was founded centuries ago, by a group of men believing in the Fatherhood of God
and the Brotherhood of Man. The founders wished to teach mankind three basic
ideals which are the quintessence of Freemasonry - Brotherly Love, Relief, and
Truth, and to encourage its members to practice them in their everyday
activities. Freemasonry uses builder's tools as symbols to teach these basic
moral truths. This is why the most popular definition of Freemasonry states
that it is "A system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols."
object of this essay is to examine whether those symbols developed hundreds of
years back, have any validity in the modern context. This naturally brings up
The first question that arises immediately is "Why use symbols and
allegories at all? Why not plain
statements which clearly define the concepts of morality'?"
second is " What do these symbols and allegories really mean?
"Do these messages have any relevance to modern society?
Or, are they
us take up the first question. Anything that is defined is restricted to finite
bounds. Using undefined symbols instead of precise definitions enables one to
read, interpret, and apply them as one sees best. In other words, symbolism is
a tool of abstract thought, which develops imagination; "Imagination is
more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the
world." said Albert Einstein. Thus, by using symbols, Freemasonry becomes
as great a system of morality as the ability of the individual Mason to
understand and interpret its symbols.
explanation is that Man experiences and understands at two levels. He perceives
and understands this physical world through the five senses and the mind and at
the metaphysical level he has a spirit, or colloquially, the heart, which
comprehends matters which are beyond the mind. To quote de Saint-Exupéry,
"It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is
invisible to the eye." So when ' My heart leaps up when I behold a rainbow
in the sky ', it is responding to a language which my mind does not
understand. A symbol is a word in that
language. If it were to be reduced to mere words, the spirit of the meaning is
lost. That is why the ancients taught the great truths of the scriptures
through symbols and abstract aphorisms. Freemasonry uses symbols because it has
as much, if not more, to do with the spirit as with the mind.
the words of the great Albert Pike " Masonry . . .follows the ancient manner of teaching. Her symbols
are the instructions she gives; and the lectures are but often partial and
insufficient one-sided endeavors to interpret those symbols. He who would
become an accomplished Mason must not be content merely to hear or even to
understand the lectures, but must, aided by them, and they having as it were
marked out the way for him to study, interpret and develop the symbols for
in the words of Claudy " Take from Freemasonry its symbols and but the
husk remains, the kernel is gone. He
who hears but the words of Freemasonry misses their meaning entirely."
us next discuss the inner meaning hidden in these symbols and allegories. While it is not my purpose to embark on an
exhaustive exposition on Masonic Symbolism, it is necessary to elaborate at
least on some of the key concepts so that their relevance might be discussed at
a subsequent stage.
is an allegory of the human life. And as with temporal life, this allegorical
life is also lived in two planes - the physical and metaphysical. It
encompasses the entire life span - from the entrance of Man on this mortal
existence, through adulthood, to his inevitable destiny - which, in physical
life, stops at the grave, and transcends it in the metaphysical.
Masonic life is lived in a world, from which the secular or profane world is as
different as chalk is from cheese. This is a world without distinctions of
class and creed, in which there are no differences of race, religion, or
tongue. This is a world where order, peace and harmony prevail - in contrast to
the profane world, plagued by chaos, conflict and discord. The lodge room itself is the symbol of this
The world thus represented is the world of
Masonry. To this arcane world comes the Entered Apprentice, of his own free
will and accord. At the secular level, his mission is to improve himself, to
develop those qualities that will make him a better human being. The ritual of the first degree is replete
with symbolic teachings, which promote his moral and ethical development.
Volumes of the Sacred Law show that Freemasonry is beyond religion and is truly
universal. The Square and the Compasses stress the conduct we should pursue in
society; to be fair and honest in all our dealings; to keep within bounds our
unruly passions lest they disrupt the harmony of society.
is a strong votary of the work ethic, and avers that 'skill without exertion is
of little avail'. It offers no privileges or rewards except to those who are
willing to earn them. The Entered Apprentice must be willing to work upon his
own nature so that he may become a better man. Freemasonry places Working Tools
in his hands for this purpose. The gavel and the chisel are active tools used
to hew the stone into proper shape. The 24 inch gauge reminds him that a part
of each day is to be spent in prayer to the Almighty, another in serving a
brother in distress, and the rest in labour and refreshment; it does not allow
him any time to waste.
four cardinal virtues - prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice are
extolled as proper guides to regulate our lives and actions. The apprentice is
also exhorted to study the liberal arts and sciences, which symbolise
of the most important parts of Initiation is the Rite of Destitution. It is
strongly evocative of the Vedic injunction " Let the rich satisfy the poor
implorer, and bend his eye upon a longer pathway. Riches come now to one, now
to another, and like the wheels of chariots are ever rolling." It advocates
that noblest of all virtues, Charity. Charity is not merely sharing one's
riches with the needy. It is compassion
- feeling the pain of another's suffering. It is giving of comfort and counsel, sharing of joy and sadness,
extending sympathy and spiritual help.
the spiritual plane, the Entered Apprentice is seeking the light of knowledge
to deliver him from the darkness of ignorance, which holds him in bondage. But
to see the Light he needs the guidance of, and is totally dependent on, a
preceptor or a Guru. During circumambulation, the Junior Deacon acts the
preceptor, walks with him along the dark pathways and guides him through
progressive stages of preparation and attainment. When the candidate is finally
qualified to see the Light, the preceptor sets him on the path to
enlightenment, towards the East; the source of light; whence the sun rises to
The darkness from which the candidate seeks
release is represented by the hoodwink. It is removed at the moment of
enlightenment. And the cable tow symbolises the bond by which he is tethered to
the state of darkness. It is not by chance, that the first act of the Master,
after enlightenment, and acceptance of the candidate as a
"Free"mason, is to remove the cable tow. That signifies the end of
bondage. This, unquestionably, is one of the most meaningful symbols of the
degree. At the physical level, the cable tow is the umbilical cord, by which he
is connected to the profane world. Once he is delivered into the Masonic world,
this cord is immediately removed.
Entered Apprentice is symbolic of infancy and youth, which is a period of
learning fundamentals, a beginning. The word initiation itself means birth or
beginning. The Fellowcraft is an emblem of adulthood. He is now the perfect
ashlar smoothened by experience and polished by education, properly prepared to
take his place in society. All three working tools of the Fellowcraft are
testing tools, meant to try, examine, and prove himself. With them he learns
discernment, to differentiate between Right and Wrong, Good and Evil,
Beneficial and Wasteful. This faculty of discrimination is first put to the
test when he steps into the porchway and stands between the two great pillars,
which invite him to choose between a path of strength and power, and a path of
wisdom. Hobson's choice indeed! Neither
can profit him, for unbridled power leads to destruction, while wisdom without
power to act results only in attrition. His must be a path of stability where
power is tempered by wisdom. Only then can he climb up the winding staircase to
receive his wages. The winding staircase symbolises life. It turns at every
step, and hides from his view whatever the future portends for him. He climbs
on undeterred, for it is in Man's nature to climb, armed with the confidence
born out of experience, knowledge, and education, and the hope of reward
spurring him on, to reach the Middle Chamber.
Middle Chamber is a symbol of wisdom, where the senses, mind and spirit blend
together in perfect equilibrium or stability. And it is here that the
intellectual faculty reaches the throne of God Himself. He perceives the
ultimate truth, which is the immortality of the self and its oneness with the
Supreme - aham brahmosmi - I am that I am. " When ignorance is dispelled
by knowledge of the self, knowledge, shining like the sun, reveals the
supreme" says the Gita. At this point perception ceases. Intellectual
thought can take him thus far and no further. What lies ahead lies in the realm
of mysticism, and can only be experienced by the soul of the mystic.
us now move to the sublime degree of a Master Mason. There are two distinct
aspects to the ceremonies of this degree. At the ethical level the Hiramic
legend teaches us that that which is lost should be retrieved, and that
Patience and Industry can repair the loss. That evil must be punished when it
attacks the good. Above all it teaches that the Good will finally triumph over
Evil, because the Good forgives, forgets, and accepts the frailties of Human
it is the mystical interpretation of the ceremony of this degree, which makes
it sublime, because, in the Raising ceremony, the self is sublimated. It sheds
all impurities and thus purified, rises to a communion with the supreme.
"Hitvaa yaavadyam punarastamehi sam gachhasva tanvaasuvarcaah" says
the Rig Veda "Leave sin and evil,
seek anew thy dwelling, and be united with a lustrous body."
the Entered Apprentice is given light to deliver him from darkness, the
Fellowcraft is led to differentiate the truth from the unreal, and finally the
Master Mason transcends death to achieve immortality. This spiritual
progression of the three degrees is best expressed by the well known invocation of the Upanishad.
maa jyothir gamaya - from darkness lead me to light.
maa sat gamaya - from the unreal, lead me to the truth.
maa amrutham gamaya - from death lead me to immortality.
discussed the import of the truths contained in Masonic symbolism, we now come
to the real purpose of this essay, to examine their relevance to the modern
modern times the Mankind has degenerated. It is driven by avarice and greed,
and riven by fear and hatred. Man has discarded those moral and ethical values,
which set him apart from the Beast. Brother is set against brother, neighbour
against neighbour. Humanity is a house divided against itself; it cannot stand
for long. It can only be rebuilt by Masons who can reinvest it with all those
noble qualities and ideals which have been unfortunately and unwisely
mentioned at the very beginning, the fundamental purpose of Freemasonry is to
instill these very qualities and ideals in its members, and to encourage them
to practice them. No other institution or organisation can match Freemasonry's
total commitment to develop and promote every moral and social virtue. Very few
possess its potential and power to influence society. Thus Freemasons, and only
Freemasons, are in a position to render a signal service to society. They can
set examples and standards for moral and ethical behaviour for others to
follow. " Whatever a
great man does, others imitate; whatever he sets up as the standard, the world
follows " says the Gita.
secular teachings of Masonry are of immense value to society, and it might be
no exaggeration to say that the very future of Mankind depends on its ability
to absorb and act upon those tenets.
might perhaps argue that brief sojourns to the whimsical world of Freemasonry
would not materially affect or influence the perspectives, values or behaviour
of Masons in their worldly lives. This argument predicates that Man is
essentially cynical. That is not true; Man is inherently positive,
intrinsically good. His inborn goodness might be temporarily clouded or
distorted by Evil. But it can never be destroyed. Which is why he is constantly
searching for spiritual fulfillment, which, literally, is his raison d'être.
This yearning for spiritual consciousness is innate in every human being. It is
the eternal and universal quest for the Holy Grail. The spiritual teachings of
Freemasonry, presented as a three tiered system of symbolic dramatisation,
offer an esoteric path to spiritual awareness. A path at once simple to
understand and interesting to practice. " In this path there is no loss of
effort or harmful counter effect. Even a little practice of this discipline
protects one from great fear." as the Gita aptly puts it
have now firmly established that the tenets of Freemasonry are best taught by
symbolism; that they contain important moral and ethical values, as well as
profound spiritual insights; and finally that they are not merely relevant but
essential to modern society. Roscoe Pound's
famous assertion "Masonry
has more to offer the twentieth century than the twentieth century has to offer
equally true of the twenty -first.
this juncture I may be permitted to exceed my brief and beg the question. Why at all do we doubt the relevance of the
Masonic message? Is it because we feel that the movement is losing ground? Have
the brethren become indifferent? Is attendance dwindling? Do we have difficulty
in attracting new members or retaining existing members?
the answer is yes, it certainly is not because the message of Freemasonry is
irrelevant, but perhaps because Freemasonry is no longer interesting. Our
objective then should be to make Masonry attractive and worthwhile. In the
Indian context, we must take into account the fact, that we in this country are
not native speakers of English, and therefore many of our brethren might have
constraints in comprehending the archaic language of the ritual. On the other
hand, as the liberal sprinkling of references to Indian scriptures amply
demonstrates, many of the ethical and spiritual precepts contained in Masonic
ritual are indigenous to our ethos and are deeply rooted in the Indian psyche.
Most of our brethren are familiar with them and will be able to empathise with
the ritual if only they are taught to appreciate its import. Our present
emphasis is more on faultless rendering of the ritual, than on educating our
brethren about its profound meaning. We are trying to impart Masonic knowledge
by rote, rather than by motivating the brethren to learn, contemplate,
understand and appreciate it, as they ought.
venerable Claudy's cry of anguish rings true even today. "The reason more Masons do not deserve
the title is not altogether their fault. It's our fault! We don't know enough
ourselves to teach them; we don't care enough about it to teach them. A good
balance in the bank, a growing membership, a free feed, 'nice' degrees- and we
call ourselves a successful lodge. But we make only ten men real Masons for
every hundred to whom we give the degrees, and the fault is ours; not theirs;
my fault, your fault, our fault because we don't study, don't learn, don't care
to learn the real secrets of Freemasonry and so cannot teach them."
need of the hour is a paradigm shift. We should revert to the original mission
of the founders, which was to teach basic moral truths to the brethren and
encourage their regular practice. We ought to institute modalities to explain
to the candidates, in simple and easily understandable words, the spiritual and
moral content of the ritual they had just experienced. That should enthuse them
to learn more and become better Men by becoming better Masons. We might also
design projects for brethren to work together to practice those principles,
especially to extend relief and consolation to brothers in distress.
Freemasonry will then become more meaningful to them and they will prize their membership in this ancient and
honourable institution. We shall then have Freemasons proudly holding their
heads high and saying
walk the path the great have trod,
The great in heart, the great in mind,
Who looked through Masonry to God,
And looked through God to all mankind;
Learned more than word or sign or grip,
Learned Man's and God's relationship.
him who sees, who understands,
How mighty Masonry appears!
A Brotherhood of many lands,
A fellowship of many years,
A Brotherhood so great, so vast,
Of all the Craft of all the past.