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Article # 118
Reflections on the Compasses

Author: W.Bro.C.S.Madhavan    Posted on: Monday, October 4, 2004
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[The symbolism behind Masonic expressions and words is boundless. Each thinker contemplates on certain aspects, but the splendour and vastness are never diminished. Each aspect is beautiful and one can never get tired of such contemplations or listening to the expounding of the symbolism behind them. The learned author shares with us his reflections on one of the Emblematical lights in his own inimitable style, in this short article. Please read on . . .]

Reflections on The Compasses

W.Bro. C.S.Madhavan, Lodge Jyothi No.253, Salem

The compasses, according to Don Falconer, derive their name from the old French 'compasser' and the middle English 'compas' both meaning to 'measure' and 'proper proportion'. There is also an old expression ' to compass about' which means to encircle or circumscribe.

The compasses are one of the three Great Emblematical Lights in Freemasonry. The V.S.L. give us Light on our duties to God, the square illustrates our duties to our Neighbour and Brother, and the compasses remind us of the duties we owe to ourselves. Man's inherent fear of God ensures the discharge of his duties to Him, and fulfilling his obligations to a neighbour is a social exigency. But the last of the three prescribed duties is the most difficult to practice, because it is purely a matter of volition.

What are these duties to ourselves? To circumscribe our desires, and to keep our passions within due bounds. It is said in the Bhagavad Gita (III-36) " It is desire. It is anger, born of passion, all consuming and most sinful. Know it to be the enemy here."

There is Tolstoy's story of a peasant, to whom the Devil promised all the land he could cover in one single day; that greedy man, in trying to encircle as much land as possible, ran and ran till he died out of sheer exhaustion. All he needed in the end was only six feet of land to be buried in! This story is true of all of us. In our futile attempts to fulfill endless desires, we fail to experience the joys of life. We forget that true contentment comes, not by gratifying desires, but by limiting them. "Desires are never fulfilled. Only by giving them up, does one achieve perfect happiness." Says the Tirukkural (370).

Self - control is equally important. "It is ordained," said Burke, "in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate passions cannot be free; their passions forge their fetters." Therefore circumscribing our passions is the key to mastering ourselves. Mencius, the great Chinese philosopher, advised "Ye officers of the Government, apply the Compasses;" - meaning that those who would rule others must first master themselves.

Now comes the vital question. How does a Mason apply the compasses? With one point centered on himself, he should draw a circle which will mark the limit of all his desires and passions; a limit which he must never transgress. As his desires become fewer, and his passions more restrained, this circle becomes smaller and smaller, till both points of the compasses are directed to the centre of his being. At that stage all his desires and passions are totally contained, and he is at peace with himself.

"He who is able to resist the rush of desire and anger, even before he gives up his body, he is a yogin, he is a happy man." Bhagavad Gita V -23.

W.Bro. C.S.Madhavan of Lodge Jyothi, Salem requires hardly any introduction. He is a prolific writer and a great Masonic scholar and a consistent winner in the M.W.Grand Masterís Essay Competition year after year. Many of his articles have been posted in this website and premier Masonic website Pietre Stones Review of Freemasonry. In this short article, he has brought out certain aspects of the symbolism of the Compasses. We are thankful to him for making available to all of us this article.

Click Here To Post Your Comment

jyothindra wrote on Tuesday, October 5, 2004:

Subject: Approbation

Congratulations on an excellent expositon on the symbolism of the Compasses. Jyothindra LAP 280

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