Am I my Brother’s Keeper? – A Masonic Interpretation

Am I my Brother’s Keeper? – A Masonic Interpretation

In Freemasonry, the term “brother” is used to demonstrate a closeness of relationship that is not necessarily based on blood ties. It is formed from a common bond, shared obligations and experiences. In addition, being a child of the Divine Father (or Great Architect) accounts for a sacred cemented kinship with each other.

Lately, the question, “am I my brother’s keeper?” has been echoing in my mind in terms of my own masonic obligations.  This question goes to the foundation of what it means to be of service in the Great Work. The ultimate aim in masonic teachings is the mastery of self, through reflection, actions and acceptance of the sublime lessons of immortality. The student is encouraged to temper their emotions and control their vices and practice the tenets of brotherly love, relief and truth.

This line of thinking led me to revisit the story of Cain and Abel, and the actual source of the “brother’s keeper” phrase. As in any holy book like the bible, there is fair debate whether passages should be treated literally or as a malleable allegory. The seeming contradictions are common for writings that span over centuries. Each individual’s faith, academic viewpoint, view of religion, or personal worldview certainly comes into play in interpreting the text. I was hoping to find some masonic insight in this age- old bible story.

Basically, the passages from Genesis 4:1-16 can be summarized like this:

cainkillshisbrotherabelCain was the first son of Adam and Eve and Abel was the second son. Cain was a farmer and Abel was a shepherd. When it came time to bring an offering to the Lord, Cain offered fruit and Abel offered a slain lamb. The Lord was satisfied with Abel’s offering, but unsatisfied in Cain’s. Cain, filled with jealousy, killed his brother.

After the murder, we read in Genesis 4:9:

The Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Things did not go well for Cain.

Translated from the original Hebrew, the word “keeper” refers to someone who “watches over,” or “guards.”

What is the symbolic meaning of these two characters? Could they relate to the quest of a Freemason?

Cain and Abel – From Darkness to Light

Some theories say that Cain and Abel were twins and each twin could represent our higher and lower natures. This speaks to the heart of the masonic work which is learning to navigate the duality of our existence. For example, there would be no light without darkness, no good without evil, no love without hate and so on.

Comparing light vs. darkness is an important study. However, what’s curious about the subject of light is that everyone knows what it is until you ask them. In the Bible we read that “God is light.” This quotation evokes a mystery. It suggests there is a deeper connection to the subject of light than meets the eye. It seems unlikely that when you go into a room and flip a switch, you are turning on God. Equally mysterious is the concept of darkness. cain and abel

Recently, in a Lodge meeting we studied Brother Leonard Bosman’s work, “The Light of a Master Mason.” Bosman proposes that the myth of Cain and Abel is about the Freemason’s battle between two opposite aspects of mind. The grand struggle deals with the incompatibility of these two natures, especially when the ego is in control.

From “Light of a Master Mason” we read:

“Abel is the Love-Mind, Cain the Head or brain mind; Abel is the heart or spirit, Cain the earthly mentality. Hence it is that, symbolically as well as in actuality, Cain kills his brother Abel, that is to say, the hard Cain-like mind kills the pure love nature (Abel) when preventing it functioning.”

Bosman makes a good point that Abel is not the one struggling. The struggle is about Cain because the ego is always in a constant struggle to kill off the higher nature. The ego wants total control because to sacrifice the ego is to die to self and let the Light nature live through you. No easy task.

Both aspects of the mind have a function. Cain, according to the inner meaning of its etymology represents the hard, pointed weapon of the mind. Cain is the selfish, acquisitive mind, the “getter,” the “centralizer,” whilst Abel is the yielding one, the “giver.”

If this is all true, then how do we “master” these two aspects of our nature?

Tubal Cain – The Sharpener of Mentality

tubal cainThe symbolic key may lie in Tubal-Cain, a blacksmith character in the bible who was the son of Lamech, a descendant of Cain. He was known as an artificer in metals of brass and iron. In the legend, there is a biological connection as well as a symbolic one. Bosman writes that Freemasonry may be “thought of as an alchemical experiment, the Lodge in this sense being the Great Alchemist’s cauldron in which the base metal of the lower nature will be changed into the gold of the spiritual.”

Further on, in “Light of a Master Mason” we read:

“In all this the student of Freemasonry will see the inner and secret meaning of Tubal-Cain, the yielding of the central might or egoistic mind, the letting-go, as it were, of the personal self as it spreads out to become a greater self, the ONE that is in all.”

In other words, the more we cling to self-importance and ego, the more we are undoubtedly living in darkness.

The mystical worker will often cry, “When I’m nothing, I’m everything!” This might possibly be why so few people truly seek an authentic path to enlightenment. Who wants to be nothing? We’ve all been told the whole purpose is to be somebody.

brothers keeper 2We could draw two conclusions from all this. We could decide that the Cain and Abel legend is simply a good story — an illusory tale to tell our children. Or we can assume that it does have some merit in its symbolic import. I prefer the second option myself, if only because it jibes with my own intuition as a masonic worker that we can learn about ourselves from symbols.

Am I my Brother’s Keeper? Indeed, I try. “To make daily progress in masonic light” sounds simple, but it’s probably the hardest concept a Freemason has to learn. That’s OK, because it also offers a lifetime of value.

“What the sad world needs – what each of us needs – is more light, more love, more clarity of mind and more charity of heart; and this in copious measure is what Free Masonry gives us – if only we let the light of love enter the dark recesses of our hearts.”   — Bro. Jyothindra Kumar

Why Must a Freemason Ever Have Hope?

Why Must a Freemason Ever Have Hope?

Freemasons are taught that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Recently, I was faced with the unexpected death of a dear brother in my Lodge which left me feeling hopeless for a time. And so, the virtue of hope became an object of philosophical inquiry for me. How does hope fit in to cultivating a virtuous life? Is it really the best medicine for crushing grief and despair? If so, how does it work? Why are Freemasons encouraged to have hope?

Once I started observing what people would say about hope, when they experienced it, and when they reared back from it, I began to think there was a healthy amount of confusion about it.

Defined in a modern sense, hope is a belief in a positive outcome relating to events and circumstances in life. It is the desire that something will turn out for the best. In Freemasonry, hope is considered a virtue, often associated with the verities of immortality. The craft advocates two different types of virtues. The first are called the “Cardinal Virtues” of Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence, and Justice. The second are called the “Theological Virtues,” of Faith, Hope and Charity (love).

In his theological discussions about hope, philosopher Thomas Aquinas notes that he considers hope to be a virtue because it provides the possibility for attaining difficult things. In the Western world, in general, there is an overwhelming sense of hope being something good and desirable. For some, it may even be an uncontroversial good. But is it?

Is it possible that hope could be something, well… not so good?

Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a situation in which acquiring hope would not be desirable – until we look at the myth of Pandora’s Box.

The Mythology of Hope – Pandora’s Box

The ancient Greeks were not inspired at all with the concept of hope. Hope was not even considered a virtue. It was belittled as a trait defined as not being realistic about life orStory-Pandora-Opening-Box-Greek-Mythology burying your head in the sand. The cardinal virtues, such as justice or fortitude were the ones that the Greeks contemplated and strove to achieve. Hope was even in some myths possibly considered evil.

For example, the Greek myth of Pandora raises many philosophical questions about hope. As the story goes, when she married Epimetheus, she was given many seductive gifts. The God Zeus, being full of mischief, gives Pandora a large jar instructing her to keep it forever closed. But regardless of the warning from Zeus, her curiosity prevailed and she opened the box.

The list of items released from Pandora’s box are a handful: illness, disease, poverty, sadness… basically any horrible thing you could think of. They flew out of the box like tiny buzzing moths, and Pandora tried to shut it back up as quickly as she could. She did, according to some of the versions of her myth, manage to trap one important thing inside… hope.

It is disputed and there is much speculation as to why Zeus would even put hope in a vessel of evils. Regardless of why it was there, the myth of Pandora raises a really good question. Does hope deserve a different reputation?

It’s not optimism. It’s definitely not pessimism. And if it has a realism, what is it ultimately? Where does it come from? How does a Freemason reconcile these seeming paradoxes?

The Freemason’s Ladder – The Hope of Immortality

In the symbols of masonry, the virtue of hope is said to be located on the middle rung of 35584597545_8b99784836_bthe theological ladder of Jacob from the Book of Genesis. A Freemason ascends, climbing the steps of faith and hope which in turn lead to the summit of charity (love). These virtues are often portrayed on the ladder by the cross, anchor and heart, respectively.

Brother Albert Mackey gives us a clue in his Encyclopedia to Freemasonry:

“Having attained the first rung of the ladder, or faith in God, we are led by a belief in His wisdom and goodness to the hope of immortality. This is but a reasonable expectation; without it, virtue would lose its necessary stimulus and vice its salutary fear; life would be devoid of joy, and the grave but a scene of desolation.”

Mackey speaks of a “hope of immortality.” He explains that the cultivation of the virtues of faith and hope is not necessarily based on things going well for us. Freemasonry and its teachings face you with many challenges to explore to knock off the rough edges of imperfection. The craft, for example, is thoroughly rooted in the earth or the service and labor that the mason can offer. It is also entirely bent on moving toward the Heavenly Divine. Managing the two extremes (earth and heaven) is a dynamic balance.

In our climb, all of us have an important, even crucial, task to aid the world. We are prepared in so many ways, yet, still often fail at hope. Why?

In his book, “Art as a Factor in the Soul’s Evolution,” the Freemason Brother C. Jinarajadasa gives us further insight:

“At the very base of your nature, you will find faith, hope, and love. He that chooses evil refuses to look within himself, shuts his ears to the melody of his heart, as he blinds his eyes to the light of his soul. He does this because he finds it easier to live in desires. But underneath all life is the strong current that cannot be checked.”

Cutting straight through the many reasons for failing at hope that may be built upon individual traits, I would say that our hopelessness, when it occurs, is based upon the lack of true courage.

RainbowEnd2All this is to say that the only true and worthy source of absolute courage is the belief in the Immortality of the Self, the One that is Infinite, Changeless and Eternal. The virtue of hope leaps far beyond all the many valuable things, places, family and friends which we have come to rely upon…or may be grieving for.

Brother H.P. Blavatsky stressed there were two kinds of people – those who simply live their lives by the standards of the world, and those who become neophytes and students of the eternal wisdom.  Perhaps the virtue of hope is what is required for those who follow the path of the second group. Yes?

“There is a road, steep and thorny, beset with perils of every kind, but yet a road, and it leads to the very heart of the Universe: I can tell you how to find those who will show you the secret gateway that opens inward only, and closes fast behind the neophyte for evermore.”  – Brother Helena Blavatsky