Self Knowledge

By MW Bro. Ken Thomas

Presented to the Manitoba Masonic Study Group QCCC \

Wednesday March 30th, 2004


1. The First Duty, Verses 1 –14

The Saviors of God: Spiritual Exercises, Niko s Kazantzakis, Simon & Schuster

2. “If you take a clear look at yourself, you will find that your mind is more like a swarm of bees

than like an arrow shooting straight at the goal.  A swarm of bees can travel from Point A to Point

B, just like an arrow, but it does so in a vague, swirling, fuzzy way. Thus we hold in our minds al l

kinds of shifting attitudes, many of which contradict each other. Our love is bound up with hatred,

our trust with suspicion, our altruism with selfishness. Because this is so, the only clear path to

God is a path of constant self-awareness.  You must see through your own mask if you want to

take it off.”

How to Know God, Deepak Chopra, Three Rivers Press

As a Grand Lodge officer for the last four years and now your Grand Master, I have delivered

many speeches on matters of interest to the Craft, on critical initiatives or an underlying

philosophy of optimism and recovering the power of a few good men. I have spoken about

leadership in several ways at the Leadership and the Wardens seminars. Originally I was going to

talk about three kinds of Masons, again a relevant but practical topic. But this is the Quatuor

Coronati , a unique and different opportunity, a group of men looking for a deeper level of

knowledge and understanding of the principles of our Craft. So instead I want to take this

opportunity to talk about something much more basic, something that si ts at the root of everything

I have done, and everything I believe.

Let me share with you an anonymous but profound quote – “Very few of us know how much we

have to know in order to know how little we know.”

In the Master Mason’s degree we are taught that the most important knowledge a man can strive

for or achieve is the knowledge of himself. Most of the great mystical traditions also preach a

similar belief.

So what is this sel f you are supposed to come to know? And don’t most mystics actual ly teach

that ultimate knowledge is the knowledge of God? The answer to both questions is the same, and

like all great spiritual truths, is a Yes and No. How do we acquire knowledge of self and/or God?

The Eastern religions teach that the way to knowledge of self and God, or alternatively to

Nirvana, is through a combination of altruistic action or service to others, self-denial , and

meditation and prayer. Different doctrines place varying emphasis, but they al l contain these

elements, as do all of the great religions to some degree.

But I want to talk first about one of the most effective and practical programs for spiritual

awakening and personal positive change - the twelve step program, as originally articulated by

Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. Today that program has been co-opted by so

many groups and so watered down it has lost much of its power. But when done properly i t leads

one through a life-changing process. For the record, I am qualified to speak about this program.

There are several keys to this process. Two are in Steps 4 and 5. In step 4, you do a fearless

moral inventory of yourself. The Big Book explains how to do this in a manner that requires

analysis of fundamental elements of your make up, to discover why you act the way you do, to

discover the hidden fears and underlying resentments and sources of anger that motivate so

much i f your behaviour, especial ly the destructive or egotistical behaviour.


The fi fth step is - Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of

our wrongs. This requires that you share this inventory with a clergyman, counselor, spiritual

advisor or experienced member of AA, who can give you objective feedback and help you sort

out and better understand what you have discovered about yourself. Many people confuse this

step with Confessional . It is not about confession. It is about self-knowledge.

Then comes step six- “Were entirely ready to have God remove all our defects of character.” As

one of the early saints of AA said, this is the step that separates the men from the boys. Now that

I have faced myself squarely in the mirror, this is the decision to change.

The remainder of the program is direction on how to engage in altruistic service to others and to

maintain regular reflection on our successes and failures, and what they reveal about our

changing selves. This occurs in tandem with a program of regular meditation and prayer. With the

skills learned in the earlier steps, the result is a pattern of growth and change, based upon an

ever increasing knowledge of oneself.

This process parallels the Spiritual Exercise of St. Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits, and many

other spiritual programs.

But what is the point. We can all agree that i f this program leads to recovery from alcohol ism or

other addictions, and changing people into productive citizens, i t is to the benefit of the individual

and society. But what about the rest of the world, if you aren’t an addict what do you need self

knowledge for.

For me one of the most helpful insights from Bill Wilson is the concept of instincts gone awry. We

all have instinctive needs for nutrition and shelter, for security, for intimacy, sexual and otherwise,

for community, for power and prestige, for acceptance and praise. And we all instinctively fear

anything or anyone that will take those things away from us, that threaten our safety and securi ty,

our material well being, our loved ones, but also our sense of self worth, our social status and

power. When these instincts become controlling or dominating of our behaviour or when the fears

take over, we become obsessive and dysfunctional. We do not have to go to the extremes of

addiction to see this. Even the heal thy pursuit of these needs can become an obstacle to spiritual


It is very common to see these very things creating disharmony within our Craft, as one brother’s

actions are seen to threaten what others hold dear, their status or influence, or just their

understanding of what Freemasonry is supposed to be.

So self-knowledge is the key to understanding and improving our relationships wi th others and

our effectiveness in the Craft, at work, in our families, and the rest of our lives. But that is only the


God is Love. God is a lot more than Love, but God is Love.  If indeed man is made in the image of

God, then it is in man that we find God. He is a part of each of us. To know God, then first

requires that you know yourself. Only then can you find the channel that runs within you, the

channel of God’s love.

To put in a different way, the Love of God is resident within each of us. But it can’t get out. We

are dominated by instincts gone awry. Self-knowledge is the key to putting self aside and getting

in touch with that inner Love

Is this easy? It simply requires the complete smashing of the ego. The drunk is lucky, booze

smashes it for him.

Deepak Chopra, in his book How to Know God, describes a seven stage journey through the self,

to the centre of the self, to discover the God within. He also describes how, in fact, all reality is


really only our perceptions of real ity, and the true God is ultimately the God found at the centre of

the self. But by self I mean the sel f that knows it is not a self but only a part of the river of

consciousness called God.

The brilliant German theologian, Paul Tillich, in his famous sermon on Grace and Sin, described

how, at those moments of greatest despair, Grace breaks through. He described the Grace of

God as occurring at that moment when you know completely that you are accepted exactly as

you are, by that which is greater than yourself, by the Ground-of-Being.

The Saint is the one who understands that God’s Love is within him and i t is his role, and God’s

wi ll for him, to be partner, a co-creator with God in that Creation which is being eternally created.

He does this by letting go of self and becoming at one with God, in the sense that his will is

relinquished to the superior force of God’s will . He becomes transparent to the love of God that is

within him trying to get out. As an instrument of God’s Grace, he not only lives out of the

knowledge of his acceptance by that which is greater than himself, but also lives out of the

knowledge that every child of God is accepted by that which is greater. Therefore he is not

required to judge, but to also accept.

And i t is in the midst of this acceptance that one no longer is concerned about status or weal th,

influence or even ideology. For example, a British historian once described Ghandi as Britain’s

most dangerous foe, because there was nothing you could take from him or do to him that would

deter him from his course.

I look upon Jesus as one who achieved this. As one who put aside his own needs and wants, his

ego, his human self, so completely that he became transparent to the God, or the divine Love,

wi thin. Those who encountered him encountered God, or at least God’s pure and profound love -

the Grace of God. If you read the gospels, two things are shown most strikingly about Jesus. He

had little concern for his own needs, and he accepted others, especially those who society and

authority rejected. The Good Samaritan, “Throw the first stone”, the woman at the well, the

lepers, the tax collector.  All of these stories reflect this profound truth of one who lives out that

unconditional love of the Creator for all of his creatures. Is it just coincidence that in Freemasonry

we often talk about the stone the builders rejected.

I must share an experience with you. I used to meditate regularly, but lately I don’t seem to have

time, or for that matter feel the need. But one time while meditating I began to wonder what would

i t be like to be like Jesus – to put self aside and know only the will of God. And for a brief moment

I experienced the most inexplicable sense of bliss and joy I have ever known. It cannot be

described, except to say i t is the Peace that passes al l understanding. It did not last long of

course. I have felt no need to go back and find it again. The knowledge that it is there, it is

accessible, seems to be for now sufficient, and I have other things to do.

Unfortunately, these things don’t last. The ego is a remarkably resilient beast. The greatest

enemy I have is my own worldly success.  I am most vulnerable when I think I am winning. I am

most destructive when I think that the work I am trying to focus on is more important than the

child of God who requires my attention.

What does this mean for our Craft? What does i t mean for me as a Mason? In my Masonic life I

am constantly in contact with my brothers. And how do I treat them? How do I lead them? Only by

constantly asking the questions – “what is happening within me, why am I doing what I am

doing?” can I learn about myself, and get myself out of the way. If I feel angry or resentful towards

another brother I have a choice. I can remain in judgment. Or I can turn in and ask mysel f, what is

making me react this way. This is real maturity. Ultimately there is no easy path. Saints have

scars. But through the scars there is a flow of love.


But this is only the very beginning of the journey. Through meditation and prayer and the study of

the mystics I can plumb into the depths of my own consciousness. I can reach that point where

the I ceases, and the river flows.

The journey to the East, when done well, is powerful exercise in self knowledge.  You are asked to

provide leadership in an all volunteer organization.  You cannot demand or delegate as in the

workplace, you can only encourage and motivate.  Yet all eyes are on you and you are expected

to deliver. This can be a remarkable learning experience. You can learn a lot about other people

and what motivates them, but this is not the real learning. The really important learning is what

you learn about yourself as you act and then observe how others react, or don’t. Masonic

Education can push us towards the goal of self knowledge and point the direction and provide

helpful insights. But in the end, only by doing and watching what happens, to others and to

yourself, do you truly learn.

I could talk for an hour on this. But I will cease now.

In my inaugural address, I said that if we do three things well - teach the great truths, enjoy

fellowship and brotherly love, and provide relief to those who suffer, we will not only survive but

we will prosper. Of these three, the toughest is the first.


Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson, A. A. World Services Inc.

How to Know God, Deepak Chopra, Three Rivers Press







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