Eric Butterworth Speaks: Essays on Abundant Living #30
Delivered by Eric Butterworth on May 29, 1975
Too often we have heard the expression, “He is a good man, if only he knew the true religion,” This is an unfortunate judgment that calls to mind another question, “What is the true religion, and how will we know it when we see it?”
A good starting place in finding the key to world peace is a sympathetic understanding of the world’s religions. The exciting lesson we learn in such study is that an unbiased search of the Sacred Books of all religions reveals a Golden Thread which runs through each and every one of them in one grand chain.
In the Mahabharata of Brahminism we read, “There is nothing higher than Truth... Truth is immutable, eternal and unchangeable.” Certainly, man’s ideas concerning Truth may change as the ages roll by, but the Truth itself cannot change, since God is Truth, If we draw a sharp line between man’s dogmatic assertions concerning God, man and the universe on the one hand and the eternal Truth underlying the dogma on the other, then we can understand Tolstoi’s comment, “There may be a diversity of religious doctrines, but there is only one religion.”
In a sense, the various religions of the world remind us of a string of beads, each a different color, many of them bedecked in jewels, some large and some small, but the same golden thread unites them all. It is the thread that holds them in place and it is the thread that is the only real contact with the infinite Truth.
We might well wonder how all the diverse religious practices and ritualisms began. A good example can be taken from a parable I like to use which is universal in application but particularly appropriate to Christianity:
A man has a revelation—a vision. He finds God in a dynamic way. Because this revelation always results in the urge to help the world, he begins to teach. Through his understanding, he creates a window into a new world order. He has students sit with him and he points their attention through the window to Truth, and they become empowered to do what he does. But eventually, he passes from the scene, possibly because he senses that too many of them are looking at him instead of through the window, and thinks that only after he goes will they look only through the impersonal Truth, But, when he is gone, and his guidance is lost, they allow the window to get dirty. In time it becomes opaque; they can no longer see through the window, but can only see the window. They only remember that they are to sit at the window, and they begin to adorn it with medallions, symbols, and jewels. In time, they build a whole cult of people who simply look at the window.
Religious symbolism began, in every case, through the desire to explain what lay beyond the window. In time, the explanation is lost, and the symbol becomes a mystery. The teacher points, but the student worships the pointer.
One writer says that the great religions should be viewed as different dialects by which man speaks to God, and God to man. He is supported in this view by writings of all the major religions. For instance, in tie Masnavi I Ma’Navi, which is the sacred poem which summarizes the sentiments and doctrines of Islam, we read, “In the adorations and benedictions of righteous men the praises of all the prophets are kneaded together. All their praises are mingled into one stream, all the vessels are emptied into one ewer. Because He that is praised is only One, in this respect all religions are only one religion. Because all praises are directed towards God’s light, their various forms and figures are borrowed from it. Men never address praises but to One deemed worthy. They err only through mistaken opinions of Him.”
Through all the ages, form ceremony, and dogma have been the sworn enemies of the Golden Thread of religion. Differences are man-made: the surface glitter which tends to call attention to itself and to obscure the Golden Thread of Truth within. A celebrated Taoist writer says, “When righteousness was lost, ceremonies appeared. Ceremonies are but the unsubstantial flowers of the Tao, and the commencement of disorder.”
There are many definitions of religion. I like Shelley’s comment, “Religion is the perception of the relation in which we stand with the universe.” But however you define it, religion is not a mere sense of piety; it is not the going to church or the regular use of a prayer book or a rosary. It is what you have left if you take away all these things. There is no royal road to “true religion.” There is no one way to overcoming. To one who faithfully knocks, the door shall be opened, no matter what his language or culture or what pathway he has chosen.
Consider the similarities between these statements from the Sacred Books of the world’s great religions:
From the Raja Yoga philosophy: “Realize that thou art ‘that’ which is the cessation of all differentiation, which never changes its nature and is as unmoved as a waveless ocean, eternally unconditioned and undivided.”
From the texts of Taoism: “Was that which was produced before Heaven and earth a thing? That which made things and gave to each its character was not itself a thing.”
From the Upanishads: “As the sun, manifesting all parts of space, above, between, and below, shines resplendent, so over-rules the all-glorious adorable God, one alone, all that exists in likeness with its cause.”
From the oldest Persian treatise on Sufism: “If ye knew God as He ought to be known, ye would walk on the seas, and the moutains would move at your call.”
The Golden Rule is neither the creation or possession of one religious philosophy alone. It has been an ever-recurring theme in all the bibles of the world. An ancient Egyptian inscription dating back to 3550 B.C. says, “If thou be among people make for thyself love the beginning and end of the heart.” Moses said, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” More than 1000 years before Jesus, Confucius said. What you would not want done to yourself do not do to others.” Long before Jesus, Artistotle said, “We should behave to friends as we would wish friends to behave to us.” When Alexander of Macedon marched into Persia, he found before him the most terse of all these closely paralleling formulas: “Do as you would be done by.” And, about a century and a half before Jesus, we find this in a Hindu epic: “This is the sum of all true righteousness: Deal with others as thou wouldst thyself be dealt by. Do nothing to thy neighbor that thou wouldst not have him do unto thee.” In the Jewish Talmud, we read, “What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. That is the entire law: all the rest is commentary.” Then Jesus said, “All things whatsoever ye would that men do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” About 500 years later, Mohammed said, “Love for men what you love in yourself...let none of you treat a brother in a way he himself would dislike to be treated.”
Yes, there is a Golden Thread running through every religion of the world—it runs through the lives and teachings of all the prophets, seers and sages of the world’s history. The same thread runs through all of us, though few have found it. All who would exchange impotence for power, weakness and suffering for bounding health and strength, pain and unrest for perfect peace, poverty for fullness and plenty, must know the Truth of the Golden Thread and find oneness with God and all Truth everywhere.
© 1975, by Eric Butterworth