World Scripture, A Comparative Anthology Of Sacred Texts

Editor, Andrew Wilson


The Ideal Society

The ideal of a righteous society is the topic of this section. The social ideal is one where there is liberty, justice, kindness, and peace. Some of the verses of scripture which teach these human rights and social values have stirred people of every age to the struggle for freedom and justice. Additional material on this topic, particularly where it concerns the government's obligation to insure these rights, will be found throughout Chapter 20.

Furthermore, we look at passages which describe the ideal society in comparison with the decadence of societies in the existing world. Some enunciate general principles. Others describe the ideal society as it was purportedly realized long ago in a past Golden Age. Thus the Chinese religions idealized the legendary days of the ancient sage-kings. In Judaism and Christianity, conversely, the ideal society is to be realized in the future, at the consummation of history, with the establishment of The Kingdom of Heaven, pp. 1110-1120.

Proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.

Judaism and Christianity. Bible, Leviticus 25.10

Take away from me the noise of your songs; To the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Judaism and Christianity. Bible, Amos 5.23-24

Leviticus 25.10: This well-known passage, which is carved on America's Liberty Bell, was originally a proclamation of the Jubilee Year, once every fifty years, in ancient Israel. At the jubilee, all debts were forgiven, all Hebrew slaves freed, all leases expired, and all property returned to its original owners. This practice was based upon the premise that the land belongs to God, to be granted to the clans and families of Israel in perpetuity; it is not private property to be bought and sold. It prevented the impoverishment of poor farmers by wealthy creditors. Amos 5.23-24: Cf. Micah 6.6-8, pp. 860f.; Psalm 24.3-6, p. 229.

Lo! God enjoins justice and kindness, and giving to kinsfolk, and forbids lewdness and abomination and wickedness. He exhorts you in order that you may take heed!

Islam. Qur'an 16.90

The world stands upon three things: upon the Law, upon worship, and upon showing kindness.

Judaism. Mishnah, Abot 1.2

God said, "O My servants, I have forbidden wickedness for Myself and have made it forbidden among you, so do not do injustice to one another."

Islam. Forty Hadith of an-Nawawi 24

Two hundred cattle are under one stick, but two hundred human beings are under two hundred sticks.

African Traditional Religions. Nupe Proverb (Nigeria)

Thus says the Lord, "Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood."

Judaism and Christianity. Bible, Jeremiah 22.3

Now is the gracious Lord's ordinance promulgated, No one shall cause another pain or injury; All mankind shall live in peace together, Under a shield of administrative benevolence.

Sikhism. Adi Granth, Sri Raga, M.5, p. 74

In this world may obedience triumph over disobedience, May peace triumph over discord, May generosity triumph over niggardliness, May love triumph over contempt, May the true-spoken word triumph over the false-spoken word, May truth triumph over falsehood.

Zoroastrianism. Yasna 60.5

Nupe Proverb: People are by nature independent and can be expected to drive themselves. Cf. Qur'an 2.256, p. 676; Tao Te Ching 60, p. 1065; Baba Batra 60b, p. 1065. Sri Raga, M.5: Cf. Gauri, Ravidas, p. 1118.

When the right principles of man operate, the growth of good government is rapid, and when the right principles of soil operate, the growth of vegetables is rapid. Indeed, government is comparable to a fast-growing plant. There- fore the conduct of government depends upon the men. The right men are obtained by the ruler's personal character. The cultivation of the person is to be done through the Way, and the cultivation of the Way is to be done through benevolence (jen).

Confucianism. Doctrine of the Mean 20

I exist for my family, my family exists for our society, our society exists for our nation, our nation exists for the world, all the world exists for God, and God exists for you and me, for all mankind. In this great circle of give and take there is harmony, there is unity, and there is an eternal process of increasing prosperity. Furthermore, since in this circuit all existence will fulfill its purpose of creation, there is abundant and profound joy. This is the Kingdom of Heaven, in which feelings of happiness overflow.

Unification Church. Sun Myung Moon, 10-20-73

If love and agreement are manifest in a single family, that family will advance, become illumined and spiritual; but if enmity and hatred exist within it, destruction and dispersion are inevitable. This is likewise true of a city. If those who dwell within it manifest a spirit of accord and fellowship, it will progress steadily and human conditions become brighter, whereas through enmity and strife it will be degraded and its inhabitants scattered. In the same way the people of a nation develop and advance toward civilization and enlightenment through love and accord, and are disintegrated by war and strife. Finally, this is true of humanity itself in the aggregate. When love is realized and the ideal spiritual bonds unite the hearts of men, the whole human race will be uplifted, the world will continually grow more spiritual and radiant, and the happiness and tranquillity of mankind be immeasurably increased. Warfare and strife will be uprooted, disagreement and dissension pass away, and Universal Peace unite the nations and peoples of the world. All mankind will dwell together as one family, blend as the waves of one sea, shine as stars of one firmament, and appear as fruits of the same tree. This is the happiness and felicity of humankind. This is the illumination of man, the glory eternal and life everlasting; this is the divine bestowal.

Baha'i Faith. 'Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace

Doctrine of the Mean 20: See Great Learning, pp. 682f.; Mencius II.A.6, p. 216; and Great Learning 8, p. 240.

Let there be a small country with a few inhabitants. Though there be labor-saving contrivances, the people would not use them. Let the people mind death and not migrate far. Though there be boats and carriages, there would be no occasion to ride in them. Though there be armor and weapons, there would be no occasion to display them.

Let people revert to the practice of knotting ropes [instead of writing], and be contented with their food, pleased with their clothing, satisfied with their houses, and happy with their customs. Though there be a neighboring country in sight, and the people hear each other's cocks crowing and dogs barking, they would grow old and die without having anything to do with each other.

Taoism. Tao Te Ching 80

When the eighty-four thousand kings of the eighty-four thousand cities of India are contented with their own territories and with their own kingly state and their own hoards of treasure, they will not attack one another or raise mutual strife. They will gain their thrones by the due accumulation of the merit of their former deeds; they will be satisfied with their own royal state, and will not destroy one another nor show their mettle by laying waste whole provinces. When all the eighty-four thousand kings of the eighty-four thousand capital cities of India think of their mutual welfare and feel mutual affection and joy... contented in their own domains... India will be prosperous, well-fed, pleasant, and populous.

Buddhism. Golden Light Sutra

And Judah and Israel dwelt in safety, from Dan even to Beersheba, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, all the days of Solomon.

Judaism and Christianity. Bible, 1 Kings 4.25

Rama, whose arms reached to his knees, the powerful elder brother of Lakshmana, ruled the earth in glory and performed many sacrifices with his sons, brothers, and kinsfolk. No widow was ever found in distress nor was there any danger from snakes or disease during his reign; there were no malefactors in his kingdom nor did any suffer harm; no aged person ever attended the funeral of a younger relative; happiness was universal; each attended to his duty and they had only to look to Rama to give up enmity. Men lived for a thousand years, each having a thousand sons who were free from infirmity and anxiety; trees bore fruit and flowers perpetually; Parjanya sent down rain when it was needed and Maruta blew auspiciously; all works undertaken bore happy results and all engaged in their respective duties and eschewed evil. All were endowed with good qualities; all were devoted to pious observances, and Rama ruled over the kingdom for ten thousand years.

Hinduism. Ramayana, Yuddha Kanda 130

Tao Te Ching 80: This is the ideal of simple village life rooted in tradition and interwoven with loving ties of family and friends. It is quite the opposite of life of the modern jet-setter who travels everywhere but has no roots. For a similar Buddhist image, see Digha Nikaya iii.74-75, p. 1116. Cf. Tao Te Ching 32, p. 1063; Chuang Tzu 9, p. 320.

Long, long ago, brethren, there was a sovereign overlord named Strongtyre, a righteous king ruling in righteousness, lord of the four quarters of the earth, conqueror, the protector of his people, possessor of the seven precious things. His were these seven precious things: the Wheel, the Elephant, the Horse, the Gem, the Woman, the House-father, the Counsellor. More than a thousand sons also were his, heroes, vigorous of frame, crushers of the hosts of the enemy. He lived in supremacy over this earth to its ocean bounds, having conquered it, not by the scourge, not by the sword, but by righteousness....

King Strongtyre, having in due form established his eldest son on the throne, shaved hair and beard, donned yellow robes and went forth from home into the homeless state. But on the seventh day after the royal hermit had gone forth, the Celestial Wheel disappeared.

When the new king was informed that the Celestial Wheel had disappeared, he was grieved and afflicted with sorrow. He went to the royal hermit and told him, saying, "Know, sire, verily the Celestial Wheel has disappeared." The royal hermit replied, "Grieve not, dear son, that the Celestial Wheel has disappeared, nor be afflicted. The Celestial Wheel is no paternal heritage of yours. You yourself do good, as I did, and earn the Wheel. Act up to the noble ideal of the duty which is set before true world sovereigns. Then it well may be that if you carry out the noble duty of a Wheel-turning monarch, on the feast of the full moon when you go with bathed head to observe the feast on the upper terrace, the Celestial Wheel will manifest itself with its thousand spokes, its tire, hub, and all its parts complete."

"But what, sire, is this noble duty of a Wheel-turning monarch?"

"This, dear son, that you, leaning on the Law, honoring, respecting, and revering it, doing homage to it, hallowing it, being yourself a banner of the Law, a signal of the Law, having the Law as your master, should provide the right watch, ward, and protection for your own people, for the army, for the nobles, for vassals, for brahmins, and householders, for town and country dwellers, for the religious world, and for beasts and birds. Throughout your kingdom let no wrongdoing prevail. And whosoever in your kingdom is poor, to him let wealth be given.

"And when, dear son, in your kingdom men of religious life, renouncing the carelessness arising from the intoxication of the senses and devoted to forbearance and compassion, each mastering self, each calming self, each perfecting self, shall come to you from time to time and question you concerning what is good and what is bad, what is criminal and what is not, what is to be done and what left undone, what line of action will in the long run work for weal or for woe, you should hear what they have to say.... This, dear son, is the noble duty of a sovereign of the world."

"Even so, sire," answered the anointed king, and obeying, carried out the noble duty of a sovereign lord. To him, thus behaving, when on the feast of the full moon he had gone in due observance with bathed head to the chief upper terrace, the Celestial Wheel revealed itself, with its thousand spokes, its tire, its navel, and all its parts complete. And seeing this it occurred to the king, "It has been told me that a king to whom on such an occasion the Celestial Wheel reveals itself completely becomes a Wheel-turning monarch. May I, even I, also become a sovereign of the world!"

Then, brethren, the king arose from his seat, and uncovering his robe from one shoulder, took in his left hand a pitcher, and with his right hand sprinkled up over the Celestial Wheel, saying, "Roll onward, O lord Wheel! Go forth and overcome, O lord Wheel!" Then the Celestial Wheel rolled onwards towards the region of the East, and after it went the Wheel-turning king, and with him his army, horses and chariots and elephants and men. And in whatever place the Wheel stopped, there the king, the victorious war-lord, took up his abode, and with him his four-fold army. Then all the rival kings came to the sovereign king and said, "Come, O mighty king! Welcome, O mighty king! All is thine, O mighty king! Teach us, O mighty king!"

The king, the sovereign war-lord spoke thus, "You shall slay no living thing. You shall not take what has not been given. You shall not act wrongly, touching bodily desires. You shall speak no lie. You shall drink no maddening drink. Enjoy your possessions as you have been wont to do. Then, brethren, all that were enemy kings became vassals to the king, the Wheel-turner.

Buddhism. Digha Nikaya iii.59-62, Cakkavatti-Sihanada Suttanta

Confucius said, "The practice of the Great Tao and the eminent men of the Three Dynasties--this I have never seen in person, and yet I have a mind to follow them. When the Great Tao prevailed, the world was a commonwealth; men of talent and virtue were selected, mutual confidence was emphasized, and brotherhood was cultivated. Therefore, men did not regard as parents only their own parents, nor did they treat as sons only their own sons. Old people were able to enjoy their old age; young men were able to employ their talents; juniors respected their elders; helpless widows, orphans, and cripples were well cared for. Men had their respective occupations, and women their homes. They hated to see wealth lying about in waste, and they did not hoard it for their own use. They hated not to use their energies, and they used their energies not for their own benefit. Thus evil schemings were repressed, and robbers, thieves, and traitors no longer appeared, so that the front door remained open. This was called the Ta-tung (Grand Unity).

"Now the Great Tao has fallen into obscurity, and the world is in the possession of families. Each regards as parents only his own parents and treats as sons only his own sons; wealth and labor are employed for selfish purpose. The sovereigns take it as the proper behavior (li) that their states should be hereditary; they endeavor to make their cities and suburbs strong, their ditches and moats secure. Propriety (li) and justice (i) are used as the norms to regulate the relationship between ruler and subject, to ensure affection between father and son, harmony between brothers, and concord between husband and wife; to set up institutions, organize farms and hamlets, honor the brave and the wise, and bring merit to the individual. Hence schemes and plottings come about and men take up arms."

Confucianism. Book of Ritual 7.1.2

It was when the Great Tao declined, That there appeared the doctrines of humanity (jen) and righteousness (i). It was when knowledge and wisdom arose, That there appeared much hypocrisy. It was when the six family relationships lost their harmony, That there was talk of filial piety and paternal affection. It was when the country fell into chaos and confusion, That there was talk of loyalty and trustworthiness.

Banish sageliness, discard wisdom, And the people will be benefited a hundredfold. Banish humanity, discard righteousness, And the people will return to filial piety and paternal affection. Banish skill, discard profit, And thieves and robbers will disappear. These three are the ill-provided adornments of life, And must be subordinated to something higher: Seek the simple, embrace primitivity; Reduce the self, lessen the desires.

Taoism. Tao Te Ching 18-19

Digha Nikaya iii.59-62: The Wheel is the symbol of the Dhamma, which the Buddha turned on preaching his opening sermon at Deer Park near Varanasi. The ideal king rules according to right, not might, and all submit to him willingly; without warfare or bloodshed he conquers the world. This sutra describes the suffering social degradation which follows when the Dhamma is not practiced, and predicts that the world will one day return to the practice of the truth and realize the social ideal once again at the coming of the Maitreya Buddha. See other excerpts of this sutta on pp. 1064, 1091f., 1107, and 1116. Book of Ritual 7.1.2: More of this passage, p. 663, refers to the illustrious ideal rulers Y, T'ang, Wen, Wu, and the Duke of Chou. Cf. Mencius I.A.1, p. 1075; I.A.7, p. 974. On the degradation of humanity, cf. Laws of Manu 1.81-86, p. 433. Tao Te Ching 18-19: Cf. Tao Te Ching 32, 1063; 37, p. 554; 38, p. 434; 51, p. 294; I Ching 42, p. 1066.


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