Ethics in Freemasonry

In Western moral philosophy, ethics is generally considered to be the study of more difficult and subtle questions of human conduct and values; but lacking acknowledgement of the soul as the source of all virtuous attributes and qualities, where is the starting point for the source of measures?

In Eastern moral philosophy the doctrine of ethics is built up on an approach to the law of harmlessness, which is recognized to be an inevitable expression of the result of understanding the interdependent nature of existence and the consequences of an endless stream of causes and effects.

Now the underlying meaning of the Greek ethos is ‘personal disposition.’  But etymologically it derived from prehistoric Indo-European swedh-, a compound formed from the reflexive pronoun swe- “oneself’ and dhê- ‘put,’ (from which the English gets do) i.e., ‘self-put’ or ‘self-do.’

Now the academic references to it having prehistoric Indo-European origins immediately alerts the mind of the student of the Mysteries to further clues indicated in the ‘Indo’ origins.  This word, the root of “ethics” appears to have originally derived from the root language of this current fifth root race, which is Sanskrit, and evolved in its intermingling with the languages of the branch races, and in this case, the fifth (European) branch race of the fifth root race.

It is therefore quite logical to propose that swe is a derivative of the Sanskrit sva—meaning the self as the Soul, the Self, and from this arises many conjoined compounds such as the esoteric doctrine of svabhavat, which, being too involved to enter into lengthy discussion here may very simply and inadequately be expressed as a process of soul-becoming, i.e., the soul becoming what it already is; an evolving, unfolding Self through a series of emanations.

The other compound, dhê is a derivative of a series of Sanskrit compound words beginning with the aspirated ‘d-(h)’ dha- forming words having similar class of meanings or implications.  Thus we have:

Dhanus—which is the Sanskrit name for the sign of the Zodiac known as Sagittarius, the Archer who aims the arrow of the mind towards its goal.

Dharana—which is the sixth in the enumeration of the eight yoga stages, meaning perfect concentration of the mind.

Dharma—signifying that which is decreed, i.e., Law, (which more accurately pertains to the law governing group purposes and action), and which in Buddhism represents the ethical doctrine prescribed in its precepts.

Dharma-sastra—signifies a law-book, and is also applied to sacred scriptures such as the Manava-dharma-sastra, meaning the Laws of Manu.  It is here also be to noted that one of the T.G.LL. placed upon the altars of Masonic Temples is sometimes called the Book of the Law.

Dharmakaya—which literally translated means the body of the law.  It designates the vesture (atmic) in which a perfected Initiate enters a condition of universal consciousness, having fulfilled the law.

Carrying the thoughts inwards to the etymological roots of this word, it should be apparent that the true arbiter of ethical conduct is therefore the Soul itself, the Self-put, or Self-do.  Thus it implies the action of the Self or Soul on its own plane in cooperation with the law, spiritual law, and in obedience to the laws of the soul, the laws of group lifeTherefore, the true Source of measures is really intrinsic in the etymological root of the word, ‘ethics,’ itself, albeit, perhaps conventionally remaining undetected as such.

Masonically speaking, and which is illustrated and dramatised through the ceremonial rituals, it is the action of this inner being, the Self within as the inner builder, that shapes and moulds the ‘material’ of the rough ashlar of the personality—from the illumination of the soul upon the inner plane of mind to and through the outer being of expression—according to the designs laid down upon the Tracing Board of the Plan, the spiritual consciousness.

This proposition thus reverses the conventional view of ethical training from that nonetheless worthy enterprise of ‘character-building’ as a sensed response to ethical impressions from the outside-in or bottom-up, to an internal process on the part of the soul itself in setting in motion Self-motivating causes with the intention of precipitating outer expressed virtues and qualities of its inner mode of being requiring the cooperation of the personality.

It may therefore be apparent and of interest to students of the Ageless Wisdom that there are really two Paths to tread (simultaneously) and which should be constantly borne in mind.  These are the esoteric and the exoteric paths.

The esoteric path concerns the evolution of the inner, spiritual entity (the Soul) on its own plane of existence.  This is the fundamental tenet of all true Mystery Schools.  The triplicity in process of perfecting is the ‘Mask of the Triple-Faced’—the Spiritual Triad of atma-buddhi-manas—the Perfect Ones veiling the One.

The exoteric path concerns the progress of the outer man in his attempt to cooperate with and be a channel for the expression of his true Self.  This is initially trodden through the academic and probationary schools in which training is given in academic knowledge pertaining to the Constitution of Man and allied subjects, thus preparing the form aspect of the ‘triple false mask,’ of the personality i.e., that which veils the soul through lower manas (or mind)-kama (emotions-desire)-prana (the vitality-etheric-physical body)—for the eventual descent of the spirit aspect to perfect and express itself through them as principles of being.

There is a midway point to be initially attained between these two and technically applied, which aims at balancing the forces, bringing them into right relation, and bringing the individual under group control and supervision.

The true initiate operates through the esoteric path.

The Three Degrees of Masonry essentially illustrate this ethical process of development.  In reality they illustrate and symbolise the evolution of the Christ-consciousness, the soul within, the inner builder, through the medium of the form.  If viewed from this angle, then Masons would understand or begin to comprehend a much deeper mode of training that they are enacting.  The ‘candidate’ is really symbolic of both the soul and personality cooperating in the processes of this spiritual unfoldment.  The ‘candidate’ is lead from point to point and place to place until he arrives at that ‘place of light’ which is symbolic of the center of his being and a fusion between the two.  The officer conducting him through these processes is symbolic of the candidate’s own higher Self, and the candidate is made aware that if he obeys the promptings of this officer (symbolising his higher Self) that this or that will happen which enables him to make progress through the Degree, and which teaches him that if he obeys the promptings and ethical injunctions of his soul then he will indeed approach the East and stand in the place of light.

From the point of view of the path of return (to the place of light), and as a conjoined effort between the soul and the personality, it may be proposed that the essential Three Degrees of the Craft illustrate both the evolution of the Soul through the medium of the form, and the “condition of the material,” the personality, through which that inner Builder has to work.

  1. E.A. – The soul enters the form but the material is still ‘under probation’ and often unreliable (from the point of view of the soul) in its response to soul direction.  But the work of preparing the stone to be fit for the Builder’s use nevertheless proceeds and the ‘rough ashlar of the personality’ is worked upon according to the ethical modes of training and being.  The brother places a stone within the Temple.
  2. F.C. – The ‘material’ is under discipline, becoming more reliable, more dependable, developing skills and refining his instrument to express creative work along the lines of a truly ethical conduct as it is motivated by the Soul, and learning how to take his place as a skilled craftsman within the Temple of the Lord in service to the Plan.  He comes increasingly under the supervision and direction of the group in that his consciousness is becoming increasingly fused with the purposes of his Lodge as a whole and he therefore endeavours to demonstrate that he is indeed a stone fit to be placed in the building and that he now stands as a column of mutual support within the Temple of the Lord.
  3. M.M. – The ‘material’ is entirely filled with light, or rather, that which has always been is resurrected from the prison house of the form and the light which the material formerly veiled, but which always constituted its essence (for light and substance are synonymous terms) is liberated; the two are one and the spiritual being stands forth.  The triumphant, liberated one has placed within the Temple of the Lord a radiance pure which augments the light which ever shineth from the East.

It is in this light that one of the great tenets or keynotes of Masonry—that of immortality—must be understood to be an aspect of the living, loving, spiritual being and not an end in itself.  The beginner on the path may posit of himself an ‘immortal soul’ and thus reveal his dualistic view.  The Initiate says, “I am life itself, and therefore immortal.”

Nevertheless, that which is constantly symbolised throughout the essential Masonic dramas is that we are all bound by karma (the law of cause and effect) due to the fact of having our being on one or other (or several simultaneously) of the cosmic physical planes within the “One in Whom we live and move and have our being.”  This is our Logos in manifestation.  But to the soul on its own plane this law of karma is the Law of Ethical Causation.

If love—as a law—is not apparent as such to the materially-minded consciousness, then the Law of Karma most certainly is, for it is also the Law of Forms and we all certainly experience the effects or repercussions of being bound by forms; and these can be physical-phenomenal forms, forms of emotions, and thoughtforms.  This Law of Karma, the Law of Forms is that great law that measures the vibratory quality of motive-leading-to-action against the basic vibration of this Love System, and adjusts the balance, measure for measure, until equilibrium between soul and form is attained.  The Law of Ethical Causation is therefore the Great Adjuster and as an Eternal Existent is interdependent with Life and Being Itself.