The Golden Rule

The Golden Rule: A Simple Common Morality Across All Religions

I was taught the Golden Rule before I knew it by that name. Whenever I used to do mischievous things to my older sister as a young boy, my mother would pull me aside and ask me, “Would you like it if she did those things to you? No? Then don’t do them to her.” I found that logic to be very persuasive, even as a child, and in retrospect it’s impressive how effective my mother was at modifying my behavior with such a simple concept. I was also taught to extend that principle to others, as my mother explained that God appears in different masks, even as beggars and other destitute people, to test you to see whether you were kind to every person you met or not.

For us as adults, the Golden Rule remains just as simple and powerful. In fact, throughout history the Golden Rule has acted as the backbone of the moral systems of just about all civilizations. One University of Oxford study concluded that there are seven core moral rules found all over the world. Several of them, including “return favors,” “divide resources fairly,” and “respect others’ property” are all essentially extensions of the Golden Rule.

The amazing similarities of the quotes below show how eight completely different religions sum up their moral systems through nearly identical expressions of the common Golden Rule: that you should treat others the way you wish to be treated, spreading kindness and refraining from actions that would harm others.

Christianity

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12, NIV)

— The New Testament, Christian text

Islam

“The Prophet Muhammad said, ‘None of you [truly] believes until he loves for his brother that which he loves for himself.’”

— [Al-Bukhari], Hadith 13

Judaism

‘That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it.’”

— Hillel the Elder in The Babylonian Talmud

Baha’i

“Choose thou for thy neighbor that which thou choosest for thyself.”

— Baha’u’llah, Baha’i prophet

Hinduism

“One should not behave toward others in a way which is disagreeable to oneself.”

— Mahabharata (Anusasana Parva 113.8), Hindu text

Buddhism

“Hurt not others with that which pains yourself.”

— Udanavarga (5:18), Buddhist text

Daoism

“Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.”

— T’ai Shang Kan Ying P’ien, Daoist text

Confucianism

“Tzu-kung asked, ‘Is there a single word which can be a guide to conduct throughout one’s life?’ The Master said, ‘It is perhaps the word “shu.” Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire.’”

— The Analects (15:24), Confucian text