Masonic Symbolism And Vedanta
[ The article Marcus Aurealis
and Vedanta (No.112) by R.W.Bro. Leon Zeldis was well received
and had provoked considerable thinking and study and numerous
brethren had requested us to post articles about the sacred texts of the East ,
whose teachings have been assimilated in the tenets of Freemasonry. In response
to our request W..Bro.C.S.Madhavan who is himself a Sanskrit and Masonic
scholar, a prolific writer and a consistent winner in the Essay Competition
conducted by Grand Lodge of India has prepared this article. This article
has won the Second prize and the award of M.W.Grand Master of India. The
learned author has shown that all religions preach the same truths and
guidelines for the salvation of the humans. He has cited many such teachings
from the Upanishads and Bible and have correlated the Masonic tenets and
symbolism of the Craft with those teachings. This article is bound to
enlighten us all and we thank the learned author for his great efforts ]
Symbolism And Vedanta
Lodge Jyothi (No. 253.
“Was not all the knowledge
Of the Aegyptians
writ in mystic symbols?
Speak not the scriptures oft in
not the choicest fables of the poets,
That were the
fountains and first springs of wisdom,
Wrapp’d in perplexed allegories?”-- Ben Johnson “The Alchemist”
“The symbolism of
Masonry is the soul of Masonry. Every symbol of a Lodge is a religious teacher,
the mute teacher also of morals and philosophy. It is in the ancient symbols and
in the knowledge of their true meaning that the pre-eminence of Freemasonry over
all others consists.”-- Albert Pike
It is possible to give a
Christian interpretation to the whole of Craft Masonry, including all its
symbols and no one can deny the correctness of that interpretation. But before
Christianity existed systems similar to our own were known and venerated and
some of their symbolism and teaching has undoubtedly linked up with Freemasonry.
It is therefore natural that a non-Christian interpretation should also exist,
and be just as correct.---
“Symbolism in Craft Freemasonry”.
All great religions of
the world preach morals, compassion and charity and have subsisted through
millennia. On the other hand, many institutions, which have preached and
practised these admirable virtues in abundant measure, have become defunct after
sometime. Proof enough that there is more to Religion, than mere sermonising
on morality and virtue. It fulfils a need, innate in every man, to realise the
Eternal Truth – “Satyam”.
Freemasonry, like all
great religions is, but Man’s quest for Truth. Truth indeed, is the most
important of the three Grand Principles on which the order is founded -
Brotherly Love and Relief being only precursory or preparatory to it.
Its symbols, allegories and ceremonials, in all their richness and
variety are meant to awaken in every Mason a desire to know the Truth and guide
him in his search for it.
Scriptures of all religions employ parables and allegories to propound their
philosophies. This essay attempts to project the symbolism of Freemasonry
through the vivid imagery of the Upanishads, with excerpts from the Bible as
counterpoint and interpret it in the context of their teachings, to point out
WHAT IS TRUTH?
And the light shineth in
darkness and darkness comprehended it not—1 John
It is pure; It is the
Light of lights; It is That which they know, who know the Self.
Truth that Freemasonry teaches is ‘that most interesting of human studies’ - the
knowledge of oneself. There is an inner light, a divinity, in each of us, which
is the genuine secret of a Master Mason and which, in our present state of
darkness or ignorance, is lost to us. Freemasonry teaches us that the sole
purpose of our existence is ‘ to seek for that which was lost’. That we must
persevere in our search for this light and labour incessantly to make ourselves
perfect till time or circumstances restore it, even though that goal may remain
incomplete, as was the temple in our legend. Our rituals and ceremonies are
specifically designed to guide us in this spiritual journey- to dispel
ignorance, to know God and finally to experience God.
ILLUSTRATED BY SYMBOLS
way of Masonry is largely inculcated by symbols. It has been found in all ages
that emblems and symbols expressing great truths by a few simple strokes appeal
to the mind more strongly and are better remembered than words. To make the most
of them it is necessary to grasp the meaning underlying them, and to carry the
mind along with them.--
“ The Masonic Way”
principles of Freemasonry are taught at two levels, exoteric and esoteric. Its
moral and ethical teachings expound the duties that a Mason owes to God, his
neighbour and himself, and are demonstrated by simple ceremonials and explicitly
explained by using stonemason’s tools as symbols. The working tools most
familiar to a Freemason are the 24-inch gauge, common gavel, chisel, plumb,
level, square, and compasses. We are taught that the 24-inch gauge relates to
the 24 hours of the day: to be spent in prayer, labour and refreshment, and in
serving the needy. That the gavel, as the force of conscience knocks off all
undesirable propensities, and the chisel representing education smoothens the
rough ashlar into a perfect one. The level teaches equality and universal
brotherhood, which is the fundamental creed of our fraternity. The plumb stands
for uprightness and rectitude; the square, used for truing stones, is an emblem
of morality and virtue; the compasses symbolise restraint and self-control - to
circumscribe our passions within due bounds, and limit our desires.
These symbols impress their moral teachings forcibly on our minds, and act as
constant reminders to practise them in thought and deed. However, all symbols
are capable of more than one interpretation. As speculative Masons we are
enjoined to contemplate these symbols and discover deeper, hidden meanings, as
we make ‘ further progress in the science’.
VEILED IN ALLEGORY
Our teaching is
purposely veiled in allegory and symbol and its deeper import does not appear on
the surface of the ritual itself. This is partly in correspondence with human
life itself and the world we live in, which are themselves but allegories and
symbols of another life and the veils of another world; and partly also, so that
only those who have reverent and understanding minds may penetrate into the
more hidden meaning of the doctrine of the Craft. The deeper secrets in Masonry,
like the deeper secrets of life, are heavily veiled; are closely
Therefore I speak to them in parables; because they seeing see not; and hearing
they hear not, neither do they understand. --
O Sun! The face of truth
is hidden by a golden disc. Unveil it that I who am in search of truth may
Isa Upanishad: 15
Esoteric Freemasonry is
taught through veiled allegory. Masonic
symbolism comprises essentially of two separate but interwoven allegories - the
quest for Light, and the building of King Solomon’s Temple. To the Mason, the
building of the Temple itself is a symbol of human life. He carefully builds
his character, speculatively using the working tools of the stonemason and
progresses slowly towards the East in search of light. The culmination of his
journey is the tragedy of Hiram Abiff, in which he portrays the Master.
Other symbols like the mosaic pavement, rough and perfect ashlars, the two
pillars and the winding staircase, are embroidered into the fabric of these
allegories to inculcate moral values that will enable him to live according to
Masonic line and rule. All these are veiled because Freemasonry does not
communicate its secrets indiscriminately. A Mason must properly prepare himself,
mentally and spiritually, at every stage of his Masonic journey to understand
SYMBOLISM OF THE FIRST
unto that of a man blindfolded and carried away by robbers from his own country
is a man’s condition. The folds of cloth over his eyes being removed by a
friend, he recovers the use of his eyes and slowly finds his way home, step by
step, inquiring at each stage. So also, the good teacher instructs the seeker of
Truth and helps him to unloose his bonds of desire. --
Upanishad 6: 14:1/3
To open their eyes and
to turn them from darkness to light --
Truth, penance, understanding and purity are essential requisites for this
revelation of the Brahman within. When the heart is cleansed, Brahman is
revealed, and He is seen shining like a burning light within
From darkness lead me to
Man is essentially a
creature of Light, whose existence in this world is in a state of darkness or
ignorance. The ceremony of initiation depicts the first step in the spiritual
quest; awakening from ignorance, and the search for light. Its climax is
therefore, the restoration of light. The ceremony starts with the first stage of
our existence, birth. The candidate enters in darkness, after having been
divested of everything valuable, to show that we are born with nothing. After
affirming his faith in God, he is taken round the lodge, its flooring
representing the joys and sorrows of our chequered existence and undergoes
repeated trials and tribulations. Persevering in his quest, he approaches the
East, which is the source of all Light, his steps growing bolder as he does so.
Light is now ‘restored’ to him, and the cable tow, the emblem of his bondage, is
removed. He is now permitted to wear the apron, that symbol of honourable
labour, to imply that he should work ceaselessly on building himself. He is
placed in the Northeast to indicate that the foundation of the building is
completed - that from the stage of youth and learning, he has passed to
But the heart is not fit
to perceive Wisdom and Truth until and unless it is purified from every baneful
and malignant passion. So the first degree is also one of purgation. The force
of conscience knocks off the vices and imperfections from the rough ashlar (i.e).
the candidate. He is taught to control his desires, have charity towards man,
and faith and hope in God, so that as a living stone, he is prepared for that
‘ spiritual house not made with hands’.
SYMBOLISM OF THE SECOND
one only path between them both, even between the fire and the water, so small
that there could but one man go there at once ---
2 Esdras 7:8
Like the sharp edge of a
razor is that path, so the wise say— hard to tread and difficult to cross.----
Be free from the pairs
of opposites, ever balanced, free from desire and avarice, and established in
Gita 2: 45
Purusha, no bigger than a thumb, is the inner Self, ever seated in the heart of
man. He is known by the mind, which controls knowledge and is perceived in the
heart. They who know Him become
Svetasvatara Upanishad 3:13
From the unreal lead me
to the real. -- .
Two powerful symbols
-the two great pillars and the winding staircase dominate the Second degree. As
the Fellowcraft approaches the temple, he passes between two great pillars,
climbs up a winding staircase and receives his just wages. The two pillars, like
fire and water, stand for the ‘pairs of opposites’, encountered in life,
pleasure and pain, victory and defeat, praise and abuse, wealth and poverty. The
candidate must warily tread the difficult path, while wisely maintaining equal
distance between them.
The winding staircase
represents Man's instinct to rise, to excel, to explore the unknown. Climbing
the winding staircase marks his progress in the spiritual path: That his
intellectual faculty has so risen that it even reaches the ‘throne of God
candidate - now a perfect ashlar - learns that the sacred symbol he has been
seeking is in the centre of the building, i.e. in his heart. This knowledge is
the just wage he receives for his labour, and is illustrated by the sign of F.
The second degree thus signifies intellectual development culminating in
knowledge of God.
SYMBOLISM OF THE THIRD
It is sown in
corruption; it is raised in in corruption.
It is sown a natural
body; it is raised a spiritual body-- I Corinthians: 15:42-44
Leave sin and evil, seek
anew thy dwelling, and bright with glory wear another body.
Rig Veda: 10:014:08
I know the great Purusha,
who is luminous, like the sun and beyond darkness. Only by knowing Him does one
pass over death; there is no other way to the Supreme Goal.
There are three gateways
to hell, which destroy the self - lust, greed and anger. Renounce these three.
From death lead me to
immortality.-- Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 3:28
The third degree is
replete with many interesting symbols. The quest for Light is depicted as a
drama, with the importance of the centre, which was only hinted at in the
previous degree, being stressed. The three ruffians, stationed at the three
entrances, show that one is destroyed from within oneself by the three deadly
sins – desire, greed and anger. The f.p.o.f depict universal brotherhood, and
instruct him on the duties he owes to his fellowmen. The tragedy of Hiram Abiff
teaches us that, Good, even if temporarily overcome and buried by Evil, will
ultimately emerge triumphant and be adored, while equally, justice will
inexorably overtake Evil, and will mete out the punishment it deserves.
The candidate now comes
to the end of his journey. Abandoning all attachment to ‘worldly possessions’,
and overcoming the fear of death, he walks over the tomb of transgression. But
the purification and knowledge of the previous degrees avail him naught in
experiencing God. They prove a slip. So, with a more firm hold on his faith, he
surrenders his baser self, and is raised as the higher self, to a mystical union
with the Supreme. Recovery of The penal sign symbolises this regeneration.
The ceremony of raising
is at once sublime and surreal
and is the zenith of his Masonic experience.
We have now established that
Freemasonry has synthesised the essence of different religions, which it teaches
through its symbolism. Each of its symbols and allegories was culled from the
wisdom of many faiths, and had a definite background and meaning when it was
conceived. But while being handed down over centuries they have been mutated
gradually, till their original purpose and purport were forgotten. Freemasonry
has the potential to become a great unifying force, which can to demolish all
barriers, and destroy all differences that keep men apart. Brethren of all
faiths can empathise with it, if only they can understand and practise its
teachings. However we are more concerned with becoming expert in the punctilious
observance of the ritual, than with its message. Should we continue to thus
prefer form over substance, preserve the husk and discard the kernel, we shall
be retaining only empty symbols and reducing Freemasonry to a mechanical
rendering of the ritual. Symptoms like dwindling attendance and declining
membership are already in evidence, and if left untreated much longer, could
well result in the end of the order.
Freemasonry is too
priceless a heritage to be permitted to perish through sheer apathy. It has to
be nurtured and preserved. We have all been charged with making daily
advancements in Masonic knowledge; a duty seldom discharged. We owe it to the
institution, and to ourselves, to delve into the meaning of the symbols and the
emblems, that the true beauty of Freemasonry may once again be unfolded to us.
wide open the shutters of your minds and imagination. Learn to see in Masonry
something more than a parochial system enjoining elementary morality, performing
perfunctory and meaningless rites and serving as an agreeable
accessory to social life. Look to find it in a living philosophy ...
realise that its secrets, which are many and valuable, are not upon the surface
... that its mysteries are eternal ones that treat of the Spirit
"... W.L Wilmhurst -
"The Meaning of Masonry".