The degrees of Freemasonry are built on the clear understanding that men need to be engaged in a quest for self-improvement. But a lot of guys out there are not on board with the quest. They don’t know who they are or where they are going with their life. They are confused and often misguided by their primitive instincts. They are full of media defined ideas about masculinity, and their social conditioning has been based largely on physique, sex, wealth, and conquest. They may seem very successful in appearances. Yet, be wholly at sea in knowing what self-improvement means, where it comes from, and how one accesses it.
Nevertheless, for most men, life is seen as a journey. Men intuitively know there will be some kind of initiation in store for them on their way to manhood. They just don’t know where it will occur, what it will look like, or how the results will turn out for them.
Even in Freemasonry, where the quintessential initiation takes place in the Blue or Symbolic Lodge, it is important to grasp that this is only the beginning of one’s journey. It is there that we learn of the importance of our outward relationship with others and the institutions of our society. It is there that we are taught it takes a combination of intellect, experience, intuition, feeling, emotion and education to make real progress in life. And it is there that we discover our dual nature. We come face to face with our own worst enemy—our ego. We are given the opportunity to transcend our passions and prejudices and become true to who we are.
However, we are left to our own resources as to how we are supposed to proceed with this profound quest. We are still at sea with embracing the path of self-improvement. In the nomenclature of our private association of men, this is part of the meaning of the Lost Word. As Master Masons, we still have a mountain of self-discovery to climb. It is at this very point that every initiated man either becomes ready for the higher teachings of Freemasonry, or he remains content to enjoy his title as Master Mason and relish in the attitude that his association with good men will bring him improvement enough.
To a large extent, the higher degrees of Masonry are engaged in completing this drama–completing the quest—completing the process of becoming a man. For example, the degrees or teachings of the Lodge of Perfection in the Scottish Rite (4° – 14°) explore in depth the shadow side of our own existence—the unfinished business we have with ourselves–our ruffians within. We all have the arduous task of overcoming ourselves. And it will prove the hardest journey of our life.
At least one aspect of our ruffian nature is revealed in each of the 4th through 10th degrees. Bringing these to the surface facilitates our own awakening of consciousness. For instance, the 4° informs us that the mysteries of our own being are not easily revealed to us–our inadequate understanding of things; our ignorance and short sidedness; passions and prejudices; selfish motives and lazy approaches to learning. In the 5°, we are warned of our selfish interests, our idleness and non-committal approach to a genuine interest in others; our unearned privileges, and lack of concern for equity and fairness. In the 6°, our ruffians become our hasty judgments; our inability to separate perception from reality; our “me-first” attitudes; our prejudices and fears.
You get the idea. Our life is like a stream of water running from the past to the present, having its roots in ignorance, idleness and intolerance. By revealing our failings and inadequacies, we are able to address these in the light of our new knowledge, and change ourselves for the better. As these stumbling blocks to personal affirmation are collectively projected across the many aspects of our society, the overall work of the Lodge of Perfection becomes a kind of knighthood aimed at eliminating ignorance, tyranny and fanaticism.
The bottom line is that the foremost goal of human life is the quest for spiritual enlightenment. Self-improvement is only achieved through higher, more refined levels of awareness brought about by concentrating one’s mind on one’s innermost self—our essential center of being. This cannot be achieved as long as ignorance, tyranny and fanaticism linger in our minds. But the solution requires a little explanation.
The problem of toleration is remarkably difficult for most everyone because it is so easy to feel good about being intolerant. The highest price we are called upon to pay for freedom is not in taxes to defend the country, nor even on the battlefield. The highest price we must pay for freedom is to allow others to be free.
Religious toleration means that we must allow others the same right to freedom of worship we demand for ourselves, even if we find their practices wrong or repugnant.
Intellectual toleration means that we must allow the free and full exploration of every idea, even if we think it wrong or dangerous.
Social toleration means that we must allow others to live lifestyles we may find strange or uncomfortable, whether in a commune or in a same sex relationship.
Of all the lessons a man or a woman must learn to be truly human, toleration may well be the hardest.
Tyranny is another form of intolerance. Tyranny does not equate to authority, but with attitude. We don’t call the skilled and caring teacher who maintains order and discipline in his or her class a tyrant, nor the nation which offers protection to another nation while carefully not interfering with the nation so helped, nor the husband or wife who discharges the affair of the household with authority but also love and concern.
The essence of tyranny is selfishness. And if tyranny is selfish in the world of material things, fanaticism is selfishness in the world of ideas and beliefs. Fanaticism is the sort of selfishness that says “I am right. If you do not agree with me, you are wrong, and I have the right to hurt you.”
It is ignorance that allows both tyranny and fanaticism to flourish, for only an informed populace can form the basis of freedom. Ignorance is the primary weapon of the tyrant and the fanatic. Both can give good reason why just a little bit of censorship is needed, or why we should control what people think or what they read because otherwise they may ask questions and lose the true faith. The fanatic always wants to benefit others. All he asks in return is your mind and soul.
We are admonished in the Scottish Rite to be always actively involved in the government of our country. Unjust taxes, government bureaucracies which are more concerned with self perpetuation than with service; creeping limitations on the freedom of the people –in the name of expediency, or of conformity, or the greater good–these things are not new. To truly be champions of the people, as Masonry calls on us to be, we must be concerned with every miscarriage of justice, every unreasonable limitation of liberty, every arbitrary act of court or state house or capital.
And our special concern has to be with those who do not have access to the courts, nor the ear of those in power, nor influence with city hall. Their very powerlessness creates a binding obligation on every good brother to promote human equity and impartiality.
Yes, it would be far easier, and far more comfortable, to just chill out. Most men do. But our duty is to be aflame. That is how we conquer the ruffians.