© Paul K. Davis, 2012. All Rights Reserved.
Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation
October 9, 2012

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This week encompasses a holiday variously called Columbus Day, Indigenous People's Day, or some variant of the latter. When I was a child in school Christopher Columbus was credited with discovering America. Of course, it had already been discovered. We now know it had been discovered by more than one wave of immigrants from Asia, by Viking voyagers, and very probably by West Africans. What Columbus really discovered was that a profit could be made by sailing across the North Atlantic Ocean, and this led to further voyages, colonization, and destruction of American cultures.

What Columbus could have discovered was that the world is full of diverse human cultural traditions, and that all cultures can contribute to the development of human material and spiritual progress.

I believe that when cultures interact positively, the result can be much more than the sum of the parts. A discovery or development in one culture can be valuable to other cultures which have not yet achieved that particular accomplishment, and each culture may have achievements not yet reached by another culture.

We can also compare cultures to find their commonalities. A practice or belief common to several cultures is more likely to be of general value than one suited only to the circumstances of a few cultures.

This attitude toward cultural diversity, and the song "Twelve Gates to the City", have led me to explore individual leaders, whom I call "Gates", in various cultures, who have taught some variant of what we call the "Golden Rule".

I have selected twelve gates, distributed as near as practical throughout the world, throughout well recorded history, and of both genders. I have chosen Jerusalem as a focal point, with three gates each cardinal direction from that city, claimed as David's capital, Jesus' preaching platform, and Muhammad's point of ascent to heaven. I will treat them in historical order, and give dates by the Christian calendar familiar to us. In many cases each individual is just one example from an extensive group of worthy spiritual leaders, and their spiritual tradition usually developed for many centuries before their time and after.

I start with one known to most of us, but familiar to few. His name was probably pronounced something like "Zartosht", but time transmuted it to "Zarathustra", and the Greek historians misunderstood it as "Zoroaster". Tradition says he lived from about 628 BC to about 551 BC, but modern linguistic analysis of the writings attributed to him indicates they originated half a millenium earlier, at perhaps the timeframe of Moses or David. Zartosht lived somewhere in the region where the modern nations of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan meet, so I count him as the first Gate in the East.

Among the teachings attributed to Zartosht is "Doing good to others is not a duty, it is a joy, for it increases our own health and happiness", which we will certainly recognize as an expression of the Golden Rule. He and his followers are also notable for being the first historically recognizable proponents of freedom of religion. The founder of the ancient Persian Empire, Cyrus the Great, is believed to have been a Zoroastrian. He not only freed the Jews from Babylonian captivity, but also restored many other local religious shrines which had been removed by Assyrian and Babylonian conquerors.

Next I take up Siddartha Gautama, known as the Buddha. He is believed to have lived from about 563 BC to about 483 BC, roughly contemporary with Cyrus the Great, the Athenian Solon, and the Hebrew prophet Ezekiel. He was born in what is now Nepal, and spent much of his life in what is now India, so I count him as the second Gate in the East.

The Buddha is but one example of the many interconnected spiritual traditions of the Indian subcontinent, where the many variations of Hinduism also developed, and the Jain philosophical tradition which impressed the Greeks who arrived there with Alexander the Great. Among the Buddha's credited teachings is: "Happiness never decreases by being shared". I credit his followers with being the most successfully peaceful large religious community of the world.

These centuries were a period of great human progress throughout Eurasia, from Greece to China, and perhaps elsewhere since we simply do not have good information from other parts of the world. So my third Gate is also from the East.

Kung Tzu can be more firmly dated than my first two gates. He lived from 551 BC to 479 BC in China. We know his name best in the form "Confucius". If you credit everything that has been attributed to him, he would have spent every moment of his life speaking wise aphorisms, but this only indicates he founded a great tradition of pondering moral issues, and followers tend to credit their teacher. Among the sayings attributed to him is: "What you do not like if done to yourself, do not do to others."

My favorite teaching from the Confucian tradition is from Meng Tzu, known in the West as "Mencius", who lived about a century and a half after Kung Tzu. It is reported that King Hu of Leang came to Meng Tzu saying: "I wish quietly to receive instruction". Meng Tzu then asked: "Is there any difference between killing a man with a club and killing a man with a sword?" The king said: "There is no difference". Then Meng Tzu asked: "Is there any difference between killing a man with a sword and killing a man with a system of government?" The king replied: "There is no difference".

I arrive now at Jesus, whose name was probably actually pronounced something like "Yeshu". I count him as a gate from the North, since he came from Galilee, just north of Jerusalem. We can date him fairly closely, though not with absolute certainty, to 4 BC through 30 AD. (Yes, the monk who later created the Christian calendar got it wrong by about four years.) Jesus' version of the Golden Rule is probably the one most familiar to most of you. The version in the gospel called by the name "Matthew" goes: "All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them; for this is the law and the prophets."

The standard account of Jesus derives him exclusively from the Jewish tradition, and, indeed, in the quotation I have just read he specifically attributes the Golden Rule to the Hebrew scriptures. It seems to me, however, that he also provides us with an example of cultural mixing. I personally believe Jesus was familiar with at least some of the Greek philosophers. I believe he took the concept of being born again from Socrates, who is quoted by Plato in "Theaetetus" as having said: "My concern is not with the body but with the soul that is in travail of birth." It is also possible Jesus was influenced by Buddhism, through the missionaries sent out by the Indian Emperor Ashoka to many destinations including Egypt, when it was ruled by the Ptolemies.

My next Gate is from the South, Muhammad, who lived in Arabia just south east of Jerusalem from 570 AD to 632 AD. He is clearly an example of cultural mixing, as he drew on Jewish, Christian and native Arab religious concepts. Like Socrates, Jesus, and many other notable teachers, he did not write, but taught through discussions with his followers. Among many sayings he is quoted as stating: "The most righteous of men is the one who is glad that men should have what is pleasing to himself, and who dislikes for them what is for him disagreeable."

I would also like to emphasize that Jesus and Muhammad both apparently tried to raise the status of women in their cultures, though their followers quickly reverted to old ways. Jesus shocked his disciples by having a spiritual discussion with a Samaritan woman while drawing water from a well, and Muhammad educated his daughter Fatimah, calling her his "Shining One". After Muhammad's death his widow Aishah became a faction leader, and actually led an army in battle.

So far, you have probably heard of all the individuals I've mentioned, but now I'd like to jump into the middle of the so-called Dark Ages. Anna Komnene was a Princess of the Byzantine Empire, who lived from 1083 AD to 1153 AD in Constantinople. She was highly educated, bragging that she had read all of the works of Plato and Aristotle, among others. She and her husband each wrote histories of their times, but hers is much the better. She was thoroughly Christian and a partisan of the Orthodox Church, but also apparently saw no contradiction with classical Greek philosophy or even Greek mythology. In her book she praises her mother by likening her to Athena. She also praises other members of her family, including her grandmother Anna Dallasena, who was the civil administrator of the Empire while Emperor Alexios (son of the latter Anna and father of the author Anna) was the military leader. The granddaughter brags that the grandmother could have simultaneously administered all of the empires of the world from China to France, but the highest praise of the grandmother reads: "Her house was a shelter for her needy relatives, and it was no less a haven for strangers." This is not just the Golden Rule presented as advice, but actual living according to it.

Advancing through time, and across an ocean, we come to my first Gate from the West, Thomas Jefferson, who lived from 1743 AD to 1826 AD in Virginia. He is a person of some contradictions, though I think they all would be if we only knew more about them. Jefferson was an intellectual to match Anna Komnene or Kung Tzu. On the negative side, slaves were whipped on his plantation, and he signed an agreement with the State of Georgia to remove American Indians in return for Georgia relinquishing claim to the land which is now Alabama and Mississippi. On the positive side, he wrote: "All men are created equal, and endowed with certain unalienable Rights: among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." If we do as he said, not as he did, we are led forward, to grant to all people, in keeping with the Golden Rule, those rights we demand for ourselves.

My second Gate from the West is from a very different background. Black Elk, of the Oglala Lakota, or Sioux, lived in the American West from 1863 AD to 1950 AD. As a child he had a great vision, which he later recounted to others who wrote it down. He participated in the Battle of Little Big Horn, at which Custer fell, and he was injured in the Wounded Knee Massacre. He converted to Catholicism, but, like Anna Komnene, did not see a contradiction with his culture's traditional beliefs. He felt there was one great truth, of which his tribe's traditional beliefs, his personal vision, and Christianity were simply separate expressions. Our hymnal contains two readings from him. He saw that: "the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that make one circle, wide as daylight and starlight, to shelter all the children of one mother and one father."

You may have been perplexed that, so far, I have mentioned the rich Jewish tradition only in passing, though some of the Torah and perhaps some prophets may well predate Zarathustra. That is because I wish to cite a modern Jew as my third Gate from the North. She is Anne Frank, of the Netherlands, who lived sixteen short years from 1929 AD to 1945 AD. Despite Hitler, her goal of becoming a published author was accomplished, and she proved that even a young person in the worst of circumstances can be inspiring. I quote from her diary: "In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart." I am also proud to have been a part of a production of the play, "Diary of Anne Frank", based on her book.

Now I turn again to the South, from where my second gate is the wonderful ArchBishop Desmond Tutu, born in 1931 AD in South Africa, and probably the longest lived of my Gates. He has been tireless and eloquent not only in defending Black South Africans from apartheid, but also in defending Whites from racially motivated violence, and in opposing sexism, homophobia and transphobia. He has said: "A person is a person because he recognizes others as persons."

My third Gate from the South is also from Africa, the Kenyan Wangari Maathai, who lived from 1940 AD to 2011 AD. Like Desmond Tutu, she has been honored with a Nobel Peace Prize. Unlike Tutu, who was raised in an urban area, Wangari was born in a remote village, yet she eventually became the first eastern African woman to earn a Ph.D. Her activism has centered on environmental conservation and women's rights, yet I quote from her the most comprehensive statement from any of these Gates: "Love, compassion, solidarity, caring and tolerance should permeate culture, politics, trade, religion and philosophy."

At this point those of you who are mathematically inclined will have counted that I have presented eleven Gates. To complete the concept from the music I should now present a third Gate from the West, but I have decided not to. I leave this last Gate for the future, because who knows how many gates have been opened or how many remain to be opened?" I see all cultural and religious traditions as potential sources of valuable knowledge and understanding, and I especially find value in comparing and combining what we learn through all Gates.

This sermon is copyrighted by myself, and may be redistributed in accordance with copyright laws as well as by my permission.

Thank you very much for going with me on this journey through time and space, to learn and confirm values from and for all humanity.


For benediction I offer you a Nigerian Yoruba proverb: "One going to take a pointed stick to pinch a baby bird should first try it on himself to feel how it hurts." Go in Peace and return in Love.

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