What do you expect?

I am the Lord your God, who teaches you for your own good, who leads you in the way you should go. –Isaiah 48:17

Dear members and friends of the Swedenborgian Church,

“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you” is one of the essential teachings of Jesus Christ. Not exactly the same, but a similar teaching is found in Confucianism, Buddhism, and Hinduism as their essential teaching as well. Thus, we call this as the Golden Rule. Why did we give it such a name? This may have come from two roots: 1. As gold has been the most precious metal to humans, this rule was perceived to be the most precious rule for humans; 2. As there has been a belief in a “golden age” when & where all humans are wise and altruistic, there is a belief that this rule may enable humans to transform our community to be like that of the golden age. It has now been over 2,000 years since this wisdom was taught to humanity, but what signs do we see that we are actually embracing this teaching?

Jesus, Confucius, Buddha, and Lao-zi emphasized the Golden Rule, as if it were to be the very foundation and key for a healthy and thriving human community. The truth is that it is! If I were to summarize this ancient teaching into one word, it would be expectation. It is all about expectations. An expectation is often subjective and unrealistic, but a very powerful and influential thing to the mind of a person who entertains it. Therefore, when an expectation is broken, a person usually becomes very frantic and emotionally charged, even if the broken expectation is just a trivial one. And, when a person is frantic and emotionally charged, there is no room in that person’s mind for rationality or objective thinking. The biggest problem with expectations is that often, they are kept in one’s mind and never communicated to others or sometimes even acknowledged by oneself.

In my understanding, the Golden Rule is not so much about being nice, kind, and supportive to others because that’s what we expect in return, but about first understanding why we expect others to be nice, kind, and supportive. A community that acts kind and gentle simply because they believe the opposite is bad, or because it is pleasing to receive niceties from others, would be a superficial community indeed. This follows the nearly universal understanding among humans that pleasure is good, and pain is bad. However, the truth is that pain often results in growth and maturity, while pleasure gives birth to vanity and obsession. This truth becomes more essential and fundamental when it comes to a religious or spiritual community, because all religion warns of the danger of innate subjectivity of the human mind, and encourages a cultivation to transform one’s innate subjectivity into relative objectivity. The odd or miraculous thing is that a human mind is capable of transcending its innate limitations, and transcendent minds are capable of dwelling in tranquility, permanent delights, and freedom. However, one thing that all religious teachings agree about spiritual cultivation is that it is a very, very painful process! So, who is up for it?

Blessings, Rev. Junchol Lee