In this fractured, divisive world, is there any one thing we can all agree on? One thing that everyone can rally behind and pursue together? Anything?
My answer is pretty simple: we all want to live a good, fulfilled life that brings joy to others. This may look different to different people but in general, we all wish to be happy, safe and free from suffering while wishing others feel the same. Let’s call this the “truth.” Now, how do we get there? There are many paths (but they all are curiously similar).
Starting simply, remind yourself of the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. While commonly quoted from the Bible (Leviticus 19:18 ), the idea dates back to early Confucian times (551-479B BCE) and possibly all the way back to Middle Kingdom Egypt (2040 – 1650 BCE). A version of the Golden Rule appears prominently in all major religions, including Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Taoism, and Zoroastrianism. Treating others the same way you’d like to be treated is a path to the “truth” of living a good, fulfilled life that brings joy to others.
Some people believe that the holy scriptures of their personal religion will lead them to the truth. The 10 Commandments of the Bible are rules to live by and a set of ethics in Judaism and Christianity, and even make an appearance in the Islamic tradition. Not stealing, not lying, and not cheating are three of the Commandments and fit squarely on the path to the truth of living a good life and helping others do the same.
Beyond religion, modern society has established paths for finding truth within organizations. For example, the Boy Scouts memorize and strive to live by their law: “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.” Girl Scouts have a set of similar laws: I will do my best to be honest and fair, friendly and helpful, considerate and caring, courageous and strong, and responsible for what I say and do, and to respect myself and others, respect authority, use resources wisely, make the world a better place, and be a sister to every Girl Scout. Sounds a lot like the Golden Rule and the 10 Commandments!
Even a traditional yoga practice is based on laws similar to the Golden Rule, Scout Laws, and the biblical Commandments. The Eight Limbs of Yoga are:
- Guidelines for living: Yamas are non-violence, non-stealing, non-greed, moderation, and non-lying
- Healthy Habits: Niyamas are cleanliness, contentment, self-discipline, accountability, self-study, and serving the greater good
- Physical exercise: The yoga postures (Asanas) develop strength, flexibility, resilience, and coordination
- Breathing exercises: Pranayama can calm and/or energize the body
- Calming the senses: Pratyahara helps with anger management and impulse control
- Concentration: Increasing focus is called Dharana and helps with academics
- Meditation: Dhyana builds awareness of thought patterns and self-reflection
- Connection: Samadhi guides practitioners to serve the greater community and step out of self-indulging tendencies
In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, he outlines these eight steps as “guidelines on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life. They serve as a prescription for moral and ethical conduct and self-discipline; they direct attention toward one’s health; and they help us to acknowledge the spiritual aspects of our nature.” (link)
A very traditional meditation practice known as the Loving-Kindness or Metta Meditation follows a similar path to living a happy, fulfilled life and wishing the same for others. In this practice, you begin by wishing yourself well, repeating phrases like, “May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be at peace.” After a time, you branch out to wish the same for someone else, “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be at peace.” Continue to spread your wish to a larger audience with, “May all beings be happy. May all beings be healthy. May all beings be at peace.” This is a beautiful practice to share with children, too. Wishing yourself a good life and then wishing others the same sure sounds like another path on the way to truth.
There’s no “one way” to find happiness. There’s no “right path” to inner peace. We are all searching and doing the best we can with the wisdom we have been given. Let’s work together to find that truth of living a happy, fulfilled life and bring others along with us on our journey.
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