Masonic Rituals – Its Relevance in today’s Context
W.Bro. L.Ramani Lodge Mount No. 14
Masonic Fraternity has been practising rituals in their assemblies for a very long time. How it has crept into our system, nobody really knows. But one can presume that the rituals have occupied a significant place in Masonry. In as much as it has kept the fraternity kicking and alive.
Let us first get the meaning of rituals before we embark on a deeper analysis of the subject. The Oxford Dictionary says that rituals are prescribed order of a ceremony. It is a solemn or colourful pageantry. These Ceremonies have always had a place in the life of a man. As civilization advanced man began to think deeply and started introspecting and examining his surroundings, viz. Nature its flora and fauna, the oceans and the seas, the weather and its seasons, the space and its celestial objects and started learning how to live. Slowly he designed methods by which he could energize the ecology around him and create discoveries and inventions. These discoveries and inventions expanded his standard of living and gave enough time to think of a code of conduct, a society at large and a grammar to formulate a framework.
I am sure this grammar has necessitated the rituals. It has been following him like a creeper when a set of ceremonies were practised from his birth to his death. When a man is born, the naming ceremony and the cradling is done, when he is sent to school a ceremony is done for making him learn the alphabets, when he attains youth and is hooked-up, a marriage ceremony takes place. After attaining the age of sixty, to celebrate it, yet another ceremony is done and finally when he dies, there is a ceremony for his cremation also. The rituals have always been a part and parcel of mankind and Freemasonry is no exception to this.
Rituals in any walk of life are elements of symbolism and Freemasonry practises rituals which are symbolic to Life meant to represent righteousness, noble feelings and wisdom. It exemplifies the stoic philosophies and Truths. Every Truth and every lesson moulds us to be a better man, a better citizen and a better neighbour, if only we follow it. Every principle is to be worn like an apron as any mason does. No person can be a good Freemason if he does not wear the badges of these didactic rules.
The modern world is infested with wars, enmity, territorial aggressions, differences of colour, caste and creed, religious intolerance, fanaticism. weapons of mass destruction and decadence in every sphere of human life. This is because man has become extremely selfish and he is at variance even with the Nature around him, destroys the forests and disrupts the life of animals also. I am only reminded of the poem written by Lord Byron, where he says about the Ocean:
“Roll on, thou deep and dark blue Ocean, roll
Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain,
Man marks the earth with ruin, his control stops with the shore.
I love not man the less, but Nature more.”
So man is capable of good as well as bad things and the Masonic rituals condition him to do only the good things. It creates a path of well-being to yourself and your fellow creatures. It compels you to do unto others as you would wish he should do to you. It requests you not to miss an opportunity to help others, without inconveniencing yourself. At the same time, providing relief without revealing your identity as the Jewish Philosopher Mainomedes said “it is that charity, that is the noblest”. It emphasizes the role one has to play dutifully towards the world, his Nation, the Society as well as to his Neighbour and Fellow Brethren with due respect to God, the Supreme Being and the Great Architect of this Universe.
You become what you think and the rituals that are seen and practised frequently brings-forth a good man, a good citizen, a good brother, a good neighbour and a good of everything in human life.
It is also not enough if we concentrate only on the basic virtues, but also to strengthen our intellectual prowess for it is said “Knowledge is Power”. After attaining knowledge, one needs wisdom. Then what is the difference between knowledge and wisdom? Knowledge is always acquired. But Wisdom is the fruit of knowledge acting on the intellect, which is a variable. To put it in a nutshell, it is the experience of each and every soul embodied with knowledge. It is this wisdom that is communicated in the Masonic
rituals. The Masonic literature itself is a creation and concomitant of Masonic rituals. It tries to make you understand your journey and destiny in this cosmic universe.
When you are born, you are dependant on your mother for everything. When we grow, we learn from our father and teacher and when we age, we retrospect on our life and become a mellowed person and wait for the inevitable destiny. This is what happens to every human being and the Masonic rituals remind you of this universal phenomenon and conditions your mind. Hence if a person is inducted into freemasonry earlier, he is seasoned much ahead of his age and attains a high level of maturity because of the doctrines inculcated in its rituals.
Every spoke in a wheel has got a specific value and the rituals are no exception to this law in Freemasonry. The principles and the teachings that are enunciated in the ritual book have a distinct meaning of its own and serves an independent purpose. Noble thoughts and ideas have been passed on from generation to generation, as in the words of James Russell Lowell
“ As one lamp lights another, nor grows less
So nobleness enkindleth nobleness ”
The doctrines of all religions are passed on through rituals and masonry follows this. Even though masonry is not a religion by itself, it is only construed as a style of life just as Adi Sankara, the great saint of India spoke about Hinduism that it is not a religion by itself, but only called as Sanathana Dharma, a way of life. The moment one says that it is a religion, the commonality of the purpose is lost. That is why, we say our fraternity is an institution by itself. The restless can argue what is the use in repetition, but if we sit back and calmly ponder, we can get the answer. Repetition leads to refinement and makes a person excel. Take for instance an artist; he keeps on drawing, or plays his instrument, the same scenic beauty or the same tune. But each time it is different and ultimately leads to perfection. Let us take the case of Nataure itself. What happens everyday the Sun rises in the East and sets in the West, the water evaporates as clouds and come back as rain fall, humanity wakes up and sleeps and all things are repeated again and again. But every repeat is different. Every sun rise, sun set, rain fall is different and the Masonic rituals are no exception to this.
By imbibing the Masonic principles, we shed hatred, pity the misfortune of others, be un-revengeful, shun away vices, recognize innocence, modesty and spread the message of brotherly love, relief and Truth.
Life is considered a building and the building is made up of perfect ashlars. Only the Rough Ashlars after coming from the quarry is hewn, polished and made into perfect ashlars, which is used in constructing the building. Hence the god, the great architect of the universe creates us as a rough ashlar and polishes us as perfect ashlars through various experiences in life. Similarly the Masonic rituals polishes and moulds the masons as perfect ashlars to be useful to the society at large, the nation and also to the world.
The tenets of the Parsis are Humatha, Huktha and Huvrishtha – meaning good thoughts, good words and good deeds. They want to be pure even in the realms of thought itself, which generates words and deeds. By this, all negative thoughts are taken out, which automatically results in supreme well being. This is symbolically reflected in our rituals, in the act of tyling the Lodge, from outsiders. The IG is equated to the conscience which should drive all negative and bad thoughts and only sustain positive and good thoughts. Once this happens, the mind is free to conceive and research the purpose of life.
The Masonic rituals should have been definitely authored by many luminous personalities, as it has stood the test of time and passed on from generation to generation. A mason is an universal man and if only the entire world is filled up with masons, we will only be talking about Mother Earth and not individual states. We will only be talking about homosapiens and not caste, colour or creed. This is what is required in present-day context to remove terrorism, strife and unrest from the globe, and the Masonic rituals endeavours to create such a climate.