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Article # 18
Distinguishing Characteristics of a Freemason

Author: Hon'ble Chief Justice A.R. Lakshmanan    Posted on: Tuesday, June 18, 2002
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I am happy to address this Masonic Seminar on the " Symbolism of the First Degree". As rightly pointed out by Mackey in his "Symbolism of Freemasonry", "Wisdom of all the ancients, that had come down to our hands are Symbolic". The importance of a proper understanding of the Masonic Symbolism has been stressed by Street in his classical book "Symbolism of the Three Degrees", as follows. "A Freemason, who knows nothing of our Symbolism, knows little of Freemasonry. Besides, rendering the ritual perfectly, it is most desirable, that the Masonic Symbolism is properly understood". The great Masonic scholar Bro.Albert Pike, has observed that " Symbolism is the soul of Freemasonry. Every symbol of a Lodge is a religious teacher- a mute teacher of morals and philosophy. It is in its ancient symbols and in the knowledge of their true meanings, that the pre-eminence of freemasonry over all other orders consists" Science makes use of symbols, for its transmission language"Sages , when they speak , they do so, not to disclose or to explain , but to lead others to seek for and find the truth of science and the meaning of the symbols".

Our ceremonies and symbols give an allegorical or symbolic representation of human existence, not only here, but also hereafter, besides pointing out the way, which leads to the greatest good, both in this life and in the life to come thereafter. It is only, when we reflect upon them in relation to this sublime allegory of human life, that we are enabled to comprehend them, in the fullness of their beauty and grandeur. We must therefore endeavour to understand that every sign, every symbol and every portion of the ceremony is designed to illustrate allegorically some moral phase of human existence. I am confining my lecture to an analysis of the Symbolism of the " Distinguishing Characteristics of a Freemason".

During the course of the ceremony of initiation, the intiate, after entrustment and investiture is placed at the N.E part of the Lodge, figuratively to represent the foundation stone, implying that from the foundation laid that evening the initiate is expected and exhorted to raise a superstructure perfect in its parts and honourable to the builder, of course, with the aid of and with the assistance of all the moral virtues and the excellences of character symbolically taught to him. The charge at the N.E explains in a solemn and dramatic manner, but symbolically, the crown of all virtues, which is the distinguishing characteristic of a Freemason?s heart, namely, CHARITY.

That aspect can not be better explained than by quoting the teachings of Saint Peter, that "Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue and to virtue knowledge and to knowledge temperance and to temperance patience, and to patience Godliness and to Godliness brotherly kindness of a perfect character, to the erection of a seven storeyed house, in which the foundation is the faith and the coping stone or the pinnacle, Charity".

Scriptures eulogize Charity as " a principle of prevailing love to God and goodwill to men, which effectually inclines one endowed with to glorify God and to do good to others, to be patient, slow to anger and ready to forgive wrongs, to show kindness to all and seek the good of others , though with prejudice to himself. A person endowed therewith does not interpret doubtful things to the worst sense, but the best, is sorry for the sins of others, but rejoices when any one does well and is apt to bear with their failings and infirmities and lastly, this grace is never lost, but goes with us into another world and is exercised there".

The following passages from the scriptures are also enlightening and illuminating. 1 "Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth" 2. "Charity suffereth long and is kind, Charity envieth not". 3. "Faith, Hope and Charity, but the greatest of these is Charity". 4. "Follow after Charity and desire spiritual gifts". 5. "Let all your things be done with Charity". 6. " Have fervent Charity, for Charity shall cover sins". 7. :" Greet ye one another with a kiss of charity". Chapter 17 of Bhagavat Gita extols this virtue. Charity is defined as kindly state of mind, which renders the person full of goodwill and affectionate regard towards others. Charity is derived from the Latin Word "Caritas" and has been translated as Charity in the Holy Bible. Masonic Encyclopaedia describes it as the distinguishing Grace of freemasonry. The Masonic Lectures proclaim that Charity is " Lovely in itself, it is the brightest ornament , which can adorn our Masonic profession. It is the best test and the surest proof of the sincerity of our religion. Benevolence, rendered by Heaven born Charity, is an honour to the Nation, whence it springs, is nourished and cherished. Happy is the man, who has sown in his breast the seeds of benevolence; he envies not his neighbour, he believes not a tale reported to his prejudice, he forgives the injuries of men and endeavours to blot them from his recollection"..we are Free and Accepted Masons ever ready to listen to him, who craves our assistance and from him, who is in want, let us withhold a liberal hand. So shall a heartfelt satisfaction reward our labours and the produce of Love and Charity will most assuredly follow".

It will be apposite at this stage to notice the following extract from an address in the Scottish Ritual"

"but true masonry exists in the heart and is composed of brotherly love, relief and truth and that heavenly consummation of all virtues "Charity.. so beautifully explained in the V.S.L as bearing all things. Hoping all things, believing all things, enduring all things and thinking no evil and it is to the practice of this virtue that your Masonic efforts should ever tend, not only in its common acceptance of pecuniary relief, but as embracing true brotherly love to the full extent inculcated in the sacred writings.."

The Charge at the N.E makes a profound and unforgettable impression teaching us the Golden Rule, the duty of a man to his fellow in dire need. It is not left to the imagination, since the initiate is actually placed in the position of the man, who solicits aid, making the duty more real and vivid. Irish ritual mentions that ? secondly, to remind you in the years to come that at one time in your life, you found yourself in the position of a person, who actually stood absolutely penniless in the midst of plenty, thereby enabling you to visualize more forcibly and intimately the humiliation and suffering of those really so placed, who might some day solicit your help". Amplifying that teaching the initiate is exhorted, while explaining the T.B, that a freemasons Charity should have no bounds, save those of prudence. The distinguishing characteristics of a freemason's heart"Charity, should at all times distinguish us as men and as freemasons.

We are taught at the explanation of the T.B, that the distinguishing characteristics of a good freemason are Virtue, Honour and Mercy and that the same should ever be found in a Freemason's breast. Rituals impress upon us that, we must imbibe all the moral virtues, which constitute the staves of Jacob's ladder and that to the just and virtuous, death has no terrors. The virtuous are always honourable. I am reminded of a story in ancient Rome. Consul Marcellus commenced the construction of a temple to be dedicated to Virtue and Honour. He modified his plans as there was opposition for the construction of a single temple and constructed two separate temples contiguous to each other and provided the access to the temple for Honour through the temple of Virtue. The moral is explicit that Virtue alone takes us to Honour.

Masonic lecture on Virtue contains a beautiful passage and the same is as follows. "Virtue is the highest exercise of and improvement to reason; the integrity, harmony and just balance of affection; the health, strength and beauty of the soul. The perfection of the Virtue is to give reason its full scope, obey the authority of conscience with alacrity, to exercise the defensive talents with fortitude, the public with justice, the private with temperance, and all of them with prudence; that is in due proportion to each other with a calm and diffusive beneficience; to love and adore God with an unrivalled and disinterested affection and to acquiesce in the dispensations of Divine providence with a cheerful resignation". Every approach to this standard will be a step towards perfection and happiness and any deviation will lead to vice and misery.

The next distinguishing characteristics is Honour. We have all sworn to carefully to preserve a brother's honour as our own. Honour may justly be defined to be the spirit and resultant of Virtue; the true foundation of mutual faith and credit and real intercourse by which the business of life is transacted with safety and pleasure. Honour implies the united sentiments of Virtue, Truth and Justice carried on by a generous mind, beyond those mere moral obligations, which the laws require or can punish the violations, if any. True Honour, though a different principle from religion, produces the same effect. Religion embraces Virtue, as it is enjoined by the Laws of God and Honour, as it is graceful and ornamental to human nature. " The religious man fears, the man of Honour scorns, to do an ill action ; the latter considers vice as something, which is offensive to the Divine Being. A true man of Honour will not content himself with literal discharge of the duties of a man and citizen ; he raises and dignifies them to magnanimity. The whole of his conduct is guided by the noblest sentiments of his own unvitiated heart. A true moral rectitude is the uniform rule of his actions and a just praise and approbation of his due reward. A life well regulated as per the Masonic teaching will certainly make us honourable in life, because of its natural tendency, it conduces to make those so, who are obedient to its precepts.

Mercy is a "refined virtue and when possessed by the monarch , adds lustre to every gem that adorns his crown; if by a warrior, it gives an unceasing freshness to the wreath that shades his bow. It is the companion of true honour and the ameliorator of justice, on whose bench, when enthroned , it interposes a shield of defence on behalf of the victim, impenetrable by the sword." "As the vernal showers descend on the earth, to refresh and invigorate the whole vegetable creation, so Mercy, acting on the heart, when the vital fluids are condensed by rancour and revenge, by its exhilarating warmth returns nature to its source in purer streams. Mercy is the peculiar attribute of the Deity, on which the best and the wisest of us must rest our hopes and dependence, for, at the final day of judgment, when arraigned at His Bar and the actions of this mortal life are unveiled to view, though His Justice may demand the fiat, we hope and trust His Mercy will avert the doom' and save us. Such is the divine virtue of Mercy, which like its sister Charity, blesses him who gives as well as him, who receives.

Let Charity, Virtue, Honour and Mercy ever distinguish us as men and as freemasons, besides being the guide of all our actions. A life well regulated by such distinguishing characteristics will certainly enable us to lay up a crown of joy and rejoicing, which will endure, when time with us will be no more.

The author V.W.Bro. Hon'ble Chief Justice A.R.Lakshmanan Past Deputy Grand Registrar of Grand Lodge of India is a P.M of Lodge Veeraswami(No.200) and Lodge Justitia(No.82). He is an erudite Masonic Scholar and has delivered several speeches in Masonic Seminars. Despite his busy schedule as the Chief Justice, he has kindly found some time to forward this article based on the paper presented by him in the Masonic Seminar on " The Symbolism of the I degree". We are very thankful to the V.W.Brother for permitting us to post this article.--. R.W.Bro.Ratnaswami Moderator.


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