Why Beauty? The Splendor of Truth

Why Beauty? The Splendor of Truth

Is beauty important? Why does it even exist in the first place? Everyone has a definition of beauty, and they are all different: A beautiful body, a beautiful painting, a beautiful sunset. It captivates and arrests the gaze. Beauty shines through the whole universe. When confronted by true beauty, one cannot turn away one’s eyes. We aspire to be beautiful so people will love us. It captivates all the senses, the soul and the spirit.

Maybe the question is not “what is beauty,” but “why is beauty?” Why is it any use to us at all? How do we know it? As Freemasons, we are taught that Beauty adorns all great and important undertakings. Beauty in the arts gives pleasure through inspiration. A gentle obsession with beauty is a source of much in our lives. Let us muse together on beauty.

How does one decide if something is beautiful or not? The Greek philosophers Socrates and Plato are said to have been the first who tried to define beauty. They thought that an object is inherently beautiful. Other philosophers argued that beauty is subjective. Beauty is not the quality of the object but it is an experience of our own, thus the popular phrase, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” For example, after seeing a starry sky, a gorgeous painting, or a mystical rainbow, a person may feel wonder and awe by the beauty in it. But not everyone may feel the same way about those same things.

Is beauty objective or subjective? Does our perception of beauty define us?

Plato’s Ladder

Plato uses the symbol of a ladder to show different levels of beauty in his dialogue in The Symposium. Each rung of the ladder gives a different perspective. On the first step or level, a person loves a body, and then all bodies. By the third step, he relates to the beauty of souls over that of bodies. This leads to the love of laws and institutions, leading to the love of certain types of knowledge. It ends in the pursuit of knowledge, or the love of wisdom. Upon reaching this, the person will see Beauty in its purest form or Beauty itself.8154643392_20cf304518_z

Step 1 – A beautiful Body
Step 2 – All beautiful Bodies
Step 3 – Beautiful Souls
Step 4 – Beautiful Laws, Institutions
Step 5 – Beautiful Knowledge
Step 6 – Beauty Itself

Looking at this it seems that beauty is not just about pretty things, but it’s something much deeper and vaster. It involves some sort of process of transformation. There is a saying In Italian, “bello da morire” which means “beautiful to die for.” The presence of beauty creates the possibility for a shift in us. If we change too much, we die of our old selves. According to philosopher David Hume, “Beauty is no quality in things themselves. It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.”

I think that beauty is like love in that it is one of those big realities in our life. Our relationships may be complex and at times contradictory and difficult. For example, we know that someone who looks traditionally very beautiful could be very dreadful indeed.

Ultimately, we face a paradox. Beauty may be important because it has strength and the power to transform us. But there are parts of us that resist that; we are attached to our old images of ourselves, old dogmas, and habits, and therefore, we prefer not to let in too much to beauty. It can be dismissed or ignored, and life goes on anyway in quiet desperation.

Do we even dare climb the ladder to this ineffable beauty? Plato said that beauty is truth. For example, if a statement is true it will also be beautiful. But there is even a problem 3913221135_a6918bf8cf_zwith this. We might see a statement that is beautiful to us, yet if we test it we find out it is not true. Beauty is a very complicated relationship.

Beauty in Freemasonry

In Freemasonry, we learn the concept of beauty cannot only be of a material beauty. If we go deep enough we will indeed find out that beauty is the splendor of truth. Inner beauty is goodness, and inner goodness is beauty. At some point, comes a decision to tread the way and be a better person. Embracing beauty helps with that.

Plotinus, one of the most influential philosophers in the ancient world, talks about fostering an inner vision:

Cut away that which is superfluous, straighten that which is crooked, purify that which is obscure: labor to make all bright, and never cease to fashion your statue until there shall shine out upon you the godlike splendor of virtue, until you behold temperance established in purity in her holy shrine.

By making “crooked things straight,” it seems that we can begin to experience a portion of those beautiful truths. Raise your consciousness and beauty will unfold before you. Attending a beautiful masonic ceremony or engaging in the creative arts can be enlightening and so can eating a box of chocolates. Divine!

I recently was listening to an interview by the late poet John O’Donahue. Something in his words and in his haunting deep Irish voice touched my soul ever so beautifully. I closed my eyes to as if to pay homage to the gods of poetry and philosophy. It was one of those rare encounters with beauty. We have all had them. In a moment of sublime Beauty, we are all rendered speechless. Beauty is ineffable. Why Beauty? It conveys something Divine that book knowledge doesn’t. Beauty gives way to contemplation. Admittedly, the very heart of Beauty cannot be captured in words.

Beauty does not linger, it only visits.
Yet beauty’s visitation affects us and invites us into its rhythm,
it calls us to feel, think, and act beautifully in the world:
to create and live a life that awakens the Beautiful.

– John O’Donahue     

 

What is Literature? Bob Dylan and the Nobel Prize

What is Literature? Bob Dylan and the Nobel Prize

In 2016,  Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, sparking controversy as to whether song lyrics constitute literature. What is literature, and does Bob Dylan’s work qualify him for the Nobel Prize?

The Nobel Prize in Literature

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “literature” as “written works, especially those considered of superior or lasting artistic merit.” When Alfred Nobel signed his last will and testament in 1895, he bequeathed the largest share of his fortune to a series of prizes now referred to as the Nobel Prizes. As stipulated in his will, one of the prizes would be dedicated to “the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction.” Instituted in 1901, the Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded 109 times to 113 Nobel Laureates, a group which includes the Freemasons Rudyard Kipling, Winston Churchill, and John Steinbeck.

nobelprize2016-litIn 2016, the Swedish Academy stated that they chose Bob Dylan “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” Following the announcement, the Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, Professor Sara Danius, provided further explanation as to why Dylan was selected stating, “He is a great poet in the English speaking tradition.” When asked if the Academy had widened the horizon of the Nobel Prize in Literature, she replied, “It may look that way, but really we haven’t.” Professor Danius further compared Dylan’s work to that of Homer and Sappho, which were “meant to be performed,permanent-secretary-of-the-swedish-academy-sara-danius2016 often together with instruments.”

Bob Dylan: Lyrical Poet

Born in 1941, Bob Dylan has been influencing popular music and culture for more than five decades as a songwriter, singer, and artist. In the 1960s, Dylan’s work channeled America’s social unrest, and his songs, “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are a-Changin,” became anthems for the American Anti-War and Civil Rights movements. Dylan’s songwriting incorporated controversial subjects such as politics, race relations, philosophy, and religion. His music changed established pop music conventions and expanded the influence of music on the American public. As one of the best-selling artists of all time, Dylan has sold more than 100 million records. In addition to the Nobel Prize, Bob Dylan’s songwriting has also been recognized by the Pulitzer Prize Jury, who awarded him a special citation in 2008 on account of “his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.”

With thirty-seven released studio albums, the list of songs credited to Bob Dylan is extensive and diverse. Below are lyrics from a few of his most celebrated works.

Every Grain of Sand

Don’t have the inclination to look back on any mistake. Like Cain, I now behold this chain of events that I must break. 

In the fury of the moment I can see the Master’s hand. In every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand.

All Along the Watchtowerevery-grain-of-sand

“There must be some way out of here,” said the Joker to the Thief. “There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief. Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth. None of them along the line know what any of it is worth.” 

“No reason to get excited,” the Thief, he kindly spoke. “There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke. But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate. So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.”

Blowin’ in the Wind

How many years can some people exist, before they’re allowed to be free? How many times can a man turn his head, and pretend that he just doesn’t see? 

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind. The answer is blowin’ in the wind.”

Shelter From the Storm

Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood. When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud. I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form. “Come in,'” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm.”

Well, I’m livin’ in a foreign country but I’m bound to cross the line. Beauty walks a razor’s edge, someday I’ll make it mine. If I could only turn back the clock to when God and her were born. “Come in,'” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm.'”

Literature and the Masonic Philosophical Society

The Masonic Philosophical Society was created to destroy ignorance through enabling greater understanding of the sciences, arts, and humanities. Each Masonic Philosophical Society Study Center is designed to ignite discussion centered on nine topics of study, one of which is Literature which is described on the MPS website as “one of the most enduring of man’s creations, giving us glimpses masonicphilosophicalsocietyof our past, present and future.” When Professor Sara Danius compared Dylan’s lyrics to the works of the ancient poets Homer and Sappho, she demonstrated how poetic works can transcend time and connect the ancient past to our current world. Is it too far a stretch to compare Bob Dylan’s lyrics to Homer’s “Be still my heart; thou hast known worse than this” from The Odyssey? Could the lyrics from Sappho’s “Hymn to Aphrodite” be considered similar to Dylan’s ballads when she wrote, “come to me once more, and abate my torment; Take the bitter care from my mind, and give me all I long for?”

The question remains for many as to whether Bob Dylan’s work qualified him for the Nobel Prize in Literature. The album lyrics published do, indeed, meet the criteria of “written works” mentioned in the Oxford English Dictionary albeit most people are more familiar with hearing Dylan’s songs rather than reading his lyrics. In my opinion, the question as to whether Bob Dylan’s musical lyrics constitute “superior or lasting artistic merit” is a somewhat subjective determination,  which the Swedish Academy is at liberty to decide as they see fit. What do you think? 

How does Sufism Relate to Freemasonry? A Search for Truth

How does Sufism Relate to Freemasonry? A Search for Truth

What is the purpose of religion? To be certain, the teachings of morality are fundamental to all of the world’s major religions. Each religion teaches a form of the Golden rule: do unto others as you would have done to you. In Judaism, followers are instructed, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man. This is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary” (Talmud, Shabbat 3id).

Is the purpose of religion also to teach wisdom and enlighten the followers of that faith? Most religions provide exoteric or fundamental teachings, as well as, a path of esoteric study for those who seek it. Perhaps it could be said that once a fundamental understanding of the tenants of a religion is obtained, a door swings open providing the seeker a deeper level of wisdom and understanding. In Christianity, the Apostle Paul writes, “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able” (1 Corinthians 3: 1prophet-depicted-624x420-2). Similar to all world religions, the dichotomy of basic and advanced study exists within the religion Islam, where Sufism serves as the esoteric branch of the religion.

What is Sufism?

Sufism is the esoteric school of Islam, which was founded for the pursuit of spiritual truth as a definite goal to attain. The word Sufi is Persian in origin, meaning “Wisdom.” From the original root word, many derivations can be traced into other languages, including the Greek, “Sophia.” Students of Sufism seek knowledge in order to understand reality as it truly is which they believe will ultimately allow the individual to achieve Ma’arefat: divine gnosis. Thus, perfect self-understanding will lead to the understanding of God, as the Prophet Mohammed stated, “Whoever knows oneself, knows one’s Lord.”

As with many forms of mysticism, the exact origins of Sufism are unknown, some evidence suggests that it dated back to ancient Egypt. According to the Muslim tradition, the descriptive term ‘Sufi’ was decided at a council of 45 mystics in 623 C.E.: the second year of the Islamic calendar and the Order was officially founded in 657 C.E.

The Teachings of Sufism

Sufism is rooted in the teachings of the Koran, the Holy Book of the Muslims. The central message of Islam is the declaration of faith, referred to as the Shahada which WhirlingDervishstates: “There is no god but God [Allah] and Muhammad is the Messenger of God [Allah].” From the esoteric perspective of the Sufi, this statement can be understood as “there is no reality except Reality.” Within Islamic esotericism, knowledge is made accessible depending on the integrity and cognitive abilities of the individual. This measured unveiling of spiritual truths is called Hikmat at-Tadrij: the “Wisdom of Gradualness.”

To a Sufi, there exists no gulf of separation between the Creator and His Creation. The perception of fundamental unity, however, is masked to most of humanity due to the limitations of the material and physical tools that mankind possesses. Sufism provides a pathway that can be followed through purification and meditation in order to perceive what is already a reality. When the heart is purified, the God is reflected in the mirror of the heart, transporting man from his carnal state to the true human being.

Poetry and Ritual of Sufism

One of the beautiful aspects of Sufism is the poetry written by its followers. Two of the most famous Sufi poets are Jalaluddin Rumi and Hafiz of Shiraz. Jalaluddin Rumi was a 12th century saint and mystic who provided the inspiration for the Order of the Whirling Dervishes, which practices the Sufi ritual of revolution in order to be in harmony with all things in nature offering praise to God.

You’ve no idea how hard I’ve looked for a gift to bring You.rumi

Nothing seemed right.

What’s the point of bringing gold to the gold mine, or water to the Ocean.

Everything I came up with was like taking spices to the Orient.

It’s no good giving my heart and my soul because you already have these.

So, I’ve brought you a mirror.

Look at yourself and remember me.

   Rumi

Hafiz of Shiraz also lived in the 12th century and is considered the greatest lyric poet of Persia, whose poetic form has been described as taking unparalleled heights of subtlety and beauty.

holytreeEven after all this time

The sun never says to the earth,

“You owe Me.”

Look what happens

with a love like that,

It lights the Whole Sky.

-Hafiz

Sufism and Freemasonry

How does Sufism relate to Freemasonry? Freemasonry is not a religion, rather, it teaches its members to respect all religions and faiths. Religious tolerance is an important tenet of Masonry because members of the Fraternity belong to allhaqq major faiths. It is not uncommon to find Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists all belonging to the same Masonic obedience and happily working together to assist humanity and to glorify God.

At its core, Freemasonry is a search for truth: a guiding principle the fraternity shares with Sufism. The Sufi Hadith wrote, “Our cause is the truth of truth. It is the exoteric, the esoteric of the exoteric and the esoteric of the esoteric. It is the secret of the secret; it is the secret of that which remains wrapped in secret.” In our modern world, confusion, ignorance, and falsehood blind humanity to the true nature of reality: the universal oneness of the All.

Like Masonry, Sufism requires the individual to be initiated, after a period of time where he or she has been subjected to various trials. In Sufism, these trials are aimed at provoking what is referred to as “Awakening of the Sufi” or the “Awakening of a Friend.” The Sufi Scholar Omar Ali Shah explains that the esoteric school is based on the “doctrine which seeks to remove the veil from the eye of the heart to see what is real.” Thus, initiates of both organizations are prepared in their hearts to serve and enlighten.