Taoism and Freemasonry
The Masonic approach draws its reflection from all traditions; we propose a reflection on the application of Taoist principles to Masonic symbolism. (see the slideshow which presents a reminder of the history of Taoism)
It might seem like a challenge to want to use Taoist concepts that appeared several hundred years BC to explain the operation of a Masonic lodge, but, if we accept the famous adage of "Everything is in everything! "the exercise should not leave indifferent. This is of course a first approach to popularization that could be more detailed if the request is expressed.
There are several possible entries in the understanding of Taoist philosophy; we suggest two of them:
-From Chinese energetics,
-Using the five elements.
We could define energy as a "setting in motion" of a dynamism affecting the living, whether in a collective or individual form.
The principle of Taoism could, in a simplified way, be presented as follows:
Total Yang energy, immaterial, fecundates total Yin energy, material...
This initial fertilization of total yin energy produces a succession of six energy forms:
-The small yin energy (Tae Yin)
-Average energy (Chao yin)
-The Great Yin Energy (Tsue Yin)
-The little yang energy (Chao yang)
-The average yang energy (Yang ming)
-The great yang energy (Tae Yang)
From this great yang energy there is the possibility to recreate the total yang energy (see attached diagram).
In this evolution of the energy cycle, we can notice three key moments:
-The "fertilization" of the total yin energy by the total yang energy.
-The mutation of the great yin energy into small yang energy
-The transition from great yang energy to total yang energy
If we compare with the Masonic "logic", we can see that there is a similarity between the total yang energy and the Light and between the total yin energy and the Darkness.
When we proclaim "Ordo Ab Chao", which can also be stated as "Light transcends matter", the Taoist doctrine affirms that the total yang energy transforms and fecundates the total yin energy.
This logic of relations between energies naturally applies to the living world. Each organ has its own energy.
There are positive energies which are earlier "helping" and negative or "perverse" energies which can disturb the functioning of the system. The energy can also be of external origin and affect our organism; for example cold, heat, trauma are energies but also anger, fear, joy.
All the subtlety of the Taoist approach has been to describe the changes in the functioning of the organism and therefore of the human being according to the variations of all these energies and to imagine a logic that explains the expected and foreseeable consequences of these interactions.
Classically one describes a global energy and six "functional" energies, each of which can be in the yang form or in the yin form; schematically let us recall that the yang form is characterized by an activation whereas the yin form corresponds to a certain passivity. Naming these energies in French is necessarily simplistic because the Chinese terms have a wide variety of nuances, but the objective being to be understood, the stakes are high and Taoist specialists will excuse us.
These six main types of energy are:
-Distribution energy ensures the distribution and "feeding" of the different components of the system.
-The energy of fulfilment is manifested in the realisation of intimate processes.
-The energy of preparation includes the capacity for evaluation and anticipation prior to the commitment.
-The energy of movement has an impact on what we could call the physical body and in particular its exteriorization;
-The energy of separation affects all processes that seek to separate the essential from the non-essential;
-The energy of resistance is dedicated to preserving the essential, i.e. the germ of the renewal of life and thus in a way the memory of the code.
These six functional energies, if they work in synergy, allow the system to fulfil its role, to protect itself and to ensure their durability. As soon as one fails, a fragility appears and the whole becomes vulnerable.
The complexity of the phenomenon of life is such that Taoism refers to other energies, but it is necessary here to be concise and to know how to limit oneself.
If we consider the lodge as a living organism, it is possible to use this modeling of an energetic functioning. One can thus analyze from them the global functioning and that of the different offices.
Globally, we could say that the lodge is a Yin entity, to which we could give the adjective feminine insofar as it corresponds to a maieutic that gives "birth" to initiates who will have their own existence. In addition to this function of initiation of laymen, the lodge has another reason for being that of strengthening the fraternity between its members and extending it to society. A lodge that is experiencing internal disorders is functionally unable to perform these functions.
The general orientation of the Lodge towards mysticism or towards the production of societal reforms, proceeds in a certain way from the same dynamism, that of transformation; in fact one could say that the Lodge is destined to create the initiate and to "shape" him/her towards sanctification and towards the exercise of a mission by becoming an "architect" (the one who creates).
To ensure its role the lodge has a college of officers; using the Taoist energy model, each officer could be assigned a functional energy:
To the venerable and the secretary, the energy of movement (the secretary could be the yin form of this energy and the venerable the yang form).
-to supervisors, the energy of preparation
-to the speaker and the roofer, the energy of resistance (the speaker is in the yang form and the roofer in the yin form)
-to the Master of Ceremonies, the energy of fulfillment
-to the expert, the energy of the separation for what comes from the outside and for verification from the inside
-to the hospitaller and the treasurer, the energy of distribution (the treasurer in the yin form and the hospitaller in the yang form)
When we apply Taoist logic to the functioning of the lodge we highlight the weak intervention of the energy of separation whereas it is a fundamental dynamism in the living world because it allows to get rid of all that is impure. In lodge, the expert to whom one could attribute this role, does not have prerogatives so affirmed except when it is a question of admitting or not a visitor; this quasi-absence of internal self-regulation could moreover explain quite a few problems!
The balance of the system is achieved if each function plays its role; as an example:
if the function of resistance is no longer ensured, the lodge loses its "soul" by losing its history and specificity,
if the hospitaller does not play his role of distribution in particular of fraternity and solidarity, the link between the members of the lodge will dissolve in an aseptic formalism!
The five Taoist elements applied to the Masonic approach
Reminder: In a global system where the living is under the combined influences of Earth and Heaven, if the energies can be considered as a celestial influence, the five elements include the earthly influence.
These five symbolic elements speak to us much better than the energies because we find them in our rituals, the air can very well be assimilated to the symbol of Wood.
Things become more complicated when we understand that to each of the five elements we attach a dynamism, an organ, a function, a quality, an orientation, etc.
The attached diagrams visualize the relationships between the five elements: relations of generation and control.
According to the Taoist tradition, the harmony of the whole is the consequence of the coherence between the 5 elements; if an element is failing, the system is weakened and can cause consequences.
As an example, if we restrict ourselves to the primary meanings, a flood for example corresponds to an excess of the Water element which will first affect the Fire element by weakening it; the Earth element whose function is to control the Water element will be exhausted.
This example can be found for the entire contents of the Water element.
In relation to the functioning of the Lodge, we will find these interactions between the five elements from the contents that are close to them:
Wood is the element of movement but also that of spirituality; located in the East, it corresponds to the venerable
Fire, an element of beauty, of the imaginary; located in the South, it corresponds to the second supervisor at the REAA.
The earth, the element of food but also of social ties and therefore of worries; it is located in the centre ;
Metal, element of judgement; located in the west, it corresponds to the roofer.
Water, an element of memory and history; it is located in the North
Disturbances to the system of the five elements can occur:
-Either by excess
-Either by insufficiency
This simplified adaptation of Taoist notions to the Masonic Lodge can allow a better understanding of the logic of the Masonic approach and the imperatives to which we must submit if we want everything to work in harmony:
The interdependence of functions and dynamics implies the absolute necessity of consensus to make a Lodge function properly and to find solutions when a problem arises;
Each function has its specificity; none takes precedence over the others; and this is true both in the officers' college and for each member of the lodge; likewise for the training of apprentices.
The Tao is the Way; harmony is to stay on the Way! All this is easily found in the Masonic approach!
This slideshow covers the history of Taoism, its logic and its various applications.
Taoist" reading of the Masonic dress (as defined by the Lodge meeting)
Without modifying the ritual used (which would be possible) it is possible to refer in the lodge to certain Taoist principles and in particular :
the principle of the transformation of the organism (of the subject) according to the energy cycle,
the humility of the initiate before the great laws of nature (of Heaven and Earth),
protection against the aggression of external and internal perverse energies!
If we consider that the purpose of Masonic dress is, on the one hand, to allow a "resourcing" of the initiate in the search for Truth in an ethical dimension and, on the other hand, to encourage the strengthening of fraternal ties, these Taoist principles can encourage brothers and sisters to take better advantage of the conduct of their lodges.