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Subject: The Golden Rule

Church of All - Pagosa Springs, CO - January 8th, 1995 10:00am - Attendance: 8 adults, 5 children 
Style: Formal Service - with chants and song - Readings collected by: Rev. Mikail Davenport, Austin, TX 
sermon delivered by: Rev. Hamid Cecil Touchon

from the Hindu Tradition 

"This is the sum of the Dharma: do not unto others that which would cause pain if done to you" 

from the Mahabharata 5:1517

from the Buddhist Tradition 

"Hurt not others in ways you find hurtful" 

Tripitaka, Udnana-varga 5.18

from the Zoroastrian Tradition 

"That nature alone is good which refrains from doing unto another whatsoever is not good for itself" 

Zend Avesta, Dadistan-i-dinik 94:5

Taoist Tradition 

"The sage has no interest of his own, but takes the interests of the people as his own. 

He is kind to the kind; he is also kind to the unkind: for Virtue is kind. 

He is faithful to the faithful; he is also faithful to the unfaithful: for Virtue is faithful. 

Tao Teh Ching, Chapter 49 trans. by John C. H. Wu

from the Native American Tradition 

"All things are our relatives; what we do to everything, we do to ourselves. All is really One." 

Black Elk

from the Jewish Tradition 

"What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man. That is the law; the rest is commentary." 

Talmud, Shabbat 31a

The Christian Tradition 

"Therefore all things whatsoever you desire that men should do to you, do you evenso unto them; for this is the Law and the Prophets." 

Matt. 7:12

The Tradition of Islam 

"Not one of you is a believer unless he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself." 

Qu'ran, Sunnah


"When man touches the ultimate truth he realizes that there is nothing which is not in himself." 

Gayan of Hazrat Inayat Khan, Boulas


I heard some time ago that someone was lamenting the fact that, when asked, a majority of children didn't know what the Golden rule was. In a way this is surprising but then we all only know what we learn. It is hard to know what the Golden Rule is until someone tells us. 

The Golden Rule, as you can tell from these scriptures from all of the different traditions, is the basic building block of all spiritual community. The peace that we seek for ourselves and for the world comes down to living out some version of the Golden Rule - of all of us applying this rule in our lives toward one another and to then explore the depth and breathe of the rule. 

The Golden Rule runs much deeper than just these simple lines from each of these traditions. The Golden Rule has a variety of levels to it as we explore it's implications. 

As the low end there is a saying that we have all heard; 'Do unto others before they do unto you.'. This saying, often said in jest, indicates that the person saying it is not planning to do any good to those to whom one might apply this version. It is a statement of intentional harm. We might call this the Golden Rule of Hell because this is an abuse and perversion that is a selfish statement of intent to harm another as a form of self protection. Still, this is a version of the Golden Rule and there are those who live by it and there are times when we are all tempted to. 

As we move up the ladder slightly we find what we might call the Golden Rule of Purgatory; 'Do unto others as they have done unto us.' this is a kind of business-like version of the Golden Rule which come out as statements such as 'You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours.' 'You hurt me and I'll hurt you.' This is actually a very commonly applied version but is not what we are looking for as our ideal. 

In some of the scriptures given here there is the next level up which is; 'Don't hurt others if you do not like being hurt. This is the Golden rule to be given in violent times or to people inclined toward violence. It is a statement of restraint rather than action. 

The next level of the rule is something like; Do to others what you would like for them to do to you.' This suggests that one has moved past the stage of violence and hurtfulness. Since one is not inclined to hurt another then the suggestion is to do good to others as you would wish for yourself. And there are yet many higher levels to the rule than these. We can take this farther and farther out. There is a saying in the Islamic tradition: 

"The Righteous acts of the Faithful are the sins of the Elect." 

This is to say that at each higher level of spiritual evolution or unfoldment there are higher and higher standards that we can live by. 

A higher stage of the rule might be the idea of treating others as they would like to be treated. Another may not wish to be treated as we would like. Perhaps another wishes to be treated in a way suited to himself. This requires that we decide to open our hearts a little wider and try to understand the way in which another would like to be treated rather than what we want them to have from us and what we think is good. No doubt this takes a deeper level of insight and understanding and thus represents a higher stage of the rule. 

There are higher stages still which have to do with sacrifice and selflessness and reaching stages where we ourselves do not act but rather the Divine Beloved acts through us. These are the metaphysical versions of the Golden Rule that are acted out by the mystics and saints and prophets but toward which we each may aspire. We can continue to refine and refine this principle until it becomes very high and very subtle. 

Why golden? 

Why do we call this a 'golden' rule? Gold as a substance; as a metal is very pliable and workable. Gold is soft and easily melted; doesn't corrode or tarnish and isn't brittle. It is rare. It doesn't resist the Goldsmith's efforts like steel or perhaps iron. These are what make gold valuable and its qualities are often compared with those of the human heart. 

When these qualities of gold are compared to the human being it would be to say that we are able to bow and to bend, able to be pliable and accommodating and easy to work with. As a spiritual community this is an important idea to keep in mind. 

Each of us feels very strongly about our own beliefs and experiences. We are inclined to wish to share what is meaningful to us with others. Still, we need also to develop the ability to listen and to consider one another's viewpoints and feelings. We all have something wonderful to contribute to our community but at the same time one of our contributions and an important one is to accommodate one another; to be active and at the same time receptive. A dynamic aspect of the Golden Rule is the interaction between us; that we are sometimes giving, sometimes receiving. This is how we touch each other; what brings the balance and completes the circle of community. 

Our neighbor 

The spiritual life is composed of two aspects; the inner life or our relationship with God and our life in the world, in the community. 

Once when the Pharisees were trying to test Jesus they asked which is the greatest commandment of the Law to which Jesus answered; 

"Love the Lord your God with all of your heart and mind and soul.' This is the greatest law and the second it like unto it, Love thy neighbor as thyself.' All the law and the Prophets hang on these two command commandments" 

But this part; 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' that is a lot harder to do than to love those with whom we do not have to deal directly. It is those whom we must deal with on a daily basis - our companions, our work associates, our family and friends. These are our neighbors, those who live close to us in our lives. They are a little bit tougher to treat as we would like to be treated because our neighbors can give us trouble, disappoint us or be a source of irritation. For this reason it is much more difficult to treat our neighbor as we would like to than to imagine radiating peace and joy to those who are far away and don't make demands on us in our private lives. 

It is among our neighbors, among those with whom we must deal with on a daily basis where the opening of our hearts may happen; where we have the opportunity to work on the refinement of the Golden Rule which leads to the golden state of the heart. 

There is a story about an interesting character from the early part of the century by the name of Gurdjieff. Gurdjieff was a Sufi teacher in a modern tradition now known as the Fourth Way. Among the Sufis there is a tradition where a number of students live in the same house as does the teacher or guide for the purpose of doing "the Work" which is the transformation of the individual into this higher state of being. This is called a Khankah in Sufi terms which is like being a member of a living stew in which the students are 'cooked'. The interaction of all of the members of the group is the fuel for the spiritual work that they are all there to accomplish which is the effacing of the ego and the unfolding of the Divine Nature latent in each of us. 

Gurdjieff was running one of the khankahs in France. One of the the students was an old man who was the thorn of the group. He was always crabby and irritable and fought with everyone so everyone tried to avoid him. On top of this he wouldn't help with any of the work which each person was suppose to do as part of their work and worse, he was a messy old guy! 

After a number of months however, he decided to leave and move to Paris because he just couldn't make it in the group. Naturally, everyone was relieved to hear that he was leaving and once gone the entire group took a sigh of relief. However, Gurdjieff followed him to Paris and convinced him to return by waiving the charge that each member in the community had to pay and, in fact, offered him a stipend to came back. 

Upon his return, the entire community was in an uproar especially when they learned that he was even being paid to be there. Gurdjieff called a meeting so that everyone could air their grievances and once each had spoken Gurdjieff laughed with delight and explained; 'This man is the yeast for the bread! Without him you would never learn how to deal with anger and irritability nor to develop patience and compassion.' 

So this shows that this is how the work is done and it is a hard work indeed. Working with other people when everyone is kind to each other and in harmony with each other is one thing but when we are confronted with someone whom we would prefer to avoid, this is when the deep work can happen. There is a saying; 

"You can only work on patience once you have run out of it." 

You can't work on patience when there is nothing challenging you - when there is no circumstance in which patience can be developed and the same holds true with any other quality. 

The Golden Rule is an active rule. It is a rule that we unilaterally initiate of our own accord. The Golden Rule is not about how others treat us or how we expect to be treated by other people. It is about how each of us individually decide we are going to be as an active principle. 

In the Taoist Tradition, in the Tao Te Ching, there is a verse in chapter 79 that goes; 

"...the sage holds the left tally, he does not blame others. The one who has te is in charge of the tally. The one who has no te is in charge of the tax law." 

The meaning of this is that the left tally represents the list of what we owe to others and the right tally is what others owe to us. In our relationships, if we can focus on what we owe to others rather than what others owe to us, we will have an opportunity to increase the harmony of our lives. We may seem to suffer a little abuse in the process but as the same chapter concludes; 

"The Tao of heaven has no partiality. Naturally, it favors those who accord themselves to it." 

In this is our reward; to be in accord with the harmony of life. 

So why should we bother to observe and refine ourselves in the practice of the Golden Rule? Because we are all each other. How we treat each other we are also treating ourselves if we only realized it. If only we can expand our sense of self to include all others we will understand the metaphysical meaning of this Law - the root of all law. 

I would like to conclude with a traditional story from Japan. 

A man dies and finds himself in a beautiful glimmering realm of light. 'Ah!' he thinks to himself, 'I must have been better than I thought I was. Here I am in the Kingdom of Light!' 

Shortly a radiant being comes and ushers him into a beautiful hall in the center of which is a long banquet table decked out with every kind of wonderful food. A sudden hunger overcame him as he gazed at the sight and was invited to sit down. Once seated, the man took up his eating utensils and was about to enjoy the feast when someone grab his arms from behind and tied flat sticks to the back of his arms so that, as he tried to eat, he was unable to get the food to his mouth. 

Looking around at the other people at the table he realized that everyone was stuck with the same predicament and, squirming and moving about, were each moaning and crying that they could not feed themselves. 

The man turned to the radiant being and complained, 'This must be Hell! But what then is Heaven?' 

The being helped him up from the table and took him to the next room which was very much the same as the first,banquet table and all. He was then seated and as he began to eat he thought to himself, 'This is more like it.' but before he could take the fist bite, again his arms were bound in the same way as before. 

He took a deep breath of dismay but noticed that he didn't hear all of the crying as in the other room and looked up to see the others at the table to discover that each person was feeding those around him as each was in turn fed by the others. 

So, perhaps the Kingdom of Heaven is constructed by teamwork through cooperation and mutual respect cultivated by thinking of others and treating others according to the Golden Rule. 

Additional Material

from the Confucian Tradition 

Tzu-lu said, "If a person is good to me, I will also be good to him. If a person is not good to me, I will not be good to him." 

Tzu-kung said, "If a person is good to me, I will also be good to him. If a person is noy good to me, I will try to enlighten him, getting closer or more remote depending on the situation." 

Yen Hui said, "If a person is good to me, I will also be good to him. If a person is not good to me, I will still be good to him." 

The three disciples, holding different positions, asked Confucius about it. Confucius said, The position of Tzu-lu is that of a man in relation to the barbarians; the position of Tzu-kung is that of a man to his friends; the position of Yen Hui is that of a man to his family. 

Han shih wai chuan (Hightower: 295-296)

From; The Sayings of Mohammad by Abdullah Suhrawardy 

195. Do not say, that if people do good to us, we will do good to them; and if people oppress us, we will oppress them; but determine, that if people do good to you, you will do good to them; and if they oppress you, you will not oppress them.