Secular Advice From 5 Religions

True, no-religion is the fastest-growing religion. But that’s no reason to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Religions offer wise secular advice on how to live. Here are my favorites, plus my comment on each.

From Christian Teachings

The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship. ― Martin Luther

Indeed, deeds trump symbols or words. Of course, that extends beyond the trades. Good “craftsmanship” refers to good works in both personal and professional domains. We appropriately roll our eyes at a person who trumpets their religiosity by being a churchgoer and wearing a crucifix and then, in their actions, being very un-Christian.

Do not cast your pearls before swine. — Matthew 7:6

That same advice is offered in the popular Hindu proverb below. Suffice to say that few of us would be surprised that more than one religious tradition offers that warning.

Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. — Colossians 3:2

It is puzzling why so many people want all those designer-label products, gadgets, and closetsful of clothes, often spending their life in a career they dislike to pay for those shallow pleasures.

Do onto others as you would have them do onto you. — Luke 6:31

That’s the Golden Rule. I’m even fonder of the so-called Platinum Rule: Do unto others as they would want done to them. Just because we want something doesn’t mean everyone wants the same thing.

From Jewish Teachings

If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when? — Hillel.

The balance is admirable: Take care of yourself and others, and avoid procrastinating.

Lose with truth and right rather than gain with falsehood and wrong. — Maimonides

Many more people would agree with that than those who follow it. Yet, it may be worth the reminder.

Rejoice not at thine enemy’s fall – but don’t rush to pick him up. — Proverbs, 24:17

That is quite different from the Christian exhortation to love thy enemy.

As you teach, you learn. — Talmud

Right. Teaching is active learning; the teacher may learn as much from teaching the class as some students learn from taking it, alas.

From Buddhist Teachings

Concentrate the mind on the present moment. — Buddha

That is popularly stated as “Be in the moment.” That’s often wise, and it enables us to remain focused on what we’re working on or enjoying. That said, being in the moment ignores the past’s power: It can teach us lessons. You know, those who don’t know history are condemned to repeat it. “Be in the moment” also devalues the future: Planning is usually helpful. Of course, per Robert Burns, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

A disciplined mind brings happiness. — Buddha

Discipline, like duty, and responsibility are attributes that seem to have fallen out of favor in favor of more relaxed advice, even “Just be.” After having had more than 6,000 career counseling clients, there’s little I’m surer of than that discipline and intelligence are the keys to success and contentment.

Follow a wise critic as you would a guide to hidden treasure. — Buddha

It’s easier to prefer praise, but the thoughtful critic is at least as valuable. People may politely accept criticism but far fewer act on it, let alone sustainably.

Ardently do today what must be done. Who knows? Tomorrow, death comes. — Buddha

Right, period.

The root of suffering is attachment. — Buddha

That is reflected in cognitive-behavioral therapy’s urging us to prefer but not demand something. I’d differ a bit: Attach to the process but let go of the outcome, which is beyond your control. That’s key to counselors and health care providers avoiding burnout.

Good people keep on walking whatever happens. — Buddha

Easier said than done, but resilience is a worthy aspiration. People tend to be resilient if they have ample internal resources that make subsequent success more likely. Other people, who have often been knocked down many times, might be well-served to get support, practically and perhaps psychologically.

From Hindu Teachings

He who cannot dance blames the floor. — Hindu proverb, source unknown

In psychological parlance, it’s tempting to have an external rather than an internal locus of control. How many people fall prey to blaming parents, teachers, spouses, demographics, or the economic system for their failures. Those may be partial factors but focusing on them tends to decrease prospects for future success. Your own efforts do significantly affect the likelihood of success.

True nobility lies in being superior to your previous self. — Hindu proverb

Yes, competing with others can motivate but usually is less productive as well as less psychologically rewarding than competing with yourself. It’s not a bad idea to, before going to bed each night, give yourself a letter grade from A to F on how well you did in some area in which you’d like to grow.

Advice to the stupid produces anger. — Hindu proverb

This is the Hindu version of the Christian exhortation, “Don’t throw pearls before swine.” I have often found this to be valid counsel.

Fate and self-help share equally in shaping our destiny. — Hindu proverb

Indeed, effort boosts odds of success but we’ve all known people whose efforts were foiled by forces beyond their control.

From Islamic Teachings

Trust in Allah, but tie your camel. — Mohammed

My father, though Jewish, advised me to follow this Muslim maxim.

The son of a goose is a swimmer. — Arab/Egyptian proverb

This means “like father, like son.” As a career counselor, I have been struck by how often a child, even as an adult, is quite similar in abilities and psychology to at least one of the parents.

Being alone is better than being with someone bad. — Arab/Egyptian saying

Right, period.

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