The Golden Rule in A Course in Miracles

The Golden Rule (commonly expressed as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”) is held as an ideal the world over. Its presence is documented in all the world’s great religious traditions. Yet what, we may wonder, is its place in A Course in Miracles? After all, the Golden Rule is about good behavior, and we tend to think of the Course as being focused strictly on the level of the mind, not the level of behavior.

It may surprise us, then, to learn that the Golden Rule is overtly referred to six times in the Course. All of those references are positive. One of them even says, “The Golden Rule is the order for appropriate behavior” (T-1.42.3:3). This is an astonishing statement. It says that in order to behave appropriately, we need to behave according to the Golden Rule. The Course even implies that Golden Rule behavior amounts to miracle giving, since the same sentence calls projection the opposite of both of them (T-1.35.3:2).

Let’s look, then, at the Golden Rule and at what the Course says about it. The Golden Rule asks us to engage in remarkably selfless behavior. It essentially asks us to treat others with the same regard, respect, care, and love that we ourselves want to be treated with. I often define the ego’s dictum as “I am end and you are means.” The Golden Rule asks us to live by a different dictum: “You are end just as much as I am.” Can you imagine actually treating each person as an end in himself or herself as being every bit as much an end as you are?

I find that to be such a beautiful ideal and I truly aspire to that ideal. But it seems so hard to reach. I can feel myself stretching and even straining to treat others as ends in themselves, which seems to get me partway there. And then the moment I stop stretching, I automatically fall back into “I am end and you are means.” Why is it so hard to live up to the Golden Rule?

This is where the Course’s special slant on this ideal comes in. As we might expect, A Course in Miracles concerns itself with the inner side of the outer behavior. In effect, it says that before we can live up to this universal ideal, we need to transform our perception. Our behavior, after all, comes from our perception. “As ye perceive, so will ye behave” (T-1.42.2:9), the Course says. If our perception doesn’t support Golden Rule behavior, then one of two things will happen. Either we will put on a phony front designed to mimic the Golden Rule, or we will just trample on the Golden Rule with unloving behavior.

Again and again, Jesus identifies the internal dynamic that blocks Golden Rule behavior as being projection. In projection, we believe there is a kind of evil lurking within us, and seeing this presence inside as “dangerous and frightening,” we “hurl” it outside of us onto others (T-1.35.3:1). Now, of course, with the darkness in us coating them, they look like the devil, and we look clean and righteous. To use terms we are more likely to use ourselves, they look “ego-based”, and we look “spiritual.” According to the Course, projection has produced our entire perception of self and world, so that under its sway, we automatically see a good, sincere self picking its way through a corrupt, evil world. This is our master narrative, and we simply assume that it is true.

How can this not thwart our attempts to live up to the Golden Rule? If we are good and others are evil, then of course we cannot extend to them the same care and respect that we want for ourselves. They simply don’t deserve it.

Yet projection does not just block Golden Rule behavior. It is itself the reversal of the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule says, “I give to you what I myself want to have.” Projection says, “I give to you the very thing I don’t want to have.” I’m throwing onto your lawn the garbage I don’t want on mine. I’m giving you the rotten apple I don’t want in my stomach. Projection is an inner gesture that precisely mirrors the selfish outer behavior that the Golden Rule was meant to overturn. The spirit of projection is the precise opposite of the spirit of the Golden Rule.

What this means is that the way to live up to the Golden Rule is not to almost muscularly force ourselves to conform to it. It is to dethrone projection as the lens through which we see the world. We must embrace a new way of looking at the world. If projection entails hurling the perceived evil within onto others, then this new way of perceiving must do the opposite. It must see the holiness within us and then graciously extend that to others. Here is how the Course describes it: “The way to perceive for Golden Rule behavior is to look out from the perception of your own holiness and perceive the holiness of others” (T-1.42.4:4).

Imagine that this is how you walked around seeing the world. You saw the holiness deep within yourself, and as you looked at others, you saw that same holiness shining in them too. Holy self, holy world. At that point, wouldn’t you naturally do unto others as you would have them do unto you? Wouldn’t you automatically treat them with the love and honor that you yourself want to be treated with? Wouldn’t Golden Rule behavior become as effortless for you as breathing?

The Course is not at all questioning the Golden Rule. It’s assuming it is the ideal that our behavior should aspire to, that it is indeed “the order for appropriate behavior” (T-1.42.3:3). What the Course is doing is telling us how we can actually live up to that ideal. It’s not enough to look up at a shining summit and aspire to be there. We need a way to actually get up the mountain. This is the way. We need to stop hurling the “evil” within onto others, and instead acknowledge the holiness within and let that reveal to us the holiness in them. And then we will become a continual fountain of Golden Rule behavior. Miracles will flow from our most offhand remark and our most natural gesture. We won’t need to strain to live up to the Golden Rule. We will be a living illustration of it.
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