World Scripture, A Comparative Anthology Of Sacred Texts

Editor, Andrew Wilson


Chapter 2: Divine Law, Truth, And Cosmic Principle

1. Eternal Truth
2. Moral Law
3. The Decalogue
4. The Golden Rule
5. Polarity, Relationality, and Interdependence
6. Cosmic Justice

All religions recognize a transcendent Law, Truth, or Principle which governs the universe and human affairs. Sometimes this Principle is identified with Ultimate Reality itself, but it is more often consequent upon and subordinate to it. We have placed side by side passages on the Word (Greek: logos) or Wisdom (Hebrew: kochma) of Christianity, Torah of Judaism, Dharma and order (Rita) of Hinduism; and Tao and Principle (li) of Chinese Religion. In Buddhism we have passages on several related concepts: Wisdom (prajna), Absolute Truth (dharmadhatu), and Teaching (dhamma). In placing passages on these concepts together, their variety should illuminate the subtle differences between them.

In some religious doctrines, truth or lawfulness is a property inherent in Ultimate Reality. The laws of the universe are the basis of the Absolute--e.g., the Tao of Chinese religion which is the creative principle itself, or the Absolute Truth which is realized by the Buddha. In other traditions--Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and theistic Hinduism--God conceives of Law and then sets it up as the standard or measure for his work of creation. This leads to a question which has engaged theologians: is God bound by his own laws, or is he free to contravene them to perform miracles, etc? Hindu mythology has no trouble with deities performing all manner of miracles, but in Christianity the tendency has been to assert the consistency of rational principles, and even to seek explanations for the miraculous within the normal functioning of natural law. In Christianity, the Word finds its chief manifestation in Christ, the Word made flesh, the Truth incarnate. This is echoed in Confucian and Buddhist scriptures where the Tao or the Dharma is only completely realized by a perfectly enlightened being. In some traditions, the law is a property of samsaric existence which must ultimately be transcended--e.g., the Hindu and Jain law of karma and the Buddhist doctrine of dependent origination. Similarly in Christianity Paul critiques the law as a form of slavery, unable to save. These are some of the diverse colors which one finds in these passages depicting the Truth or Law or Principle which is at the heart of the cosmos.

Regardless of these differences, all these religious viewpoints share a respect for the Law which human beings violate at their peril. The universe is fundamentally moral, an expression of the workings of a divine Principle or natural law in both the realms of nature and of human affairs. Hence human morality is not relative, not explicable as the result of social and cultural conditioning alone. Morality and ethics are rooted in the way things are (ontology); they are as enduring as the laws of physics.

This chapter treats the topic of divine Law under six heads. The first section deals with the origins and foundations of law as the eternal, pre-existent and all-pervasive ground of existing reality. The second section discusses divine law as the ground for human ethics and the basis for the path to liberation. The remaining sections treat four general expressions of law. First we have lists of divine commandments. The chief example is the Ten Commandments or Decalogue of Christianity and Judaism, but there are many parallels in other scriptures, for example the Buddhist Eightfold Path. Next is the Golden Rule, or the principle of reciprocity, which is found universally in the scriptures of all religions. This concise principle is often regarded as a summary statement of all ethics. Then in the fifth section we move to a more philosophical plane and treat interdependence and mutuality as a principle at work throughout nature. We include passages on the polarities of yang and yin, Shiva and Shakti, Purusha and prakriti, and passages on the relativity and interchangeability of all phenomena. The final section treats the law of cause and effect, karma, and the principle of divine justice through which each person reaps what he or she has sown.

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