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Article # 255
The Role of Freemasonry in Universal Peace Keeping

Author: M.W.Bro.Justice Devinder Gupta O.S..    Posted on: Sunday, December 2, 2012
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The Role of Freemasonry in Universal Peace Keeping

 by

M. W. Bro. Justice Devinder Gupta, OSM,

Immediate Past Grand Master, Grand Lodge of India

for presentation in the

XII World Conference of Grand Lodge at Chennai, 22nd  and 23rd November, 2012

Dear Grand Masters and Brethren,

I am grateful to the Organizers of the 12th World Conference of Grand Lodges, for this opportunity afforded to me for sharing my thoughts to this august gathering on an important and highly relevant subject “The Role of Freemasonry in Universal Peace Keeping.”

It is somewhat of a coincidence that I am getting this opportunity to speak on the Role of Freemasonry in Universal Peace Keeping, because I had an occasion to speak on a similar subject namely “Promoting Peace and Brotherhood throughout the World by means of Masonic Teachings” at the X World Conference held at Libreville, Gabon, in May 2009, in my then capacity as the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of India. Some of you, who might have been present there on that occasion, may also be present here today. Since the topic for discussion in this Conference is more or less the same, those who were present then may bear with me if I repeat myself on this occasion.

Brethren, we often tend to define Peace, in a narrow sense, as absence of War. I feel that this is a negative definition. We must not forget that war does not occur by itself. It is mostly caused by people, who are misguided by a variety of political, religious or economic reasons, which are rooted in misinformation, misunderstanding, intolerance, hatred and avarice and a number of other such negative feelings.

A more positive definition of Peace would therefore be, not absence of war, but presence of universal harmony, by overcoming hatred and dissention and promoting a feeling of mutual respect and tolerance amongst the people, within and outside each country and developing a spirit of mutual cooperation, understanding and goodwill. It is these positive qualities that Freemasonry encourages, both individually and collectively as Freemasons, irrespective of differences of caste, creed, religion, or nationality, transcending geographical and other artificial barriers. It is the only institution in the world that at all time in every way promotes tolerance and meeting on the level.  We could be the leaders in seeking racial harmony, religious ecumenism, cooperation among men and women, civility between people who believe in different political philosophies, and friendliness among those who choose to live their lives differently from others.

All of us present here will therefore, I am sure readily agree that Freemasonry can certainly play an important role and we could be better than the United Nations, Amnesty International, and interfaith organizations, all together, because we could be the prime organization supporting tolerance for all, everywhere, in all circumstances.  This would be a unique role for Freemasonry in ensuring Peace and Harmony in the world.  Freemasonry is not a “mass medium”. It works with and through the individual member. We do not have group initiations; each member is taken alone and taught the lessons of a good life. Each new member is prepared as an individual; he is the one important person who is initiated, then passed to the higher grades as he acquires proficiency in the tasks at hand. Certain members spend time with him alone so that he may learn the lessons exemplified by the degrees.  We consider the individual member the most important thing in the world.  Bear in mind that in every community we have plural persons; you cannot have a happy community unless the individuals who form that community are individually happy.

However, having said that, the topic posed here for discussion appears to be more far reaching than ‘promoting peace’ throughout the world by means of Masonic teachings, as discussed in Gabon. Frankly, I am somewhat at a loss to see how exactly Freemasonry can play a role in “Universal Peace Keeping”. Peacekeeping as I understand involves a proactive approach to meet the threat of war. Not that I do not believe that Masonic teachings cannot help in promoting peace in the world, as will in fact be explained by me shortly, but let me clarify what I imply by my statement.

As most of you may no doubt be aware the United Nations has taken upon itself the task of “Peacekeeping” for helping countries torn by conflict by creating conditions for lasting peace, with the help of civilian, police and military personnel, drawn from various member countries. In addition to maintaining peace and security, peacekeepers are increasingly charged with assisting in political processes; reforming judicial systems; training law enforcement and police forces; disarming and reintegrating former combatants; supporting the return of internally displaced persons and refugees. Let us also remember that almost all counties in the World are members of the UN, but as far as I could ascertain Freemasonry does not exist in all the countries and against a total population of about seven billion we have only about 6 million Freemasons in the world. We have therefore to examine the potential role of Freemasonry in relation to World peace in this context.

In my address at the X World Conference in Gabon, I had quoted one of the well-known and a very revered Freemason of India, who later renounced the world and became a monk. At the risk of repetition I cannot do better than to quote him once again, in this august gathering, because it was not only very relevant to what we discussed then, but also to what we are discussing today.  Addressing a World Conference of Religions in Chicago more than 120 years ago, Swami Vivekananda, as he was known, took the audience by storm by addressing them as “Brothers and Sisters of America” and said: (I quote)

“Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now?” (Unquote)

I am sure you will all agree that there cannot be a more correct picture of what the world is facing today more than 120 years later. I had also drawn attention then to a study made on behalf of the United Nations, which had revealed that among the most destructive forces on the Earth today, is the hatred between followers of different faith traditions (religion). Of almost 50 armed conflicts identified at that time, vast majority were said to have been motivated in significant part, by hatred of the followers of one faith, for the followers of another faith. The arms industry, the largest industry in the world, larger even than illegal drugs and oil is said to be supported to a significant extent by the hatred of the followers of one faith, for the followers of another faith. Examples of the destructiveness of inter faith hatred are found daily in all major newspapers and the media and almost all faiths appear to be involved, not only in the spread of intolerance amongst them but also, in acts of hatred and violence, in one or more of the ethnic and religious wars and skirmishes of different magnitudes, currently in progress. In fact innocent men women and children have become pawns in many parts of the world in the checkerboard of hatred and violence created by such futile wars and conflicts.

People often believe that Peace in the world depends on the effectiveness of the United Nations Organization and the  diplomatic maneuverings, between leaders belonging to powerful countries and so called power groups, who shuttle all over the world, hold series of bilateral and multilateral talks and meetings and sign joint documents and declarations. No doubt these play an important role and have a place of their own in the system of things. However, experience of the past has shown that these have not resulted in lasting peace. It is therefore in this background that we have to look to more fundamental and universally acceptable principles like those of Freemasonry based on its principle of universal brotherhood, for promoting lasting peace in the world.

If we expect Freemasonry to play an important role in promoting Peace as opposed to “Peace Keeping” throughout the World, it is time we had a closer look at where we stand as an Organization capable of influencing Society. In our organization we change the inner self and make a man a Mason.  We instruct him,  teach him,  educate him and then he goes forth into the world living his Freemasonry, as one who has learnt to subdue his passions, who is kind, honest, a gentle man, who is known for his individual helping hand. For him now Masonry is a way of life!  And when the public experiences the heart and soul of this good Brother they may comment, “What makes him such a good individual?”  And the answer obviously will come back, “He is a Freemason.” There is no need for a market strategy, such Brothers are walking advertising.  This is how Freemasonry grew and filled its Lodges in yesteryears and in the process attracted the leaders of society to its ranks.

If we are lights to the world as transformed men rather than community activists, trying to change the world before we have made that change inside ourselves, then we will spread peace and harmony and brotherly love and affection across this planet. If Masonry is a way of life and we live it and practice it in the world around us then we are a light to the world, for Masons practicing Masonry are peaceful, law-abiding, gentle, kind, honest, noble men who only desire to live in peace and harmony with the world.  The greatness which awaits Masonry in this era is not one of exploration and discovery but one as a peacemaker and unifier.  Freemasonry can do what no other government or alliance or the UN can do.  It can unite men of every, race, creed, culture and religion.  It can do this but only if its members have internalized Masonic virtue to such an extent that they are a light unto the world.

We are all aware that every Masonic lodge is a temple of peace. In it, men of different religions and stations in life meet together, and on its altars, the Sacred Volumes of all faiths are placed.  The spirit of harmony and cooperation prevails.  The Masonic teachings of equality and fraternity are the only tie that can bind the human family together, and create a world order based on brotherly love and peace.”

In this context I had posed a question to the delegates from several Grand Lodges present at the X World Conference at Gabon. I would like to pose the same question at this the 12th World Conference of Grand Lodges, spread over a span of last about 20 years, which we are attending. Freemasons of eminence and wide experience from all over the world have discussed in these conferences, a wide variety of subjects, not only of topical interest to Freemasonry in general, but also the role Freemasons and Freemasonry can and should play for the betterment of Society in particular.

The blunt question I have is: ‘whether the outcome of these conferences have made an impact on society at large, and if not, why not?’ This is not to blame, or criticizes the concept of World Conference, which we know is serving a useful purpose to us as Freemasons to understand each other. These conferences have however attracted hardly any attention outside Freemasonry and the world at large therefore continues to be as ignorant of Freemasonry and its principles as ever before. All of us are aware as individual Grand Lodges, as to how little is known about Freemasonry to the general public, in our respective countries and that what little is known is also based on misinformation and misunderstanding and has led to a widely held view that it is a secret society. We have therefore not only to strenuously take every possible step to demystify Freemasonry, but also promote and popularize the Masonic Principles and Tenets by speaking openly about them and shed the cloak of secrecy, which has been shrouding our organization and stifling its growth.

I may mention here in all humility, that when I took over as Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of India in October 2006, I envisaged a Vision and Mission for Freemasonry in India, which I called ‘Masonic Liberalization’, without however compromising in any way our basic principles. Though I cannot claim that this has brought about any dramatic change, I hope my successor Grand Master who is present here will also agree with me that there is a little more awareness now in India, about What Freemasonry is and What Freemasons stand for, than before. Many of our Charity projects have attracted media attention, so much so the younger generation, seem to be showing a keen interest in joining Freemasonry and help in promoting the principles and tenets of Freemasonry, about which they have learnt from various internet sources, our website and the media. The relevance of this to the subject matter of this presentation is to emphasize that each Grand Lodge will have to take steps to make Freemasonry vibrant in their own jurisdiction, before we can expect Freemasonry to be a world-wide movement capable of promoting World Peace.

It is therefore high time that Freemasonry came out of its shell. In fact our own rituals provide that by practicing outside the Lodge, those duties we are taught in it and by our own behaviour, we must prove to the world the happy and beneficial effect of our ancient Institution, so that when one is said to be a member of it, the world may know that a Freemason is one, to whom the burdened heart may pour forth its sorrow and the distressed may prefer their suit and whose hand is guided by justice and whose heart is expanded by benevolence.

My other question therefore is how will the world come to know, unless we take the initiative to let the public know about us?  Adverse publicity and lack of awareness about us have been our greatest setback.  Public opinion is like a garden- ignore it and it is full of weeds, poisonous pests and becomes an overgrown entanglement full of thorns and snares, tend it- water it with deeds and fertilize it with communication, the garden of public opinion becomes a pleasant place for any organization. In whatever way we may define public opinion, unless that opinion is in harmony with or at least tolerant of the organization, that organization will not make an impact on society and is bound gradually to dwindle out of existence.

All of us present here are well aware of the excellent principles and tenets of Freemasonry and its basic philosophy of the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man as also the well-known motto of  Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. It is therefore unnecessary for me to extol its virtues to this gathering. Suffice it for us to note that Freemasonry has stood the test of time through several viscititudes in different parts of the world at different times, and bounced back, because, its main object has always been the practical application of the sound principles of universal morality and brotherhood and encouraging the adoption of these principles as a way of life.

Coming back to the importance of these World Conferences of Grand Lodges, to make an impact on the outside world, it is important for us to recognize that this is the age of the media. There is therefore need for generating a healthy public interest for publicizing an event like the World Conference world-wide for focusing attention, through a series of curtain raiser events in each jurisdiction and inviting media attention, so that instead of a total black out of our activities or worse still, their misinformed adverse publicity, they may be able to project a correct picture of What Freemasonry is and What Freemasons stand for, based on informed inputs from Freemasons of world standing and not on melodramatic fiction, which of late have become popular, but contain only half truths about Freemasonry.

It is in this context that I had suggested in my presentation at the IX World Conference in Washington, the need for coming out with a ‘Declaration on What Freemasonry is and What Freemasons stand for’ as an outcome of the deliberations at the end of that Conference. I am not sure how many of you who are present here are aware that the Declaration of “What Freemasonry is and What Freemasons stand for” was adopted unanimously at the X World Conference at Gabon. I do not claim that it is perfect, but I still feel that it was a good starting point to demystify Freemasonry, but the popularity of Freemasonry and awareness about the noble principles for which it stands doesn’t seem to have had an impact on the world at large, as not much follow action appears to have been taken thereafter to publicise it. It is therefore time for each Grand Lodge jurisdiction, individually and all Grand Lodges collectively at conferences like these, to introspect what more needs to be done to make Freemasonry’s teachings sufficiently well known, before we can expect it to influence world leadership for ensuring universal peace and make such a declaration serve as an Universal Masonic Manifesto.

It is often said that good fences make good neighbours. However Freemasonry teaches us a totally different concept of behaviour with our neighbours. It teaches us to act with our neighbour on the square, to render him every kind office which justice or mercy may require, to relieve his necessities and soothe his afflictions and by doing unto him as in similar circumstances as we would wish he should do to us. Freemasonry offers the world an opportunity for social contacts and the development of friendships. The feeling of “belonging” is a vital part of every man’s being. No one can be an island unto himself. To be happy, we must belong to a family, a community, or a large number of associations.

Freemasonry is the best group for this purpose because of its glorious past, the great men who have been Masons, the lessons it teaches to its members, and the opportunity it affords to the service of Mankind.  This constant bringing together of its members is worthwhile activity that helps to promote this feeling of “belonging”.

All that the world has to recognize is that these excellent principles of Freemasonry are equally applicable between nations and countries, so that if each country consciously adopts these principles, with reference to its neighgbour, then it would certainly be possible to achieve global peace. The problem before the world today is of learning to live together. Racial antagonism, religious intolerance, widely differing political philosophies, prevailing wide ranging economic conditions with its off shoot of trade barriers, manipulations and exploitation and being involved in a blame game for global concerns on environmental degradation etc. are working at cross purposes creating tension, misunderstanding and threatening conflicts. This has been made all the more acute by the fact that the huge world of ancient times with its vast separating distances has vanished and in its place we have a little world shriveled to the size of a neighbourhood.

Therefore drawn together as we are, we must learn to live together, respecting each other, using the teachings of Freemasonry, in a spirit of brotherhood, united in the belief of the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of Man. Freemasons are speculative builders. No longer do Freemasons build structures that are visible, but we build a symbolic structure of character, that house not built with hands, eternal in the heavens I wish to emphasize that we as Freemasons build neither walls nor fences. On the other hand we believe in building bridges of brotherhood. I find that Webster’s dictionary defines Bridges as –“any structure - raised to afford convenient passage over, railroad, ravine or any other obstacle”. Just as the Working Tools of our degrees have a symbolic meaning for us, building bridges too has great symbolic significance.

As the dictionary meaning indicates, building a bridge is intended to overcome an obstacle and establish a means of physical communication. So a bridge in Freemasonry,  may be said to symbolically mean the  establishing of not only non-physical communication of the principles and philosophy of Freemasonry, overcoming the barriers of ignorance, prejudice, and misconception, but also as a means of mutual understanding between nations and countries. Our task is not to separate people, on the basis of artificial walls of race, creed, religion, caste or colour, but to bring people together, by demolishing such walls and building bridges of understanding and brotherhood between them. Bridges connect. Walls divide. We connect people by brotherhood. We construct passageways of friendship between persons who may otherwise have nothing common between them. We build tolerance as a conveyance to bring people with widely differing faiths together.

Thus building bridges is at the heart of Freemasonry. It is said that no man is an island unto himself. People, like islands require bridges- a way to cross over and communicate. If we stay on one side the rest stand on the other. We wait and they wait and every one waits; we don’t start, they don’t start and stagnation or an uneasy stalemate, tension and misunderstanding is the result.  We have to ensure that such gaps are properly and soundly bridged. We must learn to see beyond the four walls of our Lodges. Better Communication results in better understanding. Communication as we all know is a two - way phenomenon. So is a bridge, which provides a means of communication from both sides. Forums like this where Grand Lodges of various countries are meeting, do serve as inter-regional bridges of communication between Freemasons from different countries and backgrounds.

I therefore consider these as the first step towards building Bridges of Brotherhood and for promoting peace in the world. The second obvious step is the follow up of the recommendations and suggestions emerging from such forums. We cannot consider our task as finished, as soon as we leave here. If we really business, an action plan for follow up has to be drawn up first and thereafter pursued.

Let us imagine for a moment what it would be like to live in a utopian world of Freemasonry! The ranks of Freemasonry will be filled with quality men of ability and leadership, peace and harmony will rein the world. We would all then be united in the grand design of being happy and communicating happiness. This is the challenge before us. Let us all face it boldly and squarely and do our bit individually and collectively as Freemasons. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[ The learned Author  hardly needs any introduction. He is a Past Grand Master of Grand  Lodge  of  India and is prolific Masonic writer. This paper was prepared by our Past Grand Master M.W.Bro.Justice Devinder  Gupta for presentation in the  XII World Conference of Grand Lodges held at Chennai, on 22  nd  and 23 rd November, 2012. He was not permitted to present the paper  quoting  a  Rule  of  Procedure, that  Grand  Masters or their representatives alone  can present papers. The wisdom of that Rule is questionable, so also its observance at all times totally oblivious of  the peculiar circumstances present at the relevant time. In the instant Conference, there  were fewer papers and some absentees resulted in collapse of  the sessions, leaving nearly 4 hours gap up to the fellowship and dinner. Several  brethren staying in the metropolis ( more than 50 K.Ms away)  returned foregoing the dinners. Under those circumstances, the present paper could have been received The author had been regularly presenting papers in the previous Conferences and at the relevant time was the Immediate Past Grand Master and  most of  his papers had  been well received in the past. A little more careful planning  could  have avoided collapses referred to above and the brethren, who had travelled far and wide several thousands of  K.Ms, would not have been forced to waste time for such long hours without  any Conference labour . The present paper has been prepared with considerable care and effort and we believe that it should be shared with all brethren. Hence, for the benefit of all of them, the  paper is posted  here]


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