General Considerations and Personal Reflections:
What follows are my reflections. I make no greater claim for them but offer them in the spirit of exchange and dialogue.
As I have said before, I find this principle astoundingly audacious. I love how, with just a few words, it challenges me not only to rethink my ideas about morality and ethics, but also my relationship to others, the world, and myself. Another thing I find exciting about it, is how it implicitly raises all these issues about the principles themselves, their purpose, how to use them, etc.
Even reading it in the simplest terms that’s a lot of stuff — on top of the practical wisdom it offers.
One of the first things we might notice is that this principle starts off telling us that we are “enchained” and that making problems for other people leaves us in that situation. That is, treating others badly somehow blocks or impedes one’s liberating oneself — a goal and principle value of this principle, and Silo’s teaching overall.
The principle then makes a radical proposal, arguably the most revolutionary one possible. It disregards all the conventional moral codes, all the ‘shoulds’, and ‘should nots’, all the ‘musts’ and ‘must nots’ and instead it says we are free to do whatever, given one condition, that we are not harming anyone.
I know people who I consider wise but who tell me the principle doesn’t actually mean that we can do whatever we want. They feel it has limitations that just aren’t spelled out. Sorry guys, for my part I don’t see it that way. I understand this principle quite literally — don’t harm people and do what you like. (Period). But that’s me. The principle of free interpretation tells us “let 100 flowers bloom” (as someone who hurt many, many people once said).*
Of course, there are nuances, and of course now we are left trying to figure out things like: what it means to harm someone, where self-harm fits in, and so on. Like with the other principles this one doesn’t provide any pat answers at all, rather it indicates a certain direction of thought, feeling and action. By taking the other principles into account, meditating on our accumulated experience, and clarifying our registers we can learn to turn to ourselves for those answers. What a great lesson that would be to learn!
A Tale to Tell:
Here’s a familiar story that, from a probably unexpected direction, casts some light on this teaching of radical freedom.
Jesus said, “Do not judge so you will not be judged. Because by the judgment you judge in the same way you will be judged and by the measurement with which you measure so will you be measured.”
In this way he showed that the harm done to one’s neighbour is also harm for the one who has done it.
It happened that Jesus was sitting and eating in the company of publicans and sinners, because there were many among his followers. His enemies seeing this said to followers, “How is it that your master eats and drinks with such people.” Hearing this Jesus told them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the one who is ill.”
One Sabbath evening as they passed through a field his disciples picked some of the heads of grain. His enemies said to them, “why do you do what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man. Man was not made for the Sabbath.” He explained many things and he said to them, “Go, but first learn what the holy scripture mean when they tell us: ‘It is Mercy I desire not sacrifice’.”
And here’s that footnote:
This was actually said by the Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong, “The policy of letting a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend is designed to promote the flourishing of the arts and the progress of science”.
He should have taken his own advice instead of stomping out any signs of diversity of opinion.
PS. A cartoon for last months joke!