Each and every Freemason asks for 'light', the question I have is 'what is that light' and did you receive it?
In my personal pursuit for the meaning of 'light' I came up with varied definitions.
According to the text 'Masonic Biography and Dictionary: Comprising the History of Ancient Masonry ...by Augustus Row
"Light.—The term is used figuratively; as those without the pales of Freemasonry are considered in darkness as to its mysteries and ceremonies, and hence the candidate is brought from darkness or ignorance to true masonic light, or a practical knowledge of its usefulness and design."
Brother Row's definition as we will see is simplistic and very exoteric, and and one the majority of the brethren today would give if asked about Masonic 'light', yet one that offers very little depth.
Now let us go a little deeper. Please read very carefully, that written within the parenthesis is my notations, not that of the author.
"Light was, in accordance with this old religious sentiment, the great object of attainment in all the ancient religious Mysteries (Freemasonry is very much a Mystery School). It was there, as it is now, in Masonry, made the symbol of truth and knowledge. This was always its ancient symbolism, and we must never lose sight of this emblematic meaning, when we are considering the nature and signification of masonic light. When the candidate makes a demand for light, it is not merely for that material light which is to remove a physical darkness; that is only the outward form (the exoteric), which conceals the inward symbolism (the esoteric).He craves an intellectual illumination which will dispel the darkness of mental and moral ignorance, and bring to his view, as an eye-witness, the sublime truths of religion, philosophy, and science, which it is the great design of Freemasonry to teach."...The Symbolism of Freemasonry: Illustrating and Explaining Its Science and Philosophy, Its Legends, Myths and Symbols...Albert Gallatin Mackey
As we can see Brother Mackey adds to the definition truth, knowledge, religion, philosophy, and science, all subjects rarely discussed within the lodge of today's Freemasonry. I would be remiss to not to mention that as of late some very forward thinking Lodges (although not enough in my humble opinion) have been contacting and inviting speakers from various schools of thought to address the brethren on subjects such as Masonic history, alchemy, psychology, and philosophy, all subjects that fit the criteria Brother Mackey used in his definition of 'light'.
Let's descend deeper into the rabbit hole.
There just may be light at the end of the tunnel.
"Truth, whether as expressed in Masonry or otherwise, is at all times an open secret, but is as a pillar of light to those able to receive and profit by it, and to all others but one of darkness and unintelligibly."...The Meaning of Masonry, Walter Leslie Wilmshurst
I have found that over my Masonic career 'The Meaning of Masonry' by Brother Wilmshurst as one of those go to books when one needs to research some of the more esoteric symbols found within Freemasonry, a title all brothers should be required to read. In the case of light I think Brother Wilmshurst hits the nail on the head when he says; "It means the awakening of those hitherto dormant higher faculties of the soul which endue their possessor with "light" in the form of new enhanced consciousness and enlarged perceptive faculty." Here we see Brother Wilmshurst alludes to a level of consciousness that is higher than our normal everyday consciousness, a level with a greater awareness and perception.
I believe Brother Wilmshurst is referring a type of wisdom to which is illumined by the light within; it comes with the maturity of the soul, and opens up the sight to the similarity of all things and beings, as well as the unity in names and forms.
From one that has spent many years studying Buddhism I see Brother Wilmshurst expansion of consciousness correlates easily with the Buddhist concept of 'enlightenment', a state of consciousness that most understand little of.
Allow me to explain, the Sanskrit word for enlightenment is "bodhi," which means "awakened." But awakened to what?
The only true answer to the question is to realize en-lighten-ment. Short of that, we must come up with provisional answers that come from those that have experienced that level of consciousness, yet because we are not on their level their descriptions do not really do justice to definition of enlightenment.
Enlightenment can be defined as the cessation of dukkha, which is a Sanskrit word usually mangled in translation. It can be defined as the full realization of the truth (light). It can be defined as awakening to a great reality most of us never perceive without doing the work, known as the Royal Art (Ars Regia) in alchemy, the science many of our early brothers embraced (that's a story for another time).
Please allow me to creep a little deeper into the rabbit hole.
Many of our ancient brothers believed it was possible to reach a level of consciousness that was called 'Union with the Divine', or in today's vernacular 'Cosmic Consciousness'.
When we look back to the inception of modern Freemasonry (early seventeen hundreds) we find many of our founders were of the Christian faith (not the same dummy downed Christianity of today), they were surely familiar with Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite and his system of integration of Neoplatonic motifs into a Christian framework. From this system three streams emerge:
1. an outlook concerning the nature of reality
2. a proposed method to interpret and understand this reality
3. a means by which reality Itself is transcended into union with the divine.
All of which I find alluded to esoterically within the rituals of Freemasonry. Don't get hung up on the word 'Christian', like I said this is not the same as today's Christianity, many of our early brothers understood the bible to be symbolic, allegory, metaphoric, and not necessarily literal.
If we look at number three we see a type of illumination and union which has to do with a level of consciousness far above our normal everyday mindset, a level where if put in a spiritual context may also be associated with transcendence or spiritual enlightenment. If this seems far reached its because you have limited YOUR search for light.
If we look back to where we started in our search for light, we all asked for something that was not present when we began our journey, and we called this light. What we must ask ourselves, what is that light?