In this episode, we discuss the 5th Degree - "Perfect Master" from "Morals & Dogma: The Annotated Edition". Transcripts, Chapter Markers and Show Notes for all episodes are available from our website - WayOfTheHermit.com.
It is highly recommended that you read the chapter in order to fully follow our discussion. "Morals and Dogma" is available from these sites:
Gene: Hello Dave.
David: Hello Gene.
Gene: How's it going?
Gene: Good. Are you ready to explore the depths of the Secret Master?
David: I think so. Before we get started here I'd like to remind everyone, as always, that Show Notes, Chapter Markers and a Transcript of this episode are available through our website WayOfTheHermit.com. In our last episode the mythological setting of the 4th degree (The Secret Master) was the immediate aftermath of Grand Master Hiram Abiff’s death. What’s the setting for this degree?
Gene: This commentary is from “A Bridge To Light”. “So now the Lodge is not in mourning, but it is still in sorrow, as indicated by the altar cover of black cloth with silver tears. The ceremony takes place at the end of the anniversary of the death of the Master Hiram. This annual tribute, according to legend, was ordered by King Solomon and reenacts the burial of that Perfect Master.”
David: So, one year has passed and a reunion is instituted whereby each year they meet and re-enact the death of Hiram. That’s the mythological basis of the Scottish Rite Reunion. Hmm. Did you have more background for this degree?
David: Did you have more background for this degree?
Gene: Yes, the synopsis of Perfect Master from “Scottish Rite Monitor and Guide”. “Set your house in order. The 5th Degree commemorates and recounts the funeral ceremonies of our Grand Master Hiram Abiff and in doing it teaches the sobering lessons of death. We are admonished that death may take us at any moment and that life is fleeting. We do not have time to tarry by the wayside. As well, we have duty to our family and our loved ones to see that our affairs are in order and those who we love are well taken care of when we depart this life.”
David: In the last degree of Secret Master, “Morals and Dogma” stressed the virtues of silence, obedience, and fidelity. In this degree Pike stresses industry and honesty which he also calls duty and faithfulness. What I find interesting is that this degree obviously centers around the theme of death, but you wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell that from the chapter in “Morals and Dogma”.
Gene: It's not taken on directly other than, “This is how you should live your life while death approaches.” It doesn't come at it straight on.
David: In “A Bridge to Light” there's a quote here that says, “Custom and practice from 1883 to 1935 required the candidate to prepare a last will and testament while in the preparation room of this degree”. So this degree really is about contemplation of death, but you probably wouldn't be able to tell that from the four pages of this chapter in “Morals and Dogma”.
Morals & Dogma (04:25)
Gene: The strangely brief chapter by Pike. Even though it's short, it's a huge subject.
David: So what is the first thing you've got?
Gene: RIght off the bat, the thing that jumps out. In referring to Hiram, “He received no wages that were not his due.”
David: To not take what you aren’t due combines both of the virtues of the degree - industry and honesty into a code for moral conduct.
Gene: Moral conduct in both personal matters and business matters. Spiritually and in the world we live in.
Stay Busy (05:09)
David: Yes, that’s good. The first item I have from the chapter is the admonition against idleness. Here’s a few lines from the first quote I marked, “Masonry neither loves nor respects the idle and those who live by their wits; … For those who are indolent are likely to become dissipated and vicious; and perfect honesty, which ought to be the common qualification of all, is more rare than diamonds.” This section also discusses the industry of bees, which are an important Masonic symbol for industry.
Gene: And on a deeper level, everybody has their job. Everybody has to part, no matter how high or low. The part is important. No matter what your station in life, your duty is your duty.
David: Duty and industry are the themes also of the next section called “Work While it is Day”. What caught your attention in this section?
Gene: Well, just that he gave the example of Saint Augustine dividing the day into eight hours of necessaries of nature and recreation (eats, sleep, etc.), eight hours of charity, of helping others,, of doing good works, and eight hours of study and prayer. Does that remind you of anything that you've heard before Dave?
David: That’s the 24-inch gauge.
Gene: Yes. Reiterated again - your time is limited and you need to use it wisely.
David: One of the main contemplations indicated here is to look at how we actually spend our time. That’s a painful one for most of us… if you really can look at it honestly at all.
Gene: It is. I see myself falling short in so many ways.
Where is your mind? (06:55)
David: Me, too. But you first have to see something to even understand that a change is needed. There’s a quote in this section that likens the things we think and do to the nutrients that a plant takes in… and that we are the product of our own habitual behavior.
Gene: My dear mother once told me, “You don't need to put that stuff in your mind!”, but the quote you’re thinking about is down here on page 192. “To learn and to do !--this is the soul's work here below. The soul grows as truly as an oak grows. As the tree takes the carbon of the air, the dew, the rain, and the light, and the food that the earth supplies to its roots, and by its mysterious chemistry transmutes them into sap and fibre, into wood and leaf, and flower and fruit, and colour and perfume, so the soul imbibes knowledge and by a divine alchemy changes what it learns into its own substance.”
David: That is true. The people and things around us end up forming part of who you are… or at least who we think we are. Here’s another quote from that section: “Idleness is the burial of a living man. For an idle person is so useless to any purposes of God and man, that he is like one who is dead, unconcerned in the changes and necessities of the world; and he only lives to spend his time, and eat the fruits of the earth.”
Gene: A lot of this chapter, it's not said directly but is has an undercurrent of, “Focus!”. You have to pay attention to what you're doing. How you spend your day. How you conduct your affairs. You must conduct them in a mindful way.
David: Mindfulness is the key there. The Jewel of this Degree is the Compass set to a 60-degree angle, but without the Square. Having symbolically died in the last degree, we are now in the spiritual realm. So the labor indicated isn’t physical…
Gene: “Where is My Mind?”
David: Exactly. In the last section of this chapter, when we talk about the Plumb, Level and Square, we aren’t talking about physical devices. We’re talking about spiritual or mental concepts of fairness, honesty and integrity. The working tools are mental.
Level, Plumb and Square (09:16)
Gene: Meet on the Level. Act on the Plumb. And part on the Square. It seems very simple and plain, but then again that's the point. To be honest in your conduct. To greet your brother or fellow human beings where they are. And that way in your interactions and your meetings with other people, you both leave satisfied. Parting on the Square with no animosity in-between.
David: That seems like a good template anytime “two or more are gathered” (to quote Matthew 18:20). It describes right contact, interaction and parting.
Gene: Again, you could turn that around and put a mirror to it and put it inside of yourself. You have to meet yourself on an honest level, and go, “Yes that was wrong. I did wrong.” And then act to correct it, or act to not do it again. And then be at peace with yourself.
David: And the only way you can find that inner peace is ultimately by doing the right thing, because there’s a part of you that sees everything and is a fair judge. You have anything else from “Morals and Dogma” before we move on?
Gene: Oh yeah. Another thing from that chapter , you're supposed to keep all promises great and small, whether it's to your own advantage or not. There again, reemphasizing that if you've given your word, your word is your bond. Your word should be gold. That's a great proclamation, but it's hard because so many times we don't pay full attention to what we're saying or doing. You make a personal promise and then you forget, or something else comes up. There again, be mindful of what you say, what you do.
David: Right. Anything else from “Morals and Dogma”?
Contemplating Death (11:24)
David: Alright, let’s move on into “The Scottish Rite Ritual Monitor and Guide”. In the ritual for this degree, the furniture includes a desk with a pen and paper and a skull and crossbones. Some people will see that and think that “Hey, this must be satanic!” Why is the skull and crossbones part of this ritual? What is this about?
Gene: It’s about the reality that comes for all of us sooner or later. It’s about, “This is the end, my beautiful friend.”
David: Right it's supposed to be a contemplation of death. As I mentioned earlier o,n part of this degree in the past was that the initiate was told to make out their “Last Will and Testament”. So you're supposed to contemplate the fact that you're going to die. Here’s a clip a speech by the late Steve Jobs about contemplating death.
Steve Jobs: My third story is about death. When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something. Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
Gene: Now that we've broached the subject, how do we keep it real dealing and thinking about death without being morbid or sad?
David: That’s difficult. But I think that contemplation serves a purpose.
Gene: The contemplation of your own demise is supposed to give you perspective. You can live a better life. You can make every act count.
David: That’s almost impossible to do. To be aware of your own mortality all the time.
Gene: It's very hard because that is the last thing that anybody wants to really think about. You can do it in an intellectual way to a point, but it's still just a game.
You Are Going to Die (14:22)
David: It’s deceptively hard to think about your own death, but it’s a fact. You, me and everyone else living is going to die.
Gene: You are going to die.
Arnie (John Dies at the End): Let’s go back inside. Your story was more interesting…
David (John Dies at the End): You’re going to die Arnie. Someday you will face that moment. And at that moment you will face either complete non-existence or you will face something even stranger. On an actual day in the future Arnie, you will be in the unimaginable. It is physically impossible to avoid it. Think about that.
David: That’s from the movie “John Dies at the End.”
Gene: I mean it's one of those ultimate reality checks that, we have our thoughts and our beliefs but the only people who know aren’t here anymore.
David: And that uncertainty and the knowledge of that inevitability is a big part of what makes of us human. I know that there are some religious groups that go to extremes to face the reality of death.
Gene: There's a very small Hindu sect called the Aghori. They deal with it directly and shockingly. They live in the charnel grounds and take the ashes from cremation, smear it on their faces. They live with it “in their face”.
David: That’s an extreme example, but reeling it back to a person living a more traditional western lifestyle, it seems like the contemplation of death could lead you toward fatalistic thinking or depression.
Gene: It can. But the other side of that coin is - life is finite. Make it count. The clock is ticking and never stops.
David: And as you get older, you become more aware of that ticking clock because you see people dying more and more around you. People close to you…
Gene: That really puts it in your space and in your face. To lose someone that you love.
David: Yeah you know, you watch TV shows where death’s treated so casually there that it’s hard for people to face up to it in reality because it's not that way. You can’t just turn around and there's a laugh line right after that. Because a lot of time’s there’s not there's an empty house okay I’ve had many friends and relatives die in recent years. My dad died about a year and a half ago. He was a 50-year Mason and I think about 30 years in the Scottish Rite. But being an old-school Mason, he never encouraged me to join, but I think he was proud that I finally did so we could talk about things. To me, he represents everything that Masonry stands for. One of the first principles I remember him teaching me was “No one’s any better than you, but you aren’t better than anyone else.” That’s Masonically, meeting people “on the level”.
Gene: It's strange my father is not a Mason but I got the same kind of teachings. And when you said that, “You're no better than anybody else but nobody is better than you.”, I got that almost exact to the words, too.
A Few Good Men (17:46)
David: Good men trying to set an example.
Gene: Good men are out there. It's not complicated. Tt's the little things that you do that sometimes mean the most. A simple kind hand…
David: In this degree, they call Hiram the Perfect Master and we’re told to emulate him, but my dad was that to me. I feel lucky to have had him as long as I did. I also wanted to express our condolences to the family of our Lodge Brother Bart Iddins who passed away last week. Bart was a Past Master and a beautiful person who helped me, and Gene, and many others over the years.
Gene: Who is going to work the Fair Booth?
David: That was one of Bart’s pet projects that he used to support the Scottish Rite. Bart will be missed, but the effects that he has had on others will live on. We talked about this in the last degree. Our actions end up being our legacy and affect the world in ways that we can’t see.
Becoming Immortal (18:49)
Gene: That brings it back around to, “Live your life like it matters because your actions matter to more than just yourself.”
David: In this sense we’re all immortal, because we live on through others. Here’s a quote from “The Ritual Monitor and Guide “Thus masonry honors the memory of the virtuous and good. It mourns their loss but consoles itself with the reflection that memories of the great dead are immortal, and that their influences live beyond the grave.”
Gene: Yeah. We’ll carry the wave of the story.
David: One more quick story about my dad before we move on. In his last week, he was in the hospital, unable to move or speak. People came in every day, all day, and shared stories of how my dad had made a difference in their lives. It was things like - “he mowed my yard every week for 3 years when I wasn't able to”, or “he took me to the doctor every month” or even “he was the only one who accepted me for me.” Most of the stories I heard, I’d never heard before, because my dad really did adhere to the Masonic principle of doing your good deeds in secret, but he lives on in me, and through all the people he affected. And I believe that’s the truth about immortality.
Fear Not a Good Death (20:19)
Gene: There's your example of a life well-lived. Fear not a good death.
David: Yeah, that sounds good and I've heard other people say that they don't fear death but most of the time those people don't act like they really believe that. How can you not fear death?
Gene: Maybe one take on the question of how do I acknowledge and live with the thought of my own death is to have practices where you bring it up and you force yourself to think about it. If you can imagine it, then in some ways you have already lived it. So you could say, “I'm not scared of death because I've already done it.”
Hugh Glass (The Revenant): I ain’t afraid to die anymore. I done it already.
David: That's a clip from “The Revenant.”
Gene: Now the actuality of that is obviously you never do it until you do it… but if you practice, you can prepare.
David: We’ve talked about the physical preparations of creating a Will and making sure the people in your life are cared for after you’re gone. Another aspect is to look at all the things, you’ve accumulated over the years and in light of your own mortality, decide what you want to carry forward with you and what you want to leave behind.
Lighten Your Load (21:49)
Gene: Lighten your load. To turn that around a little bit, how much weight are you carrying? Both physical and emotional. Lighten your load.
David: That can be very tough. To lighten your load emotionally means acknowledging mistakes, apologizing, making amends, and forgiving people who’ve wronged you.
Gene: And, to state the obvious, to forgive yourself.
David: That can be tough, too. You know all of this focus on death and dying, it can be paralyzing. Gene, I’m picturing myself cowering in bed tomorrow overcome with existential dread. Do you have a mantra that might help me to face another day on this planet ?
Better Than Yesterday (22:24)
Gene: “Let us strive to be better men than we were the day before.”
David: If we could just keep that maxim in mind every day, we might come to place where we can find peace and face even our own death calmly. That would be a worthy goal.
Gene: That would be a worthy goal… to find that Grail.
David: Indeed. And that’s where we’ll stop for now. Gene, what’s up for next time?
Gene: In the next episode, we discuss the 6th Degree - Intimate Secretary.
David: So, I'm David.
Gene: And I'm Gene.
David: Join us next time as we continue our exploration of “Morals and Dogma: The Annotated Edition”.
Gene: As we walk the Way of the Hermit.