Concerning God And Religion 1
"Let a man's religion or mode of worship be what it may, he is not excluded from the Order, provided that he believes in the glorious Architect of heaven and earth, and practice the sacred duties of morality. Masons unite with the virtuous of every persuasion in the firm and pleasing bond of fraternal love; they are taught to view the errors of mankind with compassion, and to strive, by the purity of their own conduct, to demonstrate the superior excellence of the faith they may profess." (ANTIENT CHARGES)
Part One: Introductory Remarks on Initiation.
We are in process of passing from one religious age into another. The spiritual trends of today are steadily becoming more defined, and the hearts of men have never been more open to spiritual impression than they are at the present time. Parallelling, however, this significant development is a trend in the counter direction, and materialistic philosophies and doctrines of negation are also becoming increasingly prevalent.
Perhaps one of the chief reasons why humanity at this time professes to believe so little in the religious sense, or questions and criticises what is believed, may be the fact that theologians have attempted to lift Christianity out of its place in the scheme of things, and have overlooked its position in the great continuity of divine revelation. They have endeavoured to emphasise its uniqueness, and to regard it as an isolated and entirely separated expression of spiritual Religion, but they thereby destroy its background, remove its foundations, and make it difficult for the steadily evolving mind of man to accept its presentation. Yet St. Augustine tells us:-
"The identical thing that we now call the Christian religion existed among the ancients, and has not been lacking from the beginnings of the human race until the coming of Christ in the flesh, from which moment on, the true religion, which already existed, began to be called Christian." (Retractationer, I., 13-3).
The early Christian Fathers believed that God had one great plan for educating the world, of which Christianity was the final step. Thus, Clement of Alexandria considered Greek philosophy and Jewish law to be the "paedagogus" meant to lead man to Christ, and believed that the Logos directed and inspired the philosophy of Greece until He could be fully manifested in Christ. To him Truth could never be exteriorised and crystallised; as he himself expressed it: "The way of Truth is therefore one, but into it, as into a perennial river, streams flow from every side." Christianity was shown as the natural and necessary consummation of Greek and Jewish culture, and in his writings Clement does not so much ask his countrymen to give up their culture in favour of Christianity as to find in the latter the necessary complement of the former. The picture he paints in his "Stromateis" of the true Gnostic or ideal Christian is one of the noblest ideals ever conceived by man. To Clement the true wisdom or Gnosis was that inner illumination to which the Christian could attain if he lived the life of purity and love which the Master had taught. By this means only man entered into the Mysteries of the Kingdom of God which were for the few willing to bring the necessary sacrifices and capable of making the effort.
Many have doubted the existence of the Mysteries of the Kingdom which Christ delivered to His disciples in secret and to which so many of the leading Christians in the early Church testified. Clement himself was an Initiate in these Mysteries and speaks of them repeatedly in his writings. He writes:-
"The Mysteries are delivered mystically, and what is spoken may be in the mouth of the speaker; rather not in his voice, but in his understanding ... The writing of these memoranda of mine, I well know, is weak when compared with that spirit, full of grace, which I was privileged to hear. But it will be an image to recall the archetype to him who was struck with the Thyrsus." (Stromateis, Book 1, Chapter 28).
Neander gives the views of Clement at length, and says that he was the founder of the true view of history. (Neander's Church History, vol. 1, page 540.) Tertullian declared the (Spiritual) Soul to be naturally Christian, and Socrates was called by the Fathers a Christian before Christ.
The wisdom which expresses relationship to God, the rules of the road which guide our wandering footsteps to the Father's home, and the teaching which brings revelation have ever been the same, down the age, and are identical with that which the Christian Master taught. This body of inner truths and this wealth of divine knowledge have existed since time immemorial. In the continuity of revelation, Christianity enters upon its cycle of expression under the same divine law which governs all manifestation — the law of Cyclic Appearance. This revelation passes through the phases of all form manifestation, or appearance, then growth and development, and finally (when the cycle draws towards its close) crystallisation and a gradual but steady emphasis of the letter and the form, until the death of that form becomes inevitable and wise. But the spirit remains to live on and take to itself new forms. The place of Christianity as the fulfilment of the past and as a stepping-stone to the future, is often forgotten, and this perhaps is one of the reasons why men speak of a failing Christianity, and look forward to that spiritual revelation which to-day seems so sorely needed. Unless this continuity is recognised and the place of the Christian faith in it, revelation may come and pass unrecognised. The following quotation from "The Secret Doctrine," by H. P. Blavatsky (Vol. III, page 55), is of particular interest and significance to members of our Masonic Order :-
"There was," we are told, "in every ancient country having claims to civilisation, an Esoteric Doctrine, a system which was designated WISDOM, and those who were devoted to its prosecutions were first denominated sages, or wise men ... Pythagoras termed this system ... the Gnosis or Knowledge of things that are. Under the noble designation of WISDOM, the ancient teachers, the sages of India, the magicians of Persia and Babylon, the seers and prophets of Israel, the hierophants of Egypt and Arabia, and the philosophers of Greece and the West, included all knowledge which they considered as essentially divine; classifying part as esoteric and the remainder as exterior."
We know much of the exoteric teaching. Orthodox and theological Christianity is founded on it, as are all the orthodox formulations of the great religions. When, however, the inner wisdom teaching is forgotten and the esoteric side is ignored, then the spirit and the living experimental experience disappear. We have been occupied with the details of the outer form of the faith, and have sadly forgotten the inner meaning which carries life and salvation to the individual and also to humanity. We have also been busy fighting over non-essentials of traditional interpretation and have omitted to teach the secret and the technique of the Christian life. We have further over emphasised the doctrinal and dogmatic aspects and have deified the letter, whilst all the time the soul of man was crying out for the spirit of life, which the letter veiled. In the course of our journey through life on this planet, we are — "in search of a soul" as Jung says, or, in the terms of our Masonic Ritual, seeking for "that which is lost." A clue as to the wise way of search is given by Christian Master, for in one of His parables He compares the seeker after the Kingdom of God with "a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things old and new." Many earnest seekers despite or neglect the one or the other. Either they are for ever, like the Athenians of old, running after some new thing, or they are so wedded to ancient forms and customs, and imprisoned in them, that they have become incapable of distinguishing between the light and the lamp, the symbol and the meaning. They are therefore no longer free men, but captives of their beliefs, and all thought of real, substantial change in their present ideas is intolerable to them.
It may be objected that such an ultra-orthodox attitude is rare among students today, but, unfortunately, such is not the case. In fact it lives on in many ardent seekers who are hardly aware of it themselves, and who would be shocked to think that they were not most liberal minded. These worthy men, of course, accept in theory the pregnant saying of the Christian Master that new wine must be put into new bottles, but in practice they persist in pouring it into the old. This has two lamentable results. The old, and often lovely vessels are broken, and, worse, the wine of life is spilt. If any of those whom they esteem desire to drink from the new bottles, they are full of anxiety, and pray, with a rather touching simplicity, that the beloved may be delivered from that temptation. Perhaps what they really resent in their secret heart is that there should be any new wine, or any demand for it. Scholars spend their lives in endeavouring to prove that the whole Gospel story is only a myth. It should, however, be pointed out that a myth is the summarised belief and knowledge of the past, handed down to us for our guidance and forming the foundation of a newer revelation, and that it is a stepping-stone to the next truth. A myth is a valid and proven truth which bridges, step by step, the gap between the past gained knowledge, the present formulated truth, and the infinite and divine possibilities of the future. The ancient myths and the old Mysteries give us a sequential presentation of the divine message as it went forth from God in response to the need of man. The truth of one age becomes the myth of the next, but its significance and its reality remain untouched, and require only re-interpretation in the present.
Old things have, as we Freemasons should well know, the dignity of long cherished tradition, and can claim the authority of tested experience, although sometimes experience, if fairly invoked, speaks in condemnation, not in justification. But such phrases as "the New Religion," "the New Order," and the like, are often used in a glib, complacent manner which lends them more than a tinge of vulgarity. True prophets do not speak in these accents; and if by "new" it is meant that some spiritual product, not hitherto offered to mankind, has now been discovered, the term is not only distasteful but ironic. No religious truth can be known or uttered that has not its roots deep in the life and consciousness of God; therefore it cannot be new. It has always been and will always be; indestructible, eternal. Nevertheless, as we have already indicated, there is, and must be, a gradual, progressive unfoldment in religion, as in all else that is alive, for life implies growth and growth implies change. Religion is a way of life, an attitude of the soul towards life. More than all other things it needs imperatively to be dynamic and not static, so that it may keep in time and tune with life. Each new age has the task of drawing aside some of the many veils from the face of Truth, seeing Her and showing Her from a new angle; thus they add something to the treasure of mankind. The sad thing is that this essentially religious act should be fought against by sincere seekers after Truth, whom it could enrich but who are so jealous of their own vision that they would exclude all others. Truly all wine is the fruit of the vine, but there must be many brands and varieties of vintage to suit different needs and times. The vine has many branches, and they spring from the one root and do not supersede their root.
Only in questions of religion does this bitter opposition between old and new reach really serious proportions. Few men will maintain that science or philosophy have said their last word. They admit that other philosophies and new developments of science will arise to correct old errors and win a new understanding of unchanging reality. But they feel differently about religion, and in that — the most important field of all — they resent that the same principle should be applied. The reason for this is, of course, obvious. In religion, and only in religion, they are convinced that a direct and complete revelation has been made by God to man. In all other fields they accept readily that man — a being endowed with great powers of mind, however they may be accounted for, and whom they themselves claim and ardently believe to be an immortal spirit — has been left to make his own discoveries in the sweat of his brow and the travail of his soul. But in religion, no matter what faith they adhere to, it is a part of their creed, even if not openly declared and insisted on, that a "final dispensation" has been made, the full truth revealed, the last word spoken. Striving, as many of them do, to follow faithfully that bit of the pattern which they have seen and understood, or thought they understood, they are satisfied with it and themselves. This deadening complacency is like — a bandage, a — "hoodwink," tied over their eyes, and they remain blind, or "in a state of darkness," to the fact that their tiny corner of the pattern shows only the merest fraction of the whole design. Some, indeed, of the more illumined followers of every faith, the scholars and the widely educated, do allow full rights of fresh interpretation, but even these are not prepared to admit the probability of further revelation. So it seems that the majority, who are unwilling to go forward, although they may be moved by high motives, somehow lack courage. They have not got the faith which knows that Truth will always take care of Herself and needs no anxious precautions for Her safety. But the fault is not all on one side. The minority, who have found it easy to throw open the doors of their mind and receive gladly whatever new light dawns on them, are not free from blame. These champions of new things are often guilty of giving themselves superior airs towards the prophets of the old, and so they make alienation and separation, which is sin. Yet, there is no way of proving and knowing what is good except by the courage which is not afraid to go forward.
Christianity, for us today, is a culminating religion, for it is the greatest of the later divine revelations. Much of it, since its inception two thousand years ago, has come to be regarded as myth, and the clear outlines of the story have dimmed and have come frequently to be regarded as symbolic in their nature. Yet behind symbol and myth stands reality — an essential, dramatic, and practical truth. Our attention has been engrossed by the symbol and by the outer form, whilst the meaning has remained obscured and fails sufficiently to affect our lives. In our myopic study of the letter we have lost the significance of the Word itself. We need to get behind the symbol to that which it embodies, and to shift our attention away from the world of outer forms to that of inner realities. A well known mystic and philosopher points this out in the following words :-
The process of shifting levels from the letter to the inner meaning in the matter of spiritual attitudes can be clearly set forth by one single proposition. It consists in "seeing through" the phenomenon. Every living phenomenon is, first and last, a symbol; for the essence of life is meaning. But every symbol which is the ultimate expression of a state of consciousness is in itself transparent for another deeper one, and so on into eternity; for all things in the sense-connexion of life are inwardly connected, and their depths have their roots in God. Therefore, no spiritual form can ever be an ultimate expression; every meaning, when it has been penetrated, becomes automatically a mere letter expression of a deeper one, and herewith the old phenomenon takes on a new and different meaning. Thus, Catholicism, Protestantism, Greek Catholic, Islamism, and Buddhistic religiousness can in principle continue, on the plane of this life, what they were, and yet signify something entirely new." ("The Recovery of Truth," by Hermann Keyserling, pages 91 and 92).
We have already alluded to the fact that the Christian revelation unified in itself the teachings of the past. This, the Christian Master Himself pointed out when He said, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil" (St. Matthew, chapter 5, verse 17). Each great period of time and each world cycle will undoubtedly have its religion of religions, synthesising all the past revelations and indicating the future hope. The world expectancy today shows that we stand on the verge of a new revelation. It will be, we may rest assured, a revelation which will in no way negate our spiritual heritage, but will add the clear vision of the future to the wonder of the past. It will express what is divine but has hitherto been unrevealed, for Truth is whole and unlimited, but man's perception of Truth, even that of the most spiritual man is partial and limited. Krishna the Divine, Moses the Lawgiver, and Christ the Son of God, could only reveal as much as could be received, and therefore a man can find in the Hindu religion, or the Jewish faith, or the Christian Gospel, all that is necessary for his soul's life and for the rebuilding of the world. He will, moreover, find it most easily when it speaks in language congenial to him, and wears a familiar vesture. But the attitude which assumes that any one of them contains the whole, or the final, or the most valuable truth, is always the wrong one. Indeed, such an attitude probably constitutes the greatest single hindrance to the acceptance of the true Religion lying at the heart of them all; which is treading the Path, following the Light, and living the Life which will enable us to live more divinely, serve more adequately, and thereby bring the Will of God into fruition on earth. Pilgrims of this Way belong to every race and every faith, but they must let their light shine before men without proclaiming, or even thinking in their secret heart, that their brother's faith is false and his light darkness.
There is nothing but a valuable gain to us, an enriching of our consciousness, when we realise the unity, and at times the uniformity of the teaching as it is given in both the East and the West. For instance, the fourth event in the biography of the life of the Christian prototype, the Crucifixion, finds a parallel in the fourth initiation of the Oriental teaching which is called the Great Renunciation. There is an initiation, called in the Buddhist terminology the "entering of the stream," and there is in the portrayed life of Jesus an episode which we in the West known as the "baptism in Jordan." The story of the birth of the Christian Master at Bethlehem can be paralled in practically every detail in the recorded lives of earlier Messengers from God. These proved facts should surely evoke from us the recognition that although there are many Messengers there is only one Message; but this recognition in no way detracts from the unique task of the Christian Master, and the unique function which He came forth to fulfil. It is interesting also to bear in mind that two outstanding Individualities — the Buddha and the Christ — have set Their seal upon both hemispheres, the Buddha being the Teacher for the Orient, and the Christ the Saviour of the Occident. Whatever may be our personal conclusions as to Their relations to the Father in Heaven or to each other, the fact stands out past all controversy that They gave the revelation of divinity to Their particular civilisations, and that in a most significant manner They worked together for the eventual benefit of the race. Their two systems are inter-dependent, and the Buddha prepared the world for the message and the mission of the Christ; both embodied in Themselves certain cosmic principles, and by Their work and sacrifice enabled divine potencies to pour through and upon mankind. The Buddha, when He achieved illumination, "let in" a flood of light upon life and upon our world problems, and this intelligent understanding of the causes of world distress He endeavoured to formulate into the Four Noble Truths. An examination of these Four Noble Truths discloses that, through the message of the Buddha, aspirants for the higher life can clearly grasp the cause of world unrest and discontent; they are as follows:-
- That existence in the phenomenal universe is inseparable from suffering and sorrow.
- That the cause of suffering is desire for existence in the world of phenomena.
- That cessation of suffering is brought about by eradicatin all desire for existence in this universe of phenomena.
- That the way to the cessaton of suffering is by treading the Noble Eightfold Path, wherein are expressed right belief, right intentions, right speech, right actions, right living, right endeavour, right mindedness and right concentration.
From the Buddha also, aspirants can learn that the way of release is to be found in "detachment," "dispassion," and "discrimination." We have here, then, valuable intimations concerning the first steps on the road leading to Initiation, for in this teaching of the Buddha there is emphasised the three ways in which the lower nature can be changed and "properly prepared" to be a conscious expression of divinity. Firstly, by means of "detachment" man learns to withdraw his interest and his consciousness from the things of the senses, and to turn a deaf ear to the calls of the lower nature; "detachment" imposes a new rhythm upon the candidate. Secondly, through learning the lesson of "dispassion" he becomes immune to the suffering of the lower nature as he "detaches" his interest from secondary things and non-essentials, and centres it upon the higher realities. Thirdly, through the practice of "discrimination" the mind learns to select the good, the beautiful, and the true. Thus these three practices, leading to a changed attitude towards life and reality, will, when held sanely, bring the rule of wisdom and prepare the neophyte for the life of the Initiate. Upon this teaching of the Buddha, illustrating the "method," follows the supreme demonstration of the Christ exemplifying the "result," for the Gospels are not only a record of preparation and illumination, but they exhibit also the process of Initiation carried to the highest conceivable degree of attainment. The same truth and the same goal, therefore, emerge in both the Buddhist and the Christian presentations, with this difference, in the Christian we are given a definite picture of the entire process in the life story of the Master, which is built around the five major episodes of Initiation (the "five points of fellowship"), as follows:-
1. THE BIRTH AT BETHLEHEM
"Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (St. John 3, 3).
2. THE BAPTISM IN JORDAN:
"I indeed baptise you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptise you with the Holy Ghost and with fire" (St. Matthew 3, 11)
3. THE TRANSFIGURATION ON MOUNT CARMEL
"Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Faher which is in heaven is perfect" (St. Matthew 5, 48)
4. THE CRUCIFIXION ON MOUNT GOLGOTHA : "And they bring him unto the place Golgatha, which is, being interpreted the place of a skull" (St. Matthew 5, 48)
5. THE RESURRECTION AND ASCENSION
"So when this corruptibie shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory" (St Paul, First Epistle to the Corinthians 15, 54).
These are the five great dramatic events of the Mysteries, and such are the initiations through which all men must pass eventually. Today, Humanity stands upon the path of probation; the way of purification is being trodden by the masses and we are in process of purging ourselves from evil and materialism. When this process is completed, many will find themselves ready and "properly prepared" to take the "first regular step."
Always there have been temples, schools of the Mysteries, and holy places where the true aspirant could find what he sought, and the needed instruction as to the way he should go. The prophet of old said :-
And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called the way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein." (Isaiah 35, 8).
It is a way that leads from that which lies without to that which dwells within. It reveals, step by step, the hidden life which every form and symbol veils and hides. It assigns to the aspirant certain tasks which lead to his understanding, and produces an inclusiveness and wisdom which meet his deeply sensed need. He passes from the stage of enquiry to what the Tibetans call "straight knowledge"; he has been "regularly initiated," and after — "repeated trials and approbations" receives that mental illumination which perforce lights the way to the Gate leading to the "Secret Place of the Most High." Initiation is therefore a graded and realised series of expansions of consciousness, and aspirants must come to know within themselves of the process whereby they can pass (as Freemasonry teaches) through the mysterious door ("of the Lodge"), between the "two great pillars," in their search for Light. What is true of individual aspirants will be true ultimately of the entire human family. The plan for humanity concerns man's conscious unfoldment. As mankind grows in wisdom and knowledge, and as the civilisations come and go, each bringing its needed lesson and its high point of attainment, men as a group approach the "gate which leadeth unto life." All modern discovery, all psychological studies, all group activity and all scientific achievement, as well as all real occult knowledge, are spiritual in nature, and these are aids to that expansion of consciousness which will make of mankind the Great Initiate. Just as soon as human beings can grasp in a large synthesis the necessity of entering more definitely into the world of true meaning and of value, we shall see the Mysteries again becoming universally recognised. There are signs that this is already happening; that the destruction going on around us, and the tearing down of the old institutions-political, religious and social — are only preparatory to this undertaking. We are on our way to "that which is within," and as Dr. Nicholas Berdyaev says in his book "The End of Our Time" :-
"Life must, before everything else, be looked at interiorly, spiritually (and not exteriorly or politically as both revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries do) and lived with spiritual striving and moral discipline. It is wrong to suppose that political forms are in themselves of any efficacy; only the spirit is health giving, and it creates new forms of its own. New wine niust be put into new bottles."
We are on that path of transition which will lead us into a new dimension, into the interior world of true fact and right energy. It is a world in which only the spiritual body can function and only the eye of spirit can see. This world is the "Kingdom of God," the world of souls, and — when manifested — is that expression of divine life which is called the fifth kingdom in nature. The meeting of disaster and the undergoing of painful experiences is ever the lot of the individual aspirant, but today the world aspirant, humanity itself, is experiencing such a testing. The implications of our present world-wide pain and suffering are too obvious to need further explanation. There is purpose underlying all world affairs at this time, and we may be assured that there is adequate reward at the end of the way. Some day, sooner perhaps than many may think, the portals of Initiation will open to the suffering world aspirant (as they have ever opened in the past to individuals), and humanity will enter into a new Kingdom and stand before that mysterious Presence Whose light and wisdom shone forth before the world through the person of the Christian Master, and Whose voice was heard at each of the five crises through which the Great Exemplar passed. Then will mankind enter into the world of causes and of knowing. Then we shall begin to work and live as those who are initiate in the Mysteries, and our lives will be regulated from the realm of reality where the Master and His Disciples of all time (the Grand Lodge Above) guide and control human affairs. The goal which They have in view and the end towards which They are working has been summed up for us in a commentary upon an ancient Tibetan scripture, as follows:-
"All beauty, all goodness, all that makes for the eradication of sorrow and ignorance upon earth must be devoted to the one Great Consummaton. Then when the Lords of Compassion shall have spiritually civilised the Earth and made of it a Heaven, there will be revealed to the Pilgrims the Endless Path, which reaches to the heart of the universe. Man, then no longer man, will transcend Nature, and impersonally, yet consciously, in at-one- ment with all the Enlightened Ones, help to fulfil the Law of the Higher Evolution, of which Nirvana is but the beginning." (Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines, by W. Y. Evans-Wentz).
Such is our goal. How can we progress towards this consummation? What is the first step that we must take? In the words of an unknown poet:-
"When thou canst see
Beneath the outer seeming
The causes which to all effects give birth,
When thou canst feel,
In warmth of sunlight streaming
The love of God, encircling all the earth,
Then know thyself initiate in the Mysteries
The wise men ever deemed of greatest worth."
SO MOTE IT BE.