(Several Brethren have asked of late about the admission of non-Christians in general, and of Buddhists in particular, into the fellowship of Freemasonry. Pertinent to this important question is the following report of a Committee appointed to deal with the request for a Dispensation from the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts for International Lodge at Pekin, China. The report is the work of a very able Committee, of which Brother Roscoe Pound was a member, and he it was who presented its findings to Grand Lodge. We take pleasure in reproducing the report, as worthy of wide reading and long pondering, for that it stands so squarely on the fundamental principle of Freemasonry, than which there is no firmer basis for Freedom, Friendship and Fraternity among men.)
In Grand Lodge, Boston, December 8, 1915.
The special committee appointed to take under consideration the fourth and fifth questions discussed in that part of the address of the M. W. Grand Master at the last Quarterly Communication which has to do with the establishment of International Lodge at Peking, China, begs to report as follows:
Stated briefly, the first of those questions is with reference to the eligibility of candidates who subscribe to prevailing Oriental religions. This question may be considered with respect to Oriental religions in general, but should also be looked at with respect to Buddhists and followers of Confucius, since it is probable that the matter, so far as this Grand Lodge is concerned, will be only academic as to other creeds. In the case of Mohammedan, Hindu, and Parsee, the question no longer admits of discussion. The practice of the United Grand Lodge of England and its predecessors, undoubted for almost a century and a half, would of itself suffice. In 1776, Umdat-ul-Umara, eldest son of the Nabob of Arcot, was initiated at Trichinopoly in a Lodge under the jurisdiction of the Provincial Grand Master for Madras. This reception of a Mohammedan Prince was an event of such significance that it was made the subject of congratulations by the Grand Lodge of England. The Parsees of Western India, so Gould informs us, long ago took an active interest in Masonry, and one of them, Brother Cama, was elected Grand Treasurer of the Grand Lodge of England in 1886. With respect to Hindus, it seems that there was an impression as late as 1860 that they were not eligible for Masonry, and the initiation of a Brahman in Meridian Lodge No. 345, in that year raised a vigorous discussion in the Masonic press. But it should be noted that the discussion did not turn upon any supposed ineligibility of the adherents of Oriental religions, but solely on the question whether the Brahman faith involved belief in God, as Masons understand such belief. The arguments of the Master of the Lodge was that "the very groundwork of the Brahman faith is the belief in one Grand Superintending Being." (See Freemason's Magazine, April 21, September 8, October 13, 1860; May 18, 1861.) In 1861, two Sikh Princes were initiated, and there does not appear to have been any doubt upon this matter since that time. In 1874 a Hindu was Master of a Lodge under the English constitutions. (See Gould, History of Freemasonry, III, 333, 336; Mackey, History of Freemasonry, VII, 1892.)
It would belie all our professions of universality if this were not so. We must guard jealously the Landmark--one of the few undoubted and universally admitted Landmarks--that calls for belief in God, the Grand Architect of the Universe. In Brother George F. Moore's well-known paper upon the subject he justly pronounces this the first Landmark in Freemasonry. But the idea of God here is universal. Each of us may interpret it in terms of his own creed. The requirement is not that Masons adhere to this or that theological system or conceive of God in terms of this or that creed. It is a simple requirement of belief in the One God, however manifested, upon which philosophers and prophets and saints and the enlightened religions of all time have been able to agree. It is enough to say that we fully concur in the eloquent and convincing presentation of this matter in the address of the Grand Master.
Perhaps it is superfluous to add anything to the argument from the practice of the premier Grand Lodge and the argument from principle. But if any still harbor scruples it may be noted that except for Hutchinson and Oliver, whose view that Masonry is a distinctively Christian institution obviously can not be admitted, Masonic scholars and teachers have been at one upon this point. In a passage afterward quoted in Webb's Monitor Preston says: "The distant Chinese, the wild Arab, or the American Savage will embrace a brother Briton [Webb adds "Frank or German"] and he will know that beside the common ties of humanity there is still a stronger obligation to engage him to kind or friendly offices." (Illustrations of Masonry, Bk. 1, par. 3). Certainly we are not to suppose that this Chinaman and this "wild" Arab are Christians. But Preston speaks elsewhere in no uncertain tones: "The doctrine of one God, the creator and preserver of the universe, has been their firm belief in every age; and under the influence of that doctrine their conduct has been regulated through a long succession of years. The progress of knowledge and philosophy, aided by divine revelation, having abolished many of the vain superstitions of antiquity and enlightened the minds of men with the knowledge of the true God and the sacred tenets of the Christian faith, Masons have readily acquiesced in and zealously pursued every measure which could promote a religion so wisely calculated to make men happy. In those countries, however, where the gospel has not reached and Christianity [has not] displayed her beauties, the Masons have pursued the universal religion or the religion of nature; that is to be good men and true, by whatever denomination or persuasion they have been distinguished; and by this universal religion the conduct of the fraternity still continues to be regulated." (Illustrations of Masonry, 2 ed., 154.) The Grand Master's address has already quoted Mackey upon this subject. A score of passages from Albert Pike might be quoted to the same effect. Let one suffice. After explaining that "these ceremonies have one general significance to every one of every faith who believes in God and the soul's immortality," he proceeds: "In no other way could Masonry possess its character of universality; that character which has ever been peculiar to it from its origin; and which enabled two kings, worshippers of different Deities, to sit together as Masters while the walls of the first temple arose." Finally, we may cite the words of Rev. Joseph Fort Newton, which have the endorsement of the Grand Lodge of Iowa: "While Masonry is theocratic in its faith and philosophy, it does not limit its conception of the Divine, much less insist upon any one name for 'the Nameless One of a hundred names.' Indeed, no feature of Masonry is more fascinating than its age-long quest of the Lost Word, the Ineffable Name; a quest that never tires, never tarries, knowing the while that every name is inadequate, and all words are but symbols of a Truth too great for words--every letter of the alphabet, in fact, having been evolved from some primeval sign or signal of the faith and hope of humanity. Thus Masonry, so far from limiting the thought of God, is evermore in search of a more satisfying and revealing vision of the meaning of the universe, now luminous and lovely, now dark and terrible; and it invites all men to unite in the quest--
One in the freedom of the Truth, One in the joy of paths untrod, One in the soul's perennial Youth, One in the larger thought of God.
Truly the human consciousness of fellowship with the Eternal, under whatever name, may well hush all words, still more hush argument and anathema. Possession, not recognition, is the only thing important; and if it is not recognized, the fault must surely be, in large part, our own. Given the one great experience, and before long kindred spirits will join in the "Universal Prayer" of Alexander Pope, himself a Mason:
Father of all! in every age, In every clime adored, By Saint, by Savage, and by Sage, Jehovah, Jove, or Lord !" (The Builders, 262-263.)
It remains to consider whether Buddhists and followers of Confucius are believers in God in such sense that they may be made Masons. As to the former, we have the weighty opinion of Albert Pike that Buddha was a "Masonic legislator"--that is that he gave laws in the spirit of Masonry. He says of the original followers of Buddha: "They recognized the existence of a single uncreated God, in whose bosom everything grows, is developed and transformed" (Morals and Dogma, 277.) Professor Rhys Davids, the chief authority in English upon Buddhism, indicates that this may be a matter of dispute. But the committee does not deem it necessary to go into this question, to which it is indeed scarcely competent. For if any Buddhists are to be initiated in International Lodge they will be required to profess belief in God at the outset, and as they will be men in whom our Brethren have confidence and will come well recommended, we may be assured that their professions will be sincere. The same point may be made with respect to the followers of Confucius. But the Rev. J. Legge, an unquestioned authority, tells us that while the teaching of Confucius "was hardly more than a mere secularism" his predecessors on whom he built made abundant reference to the Supreme Being and their writings contain "an exulting awful recognition of Him as the almighty personal ruler who orders the course of nature and providence." It seems clear that monotheists may follow the ethical teachings of Confucius, even if sceptics may do so likewise, and the former only will be elected to receive the mysteries of Freemasonry.
The second question, put briefly, is with reference to the adaptability of our rites when applied to adherents of Oriental religions. Here again we may appeal to the settled and unquestioned practice of the United Grand Lodge of England. In response to a request for information addressed to him by the R. W. Grand Secretary, Sir Edward Letchworth, Grand Secretary of the English Grand Lodge, writes, under date of October 25, 1915: "Adverting to your letter to me of the 11th instant, it has always been the practice of this Grand Lodge to permit Candidates for Freemasonry who are believers in a Supreme Being, but not in the Christian Religion, to be obligated upon the Sacred Book of their own religion. Thus Jews are obligated on the Old Testament, Mohammedans on the Koran, Hindus on the Vedas, and Parsees on the Zendavesta."
On principle this must be the sound practice. It is indeed but a corollary of the proposition involved in the first question. Moreover the testimony of Masonic scholars is clear. The M. W. Grand Master has already quoted from Mackey's Masonic Jurisprudence. In another work Dr. Mackey says: "Masonically the book of the law is that sacred book which is believed by the Mason of any particular religion to contain the revealed will of God; although technically among the Jews the Torah, or Book of the Law, means only the Pentateuch or five books of Moses. Thus to the Christian Mason the Book of the Law is the Old and New Testaments; to the Jew the Old Testament; to the Mussulman the Koran; to the Brahman, the Vedas; and to the Parsee the Zendavesta." In the Entered Apprentice Lecture, as written by Albert Pike, he says: "The Holy Bible, Square, and (Compass, are not only styled the Great Lights in Masonry, but they are also technically called the Furniture of the Lodge; and, as you have seen, it is held that there is no Lodge without them. This has sometimes been made a pretext for excluding Jews from Our Lodges, because they can not regard the New Testament as a holy book. The Bible is an indispensable part of the furniture of a Christian Lodge, only because it is the sacred book of the Christian religion. The Hebrew Pentateuch in a Hebrew Lodge, and the Koran in a Mohammedan one, belong on the Altar; and one of these, and the Square and Compass, properly understood, are the Great Lights by which a Mason must walk and work.
"The obligation of the candidate is always to be taken on the sacred book or books of his religion, that he may deem it more solemn and binding; and therefore it was that you were asked of what religion you were. We have no other concern with your religious creed." (Morals and Dogma, 11.)
Much more might be cited from Masonic writers authority. But the practice of more than a century the Grand Lodge of England and the principle of the thing require no other support.
The committee would report that the conclusions of the M.W. Grand Master upon the two questions referred are, in his opinion, beyond controversy, being sustained by-long precedent and usage, by the clearest deduction from the fundamental tenets of the Fraternity, and by the concurrent testimony of Masonic scholars. Fraternally submitted,
- EDWIN B. HOLMES,
- ROSCOE POUND,
- LEON M. ABBOTT,
- FREDERIC W. HAMILTON.
- R. PERRY BUSH,
Report was accepted and adopted.