The Principles Explained

The Eastern approach to this principle has very stringent guidelines as to the practice of compassion. It speaks of showing mercy through the purification of the mind in charitable activities and the cultivation of strong moral character. It suggests that benevolence is displayed through pious worship and through unfailing respect for seniors, parents, Heaven and Earth.

In other words, the practices of mercy, charity, sympathy, respect and simple kindness cultivate a compassionate heart. But since we know that helping others is part of the basis of spirituality, we must also realize that it is just as important to extend this generosity of spirit to ourselves as it is to extend it to others. We must learn to be tolerant of our mistakes, of failings and of flaws . . . to have goodwill, inwardly and outwardly. You might try to understand it this way: When you help other people you are offering yourself. If you don’t like and care for yourself, how can you fully offer that self to others?

The literal translation of this principle tells us a loyal person is honest, straightforward, reliable, credible, caring and sincere. It says that by showing faithfulness, respect, and fairness, we deepen our relationships with our selves and our families, and develop genuine friendships with others. This means that, as with all of these principles, we must be willing to apply loyalty in our everyday life as well as in our spiritual life. And, as with all of the principles, we must be willing to apply it inwardly, as well as outwardly.

On a day-to-day basis we must be loyal to our families, our friends, and our ownbelief. Trying to be a good human being or to lead a spiritual life is a constant battle. We can’t just have good intentions some of the time. We don’t just believe in things or in people only when it’s convenient. We must be steadfast and strong no matter what and live according to our beliefs, especially when it is difficult.

We must realize that we are not alone in this life, that there are powers far beyond our understanding, and that there is a purpose to existence. It does not matter if we call this being, or these powers, God, Christ, The Great Spirit, or Brahma. It does matter that we believe in something greater than ourselves and that we maintain that faith even in the face of pain, doubt, and disappointment. 

In the Eastern translation, the word used for this principle is trustworthiness. This may sound like a disparity, but it really isn’t. For as we learn to trust in the meaning of our lives and the powers that exist around us, we glimpse the power in ourselves. We realize that we have something very special inside of us and we honor that through faith and belief in ourselves. We extend that faith and belief to our family and friends through the traits of trustworthiness: steadfastness, reliability and righteousness.

We must live our lives according to our beliefs. It is not good to believe in truth or honesty and then lie about a product at work because it’s more convenient or a way to make more money. We also can’t profess a belief in helping others and then harden ourselves against someone in pain because we are just too busy.

Righteousness is the principle we most want to employ in our interactions with others. We should always be guided by a sense of fairness, truth and respect. If we witness an injustice, we should do whatever is within our power to make things right. But this is not to say that we should become fanatics or self-righteous do-gooders. We must have humility, and we also must recognize our limitations. We should, however, try to do as much as we can, whenever we can. We must have the courage and strength to follow spiritual principles, no matter how difficult.

Social Ritual/Propriety
We do not live in a vacuum, in social isolation. We live with people, organized into a society. Because of that, we have certain functions and certain responsibilities. The way we deal with our work, with our community, and our neighbors is just as important as the way we deal with prayer or meditation. We live in this world, and we need to blend in with customs and cultures as much as possible.

We also need to recognize that our jobs, no matter what they are, are important and fulfill a function. We are all interdependent, each playing an essential role in making sure the whole of life works smoothly. We should be guided by these principles, as well as the laws of society, in trying to do what is right, not only for ourselves but for humankind as a whole.

Proper Roles — Family and Society/Ethics
Just as we have certain social functions within the society, we also have important roles in the micro-society of the family. For the Chinese and Asian communities proper roles within the family are particularly important. This is reflected in the Principle Board by the fact that all of the principles can and should be applied to the family as well as to society at large. Another thread affecting both family and society that can be seen running through all ten principles is the influence of Confucianism.

To a certain degree they are all based on or are influenced by the Confucian belief in moral living and proper human relationships. This principle, which is also translated as ethics, is based on the Confucian belief that each member of society and family has specific status and role based on duty and responsibility. If each individual, starting with the ruler of the country and the father of the family, carries out the duties of that role properly, then everyone is taken care of. The people are ruled justly, the family flourishes, and therefore the individual flourishes.

This points out an important distinction between Western and Eastern cultures. Westerners are trained to be more independent or self-centered, whereas Easterners are taught to be more others-centered. In the West, it is believed that if each individual is self-actualized and finds personal contentment, he or she has more to offer their family, friends, and society in general.

In the East, it is believed that if each individual sees first to the needs of the family, friends, and the society in general, then he or she can experience contentment and feelings of personal achievement. These differences make this principle more challenging for Westerners because we are not always comfortable playing a proper role more for the benefit of others or for the benefit of the whole, rather than for their own needs and desires.

Female Principles/Chastity
This principle is somewhat archaic, having to do with the way women functioned in ancient society. The role of women in ancient China was that of constant nurturing of others in exchange for security and protection. A daughter was expected to be totally obedient to her father until she married. After marriage, she was expected to be totally obedient to her husband. If anything happened to her husband, she was then under the care of her eldest son.

Obviously, this is no longer the case. The principle is out dated. Even with this acknowledgment, why is it that when it is presented to a group, some women immediately refute it defensively, and men make jokes about reinstating it? Most importantly, why is it still included, and what does it teach us? Perhaps it makes us look at that past and at all the places where we still haven’t healed. It encourages us to look at the confusions and resentments that appear so frequently in our male-female interactions and at the places where we still lack equality. One hopes it will help us to improve those relationships in the future.

It also gives us a chance to ponder (whether we happen to be male or female) the archetypal feeling/meaning of femininity in all its forms. For example, the essence underlying a ‘mother’s radiance’ and harmony. Perhaps another way of coming to terms with this principle and its true meaning is by looking at its alternative translation: Chastity. Boiled down to its core, chastity is defined as the nurturing of pure thoughts, kindness, morality, loyalty and righteousness toward our selves and others.

Filial Loyalty or Filial Piety
In the Judeo-Christian tradition we are more familiar with this principle in the form, “Honor thy father and thy mother.” Our parents deserve our love and respect simply for the fact that they are our parents. They were the vehicles for our arrival on Earth. The Chinese also believe that we are karmically linked to our ancestors; and by paying respect to them, we work at keeping that link open on a spiritual level.

They build altars to their ancestors and believe that we can both get help from past generations and assist the souls of former generations.On a more mundane level, as we learn to deal better with our families, we prepare ourselves for dealing better with the larger family of man. Our relationship to our selves and our families is the base from which we build everything else. In having and showing respect and love for our parents, we form the basis for loving and respecting the rest of creation.

This is not quite as simple as merely “telling the truth,” although that is obviously important. We must be honest in our dealings with other people. We must also live in an internally truthful or honest fashion-facing ourselves without flinching, no matter how uncomfortable we are with what we see. We must gradually learn how to break down our defense mechanisms, our blinders.

We must see and honestly admit our shortcomings before we can truly work on them. In working with the Teacher, our blinders are constantly being lifted, and we are repeatedly forced in to the difficult task of having to look at our selves. Through this process, we are able to live with a sense of righteousness in our relationships with our selves and others.

The Teacher says that following the first nine principles leads to the tenth, Enlightenment. He does not, however, say exactly what enlightenment is, and He discourages us from focusing on its attainment. Instead, He counsels us to follow the first nine principles and struggle with the seven challenges (discussed in the next section). We should not expend our energies trying to understand the concept of enlightenment.

It is much more important for us to do the work itself with constant effort to be and act as good, caring and loving people. The aim here is not to reach an unconscious state of bliss, but rather a conscious recognition of our responsibilities, a constant state of extreme awareness.

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