“SPIRITUALITY OF FREEMASONRY – A LEARNING IN HIGHER EDUCATION”
By W.Bro. Bharat V. Epur
Worshipful Master – Madras Masters Lodge No.103 (2010)
[PM – L 327 (2001), PM – L 218 (2004), PM – L 190 (2005), PM – L 109 (2005 & 2006), PM – L 72(2008)]
Vice President of Grand Stewards;
Brethren, let us first look at our own Ritual Book to gain some insights into the subject of what Freemasonry can teach us, how Freemasonry can educate us.
On his initiation, the Brethren are assured that the candidate is of good repute amongst his friends and neighbours and has come well and worthily recommended of his own free will and accord, properly prepared and humbly soliciting to be admitted into the mysteries and privileges of Freemasonry. He is therefore, or should be, a peaceable and law-abiding citizen who gets on well with others. Thus, he is in all respects, like a rough ashlar, possessing some innate qualities, maybe a bit rough on the edges, which, however, under expert tutelage, could be moulded to perfection. It is this honing of a rough ashlar into a perfect, smooth body, i.e., the honing of a candidate into a worthy Freemason, which is the raison d’etre of our Order.
A little bit into the Ceremony of Initiation, the candidate affirms that he comes ‘with a preconceived notion of the excellence of the Order, a general desire for knowledge and a sincere wish to render himself more extensively serviceable to his fellow creatures.’ Later again, on being charged, he is told that the foundation of Freemasonry is ‘the practice of every social and moral virtue.’ He is exhorted to learn how to discharge his duty to his God, his neighbour and himself, to be an exemplary citizen and that, as an individual, he should practice every domestic as well as public virtue and maintain those truly Masonic characteristics, benevolence and charity.
Following his second degree, he is told that he should ‘not only assent to the principles of the Craft, but steadily persevere in their practice.’ Finally, following his third degree, he is told that ‘his own behaviour should afford the best example for the conduct of others.’
Later still, at the peak of his Craft career, on being installed in the Chair of his Lodge, he consents to a comprehensive list of instructions as to his attitude and behaviour. All in all, the entire underlying principle is that by entering Freemasonry and by his acceptance and practice of its tenets and precepts he should become a credit to himself and an example to, and benefactor of, others.
It is expected and hoped that Freemasonry will bring about this state of affairs but that, in his daily life, a Freemason will interact with others as an individual and not in his capacity as a Freemason. Freemasonry is therefore an intellectual and philosophical exercise designed and intended to make an individual’s contribution to society, and development of self, greater than they might otherwise have been had he not had the opportunity of extending his capacities and capabilities through membership of the Order.
We are told that Freemasonry is a peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols. Brethren, I believe in the allegorical lessons of Freemasonry. The Rituals that we practice, the Charges that we render, the repeated exposure to the various aspects of the Masonic lessons – all are ultimately designed to teach us some valuable lessons.
The entire story of the building of King Solomon’s Temple may be considered but an allegory. The ancient Operative Masons may have built the Temple to the greater glory of the Almighty. In like manner, we, in the here and now, are expected to build up our own body and mind for the same cause – to raise a super-structure perfect in its parts and honourable to the builder. The tenets of Freemasonry exhort us to develop this inner strength in order to establish ourselves, our moral selves, and our spiritual well-being!
The Charge after Initiation, which could be considered as the very foundation of a good Mason, enjoins us to contemplate the V.S.L. considering it as the unerring standard of truth and justice, and to regulate our life and actions by the divine precepts it contains. Later on one is taught to venerate Secrecy, Fidelity and Obedience. All these noble concepts are brought forth in order to stimulate the newly Initiated Brother to set forth on the journey to higher learning, a journey to spirituality.
In the Second Degree, the Fellow Craft Freemason is exhorted to stand to all external appearance a just and upright F.C.F.M. and to continue to act as such. He is also reminded that the import of the former charges neither is, nor ever will be effaced from his memory. He is then told that he should now consider extending his researches into the hidden mysteries of nature and science.
Brethren, what are these hidden mysteries of nature and science? The entire Ceremony of Passing never ever reveals this explicitly. It is left for us to speculate on, it is left for us to set forth on our personal quest for knowledge. We are told that the Working Tools of the degree, namely, the Square, the Level and the Plumb Rule, are meant to teach us morality, equality and justness and uprightness of life and actions so that by square conduct, level steps and upright intentions, we may hope to ascend to those immortal mansions whence all goodness emanates. As a further guide, we are told to study the liberal Arts, which tend so effectually to polish and adorn the minds, especially the science of Geometry, which is established as the basis of our Art.
Brethren, let us briefly consider the seven liberal Arts and Sciences, namely, Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic, Arithmetic, Geometry, Music and Astronomy. Consider the order in which they are mentioned in our Ritual. Brethren, this is no happenstance. You will notice that these are arranged in an ‘ascending’ order of progression. One has to necessarily be taught Grammar so that one can begin to read, write and understand. The next step is Rhetoric, where one is taught how to express one’s thoughts, one’s ideas as forcefully as possible. Logic comes next, because only when one uses Logic, can one’s Rhetoric be convincing. These three could be considered the basic foundation for the education and/or moral development of a candidate. It is no wonder that in earlier times, the system of higher learning, i.e., college education, followed the same method. Only those who excelled in this phase of their education were permitted to proceed to the second stage.
In the second stage, one is then exposed to Arithmetic, which could be considered the transition from Arts to Sciences. The study of Arithmetic, i.e., the study of numbers, required that much more intellectual prowess, that much more application of the mind. It is probably the very foundation of all science. Brethren, you will also note that Arithmetic lays exactly midway in this list of liberal Arts and Sciences, akin to the position the candidate is in soon after his Obligation in the Second Degree, i.e., mid-way of Freemasonry, superior to an E.A.F.M. (i.e., one skilled in the first three of the liberal Arts), but inferior to that, which he is expected to attain soon.
Proficiency in Arithmetic naturally led to the study of Geometry, which is concerned with the study of measurements. Geometry is the foundation of a number of other advanced sciences, including trigonometry, architecture, civil engineering, etc. It is not surprising that Geometry is accorded an exalted place in the Masonic firmament. After all, it is only through the science of Geometry and its offshoots that our ancient Brethren were able to build not only King Solomon’s Temple and later the awe-inspiring Cathedrals of Europe, but they were also able to lay the foundations of modern thought, modern science and modern philosophy.
After mastering the science of Geometry, one was exposed to that of Music and finally to that of Astronomy. Both these subjects require a thorough foundation in all the previous ones. It may surprise some of you Brethren, but even the study of Music requires a thorough grounding in the earlier subjects. Music is, after all, as scientific in its structure as any molecule that we can think of. Thus, through a gradual progression in knowledge was one led from one subject to the next, culminating at the very pinnacle of learning, namely, Astronomy, the study of the movement of the stars no less!
I digress now for a brief explanation of the origin of the phrase ‘liberal Arts’. Liberal means liberating. We associate liberal with broadmindedness, particularly in political and religious contexts. However, the phrase “liberal Arts” had no such meaning. In the Middle Ages, it was used in a sense different from what it is used now. I quote from Fowler’s Modern English Usage:
A liberal education is neither one in which expense is not spared, nor one in which enlightened methods of teaching prevail, nor even one that instills broadmindedness; or rather it is not so called because it is any of these. It is the education that used to be considered the only fitting one for what used to be called a gentleman (Latin liber a free man), and is opposed on the one hand to technical or professional or any special training, and on the other to education that stops short before manhood is reached. The Liberal Arts of the Middle Ages were Grammar, Dialectic, Rhetoric, Music, Arithmetic, Geometry, and Astronomy.
Thus, liberal Arts were those that liberated the mind and freed it from ignorance. We may say that liberal Arts are liberating Arts. They are contrasted with the technical or vocational Arts such as stonemasonry, carpentry, metallurgy, etc. To appreciate the importance of liberal Arts, it is necessary to outline the prevailing educational system during the Middle Ages.
To start with, there was preliminary education, which was imparted until one reached maturity. Further education took two different streams: vocational Arts and liberal Arts. Vocational Arts required manual labour and were a means to livelihood; and liberal Arts required mental labour and were means to liberate the mind. Liberal Arts were further dividend into two groups: Trivium and Quadrivium. Trivium (Latin for “three ways”) consisted of Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric; and the Quadrivium (Latin for “four ways”) consisted of Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, and Astronomy. On the completion of Trivium, the scholar was awarded the Bachelor of Arts degree; and on completion of Quadrivium, the Master of Arts degree. Trivium was the elementary part (and whence the name trivial) of the liberal Arts, and most stopped at this stage. Others pursued their education further and progressed to Quadrivium. The completion of Quadrivium (that is, attainting the Master of Arts degree) was essential to teach in universities, or to pursue professional Arts, which were three: Law, Medicine and Theology. This was the pattern of classical education in the universities from the fourth century until the middle of eighteenth century, a pattern that had its origins in Freemasonry, where this seven-year period was divided into a three-year Apprenticeship, followed by a four-year Fellowship, after which the Mason was considered well on his way to Mastering his profession and going out into the wide world to make his living.
Thus, we can see that Freemasonry provided the basis for modern higher education.
Now, let us go back to the spiritual aspects of Freemasonry.
Membership in Masonry has always been a universally recognised badge of honour. Its stress has always been on character. The fundamental Masonic teachings are love of God, loyalty to country, a high standard of personal morality, and a belief in the universal brotherhood of man. In the life of a Mason, these fundamental teachings reach out through participation and support in church and community life. Masonic men find an inner peace and contentment when they are contributing to the well-being, growth and support of the church of their choice.
I believe the answer is found in Freemasonry’s lofty idealism. Its stress has always been on character. Membership in Masonry is recognised as a standard of honour, of Brotherhood, of uprightness and decency. From ancient times till now, many national and international leaders, military leaders, leaders in education, industry, medicine, science, and space technology have also been members. Also, many of the persons who led their native lands into democratic forms of government in Asia, Europe, South and Central America were Freemasons.
We as today’s Masons have been climbing on the shoulders of an endless line of splendour, of men across the centuries who believed in and acknowledged the basic teachings of Freemasonry. Today, I am convinced the teachings of Masonry have not changed. While all dimensions of life are adjusting to a new age, to a changing world, to computer technology, the basic concepts of the Fatherhood of God, of Brotherhood of Man, of honour, of uprightness and decency will never change. We have a rich heritage in Freemasonry. It is ours to grasp and follow during our lifetimes, and is incumbent upon us to pass it on to future generations.
Let us never forget, or lose sight of the truth, that Masonry begins at the Altar in the Lodge Room. Its foundation is a belief in the existence of a Supreme Being. This is the first and fundamental principle in the life of every Mason. Hear again the question, “In whom do you put your trust?”
King Solomon is credited by most Biblical scholars for the words in Proverbs 3:5- 6, words written a thousand years before Christ, or three thousand years ago, Trust in God with all your heart and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths. In all aspects of life God is to be taken into account. The thought of God is not to be limited to special seasons or sacred places. God is to be acknowledged in the home, in business, at work, and at play. In other words, God is to be thought of sufficiently to influence conduct and life. To acknowledge God requires true humility. He has made us and not we ourselves are the words from Psalm 100:3. Upon God we are dependent for life and breath and everything. Acknowledging God will help a man not to think of himself more highly than he ought to.
Yet, Masonry is not a religion, nor is it a substitute for religion. Masonry is not interested, nor is it concerned in how a man may develop his religious faith. However, it stands for, teaches and practices, tolerance toward all faiths that rest upon this first and fundamental principle, belief in the existence of a Supreme Being!
Men of various religious faiths come into Masonry, here in our great nation, as well as in other nations. They retain the religion of their choice and are strengthened in the practice of their particular beliefs by the truths and teachings of Masonry. God is known by many names, and worshipped in many ways. There is no religious bar to anyone who would become a Mason, provided he is not an atheist. So, a Hindu, a Parsee, a Buddhist, a Moslem, a Jew, a Christian, a Sikh can all agree on the basic tenets of Freemasonry.
Everything in Masonry has reference to God, implies God, speaks of God, and points and leads to God. Every Degree, symbol, obligation, lecture, charge, finds its meaning and derives its majesty from God, the Great Architect and Master Builder of the Universe.
While Masonry is religious, it is not, even in the remotest sense, a religion. Masonry has no creed, no confession of faith, no doctrinal statement, and no theology. Masonry does not assert and does not teach that one religion is as good as another. It does not say that all religions are equal simply because men of all religions are Masons. It is precisely because we are not a religion; we can come together as men of faith. Masonry asks only if a man believes in God. If he were asked if he believed in Christ, or Buddha, or Allah, that would be a theological test involving a particular interpretation of God. Belief in God is faith. Belief about God is theology.
From its very beginning, Masonry has been consistent that religion and politics are not suitable subjects for consideration within the Lodge Room. Masonry believes in principles rather than political programmes. Principles unite men, political programmes divide them. So we are taught to leave our opinions on religion and politics outside the door of the Lodge Room.
While Masonry is not a religion, it is not anti-religious. We are a completely tolerant body. It is a Brotherhood whose trust is in God. Its stress has always been on character.
We are charged to maintain peace and harmony, and to uphold the chief Masonic virtue, Charity or Brotherly Love. Membership in Masonry is recognised as a standard of honour, of Brotherhood, of uprightness and decency. We are sure that he who is true to the principles he learns in Freemasonry will be a better husband, a better father, a better friend, a better human being, because of it.
As Grand Chaplain, Brother Charles H. Lacquement of Pennsylvania points out, “Freemasonry gets its amazing vitality because its foundation is laid on the great truths from which come the great moral lessons it inculcates. Behind the two great truths, the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man, is the chief Masonic virtue, Charity or Brotherly Love. Masons are taught to practice this virtue at all times and to assimilate it into their very lives. It is this virtue that leads Masons to do their duties, to stretch forth a helping hand to a fallen brother, to hold a brother’s reputation equally with his own, to whisper good counsel in his ear and, in the friendliest manner, endeavour to bring about the best person this brother can be. In so doing the Mason is strengthening his own inner self and bringing about the best in himself. Masonry makes in men, strength of character, of thought, and of emotional stability.”
And so, following that most impressive and unforgettable night a few years ago, when I first knelt before the Altar of Freemasonry, and was asked the question, In whom do you put your trust?, I have traveled, as you have, across many peaceful and many troubled waters, and again and again my trust in God strengthened me. No person, more especially a Mason, can live for himself alone. We are guided by the great teachings of Masonry, the Fatherhood of God, the Brotherhood of Man, and the chief Masonic virtue, Charity or Brotherly Love.
Now Brethren, let me close on one final exhortation taken from the beautiful language of our ritual – ‘See that you conduct yourselves, out of Lodge as you have been taught within it’; and remember those immortal words of Polonius giving advice to his son Laertes as he departs from Denmark, on his return to France, in Shakespeare’s greatest play, Hamlet ‘This above all, to thine own self be true; and it must follow as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.’
Thank you Brethren!
- Grand Lodge of India – Ritual Book
- ‘In Whom Do You Put Your Trust?’ by W.Bro. Rev. Harold J. Schieck
- ‘The Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences’ by W.Bro. A. C. Reddi