Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Golden Rule

Because the One I love lives inside of you, I lean as close to you as I can. Because God has pitched tent inside your humanity, I set up camp in your courage and hike on the trails of your wisdom. Because God goes with you, I stand in your shoes, feel the soul of your feet, and walk in your sacred footprint. I want to know you, really know you, in all your beautiful, messy, brilliant, fragile humanity. You are accepted just as you are.

Practice being human together. Treat others as if you are the others, as if they are holding up a mirror to divine beauty. I’m not talking just about the respectable or outwardly impressive parts. I’m talking about your fears and foibles too. Learn to appreciate the good days as well as the bad days.

There’s a beautiful story about Mother Theresa. She made friends with a man who was dying on the street. He had maggots eating at his open wounds. She brought him to the convent to clean him up.

The whole time, the man complained and cursed her. One of the younger nuns asked her how she could stand to clean him when he was being so nasty. Mother Theresa said, “Oh that was just Jesus having a bad day.”

Mother Theresa was the embodiment of the Golden Rule. A little likeHaley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense who saw dead people, Mother Theresa saw God…..everywhere……. in all people, especially in those who were having a bad day. She saw God and treated people with the sort of sacred respect that most of us reserve for royalty. If you think of The Golden Rule as being an exchange of kindness, she was only concerned about her part in the exchange. It was always her move and she didn’t worry too much about having her kindness returned.

Life would be so much more peaceful if we all learnt to accept each other’s bad days. How can we learn to appreciate each other’s imperfections? How can you follow the inspiration of Mother Theresa and make it your move even when you are trying to love someone who annoys or repulses you? Maybe you can start by accepting your own imperfection.

God Within

The Japanese Kimono gown is a beautiful symbol of God within. Some Kimonos have very plain outer designs but immaculate and exquisite decoration on the inside of the gown. Some of them are even intentionally imperfect on the outside. The purpose is to remind the person wearing the gown that beauty ultimately resides within. Those who see the imperfections of the outer gown are reminded to appreciate the variety of the outer and look to the magnificence that lies beneath the surface.

I like to think of myself as being fairly competent, but underneath this calm exterior there are some cracks. As a home handyman, for example, I make a great theologian. The very name “Ikea” makes me break out in a cold sweat. I don’t understand restaurants where you have to cook your own food and I don’t appreciate furniture stores where they send you out with a box full of wood, a wingnut and a prayer. Our home is full of reminders of my imperfection. We once bought an Ikea bed. It was called the BLAARKEN which is Swedish for “best of luck, you sucker”. After 6 hours trying to put together this Swedish puzzle, we gave up and decided to use it as a bookcase.

Another time, I was trying to assemble a cabinet and got trapped inside. I had to call technical support to help me get out. I tried to put together a bed side table for Meg. The drawers wouldn’t open; never did, never have. The coffee table in our living room has two big cracks in it where I failed to properly install the storage compartment. Every time we look at the cracks in our coffee table, we are reminded of my glorious imperfection.

You see, as Leonard Cohen said and I take great comfort, “There is no perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” The Bible describes this as treasures in clay jars. The outer form, the container, is fragile but what it holds…now that is incredible. Our frail humanity is a reminder to not get attached to the outer form and also of the treasures that lie beneath the surface.

Sacred wonder and beauty is so often experienced in the cracks of life, where the light gets in. Jack Kornfield tells the story of a Buddhist statue in his book The Wise Heart-

In a large temple in Thailand’s capital, Sukotai, there was an enormous clay Buddha. It had survived over five hundred years. At one point, however, the monks who tended the temple noticed that the statue had begun to crack and would soon be in need of repair and repainting. After a stretch of particularly hot, dry weather, one of the cracks became so wide that a curious monk took his flashlight and peered inside. What shone back at him was a flash of brilliant gold! Inside this plain old statue, the temple residents discovered one of the largest and most luminous gold images of Buddha ever created in Southeast Asia. The golden Buddha now draws masses of devoted pilgrims from all over Thailand. The monks believe that this shining work of art had been covered in plaster and clay to protect it during times of conflict and unrest.

God Between

If you learn to accept your bad days, you will be a lot more accepting of other people’s bad days. If you embrace your own quirks and foibles, you will be a lot more appreciative of the quirks of others. They may even teach you something about the divine nature of life.

Here’s the hardest part of the Golden Rule- Its your move! It’s always your move when it comes to the Golden Rule.

The Golden Rule at the most general level is a moral measurement, but its not black and white. How does it apply to increasing the numbers of troops in Afghanistan? How does it relate to health care reform? Whatever your perspective on these big issues, the Golden Rule frames the question. How can I treat others as if I am the others? You don’t have to start with the tough global issues. You can start just by smiling more often.

The Talmud teaches that it is better to show a person “the white of your teeth” than to give them a drink of milk (Ketubot, 111b). It adds that this applies even if the person has just come in after a long trek on a hot day. Your smile is of greater value, and does more good than a cold drink.

Smile at people for no particular reason. Smile at strangers. Smile at your enemies. It will drive them crazy. But don’t do it for that reason. Do it because loving for no apparent reason brings you nearer to heaven.

Toward the end of the church service, the minister asked,” How many of you have forgiven your enemies? One small elderly lady raises her hand.

“Mrs. Jones? How is that you have managed to forgive all your enemies?”

“I don’t have any.” She replied, smiling sweetly.

Mrs. Jones, that is very unusual. How old are you?”

“Ninety - eight,” she replied.

“Oh, Mrs. Jones, would you please come down in front and tell us all how a person can live 98 yrs and not have an enemy in the world?”

The sweet little lady tottered down the aisle, faced the congregation, and said: “I outlived the lot of them.”

That’s one way to do it. Another way is to learn to love your own imperfections and in so doing become more compassionate to others.

The Golden Rule is Universal

The Golden Rule is a universal moral code. It is present in some form in most of the world’s traditions. Douglas Adams gave the simplest form of Jesus teaching in his prologue to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, where his narrator explains that the story begins “nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change”.

The Golden Rule was laid out clearly in Ancient thought as well as most world religions. Isocrates (436-338 BCE) said, “Do not do unto others what angers you if done to you by others.” Roman Pagan culture said: “The law imprinted on the hearts of all men is to love the members of society as themselves.” Chinese text The Art of War said, “It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.” Sun Tzu, The Art of War.

Here is a sample of Golden Rules from various religions:

Christianity- Do to others as you would have them do to you. Luke 6;31

Confucianism- 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. Analects 12:2

Buddhism- Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful. Udana-Varga 5,1

Hinduism- This is the sum of duty; do nothing to others that you would not have them do to you. Mahabharata 5,1517

Islam- No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself. Hadith of an-Nawawi 13

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

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

Zoroastrianism- Whatever is disagreeable to yourself do not do unto others. Shayast-na-Shayast 13:29

Native American Spirituality also contains a form of the Golden Rule- “Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.” -Chief Seattle.

Evolutionary theory also seems to include a form of the Golden Rule. Natural selection prefers cooperation. If you know that someone may hold your fate in their hands at some future time, it’s wise to get on their good side while you can.

As people who understand that all of life is connected; all people, all actions, people with the earth etc, the challenge is to move beyond caring for survival, and expanding your compassion beyond your tribe and current perspective to include the stranger, the enemy, even those who haven’t yet lived. Spiritual evolution includes celebrating the bad days and the beauty of imperfection. You want the best for everyone in all situations, and you are creative and skilful enough to help others to achieve.

Because the One I love lives inside of you, I lean as close to you as I can. Because God has pitched tent inside your humanity, I set up camp in your courage and hike on the trails of your wisdom. Because God goes with you, I stand in your shoes, feel the soul of your feet, and walk in your sacred footprint. Namaste.

For Further Reflection (Questions that can be used privately or in groups)

1. What are the personality traits you find hardest to love or accept in yourself?

2. In what ways are other people mirrors of divine beauty in your life?

3. How does the Golden Rule apply to the deploying of more troops in Afghanistan? How does it apply to health care reform?

4. Which formulation of the Golden Rule is most meaningful to you?

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