Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Beyond the Golden Rule

"A Radiant Tapestry"
- autumn in the desert -

Ever since Pope Francis mentioned the Golden Rule in his now-famous speech before the United States Congress, I have heard all sorts of people quote that “well-worn” and laudable piece of advice:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

In fact just yesterday a friend of mine told me that she thought this world would be a far better place if more and more of us lived according to the Golden Rule.

In one sense I agree with her, the world would be better if we applied this principle to our daily lives; but I actually don’t think the Golden Rule goes far enough in terms of guiding the way we might live our lives to make this world a better place.  I actually think we need to live each day “beyond’ the directives of the Golden Rule.

When we say that we should treat others as we would like to be treated, it sort of sounds like the kind of negotiations that might go on in a business negotiation – “I will do some good for you because that’s how I want to be treated, and so, in return I expect you to do something equally good for me.”

The assumption here is that we are all separated and isolated from one another  (and in a very real sense, all competing with one another for a prize place at the table of life), and the best way that any individual can thrive is by helping other individuals to thrive.

It seems to me that we need to go beyond the dualistic thinking of “me” as opposed to and separated from  “others” and instead realize that there are no different others- everything and everyone is  invariably and inevitably woven together into what the theologian, Elizabeth Johnson, so beautifully describes as a radiant tapestry of being.

Woven into our lives is the very fire from the stars
and genes from the sea creatures,
and everyone, utterly everyone, is kin
in the radiant tapestry of being.

While it may be a good idea to treat others in the way I “expect” to be treated by them, the fact is that regardless of my intentions and regardless of my expectations, everything I do or say inevitably affects everything and everyone else because we are one another, all of us woven together in a radiant tapestry. When I come to this awareness, my thinking goes beyond the Golden Rule.

The Buddha teaches:

See yourself in others.
Then whom can you hurt?
What harm can you do?

This teaching helps take me to that step that goes beyond the all familiar and often quoted Golden Rule.  More than treating others in a way I would like to be treated, I know that what I do to others I do to me, what I do to a world of nature I do to me, what I do to the planet I do to me,  I do all this to me because there is no isolated “me” separated from “others” outside of me, and everyone, utterly everyone, is kin. When I know and believe this, then indeed whom can I hurt, what harm can I do?

Now if we all lived according to this precept, the world would indeed be a far better place in which to live.

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