Masonic Poetry

Masonic Poetry

Poetry is “literary work in which special intensity is given to the expression of feelings and ideas by the use of distinctive style and rhythm; poems collectively or as a genre of literature.” Poetry tends to be those written works which are short in phrase or sentence and long on emotion, wanting to evoke sympathy or empathy in the reader. Poetry may take stiff, rhythmic inflection or it may be flowing, more akin to prose. From Auden to Shakespeare to Solomon, poetry has struck a chord in human consciousness for thousands of years and its popularity has not waned in modernity.

Poetry, in a modern mindset, may not feel very relevant. We have, literature-wise, moved from very constructed and structured forms of poetry to the later 20th and early 21st century use of exploded syntax, compound words, and disjointed phrasing. Modern poetry uses the impact of singular language to convey emotions based on the listener’s personal experience. While this is true of all poetry, the poetry of the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries were far more lyrical and visual, wrapping the listener into not only the emotional impact of words but drawing them into a mindset where those emotions were relevant.

An example is the poem “Victor” by W.H. Auden. It is a ballad form to tell the story of one man’s life journey. It starts thus:

Victor

Victor was a little baby,
Into this world he came;
His father took him on his knee and said:
Don’t dishonour the family name.

Victor looked up at his father
Looked up with big round eyes:
Victor, my only son,
Don’t you ever tell lies.

This is a very rigid structure, true to Auden’s voice and style and while it does evoke very specific emotions, it does so in the context of a very visual story.

Over the past three centuries, there have been many writers who have joined the Masonic Fraternity: Robert Burns, Joseph Fort Newton, Manley Palmer Hall, Carl H. Claudy, Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling, Jonathan Swift, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Benjamin Franklin, Sir Walter Scott, Oscar Wilde, and Alexander Pope. Very few of these authors wrote directly about Freemasonry and even fewer were poets.

In reading some Masonic poems, it is clear that while there is form and structure, there are varying degrees of illustration. Brother Robert Burns, who wrote specifically about becoming a Mason, has a lyrical style and dancing emotion, with little meaning to the non-Mason:

A Mason’s Song (excerpt)

I cryed and wailed but nought availed
He put a forward face on
And did avow that he was now
A free accepted Mason.

Still doubting if the fact was true
He gave me demonstration
For out he drew before my view
The Jewels of a Mason.

Rudyard Kipling, known for his beautiful and insightful poetry, penned this, “A Pilgrim’s Way,” specifically about Masonry. The first stanza is below.

A Pilgrim’s Way

I do not look for holy saints to guide me on my way,
or male and female devilkins to lead my feet astray.
If these are added, I rejoice — if not, I shall not mind
So long as I have leave and choice to meet my fellow-kind.
For as we come and as we go (and deadly-soon go we!)
The people, Lord, Thy people, are good enough for me!

While I find such poetry easy to relate to as a Freemason, I struggle with the idea of Masonic poetry bringing about the same emotions as the actual experience of Freemasonry. Metaphysical or esoteric poetry of the Age of Enlightenment seems to be more fitting to stimulating the Masonic ideals that the ritual may provide. Think, John Donne or John Davies. Yet, there can be some Masonic Poetry which stirs the ideals in the listener, be they Freemason or not. Take this example, from 1915 by Freemason C. M. Boutelle, entitled “In Fellowship.”

In Fellowship

My foot to thy foot, however thy foot may stray;
Thy path for my path, however dark the way.
My knee to thy knee, whatever be thy prayer;
Thy plea my plea, in every need and care.
My breast to thy breast, in every doubt or hope;
Thy silence mine too, whatever thy secret’s scope.
My strength is thy strength, whenever thou shalt call;
Strong arms stretch love’s length, through darkness, toward thy fall!
My words shall follow thee, kindly warning, fond,
Through life, through drear death-and all that lies beyond!

Masons and non-Masons alike can relate to this kind of call of strength in character and love; however, the Freemason will find it particularly significant due to his or her experiences within Freemasonry. There are many beautiful examples of poetry of Freemasons which can be both affecting and lyrical, pleasant to the soul and to the ear. A good deal of Masonic poetry espouses the ideals of the Order in many ways which do not specifically discuss ritual. Even Albert Pike, a thorough ritualist and writer, brought a Freemason’s ideals to poetry. An example of one of his poems is below.

The Struggle for Freedom 

The Ancient Wrong rules many a land, whose groans
Rise swarming to the stars by day and night,
Thronging with mournful clamour round the thrones
Where the Archangels sit in God’s great light,
And, pitying, mourn to see that Wrong still reigns,
And tortured Nations writhe in galling chains.
From Hungary and France fierce cries go up
And beat against the portals of the skies;
Lashed Italy still drinks the bitter cup,
And Germany in abject stupor lies;
The knout on Poland’s bloody shoulders rings,
And Time is all one jubilee of kings.
It will not be so always. Through the night
The suffering multitudes with joy descry
Beyond the ocean a great beacon-light,
Flashing its rays into their starless sky,
And teaching them to struggle and be free, —
The Light of Order, Law, and Liberty.
Take heart, ye bleeding Nations; and your chains
Shall shiver like thin glass. The dawn is near,
When Earth shall feel, through all her aged veins
The new blood pouring; and her drowsy ear
Hear Freedom’s trumpet ringing in the sky,
Calling her braves to conquer or to die.
Arm and revolt, and let the hunted stags
Against the lordly lions stand at bay! —
Each pass, Thermoplæ, and all the crags,
Young Freedom’s fortresses! — and soon the day
Shall come when Right shall rule, and round the thrones
that gird God’s feet shall eddy no more groans.

Poetry specific to the Masonic experience can be found mostly in the 20th Century, and on several Freemasonry websites. The goals and ideals of Freemasonry can be found throughout these sites as well, and perhaps even more so in the actual writings of Freemasons, like Pike. It’s worth the journey to see what might speak to the modern mind.

Freemasonry and the Way of the Warrior [Part Two]

Freemasonry and the Way of the Warrior [Part Two]

Freemasonry, with its diverse symbols, allegories and philosophical lessons seeks to build the individual into a mighty warrior of morality, an overwhelming, unstoppable force for good. In this, Freemasonry and the Way of the Warrior have a common goal. What follows is Part Two of the post on Freemasonry and the Way of the Warrior. [Part One of the post can be read here.]


The Book of Five Rings

After his near-death experience at the battle of Sekigahara, Miyomoto Musashi devoted his life to the mastery of martial arts. As a ronin, Musashi did not possess the full privileges of a samurai but was still respected as a fearsome warrior. In his travels throughout Japan, Musashi fought at least Sixty-six duels to the death against some of the most notable samurai of Japan.

During the Edo period, as this time in Japanese history is known, Japanese martial arts were extremely stratified, with each student claiming a lineage of teachers and students. The object of his journey was to test his own system against those of the most preeminent schools of his day. Upon arrival at a temple for a scheduled duel, Musashi was asked what style he practiced and who his teacher was. In characteristic fashion he is said to have replied, “The water, running in the river, is my teacher. The wind, blowingThe Book of the Five Rings through the trees, is my teacher. The whole universe is my teacher and I am its student.”

The result of this quest to refine was Musashi’s book of strategy known as the Go Rin No Sho or The Book of Five Rings. In this book, Musashi explains his fencing techniques and strategies of combat through the metaphor of five “rings” or “spheres”: Earth, Water, Air, Fire and Void.

Though the book contains much technical information that relates specifically to Musashi’s techniques, it also contains many philosophical precepts that informed Musashi’s approach to both combat and life. Below are several of the most impactful quotes from the book:

“You should not have any special fondness for a particular weapon, or anything else, for that matter. Too much is the same as not enough. Without imitating anyone else, you should have as much weaponry as suits you.”

“Get beyond love and grief: exist for the good of Man.”

“Today is victory over yourself of yesterday; tomorrow is your victory over lesser men.”

“There is nothing outside of yourself that can ever enable you to get better, stronger, richer, quicker, or smarter. Everything is within. Everything exists. Seek nothing outside of yourself.”

“The important thing is to polish wisdom and the mind in great detail. If you sharpen wisdom, you will understand what is just and unjust in society and also the good and the evil of this world; then you will come to know all kinds of arts and you will tread different ways. In this manner, no one in this world will succeed in deceiving you.”

The Dokkodo

In the last week of his life, Musashi, aware that he was soon going to die, began making Dokkōdō2preparations for his departure from the earthly plane. He gave away his possessions and made arrangements for the conclusion of his affairs.

As part of this process he composed what is known as the Dokkodo or the Way of Walking Alone, Twenty-one aphorisms that summarized his philosophy and all that he had learned about the Way throughout his lifetime. It was dedicated to his most loyal student and shows us that Musashi was an extraordinarily deep thinker in the same line as the Stoics of the ancient Mediterranean who perceived much more in his life than mere sword fighting techniques.

The Dokkodo:

1. Accept everything just the way it is.
2. Do not seek pleasure for its own sake.
3. Do not, under any circumstances, depend on a partial feeling.
4. Think lightly of yourself and deeply of the world.
5. Be detached from desire your whole life long.
6. Do not regret what you have done.
7. Never be jealous.
8. Never let yourself be saddened by a separation.
9. Resentment and complaint are appropriate neither for oneself or others.
10. Do not let yourself be guided by the feeling of lust or love.
11. In all things have no preferences.
12. Be indifferent to where you live.
13. Do not pursue the taste of good food.
14. Do not hold on to possessions you no longer need.
15. Do not act following customary beliefs.
16. Do not collect weapons or practice with weapons beyond what is useful.
17. Do not fear death.
18. Do not seek to possess either goods or fiefs for your old age.
19. Respect Buddha and the gods without counting on their help.
20. You may abandon your own body, but you must preserve your honor.
21. Never stray from the Way.

Freemasonry and the Samurai Culture

Though the samurai culture has long since vanished from the Earth its influence can still be felt throughout Eastern and Western culture. In the East, the samurai – Miyomoto Musashi in particular – are the model of righteous character, virtuous conduct and a courageous attitude in the face of a hostile and adversarial Universe. In the West they are equally mythologized and provide the model of conduct for every student of the martial arts and the philosophy that informs their practices.

In the tenets of Bushido, we can recognize a simple and unwavering moral philosophy that any human being can use in their battles, both within and without. With theSamurai weapons of righteousness, benevolence, honesty and the armor of courage, honor, and duty, any challenge can be met, and any enemy overcome.

In the modern world, many of these virtues have become unimportant to us in an age of instant gratification and self-involvement. It seems now that our only duty is to ourselves and the idea of sacrificing one’s life for one’s principles seems archaic and absurd. But the samurai remind us that these principles, these virtues are the necessary companions of anyone who would achieve great feat of benefiting mankind and protecting species from the evil which lurks among us.

In this, Freemasonry and Bushido have a common goal. Freemasonry, with its diverse symbols, allegories and philosophical lessons seeks to build the individual into a mighty warrior of morality, an overwhelming, unstoppable force for good. Freemasonry understands, as the samurai did, that each and every one of us is engaged in a battle between good and evil. This battle is fought within ourselves, within our hearts and our characters and it is fought without against the tyrants of the material world who would enslave and destroy humanity. This is a battle worth fighting, and though the Way must be walked alone, the battle is fought side to side with all human beings.

Freemasonry and the Way of the Warrior [Part I]

Freemasonry and the Way of the Warrior [Part I]

In the days of feudal Japan, from the 12th to the 16th centuries, the small island was ruled by ruthless Shoguns, warlords who controlled fiefdoms and battled one another for control of the island’s resources. They were aided in these fights by Samurai, noble warriors who were trained extensively in every martial art, from mounted archery to sword fighting, bare knuckle boxing and grappling. Knights and generals, these warriors were more than mere soldiers. Their martial prowess was dependent on their mental and spiritual discipline, discipline that was carefully cultivated over a lifetime of training.

What is a Warrior?

Throughout human history, in every society that has ever existed, there have been warriors. In the literal sense, a warrior is an individual who is actively engaged in the Samurai_with_swordpractice of warfare. More broadly however, we can think of warriors as those who are engaged in struggle. But what does it mean to be a warrior? In all interpretations of the word, a warrior is not a mere barbarian who uses brute strength to crush and dominate those weaker than himself.

The term “warrior” is used to describe an individual who has mastered their capacity for physical violence and yet abides by a code of discipline that regulates that capacity. This code of discipline is nearly always philosophical or religious in nature and governs every aspect of the warrior’s life. However, in our modern world, the necessity for familiarity with violence has diminished and along with it our need for warriors. Has that energy been lost or has it been re-directed elsewhere?

The Samurai and Bushido

The history of feudal Japan is an unending parade of warlords, known as shoguns, violently attempting to rule the fractured island. At this time, the 12th through the 18th century, Japan was not a united island but was instead divided among numerous clans, all competing for influence and control. This was the environment that gave birth to the samurai. The word “samurai” is derived from a Japanese word meaning “one who serves Minamoto Yoritomo 2nobility” and was initially a general title for a civil servant. After Minamoto Yoritomo created the first permanent shogunate and established himself as Emperor, he codified the laws governing the samurai’s conduct.

Just as European knights of the same time period lived by a chivalric code of honor, so too did the samurai abide by a moral, ethical and philosophical creed. Known as bushido, or, the way of the warrior, this creed was heavily influenced by the emergence of Zen Buddhism into Japanese culture. Buddhism’s teachings on reincarnation and the immortality of the soul made death the focus of the samurai. A samurai was to meditate daily upon his own death, visualizing it in many forms and living through each one in his imagination so that, when the time came, he would be prepared to meet any form of death that came to him without fear or regret.

Because their teachings nullified the finality of death, the central tenet of bushido held that a samurai was to uphold his honor at all costs, including that of his life, in the performance of his duty. Duty and honor were sacred principles to the samurai, each dependent on the other. For a samurai to bring shame upon himself or his lord by failing to perform his duty with courage was an unthinkable shame that necessitated the ending of his life by his own hand, a blood atonement for his failure. The practice of seppuku – ritual suicide – is seen as barbaric by our modern culture but was the inevitable end of a disgraced samurai and was seen as the only way to reclaim his honor.

Bushido: The Way of the Warrior

Bushido, the Way of the Warrior, had 8 central tenets or virtues that were expressed by famed Japanese writer Nitobe Inazo in his book Bushido: The Soul of Japan.invaluable-bushido-code-virtues-v1B-1

(1) Righteousness – Be acutely honest throughout your dealings with all people. Believe in justice, not from other people, but from yourself. To the true warrior, all points of view are deeply considered regarding honesty, justice and integrity. Warriors make a full commitment to their decisions.

(2) Heroic Courage – Hiding like a turtle in a shell is not living at all. A true warrior must have heroic courage. It is absolutely risky. It is living life completely, fully and wonderfully. Heroic courage is not blind. It is intelligent and strong.

(3) Compassion – Through intense training and hard work the true warrior becomes quick and strong. They are not as most people. They develop a power that must be used for good. They have compassion. They help their fellow men at every opportunity. If an opportunity does not arise, they go out of their way to find one.

(4) Respect – True warriors have no reason to be cruel. They do not need to prove their strength. Warriors are not only respected for their strength in battle, but also by their dealings with others. The true strength of a warrior becomes apparent during difficult times.

(5) Honesty – When warriors say that they will perform an action, it is as good as done. Nothing will stop them from completing what they say they will do. They do not have to ‘give their word’. They do not have to ‘promise’. Speaking and doing are the same action.

(6) Honor – Warriors have only one judge of honor and character, and this is themselves. Decisions they make and how these decisions are carried out are a reflection of whom they truly are. You cannot hide from yourself.

Shoguns

(7) Duty and Loyalty – Warriors are responsible for everything that they have done and everything that they have said, and all of the consequences that follow. They are immensely loyal to all of those in their care. To everyone that they are responsible for, they remain fiercely true.

(8) Self-Control – A Warrior’s strong foundation. 

The Legendary Samurai Miyomoto Musashi

Miyomoto Musashi is perhaps the most legendary samurai to have ever existed. Like all legends, concrete details about his early life are difficult to verify, as we must rely on feudal Japanese sources which are incomplete as a historical record. What is known is that, at age 7, Musashi was taken from his home by an uncle and raised in a Buddhist monastery, practicing extreme physical discipline and meditation. Monasteries andMiyamoto martial arts schools were indistinguishable in the days of feudal Japan as it was believed that physical conditioning and martial skill would enhance the meditative practice of the student. At the age of 13, Musashi fought his first duel to the death against a grown man and was victorious, swiftly ending the contest.

At the age of 16, Musashi participated in the Battle of Sekigahara, a pivotal battle between the forces of Western and Eastern Japan, as the country was split at the time. Musashi fought on the losing side of the battle and was severely wounded. Left for dead on the battle field, Musashi survived the ordeal. However, as his lord had been killed in the fighting, Musashi was no longer considered a samurai and instead traveled Japan as a ronin, a warrior with no allegiance to a master.

 To Be Continued…

Acceptable Misguidance

Acceptable Misguidance

Is a lie always a lie? I recently heard the phrase “acceptable misguidance,” in the context of debate, discussion, and rhetoric. I thought this was a very polite term for “lies” but the person arguing for “acceptable misguidance” was making the case that media uses it, specifically in the case of reporting on a story where the producer, owner, or outlet has a particular bias – political or otherwise. What is acceptable misguidance, and does it have a place in enlightened discourse?

Law enforcement is entitled to “lie” in order to have an alleged perpetrator confess to a crime. Lie is a broad term, but, in fact, they can lie as long as it is not construed as coercion. An excellent article about limits on police coercion discusses if there are limits and what those limits, in a psychological context might be. This also begs the question, what about the jurors or judges who have to determine what is coercion and what is just a tactic to elicit a truthful statement from those being interrogated. So, in the context of law enforcement, “acceptable misguidance” is in fact, acceptable.

What is interesting is how polarizing a lie versus “acceptable misguidance” is now perceived in the media. However, lies in the media, and media lying are not a 21st century creation. In the founding of the United States, both “sides” took to printed handbills, papers, and books to bolster their base and promote their politics. In the latter part of the 19th century, Yellow Journalism, mainly the papers of Hearst and Pulitzer (Yes, that Pulitzer), was really the beginning of a frenzy of media hype. While the cause of the sensational headlines was a circulation war between the two moguls, it laid the groundwork for stretching the truth in media. This has not slowed down; several media outlets have stated that they have the ‘right to lie’ as guaranteed by the first amendment. It seems that courts agree and regularly do not convict liars on a regular basis. The onus is on the listener or reader to suss out the facts. It doesn’t matter what voice they are fighting to have heard, they can and do lie on a regular basis. It’s up to us to figure it out. Is this acceptable?

It goes without saying that our politicians lie on a regular basis. We have seen video or written “proof” of the lie, and it still lives on. Whether they see what they are saying as truth, or what someone else is saying as a lie, it does not bear repeating here that politicians words require a vast amount of vetting to make sure we get the “whole” picture. To answer the earlier question, does this have a place in enlightened discourse? Perhaps, if the lines are clearly drawn and the debates and discourse have a philosophical bent. Perhaps, if we’re discussing the larger ideas of life and not the character of another. Then again, perhaps not. Can we envision a world where politicians and their media outlets did not lie? Could we all “take” it?

Law enforcement. politicians. media…we are surrounded by acceptable misguidance. We can choose to listen or not, and we can choose to believe or be suspicious. Some find it easier to simply believe, and some find it exhausting to be suspicious all the time.

Why does this matter to the Freemason? It seems like a good deal, especially in the search for Truth. Do Freemasons lie? Most assuredly. Freemasons are human after all, and even a white lie to save the feelings of a friend happens. Yet, the search for Truth compels Freemasons to seek for more depth of the story, less human nature and more divine nature. If we choose to listen to the human story, we need to spend time to figure out the truth from the acceptable misguidance, and if we look even deeper, perhaps we can actually see the Truth of what is being said. In this way, perhaps acceptable misguidance is a test of our ability to seek and find that which is lost. Perhaps it is a reminder that we should question everything until we find the Truth inside.

Obligation in Modernity

Obligation in Modernity

Freemasonry is built on the idea of obligating yourself to perform certain tasks, with a specific set of goals in mind. The word “obligation” comes from the roots of Middle English, from the verb “oblige,” which means to formally legally or morally bind someone to a promise. North Americans are used to hearing the phrase “much obliged,” in a sort of archaic sense, which means “to be indebted or grateful.” This is a derivation of the word; the more archaic form, from where the word “obligation” comes from is “to bind (someone) by an oath, promise, or contract.” The current 21st century definition is “an act or course of action to which a person is morally or legally bound; a duty or commitment.”

The most common obligation people run into is that of marriage. Divorce rates in the United States are down, possibly because marriage rates are also down. A shift? What about other obligations we make during our lives, especially the ones to ourselves? Upwards of 25% of current high school Freshmen will never complete high school. College drop out rates are the highest they have ever been, even with the highest enrollments ever. Even fraternal and social groups suffer from those who start and, for whatever reason, drop out.

To be fair, there are many reasons for giving up the path; financial, health, and family issues may cause problems for the student or spouse. Yet, we find little effort being made to surmount those challenges; we see the heroes as ones who complete school against all odds – but those odds are sometimes no greater than odds we all face. Everyone has challenges in their life. Completing or dedicating yourself to an endeavor takes will and strength, a desire to go against the easy life and really work hard to achieve your own success, whatever that might be. In an age of “Alexa” and “Siri,” doing things for yourself is seen as too much effort.

Molecular Thoughts

People who choose an esoteric path have put themselves on an extremely hard working journey. It’s not easy. As Buddha said, “life is suffering.” Enlightenment is not found in simple meditation. Physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual work are all necessary. Freemasonry, an esoteric and mystery path built on the foundations of “operative masonry,” is perhaps the epitome of working esoterically and externally.

An excellent article on the “Obligations of a Freemason” can be found on Pietre-Stones. In this article, the author expounds on the obligations of the individual as well as the collective. As Freemasonry is an “individual path worked in a group/collective,” it’s very right that we also look at not only what our obligations to ourselves but also to the group. In fact, from the very onset, in our application, we are promising certain actions that are considered obligatory.

Why all this emphasis on obligation, promises, and commitment? Is there some deeply esoteric meaning in obligating yourself to someone or something? Perhaps.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” ~ (John 1:1)

Much has been said about the divine logos, or, according to the Greeks, “The One Great Reason.” It’s representative of the unseen force of the universe that links us all together, whether we call it God, Love, the Divine, the Force, or whatever. Our ideas about “the Word,” and I suspect John’s as well, came from the Greek philosophers – Heraclitus, Plato, and Epictetus. Where Plato defined logos as an archetype, an idea representation of the divine in an independent-of-physical world, the Stoics refined the idea of logos to impart to it an active principle, and one which incorporated “the Reason” for all being into the function of “The Word.” It’s clear that The writer of the Gospel of John, as well as Buddhists, Jews, Taoists and others have also integrated this idea of the logos into the active Divine in the function of speaking the Word.

The divine Logos is the divine purpose, plan, or word that is the ultimate reason for the cosmos, which orders the universe and gives it meaning. That is, the sound or word has meaning, weight, in creation. As noted above, the Stoics defined logos as the law of generation in the Universe, which was the principle of the active reason working in inanimate matter. Humans, too, each possess a portion of the divine logos. That is, we humans, through our actions and words have generative power. The act of committing ourselves, or creating a binding agreement to complete work has power over us, either consciously or subconsciously. It also has the power to affect other individuals and other groups. This is a ripple effect; what we achieve has a lasting effect on the world around us, and flows out from us in a physical and metaphysical wave.

LOGOS-GreekThus, in giving our “word” or “bond,” we are creating. We create not only the superficial matter – such as our place in a Lodge or our status as spouse in a marriage, but we are creating an unseen, immaterial ripple that will create an effect throughout time. We create – it’s what humans do – and through our words, we create more than just simple relationships. Each word is a spoken manifestation of divinity.

Thus, promises, obligations, and commitments have weight – perhaps even more weight than we realize – when it comes to our overall spiritual life. It is important that we chose and use them carefully.

It’s funny that some individuals see their obligations as infringements on their time, or resources, or futures; funny because most, if not all commitments, promises, and obligations are solely made as the choice of the individual.  We think the promise we make to ourselves and others is somewhat disposable, minimal, with little effect on others and perhaps not even ourselves. Divorce and breakups, broken familial relationships and school dropouts – these are the failures of not understanding ourselves and our words. Failure is always an option and do-overs are necessary – but in order to achieve relief from the suffering, we have to be willing to be honest with ourselves. Pain is inevitable, and suffering doesn’t arise from pain but from our resistance to it – from our resistance to honesty and careful thought; it comes from our resistance to speak “the Word.”

I’ll leave you with a quote from a children’s fantasy book, one which understands and captures the essence of “the Word” in a very real sense – The Wizard of Earthsea.

“It is no secret. All power is one in source and end, I think. Years and distances, stars and candles, water and wind and wizardry, the craft in a man’s hand and the wisdom in a tree’s root: they all arise together. My name, and yours, and the true name of the sun, or a spring of water, or an unborn child, all are syllables of the great word that is very slowly spoken by the shining of the stars. There is no other power. No other name.”
― Ursula K. Le GuinA Wizard of Earthsea

Traversing Transitions: Where Freemasonry and Tibet Meet

Traversing Transitions: Where Freemasonry and Tibet Meet

“It’s hard to have those conversations,” the palliative care doctor was saying. She was talking about telling a loved one that Stage 4 cancer is terminal, and all the discussions and decisions that surround such a prognosis. The patient, an 85-year-old man, had lived a good life and yet, because of his fear of death, of losing this life, he was in denial and angry. This caused him and his family pain and turmoil as he sought to find his way to some acceptance of his situation.

Conversations about death are hard because U.S. culture is steeped in the fear of death. One only needs to look at television or magazine ads to see this; a culture that prides itself on fitness, youthfulness, and acquiring things has little understanding of the true nature of death. Death is a skeleton to be feared, a lurker in the closet that should not be acknowledged. Many aged have lived a life of denial of death, waiting until perhaps the last possible moment to “find God” or think about “the other side.”

People fear dying, not death, in general. They fear the pain and suffering that comes with long illnesses. Who wouldn’t? Cancer is certainly not a pleasant state. We hope for a quick death or to die in our sleep. Death in this way removes the focus on the body, on the horrors of what happens to the flesh that decays. Westerners don’t spend a lot of time on what it means to transition in death; they mostly focus on the unpleasant physical effects of the dying process. What is fascinating is that if one steps outside of perhaps the standard Western religions, he sees a far greater world that is not only accepting of death, but embracing of death.

While the Egyptian Book of the Dead (The Book of Coming Forth By Day) is a book, or set of scrolls, that specifically addresses the stages of death and afterlife, it doesn’t speak to the reader in such a way as to make the stages of death clear. It is still, after all, a Western book, early (2670 B.C.E.) as it may be. The scrolls were lists of spells which were left in the tombs of the dead. Their purpose was to provide the deceased a way to navigate the afterlife successfully. A very good modern interpretation / translation of this book is titled “Awaking Osiris.”

The Bardo Thodol, or “The Great Liberation Upon Hearing in the Intermediate State” is a book which is written for the living to assist the dying and deceased to make the transition off the Wheel of Life to Nirvana. This book is also known as the Tibetan Book of the Dead, although that is a fanciful 20th C. Western name.

Three bardos, or intermediate states between activities, are to be navigated, and success in these provides pathways toward different ends. A bardo may be any intermediate state, such as between birth and death, death and rebirth, even between something like sleeping and awakening. The guru or teacher sits with the person that is about to die and speaks to him of his journey, reminding him of his true being. He is prompted to enter the Clear Light, and thus, remove himself from the path of Earthly physical life. If he transitions to the second bardo, further instructions are given, and so on, until the soul either returns to Nirvana or back into a physical body, depending on the spiritual acumen of the deceased person. That all sounds a little complicated; in essence, it is assistance by the earthly person to the unearthly one, guiding him on his way to reincarnation or elevation.

“O Nobly Born, that which is death being called to thee now, resolve thus: “O this now is the hour of death. By taking advantage of this death, I will so act for the good of all sentient beings, peopling the illimitless expanse of the heavens, as to obtain the Perfect Buddhahood, by resolving on love and compassion towards them, and by directing my entire effort to the Sole Perfection.”

This section, from the First Bardo, is an example of the cultural views of death; not only its acceptance but total embrace to do what is best for the good of the collective humanity. This section goes on to remind the deceased that his life is in service to the greater good. The bardos continue in a cycle, all the while being guided by a guru, a “man of Faith,” a brother, or other person. The person acts as a guide from this realm to the next, allowing the soul to find peace by whatever means it finds possible. The thought of reading these beside the dying person is somehow comforting, perhaps as much to the speaker as to the “hearer.”

I think much of this same type of symbolism and instruction is provided to the Craft Mason, who winds through these bardos in the the rituals of all Craft degrees. Freemasonry, being an initiatory rite, seeks to impress on its membership the repeated lessons of life and death, until these ritual words and actions become very familiar to him. At first he is the recipient and later the provider. The nature of Freemasonry, the Service to Humanity, maybe partly this: imparting the ability to have each human experience a peaceful transition from this life to the next, and thereby improve the overall state of all beings.

The three bardos of death to rebirth transition, as explained in the book, are the Bardo of the Moment of Death, the Bardo of Experiencing Reality, and the Bardo while seeking Rebirth. To me, these mirror perfectly with the Craft degrees, where the lessons are told in with a Western slant. In some Masonic traditions, a chamber is used to create a space for the candidate to experience a true bardo, an intermediate state between activities, where reflection and change can take place. Symbolic in this world, perhaps these ritual trappings are faint shadows of the reality of our earthly transition.

It was said to me, recently, that Freemasons seem to be less afraid of death than perhaps the average Western human. If we listen to what Freemasonry is imparting, the Mason can’t help but put away the denial of his physical, transitory nature. We will die from this world. Freemasons may be better able to embrace the transcendence of being that marks the animus, the soul, the spirit, or whatever you wish to call the immortal principle in each living thing. Fear is the mind killer and is that which brings pain to what may not need to be a painful experience.

Freemasons are repeatedly provided the tools, symbolic and ritualistic, to learn to guide themselves and others through all the bardos of the human existence. It seems to me that all humans could use a lot more peaceful transitions into whatever intermediate state we find ourselves.

“Thine own consciousness, shining, void and inseparable from the Great Body of Radiance, hath no birth, nor death, and is the Immutable Light.” ~ Buddha Amitabha

Ego and the Freemason

Ego and the Freemason

I have to say, I love my Lodge’s Study Groups. They bring up all kinds of interesting subjects in relation to all aspects of life, and more particularly, life as a Freemason. We recently discussed how Ego affects our lives, and what our particular work is as Freemasons in regards to the Ego. These study sessions give me an opportunity to explore not only my own experiences with the topic but also what I think about it objectively – form an opinion, as well as be able to articulate that opinion. Since we all have an ego, it’s easy to have experiences with it. It’s harder to form objective opinions. After all, isn’t the ego involved in forming those opinions?

One of my first college classes, as a fresh-faced 18 year old, was Psychology 101. This was predated by a class in Western Philosophy, both having an extremely big pull for me. These were classes that my high school did not offer, a whole new world of learning that was and still is exciting. We learned all about Freud and Jung’s theories of the Ego, amongst other things, but nothing really “stuck” with me after that class. I never went back and explored ego until it came up so often in religious and metaphysical studies years later. I identified most closely with Jung’s writings and I often go back to read up on him when questions of psyche were, and are, involved.

In his writing about ego, “One of Jung’s central concepts is individuation, his term for a process of personal development that involves establishing a connection between the ego and the self. The ego is the center of consciousness; the self is the center of the total psyche, including both the conscious and the unconscious.” The reference goes on to say, “For Jung, there is constant interplay between the two. They are not separate but are two aspects of a single system. Individuation is the process of developing wholeness by integrating all the various parts of the psyche.”

The most interesting part of that statement is the fact that the ego and the self are different entities that must be integrated. How did they get dis-integrated in the first place? How did something that was whole become separate yet linked, and our goal is to try to integrate the two? Is it birth that separated them? If so, what are we before? And is that the state we are trying to achieve? It makes my head spin to think that we might have been integrated in the womb (or before?) and dis-integrated at birth, and we spend our whole lives working toward re-integration. Is that the purpose of human life, to find that which was lost? What happens, then, if you integrate earlier than dying? Is that perhaps our goal? Do we evolve as a species if that happens?

Hurts your head, right?

If these are two linked-yet-separate energies, they may be difficult to identify without each other. Imagine a binary star system, two bright points of light circling each other, embracing each other as only two fiery systems of gas and elementals can – never touching and continually burning each other. Love that consumes and renews itself. Yes, that must be the ego and the self, in Jung’s world.

If the ego and the self are inseparable, then it seems to me we have to learn to live with both, separate and equal parts, calling to and screaming at one another all the time. How do we reconcile? Do we even try? Since we cannot unequivocally say where the mind resides, perhaps these two things are part of the overarching mind that controls us. If “as above, so below,” we must ask – does that Divine mind have a self and ego, too? Does the Divine even have a mind? Maybe that’s a weird question, but maybe not.

Freemasonry simultaneously chooses to subdue our egos and find our “self.” Perhaps one of the binary stars must be dominant, and in that dominance is where we find the traits of a person – arrogance or humility, graciousness or rudeness. In the balance between the stars, we find the nature of the gasses they put off. It is difficult to be of service to your fellow Masons and at the same time be immodest and arrogant. There’s little room for others when you fill the room with your ego. Perhaps that is also why we learn to subdue passions – the passions of the ego – and develop the passions of the self – the connection to the divine. One star must dim to have the other shine. The Roche Lobe of Personality.

In the past, I wondered why we, as Freemasons, pin medals on our chests and put numbers at the end of our names, or added titles when we attain certain Masonic degrees. I think this is another of those tests – do we do it for prestige? Do we wear our outward jewels as a “brag rag,” as I heard one brother call it long ago? Or do we wear them to honor the Work we’ve completed and bring to the gathering? Do we shine our ego brightly to make our “self” fade? Intent is everything and nothing; we must be clear about what the outward trappings mean in order to not fall into the trap itself, yes?  Is one degree better than another? What have we really attained? I think about these things often. I do my best to remember the duty and cautiously regard the glitter. It seems to stick to everything.

Does Masonry feed the ego? Or help one subdue it? Maybe it’s an ongoing dialogue rather than a simple, solitary question.