Being some preliminary considerations to the study of the Masonic Retreat,
by: W.Bro. J.R. CLELAND, P.P.A.G. Chap. (Kent).
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-centered, 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 practiced 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 "droughts 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.
1. 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?
2. 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?
3. 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 inescapable 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!