What is the Golden Rule?

What the Golden Rule means & where it comes from

What is the Golden Rule and where did it come from

The Golden Rule is a saying that reminds people that we should treat others the way we would like to be treated. Maybe you’ve heard versions of the Golden Rule like the classic: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Despite the biblical sounding wording, the Golden Rule is not exclusively from the Bible. If you’re wondering where the Golden Rule came from, versions of the Golden Rule actually appear in all the world’s major enduring religions.

Why the Golden Rule is important

The reason the Golden Rule can be traced back to sacred texts in so many world belief systems is because The Golden Rule is a fundamental ground rule for how people manage relationships and keep society functioning. The moral codes contained in the world’s religions and belief systems helped people behave in predictable, organized ways so they could trust each other and cooperate. The book, Rooted in Decency, explains why the Golden Rule is important and where it comes from:

"Moral values grew out of a need for ground rules that helped humans establish the trust, fairness, and reciprocity people needed to cooperate and flourish together. It’s no surprise then that the world belief systems all included a version of the ultimate ground rule, a.k.a The Golden Rule—to treat people the way you’d like to be treated. The Golden Rule is fair. It supports reciprocity. It invites trust. Communal life is possible when we share an unspoken agreement to treat each other and our principles with the respect we’d like in return.” (from Rooted in Decency, by Colleen Doyle Bryant)

What are the versions of the Golden Rule in the world’s religions?

While researching the book Rooted in Decency, I came across many internet sites that noted versions of the Golden Rule, but they weren’t always accurate in the phrasing or the source. In the list of versions of the Golden Rule below, you’ll find the correct phrasing and sources to validate the Golden Rule in six world religions / belief systems.

Of course, the Golden Rule isn’t the only thing the world belief systems have in common. Despite being developed over thousands of years in different places around the globe, the world’s religions also share core moral codes that emphasize similar essential values to guide human behavior toward well-being and to keep society stable. Chapter 12 in Rooted in Decency offers a concise overview that shows just how similar the moral codes in Hinduism, Judaism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and Greek philosophy are.

Versions of The Golden Rule


One should not direct towards someone else what is unpleasant to oneself.-- (Mahabharata Udyoga Parvan 39.57)


Love your neighbor as yourself.-- (Leviticus 19:18)


Do not impose upon others what you yourself do not desire.-- (Analects 15.24)


Hurt not others with what pains yourself.-- (Udanavarga 5,18)


So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.-- (Matthew 7:12)


None of you will have faith until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.-- (The Prophet Muhammad)


Hinduism : Bakker,F. (2013). Comparing the Golden Rule in Hindu and Christian Religious Texts. Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses, 42(1), 38-58. https://doi. org/10.1177/0008429812460141

Judaism and Christianity: English Standard Version Bible, The Bible Gateway, 2021.

Confucius: Confucius, Analects: With selections from traditional commentaries (E. Slingerland, Trans.) (Hackett 2003, Originally published n.d.).

Buddhism: Dharmatrata (Ed.), Udanavarga: A collection of verses from the Buddhist Canon. W. Rockhill (Trans.) Trubner, 1883.

Islam: Justin Parrot, Can a “good Muslim” be a “bad person”? Aligning faith and character, Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research, 2019 July 3.

Still have questions? Part 3 of Rooted in Decency is a great book for understanding core values and how they help each of us find well-being. Written in an understandable, conversational tone, it explores why we voluntarily choose to act decently to each other, where our moral values come from, and how we can define a modern moral compass to negotiate today’s complex moral issues.

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Author Colleen Doyle Bryant
Colleen Doyle Bryant is the author of five books and more than 50 learning resources about character and values for kids, teens, and adults. Her latest book, Rooted in Decency, looks at the decline in common decency in society and ways that we can build more trust and cooperation. Learn more at ColleenDoyleBryant.com

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