Subdue Passions

What Come You Here to Do?

Photo by: Colin Frankland

Photo by: Colin Frankland

What come you here to do?

My Brothers, this is one of the great questions in all of Freemasonry!

As those of us in the fraternity know, it is actually one of the first questions we ask an Entered Apprentice Mason in his first catechism lecture.

The earliest ritual reference of which we have record is Prichard’s Masonry Dissected, published in 1730. I have read all the early ritual exposures and I can assure you this question and the subsequent answer given to it is not commonly found in the pre-Grand Lodge or early Premier Grand Lodge era ritual workings. In fact the answer appears in no other English ritual exposure from 1696 to 1769. In the single ritual text in which it does appear, the answer is given thus:

Not to do my own proper Will,
But to subdue my passion still;
The Rules of Masonry in hand to take,
And daily Progress therein make.


It is possible this particular catechism was used in early Operative Masonry because it is a didactic memory technique for learning. And this method of learning (using rhyme) dates centuries earlier than even the Regius Poem, (c. 1390),—purported to be the oldest didactic in Masonry. It may have also originated in 18th century continental Masonry, but again, there is no other reference to the question and its follow up answer in any other English ritual exposure from 1696 to 1769.

In a 1738 French translation of Prichard’s exposure, we find it once again. This time the question is worded What do you wish to do here?; and the answer given is; I do not inspire to follow my will, but rather to subdue my passions, while following the precepts of the Masons and making daily advancement in this Profession.

And then there is a 1745 French exposure entitled “The Broken Seal” where we find the questionWhat do you come to do here? With the answer; To conquer my passions, subdue my desires, and to make new progress in Masonry. 

It appears the consistent theme in each of these exposures is that the primary task of an Entered Apprentice is to subdue his passions and then, using the lessons of Masonry, to make progress in his life.

Now, the first thing almost every Mason will notice is that the answer given in the old catechisms is not the answer taught today in the ritual workings of our contemporary lodges. In fact, I would suggest that today’s answer has a much deeper meaning. It was developed during the early 19th century; when Masonry was a far more philosophical than moral undertaking. It commonly goes something like this: What come you here to do?

To learn to subdue my passions and improve myself in Masonry.

The interesting question is this: Are there any commas in this sentence? I think that there are. I think if the answer was actually written in most Masonic monitors, it would look like this:

To learn, to subdue my passions, and improve myself; in Masonry.

If I am right, then there was a new admonition added to the task of an Entered Apprentrice as the philosophical integrity of our Craft ritual expanded; namely—that he first learns.

And I think this changes everything!

To learn is to acquire knowledge; to acquire knowledge of a subject or skill as a result of study, of experience, or teaching; to receive instruction; to find out about, or discover; to be informed of, or learn about; to teach or inform a person of something.

We have to learn there is a moral imperative, for instance, before we can subdue our passions; we have to study Masonry before we can understand it. We have to discover there is an allegory before we can interpret it. We have to be informed of its history before we can comprehend its societal relevance. We have to detect its symbolic associations before we can grasp its spiritual nature. We have to contemplate its meanings before we can experience its insights. We have to be informed of its rules and laws before we can act within the due bounds of fraternity. We have to understand the meaning of manhood before we can grasp the unique power of fraternal association. 

We have to learn before we can improve ourselves. And we are taught as Entered Apprentices, we cannot improve ourselves without first subduing our passions--without releasing ourselves from our own ego so that we can feel the brotherhood of man. And we learn as Fellowcrafts that we have to overcome and go beyond the human senses, we have to transcend the logic of human education, we have to journey beyond the paradigms of human awareness, we have to surpass even inspiration and insight, go beyond all the powers and properties, the sciences and senses of man to erect our perfect ashlar; to get in touch with divine truth--which is metaphysical—it surpasses human understanding. Then, as Master Masons, we learn that we have to finally overcome ourselves before we can achieve peace and harmony within ourselves, and in our lives.

The bottom line of Masonic teaching is that, through the journey of our degrees, we learn that Divine truth can’t be understood by the human agencies of education, or dogma, or rationale thought, or by the evidence of the senses—it has to be perceived directly. And, my Brothers, it enters into us by the path of initiation.

All of this is pretty heady stuff. Men come into Masonry to learn to improve themselves. If they are coming here for any other reason, then we are failing to represent with honesty what our organizational purpose is. Men come to us to learn. The lodge is the receptacle, the personal space, the sacred environment that will either facilitate their learning, or prevent it.

To me, this brings up another question for all of us: Which kind of facilitator is our lodge?

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Tolerance: A True Measure of Compassion

                                                                                 Constant Union Masonic Lodge, Rio Grande, Brazil - Credit: Eugenio Hansen

                                                                                 Constant Union Masonic Lodge, Rio Grande, Brazil - Credit: Eugenio Hansen

Originally Published in the June 2014 Edition of Living Stones Magazine

We came here to learn to subdue our earthly passions, to increase our intellect and spiritual awareness, to find Light, or better yet, our spiritual reality.  Going one step further, we search for the true understanding of life, our place and purpose in it through the ability to reason.  The realization of the true ability to find reason within the mental and emotional processes of life is the fulcrum between the choices of good and evil, and between right and wrong.  This is what we are truly saying when we recite the beginning of our catechism.  Sure, the words may differ from one masonic jurisdiction to another, but we all came here to subdue our passions and improve ourselves in Masonry.  This process is accomplished through different practices.

We learn the definitions of the Masonic symbols and from our mentors, we are explained the philosophies.  The transformative process of Masonry, the change of one state of conscious and subconscious conviction to a more improved state through the application of spiritual exploration and the understanding of various philosophies, communicated through various symbols within the construct of Masonic ritual to our inner most convictions, start to make themselves realized by the epiphanies we come to have and the changes in our perception of life and those circulating in it.  These changes are only possible through study and discussion with those others who have themselves solid understandings of such, and who can provide credible explanations that contributes to self-reflection without bias to the conclusions.  How do we measure through self-reflection of how far we have come though?  One of the identifiable measures of how far our passions have been subdued is to pay attention to the depth of our tolerance.  In this article we will search to understand specifically what tolerance is, whence it derived its meaning, and the difference between possessing tolerance and simply being tolerant.  It is that understanding that allows us to measure the tolerance one may possess to calculate how they have identified their vices and superfluities to illustrate to them the direction of education that may need to pursue in the improvement of self.

Tolerance is defined as the “willingness to accept feelings, habits, or beliefs that are different from your own” by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.[i]  In regards to religious tolerance, Daniel Taylor of Christianity Today writes that intolerance became a sin and was developed as a result of the Christian wars of the 16th and 17th century that resulted in mass slaughtering in the name of Christ.  He states the answer to the problem was tolerance and that historically then, “was the liberal, secular answer to the inability of conservative religionists to compromise with those who differed from them.”[ii]  Voltaire, who lived from 1694 until 1778 and who was a Freemason actively involved with the Enlightenment stated that, “Of all religions, the Christian should of course inspire the most tolerance, but until now Christians have been the most intolerant of all men.”[iii]  The word itself came into usage in the 14th century and by the 17th century in France, it meant the same as when it was first used as a “tendency to be free from bigotry or severity in judging others.”[iv]  Not only is tolerance taught and espoused by Christianity, it is found in all religious dogma in one verse or another.  What is interesting is that with examples of tolerance found in all religious texts, the practice of intolerance can be seen in our society by many professed religious leaders from the West for those of other religious faiths, ethnicities, or politics.  In an effort to be politically correct, they ACT tolerant, but do not demonstrate a POSSESSION of tolerance.  The possession of tolerance, and it having depth, is different from simply being tolerant. 

One’s depth of tolerance is predicated on several aspects such as education, philosophical understandings, and the ability to evaluate without influencing the results with bias of self- conviction.  Dialectical thinking, “a form of analytical reasoning that pursues knowledge and truth as long as there are questions and conflicts,” is a great asset to have when doing such evaluating of one’s measure of tolerance.[v]  The absence of bias and attitude of dismissal is essential in the successful use of this method.  An example of the use of this type of investigative academic procedure is the Socratic Method.  But as Manzo notes, this method can be easily abused as one asking questions can easily begin their quest as educationally investigative, but without specific and moral direction of the questions, the quest can become misaligned and promote defensive mindsets then resulting in fruitless arguments rather than expanded understanding.  The indifference that may result relieves us from gaining the possession of tolerance and may leave us with the resolve of simply tolerating an indifference as to not further spurn more arguing, instead of intellectually or spiritually increasing our understanding of foreign convictions that tends to expands tolerance.

“Let not interest, favour, or prejudice bias your integrity, or influence you to be guilty of a dishonourable action.”[vi]

Cultural Relativism, “a method whereby different societies or cultures are analyzed objectively without using the values of one culture to judge the worth of another,” is another means to implement a progression in the depth of one’s tolerance.[vii]  In the analysis of another person’s character, conviction, or cultural practices of varying natures, our experiences, education, dogma’s and so forth, our culture, undoubtedly coerces us to judge in relation to them.  We must, in the interest of the exploration of cultural assimilation of moral improvement to be exemplified to mankind, resist this innate desire to judge with bias. This is not to say that all we objectively inspect will be of virtuous quality that is beneficial in a positive means of assimilation to our own moral betterment, but if we cannot without bias analyze those that are different from us in whatever respects that are presented, we will deny ourselves even the opportunity to explore if there were qualities that were beneficial to begin with. 

The growth of tolerance and resistance to simply be tolerant is a necessity in the advancement of moral progression of humanity with Freemasons being the exemplars. 

“The blind force of the people is a force that must be economized, and also managed, as the blind force of steam, lifting the ponderous iron arms and turning the large wheels, is made to bore and rifle the cannon and to weave the most delicate lace.  It must be regulated by intellect.  Intellect is to the people and the people’s force, what the slender needle of the compass is to the ship…”[viii]

As many athletic coaches have stated during practices for big games in whatever sport, it is what you do in practice that will ultimately determine your performance on the field.  This is not so different than Lodge, which actually is not limited by the walls in which we tile as the Lodge symbolically extends from the East to West, between North and South, from the Earth to the heavens and from the surface to the center.  What we exercise in demonstrating the possession of tolerance in Lodge with our brethren and their shared opinions or beliefs is what we intrinsically will demonstrate, and maybe with less awareness, in the public.  I do not doubt that we have heard the sighs from the sideline when a Brother may be expressing a thought, even though he has repeated the same objection time and time again perhaps, as the Brethren have grown tired and desire to end lodge, but I ask, is that a demonstration of tolerance, or simply being tolerant because there are visible repercussions?  We must search for why someone is speaking or acting from a particular mindset or with a certain ideology before we can began to rule out the validity of their position.  It is this act, this being in “due bounds of mankind and more especially a Brother Mason,” that will ultimately vindicate the conviction of our members to be involved with lodge instead of feeling as if they are an outcast, will ultimately give them confidence in contributing to the betterment of the lodge.  This act of compassion, this demonstration of tolerance exemplified by the Brethren within the lodge will be exemplified by the same members outside the lodge with an inherent confidence that will leave those of mankind one comes in contact with, inspired. 

So, we must ask ourselves, “What came we here to do?”  To that, we must add the question of how do we accomplish the answer we profess every time we sit in the West of the Lodge, or listen to the Senior Warden recite to the Master of the Lodge.  How do we stem the rising of our blood pressure at the speaking of, or action, of another?  How do we measure our growth of compassion?  Tolerance.  By understanding how we can develop our tolerance of others in a morally upright manner, we can better implement the tenets of our institution and inspire the world that merit is the title of our privileges and that on us, they have been deservingly bestowed.  This will undoubtedly influence those we come into contact with to consider their own moral convictions as they see in us a mirror of their own conduct to be measured.  I charge myself often with this large responsibility to improve so I may become a better human being.  I encourage you to charge yourself with the same responsibility.  Together, we can move forward parallel to one another, our differences and similarities working in harmony, expanding our positive effect on one another, and inspiring a better world for those that will endeavor to follow us into the future. 

 

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END NOTES:

[i] Tolerance. (n.d.) http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tolerance

[ii] TAYLOR, D. (1999). Are you tolerant? (Should you be?). (Cover story). Christianity Today, 43(1), 42.

[iii] Voltaire

[iv] Barnhart, Robert K., (1998) Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology, H.W. Wilson Co.

[v] Manzo, A. (1992) Dialectical Thinking: A Generative Approach to Critical/Creative Thinking, Institute of Education Services, 

[vi] Preston, W. (1776) (1867) Illustrations of Freemasonry, Masonic Manufacturing and Publishing Co.

[vii] www.sociologyguide.com/basic-concepts/Cultural-Relativism.php

[viii] Pike, A. (1871) Morals and Dogma