by Jason E. Marshall
Since time immemorial, man has sought to explore, discover, and even harness the power of the divine. We know from cave paintings that our ancestors looked to the heavens, and appear to have had some concept of God, or divine beings, since at least 16,000 B.C.E. (the Lascaux cave paintings in France being a wonderful example). While the majority of men have been content with seeking the divine in the stars, the seasons, or religious dogma, others have sought to delve inward in order to discover and harness the divine essence that resides within all of us.
Various contemplative systems and mystery schools have developed in order to aid man on his inward journey in search of his divine essence, his divine spark. While the practices and terminology differs widely among the various systems and schools, they have key universal components: 1) that the uninitiated, or unaware man, resides in a state of spiritual darkness, which is an unhappy state of emotional, mental, and spiritual imbalance, 2) man instinctively seeks to end his suffering, and ultimately to obtain reunification with the divine, 3) in order to discover his true essence, and thereby obtain reunification with the divine, man must undertake inner work and refinement, and 4) man should not undertake a journey of reunification for his benefit alone; instead, he must undertake the path selflessly, so that he may not only better himself, but also better mankind by becoming an instrument of The Creator.
These themes are explicitly found in the 13th degree whereby: 1) The true word has been lost, and therefore the three workman, and King Solomon himself, are residing in a state of ignorance, 2) When the workers discover the stone covering the perpendicular shaft, they instinctively explore the ruins, 3) the treasure that awaited them was not immediately apparent, instead they had to journey and fearlessly explore the nine subterranean vaults, and 4) after discovering the treasure, they did not hoard it for themselves, rather they presented it to King Solomon, so that it may be known and shared.
As with anything in masonry, these steps take on the form of a story in the material world; however, the story is an allegorical representation of the spiritual work that one must undertake. These universal themes are explicitly found in many traditions, especially in the Buddha’s teachings of the Four Noble Truths: 1) The world is full of suffering, 2) Suffering is caused by ignorance and attachment, especially to the gross material world. Also, while man naturally seeks to end his suffering, his ignorance as to the root cause of his suffering prevents many men from doing so, 3) You have the ability to break the cycle of suffering (Dukkha), and 4) There is an inner path to the cessation of suffering (known as the Eight-Fold Path), which must be undertaken selflessly. These universal teachings are also contained in the Gnostic’s journey towards Gnosis, the self-purification path of Sufism (Muraqaba), and the Hindu yoga paths to reach Moksha.
The first universal point, that the uninitiated, or unaware man, resides in spiritual darkness is easy to see in the profane world. Every day, there is news regarding a religious, social, or ethnic sect that is inflecting horrendous harm on their fellow man. Usually the violence or underlying hatred/prejudice is based off of misguided feelings of dogmatic, social, or ethical superiority. These feelings of superiority are borne out of a state of spiritual ignorance, spiritual darkness, where man is not only ignorant as to his true essence, but also to the true nature of his relationship between himself and The Creator, as well as the interrelationship between himself, The Creator, and the rest of creation.
Also, one who is in a state of spiritual darkness and ignorance easily projects their inner darkness and ignorance onto others. This “Psychological Projection”, was identified by the famous Austrian psychologist Sigmund Freud (1865-1939), and is basically a defense mechanism, where one projects their own unacceptable attributes onto others. Therefore, one who is in a state of darkness and ignorance, will actually view others as being the ones in darkness and ignorance, which naturally leads to fanaticism and classic “us vs. them” mentalities. A key component of psychological projection is that the one engaged in the projection is ignorant that they are doing so, they think that they are right and everyone else is wrong. Basically, since they have refused to stop and reflect on themselves, they see (project) their inner turmoil and demons onto others.
In the 13th degree, the workman have to delve inside of the earth, and engage in an exploration and struggle to go deeper and deeper into the nine vaults, until they discover the true treasure hidden within. This internal work is one that masonry directs us to over and over again, and often requires help from others, as illustrated by this degree.
The second universal point, that man instinctively seeks happiness and reunification with the divine, should be a familiar instinct to Scottish Rite Masons, because living in a state of unhappiness and spiritual ignorance is a state that is wholly unacceptable to a Scottish Rite Mason, which is why the teachings of the degrees continually seek to increase the general happiness and well-being of not only the individual member, but society as a whole. Therefore, the Scottish Rite Mason should naturally seek the cessation of ignorance by instinctively seeking to gain wisdom (Light).
The inner-work and esoteric aspects of the Scottish Rite provides teachings that allow its members to pursue the inner-work and refinement that is necessary in order to fulfill the third universal point; however, it is up to the individual member to seek them out and actually apply. While on the surface, the lessons of our degrees may seem overly simple, when they are actually applied, they become powerful tools that can lead us to become better men in our external, as well as in our internal (spiritual) endeavors.
The final universal point, that man should undertake the journey of reunification for the benefit of others, is an essential point, and one that has derailed the pursuit of many contemplative and esoteric men. The search for wisdom (the path towards reintegration) should be undertaken selflessly, and with an eye towards bettering not only our own life, but the lives of those around us. Those that undertake the path of reintegration for selfish purposes, inevitably end up retarding their progress, or derailing their journey all together. A selfish, or self-centered, spiritual path would be like a kidnapped prisoner finding a key to his cell, yet instead of using the key to escape the room and help others, he merely stays in the room. Therefore, one must not seek knowledge only to become a cloistered mystic, but rather, so that he can aid the entirety of creation by becoming an instrument of the divine. This is why in the 32* the brother is instructed that he must now become a champion (soldier) of Light for the good of all mankind.
This degree shows us that the inner spiritual journey, our laudable pursuit, may not be readily apparent or easy; however, we must undertake it, and once we discover the true treasure within, we must share it with others so that all may benefit.
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