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EBS27: The Disciplined Life

Eric Butterworth Speaks: Essays on Abundant Living #27

Delivered by Eric Butterworth on May 26, 1975

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When Jesus said, “Ye shall know the Truth and the Truth shall make you free,” He touched on a chord that undoubtedly evoked a response in the hearts of all listeners... and of all the readers of scripture through the ages. All persons desire freedom from want, freedom from pain, freedom from oppression, freedom to do and say what one chooses. However, we must not overlook another thought which is the keynote of freedom: “A man’s enemies are they of his own household.” In other words, the freedom a person unconsciously desires can only come through the discipline of thoughts and emotions.

Many see freedom as license. But, as Schiller says, “Freedom is not doing what one wants, but becoming what one must.” A man lost in the jungle has no liberty, even though there is no-one to interfere with his freedom. He is under the dominion of the jungle because he doesn’t know how to get out. A guide who has learned the way of the jungle can take him safely through it, and by following this guide the man gains freedom of action to go forward. But he must obey the guide!

From the thoughts of the great Indian poet Tagore, we read, “I have on my table a violin string. It is free to move in any direction I like. If I twist one end, it responds. It is free. But it is not free to sing. And so I take and fix it into my violin. I bind it. And when it is bound, it is free for the first time to sing.”

There is a mistaken notion among many parents that discipline is the same thing as punishment. It is not. The best discipline is that which teaches, not the kind that hurts. Often when the child grows up he is tired of being disciplined, and abandons or never discovers the art of self-discipline. Yet adults need this effort every bit as much as children.

The great symbol of Jesus’ life and teaching is the human becoming divine through the discipline of mind and heart. If we would follow Jesus in the overcoming life, we must follow His guidance in the matter of controlling our minds and conduct. It could be said that Jesus was the freest man who ever lived, yet His mind and emotions were under constant discipline. He triumphed over perhaps the strongest temptation that can assail a man’s desire when He was forced to choose whether to exert his power in material ways.

Jesus’ life is a great allegory with a golden meaning for the twentieth century. In it we find a key to the effective life in the choosing of the twelve disciples. We know little about most of the disciples, and nothing about some of them. They are obviously more important to us as symbols in this allegory.

The number twelve appears throughout the Bible, and represents spiritual fulfillment. Mystics through the ages have taught that man passes through twelve stages in his spiritual development. We read in Matthew 19: “And Jesus said unto them, ‘Verily I say unto you, that ye who have followed me in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory, ye shall also sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”’

We can think of every person as a king having twelve sons or princes who execute his will. And each of these princes has a throne, or brain center, from which he issues his orders and distributes his good. We are not going to make a detailed study of the foundation faculties of man. This idea is the basis of Charles Fillmore’s book. The Twelve Powers of Man. Suffice it to say that each of the twelve disciples chosen by Jesus has a predominant characteristic that is not incidental, but was the actual reason for the selection. The twelve may be grouped under one key word: discipline, another word for training.

Training cultivates and focuses the individual’s powers and abilities so that he can produce better results in his chosen line of endeavor. In the game of golf, for instance, championship performance requires careful, persistent, and thoughtful effort. Winners like Jack Nicklaus and Johnny Miller have to keep at their golf practice constantly. Golf is a game that, to all appearances, is just a matter of hitting a ball into a hole. But when you undertake to play a game you find that the ball just doesn’t go where you want it to go. If there were a way to train the ball, the beginner would have someone else do the training for him. But he finds that he must do a great deal of work on himself before he can make the ball respond to his commands. And so it is with learning to do anything well: one must discipline his mind.

The great pianist must spend long hours every day in practice. So must great vocalists spend hours at vocal exercises even after they achieve fame. How many hours would you say it would take to become a good student in this spiritual study? The answer is: all of the time!

It requires faithful practice to get results in the new insight into Truth. By practice, I mean thinking and living your spiritual principles. Reading about Truth ten hours a day won’t make you a trained metaphysician any more than reading about golf will make you a good golfer. The practice of the presence of God is done through an awareness that doesn’t interfere with constructive work or study or play. It means the presence of God is an activity that is involved in every process and part of life. It means that we must be constantly working from within out, working from the principle that is innate within us and that makes us efficient in everything we do.

This does not mean that we should spend all of our time making affirmations or reading the Bible. It does mean that we should spend time letting the affirmative truth work out into our lives and affairs.

The average person scatters his forces by undisciplined thinking. As a result, he gets very little out of life. Those who are under the dominion of appetites, passions, whims, prejudices and idiosyncracies are slaves to these wasters because they lack self-discipline. The freedom that we all desire comes through mastery, and mastery can only come through discipline.

It is said that early in his career, Fritz Chrysler was mediocre and unsuccessful. He had not disciplined himself to the technique required of a master violinist. So he became discouraged and decided to study medicine. Again, the discipline necessary for the making of a good physician was distasteful to him, so he took up painting with similar results. Then he decided to enter the Army, where he learned strict discipline. When he had completed his military service, he returned to the study of the violin, this time intent on disciplining himself in this field properly. In solititude for eight weeks, he practiced monotonous exercises and it was out of such discipline that Fritz Chrysler became a master, free at last.

Too often there is a great chasm between what we want to accomplish and our willingness to perform the tasks necessary for attaining it. But there can be no fruitage of freedom until this gap is closed. Mastery over our problems comes as we meet our problems with true discipline of thought and attitudes. However, as vastly important and indispensable as discipline in the attainment of freedom and mastery is dedication. This is the giving of oneself to the highest, regardless of what other compulsion seems to present itself.

So let’s freely dedicate ourselves to the discipline of faith and love and strength and good judgment and to all the twelve foundation faculties symbolized by the disciples of Jesus. These faculties are potentials within our own nature. And then it may be said of us as it was said of King Lear, “You have that in your countenance which I would fain call mastery.”

© 1975, by Eric Butterworth

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