[This article first appeared in the July/August 2013 edition of Unity Magazine and is reproduced here with permission.]
“One going to take a pointed stick to poke a baby bird should first
try it on himself to feel how it hurts.” – Yoruba proverb, Nigeria
Everyone knows the golden rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. A quick Google search gives you all the examples you need. In one form or another the golden rule is found in all religions and ethical philosophies. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and beyond – all the world’s sages sing the one song of our inherent interconnectedness and our sacred duty to treat others as ourselves.
The golden rule begins in empathy and ends in right action. First we must understand our identity with others and the mutually binding interests we share. With this fundamental understanding in place the foundation is set – we are now free to act in accord with our principles, knowing that our actions co-create our highest good. Right action is not born from self-interest but from a broader, more universal awareness of the good, an impulse grounded in the insight that I cannot thrive while my brothers and sisters are not thriving. When we serve others our own interests are served, automatically and indirectly. This is what the Dalai Lama meant when he said, “Considering the interests of others is clearly the best form of self-interest.”
The simplicity of the golden rule heightens its appeal. Properly followed, it renders all other rules moot. In Confucianism the virtue of shu or reciprocity calls us to be aware of the impact we have others. “What is hateful to you,” Confucius said, “do not do to others.” Every transgression would be prevented by the proper application of this simple maxim. If we saw our selves through the eyes of others, our words and actions would naturally soften and grow more compassionate.
In an uncanny parallelism from the Talmud, Rabbi Hillel says, “What is hateful to you, do not do to others. This is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary.” It’s as if the golden rule contains in encapsulated form all of the learned complexity of the world’s voluminous ethical and religious codes. Even St. Augustine, a staunch teacher if there ever was one, leaves us with a simple task, reducing Christian ethics to a seven word motto: “Love God and do what you will.” By calling for all thought and action to be rooted in a condition of consciousness in which one is lovingly aligned with God, Augustine bypasses all of the intellectual hand-wringing and second guessing that commonly plagues ethical reasoning and gets right to the heart of the matter – a child-like state where right-action and kindness flow like water. When you begin with love for what is right and true, your actions will fall into accord with what is right and true, and the people will prosper.
The golden rule is not information. It’s a reminder. It calls us back to our higher natures, our inherent kindness and our commitment to affirm the infinite value of all sentient beings. It’s simple enough for a child to understand, yet deep enough to occupy the most skillful philosophers for millennia. It stands like an ancient monument, yet it’s perennially fresh and invites us in anew moment by moment. And its universality points to a possibility – that regardless of the wide variety of surface inflections and cultural diversity found in the world’s wisdom traditions, there is an underlying commonality in the human experience that transcends time and culture. We are far more alike than different. Our unity is affirmed by our universal values.
We all carry the golden rule within us. Whether we attune to it or not is another matter. We are free to ignore it any time we want, and follow instead the dictates and longings of our endless woundedness. But when we come back to our sacred core we feel once again the inherent wellness of our hearts, and know that we are safe, and that there is always enough. Only then do we dare to love and be loved, falling into the arms of a truth unbound by space and time – the law of our own infinite value. And with new eyes we immediately see that all the blessed others around us share in this infinite stance, this infinite abundance. It is from here that the golden rule makes perfect sense. We wouldn’t have it any other way.