Transcultural Ethics

In my college dorm my roommate and a floormate were discussing life and belief systems. My roommate Jim was a thinker, later to be a lawyer. Bob was in agriculture and had come back from class on one particular day extremely excited by the newly gained knowledge that, "Dust is dirt! Didja know that?" Jim was trying to explain to Bob agnostic concepts held by another student. "Wow, that's weird," responded Bob. "Well, what do you believe, Bob?" asked Jim. "I believe what everyone else believes," said Bob without hesitation. I guess if everyone else all believed the same thing then that statement would make sense and that which everyone believed would be the unquestioned truth. There would exist no non-believers to dispute the veracity. What does everyone else believe?

In living in different cultures, I have sought a set of guidelines to ethical living that I could use to be of "good character" in any culture. Rules that would reflect civil, ethical, and civic behavior anywhere I had been. A journey seeking ethical truth by majority vote. The underlying concept being that if every culture were to agree on a rule of ethical living, then in the universality of belief in the rule is a transcendence to truth. Such rules, while easily dismissed as any sort of truth by the philosopher, theologian, or logician; is practical and useful to one who travels and lives abroad. Theisms differ culture to culture, hence rules without theistic reference are more portable and tend to be more useful to the traveler and to one living abroad.

This is not to say that there is a complete dearth of faith based themes that cross theisms and cultures. The theme of the meaninglessness of that to which people attach meaning is found in Ecclesiastes of the Old Testament of the Judeo-Christian bible and in the writings of Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching. This idea is echoed by the Christians in 1 Corinthians of the New Testament and is implicit in Christ's kingdom not being of this world.

Any rules I included would not be something new nor of my own invention, they would be familiar to as many people as possible. A greatest common denominator so to speak. I also felt that if the rules exceeded a naked eye readable sheet of paper then I had failed in my task of distilling concepts to their kernel.

I eventually organized the rules into a two level hierarchy with a single concept in the upper level. In the upper level is the concept of reciprocity in two faces, a first person reciprocity and a third person reciprocity. Reciprocity is known in the West as the Golden Rule and is found in the East in Confucianism.

The lower level consists of five rules that have their most direct genesis in Buddhism but four of which are echoed in the Judaic laws of Moses in the form of commandments. The fifth rule originates with Buddhism and is implicit in writings of the Jewish prophet Isaiah on drunkenness. This fifth rule is also echoed in the faith of the Muslims and the anti-drug stance of modern Christians. These five rules can be written as positive prescriptions or negative proscriptions, both are included.

Long impressed by the concept that the unexamined life is not worth living, I have also set down my own personal ethics and philosophy. This is organized in to seven categories.

1 3 5 7
Reciprocity from nothing Love well Nature
existence Respect life Evolution
to nothing Speak honestly Balance
Take only what is given Freedom
Keep a clear mind Matrix


Do not act towards nor speak of people as you would not want to be acted towards nor spoken of by other people.
Do not act towards nor speak to other people as they would not want to be acted towards nor spoken of by other people.


Love openly, warmly, caringly, honestly.
Love with fidelity, loyalty.
Love all peoples.
Love one mate for life.
Love all children.
Be in love.
Do not act in a sexually licentious manner.
Do not be adulterous.


Respect life.
Preserve, conserve, maintain, protect life.
Life is precious.
Do not kill.
Do not injure or bring harm to life.


Speak honestly.
Speak positively, truthfully, appropriately, with care.
Listening is always more important than speaking.
Do not speak falsely.
Do not speak ill of others.
Do not act falsely.


Take only what is given. Do not take what is not given.


Keep a clear mind.
Keep a healthy body.
Do not take things as tend to cloud the mind.
Do not take things as tend to diminish the body.


Life exists in balance with all other life.
Alter the balance,
All life returns to nothing.
Trees grow.
Animals flourish.
Nature, grows, changes, adapts
In unending cycles and rhythms.
Life and non­life everchanges.
Nature exists without rightness or wrongness.
Bamboo bending in the wind,
Weathers the storm.

Be not possessed of your body
It belongs no more to you than to nature and the matrix.
Be not possessed of your mind
It belongs no more to you than to nature and the matrix.

Return to the root
We are part of the natural cycles
Our life sharing this world with all other life
All from nothing arriving
All to nothing returning.


Evolution establishes patterns
That are guidelines to living.
Stability and love bring life, growth, and happiness.
Children and society thrive with monogamy and familial love.
Any one human can produce offspring with any other human,
We are all in one single family,
Love all peoples in all places,
Respect all life in all forms.

Actions or inactions
Which harm or injure life
Or the community
Damage balance
Break cycles
Violate life.

Children are the future cycles of life,
We are immortal only in our children.
Life is immortal only in all children of all creatures.
The individual begins and ends.
Provide love, care, warmth, and stability for all children.
Protect all children.


Seek balance
Trees do not grow in sun alone
Trees do not grow in rain alone
In all things seek a balance.

Balance is in the low places,
In the valley.
Balance is in the dark places,
In the forest.
Balance is in the quiet places,
In the wilderness.
Balance is in the yielding places,
In the water.
Balance is in the soft places,
In the feminine.

Let go of inflexibility
Let go of selfishness
Let go of ego
Let go of pride
Let go of anger
Let go of power
Let go of wants
Let go of things
Let go of self


Each individual
Must freely make their own choices.
Each individual
Is alone in their cells.
Alone, separate, self-aware.
Not other-aware.
Thus each individual must make their own free choices.

Individual freedom of choice,
Individual liberty,
Essential to reciprocity
Essential to balance.


All choices by creatures
All not choices by creatures
All events in the natural world
Form a vast web of occurrences,
Events, situations, happenings, and influences.
Each of us is an inextricable part of this web,
This matrix.

Small events today change
Large events tomorrow.

No one creature in the matrix
Dominates or controls the matrix.
Attempting to control the matrix,
Leads to loss of control and failure,
Each creature in the web
Can make only its own decisions.

The matrix is a river,
Swim with the flow.
The matrix is a rough sea,
Bob up the crests,
Down the troughs,
As a small cork.


The path we travel
From nothing to nothing
Is defined by our choices and not choices,
All choices and not choices made by other creatures,
Events of nature.
These form a matrix in which each of us lives our lives.

Choices must be freely made
By each individual.

To not choose is to choose.
To not act is to act.
To not do is to do.

Control of the self is internal,
Choices come from within,
We choose to be who and what we are.

On the path from nothing to nothing
No one thing matters.


Information informs choices
Choices require information
Information must flow freely
For choices to be made.

Making choices requires information
Utilizing information requires education
Be a curious child
In a sea of limitless information.

Information is power.
In the hands of the one,
Information is abused.
In the hands of the one,
Power is abused.

157. D. Lee Ling Copyright 1988. Revised 1989, 1993, 1997. There are few new ideas. The one came from Confucius, the five from Buddhism, the seven were strongly influenced by Taoism. The original format for this was hypertextual using Apple Macintosh HyperCard.