Being some preliminary considerations to the study of the Masonic Retreat
by W. Bro. J.R. Cleland, P.P.A.G. Chap. (Kent).
"Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." (1 Thess. 5: 21.)
"To be born in a cer tain belief is good — to die in it is unfortunate. Beliefs are the crutches by which some people hobble towards the truth. When one arrives there, one throws the crutches away. Many devout religionists believe, but to believe is not of necessity to know: Only the practical occultist knows." (The Initiate, p. 22.)
"If you are ever offered your choice between being an occultist and a blacksmith, choose the lighter job and enter the forge rather than the lodge." (Dion Fortune. The Secrets of Dr. Taverner.)
"Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind." (Rom. 14: 5.)
"Never utter these words, 'I do not know this, therefore it is false!' One must study to know, know to understand, understand to judge." "He who denies must either be omniscient-or a fool." (Narada.)
"The fox will ever be foxy, Count on a snake to bite; But humanity's orthodoxy Declareth darkness light." (W.L. Wilmshurst, "The Way to the East," Appearances.)
"Heaven's kingdom suffers violence'; You taught us in and out of season. Wisdom is most uncommon sense And the irrational — true reason." (W.L. Wilmshurst, "The Way to the East," In Memoriam, William Blake.)
"I am striving to reach the kingdom of heaven, which is called liberation of the soul. In order to reach this, I need not seek refuge in a cave. I carry my cave with me." (Gandhi.)
"Wisdom, like water, takes the form of the vessel into which it is poured." (Chinese proverb.)
"As soon as a person starts telling someone else what he ought to want, one can be fairly certain that everything is not what it seems on the surface." (C.H. Waddington, "The Scientific Attitude.")
"Charity . . .," i.e., Tolerance, "....believeth all things." (l Cor., 13: 7.)
"Those who are unable to face Truth had better remain in ignorance; a brilliant light will blind eyes not strong enough to gaze upon it." (The Book of TAO.)
"I accept unreservedly the views of no man, living or dead." (Horace Greely, "Recollections of a Busy Life.")
NOTE: These quotations are not intended, nor have those introducing my earlier papers been intended, to be used as texts upon which to hang the remarks which follow after them. They may, indeed, be ignored until such time as the general substance of each paper has been digested and assimilated, when some benefit may be derived from using them as suggestions for opening up other avenues of thought upon the theme of the paper.
One of the most important rules in Freemasonry is that which lays down that no missionary influence should be exercised to obtain candidates. The same stress should be laid upon the avoidance of any such influence to disseminate a particular interpretation of masonic teaching. The attention of the Aspirant is drawn to this point on his first admission to the Temple and even before the ceremony of Initiation is commenced. The principle involved goes much deeper than is suspected by the majority of the brethren.
In the outer world almost every man holds strong convictions of some kind or another. Normally self-centred, he quite naturally feels that such as have proved helpful to himself must, ipso facto, be acceptable and helpful to others. He sets out to spread his glorious news, without thought that here, as in every sphere of human experience, "One man's meat is another man's poison." He genuinely believes that he has a cure for certain ills and he proceeds to administer it to all and sundry, by fair means or foul and whether they be capable of digesting it or not.
One need only observe the volume of misguided enthusiasm and propaganda which has, in our own times, so often led to disastrous results, to get some idea of the driving force behind such obsessions. Time and again one meets self-styled missionaries who, with but little knowledge or real understanding of their own creed, and usually none whatsoever of that practised or professed by those whom they presume to teach, rush in, doing much more harm than good, where those with a modicum of understanding fear to tread. Results, as is only to be expected, are chaotic, and we find, not only "the blind leading the blind," but, as often as not, the blind imposing their ideas upon those who can see, and striving to lead them. From the outset I want to stress the fundamental need for adhering to the broadest possible principles and avoidance of anything which might lead to limitation of our outlook.
Please do not get the idea that I am condemning all missions. No one has greater admiration for missionary enterprise and spirit than I. But I would have it rightly applied where it is needed, where it can I do real good. Above all I would have it applied with understanding. Faith of any kind, religious, political, scientific, commercial or other, without works is unthinkable; but faith without discrimination may be, and all too often is, beyond measure disastrous. It was no accidental selection which placed DISCRIMINATION at the head of the list of requirements in the candidate for the Mysteries.
Always there have been — and must always be — four great qualifications: DISCRIMINATION, DESIRELESSNESS, GOOD CONDUCT, and LOVE.
If we observe the sequence dispassionately, it becomes obvious that without Discrimination, Desirelessness is impossible; without these two one cannot have real Good Conduct and, without a high degree of development of these three, one cannot evince perfect Love.
I do not ask, therefore, that you should accept what I am going to say to you, unless, after mature consideration, you find that some portion of it is satisfying to your own consciousness. Perhaps you may pick out something to fill an otherwise unfillable gap. I merely suggest to you certain "draughts and plans," from which, should you find them acceptable, you may be able to raise a superstructure satisfying to yourself as builder; you, not I, must be the builder. I can, I believe, offer a solid foundation upon which to build, but I do not — and cannot — lay down any hard and fast design or rules for your building, nor would I wish in any degree to limit your freedom of interpretation of the general plans of the work. Each must mould and interpret these plans to suit himself. Nothing can come into manifestation except in relation to the individual observer. The same fact may appear in completely different guise to two observers, each of whom must view it through the limitations of his own vehicles.
In all ages, among all peoples, in almost all religious and philosophic groups into which men have divided themselves, it has been found helpful — and, in many cases, necessary — for the student to make periodical withdrawal from the ties of everyday life, in order to "make a retreat" for purposes of study and exercise in developing his higher functions, for true re-creation, the frequency and duration of such retreats varying with individual or group requirements.
The great majority of such retreats have been designed for the strengthening or developing of some particular "faith" or system of belief. Before considering the application of such method to the study of the Masonic Craft as we know it, we should, I think, consider, in general terms, certain fundamental questions, some of which will later require more full and detailed examination than can be given within the limits of a single paper. Let us tabulate a few questions.
- What do we mean by BELIEF? Why does a man hold to certain beliefs and reject others? Why does he attach himself to some particular faith, religion or denomination? Whence, if he finds satisfaction therein, does he derive that satisfaction?
- Is it possible, by exercise and practice, to make contact with the source of fundamental Truth? Can we say that there is a common denominator of Truth which can be said to underlie all systems? Does the teaching of the Craft fulfil the requirements of such basic Truth?
- After due consideration of the methods used in other fields, can we formulate a method of practice, based upon the tenets of the Craft, by which we can contribute to the development of such functions as are, as yet, mere potentialities in humanity as a whole, but which, fully developed — educated, in the true sense of the word — will enable their owner to have direct cognizance of Truth?
Summing all in one, we may ask again, "What is Freemasonry, and are there, in the Craft, such grounds for formulation of belief, that upon it may be formulated an effective scheme of retreat?"
To answer such a question it may be necessary to wander into realms apparently far removed from our general conception of the Craft, but, first, we must try to obtain a firm foundation. Let us, then, consider the first question formulated above.
What is Belief?
For our present purpose we may define the belief held by any man as embodying those things which, for the moment, he is prepared to accept as being true, to such an extent that around them he attempts to build his everyday activities.
If we accept this definition, it follows that, as the field of consciousness unfolds in man, so must the field of his beliefs expand, the field of belief always remaining in direct relation to the stage of development of consciousness in the observer himself.
Most religious bodies demand, as a prerequisite for admission to their membership, the acceptance of a "creed" or of some statement of individual or corporate belief. All, without exception, are liable to lose sight of the incontrovertible fact that no such formula can fully express the individual belief of any one of its members. The majority of people, being incapable of thinking for themselves, accept, without question, the first such statement put before them. This state of affairs continues until such time as they awaken to the fact that they have never studied it and that they do not understand it. Then, either they are too lazy to make any change or they fear to do so because of outside influences. Some few, more prone to original thought, or more greatly daring, put the accepted statement to the test of their undeveloped reasoning faculty and, finding that it is not wholly satisfying, repudiate it, as being "one of these funny old customs or superstitions which die so hard!"
The simple unescapable fact is that no formula which can be expressed in words is capable of giving satisfaction, full and "without evasion, equivocation or mental reservation," to more than a very small minority of those even for the expression of whose corporate belief its clauses were designed.
A man — or a body of men — holds a belief, normally, for one of three reasons: First, because it has been handed to him, probably from infancy, and he has simply accepted it, without troubling to examine it closely; Second, because, having examined it and brought reason to bear upon it he decides to adopt it as "the more convenient hypothesis" to explain things as he finds them; Third, because he knows!
These three may be summed up in the words:-
Authority Reason Experience
We will examine these later in this paper.
Always a man finds fullest satisfaction in his belief when that belief expresses the highest spiritual consciousness in which he is capable of functioning at the moment.
Continuing with our original questions, there is definitely a common denominator to which all systems, whether religious, philosophic, scientific or other, may be referred to be tested for their content of truth.
There can be only one TRUTH. All systems are but partial expressions of this, studies and accentuations of one or more of its facets, as it reflects the Will, the Wisdom and the Active Craftsmanship of the Great Architect of Truth. A portion of ultimate Truth has been given to our humanity, and this is usually denominated "The Ancient Wisdom." It will be necessary for us to survey some of its teachings and their interpretations, and to compare with them the tenets and practices of some of the derived systems of thought used by humanity. Thus we may find a basis of sufficient strength upon which to establish our temple of truth, to give it the best chance to stand firm.
It is possible, by unfolding and developing the necessary instruments and faculties, to make direct contact with Truth. Later, we will survey the methods used and the qualifications required to carry this into effect. Thus, we may reach the consideration of a formula for masonic retreat and gain some idea of the goal towards which it is directed. That is my aim and object, and I trust, as a humble student of eternal truth, to gain some enlightenment in the attempt to formulate ideas for your edification.
The facts which I try to lay before you are, in themselves, eternal: The interpretation of these facts which I adopt is, of course, my own. It is, therefore, subject to the limitations of my personal vehicles. Whether I succeed in interesting you — possibly even convincing you — with regard to them, must depend upon how well — or ill — I have made them to live in my consciousness and how I make use of the instrument of words in the attempt to communicate that consciousness to yours. Words are but symbols and, by their use, one is usually more liable to veil the truth than to reveal it.
So let us get back to our first question concerning Belief. We must consider it more especially in relation to the general theme of getting to know ourselves, what we are, whence we come and how, and whither our steps are leading us. It is surely fundamental to any understanding of such things that we should know at the outset, as clearly as possible, what it is that we believe, and why we believe it.
Put these questions to the average man of to-day: "What do you believe, and why do you believe it?" or "What are your beliefs, and why do you hold them?"
First we must note a fundamentally important point. He will, almost certainly, assume that you are referring to his 'Religious Beliefs,' and will answer accordingly. This is a fact of very deep significance, although he would probably deny it, if such a suggestion were made to him.
However that may be, the arguments which follow will apply to every form of belief, however it may be classified or labelled. Assuming, for the moment, that we accept the religious classification, we will probably receive one of two answers to our question. Either (1) that his belief is what he has been taught or is that which his particular Church teaches, or (2) that it is in the Bible — or, perhaps, in some other scripture which he regards as authoritative. It should be noted at once that neither answer appears to give a sound basis for faith, but of this more anon.
Press him further and seek to find out why he belongs to a particular religion, sect or denomination and why he accepts its particular writings as authoritative?
Most of you, who read this, were attached in youth to some religious body. It may have been some form of Christianity, of Judaism, of Hinduism or of Buddhism, of Mohammedanism, or of some other faith. For purposes of argument only let us take Christianity. Those of you who adhered to this Main Stream may have been Episcopalian or Presbyterian, Anglican or Roman or Eastern Orthodox, Wesleyan or Baptist, Seventh Day Adventist, Plymouth Brother, or Holy Roller, or any one of a thousand and one sects and denominations who claim to be within the Christian fold. Christianity is a good example of what we require, from the very number and diversity of its facets, accentuation of any one of which may form the pretext for the formation of yet another exclusive cell.
At once the question arises, whether, having considered and compared all these, separate cells, you selected the one to which you would give adherence, as being best suited to your temperament? And the answer obviously must be "No! not a bit of it!"
You belonged originally, in this life, to a particular denomination because one or both of your parents belonged to it. Further, if you consider the basic facts dispassionately, you will find in this the main reason why the majority of mankind accept each one statement of truth rather than another. The man who has thought the matter out and made deliberate choice for himself is quite the exception. The waverer is, in most cases, driven by circumstances extraneous to himself to accept, at least outwardly, some more or less satisfactory compromise, about which he has no real enthusiasm.
Following up the same line of thought, I would go so far as to say that the only real reason why the majority of professing Christians to-day are adherents of Christianity at all is the fact that they happened to be born into a Christian community. Had the community into which they entered at birth had a different label, they would just as naturally have accepted and continued to wear that label. Where a breakaway is made at all, it is, more often than not, under the influence of a particular personality, rather than of a particular teaching.
As, behind all the multifarious sects and denominations in Christendom, lies the diamond of fundamental Christian Gnosis, of which they are the facets, so, behind all the various streams of the religions of the world, is the Great River of Truth, that fundamental and unalterable truth which binds God and Man in One, and which, in so far as it has been revealed to man, we know here as the Ancient Wisdom. Freemasonry, in that it is non-credal and undenominational, in that it comprehends within itself the basic facts and teachings of all faiths, is one of the forms in which this Ancient Wisdom is most happily clothed. It is based upon the widest possible conception of the Volume of the Sacred Lore. It fulfils the highest aspirations of the more material forms of religious faith, and leads up to those sensed by the more spiritual forms.
I made the statement that the reasons usually given for the holding of particular beliefs do not appear to me to be satisfactory. I would like to expand this statement.
The first reason quoted was "The Church teaches this belief." What does the man mean when he speaks of the 'Church'? Normally, he means his own particular little exclusive cell. Sometimes he takes a wider view and refers to the whole body of which that cell is a component part. Only in very rare cases do we find that he means to convey any wider application.
The Ancient Wisdom finds partial expression in the teachings, scriptures and rites of all religions. Each of the main streams of religious thought finds practical, but only very partial, expression in each and every one of its subsidiary sects and denominations. No such body has yet succeeded in giving full expression to that of which it is a fragment. Each denomination and sect, in turn, finds partial, and more or less faulty, expression in those who attempt to set forth its teaching through the medium of their own personalities.
Thus, modification follows upon modification, each succeeding step carrying us further from the original truth, giving a more and more limited view, until it is almost completely obscured. Even this would not be so bad if it were the whole trouble. Superimposed upon these primary limitations we have to contend with modifications whose origins lie outside religious truth altogether, considerations of temporal power, of politics, of finance and of mere class-distinction.
Perhaps I may be allowed to quote a personal experience of such influence in a great body which takes the Christian label. I had some dealings with their representatives about the price to be paid for the right of way over a certain footpath, part of which lay on their land, and the use of which saved me more than a mile in each direction when visiting the adjacent village. I considered their proposed charge to be wholly extortionate, and I said so. The remark then made by the official with whom I was dealing has always remained with me, and is typical of these outside influences in certain religious communities. "Of course, you must remember," he said, "that we do not care who goes to the wall, so long as we make money!" I am afraid that my parting shot was " Well, if you call that Christianity, I don't!" This was, perhaps, an extreme case, but I quote it to show how much these outside influences have to be taken into account. I have often wondered if my own attitude was quite up to the mark of a professing Christian, but it served to give expression to my feelings at the time. The danger is very real and it covers, as I have said, many other influences besides that of sordid finance.
There is another great obstacle to the unveiling of Truth which is always at work: the tendency for all human beings and institutions to become set in their ways. This is generally called conservatism, and it is unfortunate that so many scientific workers in these times, and despite their vaunted scientific attitude, are just as prone to the taint as those in religion or in any other walk of life. The scientific worker, if he really is scientific in his outlook, should have a completely open and unbiased mind. The scientific method of approach is, first, to collect facts; regardless of their significance; second, to arrange and tabulate these facts; and then to construct a convenient hypothesis which will, he hopes, cover the facts; third, and most important, to be ready to modify, and even to discard, that hypothesis, when new facts are available which will not fit in. Most of the disasters of Science have come from the discarding of facts, rather than scrap a beloved hypothesis. A fact is a fact and it must be held in mind, even if, for a time, it must be in abeyance, until a new hypothesis can be evolved which will cover it. This attitude of mind is seldom to be found outside Scientific circles, and is more rare than it should be even there. Man has a strong tendency to allow himself to be ruled by prejudices, which, as often as not, have but little foundation upon fact. He is inclined to make a mental picture of his environment as, for the moment, he thinks he would like it to be. Taking this as a framework, he tries to fit the observed facts into it, moulding, and often sadly distorting, them to fit his preconceived ideas. Facts which simply will not fit in are discarded, facts which lie outside his own little experience are ignored, and subjects which he has not taken the trouble to study are labelled as spurious, anyone having the temerity to study them being put down as a fool, a crook or a charlatan. It is a nasty picture but, all too often, one meets it in everyday life. Science, as a whole, has, in the past, been far from free from this kind of prejudice, but the amazing revelations of the last few years are undoubtedly making the scientist much more chary of categorical denial, that denial to which the old Indian sage, Narada, referred when he said, "he who denies, must either be omniscient — or a fool!"
It is written in the Bible." If, by the phrase 'Volume of the Sacred Lore' — or, if you prefer it so, 'Volume of the Sacred Law' — we understand that which may be paraphrased "Essence of Divine Truth," then without doubt, when fully understood and accepted, it must stand as "the unerring standard of truth and virtue." But Divine Truth has been transmitted to humanity at all times through the media of the human mind and understanding, which, as all must admit, have their limitations. And not only is this so, but another limitation has been imposed, further veiling the truth, by the fact that it has been presented to us by the use of those arbitrary symbols which we call words. These words have been changed by translation into different symbolic expression in other language, languages which, themselves, are far from static, and, finally, the writings have been edited, and amended on many occasions, with a view to bringing them into line with the thought of the day. All these various processes have continued until, in most cases, the wood has been completely lost in the trees.
One writer on this subject has said, "There is no escape from the decisions of the intellect, so long as the present scheme of things endures." Is there any reason for the present scheme of things to endure? The Intellect — and, more particularly, the intellect which has had a scientific training — in humanity today tends to reject all phenomena which do not strike a chord in its own sense-mechanism. Intuitions, as such, are for all practical purpose, rejected and derided. This is, perhaps, natural, while those who have developed the necessary mechanisms for propagation and classification of such intuitions are so few and far between. So, the intuitions, when they are recognised at all, are immediately clothed in garments of intellect which, of necessity, limit their authority and usefulness as intuitions, retaining only such portions of them as can be expressed in the form of empirical concepts. The whole tendency is to gather in the free intellect, as one might gather a physical gas, and, in much the same manner, first to liquefy it and pour it into intellectual mobids, and therein to crush it and solidify it into an inert lump which, having ceased to possess the quality of becoming which is life, has ceased also to be a living thing.
The volume of the Sacred Lore, as contained in the Scriptures of the world to-day, cannot truly fulfil its allotted function as 'the unerring standard of truth and virtue." Fundamentally it is the Ancient Wisdom, and, as such, fully merits the description, but, in all the presentations of it which we possess, it is more or less limited by the vehicles through which it finds means of presentation. The outer or colloquial significance of the words in which it is garmented is constantly undergoing change and modification. This has been, and must always be, the case where the language used is alive and in everyday use. When a language has served its main purpose of growth, and has become what we call a dead language, its tendency is to become set, but an investigation of the literature of its lifetime will bring to light some of the modifications which it has undergone. These have often made it possible for the same sentence to have conveyed two or more entirely different teachings at different periods.
We have been told that, in Christianity, the Church appointed 'corregidores,' whose function it was to revise and correct the Christian Scriptures, and to bring them into line with the orthodoxy of the day. This sort of work has been of more common occurrence than is, perhaps, generally realised. Quite recently, the B.B.C. took some of its readings from what were called 'paraphrases' of certain of the Pauline Epistles. However well chosen the wording may have been for the purpose of popularising these works amongst the uninitiated, the general impression I received was that the author had little or no conception of the meaning. The mystical language in which so much of the original teaching is couched was wasted upon him.
Unless we are prepared, and, as Freemasons, we certainly should be prepared, to dig into the Scriptures, meditating upon their import, and ever seeking to uncover the fundamental truth that lies beneath the wreckage of temples past and in decay, no mere written statement of the Sacred Lore can form a satisfactory foundation for the temple of revitalised belief. But, taking all in all, the good with the bad, the highest testimony to the value of the original content of the Bible is that, in spite of the assaults of ignorance, superstition and fanaticism, in spite of misinterpretation, mistranslation and, alas, deliberate falsification of the text, it remains the most scientifically accurate account that we possess of the process of cosmogenesis, of the descent of Spirit into matter, and of the method of its rising again therefrom towards that perfection which we designate as mastership, at whatever level we may place our idea of the Master. The Bible is an Eastern book, couched in terms of those allegories and symbols so dear to the hearts of the Asiatic peoples. Its underlying scientific accuracy can only be appreciated fully by those who have trained themselves to think in terms of symbol and allegory. To such it is truly 'the unerring standard of Truth and Virtue' which it was intended to be.
So much for these two main answers to our question. Now, every man is born into what one writer has described as a mind-country, just as he is born into a physical country and race. Each mind- country has its own particular features of climate and environment, distinct from those of other mind- countries. This writer instances the great Roman Catholic faith as such a mindcountry, and compares it to an "ancient city, full of antiquity, of narrow and tortuous streets and worn pavements, yet with the beauty about it of old age and majestic decay." I fully realise that I am being unorthodox when I say that I am fully persuaded that every man is born into just that sort of mind-country which will afford him the best opportunities for growth and development. Whether he makes the best of these opportunities is a matter in which he has free choice. There is ample room in this world, amongst the teeming millions of its inhabitants, for all the various presentations of the one great truth, and there can never be adequate reason for quarrelling because the ideas of others do not coincide with our own.
Truth is ONE. It has many facets, and it is not normally given to a man to be able to see more than one facet at a time. To be able to see more, and, ultimately, to grow into all truth, is a matter for slow and persistent training and development. Meanwhile, the tragedy has been that men have so little realised the facts of the case, and have made so little effort at mutual understanding and co-operation. It has been said that "to state your aspect of truth and put it before people who do not know it — that is a grand and noble thing to do, but to quarrel about it is utterly foolish." Yet the state of quarrel seems always to have been rather the rule than the exception in matters spiritual. The reason has been the inability or, more often, the disinclination of most men to make any effort to appreciate the other man's point of view.
Freemasonry is basically a particular mode of development of the higher faculties. The particular goal now set before us is the development of the Intuition, so that we are confronted with a particular difficulty arising from these conditions, taken together with the implications of the deanidon given to the E.A. This can never be expressed in terms of everyday language and word-symbols. It is possible to gain a comprehensive knowledge of its aims and ideals only by direct investigation and experience. Freemasonry remains always a hidden or Occult Science and, as such, can be appreciated and carried to its fulfilment only by the trained occultist, who has reached a stage of development so great as to be beyond the appreciation of our limited faculties.
Herein lies one of our main difficulties in making appeal to the general run of humanity. They shy at the word "occultism." Most are obsessed with the idea that someone is deliberately withholding from them something which ought to be theirs for the asking. Literally, the word implies that which is occult or hidden, and, in some respects, all arts and sciences are occult, until such time as a portion of their content is appreciated, when the seeker is at once confronted by another veil, something again occult. If any Art or Science has reached a stage wherein it can no longer be classed as a form of occultism, it is, ipso facto, dead; it is incapable of further growth or development.
Probably the main difficulty besetting most students is that of PROOF. We may consider this for a few minutes before proceeding further. However we may regard the matter of belief, we must recognise that without proof, or at least probability, no belief can be justified. How often it happens that, when we set out to examine critically our most cherished beliefs, we fail to demonstrate any reasonable justification for their retention.
When a student really begins to think for himself constructively, and breaking away from mere authority and prejudice, his first reaction is generally one of honest, critical and somewhat bewildered doubt. All that he has been taught and has treasured in the past tends to fall away. Sometimes he decides that the problem is beyond him and he gives up the attempt to find a solution. He argues that these teachings may be true but, as obviously they cannot be proved, it is useless for him to worry about them. He subsides, thereafter, into a sort of comatic agnosticism, than which there can hardly be anything more empty and unsatisfactory.
Sometimes he finds that it is impossible for him so easily to dismiss the problems involved. They keep on nagging at him, however much he may think that he has relegated them to the background of his consciousness, until he feels that he is bound to take action of some kind. He is forced to take the helm and attempt to steer a course between the Scylla of uncritical credulity and the Charybdis of complete scepticism. The result of this effort is often an unhappy compromise, which leaves the ship more or less out of control and buffeted haphazard between the two extremes. In effect, he decides to accept that which appears to be reasonable and to reject that which does not. His difficulty then lies in deciding upon a frontier between their respective influences. This condition is almost as empty and unsatisfactory as the other.
I am convinced that, for the average man, it is possible to steer a definite middle course. To achieve this requires — something which, in these days of hurry and bustle, few are prepared to give — a concentrated mental effort. Each must make this for himself, as he cannot expect full pilotage where, in the very nature of things, the course must be different for each.
I believe that the attitude to adopt, in order to achieve the best results, is the truly scientific one, in which first comes observation, investigation and experiment, then tabulation and the formation of hypotheses in the light of the established facts and, finally, the preservation of an open mind and a readiness to begin all over again, if necessary. Until we have reached the stage of omniscience, it will always be necessary for us to accept as factual data many things which we cannot actually make our own, but for which those who have studied a particular subject most deeply are prepared to vouch, as being acceptable to themselves as safe data upon which to build up the superstructure of their specialised subject. Obviously every man cannot be an expert upon all subjects. Speaking for myself, I know little of Astronomy, but that little which I have had opportunity to verify for myself tallies with the findings of eminent Astronomers, and I am, therefore, prepared to accept, as working hypotheses, the findings of these experts in matters which I have neither the leisure, the apparatus, nor the technical ability to investigate. Similarly, most of us accept the findings of experts in most branches of knowledge, and this is a very right and proper scientific attitude. Unfortunately, however, even in scientific circles this attitude is not always generally adopted.
Many of the lesser lights of Science remain compleatly contemptuous of Occult Sciences. When one of them condescends to speak of these at all, he generally makes use of one or other of four stock arguments, no one of which will stand up to the test of critical examination.
First we are told that "Occultism is mere speculation, whereas true Science deals with exact knowledge, with things which are capable of proof."
At once this brings us up against the great problem, "What is proof." When we think of it, how many facts about this universe can we name, of which we can say, "I know this"? We will, I think, find ourselves driven to agree with Descartes, who put the answer at one only; to use his own phrasing, "I think, therefore I am!"
Personally I would hesitate to accept even this as proven because, before it can be accepted, it would be necessary to define precisely what I mean when I say "I think" and "I am." We may feel within ourselves that these statements express actual facts, but can we prove them? At least, we can safely say that everything else is, in a sense mere speculation. Things and people met in dreams may be every bit as real to our consciousness as those we contact in waking hours. We cannot advance any proof that they are not so. In other words, we assume — without valid proof — that the material universe exists outside our consciousness and that, in it, we live out our lives among people similar to ourselves. I do not suggest that one would normally question the truth of these assumed facts, but the truth must be faced that they remain mere assumptions. They possess a great 'relative probability,' but that is not proof.
But, upon those assumptions rests all our apparent knowledge of things outside ourselves, our knowledge of the universe in which we live. The relative probability may be a percentage exceeding 99 by many places of decimals, but the fact remains that it is not, and never can be, 100 per cent.
To-day we see around us many things which, but a few short years ago were accepted generally as incontrovertible facts, and are now known to be untrue. Similarly things which were held up to derision, as being so obviously absurd as to need no contraversion, are now universally accepted by Science as proven facts. Perhaps it might be well to consider a concrete example. Let us take the Darwinian theory of Natural Selection. Since the time of Darwin himself, it is safe to say that, at one time or another, the theory has occupied every rung of the ladder of percentage, from zero-or even below-up to 99.9. Even amongst recognised experts and specialists there has never been complete agreement. But, in spite of the fact that it is unproven, and must continue to remain unproven, the theory has been used as a fruitful basis for research, with results which have greatly enhanced our relative appreciation of the universe.
The acceptance or rejection of any statement by a particular observer will depend upon four distinct factors. First, probably, should come the general merits of the arguments put forward in its support or against it. Second in importance I would put the particular prejudice of the observer with regard to the statement, for it is seldom, if ever, that anyone approaches such a judgment with complete lack of bias, although such bias may often be subjective and beyond conscious control. Third place I would allot to previous acquaintance with the subject, and the observer's capacity for reasoned argument thereon. Fourth, and last, comes the observer's faith in the reliability and judgment of the person declaring the statement to be true. If he cannot rely upon this, if his own natural judgment is unsound, or if he is determined to believe or not to believe, all the evidence in this world or elsewhere is wasted upon him. His attitude may not be logical, it may not be scientific, but it is very human — and so-called scientists are just as liable to be human as their fellows, just as prejudiced and just as prone to be unreasonable, if they happen already to have made up their minds and are determined that nothing shall change them. They may be just as ignorant of the matter as is the ordinary man-in-the- street, if it happens to lie outside the perimeter of their own particular field.
Proof, then, is merely a conventional term for that which has led to the general acceptance of a statement as true by those best qualified to judge, or, sometimes, by a large majority of such workers as have made a life study of the subject. Real proof must be dynamic. It implies the passing of a conviction held by one mind into acceptance by another mind. It in no way follows that, because I accept a certain statement to be true, you should do so also. The most that I can hope to do is to produce in you an impression of high relative probability. There may be among you some who will entirely disagree with my findings, but who, nevertheless, may be prepared to use them as a working hypothesis, in order to find out for themselves whither acceptance would be likely to lead. The best claim of Science as a whole to reliability lies in what some call its crude conservatism, which lends no countenance to any new statement until such time as it has been fully investigated by those considered best qualified to judge, owing to their experience of the particular subject, and until it has been pronounced by them to have a sufficiently high relative probability to warrant its adoption as a convenient hypothesis.
This touchstone of high relative probability must be applied to subjects other than those usually labelled as Scientific. It must be applied to those bearing other labels: Religious, Philosophic, Metaphysical and even Occult. I suggest that it should also be applied to those subjects which are apparently exclusively Masonic.
One cause of much trouble with regard to proof lies in the fact that we are obsessed with the idea that the onus of proof lies with the person putting forward the original statement as fact. We constantly hear such statements of fact rejected in such terms as, 'there is no proof that this is so' or 'this is based upon an unproven assumption.' These go to show that the speaker has not stopped to consider the other side of the question and the fact that the rejection (often involves many more unproven assumptions than the acceptance. The onus of proof lies equally upon both sides. It is equally necessary to reach a state of greatest probability balance in denial as in affirmation, and the very fact of rejection involves a transference of onus of proof from one side to the other.
Let us return to our friend, the lesser scientist. Sometimes, even now, he will tell us that the operations which lead up to observation and experiment in science can be 'repeated and checked by anyone.' On the face of it this is ridiculously untrue. In almost all branches of science, long and arduous preliminary training is requisite before the student can be ready to repeat such operations and to make his own observations thereon.
It is certainly true that such a process of preparation is easier in the realm of material science than in those sciences which deal with levels which lie outside and beyond the physical. But this is no argument against the validity of the observations of one who had developed the necessary instruments required for observation and experiment on these higher levels, and has trained himself in their use. We must agree that humanity, as a whole, knows more of the laws governing the physical level than of those whose action is upon other levels, but there are many who have specialised in research upon these other levels and who have obtained results which have been recorded and checked by independent observers. It must be remembered that, even in physical science, there are fields of investigation which are every whit as much beyond control as are the phenomena of the higher levels.
What, after all, is Electricity, without the intervention of which practically no experiment in physical matter is now carried out? The men of science have to confess that they do not know the answer. They put forward highly ingenious hypotheses, but they are only hypotheses. They know of the existence of electricity as a force, only through observation of its effects. Here; they occupy exactly the same position as the religionist, the philosopher and the metaphysician. The trained occultist is in a slightly better position.
And, here our lesser scientist produces his third great argument. He tells us that "science deals with results which exclude the use of imagination; every step must be deduced from known facts," and so on. You have only to consider for a brief moment the acknowledged scientific method to see the fallacy. The collection of facts and their classification cannot possibly be of any value unless the scientist possesses sufficient imagination to formulate an hypothesis; a theory which he hopes may fit the facts. Thus imagination is as vitally necessary in scientific research as in any other sphere of activity.
We now reach the point where our lesser scientist has one shot only left in his locker. It is perfectly amazing how often, in spite of the progress in knowledge made in the last hundred years, this fantastic myth is solemnly disinterred and brought forward as a last resort. "Always" we are told, "there has been conflict between religion and science; as for occultism, well, of course, science and occultism deal with completely different fields of knowledge — if you call occultism knowledge at all — and there must be careful discrimination to keep them apart!". This last phrase I have had hurled at me on more than one occasion, and to a large extent it answers itself, being tantamount to an admission that the natural tendency is for the two to blend and appear as one. Truth is One, and one only. But it has many facets. It offers unlimited fields for research, but they all overlap and interpenetrate, they are all interdependent, so that the exclusion of any one must stultify the action, and retard the growth towards perfection, of all. All Sciences — and I purposely use the word to cover many times the amount of ground covered by the physical sciences — all sciences, I say, are foundation stones upon which are to be raised the pillars, vaults and terraces of the Temple of Truth. Omit the foundation of but one small but essential pillar and the whole temple is imperfect. When the weight of the superstructure bears upon the place where that pillar should take the stress, it may collapse, and may even bring down the whole building.
All division of truth into watertight compartments should be done with the object of easing and helping investigation only. We live in an age of specialization, and in that very fact lies the root of the tremendous material progress in the world to-day, but in that fact lies also the root of much of the evil in the world, and of the crass ignorance and self-centredness which leads to the misuse of the knowledge gained, so that the general activities of humanity appear to be more destructive than constructive. True, even the most hidebound specialist must have some knowledge at least of many other fields than his own, but this is often insufficient to preserve essential balance of outlook, and the result is in many cases chaotic. One must remember that the physical sciences themselves are all built up upon foundations which are non-physical — logic and reason.
We are forced to admit that every branch of knowledge is required primarily to rely upon the findings of the expert in each subsidiary field, applying theories and hypotheses which he has evolved and has put forward as containing the greatest measure of relative probability. We apply these to our own particular department of study, and we cannot afford to neglect any of them.
Perhaps the most curious situation to-day is caused by the latest recruit from the realm of the occult to the ranks of the recognised sciences, Psychology, which happens to be the only science founded upon the one and only so-called proven fact, "I think, therefore I am." In spite of having forcibly gained recognition as a Science, its work remains very largely in the sphere of the occult, whence it has a firmer foundation than any other of the physical sciences.
I do not propose to travel further along this line of enquiry but I suggest that Shakespeare was right when he put into the mouth of Hamlet the dictum:-
"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." (1.v.166)
And there are many of these 'things' that do not come within the scope of physical science. Should we, therefore, ignore their existence?
In most cases the attitude adopted by the ignorant is dictated by fear of the unknown. For this reason, by straining their imaginations to breaking point, they attempt, by every means in their power, to discredit the factual evidence, and to account for observed phenomena by what they are pleased to call 'natural means.' They tend to use every means to hand, whether fair or foul, to gain their ends, thinking nothing of making the most astonishing accusations of fraud against persons of well-established intelligence and probity, and, generally, of every kind of despicable action and conduct against anyone daring to study any subject about which they have decided to remain in ignorance, whether from fear or mere pigheadedness. This amazing phenomenon was most apparent in the early years of the present century.
One feels, perhaps, that the situation has improved since then, but, in fact, the prejudice still exists. At least two outstanding examples occupied much space in the Press in London in the last quarter of 1945. The attitude towards life and religion which resulted in such abominations as the Holy Inquisition, the Nazi and Bolshevik excesses, and other such intolerance and persecution, is by no means dead. It raises its blind and grisly head in all kinds of unexpected places and is, as often as not, ignored until it is too late. There is a peculiar kink in the make-up of man, which brings out a curious response in him, a kind of fellow-feeling which inhibits his recognition of the utter bestiality of such methods.
What then, is to be our attitude? I would suggest that we follow the methods of the best scientific investigators of all ages. First, we must abandon all bias and preconception. We must be prepared to jettison our most treasured and most carefully considered ideas, when we find that they conflict with apparent truth. By this I do not mean that we are to abandon what we know within ourselves to be true, but we must avoid the tendency for accepted ideas to over-influence us in the assessment of the relative probabilities in any subject under review. Above all, we must resist the admittedly strong urge to attempt to force upon others ideas helpful to ourselves but which, in them, may arouse nothing but the strongest antipathy. Unfortunately, to-day, as in the past, a strong bias towards materialisation and the general lowering of spiritual standards, a bias exhibited with the best possible intentions in view, is too often accepted as a hallmark of broadmindedness.
It must be admitted that we are forced to accept provisionally many hypotheses merely upon the strength of their relative probability, but, to reject such hypotheses simply because they cannot, be proved is to reject all possibility of argument, and so close the door upon progress. Our reasons for holding beliefs must, to some extent, vary with the stage of evolution reached by each one of us upon the levels of consciousness to which they apply. Probably the best summing up of the reasons for belief is that which was given to His followers by Gautama Siddartha, the Buddha, on an occasion when He was questioned by them as to which of the many forms of religious teaching then extant should be accepted by them. Here is the answer of the Enlightened One, as it has come down to us:-
"Do not believe a thing merely because it is said, nor in traditions because they have been handed down from antiquity, nor in rumours as such. Do not believe in writings by sages, merely because sages wrote them. Do not believe in fancies which you may suspect to have been inspired by a Deva " (a higher spiritual intelligence, an angel, or suchlike), "nor in inferences drawn from some haphazard assumption you may have made. Do not believe because of what seems to be an analogical necessity. Do not believe on the mere authority of your own teachers; but believe when the writing, doctrine or saying is corroborated by your own consciousness. For this have I taught you; not to believe merely because you have heard; but, when you believe of your own consciousness, then act accordingly and abundantly."
To which may be added, from the Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians. (Ch. xiii):
"Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves ... Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you."
PEACE TO ALL BEINGS!