Although many people in the western world may have heard the phrase “reverence for life,” there are probably few who understand the deep meanings and implications of it; and undoubtedly fewer still practice it to a very great degree. Yet there is nothing very mysterious about it. An understanding of the idea can go a long way in helping one to simplify and clarify one’s whole attitude and manner of living, thinking, and acting.
The phrase “reverence for life” was originated by Dr. Albert Schweitzer (French theologian, philosopher, and missionary physician, 1875-1965) to describe his belief that life has value. Life can be a worthwhile experience of development for all who partake of it; there is no such thing as worthless life. Still, in some situations we may be faced with having to choose and weigh the relative value of two forms of life. Schweitzer said, “To the truly ethical man, all life is holy, even that which appears to us from the human standard as the lowest. He makes distinctions only under the force of necessity, namely, when he finds himself in situations where he must choose which life he must sacrifice in order to preserve the other. He knows that he must bear the responsibility for the sacrificed life.”
Dr. Schweitzer thus assures us that reverence for life is not some fanatical form of absolutism but really a highly ethical scale with which to balance any given situation, a yardstick against which to measure our daily activities. Similarly such means of measurement have been given in the major religious and philosophical teachings in all parts of the world throughout the ages. Probably the greatest and most universal is The Golden Rule: that we should act toward others as we would wish them to act toward us.
Many people—and the author is definitely among them—believe that we generally plant what we will harvest and that we can expect to reap what we have sown in life. In eastern philosophies this natural phenomenon is known by the term “the law of karma.” Karma literally means action, but in this sense it means a natural law of action and reaction, that for every action there is a corresponding reaction. This does not necessarily mean a system of “crime and punishment” such as the human mind might devise to mete out justice or vengeance. Karma is more of an automatic working of cosmic equity, to afford each individual the opportunity to learn the lessons in life that one must learn for one’s own progress and development and perhaps to get closer to ultimate perfection.
Its workings are not difficult to understand. If you have a radio tuned to a certain channel, it will receive only a station broadcasting on that frequency. If you change the setting, it will receive another program and play a different tune. Those people who go through life with their mentalities tuned in to hatred, friction, strife, and discord will experience these unpleasant factors in life and in whatever there may be beyond—we will leave such speculations about the future to the reader’s sense of theology or agnosticism.
Such people have a knack of bringing into their lives the oddest calamities by their own attitudes to life. It is a vale of tears, and so they are tearful. It is a jungle, so they act like the worst of beasts. And in so doing, they influence others around them to act in a similar manner. We broadcast by words, deeds, and examples until everyone so influenced or tuned in on a pattern of thought and action turns that part of the world where they live into a jungle worse than any ever devised by nature.
Then they lament that only the “law of the jungle” can apply to life, that civilization is governed only by jungle law. Kill or be killed, rob or be robbed, and exploit or be exploited are the valid rules that one must have to get by in this life. They make a miserable world for themselves and others who fall for this line of reasoning. They never seem to understand that it is of their own making.
However, we also see people who go their way through life in a relatively calm manner, helping others, not asking for reward or applause, doing good because it needs to be done. I want to emphasize that this is the right motive for right actions: performing good work for its own sake and not out of fear of punishment or expectation of any reward.
The Golden Rule does not set up a system of favors granted for goods delivered or works performed. It lights the path for us; it guides us to a superior way of acting. This is enough. Good that is done for the sake of self-gain defeats its own purpose insofar as the doer is concerned: good done for its own sake should be the rule, rather than the exception in life.
The person who has a mind that is controlled and serene, a pleasant and calm disposition, and a ready and sincere smile for others will find others smiling right back. To such a person, the world is a school in which all manner of great lessons are to be learned, and one accepts the education willingly, eagerly. We should recognize several advantages in good actions:
They help those to whom they are directed.
They help to improve the world outlook of those to whom they are directed.
They help to improve the world in general as a place to live.
They help to improve the doer, not by prospective self-gain but by the improvement of one’s own character.
Thus we may easily understand that the practicing of The Golden Rule helps to bring about harmony and happiness in others and in oneself. Altruistic service in life helps those at both ends of the actions.
The Golden Rule is the real thing. It gives us a firm foundation on which to build a solid structure of ethical living and moral behavior. It immediately sweeps away the cynical “What’s in it for me?” attitude, “do anything to get ahead” philosophy, and cheating, lying, and hurtful behaviors.