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Article # 259
Spirituality in Masonic Teaching

Author: W,Bro.Capt.Avadesh Prasad    Posted on: Tuesday, August 13, 2013
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[Sri Brahadeeswara Lodge (No.150) Grand Lodge of India celebrated its Golden Jubilee, a few months ago. As part of the Jubilee, an International  Essay Competition was conducted.  The topic was deliberately chosen as

“Spirituality in Masonic Teachings”, since some incorrect assertion was made that there is nothing Spiritual in Freemasonry at one of the Grand Lodge Meetings, which assertion is contrary to our tenets and the views of very erudite, well learned Masonic Scholars, the world over. A panel of three eminent Masonic Scholars valued the essays and selected three essays for the award of the first three prizes. We are uploading them seriatim. The essay, which won the first prize is posted hereunder. Please continue…]

 

 

The Spirituality in Masonic Teachings

W.Bro.Capt.Avadesh Prasad

 

It is a misnomer to speak of the spiritual side of Masonry. If there be another side it is foreign to our Order, and I know it not. Spirituality is the life of Masonry. Blest is he who is privileged to partake of it, and to help rebuild the Temple of King Solomon.[Bro.J.H.Morrow (The Builder, November 1915)]

 

Traditionally, spirituality in most of the ancient religions is regarded as an integral aspect of the religious experience. But Freemasonry is not a religion. Being universal in its essential nature, reaching multifarious social considerations, it has adopted a somewhat secular stance giving rise to a yet broader view of spirituality.

 

‘Freemasonry is something which is much wider  than the school of moral instructions as becomes manifest as we study the second and the third degree which to a large extent consists of mystical teachings of more complex and spiritual nature than that usually designated by the term, ‘moral instructions’’, as Wor. Bro. J.S.M. Ward rightly observed.  

 

The term ‘spirituality’ is frequently misconstrued as religion, since the terms spirituality and religion both appear to address themselves to the search of Truth, the Absolute or God. In spite of this apparent overlap in their respective meanings there are also characteristic differences in their usage. Religion implies a particular faith tradition that identifies and thereby includes acceptance of a metaphysical or supernatural reality, whereas spirituality is not necessarily bound to any particular religious tradition alone.

Religion, Faith and Spirituality

           

Certainly no Freemason can afford to feign indifference to religion. The basic tenet of Freemasonry particularly demands that a Freemason must trust in God. J.S.M.Ward, an eminent Freemason, and at once a mystic and a psychic, succinctly observed, “I consider Freemasonry is a sufficiently organized school of mysticism entitled to be called a religion.” While religion might appear to be a very personal commitment of an individual, spirituality is a path rooted in intellectual, academic or rational concepts involving ones individual psyche, his very heart to be acceptable. This fact draws a fine divide between spirituality and religion; a fact that has always confused many a lay observer. It is universally accepted that Freemasonry is not a religion, even as it is rife with frequent nuances reminiscent of the latter. “Masonry is not a religion. He who makes of it a religious belief, falsifies and denaturalizes it”, writes Albert Pike.

 

The word ‘religion’ as averred by serious thinkers like Ward and Pike above does not harbour connotations as implied by its customary usage. There are hoards of definitions which attempt to explain or assign meaning to this word. Not all are adequate, or even satisfactory. The reason is that the proffered meanings are consistently subjective; too literal, at best.

 

It is generally accepted by most scholars that religion consists of three essentials, viz. ‘Ideals’ or the values upheld; ‘Cult’ which defines set practices, rituals and ceremonies; and finally both these factors are dominated by ‘Theology’, or a set of doctrines of beliefs incorporating the views on man, the universe, and hereafter etc. This last factor is in the form of a holy-book, or scripture. This concept, which is a complex structure of practices, taboos and beliefs is customarily evolved and authorized through ‘giving and receiving revelation from God’, thus manifesting as an inviolate dictate.

 

This also explains why one could commit oneself to a particular denomination of religion or faith of his choosing and yet accept and believe that the “same God” could have made similar revelation to some other people, perhaps under different identity, infringed by intervening time and space. Thus   there could be nothing defective with the other people seeking relationship with their God on their own terms. Freemasonry with its attendant enlightenment and mystical symbolism supports this view admirably. This fact is often misconstrued by praetorian critics of Freemasonry, who are quick to label the Order as religion, or worse, as anti-religion.

 

Generically, one might say that ‘religion’ per se is a kind of binding upon those who commit themselves to follow its tenets. That includes a complex system of customs, words, incantations, acts, and beliefs, et al. Ones faith, thus is not a single idea; it is a collection of many ideas and practices.

 

Faith, on the other hand, also amounts to belief in a Supernatural entity, call it god or whatever. It is an unquestioned trust or belief without rational examination and beyond proof. It does not lend itself to reason, and it defies support of any discernable evidence. This makes faith akin to religion.

 

A shrewd Mason, who is enlightened, well knows that in Freemasonry there rests a comprehensive allegory of birth, moral awakening, life, pursuit of knowledge, experience, through to ultimate wisdom and the knowledge of ourselves, right up to the importance of the death of our worn old self to attain re-birth and perfection. Such ethos, like in all ancient religions, highlights human values and ideals bearing on one’s moral conduct; which in turn,   supports positive qualities or virtues like compassion, charity, contentment, patience, forgiveness, tolerance and love; while shunning the egocentricity, selfishness and materialist view of the world. There the seeming similarity between religion and Masonry ends.

 

It must be noted that religion, inter alia, addresses the matters pertaining to ‘here after’— man’s relationship with God; while our Gentle Order, on the other hand, focuses itself upon ‘here and now’, with our overall conduct in our lives, even though invoking the assistance of the Supreme Being in ‘all our lawful undertakings’. Religion helps us to resolve the metaphysical issues whenever we contemplate: ‘Where the universe came from; why we are here; or, what happens when we die’ etc. Freemasonry aims at making our lives rich and compassionate since the spiritual practices advocated therein can be experienced as beneficial, or even necessary for human fulfillment without any Supernatural interpretation or explanation. Freemasonry teaches just that. As Dr. Oliver put it, ‘It is a mode of approach to God and its end is to bring us to the Absolute by means of a pure tradition. Thereby, relating Masonry to spiritualism’.

Masonic Spirituality

 

Spirituality, may thus be construed a matter of nurturing thoughts, emotions, words and actions that are in harmony with a belief that everything in the universe is mutually dependent; this stance has much in common with some versions of Buddhist spirituality as well. This Masonic ethos is admirably summed up in the three Grand Principles on which our Gentle Order is founded viz., ‘Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth’.

 

This seed of spiritual teachings is sowed in the heart of every Mason no sooner does he enter the portals of the Temple. Masonic Rituals unceasingly attempt to convey that very ethos of spirituality and awareness to the incumbent albeit subtly ‘veiled in allegory’. But, is he inclined to engage in the dialogue on this abstruse question of life? Only when he would move away from the magma of materialistic superficiality would he relish the spiritual substance of Masonry. To do so is entirely up to the individual. He has already been told in unambiguous terms that, ‘Freemasonry is free, and requires a perfect freedom of inclination in every Mason’.

 

Prayers, lectures, charges during degree Rituals, all emphasize the subtle message of spirituality, inviting him to grasp the underlying meaning. Only if he was able to comprehend the gist of these teachings would he be aware of the spark of spirituality. Trust me, this can only be achieved when our Ritual working is executed in a manner that ‘a spark of spirituality’ fires his imagination.

 

Having considered the scope of spirituality in the foregoing text it may be added further that spirituality also encompasses spiritual development, or a consciousness of the higher self which embraces universal values that transcend ethical and religious restrictions, since unlike religion or religiousness Masonic spirituality is neither doctrinal nor dogmatic. Masonic spirituality encourages one to be deliberately considerate of other’s needs, benevolent in actions and generous at heart. These sentiments, even though inspired spontaneously, should consciously originate from one’s inner moral orientation. Spirituality, unlike religion is not a personal experience limited to and isolated within the individual’s circumstances; it is not disassociated from the responsibilities of day to day living. On the contrary, spirituality imparts an intense sensitivity thereby making it possible to experience the ‘here and now’, the very moment, in the strongest terms.  

Genesis of Masonic Spirituality

 

Albert Pike, in his remarkable work, ‘Morals and Dogma’, has aptly observed that “Freemasonry is the subjugation of the Human that is in Man by the Devine; the conquest of the Appetites and Passions by the Moral Sense and the Reason; a continued effort, struggle and warfare of the Spiritual against the Material and the Sensual.” 

 

Doubtlessly, and whichever way one might discern, society and civilization, in a like manner are an artificial order. These are in much opposition of the basic natural human instinct. This creates a need for an affected restrain of vigilance and diligence in form of law and order; and when applied to the society at large, it takes the shape of self discipline among individuals. Should that be not so, the absence of discipline will only result in chaos, rendering people to behave like a feral animal in the wild.

 

A primitive society devoid of order and discipline would be subject to an unending strife for survival against each other. The civilized man, on the contrary, would enjoin his best energies to those of his fellow creatures in an endeavour to limit, or even eliminate such vain struggles. The Freemasonry avers to negate such impulses. It affords to further mutuality among its members, while, at the same time, seeking to balance individual needs. That, yet again, is what is implied by the words ‘Brotherly Love and Relief and Truth’.  

 

Freemasons strive to create the desired order by controlling the archaic   urges and come to terms with other individuals and societies around wherewith their interests would conflict. How? That is evident from how one enters the Masonic domain. The overall impact of how a new candidate is inducted, helpless and in dark, must make him pretty unsure of himself and of his surroundings. So much so that he might no longer, albeit unconsciously, trust   the material world around him, not even the evidence gleaned off his senses. 

 

If the candidate was properly prepared, not just physically but in mind as well, he ought to, by now, feel humbled, submissive, and blind to more than just material light; and for how long that will go on, he does not even know!  He is launched on a journey in darkness feeling grossly insecure.  Even as his mind is diverted away from the usual sensuality of the world he is now compelled to focus his thoughts into his own being, his own consciousness, to an awareness of his own. Having shed his materialist outer garment the candidate, as we know, has already conceded to be deprived, symbolically, of worldly riches.  His clothing is half-undone, a metaphor much more striking against the elaborate dress and regalia of the Brethren present around. He has a noose placed around his neck, a powerful image of submission. And, most importantly, he has agreed to be deprived of light, to be led around in darkness by his guide.

 

Soon he would certainly feel threatened by a sharp object.  His future in this new way of life is far from secure. He might be apprehensive, but he can neither be impetuous, or he will be stabbed; nor can he hold back, or he will strangle himself, and by this means he is taught to be resolute, to be cautious and perseverance. Do remember that these risks are so devised that to avoid the risk of one is to increase the risk of the other. On entering the Temple, if the initiate paid adequate attention and attempted to grasp the words of the ritual, he would be in for a big surprise. While he has just humbly solicited to be admitted to mysteries and privileges of Freemasonry he now hopes to obtain these privileges by the help of God Himself, and no less! Soon, thereafter, he learns that blessings of God are being invoked on the foregoing convention to enable the candidate to unfold the ‘beauties of true godliness’, in other words recognizing the divinity resident in his own person. The candidate on his part, yet again, affirms that God it is on whom he relies in cases of difficulty and danger. Need it be spelt that the initiate is being nudged towards spiritual ferment of Masonry at every step?

From Materialism to True Godliness

 

Not for the first time perhaps, the light of this divine knowledge responds in him that intimate inclination of his pure heart, which is now symbolically unfettered from the distractions of material world. He, yet again, accepts God as the Supreme Being who protects and preserves him through travails and challenges of his otherwise a mundane material life. The candidate does not, of course, realize all that as yet. It is just the beginning of conscious acknowledgement of that lucid knowledge of God as the supreme good, which he would seek to imitate in his own life as he makes further progress in our Gentle Order and embellish his new identity as a Freemason. As a Mason he would, in due time, acknowledge and emulate his role model who is God through that cogent knowledge which leads Masons to unfold the ‘beauties of true godliness’ of life; thereby bringing out a pure love for God and all His works, and most of all, His most perfect Creation – ‘man’.

 

Living in the materialist world we are fairly well attuned to its propensity; any perception of inducing a change in the existing stipulation would thus appear out of the ordinary, until and unless we pass through what could be termed the ‘reality barrier’, and construe the symbols for what they actually convey, rather than interpreting those symbols at face value. Freemasons enjoy that faculty through the use of symbols and allegory in order to free themselves from the bondage of compelling materialism. By comprehending the Masonic spirituality conveyed so very deftly through  symbols and allegory they are able to adopt the ‘otherness’ in themselves without which a complete knowledge of ‘their selves’ would not be possible. Freemasonry is a search for that enlightenment. It is an incessant quest for knowledge, for those things which are lost, unknown to or hidden from uninitiated -- knowledge of oneself – and that is the real secret of Masonry.

 

In each subsequent degree, one advances through this state of seeming insecurity, curiously expanding his consciousness to embrace a new level in the Temple of his psyche.  Initiation therefore does not actually occur during the ceremony, but as a consequence of it – the ceremony simply plants a seed while the actual raising of his level of consciousness follows in due time. When that is achieved, when the initiate’s heart is opened to the ethos of Masonic precepts, then he truly becomes an Entered Apprentice ready to proceed towards enlightenment by knowing himself, and his journey to unveil spirituality in Masonry begins. That is what the enlightenment, or journey of self-discovery entails. If he chooses to continue on this path he shall appreciate his relationship with both -- the Creator and the creation – the real meaning of life.

 

Towards Enlightenment                  

 

A Freemason is very much akin to a pilgrim who steps out with a determined deliberation, one foot firmly in front of the other, to fall in cadence of his heart, seeking to be in rhythm of the Creation; in search of the higher Truth. He is motivated by a determined deliberation since he came to join Freemasonry of his own freewill and accord. He then takes ‘regular steps’ in Masonry even though he first prepared to be made a Freemason in his heart. The Masonic degree only earns him a rank and dignity which is compulsorily obtained from a person (or persons) having power derived from the authority of the supreme government, the Grand Lodge of India in our case.   “Step-by-step men must advance towards Perfection and each Masonic Degree is meant to be one of these steps”, observed Albert Pike. On completion of Three Degrees a Mason is ‘able’ to launch on a further journey of self-discovery.

 

His initiation in Freemasonry is intended to bridge the gap between largely material paradigms of life to one that is based essentially on spiritual dimension. No wonder, the First Degree is often equated to ‘birth’ of the incumbent. Thereafter an initiate is ‘able to launch on a journey’ of self discovery. We say able to launch on purpose, as against the use of any other word which might imply a requirement, or a foregone inference; since this journey of self-discovery remains absolutely voluntary, a personal choice of the concerned. This highlights yet another eminence of our Gentle Order, “Freemasonry is free, and requires a perfect freedom of inclination” in every Mason . . . It is for individual Mason, as has already been said earlier, to decide what he makes out of the Masonic ethics and its teachings, even his own life!  

 

In due time, once restored to the blessing of material light the candidate has his first glimpse of Great Light which will ultimately enlighten him and shall eventually enable him to look up to that ‘Bright Morning Star, whose rising brings peace and Salvation to the faithful and obedient of the human race’. Thereby he would also be inspired to seek, find and admire God in all His works; but most of all in His masterpiece of creation -- “man”. As described in one of the Charges, God has built man as His temple, as the most perfect and most beautiful work of his Divine architecture, which sin and lust should not ever desecrate.

 

The first Great Light renders the Mason's eye susceptible to the rays of the Second Great Light in front of him, which is in form of the Square, ‘that is to regulate our actions’; while the Compass, the third one, is to keep him ‘in due bounds with all mankind’. The aspiration of every Freemason after all is that “we may perfectly love God, and worthily magnify His Holy Name”.

 

Newtonian Deism and Evolution of Masonic Spirituality 

     

Freemasonry in the seventeenth century, initially, emerged as a fraternal order of scientists and philosophers. The years 1685 to 1715 made for the time when the age of Enlightenment ‘completed its conquest of Europe’. This era of ‘reason’ allowed the creative genius of luminaries and intellectual giants like Voltaire, Isaac Newton, and many other contemporaries to flourish. This period inculcated a new outlook – a mystical order which was amalgam of alchemy and science. There existed a confluence of socio-religious ideas; of historical, sociological, and religious influences that sparked the spiritual ferment and transformation of that time. 

     

During that period the progress in the field of science, notably in astronomy and mathematics, and the works of Sir Isaac Newton (1642 – 1727) persuaded many people towards the power of reason, and of the necessity to examine all things by reason. Reason became inductive, rather than deductive. Some serious thinkers like Prof. Christian Wolff (1679-1754) of Halle attempted to rationalize and approach even theology as if it were an adjunct to mathematics, while seeking a truth that would be incontrovertible for all reasonable men.

        

It was however Newton who conceived and promoted Freemasonry as a mystical order, which is more speculative and crafted on the basis of symbolism which had little to do with Operative Masonry. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries ideas concerning God, reason, nature and man were synthesized into a world view due to propensity for European intellectual movement. That, in turn gained wide assent which instigated revolutionary developments in art, philosophy and politics. Central to the age of Enlightenment though were the use and celebration of ‘reason’, the power by which man could understand the universe and improve his own condition.

 

The goals of the rational man emerged to be Knowledge, Freedom, and Happiness. Newton was a dominant actor in introducing this new concept of Masonry. Freemasonry even as the vehicle for promoting spiritual and intellectual egalitarianism appeared to be something of a confluence of science and spirituality – bridging mundane and sublime. This allowed Newton and other like-minded associates to free themselves of the Church’s monopoly on the intellectual milieu of the time. This challenge to the then existing predominance of the church naturally was repugnant to the church, giving rise to many controversies. 

         

This new concept of Freemasonry created an ideological blueprint that sought to move England and Europe beyond the civil wars generated by its religious conflicts towards a secular society with scientific progress as its foundation and its standard. Yet, in contrast to the umpteen interpretations of church doctrines that fuelled the conflicts ravaging England, this new society of Accepted Freemasons, with its erudite membership, provided an intellectual haven and creative crucible for scientific and political progress: Launching an avant-garde progressive movement to the erstwhile spiritual ferment.

 

Invocation of the Supreme Being

 

At the beginning of the eighteenth century Masonic Lodges were composed of ‘Operative’ as well as “Speculative’ Masons, notwithstanding the fact that by that time the greater number were Speculative Freemasons – yet the Operative element was not entirely absent. In 1719 John Theophilus Desaguliers (1683 – 1744), a contemporary of Sir Isaac Newton was elected   the third Grand Master in London. Sadly, Freemasonry in those early formative years appeared set to fail. It is to his credit that he successfully resuscitated Masonry back to life.

 

To appreciate the sequel of the thought process which finally led to the present day concept of Masonic spirituality one needs to go back into history and examine the contemporary scenario existent at that time. The Thirty Year War (1618 – 1648) in Europe had resulted in widespread and profound distress across the Central Europe. The whole economy had been reduced to barter, schools were closed, churches burned, the sick and needy were forgotten. The world scene around that time was openly venal and immoral. Disenchanted people attacked religion in self defence, and all the more easily because religion seemed but an ancient dogma in those days of strife and misery.

 

Then, there emerged a new idea in moral conduct, one appealing to the intelligence instead of offering creed. It made men to think as it was based upon analysis and reality where contemplation of nature produced certain logical facts. The idea centred on the new Order called Freemasonry. This was enjoined by a sudden intensification of desire for spiritual renewal; which was further stoked by the thinkers of the Age of Enlightenment: the likes of Newton and Voltaire.  John Theophilus Desaguliers, the third Grand Master, took full charge and revived the tottering Freemasonry. He put in order most of the Masonic rituals, re-organized the set up of Masonic administration, and also in the process endowed Masonry with his empirical philosophy introducing a fresh spiritual slant, by assigning to it a touch of ‘Newtonian Christianity’ or Deism; a belief in the concept of Newton’s God. Now for the first time ever the Supreme Being had a different appellation -- “The Great Artificer and Creator of the Universe”.  Later on eminent Masonic thinkers and writers, like W.L.Wilmshurst and J.S.M. Ward, would re-affirm this viewpoint, and declare Masonry as having a mystical interpretation where the object is the quest for union with the Devine.

 

God and Freemasonry

 

Conceding to the foregoing viewpoint, and accepting that Freemasonry addresses itself to moral and spiritual advancement of its members by emulation of the Creator Himself, one might well ask as to what then compels Masons to shroud His eminence in allegories; or, hiding its high principles by resorting to symbols? The truth is that even the concept of God, or Supreme Being, or the Most High, whether in or outside of theological precepts is essentially based on symbolism.

 

Symbolically, the essence of the Supreme Being lies in His Ineffable Name. This should not surprise us since most of the ancient religions share this tradition. Most emphatically it might be added that traditionally His several appellations were not seen as just an address, or identity of His persona. His name was seen to manifest and encompass the Supreme Being’s inner self, His powers, actually in essence, His very soul. The reason why God, the Supreme Being, is addressed differently in various degrees is to emphasize the particular characteristic which is most relevant to that degree. Furthermore, trusting that God is but an Ineffable Name, who might be addressed in several diverse manners by different people in different places, it is easy to understand what makes Freemasonry universal. It highlights the Fatherhood of God, hence the Brotherhood of mankind.

 

Should one closely examine the Masonic ethics, he will certainly realize that everything in Freemasonry points to a kind of meditation in which one contemplates Devine and regards everything as His blessing. Everyday challenges, mundane cares of subsistence, struggles and pains, cares and concerns tend to pale out; for Masonry seems more spiritual than religion since it is not bound by fetters of any specific religious creed or dogma. It inherently reaches out to others and shuns self centred motivations. As has been said earlier spirituality is not necessarily bound to any particular religious tradition. This emancipation, however, does not come easily.

 

The great challenge faced by every Mason is how he may develop himself into a prime example of man, an epitome of perfection, by emulating the Most Perfect – God. How he may strive to be perfect in body and mind, in reason and spirit, in passion and determination, and become like the role model he has chosen for himself. He must explore not only how he ought to be, but also know how he is and how it can yet be: and, this is possible only when he first knows himself. He is to first identify the human being in his own person, then in others, in all classes, societies, nations -- in joy and sorrow, in the youth as in the mature elders.

 

This unique sagacity of spirituality is precisely what Freemasonry affords to imbibe in its members. That explains as to why throughout the history of Freemasonry men of substance, those at the cutting edge of the society anywhere and everywhere have been attracted towards it, and chosen to join and be a part of this Gentle Order. It is the sense of spirituality which inspires every Mason; and urges him to endeavour to be true to himself, be a man of inner riches, who is at the same time a man of action and as such a strong influence for good in society and among all humankind. To achieve such an eminent goal, it naturally follows that first of all we know ourselves.

 

Materialism and Masonic Spirituality

           

Knowing ourselves here is not about admiring our physical traits. It is not about our corporeal body and how it functions, even as that might be a useful knowledge in some circumstances. Here we are concerned with the non-material, non-physical side of ourselves. We thereby admit the existence of our ‘other’ self, as opposed to what is obvious, or what we wish others to believe in; thus in all truthfulness we are recognizing our non-material existence, affording to understand our heart, our mind, our character, our psyche, and our very soul, or to put it briefly, our spirituality: For that reflects our true self, our actual spiritual format – our real self.

 

One of the principal attitudes demanded of every Freemason, right from the day one, is fidelity to secrets.  In this era of Personal Computers, world-wide-web and Google concept of Masonic secrecy as demanded of the Order is virtually redundant.  One certainly does not mean to limit such a serious commitment of secrecy just to the signs, tokens and words. That would be rather puerile. These have been so extensively thrashed out and exposed on the ‘web’ that they are no longer worth hiding from the profane world. In the context of Freemasonry we actually dwell upon some different type of secrets. ‘Freemasonry, viewed as it should be, is not a physical organisation but rather an activity in pursuit of Divinity, of greater light.  Our secrets are those things we hold dear, secrets of our own creation and creativity, which we are therefore reluctant to expose, much as a novelist or an artist is reluctant to show his work to others until it is finished’, observed Wor. Bro. Julian Rees.  Every aspect of Freemasonry, be it obligation, allegory, Charge or a lecture conveys a subtle message. Message, which invariably carries with it a spiritual content so that a Mason might convince the world that merit has been his title to Masonic privileges.  That he learns all this spiritual contents through allegories and not through some kind of sermon makes Freemasonry more amenable to intellectual challenge.

 

Allegorical Teachings and Spirituality

          

Freemasonry is essentially an educational guide for showing how to live one’s life with dignity and respect. It is somewhat like an apprenticeship for learning what spiritual emancipation is; it takes into account the dimensions of one’s personality on emotional plane passing through Fraternity; on intellectual grounds through the exercise of Compassion; and on the spiritual plane through respect for Traditions, by frequent references to the Superior Being. It, therefore, prefers to welcome those who would dare to take upon themselves to meet the challenges to affect their own improvement; and reach out to find essential material inside the fraternal alliance where they may share efforts and their queries with their compatriots. We use the word ‘improvement’ rather than ‘perfection’ here on purpose, since the former deals with a way of life rather than the final goal. 

          

What unites Freemasons is their collective faith in one’s ‘perfectibility’, and the resultant radiating influence on others. Through Masonic teachings   and through an active and a responsibly guided self conduct, Freemasons tend to out-shine prosaic population with more Justice, more Tolerance, more Charity and Love. Masonry teaches us to be our ‘other’ self, which would, in turn, deserve to be admired, held in respect, and perhaps even be emulated by our peers. It teaches us that we deliberately try always to be ourselves, owning ourselves, in control of our faculties, trying to know ourselves intimately by having such a balanced appreciation of our talents and our failings that we need not try so hard to prove ourselves before others; but on the contrary be able to judge ourselves on our own terms. This prudent practice will go a long way to allow us not only to remain sanguine in all seasons but also urge us to sincerely dedicate ourselves to ‘such pursuits as at once may enable us to be respectable in life, useful to mankind, and an ornament to the society’. Freemasonry thus calls upon the superior principles which surpass the material, social and religious reality. To achieve that goal one must live with equanimity and be at peace with oneself. Masonic teachings urge Freemasons to achieve that composure and resultant unperturbed self–possession. The following example will explain it better.   

 

Our ancient Brethren received their wages ‘Without scruple or diffidence’. This was so since they well knew that they were justly entitled to them. As   individuals, we too frequently receive our rewards in our public and personal life. Some of us get along better, and receive more while the others not as much. The subtle message conveyed there-in is that we too must accept our wages (sic. rewards) ‘without scruple’. That is to say without any misgiving or moral constraint for that would only result in heartburn, if anything; and distract us from our avowed commitments to ourselves and to others. This is the Freemason’s way of accepting the outcome of his labours -- without any mental protestation, or feeling of jealousy towards those who have done better. The lesson here is to shun every base sentiment, like jealousy, covetousness, or envy or material greed. Receive your wages without scruple for you are justly entitled to that much only! ‘Without diffidence’ only enhances the definition and the scope of this attitude. And it could not have been done any better! Only after one has consciously abandoned that negative feeling of envy, would he ever be able to celebrate the unalloyed joys of untainted contentment, that equanimity; and channel his energy to meet other challenges. One must accept the recompense of his endeavours, or labours if you please, with equanimity; without diffidence; without reservation or bashfulness. For one must accept that he is only entitled to that much; no more, no less.  Nearer home, in Sanskrit and in Hindi, this attitude is called ‘santosh’; which could perhaps be translated, albeit only roughly, to mean ‘accepting an outcome without any remonstration, with a degree of tranquillity’. This demands that, in all humility, we place great reliance on the integrity of the Great Employer.

 

This is just one example of spirituality making allegorical reference in Masonic teachings, and there are many, many more. This seemingly esoteric allegorical exchange is an allusion that one should accept his station or standing in life (wages of his labours?) with no feeling other than satisfaction, staying ‘purified from every baneful and malignant passion’. One must not covet or feel jealous of other’s gains and status; and must fully rely on the fairness of the Supreme Being. Then and only then, he shall be able to receive his ‘wages without scruple and diffidence’; always remembering that one must not ever let up in his concerted efforts to do better, after all ‘it is the hope of reward that sweetens’ every endeavour. In this abstruse manner Masonry teaches us to remain unfettered by any ignoble feeling, and yet be able to discharge the duties as owed to Him, ‘as may conduce to the preservation of your corporeal and mental faculties in their fullest energy, thereby enabling you to exert those talents where with God has blessed you’; and more importantly, dedicate yourself ‘to His glory as the welfare of your fellow creatures’. Such are the Spiritual teachings in Masonry which one can not feign to overlook.Yet again, if that is the manner in which one received the wages, where did he go to collect these? And also, where from one acquires this sterling propensity? Of course, in the middle chamber of the Temple.

 

When one remembers that he is like ‘a house not built by hands’; and  trying to be ‘a superstructure perfect in its parts and honourable to the Builder’; the Middle Chamber allegorically translates to your heart, for it was in your heart that you were first prepared to be made a Freemason.    Many such spiritual lessons repose in the Rituals waiting to be discovered. To be able to unravel this esoteric aspect of Masonic spirituality and to adopt this knowledge demands abandoning one’s own ego as much as possible. It will mean a dying-off of those materialistic desires, false ambitions, private frustrations, and personal prejudices. Following this course will lead one to harmony with the environment, with one’s fellowmen, and with the Absolute. It would nurture inspiration and reveal non-possessive love. Masonic Ritual when rightly performed and correctly understood, emanate this inner strength, wisdom, and beauty—this spirituality.

 

In Appreciation of Spiritual Teachings                                                                                                  

 

Senior Masons seldom tire themselves of praising the beauty and splendor of Freemasonry and its Rituals. Their ecstatic eulogy in praise of Masonic rituals is often, if not always, dismissed as vain rhetoric. The reason for this summary rejection is that the rituals, lectures, and charges et al are seldom delivered with a desired indulgence and abandon. More often than not, at best, these are dull recitals. Ideally, delivery of ritual performance should be a close-knit unity between spoken words, with a touch of dramatics, and the intervening discreet silences as may be designed for the expressed facts to sink in, thus bringing home the salient features of the proceeding. The well placed emphasis must highlight finer points and emphasize the topical nuances. Only then the real meaning of allegory and symbols will dawn upon the concerned. All meaning is sadly lost in poor, onerous delivery.  

 

In the earlier part of this dissertation it was explained at length that Freemasonry abounds in spiritual teachings. Its Rituals are full of mentions and references of God, often direct but mostly implied, reminding us about our part with Him in His Grand Design -- the universe. We frequently say prayers addressed to God to invoke His blessings at every stage of our progress during the proceedings. We invariably invoke His aid, while putting our trust in Him in all our undertakings. We seek enlightenment and inspiration from Him; speak of light which is from above. Freemasonry thus teaches us that we, in all humility, dedicate ourselves to Him. Seek His guidance in all our undertakings, since we want to go beyond the confines of ‘my and mine’ to ‘thy and thine’. As has been stated earlier we are thus emulating Him, and His selfless love for the whole Creation. In this manner, we are replicating His generosity, His magnanimity by soliciting His wisdom, strength and beauty.

 

Right from ones initiation one is launched on a quest for self-knowledge, a quest so important, that all other activities in Freemasonry, however laudable they might be, whether social, charitable or ritual, must take second place. On initiation the candidate is like a rough ashlar which once quarried will never be the part of the bedrock again. It has separated itself from the rude mass and the resultant pedestrian experiences. Initiation frees him from the unanimity with masses; as a Freemason he is now free to commence a new life: Life of an individual. He may now aver to be a finished ashlar, and be ready to be fitted in the Temple of perfection.  It is a step which only he can take; and he can take it only for himself. When he has done so, when he has recognized himself to be an individual, much like the rough ashlar which will never again be part of the pit, the Entered Apprentice can never go back to the anonymity of the crowd.  To put it another way, when he has had an insight into his nature, when he has a glimpse of the fact that he really is, inside, at the core of his being  the ‘Image of God’, he can not any more ignore that compelling veracity. Remembering that, ‘To be aware of God’s existence may depend on us opening our hearts’, once he enters the Temple, like that proverbial ‘rough ashler’, he shall never return to quarry. The Masonic teachings however esoteric these may appear make a Mason a different man. Thus Freemasonry being a combination of faith in Supreme Being and a method of self perfection turns it into a spiritual approach in the largest sense.  

 

Yet, in spite of our unquestioned realization of Masonic spirituality, and our total submission to His will, sadly, we have a penchant to overlook the fact that Freemasonry is indeed founded upon Spiritual experience. This is so since to be aware of God’s existence depends on us opening our hearts to His precepts in true sense. That is not easy to practice. Our Gentle Order is not oblivious to that challenging criterion. It dismisses such apprehensions, as stated earlier in this essay, saying, “Freemasonry is free, and requires a perfect freedom of inclination in every candidate for its mysteries.” It devolves upon  the individual to discover its Piety and Virtues . . .

Summing – up

Vast scope of the topic at hand, ‘The Spirituality in Masonic Teachings’, and all pervading influence endorsed by spirituality upon every aspect of Freemasons’ life is indeed very profound. This is even more so when it extends to cover its teachings and ethos as well. It appears futile to delineate its vast reaches in any conclusive manner in just a few pages. However, a brief summing up of this dissertation would be found in order.

 

Freemasonry is a peculiar system of morality, demanding unstinted faith in God. Though free from religious bigotry it is rather coercive upon its members. It pre-ordains its own ideals of human conduct and propitiates its own interpretation of the principles of spirituality. Therefore it lays a great emphasis on individual’s conduct encouraging certain moral values and duties towards his fellow men. Its spiritual ethos is structured not just to cover human organization but also the very way of life.

 

To persuade men to act in an upright and Masonic way Freemasonry demands and brings to bear upon them certain convictions and strives to negate other conventional influences which might oppose its purposes. It would be, therefore, only natural that Freemasons are duly educated to appreciate those values – spiritual values.

 

Being inter-dependent with all beings in His Creation, and being conscious of His presence, Masons feel bonded with Supreme Being, thereby trying to emulate that symbol of perfection – The G.A.T.U. It is only after taking after Him they would be able to practice His virtuous ways, for these are often contrary to the natural, instinctive ways. To achieve that objective of creating a harmonious society Masonry has, overtime, evolved a spiritual slant in all its teachings. Masonic teachings well appreciate what they require a Mason to be, while projecting what a human society in general should be. Masonic teachings aim to convey this particular point of view in the light of Masonic principles and ideals, and in behalf of Masonic purposes. As it addresses itself to individuals, and yet reaches out selflessly to the members of society and finally the world at large, the Masonic teaching is a study of spirituality. Put the other way, spiritual teachings bear upon Masonry as much as Masonry bears upon spirituality.

 

Aspirant to Masonry is invariably a ‘Just, upright and free man of mature age, sound judgment and strict morals’. He has thus already formulated his life-style and beliefs. To adopt and accept seemingly diverse values demanded of a Freemason, however, could be an up-hill task for a lay person. This could prove to be a very demanding pre-condition for an uninitiated person; unless he is first prepared to be made a Freemason in his heart. 

 

Before entering the Gentle Order, he is called upon to make ‘a serious promise’; a solemn obligation binding on his conscience. This indeed is a ‘serious promise’. Assisted by the secrets of Masonry, that is to say the real secrets of meanings as conveyed by Masonic teachings; (not just the passwords and signs, still less the form and content of the degree ceremonies) he would set forth on a path of special enlightenment which is the ‘knowledge of his own self’. This being the path that will get him to the bottom of the essence of spiritual ethics in Masonry, or science; leading him to the Divinity. Yet again, it is not some abstract Divinity realized through mundane understanding, but the Divinity already resident in himThis knowledge of oneself is the true empowerment. He acquires this knowledge by acknowledging, through a rational deliberation, that the Divinity that is his; is resident in him; and by owning it. Thereby, being at the centre bounded by the equidistant parts of the circle, at a point where, as a Mason, he cannot err, he is then truly himself!

 

Spiritual teaching bulks predominantly in the literature of the Craft, in its philosophy, in its teachings, its ritual, and its traditions, since Masonry is, above all other things, a moralistic institution. It projects its moral commitments through spiritual conventions. Freemasonry strives to realize on earth a definite ideal of conduct, both private and public, but always through subtle spiritual references.

 

In the first degree we are in a state of a helpless indigence, in darkness, in submission and near slavery to some extraneous compulsions; although we are there ‘of our free will and accord’. We are then presented with Jacob’s ladder, an image of the ascent to God. In the second degree we are presented with the image of a winding staircase leading to Middle Chamber, another allegory of a possible ascent to approach Divinity. In the third degree, it is a veil that separates us from our true nature, and to pierce it we must ‘trample the king of terrors beneath our feet’. For “we have nothing to fear but fear itself. There is no darkness so black that we cannot move towards the light. There is no submission or slavery so great that we cannot set out on the road to freedom. There is no Jacob’s ladder, no winding staircase so steep that we cannot ascend. There is no veil so obscure that we cannot pierce. And there is no evil so intractable that we cannot tread it beneath our feet”.

 

Concluding Remark

 

But are we prepared to learn from the Masonic paradigm of spirituality?

 

Now-a-days, sadly, manifestation of individual’s hopes and aspirations seem to be far more materialistic than ever before. People, most people, are acquisitive; motivated by worldly money-oriented gains. Humane criterion of compassionate and richly rewarding life to such people is repugnant to their demeanor. Pursuit of wealth and materialism in its many expositions is more amenable to their lifestyle; and worse their mentality.  They have, unfortunately, degraded their deportment to diminish their concerns, and even interests, simply to me, me, and myself! Such materialistically orientated people have little interest or concern for their fellowmen. To a critical observer it would be obvious though that the world scene has, yet again, ‘turned venal and immoral’. Masonic teachings, and by implication spirituality, have therefore become most relevant than ever to resurrect the society and the world at large to a degree of sanity and astuteness, and make this world a better place for all.                                                                                                                               

                                 Bibliography

Morals and Dogma                                                                 Albert Pike

Philosophy of Freemasonry                                                    Bro. Prof. Roscoe Pound  

Symbolism                                                                              Bro. Arthur Edward Waite 

Who is afraid of Freemasonry                                                Alexander Platigorsky                             

Spiritual Side of Freemasonry                                                J.H.Morrow

Illustrations of Masonry                                                          William Preston

A Spiritual Quest                                                                    Wor. Bro. Julian Rees

Is Freemasonry a Religion?                                                     Wor. Bro. J.S.M.Ward

Mysticism, Masculinity and Masonry                                     David Slator

Symbolism in Craft Masonry                                                  Collin F.W. Dyer

Masonic Rituals and Modern Spiritualism                              F.K.J.F.Frackers

The Way of the Craftsman                                                     Kirk MacNulty

Oration (before Grand Lodge of Washington- 1939)            George E.Maine

Encyclopedia Britannica                                                         (2008 edition)

The Ritual of the Three Degrees of Freemasonry                   G.L.I.

 

 

Wor. Bro. Capt. Avadhesh Prasad was raised a Master Mason in 1966 in Lodge Friendship, # 47 GLI, Ajmer, where he now continues as Honorary Member. He is Past Master of Lodge Swarn Jayanti, #312, GLI, NOIDA (year 2006); and currently he is the ruling Master of Lodge Samyukta Sena, #126, GLI, New Delhi. He has since been privileged to hold several Grand and Regional Grand Lodge ranks in Craft, Mark, and Chapter Lodges respectively. He is an avid student of Freemasonry. Even as, being a Naval Officer, he was most of the time away in ships at sea thus beyond the proverbial ‘cable tow’ of any Masonic Lodge, he maintained an intimate touch with our Gentle Order, thanks to the “Square & Compasses” and similar sources of Masonic knowledge. A keen writer, he has published several essays in Masonic publications, both in India and abroad. He was recipient of the ‘Grand Master’s Masonic Essay Competition – 2007’; and recipient of the Certificate of Merit in year 2009. He constructively subscribed in planning, formulating and writing of the Grand Lodge of India Masonic Education Certificate Program (year 2009), as also the Masonic Diploma Program (year 2010) respectively under the astute guidance of Right Worshipful Brother Krishna Kumar Gautam, then the Regional Grand Master,( Northern India). In appreciation of his contributions in these programs he was awarded a salver and a scroll by the Most Worshipful the Grand Master in 2010. He has been selected for the award of the First Prize in the Essay Competition conducted by Sri Brahadeeswara Lodge (No.150) on “Spirituality in Masonic Teaching” as part of the Golden Jubilee and he received the Prize from M.W.Grand Master in the Masonic Retreat held in Matheran in June 2013. His essay, which was adjudged the best has been uploaded here.


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