beliefs may be a definite inner loss or stagnation. As his ability to practise meditation enters its deeper phases, he will naturally become less talkative and more silent. The quietness which he finds there begins to reflect itself in his speech. But if he speaks fewer words, they carry greater significance behind them and greater responsibility for them.
Some Indian gurus go so far as to throw out of their uttered speech and written communication all use of the personal pronoun "I," referring to themselves by name in the third person, that is, as if they were referring to someone else. Certain Catholic orders of nuns discard the possessives "my" and "mine" from their speech. Is it an affectation, a pose, or a sign of tremendous advancement, to speak of oneself always in the third person? The answer is that it could be any one of these things: only each particular case could provide its own material for a correct judgement.
Within his own mind he will live his inner life fearlessly, but his public acts or utterances will be with careful regard for their effect on others.
Personal colouring of the truth is inevitable the moment it is given a shape in thoughts or words.
If he speaks at all--for in the divine presence he hangs his head--let it be with the high voice of true authority. Let it come out of the great stillness to shame lesser voices of the mean, the petty, and the ignoble.
What is permissible about such topics in a private talk may not be in a printed or public statement.
Abrasive, provocative, violent, or hostile speech is objectionable and unsuited to a philosopher.
"You keep silent and It speaks; you speak and It is silent."*t--Japanese Master.
He must always remember that what he feels is not necessarily felt by everyone else, that caution and restraint in speaking of it to others need to be exercised.
The more speech and thought are kept free from negative statements about other faiths, other teachings, other persons, and other organizations, and the more we practise courtesy and silence in matters where we do not agree with them, the better will it be for our true development.
The mind has to be cleansed. Speech and thought must be undefiled by treacherous backbiting, slanderous gossip, and all unkind words. The law of recompense declares: "As you speak of others so shall you be spoken of."
Be grateful to the one who criticizes you, whether he be a friend or a foe. For if his criticism be true, he renders you real service. He may point out a flaw in your character that you have long neglected, with unfortunate results to yourself and others. His words may prompt you to remedy it.
Where a relationship is unfriendly or irritating, there is often some fault on both sides, although more heavily on one particular side. If the student either wishes or is compelled to continue the relationship, or if his conscience troubles him, he must consider those faults which lie on his side alone, and try to correct them. Neither his personal feelings, nor even those of the other man, are so important--for they are both egotistic--as the need of self-improvement and self-purification.
When dealing with the impulsive, independent, irritable, but large-hearted type, do not offer criticism, however constructive, and do not preach. Offer instead a silent example of superior conduct, as this may be followed. Do not answer angry words with the same kind but change the subject or remain silent. Show warm appreciation of the other's good work or deeds or qualities; such favourable notice may create harmony. Be unfailingly kind.
When great men are criticized by other great men, they should be all ears. When they are criticized by small men, they should be quite deaf.
The only gentlemanly thing to do when the raucous clamour of falsehood grates on the air and the frightful spectre of animosity gibbers at him is to oppose them with silent fact of what he is and leave it at that. It is better therefore that he let personal abuse find like-minded ears and pay it back only with dignified silence. He who understands what he is about and who is conscious of the purity of his motivation can afford to smile at his "critics" and remember the Turkish admonition: "Let the dogs bark: the caravan marches on." His sense of dwelling in the Overself would be of little avail if he reacted to these unpleasant events and unfortunate experiences in the way which personal emotion would persuade other men to react. It is natural for the egoistic part of him to feel resentment, indignation, bitterness, disillusionment, and even sadness over base calumnies, the personal hatred, and prejudice he has endured. But it is equally natural for the diviner part of him to feel undisturbed, unsurprised, and compassionate over the same treatment. For here there is a perfect understanding that these opponents can only act according to their knowledge and experience, can only view him, because of the limited facts at their disposal and the limited evolutionary character they possess, through the spectacles of ignorance. Karma will assuredly take care of their deeds; his business is to take care that he send them his kindliest thoughts, keeping the devils of separateness out of their relation, holding firmly to the feeling that they are all members of the same grand life.
He should take care that opponents are not permitted to disturb the equanimity of his mind. Conscious of the loftiness of his motives where they suspect sordid ones, aware of the true facts of a situation which they construe falsely, he must discover his own strength by trusting the higher laws to take care of them, while he takes care to protect his thoughts from being affected negatively.
If an enemy, a critic, or an opponent accuses him of committing a sin or having a fault, he need not get disquieted over the event nor lose his inner calm nor feel angry and resentful nor retaliate with counter-accusations. Instead he should give it his attention, coolly, to ascertain if there is any foundation for it. In this way he disidentifies himself from the ego.
The man who requites me with ingratitude or betrayal does not deserve my resentment anger or hatred but my pity. Someone, somewhere, will requite him in the same way. If he needs punishment for thus wounding me, that will be a part of it. The other part will be what he does to himself by strengthening the faults which led him to act in this way. And these in turn, although inside himself, must lead to the eventual appearance of troubles corresponding to them outside himself.
If he cannot afford to take offense at the criticisms of others, but should use them as food for self-examination, neither can he afford to become elated at their praise. For if he does, then that also will be a triumph for his ego, a worship at its altar which would become in time a source of fresh weakness.
If misunderstanding comes to him from other people, he will meet it with a calm smile rather than a resentful thought. If misfortune comes to him from a source seemingly outside his own causation or control, he will meet it prudently, endure it bravely, and emerge from it profitably. If he can get nothing more, he will get the lesson of nonattachment.
If he trains himself in thought control as a means to ego control, then neither flatterers nor critics can reach him with their praise or blame.
He comes to a point where he is not only willing to identify his own faults without having to wait for some self-made misfortune to wring the admission from him, but where he does so calmly, without emotional distress, as if he were identifying them in someone else. Even more, he will seek criticism from others in order to profit by it.
The disciple should be as relentless in his periodic, critical observation of himself as he should be merciful in his observation of other people. He must never shrink from exposing his own faults to himself and he should not trouble himself with the faults of other people, except that his dealings with them render it essential to allow for such faults.
Although he should heed criticisms of himself to sift them for their truth or falsity, he need not be too concerned about them. His real judge is his own Overself, not any human being.
If his actions are right in the Overself's sight, he is under no compulsion to justify, explain, or defend them to meaner or lesser minds.
He will never take personal umbrage about the criticisms other people make of him. On the contrary, he will take an impartial and objective view of them. Whoever thinks more of himself than he ought to, or lets the praise of others cause him to forget the weaknesses which he alone knows, needs to drink from the cup of humility.
When he feels that unjust criticism is levelled against him, let him remember that it is wiser to keep silent than to stir up a hornet's nest. At such times it is his duty to extend the utmost goodwill and compassionate forgiveness to the parties concerned and to their dupes. For they act as they do through ignorance or misunderstanding. When they begin to love truly they will begin to understand aright. To the sage, these are pinpricks, for he is not interested in his personal fortunes but in the Quest for truth.
He has quite enough to do to attend to his own faults and to criticize himself without going about criticizing others. To turn the critical faculty on himself exclusively is the best way to improve personal character.
But because few persons can detach themselves from their own egos sufficiently, few persons are fit to be the sole judges of their own actions. It is therefore useful to ask for criticisms from other people.
He trains himself to talk without rancour of those who criticize him, and without bias of those whose ideas or ideals are antithetic to his own. In the face of provocation he seeks to keep his equanimity.
He learns like a second habit to compose himself into detachment before snubs, to respond with gay half-whispered laughter to attacks.
It is admitted that someone else may well have been the principal cause of personal hurt or ill from which we suffer, but it is also needful that we honestly examine whether we ought not to take a share of the blame ourselves. For there is in us an instinctive wish to escape from our own responsibility in every painful situation.
He should be vigilant against his own violations of ethical standards but indifferent towards other people's sins where duty does not call upon him to deal with them.
Whether belittled by some men or flattered by others, he remains unmoved. Denigration must be examined, to see how much truth there is in it; to his spiritual profit, and adulation to see how much falsity is in it, but in both cases it is more important to keep his equilibrium up and to keep his ego down.
A sincere aspirant will not only expect criticism, he will demand it.
What is the proper way to receive criticism? Accept what is true, reject what is false, but do so unemotionally, without egoism.
We shall make the curious discovery that the more men worship their own fallacies of thought and belief, the firmer the conceit that they know the truth.
In many circles, the man who exhibits moral superiority irritates and provokes others into accusations of hypocrisy and pretension.
By considering his opponents as his friends, his enemies as his helpers, he turns their opposition and enmity into practical service to himself.
He should humbly accept and gratefully profit by the constructive criticisms of his more advanced, more experienced fellow disciples.
The unblurred clarity of his conscience gives him a secret joy and strength, a silent triumph over detractors.
To take a merited rebuke humbly, perhaps even gratefully, is a sign of superior character.
The man who criticizes us does us a favour: we ought to feel obliged to thank him. For if the criticism is unjust, we have to laugh at its absurdity. If true we ought to be spurred to self-correction. The first provokes a smile, the second confers a benefit.
Enmity from others stirs him, not to infuriated anger but to calm perception of its cause.
He must try to understand the inner meaning of such happenings. The more he meets with criticism and enmity, the more he must ask himself what truth they contain. And he himself must provide the answer with perfect impartiality. If they contain no truth at all, so much the better. But such self-examination cannot be properly done if he allows emotion to get the upper hand, especially the emotions of resentment against his critics and bitterness against his opponents.
Neither the bitterness of resentment nor the thirst for revenge enter his heart when he is defamed by others. He keeps his serenity unbroken, his goodness intact, his gentleness ever constant.
If it is right to forgive others their sins toward him, it is equally right to forgive his own toward them. But it's not right to absolve himself and forget before he has fully learned the lessons and resolutely made a start to apply them.
Whoever accepts praise must be prepared to endure blame, unless his acceptance is quite impersonal and disengaged.
They and their words will perish into the dust with time, but that source whence he draws his peace "passeth their understanding," and will endure when time is not.
If others persist in uttering negatives to him during conversation, he is entitled to have recourse to a polite inattention.
If he is not concerned about his ego, he will not be concerned about critics and what they say about him. Such attacks will arouse no ill-feeling in him.
One shouldn't brood over fancied wrongs which he believes have been done to him nor dwell on another's faults. The law of recompense will deal with the situation. Emotional bitterness is harmful to both persons. On this path, the student must learn to overcome such feelings; they act as obstacles which hinder his advancement.
It is not the enmity of others towards him but the apathy inside him which is the more dangerous in the end.
Although he should study and observe the errors and weaknesses of other men, he should not do so unduly. Such study must not include gossip about them or disparagement of them. His business is to learn from them, not to censure them, so that he can better know how to deal with himself.
Refraining from criticism
When talking or even merely thinking of other persons who show some fault, weakness or sin, people are too apt automatically to judge them. This is an unnecessary and uncharitable habit. Unnecessary, because it is neither a duty nor a benefit to any one; uncharitable because the judgement is based on incomplete evidence. It is better to mind one's own business, to become detached from others, to practise tolerance and to displace such judgements at once by criticizing oneself instead.
Some well-meaning moralists who say that the disciple should no longer look for the evil in others, swing to the other extreme and say that he should look only for the good. Philosophy, however, does not endorse either point of view, except to remark that we have no business to judge those who are weaker than ourselves and less business to condemn them. It further says that to look only for the good in others would be to give a false picture of them, for a proper picture must combine the bright and the dark sides. Therefore it prefers mentally to leave them alone and not to set any valuation upon them, to mind its own affairs and to leave them to the unerring judgement of their own Karma. The only exception to this rule is when a disciple is forced to have dealings with another man which make it necessary for him to understand the character of the person with whom he is dealing; but even this understanding must be fair, just, calmly made, impartial, and unprejudiced. Above all, it must not arouse personal emotions or egoistic reactions: in short, he will have to be absolutely impersonal. But it is seldom that a disciple will have to make such an exception. He should refrain from giving attention to the imperfections and shortcomings of others, and he should certainly never blame them for these. He should turn his critical gaze towards himself alone--unless he is specifically asked by others to examine them--and exercise it to correct himself and improve himself and reform himself.
Why blame a person for what he does if his higher faculties have not yet awakened and possessed him? He is only doing what he can. Moreover it is prudent never to condemn others. For others will then by karmic law condemn you.
We need not be blind to the faults and lapses of inspired men, but we ought to forgive them. A balancing of accounts justifies this attitude. Those who bring this rare gift with them deserve a wider indulgence than others.
We should always remember that everyone, on all the different and varying levels of spiritual advancement, has his own difficulties and problems. To accept these without giving way to negative emotions, is the first step in the right direction. Coming to terms with life and oneself is a never-ending procedure from which no one is exempt. The very nature of existence is synonymous with the individual struggle for self-development.
Do not belittle any human being who is awake to his higher nature.
Do not condemn another soul for his misdeeds, even though he be the wickedest of all men. Firstly, because he cannot be other than he is, for time, experience, tendencies, and destiny have brought him to this particular point and way of self-expression. Secondly, because the worse his misdeeds the greater will be the redemptive suffering to which he unconsciously condemns himself.
What historian has complete and true information on any past event or obscure personage when he does not even have it on any present event or celebrated personage? Unless business or duty brings the responsibility into our hands, it is fairer to refrain from sitting in judgement.
So many are so quick to think ill of others, to spread calumny and give out malicious gossip, that the man who reverses this debased trend and minds his own business is coming closer to spirituality than he perhaps knows himself.
The man who respects himself will not degrade others.
He will have eyes open enough to see the sordid evil in men yet a world-view large enough not to become cynical about them.
What is the use of reproaching a fly for not being a bird or its inability to travel as far or look as beautiful? Yet this is what they do who deplore others' bad behaviour and spiritual ignorance.
By blaming other persons, one's own ego is served by its implied superiority.
Ignorance and immaturity in others should call forth, not his irritability, but his patience.
The largest activity in the world is criticism, the smallest creation.
We aspirants ought not to waste our time or sully our minds to criticize the weaknesses of others. There are countless people in this world who expend their energies in this useless task. It brings them no gain. It keeps them tied to the lower nature. It attracts worldly troubles to them. We are to be as constructive and positive as they are destructive and negative. This will lessen the disharmony in our surroundings and increase the harmony in our hearts.
There are times, occasions, situations, and responsibilities which may make fair criticism a moral duty. But no aspirant can fall into the all-too common habit of criticizing for its own sake, much less for malice's sake, without thwarting his spiritual progress. Condemning others for their real or supposed sins is even worse.
From the time that he perceives that he does not and can not know all the circumstances, he ceases to condemn others.
It is not for him to judge others, for this would imply finding fault with the divine World-Idea, of which they are a part. He knows well that, in their own proper time, they will unfold their better characteristics.
Since every man is guided in his mind by, or is the end-result of, his own experience of life, it is conceit to act as a judge and criticize his actions. If he were perfect he would not be born at all. Of what use, then, is blaming him? Since every man is--by the mere fact of his reincarnation here on earth--admittedly imperfect, no other man has the right to upbraid him for this and yet become indignant when his own imperfections are pointed out and condemned.
There is a certain quality missing from their psychological makeup which Saint Paul called "charity" and which is the outcome of broad views and generous feelings, of spiritual insight and mental serenity. It is this lack which accounts for the harsh, unfair, prejudiced, and even spiteful treatment which they afforded me. Nevertheless it is not my duty as a student of philosophy to blame them for not possessing a quality which, after all, is not a part of their goal, but to display it towards them myself. And in the last reckoning it does not matter how people--even reputedly spiritual people--behave to me, but it does matter how I behave to them.
He may register what others are by the measure of his own sensitivity, but he must not set up to judge, criticize, and condemn them.
"If you are to love men you must expect little of them"--Helvetius.
Let those who wish complain of evils or criticize: that is their affair. But to take such adverse attitudes is not a laudable way of life. They, men or women, could find enough material to occupy whole days at a time. We are all vulnerable. Denouncing negatives is unhealthier than announcing positives.
He is too psychologically perceptive not to understand the character of others but too generous to judge and condemn them.
The student should not go about criticizing or abusing others. He should not do so because it is mentally unhealthy and hinders his own progress, because it will one day bring down criticism or abuse upon his own head, because he has to foster a compassionate outlook, and because he ought to understand that everybody on earth is indeed here owing to his own imperfection so that the labor of showing up faults would be an endless one.
The wise student should emulate the masters when encountering a man who insists on controversial argument but who has no desire to learn the truth, no humility to accept it from those who, from broader experience, know more about the matter or who, from superior intelligence, judge it better than himself. The student should lapse into silence, smile, and take the earliest opportunity to get away! He should not waste time and breath or fall into friction and disharmony by letting himself be drawn into further talk. For the truculent and bull-headed man who argues against every standpoint he takes, who disputes each explanation he gives, will be impervious to whatever truth is given him. It is better meekly to acknowledge what he asserts, without criticizing it or correcting its errors. It is better to let the man remain in the smugness of his mistaken views and let the situation be accepted, since its change is not possible.
Such people do not come to hear the truth about themselves or to learn the truth about life. They come for confirmation of their own ideas, flattery about their own character, and endorsement of their own conduct. This is why they will vehemently reject all criticism or correction.
It is stupid to bring into conversation with others beliefs which they are certain to scoff at but which one cherishes as holy.
The philosopher would not waste his time in hair-splitting arguments or bickerings about trivial, unimportant details when discussing a metaphysical or mystical theme with the unconvinced.
It is useless trying to explain his loyalty to the philosophic ideal to those who can see no use and no truth in philosophy itself.
Those who are unready for the higher truth will also be ungrateful to anyone who foolishly brings it to them.
The necessity of forgiving others what they have done to us is paramount. Nay, it is a duty to be constantly and unbrokenly practised, no matter what provocation to disobey it we may receive. Our contact with others, or our relation to them, must bring them only good! never bad.
To the degree you keep ego out of your reaction to an enemy, to that degree you will be protected from him. His antagonism must be met not only with calmness, indifference, but also with a positive forgiveness and active love. These alone are fitting to a high present stage of understanding. Be sure that if you do so, good will ultimately emerge from it. Even if this good were only the unfoldment of latent power to master negative emotion which you show by such an attitude, it would be enough reward. But it will be more.
Noble indignation and just resentment are on an immensely higher level than grossly selfish indignation and greedy resentment. But in the case of the disciple, for whom the scale of moral values extends farther than for the "good" man, even they must be abandoned for unruffled serenity and universal goodwill. To the definitely wicked and the evilly obsessed he need not give his love. But he must give them and all others who wrong him his forgiveness, for his own sake as well as theirs. Every thought of resentment at another's action against him, every mood of bitterness at the other's refusal to do something he wishes him to do, is a crude manifestation of egoism in which, as disciple, he cannot indulge without harming his own self and hindering a favourable change in the other person's attitude towards him. The man who burns with hate against an enemy is, by the fuel of his own thoughts, keeping the fire of the other man's mutual hate alive. Let him remember instead those glorious moments when the higher self touched his heart. In these moments all that was noble in him overflowed. Enemies were forgiven, grievances let go and the human scene viewed through the spectacle of tenderness and generosity. Only by such a psychological about-turn towards goodwill and forgiveness will he open the first door to abatement of his enemy's feeling.
Ordinarily it is not easy, not natural, to forgive anyone who has wronged us. The capacity to do so will come to us as understanding grows large enough or as meditation penetrates deep enough or as grace blesses us.
If an enemy who is guilty of doing wrong toward him comes to him, whether out of personal need or by the accident of social life, there will be no hard feeling, no bitter thought, no angry word. For the other man, he sees, acted out of what was truth for him, what was valid by his own understanding. Even if his enemy had sought to gain something through injury to himself, then it must have seemed right to the greed in his enemy's ego, which could not then have acted otherwise. In this attitude there is an immense tolerance, and an immeasurable forgiveness.
The moral purification involved in casting out all hatred and granting complete forgiveness opens a door to the Overself's light.
If it is proper to forgive a man's crime, it is not proper, through emotionalism and sentimentality pushing forgiveness to the extreme, to condone his crime.
The true mystic harbours only goodwill towards one who chooses to be his enemy, together with good wishes for the other's well-being and for his coming closer to the higher self, hence closer to the truth.
To serve humanity is in the end to serve yourself. This follows from the working of karma. To forgive those who, in ignorance, sin against you is, for the same reason, to forgive yourself.
In the end the heartlessly cruel punish themselves, though whether here in this life, in purgatory after death, or in some future re-embodiment is another matter.
Where other persons are good but mistaken, the uttered criticism of them should be gentle; where they are well-meaning but weak, it should be cautious. For in such cases the character has what is admirable and what is blameworthy mixed up in it.
The first step in dealing with one who is difficult to live with, who is irritable, impulsive, quick to take offense, explosively bad-tempered, condemnatory, and sulky is to control in yourself what you wish him to control in himself--to set an example through self-discipline, to stimulate his higher will, and to give out love.
When correcting his mistakes or shortcomings, remember it is not so much what you say as how that matters. If done calmly, gently, kindly, and unemotionally, it will be effective. If not, it will arouse his ego into antagonism or resentment and fail of effect.
Every time he speaks to you, do not answer at once. Instead, pause, collect yourself to the dangers of the situation and answer slowly, taking special pains to be more polite than circumstances call for. If you do not do this, his fault may be aroused in him immediately and you may then pick it up sensitively, too; then both will display it.
Remember that negative fault-finding acts as an irritant to him and as a poison to your inner relationship. Correct him by positive, affirmative suggestions of what to do rather than to harass him with criticisms of what not to do.
In short, be polite outwardly and surrender the ego inwardly. Only by first conquering the weakness inside yourself can you rightly hope that he will ever even begin to struggle against the same weakness inside himself. If he is the unfortunate victim of temperament, that is, of his ego, remember that he is a younger soul, that you are older, and check yourself. Iamblichus tells us that the Pythagoreans did not punish a servant nor admonish a man during anger, but waited until they had recovered their serenity. They used a special word to signify such "self-controlled rebukes," effecting this calmness by silence and quiet.
Pythagoras himself advised that the scars and ulcers which advice sometimes causes should be minimized as much as possible: "The corrections and admonitions of the elder towards the younger should be made with much suavity of manners and great caution; also with much solicitude and tact, which makes the reproof all the more graceful and useful."
It took me a long time to learn that if you want to improve a man, do not reprove him. Leave that to life itself. But then it will do so in harsher, more inconsiderate terms than those you are likely to use.
Criticisms should always be balanced ones, should avoid the tendency to go to extremes or to be one-sided when revealing defects.
He should not waste thought or harm others by destructively criticizing them. Instead, if his life-path forces him to deal with them and therefore to understand them exactly as they are, he will calmly and constructively, gently and impersonally, analyse them. He will see their weakness without involving himself in egotistically emotional reactions to it--unless they are compassionate recognitions of the sorrowful results it must inevitably bring.
It is sometimes necessary when a man is acting stupidly, unwisely, or unethically, to speak out straightforwardly if he is to be helped, rather than remain silent. If he has aspiration, if he is seeking self-improvement, his faults can be corrected. But if they are concealed from him and no one tells him about their existence, they will live longer and he will suffer more from them.
The fear of hurting his feelings is, in such a case, a foolish consideration. For it condones present error instead of correcting it. Yielding to this fear keeps the man imprisoned in a wrong view, where rejecting the fear might be the first step towards his liberation from it.
Criticism based on passion, anger, prejudiced bias, hatred, or ignorance is of little worth. If it is to be constructive and healthy, it must be based on fact ascertained in the way in which the scientist ascertains facts.
To offer someone constructive criticism and to avoid its being taken as a reproof, one should phrase the sentences carefully as if making a helpful suggestion and not as if making an attack.
If sometimes a criticism is called for if harsher experience is to be avoided, then let it be given by a constructive suggestion of the opposite positive quality only, not mentioning the actual negative one. But if that is unlikely to be accepted and a plain warning seems the only way, then it should be uttered humbly and tactfully.
If men are to be judged at all, then they should be judged not by the understanding which others possess but by their own.
The aspirant who resents being told that there is room to improve himself in a particular way, is unfit to be a disciple. If he takes a constructive helpfully meant criticism in such a way, what is the use of saying that he wants to lift himself to a higher plane?
A fair appraisal of any thing or person should leaven appreciation with criticism.
"He who spares the bad hurts the good," warns the old Roman proverb. Yet the critic, who is at the same time philosophically minded, will always seek to be constructive and will only show up the bad where he can also show us the good.
It is his business as a student of philosophy to be constructive.
He will make it easier to make a needful criticism if he prepares the way for it with an offering of praise.
Criticism is rarely acceptable when it comes from outside, for it is then supposed to have a hostile motivation. Neither the spirit of genuine truth-seeking nor that of friendly constructive helpfulness will be correctly understood; they will only be misunderstood.
Help in growth comes also from friends--if they are superiors or at least equals and if they have the courage to criticize shortcomings.
Being blamed in a hostile spirit is not the same as being criticized in a friendly constructive one. Yet over-sensitive egocentric persons usually react as if it were!
A close friend or kindly spiritual guide will render him a better service by making him more aware of his frailties than by remaining silent. For it is these latter that are the seeds of his future sufferings, as well as the bars to his future progress.
Every man whose orbit touches your own is unwittingly your teacher. He has something of value for you, however small it be. Let him perform his mission, then. Do not dim the lesson by covering it with clouds of negative emotion.
Most neurotics cannot take any criticism--no matter how helpful, constructive or well-meant it be--but only exaggerated praise.
Moral advice is not usually wanted, liked, or obeyed. The more it is pressed upon a person, the more it is likely to be resisted. He is content to stay as he is.
Criticism of others should be benevolent, constructive, and suggestive, firm yet sympathetic.
He needs to learn that it is not necessary to be rude in order to be outspoken.
It is a brutish sign to be unable to put vigour, emphasis, and feeling into a criticism without using obscene four-letter words.
Keep an even balance and affirm what is positive in life even while you are criticizing and protesting against what is negative.
He can give others full understanding, but only by intellectually identifying himself with them. This is an inner process which must be temporary, even momentary, if it is not to be dangerous, too.
To give others who hold different beliefs a mental sympathy--enough to understand what it is they hold and why--calls for a capacity to detach oneself temporarily from one's own beliefs. This is not to be done, of course, by rejecting them in any way but by just letting them stand as they are while moving over and into the other person to get an understanding of his point of view. Such a capacity cannot be acquired without enough humility and selflessness to make it possible to entertain a distasteful viewpoint even for a single second.
Even if he finds the opinions, beliefs, and actions of others repulsive and not to his taste he should experiment at times in the development of tolerance and in the knowledge of human nature. This can be done by entering imaginatively into their history and into their experience until he understands why they think and act as they do. That need not result in the acceptance of their attitudes, but in the comprehension of them.
He should be able to give an imaginative sympathy to those whose outlook is far from his own, lower than his own. He should be able to probe understandingly into the mind and heart of men with whose views he profoundly disagrees and whose actions he instinctively abhors. He should be able even to put himself without wincing into the shoes of a hardened criminal. But he should do all this only momentarily, only just enough to glimpse what is this mystery that is his fellow man, and then return to being himself, broadened but untainted by the experience.
His handling of an uncongenial person with whom he has to live or work will fail or succeed according to his practice of identifying himself with him when he deals with or speaks to him. If he fails to do this, it means that he persists in identifying himself solely with his own little ego and its personal interests, activities, or desires--hence the irritability, bad temper, and negative reaction to the other's deficiencies. But if, on the contrary, he instantly tries to feel with him, to identify himself with him, to give him temporary intellectual sympathy--that is, to practise love--there will be forgiveness of the other's failings and mistakes, good humoured acceptance of his deficiencies, and laughing patience with his shortcomings. Both persons will then make more progress more rapidly.
If his tolerance, sympathy, and understanding are wide enough to enter every point of view, this does not mean that his judgement, balance, and discrimination are inactive.
He is to see men and women not only as they are with their meanness and frailty, their wrong-doing and cruelty, but also as they are unwittingly struggling to become--perfectly expressive of the divine in them. And if the uglier one is to be the first impression, the lovelier one must follow quickly as the final impression. In doing this he makes truth out of life, instead of bringing falsity into it, as some rainbow-dreaming cults would have him do. More, he gives the best possible help to others in their struggle because he brings the kingdom of heaven to their earth in the only way it can be brought.
Try to understand other persons not in order to blame them but in order to understand better the operations of mind itself, the human mind.
If he catches himself criticizing his critics, being indignant with those who oppose him or despondent because others have denounced him, he ought to pull himself up sharply. Instead, let him enter into their shoes for a few moments to understand why they dislike or attack him as they do, and then to give their attitude his mental sympathy for these few moments. Their statements about him may be totally false or quite true, somewhat exaggerated or wilfully distorted. Nevertheless, let him continue to step imaginatively into their shoes. This attempt will not be easy and an inner struggle will probably be unavoidable before he can bring himself to make it. He is not asked to endorse their attitude or approve the emotions which give rise to it, but only to practise this useful exercise for developing tolerance and diminishing egoism. Even if the others have tried to bolster up their own egos by deriding his, the activity may seem pleasant but will prove unprofitable. For not only does it break any harmonious relation with him, but it poisons their own psyches. Thus they punish themselves. Why should he let resentment drag him into the same error? On the contrary, they offer a chance to deny his ego, to exalt his ethical outlook, and to shift his emotional centre of gravity from the negative pole to the positive one. Let him regard them as his tutors, possibly his benefactors. Let him take these episodes as chances both to do needed work on himself and to refuse to identify himself with negative emotions. They are to be used for present instruction and future guidance. Thus he lifts himself out of his personal ego, actually denying himself as Jesus bids him do.
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 practised. 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.
His sympathetic understanding will include both those to whom religion is vital and those to whom it is suspect.
Where sympathy is prolonged excessively, when this shift of personality from oneself to another is not limited to gaining understanding of that other's need, and is not guarded by wisdom, there will be a denial of one's own individual being. This can lead to harm on both planes--spiritual and physical.
Mental sympathy with others must go only as far as a certain point: if it begins to affect us negatively, we must refrain from proceeding farther.
He need not stray either from the line which his thinking has been following nor the direction along which his conduct has been moving, even though he tries to give mental sympathy to different characters.