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Article # 258
Freemasonry - My Perceptions

Author: M.W.Bro.Capt.Dr.B.Biswakumar O.S.M., I.P.G.M.    Posted on: Monday, August 12, 2013
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(Immediately after the Inauguration of the Sri Brahadeeswara Lodge Masonic Lectures by our M.W.Grand Master, M.W.Bro.Vasudev J. Masurekar O.S.M, our Immediate Past Grand Master, M.W.Bro. Dr. Capt. Balaram Biswakumar O.S.M. delivered the first Lecture on 12 th January 2013.The full text is posted here for the benefit of the brethren, who were unable to attend the Inaugural Function)

"The story of the Blind men and an elephant originated in Indian Subcontinent from where it has widely diffused. It has been used to illustrate a range of truths and fallacies. At various times it has provided insight into the relativism, opaqueness or inexpressible nature of truth, the behaviour of experts in fields where there is a deficit or in accessibility of information, the need for communication, and respect for different perspectives. In various versions of the tale,a group of blind men ( or men in the dark) touch an elephant to learn what it is like. Each one feels a different part,but only one part, such as the side or the tusk. They then compare notes and learn that they are in complete disagreement" so says the Wikipedia!

We all got initiated into Freemasonry, of our own free will and accord, most of us with no clue about what we were getting into, as I did too. It was, as I am very fond of saying, ' a leap into the unknown'. In our bizarre attire, we found ourselves in a position, least desirable for us, bewildering to many, funny to some, until we were taken to the North East corner, when someone asked us to donate for the cause of someone less fortunate than us. That charge hit you- I presume that it did hit most of you. At least it did hit me- that there can be a situation like that in real life for me too. There I realised the meaning of all the drama that had been enacted until then. My senses were awakened to this new call in my life, to be ready to be serviceable to my new-found circle of friends and then to the whole mankind. It opened my eyes to the fact that this life and all its comforts and conveniences , so enjoyable and tempting were but evanescent, and could disappear in a flash, leaving me poor and penniless as I was at that moment. Whatever else that happened the rest of that evening were of no great importance and I moved through those perambulations as a zombie! But, that single plea of the JD to part with what I had was enough to make me ponder that evening and through many other evenings of what this system was all about. It taught me the great lesson that one should rise above one's petty selfish wants to make oneself available to the service of mankind. It was this single part of the ceremony, which was performed to great effect by the son of the first Regional Grand Master of our Region, which opened my eyes to the basic tenet of the system and hooked me to it. I took to the Fraternity like fish to water and from then on, there was no stopping. Fortunately for me, I came under the tutelage of stalwarts of the yester years , who recognised the hunger in me to absorb more and more of the system and fed me with all their wisdom and experiences in my formative years in Masonry , which effect still runs in my veins. I realised that to understand the principles of this great Institution, one has to be proficient in the Rituals of the various Degrees. Every time I performed or heard a well- performed Ritual and meditated on it, sitting in the side lines, a different nuance dawned in my mind, a new meaning , more profound than the earlier one, flashed in my brain. I slowly started understanding the Philosophy that Freemasonry was a peculiar system.

Added to the startling revelation of the Charge in the North East was the warning given to me by the Senior Warden of that evening, another ardent Mason, that harmony of the Lodge was of utmost priority and that I should never, ever do anything to disgrace the badge with which I was adorned. Wearing it for the first time made me feel as though I had been rewarded for some great achievement in life! That pride was, of course, shattered to smithereens in the next few minutes in the North East!
I mention all this to impress on you the fact the Initiation Ceremony is of the utmost importance and should make an indelible impression on the Candidate's mind. In that evening is decided whether you effort in bringing a worthy person into our fold has been made successful or marred. Unlike in our times, nowadays, the Candidate is better informed about Freemasonry that , perhaps, he is not as surprised by the turn of events as you and I were in our days. Yet, the ceremony of Initiation does have a profound impact on the minds of most by the bewilderment that it induces and the peculiarity of the Language that our Rituals employ.

The tenacity with which we pursue our participation in the affairs of our Lodge and the bon homie that we generate and maintain over the years makes the Lodge a haven of peace. You look forward to the next meeting with a longing to be in the company of like- minded individuals who, otherwise would ever have remained at a distance from you in your lives.
But such is the fallibility of human judgment that we are sometimes led to bring in our midst persons who don't really belong there but have got in with ulterior motives, proving Oliver of yore right in being warned to be choosy in our membership. I have seen , in many Lodges, ruination caused by wrong selection of candidates and the influence wielded by some resulting in havoc through discord , disharmony, jealousy, distrust, hatred and frank animosity. All these do happen whenever the Leadership falters. To my mind, the basic cause for these ills is jealousy which should not find a place in a Freemason's dictionary at all.

Having said that, it has often made me wonder, how we as Brothers, are prepared to condone the shortcomings of one another and endeavour to live in Unity. I feel that this is something that becomes a part of the fabric of a good Lodge, that even in the years of a poor Mastership, this single quality of mutual admiration and tolerance , keeps the unity of the Lodge intact and make it move forward despite the lapses in administration and Leadership. Such is the basic tenet of our system that Brotherly Love prevails and dominates and preserves the health of the Lodge. It is this single characteristic of Freemasons that makes them stand apart in a world full of piques and quarrels. It is this fine, shiny feature that separates the wheat from the chaff. Freemasonry serves to remove the veil of ignorance and illusion of the material world. It helps overcome the grief of personal calamity and misfortune, ever reassuring its Son to look for brighter prospects , leaving one's lot in the hands of the GAOTU. It teaches the sublime truth that, to the virtuous and righteous man immortality is assured if he steadfastly pursues his path of attaining that supreme knowledge, the knowledge of oneself, under Divine guidance.

There is a musical Kriti composed by Muthuswamy Dikshitar, one of the celebrated 'Holy Trinity" of Music in the Carnatic tradition, sung in praise of The Lord Subrahmanya, in which there is a word 'Savitha'which talks of the Sun . Here the word does not mean the Sun to be the destroyer of darkness but emphasises Sun's creative nature. The hymn alludes this nature of the Sun to the power of The Lord, of not just vanquishing darkness of the mind, but also to fill the void created thereby with Wisdom.
In a similar context, in his introduction to the famous 'Bhaja Govindam'' of Adi Sankara, set to the lilting music of that Melody Queen, Bharat Ratna, M.S.Subbulakshmi, Rajaji (I refer to that W.Bro. C.Rajagopalachari , of Lodge Salem, the First Governor- General of Independent India and a master Statesman and seer ) talks of the evolution and attainment of Wisdom. He says " Knowledge , when it becomes fully mature is Bhakti. If it does not get transformed into Bhakti such knowledge is useless tinsel." Such Bhakti is devotion to the Supreme Being- devotion of not a cursory nature but absolute, utter surrender or ' Saranagathi'-.
From one of the first questions put to the candidate by the Worshipful Master to the very closing of the Lodge there is always a reference to the GAOTU in our Rituals driving home the fact of our dependence on Him, the Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent God,who was from all beginning, is now, and will remain for ever, one and the same, in all perfection and original in his essence, all creatures being dependent on His mighty will and power. Such a reference to the Supreme Being in all our Rituals tends to transform the mind of the ardent,devoted Mason and helps him rise from the base levels of contemplation and attachment to things material and earthly, and transcend to levels of Spirituality . This metamorphosis brings about a calmness and serenity which can only be felt and not described . This is the fragrance of Freemasonry, that like a jasmine flower in full bloom , can only be appreciated by smelling and savouring the environment , and cannot be described in any language, however poetic. This is the devotion that is conveyed by our Rituals though veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.

We have heard the Master informing the Candidate that Freemasonry is founded on the purest principles of Piety and Virtue and that it possesses invaluable Privileges. Over the years we keep wondering what those extraordinary privileges are. By being members of this Fraternity we do not gain any special rights in the society nor any preference in matters of admission to any assembly or gathering or position of power. To my mind the special privilege that it affords to its members is the Right to Visitation and the phenomenal privilege of being a Brother to innumerable good-natured human beings . The practice of the Piety mentioned leads to a higher plane of Spirituality. The practice of Virtue ensures one to be law-abiding, patriotic and fills the heart with a sense of fulfilment that any amount of wealth or material possessions cannot give. After all how many people can talk of a sense of satisfaction and contentment in life except for what one derives from an ardent pursuit of the Tenets of the Craft?

That brings us back to the parable that I mentioned at the beginning of this talk. Most of us are like the blind men in the story, each figuring out the object in hand in his own way, none being right because they are all blind. Although our eyes were opened to perceive the Masonic Light on the night of our Initiation, yet we choose to remain ignorant and blind to the ideals and tenets of the system despite several years of membership. To some it is an opportunity to climb the social ladder.To some it is an opportunity for conviviality and fellowship rather than anything else! To some it is a curiosity which dies down after the initial charm and they simply fade away. Despite these aberrations a core group of Masons remain ardent followers of the system and these form the backbone of the Fraternity. However, a vast majority remain mute spectators and do not participate in any activity of the Lodge, while continuing to pay their subscription regularly, and even receiving the Long Term Service Jewels in due course of time! Understanding the basic philosophy of Freemasonry is attempted by a very few only, keeping in mind to make a daily advancement in Masonic Knowledge,as they were exhorted to do on the night of their Initiation. Their absorption and understanding of the tenets and of the veiled significance of the various Rituals and of the moral and philosophical content therein is appreciated by very few. So the parable mentioned earlier bears a remarkable similarity to the attitude and behaviour of our populace in the Fraternity.

Freemasonry makes an individual richer! Yes, it may sound very funny to some but it is true. It is not the richness that is measurable in terms of Bullion or metallic worth such as Gold or Platinum nor in terms of Currencies or Bills of Trade. It confers upon its proponents the richness of human understanding, empathy, compassion, concern for the less-fortunate, an abiding yearning to do good to the vast humanity, to the teeming Millions of poor and underprivileged fellow-citizens, that Charitable Disposition becomes a second skin to the true Freemason. To him charity is not something to be for name or fame but is only a means of expressing the moisture in his eyes and heart to provide succour and relief to the needy. To the involved Freemason, the place that he has carved in the bosom of thousands of his Fellowmen and a niche in their hearts is the richness "sans pareil". He is a true Freemason who truly practises in his daily life that dictum " to reign sovereign in the hearts and affections of men is far more gratifying to a generous and benevolent mind than to rule over their lives and fortunes" He, thus, becomes a true leader and is rich beyond imagination, having earned for himself an immeasurable quantity of the Love of his Brethren.
I shall quote a beautiful passage forwarded to me recently,written by Joseph Fort Newton,in 'The Builders' in March,1916.

"When is a man a Mason? When he can look out over the rivers, the hills, and the far horizon with a profound sense of his own littleness in the vast scheme of things, and yet have faith, hope, and courage. When he knows that down in his heart every man is as noble, as vile, as divine, as diabolic, and as lonely as himself, and seeks to know, to forgive, and to love his fellowmen. When he knows how to sympathize with men in their sorrows, even in their sins--knowing that each man fights a hard and lonely battle against many odds. When he has learned how to make friends and to keep them, and above all how to keep friends with himself. When he loves flowers, can hunt the birds without a gun, and feels the thrill of an old forgotten joy when he hears the laugh of a little child. When he can be happy and high-minded amid the meaner drudgeries of life. When star-crowned trees, and the glint of sunlight on flowing waters, subdue him like the thought of one much loved and long dead. When no voice of distress reaches his ears in vain, and no hand seeks his aid without response. When he finds good in every faith that helps any man to lay hold of higher things, and to see majestic meanings in life, whatever the name of that faith may be. When he can look into a wayside puddle and see something besides mud, and into the face of the most forlorn mortal and see something beyond sin. When he knows how to pray, how to love, how to hope. When he has kept faith with himself, with his fellow man, with his God; in his hand a sword for evil, in his heart a bit of a song-- glad to live, but not afraid to die ! In such a man, whether he be rich or poor, scholarly or unlearned, famous or obscure, Masonry has wrought her sweet ministry!"

In conclusion, my Brethren, the message at the very core of the Masonic principles is ' To be happy and to communicate Happiness'. To be happy is not possible all the time in this strife-torn, problem-filled mundane existence . So one has to learn to overcome one's grief and distress. This lesson in life is best learnt from Masonry. To attain that equipoise, that equanimity, that sobriety, that calmness of mind in times of trials and tribulations one has to steep oneself , immerse oneself in the philosophy of Masonry which teaches us to rise above one's grief and surrender oneself at the feet of the Supreme Being in the certain knowledge that He never lets down one who kneels before Him with all his heart and implores His aid. This is the ' Surrender ' or 'Saranagathi' that we mentioned earlier. When that kind of surrender takes place there is nothing but calmness and peace of mind, a superior kind of 'Happiness'. This is the happiness that each one of us has to strive for and communicate to each other with benignity and unconditional Brotherly Love.

Author is the Immediate Past Grand Master of Grand Lodge of India. He is an Erudite Masonic Scholar. He delivered the first Lecture immediately after the Inuguration of the Lodge Brahadeeswara Lodge Masonic Lectures by our M.W.Grand Master. The Lodge has planned to arrange for Masonic Lectures by Masonic Scholars at regular intervals. The first Lecture was well received and is being greatly appreciated.

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