World Scripture


Unlike the laws described by modern science, the immutable divine Law is inherently moral, and is the basis for human ethics. The Hindu concept of Dharma, for example, embraces at once the cosmological, ethical, social, and legal principles that provide the basis for belief in an ordered universe and an ordered, prosperous society. Religion, therefore, cannot easily accept the modern distinction between fact and value: there are ethical values in human life that are every bit as absolute as the fact that the earth revolves about the sun. The way to salvation lies in following the divine laws and revealed teachings--e.g., the Tao (Taoism), the Torah (Judaism), the Reading (Islam), the eternal Dharma (Hinduism and Sikhism), the Dhamma revealed by the Buddha, or the Word revealed in the Gospel (Christianity).

The Law applies to all people, though not always equally. Most religions, including Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity, teach a single standard of law that applies to all people. In Hinduism, however, there are different dharmas for people of different social status (varna), stage of life (ashrama), and quality of inborn nature (guna), even though this differentiation should not obscure an underlying unity in the divine principle. Sometimes religions distinguish between the law for believers and the law for unbelievers, for the law of the community of believers is distinctive in that it is covenanted (contracted) with God. Regardless of this tendency to pluralism of laws, we can discern an underlying common ground for the moral law--often called natural law--which transcends religion or social circumstance. This common ground will be explored in the following sections on the Decalogue and the Golden Rule.

This section begins with passages urging people to follow the divine law or holy teachings. These laws are liberating. They define the Way through which a person sanctifies his life, according to Judaism. They lay out the road to heaven, according to Hinduism and Sikhism, or to Nirvana, according to Buddhism. They are the keys to happiness and success in life, as depicted through the parables of the tree and the rock from the scriptures of Christianity and Islam.

Law or Teaching is often an ambiguous concept, for there are laws that fetter as well as teachings that liberate. Christianity, for example, distinguishes the Mosaic Law which educates but confines from the liberating grace available through faith in Christ. Works of law cannot save or liberate, according to passages from the New Testament, the Upanishads, and the Buddhist scriptures. Laws and doctrines are of provisional value, a concession to human sin, according to a text from the Tao Te Ching. These religions look beyond the limitations of law to a higher relationship with the Absolute, what the Christian calls justification by faith, the Hindu experiences as union with Brahman, and the Buddhist experiences as Enlightenment. The concluding passages suggest this limitation of law and works done to fulfill the law.

Liberation comes from living the holy Word.

1. Sikhism. Adi Granth, Sri Raga, Ashtpadi 14.8, M.1, p. 62

To him who orders his way aright,
I will show the salvation of God!

2. Judaism and Christianity. Bible, Psalm 50.23

The God of old bids us all abide by His injunctions.
Then shall we get whatever we want,
Be it white or red.

3. African Traditional Religion. Akan Prayer on Talking Drums

Sri Raga: Cf. Japuji 1, p. 722.

He who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer that forgets but a doer that acts, he shall be blessed in his doing.

4. Christianity. Bible, James 1.25

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and the statutes of the Lord, which I command you this day for your good?

5. Judaism. Bible, Deuteronomy 10.12-13

God has revealed the fairest of statements, a Scripture consistent, [with promises of reward] paired [with threats of punishment], at which creeps the flesh of those who fear their Lord, so that their flesh and their hearts soften to God's reminder. Such is God's guidance, with which He guides whom He will. And him whom God sends astray, for him there is no guide.

6. Islam. Qur'an 39.23

The Holy One desired to make Israel worthy, so He gave them many laws and commandments.

7. Judaism. Mishnah, Makkot 3.16

Truth is victorious, never untruth.
Truth is the way; truth is the goal of life,
Reached by sages who are free from self-will.

8. Hinduism. Mundaka Upanishad 3.1.6

Truth is said to be the one unequalled means of purification of the soul. Truth is the ladder by which man ascends to heaven, as a ferry plies from one bank of a river to another.

9. Hinduism. Narada Dharma Sutra 1.210

Because perfect wisdom tames and transforms him, wrath and conceit he does not increase. Neither enmity nor ill-will take hold of him, nor is there even a tendency towards them. He will be mindful and friendly.... It is wonderful how this perfection of wisdom has been set up for the control and training of the Bodhisattvas.

10. Buddhism. Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines 3.51-54

James 1.25: Cf. John 8.23, p. 532. Deuteronomy 10.12-13: Cf. Joshua 1.1-9, p. 1056. Makkot 3.16: For Jews, the Law is not a burden--as some interpret Paul in Galatians 3.10-14, p. 163--but a way of sanctification; cf. Abot 6.2, p. 532; Tanhuma Shimeni 15b, p. 855.

Then do I proclaim what the Most Beneficent spoke to me,
The Words to be heeded, which are best for mortals:
Those who shall give hearing and reverence
Shall attain unto Perfection and Immortality
By the deeds of good spirit of the Lord of Wisdom!

11. Zoroastrianism. Avesta, Yasna 45.5

Sweet blows the breeze for him who lives by Law, rivers for him pour sweets.
So [as we live by Law] may the plants be sweet to us!
Pleasant be our nights, pleasant dawns, and pleasant the dust of the earth!
Pleasant for us be Father Heaven!

12. Hinduism. Rig Veda 1.90.6-7

The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple;
The precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the Lord is clean,
enduring for ever;
The ordinances of the Lord are true,
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.

13. Judaism and Christianity. Bible, Psalm 19.7-10

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of the sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water,
that yields its fruit in its season
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

14. Judaism and Christianity. Bible, Psalm 1.1-3

Yasna 45.5: See Yasna 34.12, p. 771. Psalm 19.7-10: See Abot 3.6, p. 770. Psalm 1.1-3: See Joshua 1.1-9, p. 1056. This and the following passage from the Qur'an use the image of the Tree of Life to describe the person who lives in accordance with God's Word; cf. Revelation 22.1-5, pp. 1118f. Likewise, in John 15.4-11, p. 646 and Var Majh, M.1, pp. 645f. the Tree of Life symbolizes the founder and those who are united with him.

Have you not seen how God has struck a similitude?
A good word is as a good tree--
its roots are firm,
and its branches are in heaven;
it gives its produce every season
by the leave of its Lord.
So God strikes similitudes for men;
haply they will remember.
And the likeness of a corrupt word
is as a corrupt tree--
uprooted form the earth,
having no establishment.
God confirms those who believe with the firm word,
in the present life and in the world to come;
and God leads astray the evildoers;
and God does what He will.

15. Islam. Qur'an 14.24-27

What Tao plants cannot be plucked,
What Tao clasps cannot slip.
By its virtue alone can one generation after another carry on the ancestral sacrifice.
Apply it to yourself and by its power you will be freed from dross.
Apply it to your household and your household shall thereby have abundance.
Apply it to the village, and the village will be made secure.
Apply it to the kingdom, and the kingdom shall thereby be made to flourish.
Apply it to an empire, and the empire shall thereby be extended.

16. Taoism. Tao Te Ching 54

Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And every one who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it.

17. Christianity. Bible, Matthew 7.24-27

Whoever lives contemplating pleasant things, with senses unrestrained, in food immoderate, indolent, inactive, him verily Mara overthrows, as the wind blows down a weak tree.

Whoever lives contemplating the impurities of the body, with senses restrained, in food moderate, full of faith, full of sustained energy, him Mara overthrows not, as the wind cannot shake a rocky mountain.

18. Buddhism. Dhammapada 7-8

Matthew 7.24-27: Cf. Dhammapada 25, p. 715. Dhammapada 7-8: Cf. Dhammapada 337, pp. 927f.

Why, is he better who founds his building upon the fear of God and His good pleasure, or he who founds his building upon the brink of a crumbling bank that will tumble with him into the fire of hell? And God does not guide the people of the evildoers.

The buildings they have built will not cease to be a point of doubt within their hearts, until their hearts are cut to pieces; God is All-knowing, All-wise.

19. Islam. Qur'an 9.109-10

Easily known is the progressive one, easily known the one who declines. He who loves Dhamma progresses, he who hates it declines.

20. Buddhism. Sutta Nipata 92

The night passes; it is never to return again.
The night passes in vain
for one who acts not according to the law.

21. Jainism. Uttaradhyayana Sutra 14.24

Those who live in accordance with the divine laws without complaining, firmly established in faith, are released from karma. Those who violate these laws, criticizing and complaining, are utterly deluded, and are the cause of their own suffering.

22. Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita 3.31-32

Confucius remarked, "The life of the moral man is an exemplification of the universal moral order (chung yung). The life of the vulgar person, on the other hand, is a contradiction of the universal moral order.

"The moral man's life is an exemplification of the universal order, because he is a moral person who unceasingly cultivates his true self or moral being. The vulgar person's life is a contradiction of the universal order, because he is a vulgar person who in his heart has no regard for, or fear of, the moral law."

23. Confucianism. Doctrine of the Mean 2

The blessed Buddhas, of virtues endless and limitless, are born of the Law of Righteousness; they dwell in the Law, are fashioned by the Law; they have the Law as their master, the Law as their light, the Law as their field of action, the Law as their refuge...

The Law is equal, equal for all beings. For low or middle or high the Law cares nothing. So I must make my thought like the Law.

The Law has no regard for the pleasant. Impartial is the Law. So I must make my thought like the Law....

The Law does not seek refuge. The refuge of all the world is the Law. So I must make my thought like the Law.

The Law has none who can resist it. Irresistible is the Law. So I must make my thought like the Law.

The Law has no preferences. Without preference is the Law. So I must make my thought like the Law.

The Law has no fear of the terrors of birth-and-death, nor is it lured by Nirvana. Ever without misgiving is the Law. So I must make my thought like the Law.

24. Buddhism. Dharmasangiti Sutra

Qur'an 9.109-10: Cf. Nahjul Balagha, Khutba 21, p. 1062. Sutta Nipata 92: Cf. Diamond Sutra 27, p. 533. Bhagavad Gita 3.31-32: Cf. Bhagavad Gita 5.24, p. 533. Doctrine of the Mean 2: Cf. I Ching 50, p. 771; Book of Ritual 7.2.20, p. 467.

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin....

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I should not have known sin. I should not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, "You shall not covet." But sin, finding opportunity in the commandment, wrought in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died; the very commandment which promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, finding opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and by it killed me.

25. Christianity. Bible, Romans 3.19-20, 7.7-11

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse, for it is written, "Cursed be every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, and do them." Now it is evident that no man is justified before God by the law; for "He who through faith is righteous shall live"; but the law does not rest on faith, for "He who does them shall live by them." Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law....

Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not; for if a law had been given which could make alive, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the scripture consigned all things to sin, that what was promised to faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

Now before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed. So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.

26. Christianity. Bible, Galatians 3.10-13, 21-26

Dharmasangiti Sutra: This is one sutra in a large Mahayana collection of sutras called the Sikshasamuccaya. Romans 3.19-20: The traditional Christian evangelical purpose of the Old Testament (the Law) is to reveal the high standards of godly behavior, and thereby to show people how sinful they are, to elicit repentance, and thus to prepare them for the liberating word of the Gospel. But contrast Matthew 5.17-18, p. 662. Romans 7.7-11: This passage presents the psychological paradox that religious commandments often incite to sin. Furthermore the law, by making one conscious of moral obligations, may lead to an oppressive sense of guilt.

Finite and transient are the fruits of sacrificial rites. The deluded, who regard them as the highest good, remain subject to birth and death.... Attached to works, they know not God. Works lead them only to heaven, whence, to their sorrow, their rewards quickly exhausted, they are flung back to earth. Considering religion to be observance of rituals and performance of acts of charity, the deluded remain ignorant of the highest good. Having enjoyed in heaven the reward of their good works, they enter again into the world of mortals. But wise, self-controlled, and tranquil souls, who are contented in spirit, and who practice austerity and meditation in solitude and silence, are freed from all impurity, and attain by the path of liberation to the immortal, the truly existing, the changeless Self.

27. Hinduism. Mundaka Upanishad 1.2.7-11

People under delusion accumulate tainted merits but do not tread the Path.
They are under the impression that to accumulate merits and to tread the Path are one and the same thing.
Though their merits for alms-giving and offerings are infinite.
They do not realize that the ultimate source of sin lies in the three poisons within their own mind.

28. Buddhism. Sutra of Hui Neng 6

Galatians 3.10-13: The law becomes oppressive if interpreted in a perfectionistic manner, as though one could not feel justified unless he kept the law punctiliously to its smallest detail. The grace of God in Jesus Christ is a free unconditional gift; it is especially liberating to those who regard the law as a burden which they cannot carry and feel oppressed by guilt for violating it. This of course does not mean that in Christ one can be licentious; he should live in the Spirit of good works; cf. Galatians 5.19-23, p. 465; James 2.14-26, p. 1009. Galatians 3.21-26: The argument that 'scripture consigned all things to sin' refers to the fundamental human condition of Original Sin--cf. Romans 3.9-12, p. 383--which persists regardless of one's efforts to follow the law. This sinful condition, the 'death' which resulted from Adam's fall, is only redeemed by faith in Christ, who conquered death; cf. 1 Corinthians 15.21-22, p. 547. Mundaka Upanishad 1.2.7-11: Good works, done to expiate evil karma produce merit according to the law of karma, cannot help a person escape the wheel of rebirth. Only through realizing Brahman is there true liberation. Sutra of Hui Neng 6: Good works done out of a desire to earn a place in heaven are tainted by selfishness; hence they still produce karma and cannot bring about liberation from bondage. See the previous note.

On a certain occasion the Exalted One was staying at Uruvela, on the bank of the river Neranjara at the foot of the Bodhi-tree, having just won the highest wisdom. He was seated for seven days in one posture and experienced the bliss of release. Then the Exalted One, after the lapse of those seven days, during the first watch of the night, rousing himself from that concentration of mind, gave close attention to causal uprising in direct order, thus,

This being, that becomes; by the arising of this, that arises, namely: Conditioned by ignorance, activities; conditioned by activities, consciousness; conditioned by consciousness, mind and body; conditioned by mind and body, the six sense-spheres; conditioned by the six sense-spheres, contact; conditioned by contact, feeling; conditioned by feeling, craving; conditioned by craving, grasping; conditioned by grasping, becoming; conditioned by becoming, birth; conditioned by birth, old age and death, grief, lamentation, suffering, sorrow and despair come into being. Thus is the arising of this mass of Ill.

29. Buddhism. Udana 1.1

Actions (karma) resulting from past deeds, productions of causes and conditions, are all unreal and empty, are not self, are not substantial.

30. Buddhism. Garland Sutra 22

The man of superior virtue is not conscious of his virtue,
And in this way he really possesses virtue.
The man of inferior virtue never loses sight of his virtue,
And in this way he loses his virtue....

Therefore, only when Tao is lost does the doctrine of virtue arise.
When virtue is lost, only then does the doctrine of humanity arise.
When humanity is lost, only then does the doctrine of righteousness arise.
When righteousness is lost, only then arise rules of propriety.
Now, propriety is a superficial expression of loyalty and faithfulness, and the beginning of disorder.

31. Taoism. Tao Te Ching 38

Udana 1.1: This is a typical statement of Dependent Origination (Skt. paticcasamuppada). It is a law which describes the situation of human bondage; cf. Surangama Sutra, p. 387. In that sense it is comparable to the statements by Paul that 'through the law comes knowledge of sin' (Romans 3.20 p. 163). Yet only by a proper knowledge of ill can ill be overcome, by reversing the chain of causation: 'If this is not, that does not come to be; from the stopping of this, that is stopped'--Majjhima Nikaya ii.32, p. 548; cf. Samyutta Nikaya xii.90, pp. 548f. Garland Sutra 22: Mahayana Buddhism teaches that from the vantage point of enlightenment, when all distinctions of subject and object have been transcended, the laws of cause and effect and dependent origination are themselves empty and unreal. Concern with such laws are only provisional teachings--see Mulamadhamaka Karika 24.8-12, pp. 1021f. Heart Sutra, pp. 589f. Tao Te Ching 38: Laws and doctrines are only needed for people who deviate from t he Tao, and they are poor substitutes for that ideal of oneness. Cf. Tao Te Ching 2, p. 797, 18-19, p. 294; Chuang Tzu 13, p. 220.