Years ago when I was studying Buddhism there was one concept that struck me and stayed with me as being particularly brilliant. In Sanskrit it’s called upaya, which means something like an aid or a technique; it’s usually seen in connection with another word, upaya kausalya, which means “skillful means.” Upaya kausalya is a device or a way to entice individuals towards perfection. It is said of the Buddha that he was using “skillful means” whenever he said something, and that he could always find something that would be useful in furthering someone’s progress. And it could be a little something different for each person; there is an upaya specifically geared to me, to you, a certain way that you are going to be able to hear the dharma––“a thousand roads leading up the mountain.”
I know it may sound strange, but something about the combination of these two readings reminded me of the Tao te Ching, that great ancient book of Chinese philosophy, chapter 52. Here’s one translation of it: “The origin and mother of everything in the world is Tao…” Please keep in mind that I have heard some very convincing arguments that the Chinese concept of the Tao and the Greek concept of the Word or logos are pretty much identical, to the extent that the prologue of the Gospel of John is translated, In the beginning was the Tao…
The origin and mother of everything in the world is Tao. Know the mother and you can know the children. Having known the children, return to their source and hold on to her. Abiding by the mother, you are free from danger, even when your body dies.
There is some version of what is known as the Golden Rule in many spiritual-religious traditions. But I only learned recently that there is also what is called “the Silver Rule,” that comes first: “Do not do unto others what you would not have them to unto you” or “…what you hate do not do to anyone.” It’s recorded in the Jewish apocryphal Book of Tobit and found in the teachings of the great rabbi Hillel, who was almost a contemporary of Jesus and whose teachings are very similar to his. Then comes the Golden Rule, for example as Jesus lays it out in the Gospel of Matthew (7:12), which asks for a little more, asks for the same thing in a positive light: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ The difference is that this implies positive action, taking the initiative to create an atmosphere of good will. And in some way little way, that is what we are doing here, under the Tent of Abraham, taking the initiative to create an atmosphere of good will.
There is something just before this section in Matthew’s version of the Sermon on the Mount which the Church for some reason left out, (perhaps for the sake of brevity). Jesus said, ‘You have heard it said, “An eye for an eye a tooth for a tooth” (which is actually quoting Ex 21:24 and Lev 24:19) but I say to you…’ That’s called the law of retaliation. We might think that sounds harsh—“an eye for an eye”—, but even that is actually an advance over other primitive societies, an advance in the evolution of the moral conscience. Before that there was reprisal and retribution, revenge and vengeance, even sanctioned in the Bible! “An eye for an eye” is at least proportional; it limits reprisal to reciprocity, hence, an eye for an eye and no more! Vengeance is mine, says the Lord (Deut 32:35). But in later Jewish thought there is also what is called the Silver Rule, as opposed to the Golden Rule: “Do not do unto others what you would not have them to unto you,” intimated in the Book of Tobit and found in the teachings of Hillel. And then of course comes the Golden Rule (Mt 7:12), which asks for a little more, asks for the same thing in a positive light: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,’ which implies positive action, taking the initiative to create an atmosphere of good will. And then the next step is this teaching: ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’ This is nothing less than moral heroism; this is the height of sanctity; this is perfection.