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EBS88: Conscience Or Consciousness

Eric Butterworth Speaks: Essays on Abundant Living #88

Delivered by Eric Butterworth on September 25, 1975

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Today, I would like to share with you some of my thoughts on the topic “Conscience or Consciousness.” These two words have a similarity of sound but vastly different meanings. Let us consider them in regard to our convictions about life and about this new insight in truth.

It is frequently remarked that one does not need formal, religion; one needs only to live guided by the Ten Commandments and to abide by his conscience. Can conscience be a safe and secure guide in life? Some other persons will agree with Polonius when he said, “To thine own self be true, thou canst not be false to any man.” This statement, shrewdly placed by Shakespeare in the mouth of one of his windiest and most self-seeking characters, has attained almost Scriptural status. Just what is meant here by being true to one’s self?

In the new insight in truth, we think of two distinct levels of the self—the human and divine. Perhaps, we should, therefore, regard the above statement as referring only to the diviner self, as true to the Christ indwelling. But it does not necessarily imply that. Hitler, a psychopath, was fanatically true to himself, as was Jesse James, a reckless adventurer. Most of the contemporary world leaders, for better or worse, are likewise actually true to themselves. In a way, those whom we especially revere and honor are those who train themselves to stsy true to ideas that are greater than themselves, to be true to the truth, to spiritual principle even if they do not grasp it themselves.

We are led here back to the word conscience, one definition of which is the internal recognition of right and wrong as regards one’s actions and motives. Robert Browning wrote of “this greatest beacon light God sends to all, the conscience of each bosom.” Is conscience then of divine origin? Is it divine guidance? Is it the “still, small voice of God?” If a businessman were to listen to his conscience in all his dealings, will he unfailingly do the fair, honest and just thing for all concerned?

A thoughtful analysis of this question reveals to us that individual consciences differ widely. The retailer who has been schooled to believe that it is normal for the seller and buyer to haggle and then finally come to an agreement on price will have no pangs of conscience at selling an item for twice what it is worth—to him it is just good business. This would not be so to the person who has been reared to accept different standards of fair play, equal benefit for both parties. Since the consciences of different people differ so widely can we accept them as reliable social and moral guides?

Conscience is an acquired sense of right and wrong, but in no way is it divine guidance. It is a subconscious reminder of standards that through the years we have come to accept as correct. One whose early training and example included honesty and fair play will unconsciously be motivated by those ideals and will be conscience-stricken if he fails to live up to them. On the other hand, one who has lived from childhood in a milieu of crime, not only might not show any remorse or sense of wrongdoing when the rest of the world feels he should, he might quite conceivably feel conscience-stricken if he fails to take advantage of an opportunity to commit larceny.

I must, therefore, startle you by saying that conscience cannot be a good guide or basis for desirable business or personal ethics. Conscience is as fine as it goes but it can never be an infallible guide. I must likewise state that it is not enough to be “true to thine own self.” Although we may have been true to our human self in the problems we have experienced, we need to find some higher guidelines and principles and to be true to them. Then, as we develop a consciousness of the diviner self we can be true to ourselves on that level and find an infallible guide thereby. So, the need for all of us is to find lofty spiritual principles and to work to build them into our consciousness. Then we can let our truth-directed conscience be our guide.

Guidance is actually a perpetual thing because man is a perpetual, spiritual being, whether he knows it or not. The need is to know it and to take time to be still and acknowledge our unity with God, and then to let this infinite intelligence which is ever with us do its work in us and be felt in us. It is often and quite rightly asked how can one tell the difference between divine guidance and personal desire. It is not easy to explain, but one must be willing to let go and let God, and to know that there is a right answer.

It is sometimes erroneously assumed that divine guidance must appear in some mystical or phenomenal way, such as hearing a voice or perceiving a sign. However, believing this, we invariably make a choice that is a rationalization of our human consciousness. It is natural to receive guidance fcr something we already want to do...humanly. We even read of dreadful crimes being committed because the perpetrator felt guided to do it. God cares nothing for our materiality, and He has no plans that are for one person only excluding all the others. This is in human consciousness, and we err if we ask God to make the decision for us. God is infinite mind, all wisdom. We can draw on that mind and on that wisdom through our experiences and utilize it to direct us in ways that are right. Prayer must be for a clearer realization of our unity with God, with the guidance principle, a better awareness of the truth. We will then be able to follow our highest realization—true to ourselves, but with the emphasis upon our diviner self.

There is that of you that is the activity, the presence of God manifesting where you are. It is that which is attuned to everything on the highest level. Emerson said that prayer is the contemplation of the facts of life from the highest point of view. Closing the human eye that sees appearances and opening the spiritual eye that sees possibilities provides for us answers and wise choices. Consciousness rises and falls according to our reactions and experiences, but primarily consciousness is our eternal awareness of infinite good—this is its highest function. When we assume mastery over our own mind, we learn to control our consciousness so that it reflects not the reactionary feelings of things around us, but rather the creative expression of the infinite within us.

“Choose ye this day whom ye will serve.” Will your consciousness be reactive or creative? If you simply react to conditions, then your consciousness, like a barometer, dips to lows of depression, worry, anxiety and fear, fluctuating up and down at the mercy of happenings. But when you train your consciousness to create rather than to react, you will find stability and self-assurance and peace as well as poise and equanimity. Your consciousness is right now a pipeline to the infinite; it is the channel for the expression of everything you need for your unfoldment; it is all within you in the infinite of you which is God expressing as you. The thing is to get, as Emerson says, “our bloat of nothingness out of the way and lie low in the divine circuit to lowly listen.” Everything necessary to your experiences is already within your own being, ready to unfold naturally. The completeness and perfection of your life is already established within you in your unity with God—this is the divine level of man.

Conscience is good and let us by all means so train our minds that they accept high standards and ideals, so that our consciences will prod us into desirable ways. But let us too always know that the infallible guide is the still, small voice of God that reaches us when we enter the inner chamber and close the door, thus acting from the highest level of our consciousness. Let us finally remember that the key to great life is unity, oneness, a consciousness of unity with the infinite.

Always remember to look within for your good and for your guidance; let yourself not be satisfied with mere pangs of conscience. Be still and know the truth, and then in the sunlight of God-consciousness, let your truth-directed conscience be your guide.

© 1975, by Eric Butterworth

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