Circumambulation in the
Masonic circumambulation of
the alter is one of the oldest ceremonies of Freemasonry. The ritualistic
explanation is simple enough and of course the act does permit continued and
lengthy inspection of the candidate by the brethren. But this
explanation was obviously made to fit into the lodge and was composed by men
who had lost the authentic knowledge of the real meaning of the ceremony of
circling the alter so that now few brethren are convinced that the simple
ritualistic explanation conveys all the truth.
Vedic Circumambulation, from
India, is a religious practice consisting of walking around a sacred place as
a sign of veneration and piety. Vedic Circumambulation or "Walking the Way"
is a form of deep veneration with origins dating to ancient India, where to
circumambulate three times was a means of honoring a greatly respected person.
In Pradakshina (Jainist
Circumambulation), we keep the holy object(s) always on our right side.
Therefore, we circumambulate (go around) the holy place three times keeping it
on our right side, that is walking around from our left to the right. While
going around, we remind ourselves that holy things are precious, that they are
our guide, and that one day we will be more worthy of the refinements they
offer to us. This contemplation of the holy place (alter), or holy object,
will help us overcome our attachment to material things, concern with outward
appearances, and achieve brotherly love (overcome hatred). Three
circumambulations should also remind us that there are three remedies to
overcome our attachments and passions; they are right thinking, right
speaking, and right viewing (we should look for the good in all things).
Therefore, we should also contemplate how to acquire right mind, right speech,
and right views. Some feel as if they are going around creation itself.
In Japanese Buddhist ritual,
circumambulation is usually accompanied by recitation of sutras and the
scattering of petals.
Islamic circumambulation is
practiced around the Ka'ba in Mecca, the Rock of Mount Moriah in Jerusalem,
and in many mausoleums and shrine where the sages of Islam are revered.
Whether in a Masonic lodge,
in another culture or in a church, circumambulation is a humble imitation of
the form of worship of those ancient men to whom the sun in the sky and fire
on the stone altar were representations of God.
Ancient man imitated that
which he respected, venerated or feared. Although ancient man could imitate
the sun by a fire on the altar, he could imitate the sun's movement only by
his own. In the Northern Hemisphere, the sun appears to rise in the East, move
across the sky to the South, and then disappear in the West. Therefore, in his
worship, early man traveled about his fire on the altar from East to West by
way of the South, and West to East by way of the North, in imitation of the
greatest representation of God he knew.
From that ancient past to
this day, men have circled about or within their holy place from east to west
by way of the south, though many if not most forget the reason for their
Modern Buddhists, for
example, in keeping with the ancient tradition of enclosing a sacred tree with
a fence, the alter is enclosed by a railing. This serves to demarcate a
boundary between the sacred space with the secular world. The lowest sacred
space has four entrance gateways, North, South, East, and West, and is
enclosed by the main path, the circumambulatory path. The orientation of the
gateways (east, south, west and north), and the direction of ritualistic
circumambulation corresponded with the direction of the sun's course: from
sunrise, to zenith, to sunset and through night.
I hope that you will
appreciate that in our simple Masonic Circumambulations, we are showing
respect to the beliefs of our ancestors long past, as well as our brothers in
India, Asia, and throughout Persia.