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Article # 274
The Hindu View of Freemasonry

Author: Bro.Dr.M.Vamshidar    Posted on: Sunday, February 2, 2014
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A HINDU VIEW OF MASONRY

(Bro. DR.M.VAMSHIDHAR)

Lodge Concord No.204.

 

 

 

Contents

1. Prologue

2. Objective of Essay

3. Introduction

4. Masonic voyage of Candidate

5. Epilogue

 

 

 


 

A Hindu View of Masonry

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience.

                  We are spiritual beings having a human experience1.”

1. PROLOGUE

The title of my paper “A Hindu View of Masonry” may appear misleading since one of the chief features of modern philosophical thought is the growing universality of outlook. Thus, it may appear inappropriate to project the mood of provincialism. But what justifies my title is that, when we speak of Indian philosophy or Eastern philosophy, we mean the philosophy that has developed in a certain region of the earth. We do not mean that the truth which the philosophy aims at is of the provincial character. The aim of philosophy is to reach the truth which is always universal and unconditional-‘Ekam sat vipra bahuda vadanti’ (truth is one, called differently by many).

      I.      Objective of paper:

My investigation is based on an imaginary candidate experiencing each plane of Masonic craft journey and to give commentary with the help of prolific Indian philosophy on his gradual transmutation process into a realized soul.

I wish to emphasize that I am neither a philosopher nor Gnostic. I have simply put together material from various sources for which ‘select Bibliography’ has been appended. It would be my responsibility to state straightaway that apart from documented information, I have liberally used my imagination to connect the dots in the preparation of this paper. I humbly claim that my writings make no pretence to being complete or dogmatic and crave the indulgence of the reader for my short comings.

1. Pierre Tielhard de Chardin- French Philosopher   

2. INTRODUCTION

Freemasonry is not the first attempt by mankind to form cohesive organizations. Being ancient and universal, it steadily emerged as the largest fraternal Institution comprising five well established systematic departments. (Roscoe pound- Philosophy of Masonry)

Ritual, History, Symbolism, Law and Philosophy

Philosophy as a subject though appealing to only a few, is by no means least of all. Ignorance of the subject of Masonic Philosophy is profound. But, a zealous Mason interested in philosophy will, however, find in Masonic thought an extraordinary mass of material whose spiritual insight or the rational philosophy can be paralleled with any other spiritual traditions attained in the world.

The deeper essences of Masonic teachings are quite as interesting and instructive as the systems of either Plato and Aristotle or Kant and Hegel or the marvellous psychological analyses of Upanishads.

1.   Freemasonry and Indian Thought - A comparison

From a study of Indian philosophy, one can realize that Freemasonry has several distinct features in line with Hinduism.

Philosophy in India is essentially spiritual. The term Hinduism is of recent origin & doesn’t appear anywhere in Vedic texts. Therefore, Hinduism at best can be described as totality of philosophical thoughts & refers to SANATANA DHARMA. Sanatana Dharma means eternal law, it represents much more than just a religion; it provides its followers with an entire way of life that makes their inner life more perfect, more comprehensive, more universal, and in fact more truly human. 

Freemasonry also shares identical perception. It is not a unitary religion or faith or a body of Dogmas & cults but a liberal pluralistic tradition. This tradition offers methods & technique all with a view to realize the ultimate truth.

Freemasonry, akin to Hinduism, aims to preach that all knowledge is within the human soul & no knowledge comes from outside. It is not discovered but remains covered. Once the veil is removed from the soul, it reveals itself. The man from whom this veil is being lifted is the knowing man; the man upon whom it lies thick is ignorant.

Similar to Hinduism, freemasonry accepts all beings equally irrespective of their creeds & beliefs. The masonry reveres “The Great Architect of the Universe” & pronounces that ultimate aim of mankind is wisdom & enlightenment

3. MASONIC VOYAGE OF A CANDIDATE

      I.     Enquiry into Yourself               

Today’s modern man has a fairly good degree of control over the external nature by means of advances in science and technology.  But, there also exists an internal nature, dealt by the science of spirituality which too needs discipline and control. Both are needed for the complete human development and fulfilment. Currently, man is slave of his internal nature. Humanity has lost its true identity. People are ignorant of the real self within. Groping in ignorance, they suffer from stress and strain. The remedy lies in gaining the knowledge of Self (Atma bodha).

Freemasonry also illustrates that man has fallen away from his own distinct singular nature and from the highest consciousness. Its real aim is to provide a course of self-knowledge and self discipline by means of which we may accelerate our return to our real home “The Kingdom of Heaven”.

Freemasonry symbolically represents this journey from ignorance to knowledge ....nothingness to being.....darkness to light....as a gradual and steady metamorphosis of Rough to Perfect Ashlar. The very essence of the Masonic doctrine is to achieve this state of Perfect Ashlar which is an internal process of self-discovery and knowledge.

II. Steps to Self - Realization

Before we commence to rediscover the steps to self-realization, it would be helpful to know why we were born divided and as ignorant forms. Sri Aurobindo in his book life Divine mentioned that, to experience the highest consciousness in various life forms, the infinite consciousness interestingly withdrew its highest consciousness in those forms.

Thus, when the forms...in particular we humans....discover our higher nature, we experience the delight for which we were created. Therefore, only through willed reduction in consciousness was the discovery of delight possible. Only by starting with ignorance could we experience the joy of true knowledge.   

To experience this divine truth, man has to pass through seven planes of knowledge in his spiritual journey.

A) Inspiration

B) Revelation

C) Insight & Intellect

D) Intuition

E) Ecstasy

F) Divine sight

G) Eternal bliss.

A.INSPIRATION – BEYOND SENSE MIND

We begin this transition by changing our mentality.

In this lowest and material plane, man clings to the sense pleasures and mistakes them for the pure bliss, there comes a time in the lives of the individuals when involuntarily they ask “Is this real”. Realizing the futility of desires, they go out in the search of freedom, it marks a turning point. But, what is Freedom? Vedanta defines freedom as spiritual value.

The true focus of freedom is gained only by the practice of self discipline. The first degree or the Entered Apprentice stage of Freemasonry is entirely focussed on the subject of acquiring this true freedom. It is also called as the ceremony of initiation because it marks the commencement of a new order of personal life consciousness. To be a Freemason, the individual must be a Freeman -worthy and well qualified.

I.   Worthy And Well Qualified?

The term, ‘Worthy and well qualified’ in Freemasonry refers to the character or personality of the aspirant. Adi Sankaracharya, in his classical text Vivekachudamani3, brilliantly enumerated the qualifications of a spiritual aspirant. These qualifications are universal and may perhaps be applied to any student aspiring to gain any form of science - physical or spiritual. They are:

1. Medhavi - intelligent and learned

2. Vidhvaan- comprehensive ability

3. Uhapoha vichakshana- analytical capability.

Masonry also demands that an Entered Apprentice besides having a clear and sharp mind,  must have an earnest desire to unravel the mysteries of life and nature and for this he must be ‘Properly Prepared’.

3. Medhavi puruso vidvan – uhapoha - vicakshanah;                                                                  Adhikari- atmacidyayam – ukta - laksana-laksitah           . Vivekachudamani – (16)

II.Preparation of the Candidate

 What other qualities should an aspirant possess to begin his inquiry into the eternal truth?

Brahmasutras4 have distinctly declared that to study the deeper mysteries of infinite, a neophyte must be properly prepared and ought to inculcate the Four-fold spiritual discipline (sadhana- chatustaya)4 .  

 

Four- Fold spiritual Disciplines (sadhana- chatustaya)

1. Vivekam- Discrimination between Self and Non-self.

2. Vyragyam- Dispassion towards sensual pleasures.

3. Shad- Sampatthi (six treasures):

 Sama, Dama, Uparati, Titksha, shraddha, samadhana

4. Mumukshutva: It is yearning for freedom from all bondages.

 

    II.    Elements of right living

Put in a nutshell, the spiritual qualifications mentioned are elementary to gaining the ultimate experience of Self-realization. They serve as means for the final goal of realization.

To commence the intellectual task of erecting a spiritual temple in his own heart, the initiated mason purifies his heart (vivekam), re-orients and empties himself from his old self, divesting and detaching himself from his past acquisitions whether intellectual or material (vyragyam). A man aspiring spiritual realization must possess clean and fit body-mind complex. And the practice of sama-dama bestows on him this fitness. These along with uparati and titiksha make a steady inner state. The steady state develops an intense desire to enquire the purpose and destiny of human life.

4. Vivekachudamani – 18- 32 slokas ,  Brahma sutra: 6.4.2

 

Our first plane of knowledge is symbolized by the Jacob’s ladder composed of many moral virtues. The principal ones are Faith, Hope and Charity. Thus, the inspired Entered Apprentice employs Faith (shraddha) to approach the God, continues his pilgrimage in the hope that ensures him on the path to knowledge and the initiate tries to emulate (samadhana) god through charity intensifying the desire for liberation (Mumuksuta). In Brahmasutra, This desire to know the Brahman is mentioned as an aphorism Athato Brahma jijnasa (1.1.1).

  B. REVELATION- MOVING TO THE DEPTHS

The candidate or the neophyte who all along was ignorant or sat in darkness, has now suddenly seen a great light but cannot yet say what that light is. The revelation is that he knows that he has received his sight and that earlier he was relatively blind and now beginning to see. So the restoration of light or the spiritual knowledge is likened as Masonic regeneration or psychological rebirth.  

Though a momentous milestone in the path of knowledge but is confronted with significant road blocks. Our normal nature will resist and throw us back into the ego, sense- bound mind leading into the life of ignorance and falsehood. Somehow we need to make permanent connection or bridge with inner self.

I.   How do we maintain this inner status?

This is illustrated very well in the charge in the North-East corner. It is a meeting place of north and east, of darkness and light. It is a parable of the dual paths of life open to each one of us; represents candidate’s ambiguous mind. Standing at this point, he can either advance towards east for want of knowledge or relapse backwards to north plunging into the ignorance; the direction to pursue ultimately rests on the candidate himself.  The erection of the spiritual structure in Masonic mysticism is known as King Solomon’s Temple which every mason must build for himself.

C - INSIGHT AND INTELLECT- A CONSECRATED LIVING

On his forward journey, insight occupies the intermediate plane between the sense-world and the supra - sensual world. Insight is essentially an inference that is validated by a reason. It is through the insight and intellect we enquire into truth.

Now, what is this enquiry? The discrimination between the Self and the Non-self constitutes enquiry into the truth. for by this discrimination alone and by knowing one’s own Self- the man becomes ever peaceful.

The question that needs to address is how do we differentiate Self from non-self?  The method adopted is called Adhyaropa apavada (negating the superimposition). When the non-self is negated in its entirety, what remains is the pure self, the truth. Hence, the self is first defined in negative terms “not this not this” (na iti na iti) before its true nature is asserted.

Advance to Altar

The discrimination of Self from Non-self is skilfully represented as an allegory of the candidate advancing from West to East, from nothingness to being, from unreal to real. Let us penetrate further to appreciate what they actually mean at the Gnostic level.

Legend of Winding Staircase:

In the second degree, advancing to East is designed in the form of a winding staircase. It comprises five steps taken high and elevated in spiral fashion. Spiral ascent is a narrow path that commence with the two pillars that exemplify the universal properties as “the pairs of opposites". The pillars therefore, epitomize the perfect integrity of body & soul essential for spiritual perfection.  The spiral ascent by five steps in Masonry can be paralleled with the expositions of Taittreya Upanishad5 (5. Taittreya Upanishad: 2.1.1)which says that; atman (self) is covered by five sheaths (Pancha- kosa). Each step signifies a sheath and climbing over each step denotes detaching yourself from the material layers and moving a step closer to the identification of soul within.

 

Let us now examine what the five sheaths are (Panchakosa-vidya)  :

1) Food sheath (Annamaya kosa):

2) Bio energy sheath (pranamaya kosa):

3) Mental sheath (Manonmayah kosa):

4) The intellectual sheath (vijnanamaya kosa):

5) The blissful sheath(anandamaya kosa)

(Atma Bodha: pancakosa-vidya 31-46 Slokas)

 

This spiral ascent implies that the candidate with his insight and intellect uncovers the Self and gets liberated from the shackles of the five sheaths. He thus, departs the sense world and transcends to supra-sensual world. A new milestone thus has been reached- “the Psychic being”.

D. INTUITION- THE PERSONAL EVOLVING SOUL

Intuition is an inference validated by the thinker’s belief system. It takes the person beyond what he already knows. In this spiritual plane, the Gnostic utilizes the enlightened heart as an instrument to seek that intuitive knowledge.

Legend of Charge in the South-East

The candidate placed in the south symbolizes left or the heart side of the lodge thus, appealing the heart or the spiritual intuition rather than the head or mind. Swami Vivekananda in his discourse said that it is the heart which takes one to the highest plane, which intellect can never reach. This mythical legend signifies the step by step transition of the aspirant from the position of North-East – a state of divided allegiance into the region of South-East which is all illumination-a vast spiritual self.

This is the phase where the individual has begun to move beyond the mind’s higher capacities for logic and rational thought. The candidate through the intuitions of knowledge feels more connected with the universe.

                        

 

E. ECSTASY-THE SPIRITUAL TRANSFORMATION

At this point of the path with dramatic changes in mental functions, man may experience a shift from his negative attitudes and sentiments to higher attitudes and behaviours. This process of spiritual transformation brings in ecstatic pleasures as he develops inviolable faith in the higher will and force.

The Masonic journey at this juncture appears to have taken an abrupt halt. The legend of Hiram Abiff may be conceived as the symbol of man’s journey through life. In this journey, man encounters many obstacles which may be symbolically referred to as ruffians (Jubela, jubelo and Jubellum). The three ruffians he met are none other than the symbols of Ignorance (avidya), Desire (kama)) and Action (karma). His fate may be regarded as the same that befalls every man who encounters and become victim to these three enemies. Let us try and understand this dramatic legend with the aid of Upanishads which have untangled the mystery of death effectively.

Seven steps to Altar:

The advancing from the West to East in the third degree is by seven steps. These seven steps constitute the sukshma sarira or the internal instrument (Antaha-karna). The first three belong to three primordial elements namely; Ignorance (avidya), desire (kama), and action (karma) and the remaining four involves the components of internal organ namely, Manas, Buddhi, Ahamkara or Citta.

The three primordial elements Ignorance (jubela), Desire (jubello), and Action (jubellum) symbolically represent that man still clings to these subtle attractions. The cycle of ignorance, desire and action is of a vicious type in which our life moves. Our actions proceed from desire; behind desire is ignorance of our true nature. Through our actions we succeed in getting what we desire. This cycle repeats itself, one causing another. Our lives are caught in the wheel of this cycle which is nothing but the cycle of birth and death. The foolish man who treads this path will be constantly facing death, not physical death, which is not important; it is but spiritual death, which is the cause of concern for all.

 

 

How do we get out of it?

Shankaracharya in his commentary on Tattvabodha says, we can free ourselves from this cycle only by cutting at the root, i.e. by destroying our ignorance with self-knowledge. To get this control and the resultant freedom, we have to utilise the four subtle components of the internal instrument (antaha-karana) manas, buddhi, ahamkara, and citta. These components can be paralleled with the four corrective steps or the purification process that is comparable to the resurrection of man after passing through the valley of death. 

The internal organ as the manas is indecisive, vacillating from one possibility to another. The same internal organ transforms itself from the indecisive state to a decisive state known as buddhi. The decisive state about a particular experience is then referred to a subject in us, the ‘I’. This is called ahamkara or ego. It implies a profound reality hidden inside our psychophysical system. In its absolute sense, it refers to the reality that witnesses the “I”- The Eternal Self. The fourth step signifies the ‘chitta’ which always remind us of that supreme truth.  

F. DIVINE SIGHT–SUPRAMENTAL TRANSFORMATION

The path then continues into the realm that is indescribable or unfathomable. Standing on the brink of the grave, our contemplation of the mortality reminds us that the soul of man is a tiny spark of the divine  and can therefore never die, and will be at peace only when in perfect harmony with its divine source. As we begin to move towards divine life, the inner and the outer are no longer separate. We are in perfect harmony with everything that is unfolding around us.

G. ETERNAL BLISS

It is here that the path reaches its culmination or goal. We experience the ultimate Delight in existence, fulfilling the very purpose for which the Divine enabled this universe. On this ultimate leg of the Path our bodies are no longer subject to death and decay because the cells of our body have been supramentalized so that they respond to the higher Power, preventing their decay and degeneration. In other words, we are on the road to becoming immortal.

5. EPILOGUE

Masonic teachings are few and definite. They insist on the importance of ethical life and moral virtues. The teachings of Masonry are identical to Svetasvatara Upanishad (Svetasvatara Upanishad 1.12, 1.13, 1.14), which stresses that man is of divine race, but he has in him an element of non-being which exposes him to evil.  If we do not break with evil, we cannot attain freedom.

Masonic teachings articulate the philosophy of life. The teachings are centered on the light (knowledge), the conscious light man had, the light it had lost and the light it must regain. The Masonic candidate is presumed to enter the order in search of this light upon these problems. The training for which is symbolized in the three progressive degrees of the Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason.

With this brief dissertation, the author wraps up his journey of discovery by concluding that what freemasonry preaches is nothing but SANATANA DHARMA. It stands for religiousness, philosophy & a way of life towards spiritual goal. It enjoins upon us with two principles-‘satyam vada dharmam chara’ (speak truth & tread the path of righteousness). This is well illustrated in freemasonry by the unshaken fidelity & noble death of our Master HIRAM ABIFF. It is meant for the whole of mankind and not exclusively for Hindus.

 

 

 

 

 

( This article presented for the Essay competition conducted by Sri Brahadeeswara Lodge (No.150) as part of the Golden Jubilee celebratioms was awarded the third prize. The author is an Eye Surgeon in Coimbatore. He was initiated in Lodge Concord (No.204), Coimbatore. This article was presented as a paper in he Masonic Retreat, Matheran in the distinguished presence of our M.W.Grand Master and was well received. The Author is a Masonic Scholar, who has a flair for Masonic Research). Was adjudged winner of M.W.Grand Master’s Masonic Essay competition ‘2011          On “Daily Advancement in Masonic knowledge” Presented a paper at Erode June ‘11 on “Deacons-A study Across Geographies” a compendium on similarities & contrasts of deacon’s role in various jurisdictions.)  


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