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The Second Principle

Unitarian Universalists affirm and promote justice, equity and compassion in human relations.

A Story for all Ages, from India

Once, long ago in a land far away, there was a king who thought only of himself. "I am king," he thought. "It is right and good that I should have plenty." So the king ordered his people to fill his barns with food and timber, and his storage rooms with cloth, gold and other precious things. And as his barns and storage rooms filled with all the food and goods in the land, the king filled up with satisfaction.

Meanwhile, all over the kingdom the people suffered more and more. They were hungry and their clothes grew tattered. When their homes needed repair, there were no materials at hand. Everything they needed was locked up. Soon the people were suffering dreadfully and yet, the king couldn't see it at all. But the gods could see the people's suffering, and moved by compassion, they sent one of their own, the Lord Krishna, to help.

Krishna took the form of a human hunter and presented himself to the king. "O, great king," Krishna said, "I have heard of your greatness, and I come to you with the gift of this hunting dog, the greatest of his own royal line." Indeed, the dog was the largest the king had ever seen; it was bigger than a large pony. "I accept your gift," the king said, "it is fitting for one such as myself." "The dog is yours," the hunter said, "He'll accompany you wherever you go." And with a bow, the hunter left the room.

As soon as the hunter had gone, the enormous dog began to bark. Now, this wasn't just any bark. It was a bark that shook the pillars and walls, even the roof of the palace. That bark made bowls of fruit and nuts dance toward the edges of tables, made the flames flicker in the oil lamps that hung upon the walls. The dog's bark shook the king's hands upon his throne, made his royal robes flutter all around him, even set his teeth chattering.     

Everyone tried, but no one could get the dog to stop barking. “Find that hunter and bring him to me!" roared the king. He had to roar, for little could be heard above the barking. But though they looked high and low, no one could find the hunter. And wherever the king went, the dog went also. The huge dog barked that first day, and all that night, and then kept barking through all the days and nights that followed. No matter where the king went, the barking dog went too. All was soon chaos. The palace became very messy, and everyone, especially the king, felt tremendously out of sorts; now he couldn't sleep or eat. Something had to be done!

The king called together his wisest advisors and ordered them to find a solution. After much deliberation in a room way on the other side of the palace, the advisors came back to the king. "O great king," shouted the chief advisor, "we can only think of two ways to solve this problem. The first way is to kill the dog. But we don't recommend this, for we think this is no ordinary dog. We believe it has come from the gods and we don't think it's wise to harm such a gift."

The exhausted king suddenly grew alarmed, for it had never occurred to him that the problem of the huge dog might possibly be a gift from the gods. "What is the other way to solve this problem?" shouted the anxious king. The chief advisor yelled back, "Sire, the dog is out of balance, just as this kingdom is out of balance. The first thing to do is restore balance."

As he listened to this wisdom, the king suddenly understood that all the people were suffering; they were all hungry and exhausted. Moved to compassion, he immediately ordered his servants to empty his barns and storehouses and distribute the goods all over the kingdom. As the barns emptied, the giant dog's barking grew quieter until at last, as the last of the grain, timber and cloth were given to people in need, his barking finally stopped.

At that very moment, the hunter suddenly reappeared. "Ah, my good king, I see you have come to understand the value of my gift." "Yes," said the king, who was beginning to feel very humble. "I understand that no one is greater than anyone else." "Anything else?" the hunter asked. "Well," the king said slowly, "because we are all the same, we must share the gifts of the earth equally." "Anything else?" The king thought a moment. Remembering how he felt when he had first understood that the people were deeply suffering, he said, "If I ever forget this important truth again, my feelings of compassion will remind me that we're all in this together."

It is said that in that kingdom, no one ever has been hungry or in need ever again, and the people live together in great peace, even to this day.

In his book, Our Seven Principles in Story and Verse, UU minister, Ken Collier reminds his readers that Plato taught that justice "is primarily a matter of the heart, for only just people can create and maintain a just state." He further notes that "[j]ustice is more than retribution or punishment, more than the distribution of wealth, power and prestige. It is primarily how one lives and moves through one's own life...justice in this sense is like genuine deep peace, not something that ordinary people can achieve in any final and finished way. It is a telos, a goal that moves us forward in the struggle to become deeper and more fully human."(pp. 28-9)

Equity, Collier says, is the distributive balance that is the outward manifestation of justice. And when we engage our understanding of justice and practice equity, we are reminded of the truth of our interdependence, our great oneness with all others. Our compassion, literally our ability to "suffer with" another, arises when we are able to transcend the limits of our self-interest and realize (or remember) that in our interconnected world, what affects one of us affects all of us.

In the collection of essays, With Purpose and Principle, UU minister, Richard Gilbert, reminds us that the term "Beloved Community" is an expression of what will happen when we practice justice, equity and compassion. Beloved Community isn't for some other, heavenly world, but emerges here in this world when we express our faith through our actions (pp.40-1). Beloved Community isn't passively something we enter and inhabit; we create it together. Most importantly for Unitarian Universalists, Beloved Community isn't about creating an insular "in here." Our faith calls us to work for justice in the world. "To refuse to act in life is to abdicate our role as spiritual and moral beings," Gilbert writes. "There is a vacuum in religious life when we fail to act out our values. We are then incomplete people."(p.44)

Reflection questions

  • How do you understand justice? Is it personal, political, social, moral, or something else?
  • Who decides what is just?
  • If you think something is unjust, what are effective ways of working for change?
  • Have you ever been on the lesser side of a situation? Have you ever had the upper hand?
  • What were these experiences like for you? What spiritual questions arose?
  • What enables you to feel compassion?
  • What actions do you take, or wish you would take, when you feel connected to the suffering of others? What support can you put into your life for taking this action?

Spiritual Practices

One meaning of blessing is simply to notice your heartfelt response to the rightness and goodness of someone's words or actions when they fit with your principles and values. In the midst of suffering, one way to bless the daily acts of love and courage that you encounter is to affirm them in your mind and heart, perhaps along with a few well chosen words of appreciation. You can follow up in practical ways by using your gifts and skills, as well as some of your worldly treasure, to support these good efforts.

The Children's Version of the Second Principle

“We believe that all people should be treated fairly and kindly.”