Love Thy Neighbor

By Nhilde Davidson

E = mc2 is a deceptively simple equation stating that energy and mass are interchangeable. However, when applied to the phenomenal world, its implications are vast. In like manner sages and wisemen throughout the ages have had a simple, unanimous admonition to those wishing to find true happiness: "love thy neighbor as thyself."

Putting E = mc2 to practical use takes time, dedicated scientific study, and discipline. Loving thy neighbor is equally difficult to practice in the hurly-burly of our daily lives. In both cases apprehension and a full appreciation of the profound nature of these seemingly simple statements takes deep reflection. Further, the actual application of each is a task not easily undertaken.

A scribe asked Jesus:

Which is the first commandment of all?
And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, . . . thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.
And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. -- Mark 12:28-31

These two instructions resonate throughout all sacred texts. Divinity has been given many names by different peoples and cultures; yet all speak of the same underlying universal principle that permeates everything. Call it what you may -- God, Parabrahma, THAT, Spirit, Krishna, Vishnu, Atma -- the names are many but all include the idea that beyond the material world is something immortal and durable that infills all -- a transcendent radiance that is the common root within and without the entire manifested universe. This shared lineage makes everything part of the same universal family, intimately related because of the common divine parentage, size and evolutionary position notwithstanding.

In the light of this common ancestry, the first commandment as underpinning for all else becomes clear. If we fill our minds and hearts with what is dear to our parent, the divine center within us, we will begin to change our behavior. The first step in any project is to understand the purpose of the task. In the next step, having gotten an overview of the general scheme, we ideate a solution. In life, divine love is the talisman. By loving and trying to understand the nature of our divine parent we can realign our actions more closely to the divine scheme. Just as we tried as children to do what pleased our mother and father, so in life our actions should be pleasing to our divine parent by our always trying to do what is compatible with our spiritual essence.

Jesus says that the second commandment is like the first and the reason is obvious: if we are part of the same divine family with divinity at our core, "loving thy neighbor" and "loving God" are one and the same thing. It is impossible to love something and reject and abuse it at the same time. In recognizing that our own inner center is reflected in the world around us, it becomes easier "to do unto others as we would have them do unto us" -- for we are in reality affecting a part of ourselves. The Vishnu Purana suggests that everyone should envision Vishnu in whatever they look at. The reason for this exercise is that in standing before god [Vishnu] we are not going to be disrespectful or hurtful.

In an evolving universe perfection, in the sense of completion and finality, is not possible. All entities are spurred into manifestation by a thirst to unfold ever more of their innate divine potential. In dealing with people in the course of our daily duties, limited understanding inevitably causes tension and conflict of interest, so that clashes occur. What about "loving thy neighbor" at these times? Is it possible during the heat of the moment, or when injury and hurt leaves us stricken, to step back and love our tormentor?

The sages assure us this is possible. The key is hidden in the first commandment. Just as a parent still loves the naughty child, similarly by keeping in mind what is dear to our spirit, we too can continue to love the "real" person while disagreeing with an individual act or set of actions. Differentiating between the act and the actor helps cool the passions of the personality, thereby allowing us to begin to examine and extract from any situation the essence or motive behind the actions. Trying to understand why any of us acts in a certain way awakens empathy, the projection of oneself through imagination into the heart of another -- literally trying to walk a mile in the other person's shoes -- out of which practice sympathy, and finally altruism, is born.

  • (From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1999. Copyright © 1999 by Theosophical University Press.)

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