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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
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
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
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
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.