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The Importance of Personal Refinement

14 Dec
  • This blog is about the topic of refinement in a personal sense.

I have read in different sources the difference between people who have developed a “refined” behavior, comportment vs. others who haven’t. For example, recently, I read a book on Haiku and there was a passage about Matsuo Bashò – the famous Japanese poet – in which he had expressed his thoughts on the nature of refinement and the nature of high art. He had written “Through the waka of Saigyò, the renga of Sògi, the painting of Sesshù and the tea of Rikyù, one thing flows. People of such refinement submit to nature and befriend the four seasons. Where they look is nothing but flowers, what they think is nothing but the moon. Perceiving shapes other than flowers amounts to being a barbarian. Holding thoughts other than the moon is akin to being a beast. Come out from barbarians, depart from beasts. Submit to nature, return to nature.”

I must admit that for some reason, when I was growing up, I had not learned well the importance and self-efficacious nature of refinement. I had approached the topic with suspicion and trepidation. I had associated it with pompousness, exaggerated ego and elitism. It appeared to be a behavior of the upper class not necessary or desirable for the working middle class. It was a bother like music lessons. Now I see this erroneous attitude of mine had to do with an understanding/approach to myself.

Growing up in the USA, a perspective I had learned was that I should be simple, plain, and not self aware to any great extent, not taking pleasure in the appreciation of my own development needed in personal refinement. Much of my distaste for personal refinement was a psychological attitude toward myself fostered by a Protestant ethic of simplicity, sameness and plainness. While I certainly was taught good manners and etiquette in my family as well as encouraged to appreciate art and music, etc, my mental block toward fostering personal refinement was the attitude toward the self. Simplicity was equated with simplicity of self as from a Protestant perspective. Now I see that as an American, the cultural linage from the Quakers, Amish, Baptists and other moral but stern Christian people have been a pervasive cultural baggage that significantly influenced my psychological development.

Max Weber had written extensively on the Protestant ethic and the following quote exemplifies this ethic’s approach to the Fine Arts. “But the situation is quite different when one looks at non-scientific literature and especially the fine arts. Here asceticism descended like a frost on the life of “Merrie old England.” And not only worldly merriment felt its effect. The Puritan’s ferocious hatred of everything which smacked of superstition, of all survivals of magical or sacramental salvation, applied to the Christmas festivities and the May Pole and all spontaneous religious art. That there was room in Holland for a great, often uncouthly realistic art proves only how far from completely the authoritarian moral discipline of that country was able to counteract the influence of the court and the regents (a class of rentiers), and also the joy in life of the parvenu bourgeoisie, after the short supremacy of the Calvinistic theocracy had been transformed into a moderate national Church, and with it Calvinism had perceptibly lost in its power of ascetic influence.

The theatre was obnoxious to the Puritans, and with the strict exclusion of the erotic and of nudity from the realm of toleration, a radical view of either literature or art could not exist. The conceptions of idle talk, of superfluities, and of vain ostentation, all designations of an irrational attitude without objective purpose, thus not ascetic, and especially not serving the glory of God, but of man, were always at hand to serve in deciding in favour of sober utility as against any artistic tendencies. This was especially true in the case of decoration of the person, for instance clothing. That powerful tendency toward uniformity of life, which today so immensely aids the capitalistic interest in the standardization of production, had its ideal foundations in the repudiation of all idolatry of the flesh.”

Also as David Kelley wrote, perhaps my coming of age in the ‘60’s had important consequences to my attitude toward the self discipline needed to refine one’s mental culture and behavior. “Rousseau hated the cosmopolitanism and refinement of Enlightenment life and vehemently criticized inequality, which he thought was an inescapable consequence of civilization. He offered an idealized image of primitive man not yet corrupted by civilization and of life in a nature not yet polluted by cities or machines. The source of those primitivist views was Rousseau’s antipathy to reason. He felt that emotion and instinct should be our guides to action. In this respect, he was the father of the 19th-century Romantic poets and of the counterculture of the 1960s, with its demand for sexual liberation, its contempt for “bourgeois morality,” its emphasis on self-expression rather than self-discipline. The Age of Aquarius sought release from the constraints of reason through drugs and New Age religions. Like Rousseau, it rejected the cosmopolitan modernism of the Enlightenment and praised the authenticity of primitive modes of life.”

Whatever the influences, it wasn’t until I started to explore other cultural points of view that I began to experiment with new ways of approaching myself. A significant influence for me became, and continues to this day, Buddhism with its emphasis on mental culture and etiquette as a means of better comprehending and relating to one’s self and the world. Etiquette became for me a practice which, in general, is concerned with the refinement of human behavior in its relationship with other human beings. Instead of being a system of self approval and haughtiness/superiority- ‘my etiquette is better than yours’-, it is a method of self refinement done in humility.

With my study and practice of Buddhism, I slowly began to approach my thoughts and behaviors in a manner that fostered refinement with humility. The results were satisfying which continued to encourage my practice. The use of meditation, esp. mindfulness, opened a new experience. As Robert Bogoda wrote, “The particularly important method of experiential verification necessitates consistent Buddhist practice—usually contemplation and meditation-as this refines the ability of a person to trust his or her senses through the cultivation of awareness and the implementation of mindfulness in everyday life. Buddhists posit that cultivated awareness is a requisite for trusting the information gathered from the senses, so that emotions and prejudices do not cloud one’s judgments. The refinement of one’s ability to accurately perceive the world and thus trust his or her senses is a primary reason why meditation is central to Buddhist practice.

Sati or bare attention is an important aspect of mindfulness. Sati is the objective seeing of things stripped bare of likes and dislikes, bias and prejudice. It is viewing things and events as they really are — the naked facts. The ability to do this is a sign of true Buddhist maturity. The principle of bare attention should be applied vigorously to everyday thinking. The results will be: clearer thinking and saner living, a marked reduction in the pernicious influence of mass media propaganda and advertisements, and an improvement in our inter-personal relationships. “

The Buddhist approach teaches that progress along the path does not follow a simple linear trajectory. Rather, development of each aspect of the Noble Eightfold Path encourages the refinement and strengthening of the others, leading the practitioner ever forward in an upward spiral of spiritual maturity that culminates in Awakening. Put briefly, it states that action is real, effective, and the result of one’s own choice. If one chooses to act skillfully and works to develop that skill, one’s actions can lead to happiness.

Now I think that refinement corresponds to sensitivity and comprehension. An increased sensitivity which of course also means an alteration in the self. The self is ‘entangled’ – (I borrow a term from quantum physics which means, ‘a system (relationship) containing two or more objects, where the objects that make up the system are linked in a way that one cannot adequately describe the state of a constituent of the system without full mention of its counterparts, even if the individual objects are spatially separated with the other.’ The division of self/object is absent and both are one interacting experience. It is a sense based experience.


From another perspective David L. Barnhill wrote, “Phenomenological hermeneutics focuses on experience, seeing it not as a subjective being experiencing an objective reality but rather a mutual implication of subject and object. That is, subject and object are not separate entities but part of a single field of experience, like poles of a continuum. What the author (for example Bashō) experienced was his particular being-in-the-world, not some objective reality. The text arises out of that experience and is itself a presentation of a mode of experience.”

Several examples of this experience are the following translations of a haiku written by Bashò:

Thinking to gaze at them, I drew extremely close to the cherry blossoms, making the parting ever so painful. trans. James Brandon

Gazing at them, these blossoms have grown so much a part of me, to part with them when they fall seems bitter indeed! trans. Burton Watson

“Detached” observer Of blossoms finds himself in time Intimate with them– So, when they separate from the branch, It’s he who falls…deeply into grief. trans. William R. LaFleur

So to conclude, I now understand better and value highly what Bashò wrote  regarding refinement, however, I would not be so strong in my characterization of people who haven’t yet come to understand the significance and transformative nature of personal refinement –“barbarian”. I like better the terms skillful vs. unskillful.

 O’ GREAT SPIRIT help me always to speak the truth quietly, to listen with an open mind when others speak, and to remember the peace that may be found in silence. Cherokee Prayer

Quotes, Thoughts, Reflections on Non-dualism, evolution, God, ecology, War and more…

20 Jul

It is the process through which today’s culture is rooted in cultures of the past, the process whereby our thoughts generate actions, which touch others, which touch still others, and thus a vast web of conscious minds together weave the fabric of their reality, forever creating new ways of seeing and being. L.Gabora

None of us is as smart as all of us. Japanese proverb

One comes to the startling conclusion that the coherent organism is a macroscopic quantum object, it has a macroscopic wave-function that is always evolving, always changing as it entangles its environment. This wave-function is the unique, significant form of the organism. In the quantum coherent state the organism is maximally sensitive and can best respond to opportunities and cope with all contingencies. It is source of the organism’s remarkable flexibility, resilience and creativity. …Mae-Wan Ho

And so you opted for the substantialist’s art of self making, Cutting off all umbilical cords to the Mother of Field-Being. You first dignify yourself in the kingly robes of an independent entity, enthroning yourself in the lonely kingdom of ego-substance. Then with the projective magic of your subjective substantiality, you objectify everything on your way to Godlike rigidity. And with the pointing of the substantializing wand, a bond was broken; a shade of mutuality has withered and waned. Now everything becomes merely external and separate from everything else. External is your objective world, your objectified God, and your objectified self. Anything you cannot safely possess and control you relegate to the dark side. And so you opted for the substantialist’s art of self making, Cutting off all umbilical cords to the Mother of Field-Being. You first dignify yourself in the kingly robes of an independent entity, enthroning yourself in the lonely kingdom of ego-substance. Then with the projective magic of your subjective substantiality, you objectify everything on your way to Godlike rigidity. And with the pointing of the substantializing wand, a bond was broken; a shade of mutuality has withered and waned. Now everything becomes merely external and separate from everything else. External is your objective world, your objectified God, and your objectified self. Anything you cannot safely possess and control you relegate to the dark side of the Other, the Hell, the objective pole, And condemned it as illusion, unreal, ugly, or evil. Oh, in carrying your Godlike rigidity to all eternity (as if you were in fact rigidly eternal), you, a virtuoso in dualization, have created the most unhappy situation. Professor l. k. Tong

Chicken- egg: dualism-egoism and grasping. Rodger R

When the animals evolved the talent to produce a virtual presence, they acquired a soul.

Then there was a God to be adored.

And an Adam was created.

As production of virtual presences increases, mans tie to the Real decreases.

Soon, he praises innovation and inhuman courage. He invents thrills and excitements. He relies on myths and mysteries. He downgrades Nature with a reckless chisel.

Life becomes the Grand Illusion.

With facility in the manipulation of the virtual presences, the primal Superman was born.

With perfection in the art, a second Lucifer took charge.

It was then that man came to defy the Lord.

The interminable conflict thrusting the virtual presences against the real intensifies. R. G. H. Siu

Accustomed, as it is, to think of man as a dualism of mind and body, and to regard the former as “sensible” and the latter as a “dumb” animal, our culture is an affront to the wisdom of nature and a ruinous exploitation of the human organism as a whole. We are perpetually frustrated because the verbal and abstract thinking of the brain gives the false impression of being able to cut loose from all finite limitations. It forgets that an infinity of anything is not a reality but an abstract concept, and persuades us that we desire this fantasy as a real goal of living. Alan Watts

Living organisms are much more sensitive and complex, in all respects, than we usually imagine. Rodger R
The history of phototropism is long and rich. Our current understanding of the response has its roots in ancient Greek philosophy and stems from the early physiological studies of the enlightenment. Recent research with Arabidopsis has tremendously expanded our mechanistic understanding of phototropism. We can no longer view the response as a simple or linear physiological response. Instead, phototropism must be viewed as a complex biological response involving interactions of multiple photoreceptors, multiple hormones, and multiple signaling pathways that together orchestrate the establishment of coordinated differential growth gradients. Given its complexity, much phototropism research remains to be done before we can understand all of the underlying mechanisms and know the full account of its biological significance. Craig W. Whippo
Science becomes the story that our civilization tells itself. It is a story about the universe, but told in such a way that it supports and gives credence to all that our society holds of value- analysis, prediction, technology, the accumulation of wealth and knowledge, the desire for control, progress, the need for closure and wrapping things up. Science adds credibility to our cultural dream by supporting it a seemingly objective way. We must also remember that other cultures tell different stories. It is a new form of cultural imperialism to claim that the stories of other cultures are no more than myths that must be corrected, exposed for their naiveté, or ‘make more scientific.’ Rather they should be respected, for they represent different possible glances at the universe and different ways of structuring knowledge. The danger arises when a culture takes its own story as the absolute truth and seeks to impose this truth on others as the yardstick for all knowledge and belief. F. David Peat

“The people of your culture cling with fanatical tenacity to the specialness of man. They want desperately to perceive a vast gulf between man and the rest of creation. This mythology of human specialness justifies their doing whatever they please with the world, just the way Hitler’s mythology of Aryan superiority justified his doing whatever he pleased with Europe. But in the end this mythology is not deeply satisfying. The Takers are a profoundly lonely people. The world for them is enemy territory, and they live in it like an army of occupation, alienated and isolated by their extraordinary specialness.” Ishmael

People in West Sussex think they are normal. … Some avidly enjoy foxhunting. … terrorising foxes! Just imagine what your heart would do if you had a pack of sixty dogs chasing after you and people on horseback telling them to get you. It’s ugly when you really reflect on this. Yet this considered normal, or even a desirable thing to do in this part of England. Because people do not take time to reflect, we can be victims of habit, caught in desires and habits. …When you start reflecting on the way things are and remember when your life has really been in danger, you will know how horrible it is. It is an absolutely terrfifying experience. If you don’t reflect, you think foxes don’t matter. Now this ability to reflect and observe is what the Buddha was pointing to in his teachings, as the liberation from blind following of habit and convention….We begin to be much more careful about how we do live. Once you see what it is all about, you really want to be very, very careful about what you do and say. One does not feel that one’s own life is so much more important than anyone else’s. One begins to feel the freedom and lightness in that harmony with nature rather than the heaviness of exploitation of nature for personal gain. …We don’t see ourselves as some isolated, alienated entity lost in a mysterious and frightening universe. We don’t feel overwhelmed by it, trying to find a little piece of it that we can grasp and feel safe with, because we feel at peace with it. Then we have merged with the truth. Ajahn Sumedho

The term Ecology, as used locally, does not have the connotation of the “environment” as used in America, There is no separation of man and his environment; rather there is a fusion of man and his environment. Ecology represents the study of the ecological entity as a whole. When a given ecological complex appears unfavorable from the standpoint of man, for example, he does not have a prior claim to adjustment on the part of the other elemen (ts of the complex. The others have just as much “right” to demand modification of his behavior as he has on theirs. All are one in Nature. The appreciation of this Oneness and the delicate interrelationships of its diffusions represents the prime academic purpose of the Ecology Series. (The Land of Keikitran and Eleevan) R.G.H. Siu

We are mounds of quarks in trios, we are proton-and-electron families. …There is but a single family on this planet, just one life-form stretching out its tendrils, testing possibilities as dust and stars did once upon a time. Face it, we are all in this together, microbes, seaweed, starfish, salamanders, humans, every strange extrusion of nucleic acid chains. We are the kin of yeast, the brothers of cockroaches, the sisters of sugar beets, and the cousins of maize. We share a common birthright born of ancient gene-and-membrane teams. All of us are children in the clan of DNA. Howard Bloom

All is One, One is All. Rodger R

“God” can never be alone – a solitary figure. Rodger R

The best form of knowledge, according to the Buddha, turns out to be knowledge of things “as they have become”, not knowledge of things “as they really are.”… For the Buddha, human life is not made for morals; morals are made for human life. D.J. Kalupahana

You can please some people all the time, all people some of the time but not all the people all of the time. Abe Lincoln

When written in Chinese, the word crisis is compounded of two characters – one represents danger, and the other represents opportunity. J.F. Kennedy

Environmental regularities are the result of a conjoint history, a congruence that unfolds from a long history of codetermination. Organisms and environments are mutually unfolded and enfolded structures. E.Thompson,F.J.Varela

The organism is both the subject and object of evolution. Lewontin

What is required for evolutionary change is not genetically encoded as opposed to acquired traits, but functioning developmental systems: ecologically embedded genomes. Oyama

Whenever the army has passed, briars and thorns spring up. Years of hunger follow in the wake of a great war. Lao Tzu

Conquering the people’s hearts is more effective than occupying their cities. Sun Tzu

There is many a boy today who looks on war as glory, but boys, it is all hell! William Tecumseh Sherman

I am sick and tired of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry for blood, vengeance, for desolation. War is hell! Lt. Col. Dave Grossman

The more I understand, the less I know- Tao Le Ching

The wisest mind has something yet to learn- George Santayana

Life is a dance in which we both lead and are led.-Rodger R

The future is always pregnant with possibility. Thereby, making the future indeterminate and creativity possible. Rodger R

We all enter the future with a degree of naiveté. Rodger R

What we anticipate seldom occurs; what we least expect generally happens. Benjamin Disraeli

Change is inevitable. Change is constant. Benjamin Disraeli

Afternoon Delight

Eager eyes

Hands touch

Lips embrace


It is a commonly accepted rule of artistic training that the student must first learn technique in order to transcend technique. To learn technique is to be conditioned by the cumulative experience to perform certain acts in a certain way, the holding of a brush, the fingering of a bamboo flute, the cutting of flowers. But to be conditioned by these rules only opens up the possibility of response. One must overcome the danger of being determined by these rules, of becoming too attached to these conditions acquired in the past that the present is no longer creative. To transcend technique is to respond to the presence of the moment now before us. The determinateness of past conditions must vibrate in unison with the openness of the present. Thomas P. Kasulis

The relation between artistic creation and the Tanden, the seat of the primordial, is immediate and essential. Neither the hand nor the head should paint the picture. It is a necessary condition for the expression of the essential in all art that the artist should empty and free his head, and then concentrate his whole energy in the Tanden. His brush will then move of itself in accord with the rhythm of the Primordial Force. If, on the contrary, in drawing the lines he uses strength of this hand, or if he works under personal tension, what he wants to express will be cut off from the source of inner synthesis, and will look hard and fixed. The synthesis as oneness of subject and object does not have to be ‘produced’, it is there underlying the reality. And only through this complete knowledge can it be brought to light. This must be a whole, all-human knowledge which has its place neither in the head nor in the heart but in the centre of the whole person. Kaneko Shoseki

Life is a continuous and pervasive entanglement always affecting us on all levels. Rodger R

To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich; to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly; to listen to stars and birds, to babes and sages, with open heart; to bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasions, hurry never. In a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common. This is to be my symphony.William Henry Channing

‘Psychologist’s Fallacy’ The great snare of the psychologist is the confusion of his own standpoint with that of the mental fact about which he is making his report. I shall hereafter call this the “psychologist’s fallacy” par excellence. For some of the mischief, are too, language is to blame. The psychologist. .. stands outside of his mental state he speaks of. Both itself and its object are objects for him. Now when it is a cognitive state (percept, thought, concept, etc.), he ordinarily has no other way of naming it than as the thought, percept, etc., of that object. He himself, meanwhile, knowing the self-same object in his way, gets easily led to suppose that the thought, which is of it, knows it in the same way in which he knows it, although it is far from being the case. The most fictitious puzzles have been introduced into our science by this means. The so-called question of presentative or representative perception, of whether an object present to the thought that thinks it by a counterfeit image of itself, or directly without any intervening image at all; the question of nominalism and conceptualism, of the shape in which things are present when only a general notion of them is before the mind; are comparatively easy questions when once the psychologist’s fallacy is eliminated from their treatment…’ William James