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by Bro. John White
Temple Lodge 16, Cheshire, CT

Our fraternity makes good men better, what is the meaning of “better”?

When we Masons tell the public that our fraternity makes good men better, what is the meaning of “better”? When a man is raised as a Master Mason, what is the meaning of “raised”? When a brother says he wants more light on Masonry, what is the meaning of “light”?

There is a single answer to those questions. It is an answer which has profound importance not just for Masons, but for all humanity. I’m grateful to the Philosophic Lodge of Research for the opportunity to share my thoughts on this subject. I hope it stimulates reflection and discussion among us and our Blue Lodge brothers.

I petitioned to join our fraternity only after long consideration of Freemasonry. I had been studying world religions and sacred traditions for three decades, with a focus on what they say about God-realization and higher human development. I’m convinced there is a common core, a unifying truth, to them, which is ageless and universal. Regardless of the differences in doctrine and ritual, their essence is, in a word, enlightenment. Rightly understood, the world’s religions and sacred traditions provide a theory and practice for attaining enlightenment. That attainment can be defined as union with the Divine or realization of our oneness with God—not as a mere concept but as a living experience which totally transforms the person.

Enlightenment is the final stage of human development as one grows from a self-centered to a God-centered condition. As I studied Freemasonry, I came to see it is a western enlightenment tradition, just as, for example, Buddhism, Taoism and yoga are eastern enlightenment traditions.

The Body of Light

These traditions demonstrate that enlightenment or God-realization is not simply a one-time psychological event. It is a process of human perfection which has been described in the histories, myths and traditions of all cultures. The process has progressive phases or substages of spiritual unfoldment. Physical and mental changes occur as the person ascends in consciousness through mystical or transcendent experiences.

In the last stage of enlightenment, the change is most dramatic. According to esoteric teachings in various sacred traditions and hermetic schools, the human body itself is changed from flesh into light, becoming immortal. Through the transubstantiation or alchemical transmutation of flesh, blood and bone, one actually becomes light. The process requires physical, biological death; the transubstantiated body is raised or resurrected from death—not symbolically as in the Master Mason degree, but literally.

For example, Arthur Edward Waite, in A New Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, tells us that the sprig of acacia used in the Master Mason degree is “a sign of resurrection and immortality, as if in some later mystery the grave should give up its dead in the fashion of one who henceforward would be alive for evermore.” Likewise, when a brother is installed as Worshipful Master of a lodge, he is charged to guide the brethren on “the path which leads to immortality.”

In the last chapter of The Lost Keys of Freemasonry, Manly P. Hall says the Egyptian mysteries were progenitors of modern Freemasonry, and the ancient rituals aimed at human perfection to the point which would bestow immortality. Such immortals were symbolized by a mysterious two-headed bird, originally called a phoenix but now called, in Scottish Rite, an eagle. The meaning of the symbols and rituals, Hall says, is the creation of an immortal body for the initiate—a body composed of light and not subject to death. Being raised by the strong grip of the Lion’s Paw in the Master Mason degree is also symbolic of attaining a resurrected body. (According to Rosemary Clark, Egyptologist and author of the forthcoming book The Sacred Key to Ancient Egypt, the Lion Couch in Tutankamun’s tomb is an example of this symbolism.)

Likewise, in The Meaning of Masonry, W. L. Wilmshurst says in explaining the Royal Arch ceremony, “In the great Mystery-system of Egypt, which long anteceded the Hebrew system, the regenerate candidate, who had achieved the highest possible measure of self-transmutation of his lower nature, was accorded the title of Osiris. It was the equivalent of attaining Christhood.” (p. 163) He adds that when a Mason wishes for more light, it meant “not merely light in the sense of being given some secret information not obtainable elsewhere or about any matter of worldly interest, but the opening up of the candidate’s whole intellectual and spiritual nature in the super-sensual light of the Divine world and raising him to God-consciousness.” (p. 185)

Freemasonry has been defined as a system of morality taught by symbol and allegory. Our fraternity says it “makes good men better” by such means. Morality, or the moral dimension of life, is the foundation for the process of higher human development to enlightenment.

But the process only begins there. As a person practices spiritual disciplines—prayer, meditation and esoteric psychotechnologies—to deepen his or her relationship with God, that person ascends in spirit to higher and higher planes of existence. Mystical experience and arcane metaphysics come to the forefront of the person’s consciousness, and the light of God shines ever more brightly through every aspect of the person’s life. Ultimately, the quest for enlightenment leads one to actually becoming light—i.e., attaining the light body and becoming a being of light. (To seek more light to that degree would make good men completely better!) Morality and virtue are then understood to be the human reflection of divine attributes, and the practice of mysticism is understood as a process of becoming, quite literally, more and more godlike. As a contemporary Indian spiritual teacher, Satya Sai Baba, puts it, “On the spiritual path, first you go toward the light, next you’re in the light, then you are the light.”

Sacred Traditions for Higher Human Development

If there is an inner unity or common core to world religions and sacred paths, we should expect that the human potential for transubstantiation would be understood by them. Indeed, that is just what we find. In fact, the “body of light” is the key which unlocks the entire spectrum esoteric/spiritual pathways. Some of the names given by enlightenment traditions to the body of light are as follow: • In the Judeo-Christian tradition it is called “the resurrection body” and “the glorified body.” The prophet Isaiah said, “The dead shall live, their bodies shall rise.” St. Paul also called it “the celestial body” or “spiritual body.” • In Sufism it is called “the most sacred body” and “supracelestial body.” • In Taoism it is called “the diamond body” and those who have attained it are called “the immortals” and “the cloudwalkers.” • In Tibetan Buddhism it is called “the light body.” • In Rosicrucianism it is called “the diamond body of the temple of God.” • In some mystery schools it is called “the solar body.” • In Tantrism and various yogas it is called the “the vajra body,” “the adamantine body” and “the divine body.” • In Vedanta it is called “the superconductive body.” • In Kriya yoga it is called “the body of bliss.” • In Gnosticism and Neoplatonism it is called “the radiant body.” • In the alchemical tradition, the Emerald Tablet calls it “the Glory of the Whole Universe” and the “golden body.” The alchemist Paracelsus called it “the astral body.” • In ancient Egypt it was called “the luminous body or being.” • In Old Persia it was called “the indwelling divine potential.” • In the Mithraic liturgy it was called “the perfect body.” • In the philosophy of Sri Aurobindo it is called “the divine body” composed of supramental substance. As I see it, these are different terms for the same condition, what is certainly the ultimate stage of human evolution—the condition in which a human being, by a combination of personal effort and divine grace, attains a deathless condition through the transubstantiation or alchemical transmutation of the ordinary fleshly body.

The traditions speak of the process in different ways. Is the immortal body created or released, attained or manifested? Is it preexistent within the individual and the gross matter of the body simply “burned” away? Or is the gross matter of the body altered through a process not yet recognized by physical science which changes the atoms of flesh into something unnamed on the Periodic Table of Elements? Is there more than one route to the final, perfected human body-mind? These are provocative questions which remain to be explored.

However this state is achieved, the perfected individual is then capable of operating within ordinary space-time through that altered vehicle of consciousness which is immortal. That body is no longer carbon-based as is biological flesh. Rather, it is composed of a finer, more ethereal form of energy-substance unknown to conventional physics, but long known to metaphysics and higher mysticism. (One author, Musaios, in The Lion’s Paw, describes it as “a glorious body of a new sort of an incorruptible, uncompounded substance, and hence immortal…”) That condition is, for the individual, the most exalted stage of higher human development in the enlightenment process; for humanity in general, it is the final stage of evolution. It is an alternative to death or, more correctly, the conquest of death. (Copyright (c) 2003 by American Mason)

"I have more to say about this topic, and will conclude my remarks in the next edition. They will focus on the resurrection of Jesus and the idea that others have likewise attained the resurrection body."

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Last modified: March 22, 2014