Freemasonry's truths are covered with symbolism and its insight with allegory. It is necessary to look behind the fact to see the truth and beyond the symbol to see the reality. This requires thought, study, reflection and an investment of time and effort.
Frederick Schopenhauer once said that philosophy must be understood by experience and thought, not as a mere passive reading or study. This is equally true of Freemasonry. The lectures of each degree of Freemasonry were drafted carefully in the shape of a series of moral principles and divided into sections. They are designed so that each Brother should be well acquainted with each before he be admitted to a higher degree. They were also designed in light of an understanding that knowledge acquired by graduated studies and in detail is a species of wealth which is endurable, and cannot be taken away.
Although the Brethren are urged to practice out of the Lodge the lessons learned therein, often the lessons are not sufficiently emphasized, are insufficiently explained, or are glossed over in the interest of time. Often, the goal is to complete the degrees in a short period of time, rather than to allow a contemplative period to digest the lessons and to interpret the symbols and allegories. The result is often a failure to learn the lessons and thus to put in the ranks some Brothers who do the Craft little credit and who are either ignorant of or indifferent to, even the purposes of the Order. Quick fixes, like fool's gold, are attractive and seemingly valuable until time and study prove them otherwise. Unearned advancement, like undeserved honors, degrades and diminishes.
One reason given for the goal to rush through the degrees is that men today lack the time to take the degrees in the manner used for hundreds of years. However, men make time for things they value. Unhappily, many prospective candidates are not informed that Freemasonry contains the secrets of successful and happy living, that it shows the way to allow the spiritual to overcome the material and thus to improvement, and that it supplies the answer to why we are here. Hence, its value is not readily apparent to them. Moreover, if men do not believe they want to take the time to attend a few meetings in order to receive the degrees in the traditional manner, or to prepare themselves for advancement, they likely would not believe they want to make time to devote to Lodge attendance, Lodge activities, or to discovering the underlying teachings of the symbols and allegories and to thus obtain an understanding of the truths of Freemasonry.
The German philosopher Georg Hegel was once asked to describe philosophy in one sentence, but realizing its depth and complexity, he took forty volumes to do so. He chose not to try to emulate the monk who, when asked to describe Christianity while standing on one foot, said simply - "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."
Freemasonry can be described concisely. Some, attempting to do so, might say that it is a way of life, while others that it is dedicated to the regeneration of man and the reformation of human society. Others, in describing it, might quote from ritual and state that Masonry:
1. is a series of allegories, the mere vehicles of great lessons in morality and philosophy; or
2. has as the basis for its doctrine a firm belief in the existence of God and of the immortality of the soul and for its purpose the practice of the social and moral virtues; or
3. is a progressive moral science taught by degrees; or
4. teaches us to subdue the passions, act upon the square, keep a tongue of good report, maintain secrecy and practice charity.
Such descriptions, however accurate, are superficial. They merely communicate some basic fundamentals or at best an overview. They only obliquely reference a few of Freemasonry's purposes and only sparsely some of its moral and philosophical principles.
Anyone desiring to become useful to the science of Freemasonry and to be able to apply it to enhance his living, cannot be content with a mere exposure to, and a hasty and incomplete understanding of, the externals, but will examine its esoteric secrets with enthusiasm. In doing so he will reap a full share of the blessings, which it is so well calculated to confer on society at large. To do so requires the thought, study and reflection necessary to look beyond the presentation. Without doing so, he will likely remain almost totally ignorant of the true principles of Freemasonry and of how to use them to produce a beautiful and meaningful effect.
We are here to labor for liberation from ignorance, to overcome the base passions, and to breach the bonds of limitation. It is necessary, therefore, to seek to be worthy of our immortal heritage, and to deserve the title of Freemason, not merely to possess it. Our novitiates must be encouraged to invest thought, study and reflection into learning and understanding the principles and lessons of Freemasonry. In doing so they will not only be wiser and happier, but will truly be able, by the influence of the pure principles of Freemasonry, to display the beauties of holiness, to the honor of the Almighty Father of the Universe.
by Jack R. Levitt, PGM (California)
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