EBS4: How To Break the Commandments

Eric Butterworth Speaks: Essays on Abundant Living #4

Delivered by Eric Butterworth on May 4, 1975

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The Ten Commandments of the Judeo-Christian Bible form the backbone of the religion of hundreds of millions of people. They have influenced the development of modern civil law and many codes for moral behavior. Yet...who knows them...or lives by them? The term “Ten Commandments” has become a widely-used cliche. Preachers and moralizers often say, “If people would just keep the Ten Commandments we would have a good world.” But we have kept them...all too well. We have kept them like religious relics in sealed containers. Now we need to break them down into practical insights to live by.

The motion picture portrayal of the Ten Commandments is a grossly misleading caricature. The scene in which God etches the tablets of stone and gives them to Moses misses the full meaning of Mt. Sinai, which may not have been a mountain at all, but rather the symbol of a high place in consciousness. Moses had caught the insight of the omnipresence of God, of man’s oneness with The One. All else in the story must be seen against this backdrop. He perceived that the cause of the Israelite’s suffering was their attitudes and sense of values. And...in his Sinai experience of high consciousness he was led to give them a set of guidelines on the level of their ability to comprehend. But the higher meaning of the Commandments is not just to improve conduct, or even to change character, but to modify consciousness. Rarely, if ever, has this aspect been perceived.

Religious institutions have given total emphasis to “moral uprightness”, with little attention given to the Truth of spiritual man, and the process of human growth and unfoldment. The “good life” should be measured, not by the way we conform to religious codes, but the degree to which we know ourselves and live by what Thornton Wilder calls “the incredible standard of excellence.” As the Oriental adage puts it, “It is not enough to be superior to other persons. We should strive to be superior to our former selves.”

Religion is normally dealt with through custom-made propositions that must be accepted on confession of faith. I recall, as a child, learning the Commandments in Catechism School under the pressure of knuckle-rappings, spankings, and “holy threats” of eternal punishment. The great concern of the parents is to get the child through his confirmation or Bar Mitzvah. Beyond that he has a life membership in the religious community. He can say, “I live by the Ten Commandments” even if he never again opens a Bible or attends religious services.

The Commandments are not the fiat of a divine dictator. They deal with important spiritual laws that Moses commended to his people. They were put in the form of “thou shalt nots” because the Israelites were spiritual children, much in the way we build fences to restrain the wandering of children. However, growth is the law of human experience...and in time we must “put away childish things.” But the principle is not a restraint but a supportive force. We may tell the very young, “Don’t lean too far out the window!” But gravity is not a restrictive force. If we commit ourselves to work within its milieu, it is gravity that enables us to freely run and jump and walk and sit.

The 1st Commandment is the great fundamental spiritual law upon which all the remaining commandments are commentary: “I AM THE LORD YOUR GOD...YOU SHALL HAVE NO OTHER GODS BEFORE ME.”

Do you believe in God? Or do you think that if you say you believe that is all that is needed? To really believe in God is to have a sense of the wholeness of life and of the Universe. This gives rise to a believing attitude. If you do not believe in yourself or in life, the “I believe in God” is simply a cliche.

To have no other Gods before “The One” is to have the awareness of Allness, in which there is no other power. How we tend to make gods of evil, of sickness, of poverty, of war. We worship at the altars of the medicine cabinet, good luck charms, and the unemployment compensation. Do you trust in God wholly, or does your faith occasionally waver between God as substance and your waning dividends, between God as health and the corner drug store, between God as your guide and the daily horoscope?

The 1st Commandment begins with “I Am”. “I am the Lord your God.” “I Am” is the Lord of being. It is Being...being you. Only you can say, “I Am”. It is the key to your true identity... the Presence of God in you...being you. “I Am” is a pivotal force, requiring a commitment for right use. Whatever you attach your “I Am” to with conviction, that you are and that you will have. Thus, the first commandment says, in effect, “You have this ‘I Am’ power...just be sure that you keep it committed to the flow of good.”

The central prayer of Judaism is the “Shema”, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” It is a tremendous reminder of the root, “in the beginning God.” If all things exist in and have being out of the Allness of God, how can there be any other power? If the principle is 2 + 2 = 4, can there be some force that tempts us to get 3? The doctrine of evil as a power, and Satan as the prince of evil, is a blight on true religion.

God is not a person to approach in servility, but a principle to apply in expanded consciousness. Praying to God is actually a “practice of the absence of God.” The need is to return to the principle, “the One”, and then pray from the consciousness of God.

Under the Pythagorean system of mathematics all numbers proceed from unity and are resolvable back again into it. All things begin with “1”. We can duplicate the “1” and have “2” etc. And then we can create all sorts of complicated problems and formulas. But all are resolvable back into “1”. No matter what else appears to be true, the fundamental Truth is that God is the underlying reality. To know this Truth is to open the way to the flow of wholeness.

When Jesus stood at the tomb of Lazarus, He prayed the prayer of Oneness. He didn’t plead with God to work a miracle. He simply declared His oneness, “I am the resurrection and the Life.” How could He be so sure? Why is the mathematician so sure? Because he is working with principle. He would never think of accusing the principle for errors in computation. And it never occurred to Jesus to trace the death of Lazarus to God. Others might have done so. But not Jesus.

Principle is universal...can never be exhausted. In principle every person is the activity of God expressing as him. This was Jesus’ great discovery... the divinity of man. Moses layed the foundation in his move from personality to principle...which is what the Ten Commandments are all about.

We are dealing with personal growth and self-realization. It is not a matter of trying to get into God or to get God into us...but to “Be still and know that I am God.” It is when our God-self is frustrated and concealed that we experience shadows of human consciousness...and think they are outside forces. Like Jesus, we need to say, “Get thee hence, for there is but one God...and him only will I serve.”


© 1975, by Eric Butterworth

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