The Tao of Masonry: Unexpected Jewels
A few years ago, a friend of mine got into the habit of stopping by my house once a week to talk about his new interest in Eastern esoterica and mysticism. A devoted practitioner of several meditative disciplines, he liked to tell me about his new discoveries, insights, and practices. Since I used to practice yoga, meditation and have had the opportunity to study some of the lesser known aspects, he felt that he could talk to me about what might be termed the spiritual aspects, knowing that I wouldn't think it was too (forgive the technical term) "woo-woo."
One day we were chatting about something and he asked me about a particular point, to which I answered that I didn't remember much about it. He was surprised. "I figured with all the reading you've done, you'd have some opinion on this. " He then confessed that he thought it was odd that I didn't quote back to him some of the authors that I'd read, or refer to some of the older, classical writings.
I explained that some years earlier I had given away just about all of my books on Taoism and Zen, and hadn't been inclined to pick up any more. He really didn't understand this, so I had to explain to him what led to this decision. A long time ago I began picking up books and literature and read almost incessantly on the writings of Lao-Tze, Chang-tzu, and other authors with "z"s and dashes in their names. I picked up old books - translations written in the 1800s and early 1900s - and I picked up new books. I tracked down out-of-print books, the more esoteric, the better. I meditated, I unblocked some of my chakras, and managed to contort parts of my body into odd shapes, the better to allow the kundalini energy to flow.
At some point, I realized that as much as I studied and meditated, I was merely reading about Taoism, and not actually practicing Taoism. In fact, the reading, the meditating - the constant searching for meaning - was getting in my way. I gave away almost everything that I had bought, keeping only my favourite Stephen Mitchell translation of the Tao Teh Ching, and a couple of other older volumes. Instead of picking up yet another book, I decided that my time would be better spent trying to live up to all of the ideals that I had been reading about. If this were a Zen parable, this is the point where I'd write "And at that instant, my friend was enlightened." Unfortunately, that's not quite what happened; he continued to argue with me, convinced that I was crazy. I'm sure there's some ironic lesson in all this somewhere...
Anyhow, I'm writing this because the essential point - that at some time you need to put down the books and work with what you know - is not limited to Eastern philosophy. One of the great things about Masonic blogging is the unexpected jewel that you happen across while looking for something else. Earlier last week, I saw that MM over on North Eastern Corner also came to a similar understanding. After mentioning the time he had spent collecting all sorts of books about the fraternity, he writes:
"It has been my bad habit of buying every book someone mentions on their blog or website for well over a year now and I have come to a decision that it must stop.
"Not because I haven't gotten anything from any of these publications, but because recently I had an epiphany about books on Freemasonry and a hammer. If you do an Amazon book search for "hammer" you come up with 183,470 books associated with hammer as a subject or somewhere in its title.
"I could read all 183, 470 books associated with the hammer and not even come close to what you learn in just ten minutes using a hammer. "
He gets it.
I wonder if this isn't part of the reason that some Masons roll their eyes when somebody brings up the term "Masonic Education." Our craft has inspired hundreds, nay, thousands of excellent books and essays on the nature of the craft, morality, on what it means to be a Mason, on the comparisons between Freemasonry and various other philosophies, on the evolution of thought, on the importance of religion or spirituality, and on just about any other subject that you can imagine being tangentially linked to the craft. The excellent website Pietre-Stones itself has more fantastic writing than the average Mason could read, the Philalathes Society has even more, and anyone with access to Google can read about any aspect of Freemasonry until their mouse finally drops from their nerveless grasp.
Here's a good question: Is there - or should there be - a minimum requirement for some kind of Masonic Education? How much of this should we, as Masons, be reading? Should all Masons be expected to read Pike's "Morals & Dogma"? Should we all be handed, along with our aprons, "A Complete Idiot's Guide to Freemasonry for Dummies"? Should our brethren have a mandatory subscription to "The Tao of Masonry"?
In the last few years, I've read and heard some people complain about the sad state of Masonic Education, and about the dearth of great Masonic thinkers, and about the lack of modern books on Masonry. My brothers are, naturally, entitled to their opinions. My own opinion on that topic is that the internet has made available more excellent Masonic information than any of our ancestors would have dreamed possible. My own education on Masonry - the education that I have found to be the most valuable - came less from books, and more from conversations with knowledgeable brothers in person and in various online forums. Back when I joined, several of the brothers told me that "the real Masonry happens after lodge." I didn't understand what they meant for the first few months, but soon it became obvious - we had relatively short business meetings and then went downstairs for fellowship. Over coffee or whiskey (whichever a brother preferred, and nobody was pushed into anything) we would talk about how the Grand Lodge works, why a certain brother gets certain accommodations, talk about various aspects of our ritual and ceremonies, learn why this or that lodge runs the way it does, and dozens of other trivial-seeming topics that didn't start coming together for me for almost a year.
Yes, I read a lot of books. I learned many aspects about the history of our craft, the evolution of our ritual, and saw how our symbols dovetail with symbols and teachings from long ago. But I also learned why it was important to have Caffeine-Free Diet Pepsi for WB Roger, and to always make a few low-cholesterol dinners for WB Julian, and to have coffee ready for WB Bob before and after the meeting, and . . .
Reading and acting. From which do you suppose I learned more about Masonry?
The above used with thanks to Bro. Tom Accuosti, Very Worshipful District Grand Lecturer, Connecticut
http://masonictao.com/ , of Monday, January 14, 2008