The other day our six month old puppy Zorro chewed off the corner of one of Raven’s textbooks. It was mutilated pretty badly.
“Bad dog!” I barked, unconsciously. I guess dogs really do eat homework. (The fact that he bit straight through “metaphors” and “metaphysics” in the index I’ll chalk up to coincidence.)
But of course, Zorro did not know that chewing off the corner of a graduate school textbook was anything “bad.” He probably thought it was rather tasty! He had no clue that we would consider this a “bad” thing. Not a clue, not even a hint, not a glimmer! He was doing what dogs do, what puppies do, and that was perfectly natural and fine for all he knew. “There’s a book, I have teeth, it looks rather tasty, I think I’ll eat it. Mmmmm. Fiber!“
What we think of as “good” and “bad” is not absolute. It is not some fixed eternal truth. Morality is relative! It is based on our culture, our conditioning, our human biology, our education, our religion, our language, our society, our laws, our experience, how we choose to live together, what we communally consider to be good or not. But it is not Absolute! How could it be?
Was it eternally absolutely fixed truth engraved in stone that chewing the corner of a graduate school textbook was “bad”? Of course not, dogs know of no such thing. But that’s how we usually think of things within our societies and with other people. They are black or white, good or evil, right or wrong, true or false. How trapped are we in our own minds, our own culture, our own relative experience, our way of thinking, imprisoned behind bars of our own making, caught in the chains of our own culture and belief systems such that we can’t see beyond them. We think they are just the way things are; there is only one right and one wrong, and that’s all there is to it. We just have to find out what is right and what is wrong, and then we’re all set. We’re good to go judging everyone on Earth!
…for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.-Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2
…nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.-Paul, Romans 14:14
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,-Rumi
there is a field. I will meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about
language, ideas, even the phrase each other
doesn’t make any sense.
Perhaps this is why we are taught by sages to not judge others, for we don’t know their situation, their condition, their experience, their history, their understanding, their culture, and a host of other things about them. We are judging them based on our standards. And they really are our standards. What is “bad” to us may not be to someone else. It may be very good! We are saying more about ourself than we are about the other person when we judge. We are saying what our culture has deemed as “bad” but not anything about what that other person may be doing. We are applying our own standards of self to someone else who is not us, and may be nothing like us. We are not saying anything absolutely true about that other person.
This is perhaps why there may be problems with the Golden Rule of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. Your ideas of goodness may not be the same as the other, and so doing to them what is good for you may not be good at all. It may be quite bad, actually. Perhaps it would be better stated as do unto others as they would have you do unto them, or treat others as they would like to be treated, not the way you think they should be treated (sometimes called the “Platinum Rule”).
But what about Jesus? Didn’t he say “inasmuch as you do it unto the least of these, you do it unto me,” and “love your neighbor as your self”? Wasn’t he saying that people should determine what they should do based on their own situation, on what they think they should do to these others as if it was being done to Jesus or their own self? Yes. But I think the greater realization is that Jesus did not have an exclusively separate identity as a self. He gave up that self so that he could identify himself with One and All. They weren’t doing this exclusively for Jesus, they were doing it to the All, even to God. He taught that we should love our neighbor as our Self, the universal cosmic Self which includes us all at-one in God, which is why the two greatest commandments may be one.
Judging the moral behavior of others is reserved for those who are relatively egoless, selfless, who are empty of self, of preformulated or absolute ideas of right and wrong, who do not have any preconceptions and presumptions about the rightness or wrongness of things, but they consider the situation on its own terms, in the moment itself, in the very moment they hear it, and only then do they decide what is the best course of action for all involved that will lead to the best evolution for the One Whole Group (John 5:30, 8:16).
Morality is relative, or it wouldn’t have changed innumerable times over the course of human history. What we have to decide is what do we want to consider good or evil, what do we want to consider right or wrong, as a society, as a people, as humanity. Formal law, or encapsulated articulated morality, is not a bad thing, but it must continually evolve as we decide how we want to live, and truly selfless people are the best in helping us articulate that communal standard, and they tell us how it has to continually change.
Ultimately, when we transcend the law, we become one with the Self, with God, with the Law-giver, with Spirit, with Love, then we will know all things what we should do, in the moment itself, for then we will only want what is best for All, not merely our little old selves, or even the other individual person, but in the greater Totality of Being.
What do you think about moral relativism? Did Zorro do a “bad” thing? Or did I judge him based on what I merely thought was “bad,” according to my personal understanding of things?