Wednesday, December 11, 2002
The Golden Rule
The Golden Rule has been called "the cornerstone of religious understanding," serving as "the foundation for peace and universal goodwill on earth." But is it? The most well-known formulation of the "Golden Rule" in the west is as it was stated in the Christian tradition, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Jesus said that this is "the law and the prophets." In Judaism it has been said, "What is hurtful to yourself do not to your fellow man." Rabbi Hillel called this, "the whole of the Torah and the remainder is but commentary."
Islam seems to combine the two with the formulation: "Do unto all men as you would they unto you, and reject for others what you would reject for yourself." The Sikhs and the Jains seem to agree with Jesus and say that we should "treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves." And Confucius and the Buddha say that "we should not do unto others as we would not have done to ourselves."
Can you see that there is a difference created in whether this "Golden Rule" is phreased "positively" or "negatively?" The more famous and popular phrasing, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is deeply flawed! Suppose I enjoy a bit of fisticuffs as a way of having some fun? In fact, I have known such people. If I enjoy fighting, then I practice the "Golden Rule" by getting into fights whenever I can! Some moral philosphers have seen this problem and reframed the "Golden Rule" by inverting it: "Do unto others as they would have you do unto them." As soon as you come up against a junkie wanting you to give them some heroin you can see the problematic aspects with this formulation.
As Steve Hagen points out in his splendid, Buddhism: Plain and Simple, it isn't a rule that is required at all, but simply seeing. Those who are commited to the path of awakening live by seeing, not by rules. When we see the whole of the lived situation, we can reformulate the "Golden Rule" as "Do not do unto others what you would not have done unto you." Interestingly, this is the way Confucius, the Buddha and the Judaic tradition have put it.
The difference is that the "positive" formulation is a prescription for action while the "negative" formulation is not.
The positive tells us what to do, and ultimately, there is no final authority outside our own will. In order to truly be a moral agent in life, one must have the final authority, and we do! It is precisely because we have such authority that our intentions and willful actions matter. Both the Bhagavad Gita and the Buddha teach that it is willful actions, action based on intention and motivation that create karma that then binds us to dukkha (suffering). And our actions are based on seeing, not some formula.
If we practice seeing reality, rather than simply stopping at our opinions, ideas and beliefs about reality, then our action will be "Right Actition:" that action that is free from all contentiousness and divisiveness, promoting harmony and understanding. It will be the embodiment of ahimsa -- the practice of non-harming. For more on the practice of ahimsa, use the search engine on this page to access an archived essay.
.: posted by Poep Sa Frank Jude 6:22 PM