Do Unto Others: Living Reciprocity

Love your neighbor as yourself: I am YHVH  (Leviticus18:19)

In his recent book “God is Not One,” Religious Studies professor Stephen Prothero points out that while the world’s religions diverge on “doctrine, ritual, mythology, experience and law,” they tend to converge “when it comes to ethics” (p. 3).

The well-known verse above (from this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Kedoshim) provides the clearest example of this convergence. Known as “The Ethic of Reciprocity” (aka “The Golden Rule”), this precept is a foundational ethical teaching and has been invoked as the basis for the modern concept of human rights.

The Jewish rendering of the Golden Rule, of course, is well-known. When asked to sum up the essence of Torah, Rabbi Hillel famously responded thus:

What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary. Now go and study (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a).

While Hillel invoked this ethic in the name of Torah tradition, it is important to bear in mind that the Golden Rule is at heart a universal ethic. Indeed, even cursory investigation reveals that versions of this precept appear in virtually every Western and Eastern spiritual tradition.

Now go and study:

Bahai Faith
Lay not on any soul a load that you would not wish to be laid upon you, and desire not for anyone the things you would not desire for yourself. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings)

Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful. (The Buddha, Udana-Varga 5.18)

In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets. (Jesus, Matthew 7:12)

One word which sums up the basis of all good conduct….loving-kindness. Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself. (Confucius, Analects 15.23)

This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you. (Mahabharata 5:1517)

Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself. (The Prophet Muhammad, Hadith)

One should treat all creatures in the world as one would like to be treated.  (Mahavira, Sutrakritanga 1.11.33)

If people regarded other people’s families in the same way that they regard their own, who then would incite their own family to attack that of another? For one would do for others as one would do for oneself. (Mozi)

Native American Spirituality
Do not kill or injure your neighbor, for it is not him that you injure, you injure yourself. But do good to him, therefore add to his days of happiness as you add to your own. Do not wrong or hate your neighbor, for it is not him that you wrong, you wrong yourself. But love him, for Moneto loves him also as he loves you. (Shawnee Teaching)

Oh, do as you would be done by. And do unto all men as you would have them do unto you, for this is but the law and the prophet. (Postscript to the Quaker Peace Testimony)

I am a stranger to no one; and no one is a stranger to me. Indeed, I am a friend to all. (Guru Granth Sahib, p.1299)

Regard your neighbour’s gain as your own gain and your neighbour’s loss as your own loss. (T’ai Shang Kan Ying P’ien, 213-218)

We affirm and promote respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. (Unitarian principle)

Do not do unto others whatever is injurious to yourself. (Shayast-na-Shayast 13.29)

8 thoughts on “Do Unto Others: Living Reciprocity

  1. I have always been amazed that this teaching shows up as a foundational teaching in so many traditions…However, what about the reality that most of us in our society treat ourselves terribly!? We over-eat, over-drink and over-consume, let alone over-worry or over-ignore inappropriately. Somehow
    right relationship must start by creating right relationship within ourselves…then maybe we can serve each other and the world.

      • Shalom Rav,

        Hillel had this one covered as well. Note the order of his
        questions: If I’m not for myself who will be for me? But if I’m only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?


  2. Psychology – and my experience as a therapist – certainly bears out that compassionate self-care underlies genuine care for others. It gets fuzzy though when we get closer to the unhealthy types of narcissism that inflict many of us and which Donald flaunts to the max and for which he gets great coverage.

  3. If one prefers a version of the golden rule that does not presume self-love as a starting point but attempts to incorporate it in the command to love one’s neighbor, one could say “You shall act lovingly towards your neighbor because your neighbor, like you, is created in the image of God.” This comes from Schwarzschild who says he got it from Cohen. So it was probably inspired by the second formulation of Kant’s categorical imperative which does the same thing:
    Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end and never merely as a means to an end.

  4. It’s interesting and germane to me, that even thought the above religious and philosophical quotes are “universal in nature”, the fact remains, that Hillel coined it first. Which further indicates how pervasive and influential Judaism is to all of the main religions and so many philosophies. Wouldn’t it be nice if the peoples recognized and appreciate this fact.

    • With all due respect, Rob, Hillel didn’t coin this idea first. The majority of these quotes predate Hillel by a considerable margin. At any rate, I would say the point isn’t “who came up with it first,” but rather the fact that this is universal wisdom.

  5. Pingback: Waldorf Third Grade, Year in Review. | Nurturing Spirit

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