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This essay was originally presented before the California College of the SRICF, and published in the Forum of The Masonic Society.  Thus, my audience consisted of Master Masons.  However, the information here is not technical or complex, and I believe accessible to anyone.  All the sources named are publicly available.

The 32nd degree of Scottish Rite Freemasonry is named "Master of the Royal Secret".  Albert Pike writes that the Zohar (one of the most important writings on the Kabbalah) terms it "The Mystery of the Balance", and that it is the Secret of the Universal Equilibrium.  Dr. Rex Hutchens, 33°, observes that this is "no secret in the normal sense of the word; that is, it is not something to be hidden from the rest of the world.  Here the word 'Secret' should be understood as synonymous with the word 'Mystery', hidden only because we do not completely understand it."  Pike describes many of these equilibria, such as between Justice and Mercy, between Necessity and Liberty, between Authority and Individual Action, between Sympathy and Antipathy.  This is foreshadowed in the lecture of the Entered Apprentice degree, where the cardinal virtue of Fortitude is described as being equally distant from rashness and cowardice.

For a Master of the Royal Secret, all of these are recommendations for conduct, and are merely intellectual exercises unless diligently put into practice.  In Carlos Castaneda's series of books, "The Teachings of Don Juan", these mysteries are considered "Tales of Power", as distinguished from "Acts of Power".  Every Mason is taught that the Working Tools are meant to be put into practice, and are not just symbols to be admired and then put on the shelf.

Chinese philosophy uses the concept of yin yang to describe how opposing forces are interconnected and interact.  Yin is slow, soft, yielding, and tranquil, traditionally associated with the feminine.  Yang is hard, fast, solid, focused, and aggressive, traditionally associated with the masculine.  In T'ai Chi, we consider the outward projections of force, such as pressing, pushing, kicking, and punching, to be yang.  The yielding or conserving of force, such as rolling back, following, and retreating, is considered to be yin.  T'ai Chi first teaches series of forms, or postures, together with the method of moving from form to form.  This is practiced slowly, where the continuous transitions between yin and yang are performed without effort, maintaining balance to eliminate strain.  All the forms in T'ai Chi are designed to inculcate perfect balance and economy of effort.  My teacher, Dr. Dan Lee, calls this "intelligent laziness".  In physics, this is called the principle of least action, and is one of the fundamental principles which allow one to predict physical behavior.

T'ai Chi is a continuous symmetry, as illustrated by the well-known yin yang symbol.  Tracing the border between black and white, one sees that at every point on the path there is both yin and yang.  The path chosen by the practitioner to move from one form to another is followed in such a way that balance is maintained at each and every point on the path, so that one could freeze at any point in the form, and would be perfectly balanced.  This is the solo form.

As far as I know, the ancient Chinese art of T'ai Chi has never been associated with Freemasonry.  In fact, there is no reason to suspect any relation until one has progressed deeply enough to become proficient in the T'ai Chi art of "Push Hands", also called, perhaps more descriptively, "Sense Hands". 

Usually, after the student is proficient in the form, he is permitted to start the study of push hands.  My master decided that it was a good idea to start the study of push hands in the beginner classes, because it forcibly demonstrates the underlying meaning and value of the correct T'ai Chi forms.  Ordinarily, only the teacher can tell if the form is being done correctly, as the difference between a good form and a poor one is subtle.  But in push hands, any slight error is immediately obvious, as the student is quickly but gently pushed off balance for immediate feedback.

In the first level of push hands, the two players stand facing each other and place the backs of their right hands together.  They have supposedly already learned how to stand in a relaxed, yet rooted position.  The objective is to learn to maintain light contact at all times, with no stiffness or pressure.  The players alternately press forward and yield back.  All moves are done quite slowly so that any results may by easily observed.  Later, the player doing the pushing turns the palm of his hand against the back of the other player's hand, and tries to slowly push him off balance.  If the second player resists stiffly, then he will be easily pushed off balance.  If he yields, maintaining light contact, then he will feel no force.  But if the first player keeps pushing so that he is overextended, then he will find himself being pulled off balance easily.  The two players take turns alternately pushing and yielding.  As their skills improve, the difficulty is escalated, involving pushing with both hands, moving their feet, and attacking at different levels, angles, and speeds.  Relating this to Fortitude, pushing to the point of butting is rashness, and causes one to be pulled forward off balance.  Yielding to the point of pulling away, like cowardice, causes a loss of contact which results in loss of knowledge of where your opponent is, and consequently being surprised and easily pushed off balance.  Failing to yield when pushed, or worse, pushing back, makes one stiff, and easily unbalanced. 

Albert Einstein's "Happy Thought", the insight which resulted in General Relativity, was that a falling man feels no force.  Similarly, a T'ai Chi practitioner, when being pushed, feels no force.

When pushing, we are focusing the yang power, which is the male energy, the pillar of Wisdom in Masonic and Kabbalah symbolism.  When yielding, we are focusing the yin power, which is the female energy, the pillar of Strength in Masonic symbolism, and Understanding in Kabbalah symbolism.  The student is not at the mercy of yin and yang, he is the wielder of them, the one who uses these two great Forces to implement his will on Earth.  He is like the central pillar of Beauty in both Masonic and Kabbalah symbolism.  When the Candidate enters the Lodge for each degree, he is placed exactly in the center between the two pillars.  He thus may be thought to personify the Third Person of the Trinity, the balance point between Wisdom and Strength.  Pike goes to great lengths to describe the profound implications of this Royal Secret of equilibrium and balance of the two forces.  He uses the pillars on the tree of life of the Kabbalah to illustrate how the mystery of the balance is relevant between the pairs, such as Wisdom and Power, and applies this principle to all our actions in the world.  The middle pillar is, of course, Beauty, the person using his will and energy to implement this balance.

T'ai Chi also expands the scope of push hands to embrace many aspects of life, particularly the emotional encounters with another.  In arguments, it is well known that when someone is arguing with you, it is counterproductive to interrupt or argue back while he is still holding forth.  This is like butting.  It is better to yield, but holding light contact, which means no fear, no dirty looks, no impatience.  When the other is finished making his point, then you can make your point without aggressiveness, without overstating your case, which would be overextending yourself.  I think it is clear how this applies to all personal negotiations.

The medical establishment has studied many methods to improve balance among the elderly, to help them prevent falls and broken hips.  Among these are exercise balls, dancing, yoga, and the various forms and spin-offs of T'ai Chi.  It has been observed that T'ai Chi and practices based on this but targeted specifically for the elderly, is the best method for teaching balance.    It is often assumed that a broken hip in the elderly is the beginning of the downward spiral.  In addition, after falls, many elderly patients feared to go outside and brave steps and curbs, but those with T'ai Chi training were more confident, and therefore more mobile.  The mastery of balance frees them from fear and expands their lives.

T'ai Chi puts into physical practice, and helps to demonstrate, the universality of the Royal Secret.  It is intended that this "secret" be a part of your life, a part of your character, a part of your "practicing out of the Lodge those great moral duties inculcated in it."  The Royal Secret is not just a play to be enjoyed, or a teaching to be intellectually appreciated, but a "form" to be practiced in life.  Clearly, the lesson of the 32nd degree has universal appeal for all human endeavors.

 
   
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