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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Golden Rule Day: April 5th

The Golden Rule, 1961
(c) Norman Rockwell estate
In the week leading up to it, the Charter for Compassion will be raising awareness for this worldwide celebration of the Golden Rule on Golden Rule Day, April 5, 2011. The former nun and comparative religion writer Karen Armstrong, who founded the Charter for Compassion, announced the kickoff with a video on Golden Rule Day, which you can see below. The Charter will be posting more videos on its Facebook Page in the coming week, including from Pakistan, Jordan, Canada, and Seattle in the U.S. On this page, below, I have also listed many of the examples of the Golden Rule found in religions, philosophies, and traditions from around the world and throughout history.

Please take some time in your own life this week, especially on April 5th, to consider this universal and profound principle of treating others as you would wish to be treated, consider ways in which you might become better and more consistent at living this way, and tell others about Golden Rule Day on April 5th! I will be doing this, as I believe (as Epictetus taught) that virtue and wisdom are synonymous, that (as the Dalai Lama said) if we want to be happy we should practice compassion, and (as Jesus says in the book of Luke) that we should love our neighbors as we love ourselves :)

The Golden Rule and similar ideals take many forms in many faiths and cultures. Here is a sampling of various forms:

1. Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.
Matthew 7:12

2. And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.
Luke 6:31

3. Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.
Leviticus 19:18

4. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
Mark 12:31

5. And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.
Mark 12:33

6. And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.
Luke 10:27

7. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
Romans 13:10

8. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
Galatians 5:14

9. If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well:
James 2:8

10. Do for one who may do for you, that you may cause him thus to do.
Ancient Egyptian, The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant The original dates to 1970 to 1640 BCE and may be the earliest version ever written.

11. One going to take a pointed stick to pinch a baby bird should first try it on himself to feel how it hurts.
African Traditional Religions, Yoruba Proverb (Nigeria)

12. Lay not on any soul a load that you would not wise to be laid upon you, and desire not for anyone the things you would not desire for yourself.
Baha’I, Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings

13. And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbour that which thou choosest for thyself.
Baha’I, Bahá’u’lláh, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, 30

14. Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.
Buddhism, Udana-Varga 5,36

15. Comparing oneself to others in such terms as "Just as I am so are they, just as they are so am I," he should neither kill nor cause others to kill.
Buddhism, Sutta Nipata 705

16. Do not do to others what you would not like yourself. Then there will be no resentment against you, either in the family or in the state.
Confucianism, Analects 12:2

17. The essence of all religions is love, compassion, and tolerance. Kindness is my true religion. The clear proof of a person’s love of God is if that person genuinely shows love to fellow human beings.
Dalai Lama

18. Compassion is not religious business, it is human business, it is not luxury, it is essential for our own peace and mental stability, it is essential for human survival.
Dalai Lama, 1989 Nobel Peace Prize

19. If we really want happiness, we must widen the sphere of love.
Dalai Lama

20. Tsekung asked, "Is there one word that can serve as a principle of conduct for life?" Confucius replied, "It is the word shu--reciprocity: Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you."
Confucianism, Analects 15.23

21. Try your best to treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself, and you will find that this is the shortest way to benevolence.
Confucianism, Mencius VII.A.4

22. The Sage...makes the self of the people his self.
Daoism, Tao Te Ching, Ch 49

23. One should not behave towards others in a way which is disagreeable to oneself. This is the essence of morality. All other activities are due to selfish desire.
Hinduism, Mahabharata, Anusasana Parva 113.8

24. This is the sum of duty; do naught onto others what you would not have them do unto you.
Hinduism, Mahabharata 5,1517

25. Humanists acknowledge human interdependence, the need for mutual respect and the kinship of all humanity.
Humanist Association of Canada

26. Don't do things you wouldn't want to have done to you.
British Humanist Society

27. Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself.
Islam, The Prophet Muhammad, 13th of the 40 Hadiths of Nawawi

28. One should treat all creatures in the world as one would like to be treated.
Jainism, Sutrakritanga

29. What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellowman. This is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary.
Judaism, Talmud, Shabbat 3id

30. What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour. This is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary. Go and learn it.
Hillel, Judaism, Talmud, Shabbath 31a

31. We are as much alive as we keep the earth alive.
Native Spirituality, Chief Dan George

32. Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it would become a universal law.
Philosophy, Immanuel Kant, Categorical Imperative

33. Act so as to use humanity, whether in your own person or in others, always as an end, and never merely as a means.
Philosophy, Immanuel Kant, Categorical Imperative

34. Do not do to others what would anger you if done to you by others.
Philosophy, Socrates

35. I am a stranger to no one; and no one is a stranger to me. Indeed, I am a friend to all.
Sikhism, Guru Granith Sahib, p. 1289

36. What you would avoid suffering yourself, seek not to impose on others.
Stoicism, Epictetus

37. Regard your neighbor’s gain as your gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.
Taoism, Tai Shang Kan Yin P’ien

38. We affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person.
Unitarian Universalist First Principle

39. We affirm and promote justice, equity and compassion in human relations.
Unitarian Universalist Second Principle

40. An' it harm none, do as ye will.
The Wiccan Rede

41. That nature only is good when it shall not do unto another whatever is not good for its own self.
Zoroastrianism, Dadisten-I-dinik, 94,5

42. Whatever is disagreeable to yourself do not do unto others.
Zoroastrianism, Shayast-na-Shayast 13.29

43. Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in his shoes.
American Proverb

44. Live and let live.
American Proverb

45. If you love something, set it free.
If it comes back, it will always be yours.
If it doesn't come back, it was never yours to begin with.
American Proverb

46. If you love it, let it grow.
American Proverb

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Walking with Nature

(cc) Ossi Petruska (tiltti),
The ancient Stoics had a concept called, 'walking in accord with Nature' which was part of a good life. This was a vast notion that included a great many interrelated thoughts. This stemmed from the fact that the Stoics viewed all of Nature as one integrated whole, including ourselves and everything about us. I've tried to summarize what general kinds of things are included in the concept below, but further investigation of exactly what is and what is not meant on each element would be needed for those interested:

"Walking with Nature" includes:

1) General knowledge and wisdom about nature (how the world works, including the ways of natural events, other people, and society) and acting in ways that are beneficial given that.

2) Understanding my own nature as a social and moral being, and acting in healthy ways consistent with that.

3) Cultivating greater consistency and ability to do #2 through mindfulness and practice.

4) Cultivating a love, wonder, awe, and appreciation for the beauty of the universe as it is and not as I would prefer it to be.

5) Acceptance that all things happen because of prior causes and every unfolds just as it is 'supposed' to.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

On natural disasters & belief

(cc) U.S. Pacific Fleet,
Like many of us, I have been moved recently by the tragedy which has taken place in Japan, and have continuing concerns for the people there. After viewing some of the incredible footage of the waves which overtook urban areas, one can only imagine such devastation. Some towns and neighborhoods have been completely wiped away and the death toll seems likely over 10,000 from last reports.

It seems to frequently be the case after these kinds of major disasters for people to talk of 'acts of God' and speculate about causes of supernatural agency. Indeed, this has been thought about by people throughout history. Ancient Greeks, for example, would attribute floods to not having paid enough tribute to Poseidon. Today, most of us now understand why earthquakes and resulting tsunamis happen. The overwhelming evidence gathered by those who have carefully studied the situation have shown it has to do with plate tectonics and stresses that build up in the earth's crust. There is apparently no mystery to the process in general, as difficult as it may be to predict it or deal with the tragic human consequences.

In pointing this out, I mean no disrespect to those who have various religious beliefs. But I think its important to communicate about how different are the worldviews of different subgroups of people. Many people with supernatural beliefs may not understand how strange it seems to many of us that there would actually be people in modern times who seriously attribute natural disasters to the actions of invisible entities like gods or other spirits. To draw a causal link between moral behavior and natural disasters seems so bizarre and incomprehensible to some of us that it truly underscores just how incredibly diverse are our two mindsets and our two pictures of the universe we occupy.

Some of the faithful similarly find it so hard to imagine not having these beliefs that they suspect the others may be denying the beliefs in word only and think we secretly believe them or at least wonder about them. Some faithful I have spoken to don't seem to fully comprehend just how completely out of the question the prospect of supernatural agency in natural disasters (or in general) is for a naturalist-minded person. They may not realize that many of us seriously, deep down, do not consider for a microsecond the idea has any legitimacy at all, finding it almost incomprehensible ourselves that someone could give it even momentary credence, much less have a committed belief in it.

This explains why, unfortunately, it is so easy for naturalists like myself to slip into insulting-sounding phrasing when addressing those beliefs. We mean to communicate just how outlandish the concept seems to us, but it often seems the only way to do so is to reference other examples which both sides may agree are equally unlikely (like the Tooth Fairy for example, since both sides are not likely to ever hesitate for a moment over whether or not she exists). While these analogies may serve the purpose of communicating the severity of disregard many naturalists have for the likelihood of particular supernatural claims, they also seem to be comparing believers to children or to stupid people, and are therefore very insulting. Or, the faithful may suspect that the naturalist is exaggerating and that they really don't have an equally deep non-suspicion of the Tooth Fairy as they do for God - which, in reference to many of us, would truly be a mistake.

Some naturalists don't care if they are insulting, or perhaps even intend to be insulting. But for those of us who really do not believe that faithful people are less intelligent and sincerely want to be respectful to all people regardless of their religion, it creates a challenging problem. How do we make sure we are adequately communicating that we really, really don't consider the possibility of "a supernatural being making earthquakes to punish us for our behavior" to be a possibility worthy of serious consideration? How do we ensure that, once we have communicated it, the other side understands just how deep the view is and how completely absent any suspicion of it being true is in our minds? How do we communicate the baffling feeling we get when we see that others sincerely believe these things, without sounding insulting or disrespectful of their beliefs?

Further, how do we communicate the fact that our dismissal of such possibilities as worthy of serious consideration is not taken with hubris or taken flippantly, but that we have arrived at our beliefs sincerely as best as we have been able to honestly assess them? So often, people on all sides tend to vilify those with differing beliefs or assume unwholesome motivations. While some people genuinely are intellectually dishonest or have malicious intent, many people with incredibly different views about the nature of our universe are equally good, sincere, intelligent, honest, and humble people and it is a shame when they fail to recognize one another.

One solution would be for naturalists to remain silent, but I think that it's important for people of different beliefs to have meaningful dialogue about them. That is an important part of us all getting along with one another, rather than building up misconceptions about one another.

The good news is that, regardless of why we all think natural disasters occur, we can nevertheless work together to help those afflicted, and that is the most important thing.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Skeptic and humanitarian reformer challenges religious establishment

(cc) Sim (tassie.sim),
In a place where a big religious majority reigned, quite a lot of people believed what religious leaders told them, and they followed all kinds of superstitious beliefs, attributing things to divine action. They thought they had a soul that would survive death, or so they were told.

But then came a philosopher who challenged that with a strong skepticism. He told people, don’t believe something because it’s in scripture, or because your religious leaders tell you it’s true - only believe what you can verify for yourself to be true. He also told them that things didn’t happen because of divine providence, fate, or randomness, but because of cause and effect. He said all things that happened did so because of the conditions that lead to them. And he went further. He told people that they themselves were the product of these conditions and causes, their minds were the sum of many different faculties and functions, and they had no permanent self.

When people asked him, “What about the ultimate cause of existence?” or, “What about the afterlife?” he answered that those questions were not important to having a happy life, and they were not necessary to relieve their pain, worries, and suffering. He himself had tried both luxurious wealth and strict religious self denial, and none of it had delivered what it promised.

Instead, he taught them practical ways to calm themselves, focus their attention on positive things, practice moderation, be more aware of their world, be more mindful of their destructive emotions and handle them better, and develop their empathy to be more compassionate to one another. People only imperfectly practiced what he taught, and over time a lot of other ideas (some he would likely oppose) were layered on top of his views as they spread into many cultures.

Nevertheless, he did all this without ever reading Socrates or any others from his academy, without the compassionate examples of Gandhi or Jesus, without the ethics of Kant, without the rational or scientific methods discovered during the Enlightenment, and without the benefit of modern neuroscience (which is now studying his methods). That’s because he did this 2,500 years ago.

This skeptical heretic was named Siddhartha Gautama, and for his wisdom he was called the enlightened one, or ‘the Buddha’.