Thursday, April 28, 2016

Limits of the Golden Rule

"A Radiant Tapestry"
- along a wilderness trail -

While browsing through Facebook a few days ago I noticed something a friend of mine posted: This world would be a far better place if more and more of us lived according to the Golden Rule.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you

In one sense I agree that the world would probably be better if we applied this principle to our daily lives; but I actually don’t think the Golden Rule goes far enough. In fact, It seems to me that there are some rather serious limits to this highly-prized rule of life and I think we would do far better living each day “beyond’ what the Golden Rule prescribes if we really want to make this world a better place.

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

The basic assumption here is that we are all separated and isolated from one another and that we are all in competition for a prize place at the table of life. So I help you and you help me to make our way up the ladder of success. 

It seems to me that the first thing we need to do is to go beyond the dualistic thinking of “me” as opposed to and separated from “you” 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 into a radiant tapestry. When I come to this awareness, my thinking goes beyond the limits of the Golden Rule.

The Buddha teaches:

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

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 because there is no isolated “me” separated from “others” 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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