The Neurophysiology and Biochemistry of the Golden Rule


The “Golden Rule”—you’ve probably heard it many times and from many sources. This practical, yet sage, advice is found in most ethical traditions and religions: if you want to do the right thing in relationships, then behave toward others as you’d have others behave toward you.

This is probably the primary teaching of every religion. For example,

Buddhism decrees: Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful. (Udana-Varga 5.18)

In Christianity, the primary teaching quotes Jesus (Matthew 7:12): In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.

In Hinduism, the Mahabharata (5:1517) says: This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.

Islam declares (The Prophet Muhammad, Hadith): Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself.

In Jainism, scripture advises: One should treat all creatures in the world as one would like to be treated. (Mahavira, Sutrakritanga)

Judaism (Hillel, Talmud, Shabbat 31a) proclaims: What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary.

Taoism offers wise counsel: Regard our neighbor’s gain as your own gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss. (T’ai Shang Kan Ying P’ien, 213-218)

Zoroastrianism: Do not do unto others whatever is injurious to yourself. (Shayast-na-Shayast 13.29)

There are approximately 4200 religions in the world today. If you want to look into the scriptures and teachings of any, you are likely to find the same principal about relationships. So why, if this basic tenet is so universal, is it so widely ignored? Why are crime and war and even ill-treatment in families so pervasive? It all comes down to two factors: stress and a lack of full brain development. In every nation, there is an entrenched unenlightened way of educating children that leaves the population crippled with stressed bodies, unbalanced emotions, and unrealized human potential.

For a long time, most schooling has followed the model of instruction—pumping information into a student. But the word education, literally from its Latin root educere, means to bring or lead out, suggesting that the foremost goal of education is to unfold a student’s ability to live fully and well. The development of potential in a child, with emphasis on the growth of mental, physical and emotional health, leads to an adult who functions productively and harmoniously within society.

Healthy brain vs. violent brain

Research in recent years indicates that combined factors of nurture (how a child is raised and to what she or he is exposed) and nature (genetic and other physiological factors) can lead to distinct biochemical imbalances and brain abnormalities. These are the biological basis of hostile outbursts or violent behavior. A growing body of research also indicates that accumulated stress leads to explosive behavior.

Examinations of brain biochemistry and brain electrical patterns indicate that chronic and critical stress lead to an imbalanced neurophysiology. Elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and suppressed metabolism of the ‘well-being’ neurotransmitter serotonin along with low encephalographic coherence are the most consistent predictors of antisocial behavior. When, over time, these imbalances become physiologically entrenched, they lead to chronic and acute brain dysfunction.

The prefrontal lobes are the region of the brain that normally provides a filter against impulsive, aggressive and violent behavior. Functional lesions that are found in the prefrontal lobes of the brains of violent children are really areas of low-metabolic activity caused by minimal or no neuronal firing. This problem in the prefrontal lobes is a powerful explanation of the physiological foundation of violent behavior. Alcohol, marijuana or cocaine use has been found to contribute to the creation of functional lesions.

Transcendental Meditation activates the prefrontal cortex (called the CEO of the brain and the “higher brain”) and strengthens communication between the prefrontal cortex and different areas of the brain, while deactivating the amygdala (called the “fear center”). Published research shows that this benefits even previously traumatized individuals, including veterans, who then exhibit less aggressive, impulsive, violent behavior.

Based on years of research with EEG and with brain biochemistry, it is safe to say that the TM technique produces a marked reversal of the neurophysiological basis of violent behavior in students and youthful offenders.

No matter how well educated we believe we are, without a practical technique to reduce stress, increase resistance to stress, and develop full brain functioning, our behavior is going to reflect our physiological imbalances. Despite our desires and commitment to living up to the tenets of our faith—especially to the golden rule—we find that irritation, frustration, and anger can erupt in discordant behavior. Even if we don’t lash out physically, a bad temper, verbal abuse, and withholding warmth will bring fear, unhappiness, and disappointment into relationships.

Easy Solution

Negative behavior can be prevented with TM starting at an early age. But when negative behavior is not prevented, isn’t it the education system and the government that are responsible for not stemming the tide of negative behavior before it develops into criminal behavior? Shouldn’t this evidence-based program for growing up sociologically healthy be established in all schools as part of the curriculum?

Some schools, prisons, drug rehabilitation centers and other facilities have successfully implemented the Transcendental Meditation technique to reduce violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and prison recidivism. Certainly, at home, at work and in our community, the need is no less exigent.

And once you find that TM has lightened your spirit and improved your relationships, to encourage others to take advantage of this evidence-based approach to actualizing the ability to “do unto others” would certainly uphold the Golden Rule.

About the Author

Janet Hoffman is the executive director of TM for Women Professionals, a division of TM for Women in the USA

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