The Meaning of Solidarity

The Meaning of Solidarity

Every civilization is infused with the idea, myth, or story of the Tree of Life. The Tree of Life is the only multi-cultural folklore that has a consistent meaning regardless of ethos or time period. In these stories, the tree is the bringer of Wisdom, and all living creatures – divine and mortal – rest in its branches and leaves. In some cases, as in Ancient Persia, human beings are the structure of the Tree, providing love and wisdom for all humanity and life. In some traditions, the Tree represents the pathways to God or is the manifestation of the divine love of which we are all a part. Life entwines with itself, regardless of species or form, creating a living, breathing connection of all physical manifestation of the universe.

This is solidarity.

From the Secret Life of Trees, we now know that trees –

“of the same species are communal and will often form alliances with trees of other species. Forest trees have evolved to live in cooperative, interdependent relationships, maintained by communication and a collective intelligence, like an insect colony. These soaring columns of living wood draw the eye upward to their out spreading crowns, but the real action is taking place underground, just a few inches below our feet. All trees are connected to each other through underground fungal networks. Trees share water and nutrients through the networks, as well as communication. They send distress signals about drought and disease, for example, or insect attacks, and other trees alter their behavior when they receive these messages.”[i]

This is solidarity.

I do not think it is a coincidence that trees are representative of brotherhood and solidarity. We seem to be familiar with the idea of brotherhood but not of solidarity. Solidarity wasn’t an official word until the early 19th century, when Napoleon used it in his Civil Code. The idea of solidarity, however, has been around since there have been human beings. Solidarity is the unity, or agreement of feeling or action, amongst individuals with a common interest. It is mutual support within a group, whatever that group may be. It derives from the Latin word solidus meaning “the whole sum.” The sum of all the parts.

I’ve been examining the word Charity and the word Solidarity, and in many Masonic rituals, the words are used in the same ritual passages but evoke very different meanings. Charity, in our modern mindset, has the overtones of pity and lack; it implies the helpless in need, the weak needing strength, and the silent needing a voice. Charity is from a perspective of superiority, of have versus have not. For better or worse, our North American culture has turned charity into a near-dirty word. Solidarity, on the other hand, reminds us that action and equality are the motivations toward helping one another.

universeAs the trees have informed us, solidarity is “the brotherhood of deeds not the brotherhood of words.”[ii]

We have far forgotten that the human race is the only “race” to which we belong. Unity. We have forgotten that the good of the many outweighs the good of the one. Service. We have forgotten that through all the esoteric teachings, through all the world’s religions and philosophies, there stands one truth: we are all one. Humanity.

Humans, being human, have learned segregate and discriminate. We discriminate which clothes should stay in our closet, which friends are good for us, which foods go into our bodies. We segregate our clothes closet by color or function, we segregate our libraries by subject, and we can’t help but judge and segregate those around us. Does a baby not discriminate the non-mother from the mother? Does the herd of cows segregate themselves from the hunters? Humans. Animals. We judge and discriminate and segregate every single day. These words are not evil words. Like the gun or the sword, they are tools to be used precisely and thoughtfully.

We fail in our humanity when we fail to recognize that we discriminate against our fellow human beings with a mindset of fear and hate. There are myriad ways to segregate ourselves, and we do so without asking ourselves why or if it is even in our nature. We might reflect that we were once primitives who needed to band together against nature’s harshest enemies to ensure our survival; and banding together against “other” was necessary. When we banded against other humans, we began a downward spiral that we have been fighting against ever since. And yet, we also realize that the spirit of cooperation can live within us and provide us a better way of life. Albert Schweitzer said, “The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings.”

We divide ourselves by age, gender, class, religion, culture, geography, nation, and race. We divide by hair color, eye color, clothing, schooling and hobbies. Someone is either of “us” or “not us.” We do this for many, many reasons – none of which seems valid to me. We see the differences but rather than celebrate them, we choose to fear. We choose fear because we do not see that humanity is one race, one being, one egregore.

We know that “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Logos, the breath of life in the divine universe, is God made manifest. The original translation of Sahidic Coptic, the saying here is actually “In the beginning existed the Word, and the Word existed with God, and God was the Word.” This Word, Logos, is the exhalation of breath, which is the spirit of animus, the divine will, the supreme knowledge.

According to Rudolf Steiner, once primitive man evolved, he began to utter articulate sounds — the words of speech. This great transformation, of learning to breathe and speak, was of cardinal importance to man. In Genesis (II.7), we read:

“And the Lord God… breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

This passage describes the period when the gills once possessed by man changed into lungs and he began to breathe the outer air. Simultaneously with the power to breathe, he acquired an inner soul and with this soul, the possibility of inner consciousness, of becoming aware of the self-living within the soul.

“When man began to breathe air through the lungs, his blood was invigorated and it was then that a soul higher than the group-soul of the animals, a soul individualized by the Ego-principle, could incarnate in him to carry evolution forward to its fully human and then divine phases. Before the body breathed air, the soul of man could not descend to incarnation, for air is an element enfilled [sic] with soul. At that time, therefore, man actually inbreathed [sic] the divine soul which came from the heavens. The words of Genesis, in their evolutionary sense, are to be taken quite literally. To breathe is to be permeated with Spirit…When we breathe, we commune with the world-soul. The inbreathed [sic] air is the bodily vesture of this higher soul, just as the flesh is the vesture of man’s lower being.” [iii]

1200px-Logos.svgHumans breathe in spirit. All humans were born to achieve the same purpose – being conscious together. There was no differentiation when we became ensouled – all matter is one – everything that has breath has soul. Who is even to say that rocks do not breathe in their own way? I digress… All living creatures serve the same purpose, as Steiner said, and that is to be permeated by Soul. No race, gender, or any other segregating characteristic were used to determine who would get a soul and who would not. If all are the Word, the divine Logos, then all are one.

For every Freemason, the call of unification is strong. It is challenging. It is like breathing new air. It is our purpose to erase the lines that divide – in all things. There is one humanity, one country, one earth, one everything. If it is all made of one Logos, it is one. Single. The sum of all the parts. Solidarity.

From an 1888 edition of “The Esoteric” magazine, we find the following paragraph from another book titled “Mysteries of Magic,” by Eliphas Levi.

“According to the Kabbalists, God creates eternally the great Adam, the universal and perfect man who contains in a single spirit. All spirits and all souls Intelligences therefore live two lives at once; one general which is common to them all and the other special and individual. Solidarity and reversibility among spirits depend therefore on their living really in one another -all being illuminated by the radiance of the one, all afflicted by the darkness of the one. The great Adam was represented by the tree of life which extends above and below the earth, by roots and branches. The trunk is humanity at large, the various races are the branches and the innumerable individuals are the leaves. Each leaf has its own form, its special life and its share of the sap but it lives by means of the branch alone as the life of the branch itself depends on the trunk.

The wicked are the dry leaves and dead bark of the tree. They fall, decay, and are transformed into manure which returns to the tree through the roots. The Kabbalists also compare the wicked or reprobate to the excrement of the great body of humanity. These excretions serve as manure to the earth which brings forth fruits to nourish the body thus death returns always to life and evil itself serves for the renewal and nourishment of good.

Death thus has no existence and man never departs from the universal life. Those whom we call dead still survive in us and we subsist in them; they are on the earth because we are here, and we are in heaven because they are located there. The more we live in others, the less need we fear to die.”

A Freemason will find these words intimately familiar. To live in Service, to humanity, not in subjugation, is our purpose. The more we live in others, the more we live in Solidarity, the perfecting of humanity continues. What can be more perfect than becoming the One we were meant to be? This quote above implies that Solidarity extends to not only the living on Earth but to those that have passed to another realm, whether we call it heaven, Nirvana, or even Hell. We are all connected, and life is never ceasing. We take our influence, in some measure, from them – by legacy or intuition – and continue to make them manifest in this realm.

“We are all members of one body and the man who endeavors to supplant and destroy another man is like the right hand seeking to cut off the left through jealousy. He who kills another slays himself, he who steals from another defrauds himself, he who wounds another maims himself; for others exist in us and we in them.”[iv]

Earthise_Apollo8We must, as a species, learn to place ourselves within the life of others else we cease to grow. This work is not for any form of personal gain, no glory, no splendor.

It is truly for in the service of all human beings – what we were, we are, and we will be. If everyone isn’t beautiful, then no one is… Beauty is a way to see the world, not to judge it.[v]

Finally, from Joni Mitchell:

“In a highway service station
Over the month of June
Was a photograph of the Earth
Taken Coming back from the Moon
And you couldn’t see a city
On that marbled bowling ball
Or a forest or a highway
Or me here least of all[vi]

This is solidarity.


[i] Hidden Life of Trees, Wohlleben, Peter, March 2018
[ii] Transnational Solidarity: Concept, Challenges, and Opportunity, Helle Krunke, ‎Hanne Petersen, ‎Ian Manners – 2020, from a 2012 article, referenced on June 6, 2020
[iii] Rudolf Steiner, The Logos and The Word, from The Essential Rudolf Steiner, Google Books, accessed June 1, 2020
[iv] Solidarity, The Esoteric, “Mysteries of Magic by Eliphas Levi,” September 1888.
[v] Andy Warhol, Quote
[vi] Joni Mitchell from the song “Refuge of the Roads”

Eastern Sages, Western Secrets: What Has Vedanta to Do with Freemasonry?

Eastern Sages, Western Secrets: What Has Vedanta to Do with Freemasonry?

Like unto that of a man blindfolded and carried away by robbers from his own country is a man’s condition. The folds of cloth over his eyes being removed by a friend, he recovers the use of his eyes and slowly finds his way home, step by step, inquiring at each stage. So also, the good teacher instructs the seeker of Truth and helps him to unloose his bonds of desire. ~ From the Chandogya Upanishad 6:14:1/3

As a young seeker of Truth, I found the wisdom of the East long before I found the hidden wisdom of the West. After I had turned away from the exoteric religion of my upbringing, and briefly embraced the alternative orthodoxy of nihilistic materialist scientism, I began to seek truths beyond the tiresome antagonism of the “religion vs. science” debate, and it was not long before I discovered the Bhagavad Gita, Taoism, Buddhist teachings, and Western interpreters like Alan Watts and Ram Dass. Of all the Eastern traditions, Vedantic philosophy (rooted in the Vedas, Upanishads, and related texts) has influenced my worldview more than any other system of thought.

Now, as a newcomer to the Western wisdom tradition of Freemasonry, and to some extent also Theosophy, Alchemy, and Hermeticism, I am struck by the similarity in essence, but difference in expression between East and West. Although I still have much to learn, I sense that the one great Truth, described by Aldous Huxley as the Perennial Philosophy, is fundamentally the same in the Western traditions as in the East, but is clothed in secrecy and symbolism, and in some ways emphasizes certain values over others. The contrast between East and West is particularly interesting to me, as they are two halves of humanity’s collective mind, just as they represent two poles on our globe.

Torch Bearers from the East

eastern wisdomTo begin with, we can be fairly certain that the connection between East and West goes back at least as far as all of Western history, as we know it. The history of great Western philosophers is also in part a history of those who journeyed to the East, learned, and came back with new insights which had to be clothed and couched in the prevailing worldview of whatever Western culture they were returning to, in order to be understood and accepted; even then, they were often rejected, sometimes violently. Bearers of the torch carrying light from the East are notoriously persecuted upon their return to the West, and often meet a gruesome end.

Some think that none other than Jesus of Nazareth is one such example, although this is still a highly controversial theory, with inconclusive evidence that he visited the East during his “missing years.” Another is Pythagoras, who is thought to have traveled extensively in his youth, at least as far East as Persia, and who also was killed by the ignorant. One that is more recent, and therefore also more certain, is that of H. P. Blavatsky, one of the founders of Theosophy and originators of Victorian spiritualism, which also preceded and influenced much of what people consider to be “new age” or “new thought” ideas, today.

In general, I think that we underestimate the degree to which people traveled, and teachings were shared or spread via the Silk Road and other trade routes between East and West, throughout our history. It doesn’t help that our mainstream historians are hesitant to acknowledge Eastern influence on Western thought. So, with all this cross-pollination, why are the West and East not identical?

Wisdom in Contrast

east and westThe most striking difference to me between East and West, in terms of the mysteries, is that in the East they simply aren’t mysteries. There isn’t much secrecy in Vedantic, Buddhist, or Taoist traditions, teachers are prone to publicly say things like, “So long as God seems to be outside and far away, there is ignorance. But when God is realised within, that is true knowledge [Sri Ramakrishna].” The volumes of Vedantic and other Eastern teachings are filled with things like this, which in the West might be merely scoffed at today, but in the past, could have led to a burning at the stake or crucifixion, for speaking so blasphemously.

Here, we arrive at what seems to me to be the chief reason for the secrecy of the Western traditions, which is the millennium of history in which the desert religions of Abraham turned from their mystic origins to the darkness of fanaticism and ignorance, and dogma spread like a plague, reigning over the West with the fiery whip of religious persecution for roughly one thousand years. While our history lessons often breeze over this period as the “Dark Ages,” with some discussion of feudalism and monarchy, the harsh reality is that Western culture underwent an intellectual and religious cleansing, where all ideas that ran contrary to the dogmas of the church (or the mosque) were punished by torture, imprisonment, and gruesome death.

No wonder, then, that those who held the wisdom of the ancient traditions of the West were forced to seek shelter in organizations like operative freemasonry, which provided secrecy, as well as a highly effective organizational structure, and fertile ground for the symbolic coding of wisdom in the tools and principles of masonry. Meanwhile, our Eastern neighbors, safeguarded by distance, geographical features like the himalayas, and their own kingdoms and power structures, held the wisdom passed on from ancient times, and continued teaching it in a relatively open manner. This is an oversimplification, but is generally more accurate than not, I would say.

Aside from being hidden vs. open, what else separates West from East? Perhaps there is a more essential difference, due to differences in temperament and culture of the two peoples, shaped in part by their climates. I could make an argument that the harsh climates of Europe, mostly in the North, bred a spirituality more focused on action, intention, and the overcoming of obstacles, while mostly tropical Eastern environments, particularly in India, bred a spirituality with a more passive focus on meditation and surrender. This theory may have some merit, but ultimately we’ll never know for sure. It does seem to me that the West is more focused on building and actively working to perfect the human, while the East is more about dissolving, letting go, and becoming free from attachment.

At the risk being accused of over-simplifying neuroscience, the general dichotomy of the left and right sides of the brain could also be said to correspond to the same principle. In many ways, West and East are akin to the left and right. The West/Left is all about clearly defined logic, boundaries, and places a greater emphasis on intellect; the East/Right is more about direct perception, dissolving boundaries, and places greater emphasis on intuitive realizations. With all these differences, is there common ground? What is the corpus callosum of East and West?

The Bridge and the Stairway

philosophyI would say absolutely, and as the beginning of this post alludes to, there are striking similarities, at times, between the teachings of the Lodge or Western esotericism in general, and that of the Swamis. Both speak of the human condition as a state of darkness and ignorance striving for light; both design their sacred structures to resemble the human body; both tend towards idealism, or the belief that consciousness rather than matter is fundamental; both ultimately teach that God dwells within.

The commonalities are surely greater than the differences, and the essence, I believe, is one. In many ways, co-masonry in particular may be an excellent bridge between the two systems, with its close ties to theosophy, a much more Eastern tradition than many of the other Western systems, and its focus on adopting the feminine into the masculine lodge. Whatever the bridge we use, it seems clear to me that we must blend East and West, right and left, action and contemplation, intellect and intuition, if we are ever to rise above, and climb the stairway to a greater truth, some transcendent gnosis.

Ultimately, I believe that we are all approximating this same truth, like a middle point of a circle which both East and West circumambulate in their own ways. The classical human mystical experience, which all these traditions are ultimately based on, seems to be more-or-less universal across cultures, and to differ only in it’s interpretation post-experience, and the cultural context which either allows it to flourish, or forces it to hide and conceal itself. Either way, the truth will out, and the light will not be concealed for long, for it is what every human on this planet thirsts for, in the depths of their soul.

Universal Freemasonry

TO THE GLORY OF GOD

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