Having made an effort to learn a bit about the world’s religions – sometimes from direct experience, sometimes from authoritative testimony – I’ve come to believe that while they wear different costumes and embrace different rituals, and sometimes have a God figure and sometimes don’t, the core teaching always comes down to the Golden Rule of treating others the way you wish to be treated. Since I want to be treated kindly and with compassion and tolerance, I can only presume that the rest of the creatures on this planet, large and small, want to be treated the same way. I can even go the extra step that says if all life on this planet is intimately connected then treating another being badly is ultimately treating myself badly, and will lead directly to consequences down the road that may not be pleasant.

I just finished reading HH Dalai Lama’s new book, Toward a True Kinship of Faiths. How the World’s Religions Can Come Together. The Dalai Lama has been a proponent of interfaith cooperation for many years, and his new book not only chronicles the various  spiritual leaders he’s met over the years, but specifically notes how the world’s religious teachings overlap and how to work through the areas where they don’t. Using his native Buddhism as his touchstone, the book has specific chapters dedicated to Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, and also touches on Jainism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism, and many others. I found it particularly interesting when he tells a story of how, being raised in the Buddhist tradition, he used to be rather attached –  feeling that “Buddhism was best”.  After expanding his vision he no longer thinks that way, and in fact has a huge appreciation and respect for all the spiritual paths.

How wonderful and amazing is it that all these religions, arising in very different times and geographical areas, have the same ethical message – compassion for all beings and the avoidance of doing harm to others. In fact, the reader will find on page 112 a list of quotations of the Golden Rule from the pages of nine different holy scriptures.

“It is my fundamental conviction that compassion – the natural capacity of the human heart to feel concern for and connection with another being – constitutes a basic aspect of our nature shared by all human beings, as well as being the foundation of our happiness. In this respect, there is not an iota of difference between a believer and a nonbeliever, nor between people of one race or another. All ethical teachings, whether religious or nonreligious, aim to nurture this innate and precious quality, to develop it and to perfect it.” A True Kinship of  Faiths, page 109

Where the book really upped the ante for me is a sub-chapter titled “The Ethics of Compassion”, where His Holiness pushes beyond the self-referential Golden Rule to genuine selflessness. A place where it’s not just how you treat me, but my having compassion for all including those that hurt me.

“What we find in the teachings of the world religions is a vision of ethics that moves beyond the limited reciprocity of the Golden Rule to an exhortation to universal compassion. On this level, beyond grounding one’s ethics in a self-referential framework – that is, “I do not do to others what I wish them not to do to me” – the worlds’ religions situate this ethics within a larger frame that extends beyond the boundaries of self-reference. In the Golden Rule, there is the seed of compassion because the consideration of the other is central, but in the ethics of compassion, one must move beyond to a plane of genuine selflessness, which I see as a matter of fostering the qualities of a good heart.” A True Kinship of Faiths, page 114

I was delighted to find this book was simple to read, as so many spiritual and self-help books get technical and wordy and often end up making my brain feel like mud. HH Dalai Lama’s writing style is very much what I experienced when I heard him speak – expressing potentially complex thoughts in a simple, straightforward manner. His Holiness will tell you that he is “just a monk”, and his speaking and writing style suits a man who is asked to address the masses on a regular basis.

Whatever your religious tradition, or lack thereof, I strongly suggest you read this book. At the very least, it will give you insight into the other religions and the people who practice them.