It is highly significant for all Masons to reflect, every once in a while, upon a realistic evaluation of the present condition of our individual characters in order to truly see where we stand in this magnificent on-going process of perfection.
Where we find obvious or subtle degrees of foolishness, weakness or ugliness of character, that is where we will be focusing our future efforts with our common gavel in order to bring our present character, (our Rough Ashlar), more in line with our Masonic concept of perfection -- The Perfect Ashlar.
In this process of perfection, we can, (and should), invoke the blessings of God so that we may have the wisdom to contrive, the strength to support, and the beauty to adorn all great and important undertakings. Brothers, let there be no doubt about it, the perfection of our character is, according to all Masonic tradition, a great and important undertaking which we, as Masons, are honor bound to ever strive for and achieve.
THE PERFECT ASHLAR
From a block of fine white marble, a wise sculptor created an elephant. Its beauty had an inner strength which radiated the culture of the East. When asked how he had created such a masterpiece, the sculptor replied that he had merely chipped away all that was not the elephant.
Throughout the history of World Culture, there have been many sculptors, yet few of these had the insight and the focus to create masterpiece elephants. The quality of what remains after "chipping away" depends upon how discerning the sculptor was.
Numerous factors affect this level of discernment. Was he mentally bogged down with money worries? Was he emotionally polarized with family matters? Was he overwhelmed by his glimpse into the human condition? Did he simply have a common cold? Was he having a bad day? All these and many more affect the quality of the finished product. (Is this an elephant that you would want in your living room?)
It is, of course, no laughing matter to the disappointed sculptor who sees all too well that his finished product is far from the wisdom, strength and beauty of his original concept. What went wrong? Who will he blame for his foolish, weak and ugly elephant? Who will he blame for his lack of discernment in wielding his working tools?
The ancients Taoists taught that a beginner stepping onto the Path of Enlightenment blames others. One that is traveling the Path of Enlightenment blames only himself; however, one that has completed the Path of enlightenment blames no one.
As brothers in Masonry, each of us have been given a concept of imperfection in the symbol of the Rough Ashlar, (that rough stone just taken from the quarry). We have also been given the concept of perfection in the symbol of the Perfect Ashlar or smooth stone. We were admonished to change the present state of our character, (which we were to consider as our Rough Ashlar), into a perfected character symbolized by the Perfect Ashlar.
Not only were we gently challenged to attain this goal, but also, we were given the means by which we could achieve it. Thus, we were gradually introduced to the symbolism of our Masonic working tools one of which is our common gavel. The common gavel looks like a small wooden ax head and is used to chip away the unnecessary parts of the Rough Ashlar. We use it symbolically to chip, shape and smooth our Rough Ashlar, (our present character), into a perfect Ashlar, (our concept of the perfect character). In other words, to chip away all that is not the elephant.
After being presented with our common gavel and other working tools and given an explanation of their function, we were then set upon a rough and rugged road. During our travels on this road, we would have many opportunities to use all of our working tools, especially, our common gavel.
Most of us are finding that the more we use our common gavel to chip away all that is not our concept of perfection in character, the more we can contemplate and use our other working tools such as the plumb, level, and square. This is simply due to the fact that our character flaws are distractions from perfection and take up much of our mental and emotional energy. As we consciously remove our character flaws we can then use that freed-up energy to more skillfully and energetically use our other working tools.
On this road toward a more perfect concept and practice of Masonry, each of us will encounter situations and conditions which will cause us to sit back and reflect upon our efforts with our working tools.
We ask ourselves some vital questions such as, "How much of an increase in the skillful use of my working tools has my experience on this Masonic road of life produced?". What is the quality of my Ashlar to date? Is it perfect yet? (We're good, but not that good!). Does my Ashlar, (my character) exhibit wisdom for all the world to see, or does it exhibit foolishness for all the world to see? Does my Ashlar, (my character), exhibit strength for all the world to draw hope from, or does it exhibit obvious weaknesses for all the world to avoid? Does my Ashlar, (my character), exhibit beauty for all the world to rejoice with, or does it exhibit varying degrees of ugliness for all the world to shrink from.