The meaning of confucius’ golden rule – 4 practical ways of living it

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confucius golden rule meaning

Zi gong (a disciple of Confucius) asked: “Is there any one word that could guide a person throughout life?”
The Master replied: “How about ‘shu’ [reciprocity]: never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself?”
–Confucius, Analects XV.24, tr. David Hinton

Of all the rules and guides of the world’s religions and philosophies there is one that stands alone. Variations of the golden rule of Confucius appear in nearly every major world religion and in most other belief systems as well. It has been said that just by living by this one rule you can transform your life. So, how well do you know the true meaning of the golden rule?

The golden rule is often claimed by Christianity, with a number of references to the principle of the rule in the bible, but Confucius’s statement predates Jesus’s birth by around 5 centuries. How then, can this universal principle for a good life be put into practice in your life?

1. Live authentically

To really know the meaning of the golden rule of Confucius is to live an authentic life. If you are truly considering the consequences of your actions on the people around you, you are entering into a position of responsibility and care for them, whether they are known to you or not. Be honest in your choices, no matter how small. Speak up if your friends are gossiping in a hurtful way about someone behind their back, don’t join in with laughter in response to a ‘joke’ that denigrates a group of people. The people around you will come to respect your integrity and you may even spread the golden rule around a bit further!

2. Meditation

Real change is difficult for most people. In order to genuinely change the way you act, you need to go deep. Our conscious mind is only the tip of the iceberg of our entire mind, with most of our capacity for knowledge and our pre-existing memories and beliefs lying deeper within. Learning to meditate is a fantastic way to begin to access this treasure trove and will allow yourself to make changes that are real and will last. Meditation is really simple to learn and if you are able to incorporate even 20 minutes a day of practice into your life you will find yourself reaping the benefits. In order to experience the true meaning of Confucius’s golden rule, try incorporating it as a mantra into your meditation practice.

3. Start small

Practicing the golden rule in your life can start as small as you like. Making a commitment to be cheerful in your interactions with the people you encounter in your day can be a good start.
You will be amazed at the difference that deliberately cultivating this attitude to your day can bring to your mood and approach to life. Like anything, what you practice eventually becomes automatic, so you will find, with time, that you no longer have to make the deliberate decision to approach life like this, it will just happen.

4. Get practical

Give yourself plenty of opportunity for practicing the meaning of Confucius’s golden rule in your life. If you have time, consider volunteering – it only needs to be a small commitment of time. Every community has a wide variety of organizations that are constantly in need of volunteers. Choose one that resonates with you. Even sitting and talking with an elderly person in a residential home can do so much to change their day and allows you to live the golden rule in your life.

The golden rule is a timeless and universal principle that can guide your life – taking heed of these 4 simple tips can help you realize the true meaning of Confucius’s golden rule in your life.


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