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Article # 278
Key Note Address at Yelagiri Masonic Retreat

Author: R.W.Bro.Arvind Prasad Chitra P.Dy.G.M.,R.W.R.G.M.S    Posted on: Sunday, November 23, 2014
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Lodge Sri Brahadeeswara (No.150)  conducted        a Masonic Retreat in Yelagiri and the same was inaugurated by our M.W.Grand Master, M.W.Bro.Vasudeve Masurekar O.S.M. Our R.W.Regional Grand Master, R.W.Bro.Arvind Prasad Chitra P.Dy.G.M, delivered the Key Note Address.

His address is posted below.

MASONIC RETREAT 

Yelagiri

Key Note Address

R.W.Bro.Arvind Prasad Chitra P.Dy.G.M.,R.W.R.G.M

In the days of the yore when life slowed down in the evenings with the setting sun… when brethren gathered around after their meetings to share the light, not of their television screens or smart phones, but with each other to reflect on topics of masonic interest, that is, when they indulged on topics of morality, virtue and philosophy…

…In the days before technology was harnessed by the better understanding of His laws - predating supermarkets, computer-aided designs, conference- and video-calls, corporate hospitals or families and friends dispersed across continents, men were more aware of their interdependence on each other and held Him in veneration.

The humdrum of life, both Professional and Masonic, gives little time for thought and reflection, something that a "Retreat" such as this, I am sure, will address very effectively.

For as the poet said:

WHAT is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare?—

No time to stand beneath the boughs,

And stare as long as sheep and cows:

No time to see, when woods we pass,

Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:

No time to see, in broad daylight,

Streams full of stars, like skies at night:

No time to turn at Beauty's glance,

And watch her feet, how they can dance:

No time to wait till her mouth can

Enrich that smile her eyes began?

A poor life this if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

W.H. Davies is the poet here that highlights the need to take a moment off from our fast paced life full of razzmatazz; to soak in, appreciate and internalize the daily happenings, for a better tomorrow!

A Retreat is defined as a place of privacy or safety; a refuge; a period of group withdrawal for prayer, meditation, study, or instruction under a director. How apt is this definition for what we are gathered here over the next two days?

Ø A period of refuge from the pressing cares of our daily life?

Ø A place of privacy from the intrusions of the calls of our temporal duty?

Ø A period of withdrawal to study, meditate and recharge the aquifers of our thinking and spiritual minds?

Ø To partake of what the several brethren will be serving up and spend time reflecting on it calmly?

Ø To enjoy this retreat where mind takes precedence over matter (and might I add spirituality over spirits!)?

Ø

… A Satsang is the sandhi of the word Sat meaning True and Sangh meaning company. What is this “true company”?

It is the company of truth, of scholars or gurus and of people who are talking about, understanding and assimilating truth. I trust that the quality time that we have now embarked to spend here will prove to be a Satsang; that it would enrich us as both teachers and as learners and that each of us will return to our regular lives, richer from the experience and proceedings of the next couple of days. Not only that, but it would also be a golden opportunity to enjoy oneself thoroughly during this process of learning and sharing, as opposed to a conventional seminar which tends to be more focused and intense, perhaps even dull and drab.

I congratulate the organizers of the event, in particular, RW Bro. Ratnaswamy, not only for successfully organizing this particular Retreat, but also for organizing this event regularly almost on an annual basis. Sir, you will definitely go down in Masonic history as the founder of this novel concept; I vividly recall your first Retreat at Kodaikanal in the year 2008 which I had thoroughly enjoyed. Your efforts have motivated and inspired the other Regions also to conduct their own Retreats on a regular basis.

Thank you Sir for your initiative and for the excellent arrangements that you have made to make our gathering here a memorable one.

This August gathering represents the collective and cumulative masonic knowledge of several hundreds of years - knowledge acquired through hard work, commitment and dedication in the daughter Lodges and the objective of

this Retreat should be the conversion of such knowledge to masonic wisdom and the dissemination of this wisdom to the Craft as a whole that it may benefit the other brethren and Lodges at large.

To draw a distinction between Knowledge and Wisdom, the former is gathered from learning and education while the latter is generated in effectively applying one's knowledge to day-to-day experiences. In a Lodge one is acquainted with facts, truths and principles through regular study and practice and one reflects on them and reviews all that has been learnt there with the objective of converting this information, this knowledge to wisdom and thereby make all the efforts spent in acquiring this knowledge more effective and worthwhile. As we are taught in our ritual, the present receives its wisdom from the experiences of the past and it is upon wisdom that Freemasonry builds each and every laudable enterprise.

Wisdom is a lifelong experience and for the individual, the process of acquiring it may happen in measured steps or in one giant leap; it may be slow and tedious for one, but drastic and interesting for another; no matter what or how, wisdom gained is immutable. The distinction being, one may gain knowledge over time or even lose it when things are forgotten but Wisdom is seldom lost once acquired. Wisdom however, may also be enhanced through knowledge; while knowledge is gained from the outside world, wisdom essentially comes from within and from the divine. In a lighter vein, Knowledge is knowing the tomato to be a fruit while Wisdom manifests in not dishing it out as a fruit salad!

Such seminars have, over the years, generated substantial masonic wisdom but unless that wisdom is unleashed upon the rest of the fraternity, it would serve little purpose. My earnest appeal to you all is to broadcast the information, let the common masons get the benefit of your wisdom; let them become better masons and better human beings through interactions with you; may the institution of Freemasonry be the better off through your efforts at disseminating masonic wisdom.

And yet, at most of these gatherings, papers are presented, debates organised, animated discussions facilitated and any number of varied endeavours attempted to improve the understanding of Freemasonry – all of which are commendable and very much required; but of what avail in keeping it amongst the four walls of the seminar? These deliberations and findings have to be spread to the regular Lodges so that they understand and in turn spread them to the brethren who could not be here today and for posterity. Only by such efforts at dissemination will such retreats become more popular and frequent, more wisdom generated and the cycle would continue, getting larger and wider with passing time.

Brethren, I have been asked to deliver the keynote address for this event, fortunately or otherwise, I have also been informed that there has been no set theme, and so I shall dwell briefly on a topic of great significance to all of us Freemasons today - Growth! Brethren, growth and retention of members have always been critical and crucial for Lodges to be healthy and vibrant. The ghost of poor retention continues to haunt us and takes the sheen off our getting new members to our fold. During the last three years we have lost almost half the number of brethren that we had added during the same period. As all of us are aware, the process of making a new candidate a full fledged Master Mason is a long and intense one with the several stages of proposing, screening, balloting, initiation, passing and finally, raising, taking upto two years, on an average. If, after walking through all these efforts, we find that the newly made mason has lost interest and leaves the Lodge, even if after some time, is it not a sheer waste of time, energy, money and effort?

A retreat such as this attracts the crème de la crème of the masons in the Region and the country. At such a meet there is no binding necessity that we indulge only in the research of the esotery and symbolism of freemasonry, to enhance our understanding and development of the finer precepts and teachings of our Order. On the contrary, most of these masons assembled here today are very senior members and also experts in the many nuances of Freemasonry. They could very well assist in Masonic administration in whatever role they are called upon to, be it to devise means to promote growth, develop programmes to aid retention, take up mentoring in a big way; work out strategies on bringing back members who have left the Lodge, plan roadmaps to strengthen weak Lodges and bring them into the mainstream—whatever the call beyond the regular and routine. The Southern Region needs such help; the Grand Lodge of India needs such assistance. Such platforms could contribute constructively to the development of Freemasonry in your Lodge, within your Area, in your Region and in our country.

I am aware that a single, simple discussion at this assembly of August freemasons cannot provide the panacea to resolve this complex issue; however, I think a thorough analysis of this problem at various fora such as this over a period of time, through various methods of approach and across different cross-sections of our fraternity, would generate enough valuable inputs which would go a long way to formulate an effective action plan to determine our way forward.

Brethren, the world has about 6 million freemasons and in our country we are about a twenty thousand in number. A man can expect to live to be about 80 years today. In our quest to strengthen our fraternity, we exhort our Lodges to bring more men into masonry. How do we do achieve that?

Here I would like to borrow from another facet of human endeavour which has led to tremendous success in all parts of the world, namely Management Science. Management Science, MS for short, has, over the years, generated several models for us to analyse and solve everyday problems such as those that confront Freemasons this day.

One such popular and proven management concept is the Product Life Cycle and an attempt to draw a parallel with Freemasonry with respect to this concept could lead us to a concept which we could here refer to as the Masonic life cycle; one which could generate significant leads to solutions for this vexing problem and we could in turn formulate strategies as to how best we can occupy and benefit a man for most of the 80 years of the life cycle that the Great Architect has blessed us.

Let me first briefly recall the salient features of this concept which recognizes the primordial fact that without an exception, all things that we see, feel, touch, experience, enjoy, grieve over, … whatever, each and everyone of them has a finite limit in time. Having said that, first referenced in the 1920s, the product life cycle applies biological knowledge to products. In nature, a seed is planted, it begins to sprout, becomes an adult then eventually withers away and dies.

The product life cycle classifies this life process into the four stages of

Ø Introduction (the seed)

Ø Growth (the sprout)

Ø Maturity (the tree); and

Ø Decline (its death) phases.

Each phase has its own unique mix of strategies and implications that are directed at resolving issues that are normally faced during that phase. Sometimes, there is also an incubation or a development stage, which precedes these four stages.

Practitioners of the life cycle concept believe that to market a product, all that is required is to know where that product is in the life cycle. Companies and their marketing professionals therefore keep a close tab on the life cycle of a product. In other words, when a company releases a new product, they do so knowing that the product will undergo a certain life cycle. As that life cycle nears its end, the company must decide the next steps: (a) retire the product altogether or (b) extend the life cycle of the product through a number of strategies.

The stage of Development is the period when the market is researched and a viable product chosen. The stage of Introduction is when the product is introduced in the market. The efforts at this stage of the life cycle are very intensive, and is highly risk-prone. Early efforts focus on promotion and recognition. Until customers come to know the product, they will not buy it. Costs in terms of money and resources are stretched. The next is the stage of Growth which relates to the period when the product catches the imagination of the consumer; consumers often influence other consumers to come in through word of mouth.

The stage of Maturity is when the product is established and the consumer is satisfied. This is the time when there is maximum return from relatively less inputs. However, towards the end of this phase the product comes to the phase of Saturation when competing products begin to contend for that same market slot. The Decline is the stage when the appetite of the consumer for the product falls either due to fatigue or due to competing products.

Over the next few minutes, I will attempt to apply these concepts to the Masonic Life Cycle – that is, the stages of Masonic life and progress in each of us. In a Masonic Life Cycle, it should be our endeavour to keep the development phase efficient, attempt to insulate the introduction stage from failures, make the growth phase exciting and extend it for as long as possible, keep the maturity phase long and meaningful and the decline phase at bay.

In this sense, the Introduction stage relates to a period when a man has achieved some degree of satisfaction in his basic life, his creature comforts are met reasonably and security needs satisfied; he then feels the initial pangs of social affiliation, esteem and even traces of self actualization, and starts researching the environment for an organization that helps fulfil these wants. This generally happens when a man is in his early thirties and most definitely by the time that he is forty. We need to position ourselves in terms of visibility and communication so that his research puts masonry as favorably as compared to competing opportunities – be it the Round Table, Jaycees, Rotary, Lions, or religious affiliation groups.

I believe that we need to make available information, data, assistance and contact points through cyberspace, printed matter and presentation materials that point out the merits of the fraternity and the advantages it can give potential members; it follows that such first points of contact have to be simple, clear and uncomplicated. Therefore we need a cadre of Masons who can act as effective communicators to conduct regular sessions which the profane can attend and get to understand ‘why Masonry?’. Image building, positioning and price sensitivity are key issues at this stage.

The stage of Introduction is when out of the universe of potentials, the candidate who is interested in becoming a mason is formally interviewed, balloted, initiated, passed, raised and extends until he comes onto the ladder or onto an administrative position. This is a phase where there is a lot of investment in terms of the time as well as the energy of the brethren of the Lodge. This is also the phase where the risk of a member dropping out is at its maximum. Without going into too much depth in to the Why and How of it, because of time constraint, Mentoring would play a key role during this stage and also for a time at the beginning of the next phase; that however, would be a totally different topic, too detailed to deal with as part of this presentation.

The Growth phase lasts from the time one gets onto the ladder till a few years after he has passed the Eastern chair. This is a phase when the Mason feels growth of Masonry in him. He gets promoted, learns the ritual and is rewarded with leadership of the Lodge. This is also the stage when most brethren bring in new members. Our ritual working competition is a good example of making the Growth phase engaging and exciting. The growth phase can be extended by telescoping the higher degrees into the Craft as one reaches the Maturity in Craft, he is still on the Growth phase in another degree and the energy sustains. This is a critical and crucial phase and every care should be taken to remove all unnecessary and illusory barriers to entry itself. There could also be a defined and early Growth phase during which the brother, through word of mouth, brings in other candidates, based upon his own pleasant experiences at the organisation.

The Maturity stage is the phase when the brethren, having crossed the rigours of the Eastern Chair, begin to savour and enjoy Masonry beyond their Lodge as well as contribute to the administration in the Lodge. They can often take up charity and relief work and choose other such useful pursuits. The Maturity phase can be extended by calibrated progression in the Regional and Grand Lodges, offering leadership opportunities in administration and charity. Getting masons into bonding into Masonry is the primary social call. As one gets older, health support programmes, retirement homes and easy paced masonic activity will extend the maturity phase.

Involving such brethren in Mentoring will also increase the satisfaction they get in the Maturity period. This is where we have to have strategies to extend this phase – involvement in the higher degrees, joining in the Masters’ Lodges and other such extension strategies would play a key role here.

The Decline phase is inevitable because health concerns set in; growing urbanization and increasing distances, other old age related issues and such other factors make it difficult for a mason to attend meetings regularly. The economic constraints emanating from a retired life may also contribute towards

hastening the decline phase of active masons; and so too, disharmony within the Lodge and neglect.

Brethren I have dwelt upon this concept this evening merely to encourage the use of modern management tools and techniques to analyse and resolve some of the issues facing us today; a thorough analysis using this concept would probably take up the time of several such seminars and retreats. I am confident that the application of proven, time tested concepts of management science will serve us well in approaching and resolving masonic issues successfully too.

In the practice of Masonry a lot of emphasis is given to word perfection and the ritual and a question that has always been raised is whether such pre-eminence given to the word and form of the ritual help at all in the process of making good men better. Basil Bernstein the respected English Sociologist, in his book “Class Codes and Controls” said “Forms of spoken language in the process of their learning initiate, generalize and reinforce special types of relationship with the environment and thus create for the individual particular forms of significance”.

From our experience we all know that to learn the words of the Ritual comes easy for few, with effort for some and never for others. However the appreciation of the inner meaning and nuances of each charge and usage comes over a period of time and slowly to everyone. Herein lies the necessity of maintaining word perfection of the ritual and not corrupt it for future generations by a translation or transliteration into something else, mistaken to be easier for the faltering individual, before we have fully appreciated the entire bouquet of meanings and myriad of mysteries contained therein. That would so very easily denude the beauty of the text and the joy of its inflection would be lost for ever; we must consciously avoid those mistakes for all times to come.

This is likely to be one of the challenges to be faced by Freemasonry of the future when we will be under pressure to shorten and abbreviate our ritual due to the pressures and pace of modern life and lifestyles. Therein lies our call to redeem ourselves credibly as the torchbearers of a powerful system of education to make humans men, and men, better men.

It is retreats like this that draw us out from our routine of rote and recitation to a gathering of true understanding, where we increase the circle of light and understanding within ourselves and be in a position to light up the understanding of others who are not here. It is retreats such as this which will improve and develop our knowledge of Freemasonry at a very relaxed pace.

I look forward to exciting sessions at this Retreat, to lively debates and animated discussions and to the emergence of some useful thoughts from our deliberations here for us to convert them into actionable road maps in our continued quest to promote, grow, sustain and multiply our hallowed institution to greater heights so we can leave a better planet to the future generations

 

 

The Author is the R.W.Regional Grand Master of Southern India. He is a Masonic Scholar and has presented many papers in Masonic Retreats and Seminars. His enlightening Key Note Address at Yelagiri Masonic Retreat is posted here.


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