What does it mean to be good?

Recently I watched two seasons of the TV show “The Good Place” which led me back to my notes on Jacob Needleman’s book “Why Can’t We Be Good” and a lecture series from The Great Courses about what it means to live a good life.

Because “good” is a relative term, it’s difficult to define it. To be a good Buddhist is different than being a good Muslim, Christian, Hindu, or Jew. Each religion defines goodness according to its belief structure.

But, religions do have a statement that revolves around treating others as one would like to be treated. This from Wikipedia: “The Golden Rule or ethic of reciprocity is a moral maxim or principle of altruism found in many human cultures and religions, suggesting it may be related to a fundamental human nature.” [The Golden Rule]

This principle was possibly first stated during the late period in Egypt (c. 664–323 BC) and written on a papyrus stating the negative affirmation of the Golden Rule: “That which you hate to be done to you, do not do to another.” [The Golden Rule]

I especially like this explanation by Hillel the Elder (c. 110 BC – 10 AD). Hillel was challenged by a gentile who asked to be converted. The one condition the gentile imposed was that Hillel stand on one foot while he explained the Torah. Hillel accepted and answered:

“What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”              — Shabbath folio:31a, Babylonian Talmud

So, if treating others as we would like to be treated is the essence of being a good human, why is it so difficult?

In Needleman’s book “Why Can’t We Be Good” he writes that we know what is good because of our moral beliefs, but with painful frequency we don’t do it.

In a review of Needleman’s book by Publishers Weekly, they summarize it this way: “…our inability to be good is simple: humans are creatures of choice, and our freedom allows us to make bad choices as well as good ones.”

Paraphrasing Socrates we see it this way: “We genuinely know what is good only when the whole of ourselves knows it—when it is known not only in the mind, but in the body and in the heart.”

So, in essence, we all know how to be good but we often choose not to so the question remains: Why?

I believe the answer lies in our level of awareness. If we see ourselves alone and separate in this three dimensional world, we may live in fear which causes us to make choices that we think protect us from the world out there.

But, what if, as the mystics of all religions have told us, everything is consciousness and there is nothing to fear because we are not alone; we are not separate; we are not orphans in a meaningless universe.

Everything—rock, tree, insect, animal, human—is an expression of consciousness experiencing itself. At possibly the highest level of awareness during meditation, Franklin Merrell-Wolff experienced what he called “Pure Divinity” where subject and object disappeared. There only oneness remained where terms such as good and evil were no longer relevant.

The majority of us may never have that experience but knowing that it exists should give us hope. We really are all one and to be “good”, we only need to make choices that reflect who we really are—Consciousness as Pure Divinity expressing itself.

One Response to “What does it mean to be good?”

  1. What does it mean to be good? | "I of my own knowledge…" Says:

    […] https://charlessides.wordpress.com/2018/09/16/what-does-it-mean-to-be-good/ […]

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