Enlightenment

Enlightenment

On a recent post, some people were critical of the term “enlightenment” and its application toward the human race. Now, this term was being used in conjunction with the “Age of Enlightenment,” something altogether different from our modern American use of the term. Students of History understand, know, or at least have heard of the Western European “Age of Enlightenment,” so called because of the explosion of knowledge, science, and access to those tools that brought forward many of our modern inventions and way of thinking.

According to Websters, enlightenment is explained thus:

inˈlītnmənt/enˈlītnmənt/

noun

1. the action of enlightening or the state of being enlightened. “Robbie looked to me for enlightenment”; synonyms: insight, understanding, awareness, education, learning, knowledge.

2. a European intellectual movement of the late 17th and 18th centuries emphasizing reason and individualism rather than tradition. It was heavily influenced by 17th-century philosophers such as Descartes, Locke, and Newton, and its prominent exponents include Kant, Goethe, Voltaire, Rousseau, and Adam Smith.

Someone very wise once told me that Freemasons fall into two general “modes,” if you will, with regards to their approach to Freemasonry: intellectual and devotional. This is a wide spectrum; and, we all have elements of both within our personalities while some people will fall more towards one side than the other. It’s difficult for someone who leans more toward an intellectual bent to understand a devotional way of being, and vise versa. An intellectually-bent person might look at Freemasonry as a tool to intellectual discovery, a place for concrete fraternal relationships, and a more inward view of life. Analysis. A devotional-bent person may want to explore the esoteric and occult side of Freemasonry, feel more reverential toward their deity through their Masonic work, and perhaps be more inclined toward personal, service-oriented relationships. Feeling. Each person has to some degree these modes of operation. Yet, as a Freemason, they are perhaps brought visible.

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Why does this matter when discussing enlightenment? It seems that each of these people view enlightenment in very different ways. Is knowledge derived from a pure scientific approach? Analysis? Is knowledge derived from a pure empirical approach? Feeling? The interesting thing is the judgement that goes along with how each other views the opposite approach. There’s an intellectual snide comment here or there when the devotional Freemason approaches enlightenment with an emotional response. There’s harsh condemnation of science when the intellectual produces a theory based on their analytical approach and disregards the “human” element.  What is interesting is how each immediately judges the other’s approach to enlightenment, as if there is only one way. Even the non-religious discussion can evoke a dogmatic high-horse.

Is it so difficult to imagine that you can have both approaches, and both are valid?There’s also this “great quest” toward enlightenment, as if it’s something that can be achieved through one method, one voice, or one frame of mind. Some think that we can achieve enlightenment in a lifetime, like a Buddha or Christ. Some think that scientists could never achieve enlightenment, no matter how intelligent, because they have no “devotion.” Some think that only scientists could achieve enlightenment because they have “purer” processes. Some think that humans can achieve enlightenment one being at a time, and still others insist that it must be an all or nothing endeavor. I think enlightenment is far greater than the individual, and enlightenment isn’t something sparkly, pretty, easy, or fun. There’s no flash of sudden godhood nor individual ascension into the realms of all-knowing, having-no-use-of-bodies beings that will provide us some unknown fascinating wisdom. I don’t think that we get out of this corporeal manifestation anytime soon.

The idea of enlightenment, as in The Age of Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th C., is really about letting go of the shackles of tradition. It’s about embracing change and using knowledge to propel us, individuals and humanity, forward. Enlightenment isn’t everyone achieving godhood. It’s about all of us realizing that we are already in control, and have the tools inside of us to solve those problems. Deepak Chopra said, “I was an atheist until I realized that god was inside of me.” When asked about his religious views, Einstein replied:

“Your question is the most difficult in the world. It is not a question I can answer simply with yes or no. I am not an Atheist. I do not know if I can define myself as a Pantheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. May I not reply with a parable? The human mind, no matter how highly trained, cannot grasp the universe. We are in the position of a little child, entering a huge library whose walls are covered to the ceiling with books in many different tongues. The child knows that someone must have written those books. It does not know who or how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child notes a definite plan in the arrangement of the books, a mysterious order, which it does not comprehend, but only dimly suspects. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of the human mind, even the greatest and most cultured, toward God. We see a universe marvelously arranged, obeying certain laws, but we understand the laws only dimly. Our limited minds cannot grasp the mysterious force that sways the constellations. I am fascinated by Spinoza’s Pantheism. I admire even more his contributions to modern thought. Spinoza is the greatest of modern philosophers, because he is the first philosopher who deals with the soul and the body as one, not as two separate things.”

Is finding “God” enlightenment? Born just prior to the Age of Enlightenment, Baruch aristotleSpinoza laid the groundwork for radical thought (in 17th C Europe) regarding the existence and definition of God. Much like Mozart as the pinnacle of Baroque music, Spinoza was the pinnacle of Latin academic writings in rationalist philosophy. According to Spinoza, God is Nature, and Nature is God.

The fascinating thing about Spinoza is that he worked, day to day, as a lens grinder. His passion was philosophy, ethics, religion, and the question of the divine. He did not content himself with or define himself as his day-to-day paying job. He did not accept honors or rewards based on his writings and thought. He died young, at the age of 44, but seems to have accomplished a great deal for the human race in that short of a time. One can read Ethics and Spinoza’s other works at Project Gutenberg.

One would like to think this is true enlightened human being. Spinoza was an everyday man who engaged in deep thought, the search for Truth, and produced that Truth in service to Humanity. He propelled the next generation, and several after, to continue to explore and discover knowledge. He was an individual who kept the greater species in mind, literally. He was not concerned with some idea of heavenly admittance, some monetary gain, or some brilliance that only he could attain. This is someone who is on the path to enlightenment and bringing others along with him by virtue of sharing what he thought. It’s not purely the result of his work that causes him to be enlightened; it is the fact that he is bringing the entire species up to a level of awareness not previously found. He’s enlightened because of his humility and selflessness. Perfecting the human to perfect humanity.

The Age of Enlightenment did that as well; it brought different cultures to new heights of thought, awareness, and knowledge. As a species, it was a leap forward. Each leap of knowledge is usually obvious but not always grand. One cannot leap from the valley floor to the top of a mountain in one go. It also is visible in hindsight, rarely in the present. Enlightenment seems, to me, to be gently incremental. There are no five easy steps to enlightenment, no matter what anyone says. There is no golden knowledge at the end of all the degrees. Enlightenment is work. Hard work by many, many people. And…we can only bring humanity up if we work toward its good, bringing it all up with the talents and gifts that we have, be it a lens grinder or a philosopher.

lightbulb

And why not both? What is stopping us from pushing away from the TVs and video games and doing what Spinoza did? Nothing, as far as I can tell, except our own laziness. We are tempted by many things which bring down our humanity, or at the very least, stagnate and stall our progress. We need to be self-discovering, exploring ourselves, our environment, nature, our own natures, the universe, looking at things we know and don’t know, with both our natures – intellectual and devotional. Science and nature. Analytical and feeling. We might not find “enlightenment” at the bottom of a test tube but we may find wonder, delight, and wisdom on the journey. The results, of the destination and the journey, are the seeds of Enlightenment.

Annie Besant: The Pearl of the Indian Renaissance

Annie Besant: The Pearl of the Indian Renaissance

She loved India with a fervor and devotion all her own. Our country’s philosophy, our history or legends, our spiritual heritage, our achievements in the past, our sorrows in the present, our aspirations for the future were part and parcel of Mrs Annie Besant’s own life.” – Sri Prakasa in Indian Political Thought

A consideration of Annie Besant’s role in the cultural and spiritual renaissance of India – in a period from the dusk of the 19th century to the dawn of the 20th – must be appropriately examined in the context of the larger renaissance movement which began with the Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1772 – 1833), founder of the Brahmo Sabha movement, in the early years of the 19th century. Affectionately deemed the “Herald of a New Age,” Ram Mohan was, no doubt, largely responsible for laying the groundwork forRaja Ram Roy the revitalization of the Indian spirit which was to follow.

Upon his death, the Brahmo Sabha became moribund, and out of its eclipse emerged the movement that would become the Brahmo Samaj, considered from an historical perspective as a significant contribution to the making of modern India, and among the most influential religious movements to spring forth from Hindu soil. The purpose of this latter was, in short, the total renaissance of Hindu culture; this to be accomplished by the rejection of scripture as an authoritative source of spiritual truth; the denial of the infallibility of Avatars; a denunciation of polytheism and idol-worship; a breaking down of caste systems; and freedom of thought as regards the doctrines of Karma and Rebirth.

Also significant to the Hindu reformation movement was the establishment of the Arya Samaj in 1875. This samaj was opposed, in certain of its objectives, to those of the Brahmo Samaj; and yet its influence is significant to the later work of Annie Besant towards the revival of the Hindu religion and cultural identity. The Arya Samaj was founded by the sannyasi, Dayananda Saraswati (1824 – 1883), who advocated the infallible authority of the Vedas and denounced the idolatry and ritualistic worship so prevalent in Hindu society at that time. The significance of this movement in paving the way for the reclamation of the Hindu identity led Annie Besant to state that, “It was Dayanand Saraswati who first proclaimed that India was for the Indians.

This movement is noteworthy in theosophical history for the fact of the 1878 alliance between the Arya Samaj and the Theosophical Society, this emerging out of Colonel Olcott’s (1832 – 1907) extensive correspondence with the President of the Bombay Branch of the former. Whilst short-lived, this alliance is evidence of the importance of Hindu reformation in the thought of the theosophical Founders; a perspective which would, in time, spur the activism of Annie Besant towards the accomplishment of a Hindu revival.

That period of the Indian renaissance which was to follow, was undeniably due, to some significant extent, to the selfless and unabating toil on the part of Annie Besant for the liberation of the spirit of the Indian nation from the chains of ignorance and spiritual recession; to kindle in the darkness of the chasm of despondency a bright flame of hope Annie_Besant_at_deskand brotherhood to illuminate the way for troubled souls whose path is shrouded by the shadows of oppression.

Much of the academic study which has been published on the life and work of Annie Besant has tended to emphasize her political and activist endeavors; whilst these are, no doubt, highly significant aspects of her spectacular and spirited life, equally worthy of acknowledgement are her great efforts towards the liberation of the spiritual essence of India in the revitalization of Hindu culture and the development of education.

Such was the impact of her multifarious work that distinguished persons of vastly varied backgrounds and temperament were unanimous in their praise and admiration for her industrious travail, her prodigious commitment, her unparalleled oratorical potency, her generosity towards the underprivileged, and her fairness in dealing with associates and adversaries alike.  

Annie Besant’s life was a necessarily public one; indeed, she considered herself a humble servant and missionary of the Masters in the guiding of humanity along the evolutionary path. Her role was the carry out the outer work of the Inner Government of the World by the means of selfless service and in the practical promulgation of the ideals of Truth, Unity, Altruism, and Brotherhood. As she wrote at the close of her Autobiography:

I am but the servant of the Great Brotherhood, and those on whose heads, but for a moment, the touch of the Master has rested in blessing, can never again look upon the world save through eyes made luminous with the radiance of the Eternal Peace.” 

In many ways, her early years – prior to her involvement with the Theosophical Society – may be considered, from a historical standpoint, as a “training ground” for the work that was to follow. The rare qualities which would be necessarily endowed in the individual H.P. Blavatskywho was to follow in the noble footsteps of H.P. Blavatsky, were suitably imbued in Annie Besant from those days of her youth; both by the blessings of congenital inherence, further due to the endeavors and trials of earlier life.

Thus, did she possess all those qualities of bodily vitality, a brightness and intensity of intellect, an unequalled power of oratorical ability, moral integrity and courage, and, more significant than all the aforementioned, a sensitive and indomitable solicitude for the weak, the needy, the destitute, the subjugated, the oppressed, and the suffering. For over a decade prior to her momentous meeting with H. P. Blavatsky in 1889, she had been preparing the way for the theosophical work which would constitute the greater portion of her life; undergoing, as had been the case in Britain, the arduous training in public service (spurred, in significant part, by the ruin of her own private life), and in fearless defense for the rights of workers and woman alike.

After her move to India, she worked tirelessly for the religious, social, educational, and political reform which seemed to her and the vast population alike, to be imperative to the development of a new India, freed from the shackles of colonization. Central to her impact on the educational advancement and revitalization of the Indian nation was the founding of the Banaras Hindu University. This was initially intended to be Banaras Hindu Universitya theosophical college, however later took shape along the lines of Hindu spirituality, as an institution dedicated the ideals of unity, rationality, and harmony between differing sects and subdivisions then existent in the Hindu community.

In line with her support of Indian self-rule, Annie Besant advocated for placing Indian education in the hands of Indians, and sought to inject a spirit of patriotism into the developing educational outlook of the nation. In the establishment of a Hindu university, she hoped to reunite education with the essence of religion, and further to bring it into affinity with the emerging fields of Western science and technology. Like Ram Mohan Roy, Annie Besant advocated for social reforms in Indian culture and spoke highly of the advantages of Western education in the elevation of the Indian people.

However, unlike the earlier reformer, she also supported the revival of traditional Hindu education, endorsing a full-rounded system of instruction which integrated the two spheres of thought. She emphasized that whilst Western education would be an enriching complement to traditional teachings, India must be cautious not to succumb to the pressuring grasp of Westernization, and that the Hindu people must, rather, return to the glory and greatness of their own Oriental past and culture for inspiration and encouragement.

This conception of a Hindu university followed in the wake of the establishment of a number of such religious institutions, challenging the heretofore strictly Western and secular education offered by the existing universities of that period. Among these was were the various colleges and schools which had been established by the Arya Samaj in the late nineteenth century, and the traditional gurukuls – consisting of shishya, or students, in a residential setting with a guru residing nearby – which epitomized theAligarh Muslim University Samaj’s ideals of reformed Hindu culture.

There was also the Khalsa College in Amritsar, founded in 1892 by the leaders of the Singh Sabha movement, which would become a highly significant educational institution for adherents of Sikhism, and which aimed to revive Sikh religion by the means of formal religious instruction. The Muslim community was also actively attempting to establish a university, with a proposal to transition the Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College into the Aligarh Muslim University. This proposal was, however, initially met with considerable opposition from the secular government at that time, which was not inclined towards acceptance of what they perceived to be faith-based and sectarian educational endeavors – whether Muslim or Hindu. The transformation would not be finalized until 1920, when the Aligarh Muslim University Act was enacted by the imperial legislation.

All these endeavors – Annie Besant’s Central Hindu College, the Arya Samaj colleges and schools, the Sikh Khalsa College, and the Aligarh Muslim University – could be rightly considered to be a part of that same movement of the Indian people towards an education which represented their cultural and traditional ideals and heritage. Annie Besant’s contribution to this educational movement corresponded with the general spirit of change and the rediscovery of identity which the nation was undergoing – spurred by the voices of the children of India, she channeled all the resources at her disposal towards the accomplishment of this high ideal.

At the time of her idea for the founding of a Hindu university, she was in contact with one Madan Mohan Malviya (1861 – 1946), an Indian educationalist and politician, renowned for his role in the Indian independence movement. Both fostered the idea of establishing a specifically Hindu university, and Annie Besant had already previously established her Central Hindu College in Varanasi in the year 1898, with plans for itsMadan Malviya expansion. A shortage of funds towards this end led Besant to join hands with Malviya and Kameshwar Singh (1860 – 1929), the Maharaja of Darbhanga, who were jointly responsible for financing much of the endeavor.

The latter two had originally formulated the idea of founding a university at a meeting in 1904, shortly after which a prospectus was published and circulated prominent educationalists and representatives from all corners of the Indian nation. They were met with overwhelming support for the scheme, gaining approval from the Congress of Hindu Religion under the presidentship of Jagadguru Sri Sankaracharya. This led to the final drafting of the prospectus, which was released to the public and press in 1906 to be met with instant approval and support.

It was around this time that Annie Besant was also laying the foundations for the potential establishment of a university in Varanasi under the proposed name of “The University of India.” In April of 1911, she met with Malviya to discuss their visions for such an educational enterprise, and decided to join hands in the founding of a common Hindu University in Varanasi. This shared vision was brought into actuality later that year, with a revised prospectus outlining the need for the university and its objectives being issued to the general public.

A condition set forward by the government necessitated that the Central Hindu College be absorbed by the Hindu University; Annie Besant, Dr. Bhagavan Das (1869 – 1958), and the fellow Trustees of the former agreed to its incorporation as the nucleus of the latter, and thus in November of 1915, the Central Hindu College was relinquished to the Hindu George ArundaleUniversity Society, who were responsible for the campaign for the university’s establishment. Other theosophists from around the world traveled to India to assist with this, among them George Arundale (1878 – 1945) and Francesca Arundale (1847 – 1924).

The seeds having been sown, the university was formally established in Varanasi in the year 1916. It is today the largest residential university in Asia, with over 35,000 students. The success of the endeavor, and its continuing and significant influence and impact on the educational development of the Indian nation, places the founding of the Banaras Hindu University among the forefront of Annie Besant’s contributions to Indian society. Her role in its formation, too often overshadowed by the contributions of Madan Mohan Malviya and the other founders, was a decidedly central and vital one, the idea for which emerged out of her passionate service towards the betterment and rejuvenation of India’s education system. Indeed, in the perspective of Annie Besant, it is education which lays at the bedrock of a harmonious and just society; the lack of which logically results in conditions of injustice, poverty, oppression, and inequality.

Her fervent advocation of educational reform led her to publish several pamphlets on the subject; among these were Education as a National Duty (Banaras, 1903), The Education of Indian Girls (Banaras, 1903), Principles of Education (Madras, 1915), Education for the New Era (London, 1919), Theosophical Education Report (Madras, 1917), and the Kamala Lectures: Indian Ideals in Education & Philosophy, Religion and ArtAnnie Besant in Madras (Calcutta, 1925). Further, she wrote a variety of books and pamphlets on the topics of sociology, physics, physiology, biology, and the status of women in society.

In it clear that Annie Besant’s philosophy of education was rooted firmly in the principles of Theosophy. Indeed, the ideals of unity and universal brotherhood run like a constant thread interwoven throughout the vast variety of her life’s activities and work, permeating every aspect of the endeavors she brought into fruition, both during her time in India and elsewhere around the world. She envisioned an all-rounded education for Indian children, wherein the elements of literary, scientific, artistic, and technical branches of study would be taught. Her aim was to provide children with the skills they would need to earn an honest living, by which the conditions of poverty and destitution may be gradually assuaged.

She advocated the development of individual faculties; this being the idea that children should receive an individualised education best suited to his or her particular background, needs, and objectives. The ideal was that in receiving such an all-rounded, individualised education, the child would thus be equipped with the capacities necessary to becoming a healthy and useful citizen in his or her community. As such, the objects of theosophical education as outlined by Annie Besant were to train the body, emotions, and the mind towards the expression and love of all that is beautiful, compassionate, just, and inspiring. She emphasised the importance of developing the child’s ability to sympathise with the happiness and suffering of others, and in so doing to foster a spirit of universal brotherhood and kinship with all of life. Further, she stressed the disciplining of the child’s mind in the discernment of right thinking, right judgment, and right action.

As regards the ethics advocated by Annie Besant and instilled as ideals in the formation of the Banaras Hindu University, she promoted, among other things, the pledge of boys and girls to delay early marriage. It is possible, as suggested by historical researcher Gail Reekie, that she was influenced in this regard by Thomas Robert Malthus (1766 – 1834), Thomas Robert Malthusbelieving birth control methods within marriage to be the answer to the problem of over-population. However, it is likely that she discarded this perspective on birth control upon deepening her involvement in the Theosophical Society – birth control being against the philosophy set forward by Madame Blavatsky’s Master K. H.

In accordance with Annie Besant’s ethical perspectives on early marriage, the Central Hindu College was not open to married pupils. She advocated the Hindu ideal of Brahmacharya, or celibacy, insisting that such was necessary to the intellectual, physical, and emotional growth of students in their adolescent years. Further, religion and social work were considered as joint pillars of a proper education, and thus were such organisations as the “Sons and Daughters of India” and the “Scouts and Guards of Honour” formed, with the intention of training youths for selfless and practical social service.

It was her promotion of these ideals which culminated in the founding of the Banaras Hindu University, and further, in the formation of various theosophical and theosophically-inspired schools, among these the Vasanta College for Women in Rajghat (founded in 1913), the Besant Theosophical College in Andhra Pradesh (founded in 1915), the National High School in Basavanagudi (founded in 1917), the Annie Besant School in Allahabad (founded in 1926), and the Besant Memorial School in Chennai (founded in 1934). [20] In recognition of her efforts for the development of Indian education, the Banaras Hindu University granted her the Degree of Doctor of Letters in 1921.

The educational philosophy set forth by Annie Besant was rooted in a balance of secular and spiritual instruction. The Banaras Hindu University may be considered, in many ways, to be the epitome of her educational idealism. It represented all the principles and ideals of the theosophical conception of education, and yet far from being a fringe orIndian Boys Scouts Association alternate institute of learning on the wayside of society, succeeded in establishing itself as one of the most prestigious and renowned of India’s learning establishments.

Also significant to Annie Besant’s contributions to Indian culture and modern national history was the establishment of the Indian Boy Scouts Association, based out of Madras, in 1916. This emerged out of the aforementioned emphasis set forth by Annie Besant on the necessity of an all-rounded education – on intellectual, emotional, and physical levels alike. Organised along the lines of the international Scout Law, these Indian troops also incorporated aspects of their cultural background into their national expression of the movement, wearing Indian turbans and singing Indian songs at their meetings and events.

The Indian Boys Scouts Association was preceded by various efforts towards the founding of a Scouting movement in India, the first of these emerging out of the Bishop Cotton Boy’s School in Bangalore in 1909. Annie Besant’s involvement began in 1913, when a group of educationalists and representatives opened Scouting to Indian natives; it had previously been open only to British and foreign Scouts. Assisting her in this endeavor was fellow theosophist George Arundale, alongside Justice Vivian Bose (1891 – 1983), Madan Mohan Malaviya (1861 – 1946), Hridayanath Kunzru (1887 – 1978), and Girija Shankar Bajpai (1891 – 1954).

In 1916, Annie Besant sent a request to the founder of the international Boy Scouts movement, Lord Robert Baden-Powell (1857 – 1941), to formally recognize the Indian troops as a branch of the international movement. The request, however, was denied – on account of Baden-Powell deeming that Indians were unfit to be Scouts. This came as a surprise to Annie Besant, who was immediately up in arms, interpreting Baden-Powell’s declination as an affront on Indian race and the assumption of racial superiority on the part of the British.

Lord Baden-Powell experienced a change in perspective upon his visit to India in 1921, when a perusal of Annie Besant’s now 20,000 members and the incontestable success ofBadge of the Silver Wolf the movement led him to recognize not only her Association, but further all the Scout organisations in the country, as part of the international Boy Scouts movement.  As a result of her efforts, she was made the Honorary Scout Commissioner for India, and in 1932 Lord Baden-Powell conferred upon her the highest Scout distinction: the Badge of the Silver Wolf.

Her assiduous and dedicated work to the Indian cause resulted in her election to the presidency of the Indian National Congress in 1917. This was significant for a variety of reasons; among these for the fact of her being the first woman to ever assume such a position. B. Palammal writes:

In 1917, seeing the services and sacrifices of Annie Besant, the Congress elected her as the president of the 32nd session of the Indian National Congress at Calcutta. Being the first woman president of the Congress, She enhanced the prestige of Indian womanhood. Her presidential address was widely applauded as the charter of national liberty. But Annie Besant already had contacts with the Congress in the year 1914 when she participated in the 29th congress held at Madras during 28 to 30 December.

She was the first lady to occupy a post on the platform of India’s National Assembly. As the president of the Indian National Congress, she got an opportunity in planning out a system of national education in India. It was a graded scheme suiting each type of unit to be educated. Regional universities were established with research facilities in the indigenous knowledge of ancient literature, science, art and crafts, village education was to be developed country wide.

Equally significant to arriving at an understanding of her character and work, was Annie Besant’s influence from, and on, Hindu spirituality and religion; an influence which would permeate many aspects of her societal, cultural, educational, and political work both in India and elsewhere. It was, in many ways, this religious, philosophical, and intellectual aspect of her work which laid the foundations for such later initiatives as the Central Hindu College and Banaras Hindu University; these serving as the practicalAll India Home Rule League Movement manifestations of her Hindu-inspired spiritual ideals.

Her work towards reform in the areas of Indian education, Hindu social customs and traditions, the place of Indian women in the new India, her ardent support of Indian self-rule and the Swadeshi movement, her attempts at alleviating the suffering of the depressed classes, and the development of the Scout Movement in India may all be considered as being rooted in a spiritual foundation. For Annie Besant, it was spirituality which formed the core of all altruistic service; this latter being the keynote of the theosophic life.

It is important, also, to remember that Annie Besant was largely responsible not only for the rekindling of Hindu spirituality within the continent of India, but further for influencing the awakening of interest in Hindu religion, thought, and culture in other corners of the world, at a time when the sons and daughters of India herself were becoming strangers to the essence of their own culture and thought. It was with the object of the reawakening of the Indian man and woman to the profundity and spiritual quintessence of their own theosophic teachings that she undertook the work of spurring the Indian renaissance from an ideal into actualization; only once this was achieved, in her mind, could India become the nucleus of a global shift in thought, in which materialism would give way to the revival of mysticism through the consolidation and uplifting of ancient Hindu ideals.

Her intensive study of Sanskrit and Hindu religious texts culminated in her translation of the Bhagavad Gita into simple, comprehensible English, alongside which she also published a variety of short booklets of Aryan legends and tales for children with the objective of the instilling spiritual ideals and principles at an early age. Also published Annie Besantwere a number of booklets and pamphlets for general English-speaking readers. It was largely these efforts of Annie Besant, alongside those of Swami Vivekananda, which served to introduce the multifarious gems of India’s treasure chest of wisdom to the world of the West.

The influence of Annie Besant’s role in the cultural and spiritual renaissance of India is a continuing one; indeed, she was at the very forefront of the changing tides, the depths from which India would arise renewed and reborn, its people awakened to the dawning of a better day, illuminated by the radiant rays of hope. Her life was one of service and dedication to the ideal of Truth; she was, in every sense, a freethinker; a radical of her time; a world leader equipped with the steady sword of resolute sincerity and the infrangible shield of principle.

To the afflicted sons and daughters of India, she was a beacon of light amid the howling winds of oppression, a devoted Steward of the Flame of Truth. Into the bosom of India did she cast her warming light, to impart the breath of life unto the lifeless, and to instill the seed of hope in the broken hearts of the hopeless. Now passed beyond these finite realms, still yet in the depths of the spirit of India may be felt the sublime presence of Annie Besant – the Pearl of the Indian Renaissance.



~ By Luke Michael Ironside, from a paper published in the Friends of Theosophical Archives Newsletter in July, 2017 

 

Being Blackballed – Part 2

Being Blackballed – Part 2

This is a continuation of a blog published in April 2018, and located here. In that post, we discussed the history and responsibility of balloting. Here, we’ll continue with the idea of being blackballed and the repercussions of such an event.

There are diverse attitudes to being blackballed. Some rebel to the idea that any one or any group can “shun” or “refuse” them what they seek. The idea of being blackballed is considered archaic, as if there is anything that could stop someone in our modern age from achieving what they want to achieve. To be blackballed is a singularly terrible event that should never, ever happen. There’s the view that being blackballed is akin to a formal shunning or being ostracized, whence some of this history derives, and to be blackballed is a stain on your character. Another point of view is that there is a “gang” of people who may be against you, actively working to stop you from achieving your goals. How many times have we heard, “the election is rigged?”

In other words, being blackballed is rarely caused by the person being blackballed; it is a misperception of their character, deliberate malice to stop a rising star, or punishment for some sort of wrong doing. The person blackballed sees themselves as blameless as they didn’t do the actual casting of the ballot. That is, the reason for the blackballing or the loss is viewed through their very personal lens. Modern conventional wisdom holds that ostracism is usually meant to hurt or punish people rather than support the good of society. In modern times, it is viewed as bad for the morale of a group; in ancient times, the good of the society was paramount. In short, it’s fair to say that most modern people feel that being blackballed is a very bad thing.

Perhaps we can throw a wrench in this. Perhaps we can look at being blackballed as something positive. Stanford University recently did a news story on a recent study focused on being ostracized. Interestingly enough, the researchers found that the exclusion, or being ostracized, allowed individual groups to stop bullying, stop the exploitation of “good” people, and generally allowed the group to reform the one being excluded.

The study concluded that gossip and ostracism are part of human nature and that without them, we might not as easily reform the behavior of people who don’t play well with others. In fact, those who want to be part of the group but don’t play well with others might benefit from this blackballing and learn. Being “blackballed” might have some positive effects.

There is a frame of mind that rebels at the implications of this. Should everyone conform? Should everyone play nice with others to gain some of cooperative achievements? It smacks of Big Brother or a police state; stay in line, and no one gets hurt. Perhaps in the workplace, but what about in a fraternal organization? Perhaps it is the way we go about ostracism and as stated above, how we handle our personal view of the act of exclusion that makes the difference.

Many groups are exclusionary and require requirements for admission, and not all groups should be open to all people. However, we, and I include Freemasonry in this, rarely take the time to work with people who want desperately to be part of the group. We cling to the idea that they must improve or they can’t join, and they need to do it on their own. Why should I help someone with so negative an attitude or abhorrent behavior work to become part of my “in crowd?”

Because it is not about us. It is not about ostracism but about inclusion. If we are ever to work in perfecting humanity, wouldn’t we want to step forward and help people become better? Are we, who really want to improve the world, all talk and no action? I don’t think so. I once knew a woman Freemason who said “why do all the weirdos come to us?” She was whining that everyone in her group was “not normal.” The truth is, none of us is normal, and I think that most of us want to believe that people want to improve.

If that’s the case, why wouldn’t we help people really work hard to improve themselves to make the “grade” and become one of the leaders of the perfecting of humanity? Freemasonry is about bringing together, not tearing apart. Ordo ab Chao is inclusion, not exclusion.

I listened to a recent podcast on “Whence Came You” discussing “guarding the west gate.” It was heartening to hear that all organizations, including Freemasons, have challenges about admitting quality people. There is nothing to stop us from assisting those who might not yet be worthy to become worthy. 

I have seen many people who come to Freemasonry who have a true passion for the Craft, or what they know of it, and, for whatever reason, they might not meet our “qualifications.” If someone struggles with reading or writing, why wouldn’t we work with that person/applicant to bring them up to the level where they will feel comfortable and equitable in being a member? It might mean working with them on reading, or assigning them papers to write, or book reports. It might mean encouraging them to go to a college course or Toastmasters. Rather than getting to the point of blackballing or blind acceptance, we should care enough about the people who are joining us to make those efforts to help them be comfortable and share their talents.

This kind of work, though, isn’t comfortable. It takes a strong sense of leadership and communication to be the facilitator in these types of situations. The leader must know how and why they act, how to communicate well, and how to bring people to acceptance rather than denial. It takes Lodge leaders with clear direction and sense of purpose for the good of the Order, not their personal or even singular Lodge gain. It also takes a strong character of the applicant to listen to the criticism and make appropriate lifestyle changes to improve. These are the kinds of people we want to be Freemasons: those who love the craft and want to be true service workers in the name of humanity. If we can both, the facilitator and the mentee, let go of ego and stigma, there can be true growth.

What happens when we ignore this kind of calling? I was one participating in a ballot where the person was clearly not qualified for the group they were joining. They had self-esteem issues and had problems controlling their emotional responses. They were ill-prepared for what awaited them. Unfortunately, they were balloted on and approved unanimously. Unanimously. Nothing could have been more harmful for that person and for ourselves. I was left with a huge sense of guilt for throwing this person into a situation they were ill-equipped to deal with. I was left with a sense of letting down my institution, because I did not do my duty and attend to this person’s needs rather than ego. I figured, what did I know? Who was I to deny this person? In the end, it was my responsibility to care for them and for my group, letting go of my need to be “approved of” by the group or this person. I will never forget this lesson. I will now always stand up for the truth of what I see and feel, and will take that responsibility for helping my fellow man. I’ve learned that as part of the group; it is my duty.

Should it ever get to blackballing, I would hope that the person being blackballed would have the grace, virtue, courage, and zeal to listen to the criticism with an open mind and heart, and grow from that experience. I would hope they exhibit the kind of leadership that should grow into being an outstanding Freemason and contributor to humanity. I would hope that the leadership of said group would also see it as an opportunity to grow rather than to shun, to live up to their ideals, rather than work from their sense of ego, fear, or discrimination.

Blackballing should not be shunning; quite the opposite. Blackballing should be an opportunity for Freemasons, and others, to express their truth and to help improve the person being blackballed to become better than they are. If we take the stance that we do everything we can before the ballot is cast, and perhaps that ballot is the last wake up call, then it seems we have done our duty in working on ourselves and in perfecting humanity.

Being Blackballed – Part 1

Being Blackballed – Part 1

It seems that every English speaker is familiar with the term of “blackballing.” While some people associate it to the eight ball in pool or billiards, it really harkens back to Ancient Greece, and became an established part of the English language in 1770. It means the same thing today that it meant in 1770, or in Ancient Greece – to be rejected by adverse votes.

The function of “black balling” actually comes from the societies of Ancient Athens, where citizens were sometimes ostracized. Each year, during the Athenian assembly, the populace was asked if they wanted to perform an ostracism. If a particular city-state felt that a particular candidate for public office was effectually bad in the populace’s eyes (or, in some cases, might be bad), they would cast a secret ballot by writing the names of the person to be ostracized on a piece of pottery (ostraka). It’s speculated that some of the pottery shards were light in color and others dark. Names would be scratched into the shards on the black pieces and cast into an urn. After the balloting was counted, that person with the highest votes (6000 or more were needed) was ostracized for ten years. They could return after ten years with no loss of status, no loss of property, and no stigma. It was seen as a way to neutralize what might be an impending threat without any detriment to any party involved. Of course, the penalty for returning early, if not invited back, was death. Indeed, many were asked back in times of emergency or immediate threat.

Black pottery shards eventually became small balls of stone or wood, colored black and white, and urns became boxes made of wood. Many Freemasons would immediately recognize an early American (U.S.) ballot box as it is strikingly familiar to the ballot boxes used in Masonic Lodges today. The type of secret ballot used by Freemasons today originated in the mid-seventeenth century by not only governmental parties but gentlemen’s clubs, fraternities, and of course societies like Freemasonry. For significant choices facing the groups, such as admittance or expulsion, secret ballots are taken and then counted, the outcome such as rejection on admittance or approval of expulsion were enacted based on a specific count of black balls.

Hence, to be black balled is generally not good.

Balloting, or the original word, ballota comes from medieval Venice, where small balls were used in balloting by citizens (1540). At some point in history, these two terms coincided, ostracism and balloting, and today we have black-balled. Where voting is the raising of hands and out in the open, balloting is secret, hidden, and anonymous. While voting appears to be “light,” balloting implies a heavy judgement. One wonders, then, why we approve of anonymity when balloting? Why not take responsibility for so heavy a decision?

Perhaps it leaves the space for someone to be able to make that decision with a free mind and not be weighted down by the herd response of approval or disapproval. We seem to shun those who speak their minds and stand up for what is just and right. That may be a subject for another blog.

It does seem that one should put some care and thought into how they cast a ballot. We ask ourselves, when would I ever cast a black ball? What reasons could I give for supporting rejection of an applicant or expulsion from a group, rejection of an initiative or stalling someone’s progress in an organization? Who am I to judge? That seems to be a cop out. We are perfectly equipped to judge, as were are either the recipients of or the adherents to a particular group, government or organization. We passed. We were approved, for one reason or another. We are rational, thinking human beings and part of society – we are fully equipped to judge.

But do we judge well? “Justice to the applicant – we are taught to render justice to every man, not merely to Masons – requires that no black cube be cast for little reasons, small reasons, mean reasons,” wrote an anonymous, Ancient Free and Accepted Mason. This thought process should be taken by all humans, not just Freemasons, and in all situations, not just Lodge ballots. I’d say it should also not be for reasons of ego, personal gain, or to inflict punishment. We should be able to justify our ballots by reason, by well-considered examination of the facts, and a stoic assessment of what is better for humanity, the immediate humanity or the larger collective.

Most who cast ballots do not, also, attend to their own part in the process. We seem to cast ballots in a vacuum. Let others figure out the best candidate for the office, let some organization tell me what initiative is best for the way I think, or let others direct who should be included in my organization and who should not be. I trust them. Let them do the work. How infrequently do we actually read through the pros and cons of an initiative on a ballot, consistently – every election? What about reading through the minutes of our elected official’s meetings, or do a background check on an applicant, or better yet, get to know them? How often do we take our own personal lives out of the equation and figure out what would be better for humanity, not just better for our own little personal human?

If we don’t know the reasons for casting a ballot as we do, or cast it out of ignorance, how can we be entrusted with the welfare of humanity? Being a citizen, a legal inhabitant of a country which affords you its protection, requires a payment in return; that payment is to follow its rules and join in a common effort to create a positive, thriving society that creates safety for everyone. Citizenship is a very Western idea, again rooted in Ancient Greece and Rome, the concept is akin to a Freemasons Lodge. Each person who is a Freemason has a responsibility to the Lodge as she does to her own country: to participate in the creation of a positive thriving society of free-thinkers, educators, and promoters of humanity. It seems that the methods of a Freemason’s Lodge are akin to what we would like to see in our societies, our countries. Participation is key – in all aspects of our lives. This is a very practical application of Freemasonry: to learn how to participate fully, judge well, and learn how to improve the world around us. It starts with a Lodge. It can become so much more.


Part 2 will focus on why would we cast a black ball, and what does it mean to be black-balled.

A Well-Rounded Education

A Well-Rounded Education

An M.P.S. member posted recently about a new museum and organization in Amsterdam called “Embassy of the Free Mind.” It is a fascinating place, very much in synergy with the goals and aspirations of the Masonic Philosophical Society. There is a hunger in the world right now, a deep need to find meaning in what we as humans are participating in, whether you believe it’s a great divine experiment, a quirk of evolutionary fate, or some pre-planned game of Destiny Chess. The thought of the popularity of such an organization got thoughts flowing about the period of time we call “The Enlightenment” or roughly 1650 C.E. through much of the 1700s, across nearly every country or city-state in Europe. This period of time emphasized the intellect and reason, where it picked up the additional moniker of “The Age of Reason.” Gone were the shackles of tradition, superstition, and fear-mongering of the Church’s influence; in its place, the individual man was brought to the fore, and the abilities of his mind were flexed right out in the open.

maxresdefault-2The interesting thing about the Age of Enlightenment is that it was really heralded in by the 17th Century Philosophers Descartes, Locke, and Bacon. There was a scientific revolution underway at the same time, whereupon these forces converged into a new way of thinking – the individual path to higher knowledge. Poets, writers, and thinkers of all types descended on the middle of Europe, Paris in particular, to challenge traditional ways and mores, fight against the moral control and dogma they had listened to for nearly 1200 years, and create a new world. Indeed, the American and French Revolutions and the establishment of new governments are outcomes of this revolution of thought.

Sound familiar? The world is searching for our modern philosophers. A simple Google search for “need for philosophers,” one will find a hunger for philosophers in finance, manufacturing, public life, and the Pentagon. Yes, really. Interestingly enough, there is also a need for a public that wants to engage with said philosophers, at least according to an opinion piece at National Public Radio.

In the past 100 years, since the real height of the industrial revolution, we have begun to devalue the free thinkers and dilettantes. The world has lost many of its tinkerers and dabblers because they are frowned upon. If you were a philosopher and an engineer, you weren’t and aren’t taken seriously by either group. Specialization has become the source of what we value. This is evident in the small amount of liberal arts degrees being granted to college students who are serious about the humanities.

According to numbers from the Association of American Colleges and Universities, less than 10% of the undergraduate degrees awarded are in Humanities without majors. While 92% of college students must take some humanities courses, the amount of students who choose to delve into a general education is fairly low. The focus for more than a decade has been on STEM, or Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, with a high emphasis on women joining these disciplines. Today, approximately 2.5% of the college graduate population hold a Humanities degree. Yet, employers overwhelming state that the most important aspects they look for in college candidates is the ability think clearly, reason logically, and articulate their findings.

You can’t find that at the bottom of a test tube.

EDUCATION--1280x640I don’t find the STEM system to be out of line with what the United States and most countries in the world need. The human race is in need of scientists and mathematicians, even if we struggle to believe them. And, perhaps that is the point. Our college students, no, our populations, need balance. We don’t encourage, in general, a well rounded exploration of what intrigues and excites children if we are so focused on how they are going to feed themselves in the years to come. Parents and educators worry far more about these things and block much potential exploration in youth. While the parents of the 1950s were gender-biased in tailoring their children’s education, parents of the 1990s and 2000s have swing in an opposite direction. The pendulum swings one way and with the next generation, it will swing back again.

Partisanship, bias, and concrete paradigms stem from a lack of balanced education. Without the ability to debate and find logic, to think critically and clearly, we cut off the ability to learn and adapt from new experiences. This breeds intolerance, an inadequate workforce, and an inability to meet the needs of society. Think that’s a far jump? In a blistering article on the effects of a too-focused curriculum and testing, the National Education Association, agreed.

Today, more than a decade later, the law (No Child Left Behind)  is uniformly blamed for stripping curriculum opportunities, including art, music, physical education and more, and imposing a brutal testing regime that has forced educators to focus their time and energy on preparing for tests in a narrow range of subjects:  namely, English/language arts and math.  For students in low-income communities, the impact has been devastating.

The phenomenon isn’t restricted to the United States, either. Great Britain is also struggling to find its own education system remaining top-notch, for much if not all of the same reasons. One student explains his own resentment to the lack of quality education now being provided by the British school system, in the following take on the Minister of Education’s plans:

His obsession with grade inflation, abolition of modular exams and plan to phase out coursework, all form a smokescreen for his failure to address the real problems within the system: that too many exams and targets are turning students into robots who leave school with no real enthusiasm for a subject.

butterflyIt used to be that home education was looked down upon as being inadequate, low-quality, and incomplete. Yet, if we look into what goes into home-schooled systems and environments, we find a far-reaching curriculum, with specialization in special interests, creativity, and exploration. Children find a sense of wonder and a joy in what they learn because the entire world is open to them. While it is true that home-schooling has a lesser emphasis on socialization skills, these are not completely lacking. Yet, with the state of our current school systems, and the inherent dangers we are finding there, it certainly seems safer to educate at home.

Education is such an important part of our ability to reach as a species. We need to go back to the studies of Nature and Science to be able to grasp the concepts that go with not only math and engineering but also language and sociology, music, color, art, and dance. These things are important to ensure we don’t find ourselves out of whack with each other, and thereby create our own demise.

It’s interesting to note that out of the Age of Enlightenment, Freemasonry was revealed to all men, organized, and popularized. That is, it came out of the shadows. Is it a coincidence that they, too, were free thinkers, pushing the world to understand the value of the whole and not just the individual parts? Freemasons of that age explored new ways of thinking and propelled those philosophers, some of whom were also Freemasons, into the consciousness of other movers and shakers of their day. We may be on the brink of another “Age of Enlightenment,” although perhaps we cannot yet conceive of all its trappings. Perhaps that is what the consciousness of Freemasons today will help us discover.

When Did We Stop?

When Did We Stop?

It is easy for life to sweep us away on the current of self-importance. I don’t think we mean to; it just happens to be the way our culture works. Fast and busy and “me” centered. This way of life isn’t just an adult thing. We have shown our children how to do it. They, too, are pounded with the every day commitments we give them and allow. This way of living is like a fierce version of the Tango but at a pace it was never intended to be danced at.

This is my life as well; I made the same choice you did, to be a part of this me-speed machine.

Two events recently occurred that has made me slow my dance steps down and see those around me better: the launch of Falcon Heavy and a philosophical discussion on whether we should migrate to Mars.

The only word that I can give to the launching of Falcon Heavy is wonder. Watching the launch left my mouth open but with no words. There was something eerie when the sideFalcon Heavy boosters landed on Earth again. This shouldn’t be happening, I told myself. Side boosters don’t come back, they just don’t. Again, the wonderment had me re-watching several times over until the busy day I had, had dragged my eye lids closed.

Two weeks later the philosophical debate on whether humans should migrate to Mars coincidently dove-tailed with the SpaceX’s launch. The discussion was an interesting juxtaposition to my earlier experience of watching the Falcon Heavy launch. I entered the discussion, as I do monthly, with great enthusiasm about the topic. How could I not with this particular idea? We were going to talk about the possible expansion of our kind. To me, the feeling I had could be analogous to what people must have felt when travel to the New World seemed impossibly possible. The feeling was akin to infectious hope sprinkled with reservation. The New World, that is Mars, seems so alien, so inhospitable, could we ever truly make a life there?

It was after this debate that I have felt my mouth go dry with disappointment and my inner Tango stumble with the memory of a statement made earlier in the discussion, “What did schlepping to the Moon ever get us?” I shouldn’t judge I know… but I did. This question has forced me to understand the alternative purpose that Elon Musk had when he sent his Tesla roadster into space. He didn’t use his car solely as payload… he used it to get our attention.

I have to ask; I have to know. When did we stop looking up? When did we stop finding continual inspiration in the stars and unimaginable possibilities in worlds that seem saturns_shadowunreachable? I cannot help but to understand Elon Musk’s strategy. He needed to pull our eyes off the ground by wowing us with his fancy car whizzing around Earth’s orbit because a rocket that brings us one step literally closer to Mars, wasn’t and isn’t enough.

My hope has been temporarily dampened, but it still remains because it is possible to change the rhythm by which we live to include the stars. Space exploration isn’t about man schlepping through the cosmos; it is about us making a bigger place for ourselves in that inky black sky. And the possibility that we are closer than ever to doing just this gives oxygen to that small flicker of hope.

 

The Great Race

The Great Race

RACE – noun

Definition of race (Merriam-Webster)

  1. a breeding stock of animals
  2. a family, tribe, people, or nation belonging to the same stock
  3. a class or kind of people unified by shared interests, habits, or characteristics
  4. an actually or potentially interbreeding group within a species; also : a taxonomic category (such as a subspecies) representing such a group
  5. breed
  6. a category of humankind that shares certain distinctive physical traits
  7. obsolete : inherited temperament or disposition
  8. distinctive flavor, taste, or strength

The use of the word ‘race’ began about 1560, in Middle French, from the root word for “generation.” It comes from an older Italian word, razza, which, might be speculated, came from ratio, which originally meant idea or “conception of something.” The word does not have certain origin, but it certainly has certain meaning in our modern world.

Early American colonists struggled with race as much as we do today. With a radically different foundation of daily life, religion served as the basis for racial divide.

‘Race’ originally denoted a lineage, such as a noble family or a domesticated breed, and concerns over purity of blood persisted as 18th-century Europeans applied the term —which dodged the controversial issue of whether different human groups constituted “varieties” or “species” — to describe a roughly continental distribution of peoples. Drawing upon the frameworks of scripture, natural and moral philosophy, and natural history, scholars endlessly debated whether different races shared a common ancestry, whether traits were fixed or susceptible to environmentally produced change, and whether languages or the body provided the best means to trace descent. Racial theorization boomed in the U.S. early republic, as some citizens found dispossession and slavery incompatible with natural-rights ideals, while others reconciled any potential contradictions through assurances that “race” was rooted in nature.

Oxford Encyclopedia, The Idea of Race in Early America

While founding fathers could not get over this hurdle of the nature of “race,” the entire nation has trudged onward trying in several corners to face it, with very little success.

From Jim Crow laws stating “separate but equal” to the civil rights movement of the 60’s onward, people of all colors and backgrounds have struggled to be treated like human beings. Simply human beings. In the early 2000’s, racism, the idea of separation of peoples, is alive and well.

“What has changed since the collapse of Jim Crow has less to do with the basic structure of our society than with the language we use to justify it. In the era of colorblindness, it is no longer socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt. So we don’t. Rather than rely on race, we use our criminal justice system to label people of color “criminals” and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind.”

The New Jim Crow

While the U.S.A. might have had an African-American President, we were quickly followed by this:

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best. They’re not sending you, they’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bring crime. They’re rapists… And some, I assume, are good people.”  — President Donald Trump

Well, then, let’s bring the subject out for discussion into the light of day.

There are many people who would argue that they are not racist. I disagree. Everyone is racist to some point or another; whether it be national pride, cultural or heritage pride, seeing yourself as a separate from another human being in any way is racism. We all have, in our heads, the idea of “other,” whether it is gender, cultural, language, sexuality, skin color, or what have you. Human beings separate themselves in order to find security. Surely someone who is “not other” will protect and care for us, keep the tribe safe. We look for security in our chaotic world and in a sea of humanity, we cling to what we know.

Even Freemasonry has been subject to racism, and continues to be so. In 2009, the racism of some Georgia Masons was brought to light in Masonic and Civil courts. The rituals and foundations of Freemasonry are not racist; in fact, its precepts are strictly very non-discriminatory. Several Freemasonry orders admit people of all genders, races, creeds, and religions, including atheists. Yet, grand ideals and all, like any institution it too can be subject to human bias.

The question is, “what do you do with this sense of ‘other?'”Are we even aware that we have a sense of “other?” We all have preconceptions of traits, habits, or mores of certain peoples that are not of our own “tribe.” We have ideas and thoughts about other human beings from different places, different regions of the world. To say we don’t shows an ignorance of our own upbringing. My parents were not openly racist but my grandparents were – and they were active Freemasons. How could those traits have not been passed down to my parents? How could they not have been passed down to me, consciously or not? You don’t get all the good and none of the bad.

I would state this unequivocally: it’s our responsibility as decent human beings to treat everyone fairly, equitably, and justly, regardless of what is in our thoughts. Perhaps despite our thoughts.

It is the actions of people which determine their active racism. A middle-aged couple walk on the other side of the street to avoid a group of young African-American men walking towards them. A white man sitting on the bus who ignores an aged Hispanic woman who is standing and holding heavy grocery bags, yet offers his seat to a well-dressed white woman. People who blatantly ignore a group of Asian families waiting to get onto a train and push right past them.

We see these acts all the time, sometimes several moments in a day are filled with them. Maybe we do them. These could be the acts of people who are just horrible human beings, treating other human beings with contempt. They could be the acts of the completely ignorant. They could be racist acts. Only the human being committing them knows. Consciousness requires a lot of self-reflection. If the perpetrator isn’t clear about how they move through their day, they will continue to effect human beings with racist, demeaning, or fearful actions. Fear, the great motivator, is rooted in ignorance.

For those that think they are not racist, or that we don’t live in a racist society in most of the world, one would ask why these acts still happen? Racists and decent human beings come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. They come from all religions, all creeds, all countries. They are educated and uneducated; they are Presidents; they are businessmen, farmers, doctors, and Wal-Mart employees. We are surrounded by decent and indecent people. And yet, these acts still happen. Do decent people stand up and say something?

It seems like it might require the sound of voices to rise up when these acts of ignorance are being committed. It takes courage to overcome ignorance. It may be our own education that needs to be rounded out. It may be spending time with “another” to get a sense of what it’s like to walk a mile in their shoes. To say that one should be “colorblind” is ignorant and unnecessary. We should not be colorblind; we should be aware, conscious, and active in our support that all human beings are the same, regardless of any thing that took place before we met them, regardless of who their parents were, what gender they were born with or are now, and regardless in whom they place their trust, their destiny, or their faith. We need to stop being afraid. Tolerance is not homogeneity; acceptance does not mean giving up identity. There is nothing superior about acting so.

Only one sort of racism should be tolerated: the human kind. However, our cats may have something to say about that.

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Apprentice, Journeyman, and Master: The Medieval Guild

Apprentice, Journeyman, and Master: The Medieval Guild

I became fascinated with guilds when I moved to Germany. Being an avid reader of all medieval history I could get my hands on, I was well aware of the Hansa (slang for Hanseatic) League’s rise in the 1100s in northern Europe – mainly Germany. The word Hansa is Low German for “convoy” – thus, this league of towns and merchant houses was a consolidated group of merchants and businessmen who strove to create their own answer to feudal Europe. The members of the League had their own legal system, their own armies, and had direct allegiance to the Holy Roman Emperor. Landed Barons and Earls did not stand a chance.

The rise of these independent towns and merchants also gave rise to the guild system. Where the Hansa League was a merchant’s guild, craft guilds began in a like manner around the same time period. The craft guilds were a system to protect knowledge that heretofore had been handed down by father to son, or nephew, or random laborer. Prior to the rise of larger towns and cities, just after the Dark Ages, it was difficult to form a “convoy” of skilled craftsmen because there was no system or codification of work. As towns grew, and more independent towns grew, the need for a steady flow of crafts began. Thus, craft guilds provided the goods and merchants fed the need: the beginning of real capitalism.

Both types of guilds, Merchants and Craftsmen provided a variety of important functions, very similar: “They established a monopoly of trade in their locality or within guilds1a particular branch of industry or commerce; they set and maintained standards for the quality of goods and the integrity of trading practices in that industry; they worked to maintain stable prices for their goods and commodities; and they sought to control town or city governments in order to further the interests of the guild members and achieve their economic objectives.” (Encyclopedia Britannica) 

The craft guilds are of interest to Freemasons and those interested in Freemasonry because they have like terms. The use of the terms of Apprentice, Journeyman, and Master is well known, with slight variation, to Freemasons as well as to any member of a guild in the middle ages in Europe. These were the common terms to designate the proficiency of a laborer. Guilds in Medieval Europe employed the apprenticeship system of hierarchy, which has its origins in the Roman Empire and possibly Mesopotamia.  From young ages, boys (and in some cases women, depending on the profession) were brought in to learn the craft, ensuring that an adequate number of skilled craftsmen were able to supply the growing towns with goods and services of equal and competitive quality. Standardization and quality were the driving force behind a steady stream of apprentices bonded to masters, and journeymen sent out to learn their craft.

The Apprentice was one who “apprehends” or takes hold of learning. One might also say it is one who is taken hold of, as he is bound to a Master to learn his trade. The term Apprentice does come from the Latin root of “apprehend,” and it does indicate in the guilds4most basic terms “someone learning.” An Apprentice was one who learned for a specified amount of time, learning specific skills and techniques of both hand and mind. He was, however, not allowed to be an official member of the guild until he had satisfied the requirements set out by the guild and even more importantly, by his Master.

The word Journeyman has a more interesting etymology. A Journeyman is someone who does work for “another.” That is, he is an Apprentice who has been sent out into the world to work, generally for other Masters or shops. An original meaning of the word “journey” was “a day” and a Journeyman was someone who performed work for a day and then moved on, as it were. The Journeyman was no longer bonded to a single Master and could choose the work they wished to do. The Journeyman’s former Master, however, still guaranteed the Journeyman’s character and abilities. Shame on the Journeyman meant shame to the Master, and to the guild in which the Journeyman had become a member. Perfection in work and bearing meant the same perfection to the associated Master and Guild.

Master is an even more interesting term as used in the same time period (mid-16th Century) as these other two definitions. At this time, the term Master meant “one who controls or has authority.” It also meant “one who subjugates.” This means that a Master has perfected and honed his skills to the point of being competent in all areas of his craft, under all variety of conditions, with a variety of materials. A guild member might go their whole life being a Journeyman; Master’s were few and far between. A Master, then, is partially self-determined and partially a bestowed title. “A journeyman who could provide proof of his technical competence (the “masterpiece”) might rise in the guild to the status of a master, whereupon he could set up his own workshop and hire and train apprentices. The masters in any particular craft guild tended to be a select inner circleguilds3 who possessed not only technical competence but also proof of their wealth and social position.” (Encyclopedia Britannica) 

The interesting thing is that the main function of the guild was not to produce goods or fix techniques ‘per se’ – those were supporting roles to the main function of the guild. The guild existed to serve a singular purpose: to train Apprentices. Bringing in and bonding Apprentices ensured a continuity of quality workmanship, consistent goods being produced, and traditions being maintained. Thus, the role of the Guild was not to form rules, mores, regulations, and laws with respect to their crafts; their role was to introduce a system of art or craft to a new individual, to instill in them the idea of standards, quality, consistency, and perfection. Their goal was to expand their horizons and technical knowledge in a specific area so they might provide for their towns as well as their families. Guilds and guild members served the community as much as they served themselves.

St. John the Evangelist and Involution

St. John the Evangelist and Involution

There’s been much written about the patron saint of Freemasonry, Saint John the Baptist. His feast day, celebrated by Freemasons over the world, is in June – the time of greatest light in the northern hemisphere. This feast day, June 24, is typically the time of Summer Solstice celebrations. There is another patron saint of Freemasonry, Saint John the Evangelist, of which less is spoken or discussed. St. John the Evangelist has as his feast day December 27, roughly the time of Winter Solstice. There is an excellent paper on the Saints John in a popular Masonic site called Pietre-Stones. In it, the author discusses the possibilities of how the Saints John became the patrons of Freemasonry. In the end, he concludes that we really don’t know the actual reason that they are Freemason’s patrons.

One thing, though, that Freemasons are wonderful with is speculation. After all, it’s what we are – speculative Masons. So, let us speculate.

Freemasonry itself has a lot of analogies related to light and with Light. There’s an archetypal idea, mostly associated with Plato and the allegory of the cave and the analogy of the sun, which associate Light (in the form of the Sun) with Truth. These archetypical forms are what Plato (via Socrates) considers to be that for which the philosopher-king is ever searching. These ideas have been incorporated into Freemasonry in myriad passages and ritual elements. Many Freemasons consider Freemasonry to be a “solar” ritual, as opposed to a lunar ritual. In this aspect, they see “solar” as an active, outgoing, and Western in nature, whereas a “lunar” type of ritual is receptive, inward, and Eastern. Where some initiatory schools are inward looking, solstice1Freemasonry is outward viewing. Like the symbol of Yin and Yang, this does not mean it is devoid of lunar aspects; however, the primary focus of Freemasonry is the improvement of mankind.

It makes sense, then, that Freemasonry would concern itself with solstices. The word solstice is derived from the Latin sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still), because at the solstices, the Sun stands still in declination; that is, the seasonal movement of the Sun’s path (as seen from Earth) comes to a stop before reversing direction. These are trajectories of the sun’s path and in understanding these movements, we understand more about how our world, how nature, works. In understanding nature, we are able to move through it with easy and achieve greater good. However, Freemasonry goes far deeper than the simple knowledge of nature. These movements become metaphors and analogies for the “a-ha” moments which make up a Freemasonic life.

For thousands of years, mystery schools and myths taught humanity about the cycle of life. When we moved away from superstition into speculation, we realized that special gods did not bring back the sun to continue life – it was simply the way that Nature worked. Humanity learned that while there might or might not be a Divine hand behind the creation of the world and the Nature it housed, we could learn to understand how it worked to our advantage. We learned to move away from fear and into exploration. The myths and mystery schools became a way to explore not only what happened in this world but perhaps what happened after we die, and help us contemplate the reasons for our existence, humanity’s existence. The greatest time of philosophical and physical exploration within these schools of thought came during the Age of Aries. The Age of Aries was a time of identifying humanity into civilizations, when there was the fire of invention, innovation, and inspiration.

With the onset of our current Piscine-age, mystery schools and myths faded in the bright light of more dogmatic and directive religions. With the rise of Abrahamic religions, our concepts of Light have morphed. In the Western Hemisphere, we began to associate people which archetypes. Jesus, the “Light of the World.” Muhammad, who said “I am the light of Allaah and everything is from my light.” Gods of all locales had and have been associated with the Sun or Light, but this Piscine age was the beginning of a time when living human beings began to be associated with light, and Light from divine sources. As Christianity spread, it sought to incorporate many cultures into its fold, thus continuing the influences of the Roman Empire – conquering with assimilation rather than johns5domination. In this assimilation, many “feast days” and “saint’s days” were integrated with, and overtook, colloquial celebrations. It is not a coincidence that the Feast day of Christ (the Light of the World) is also the celebrated feast day of Mithras, a Sun God worshiped in Ancient Rome.

Two of the most important figures of the Christian Bible, and specifically the Christian religion, are Saint John the Evangelist (John of the gospels) and Saint John the Baptist. An extremely good overview of St. John the Evangelist is located at this link. According to this, since the fifth century, December 27 has been the acknowledged feast or celebratory day of St. John the Evangelist.

Every Christian knows, at the very least in passing, about John the Baptist. They might say different things, but the core of the story is essentially that John the Baptist was born to a woman named Elizabeth, six months earlier than Jesus’ birth. There is some speculation that Elizabeth and Jesus’ mother Mary were related in some way. John was a bit of a wild man, calling on the nation of Israel to repent because “their savior was nearly upon them.” John began baptizing people by way of water, to “wash away their sins” and be ready for the Christ. Thus, John the Baptist was the herald of the coming of the Christian savior, even before knowing who he was. John the Baptist is known as the one who recognized the “son of God” and identified him to the world. (John 1:31-34)

John the Evangelist was a different story. John The Evangelist, brother of St. James, was one of the first disciples of Jesus and was the only disciple not to be martyred for his faith. This John wrote his gospel, letters to leaders of the early church and later, in Patmos, his Revelation. He apparently died in Ephesus, a priest and scholar. He was known in the Byzantine Church as “John the Theologian.” What we know of this John is only what he himself has, ostensibly, written.

This does little to explain why these two disparate personalities are linked to Freemasonry. My speculation goes on here. I believe these two Johns are archetypes in which Freemasonry has housed certain ideals and, perhaps, more esoteric teachings. John the Baptist is a fiery personality, who used water to cleanse the people for the coming of “the True Light.” He was vocal, verbal, an expression of the element of air and yet, he was a man of the wilderness, whose earthiness lead people to belief and faith. In other words, he was an elemental man, full of life of this material world. He shone during the highest point of the year, the time of most Light in the material world. He isjohns2 the archetype of material expression in its highest form. It could not be clearer why he is the Patron Saint of Freemasonry at the brightest time of the year.

John the Evangelist, however, was none of these things. He is a reflection of the teaching of the Christ, someone who took the Light and transmuted it into thought. He was a scholar, someone for whom thought created life. He represents the mental aspects of humanity, the time when contemplation and reflection are necessary to achieve progress. He was the energy of the Light transferred to thought and in its purest form, the Mind. Where John the Baptist represents Evolution, John the Evangelist represents Involution. These two Johns are the boundaries of the circle of human attainment – maximum involution and maximum evolution – the spirit turned to word and the word turned to spirit again. We see this as a icon of Freemasonry when we see the two Johns displayed beside a circle with a point in the exact center. This center is the point of pure Light within the human form, from which perfect balance of humanity is attained. These two Johns are the archetypes of the best of two facets of mankind, icons of the Piscean age.

This current age, in the procession of the equinoxes, is coming to a close and we find ourselves beginning a new age – an Aquarian age. While there is a technological overtone to the age, this is also the age of consciousness. The influences of nature continues to push us toward new ways of thinking, new influences. They push us away, perhaps, from the avatars and archetypes of an earlier age. The pictures that humans need vary and perhaps these two will become even further abstract in their meaning as we progress. Humans will continue to look to nature, and need to look to nature, to understand their own progress. Perhaps these archetypes of Involution and Evolution will change in the new age, and Freemasonry’s symbols will change with it. For now, these two Saints’ John stand guard and the highest and lowest moments of Light, reminding us that both edges of the spectrum are necessary for progress to be achieved and nature to be understood.

Know Thyself: The Ship of Thieves

Know Thyself: The Ship of Thieves

“I am not the person I was.” We hear that a lot, especially when it comes to growing older and, one hopes, wiser. Indeed, we’re not the same person we were. Over the course of time, our cells die, regenerate, add, delete, change, morph, and eventually we have all new cells. But we retain our name, our memories, our lives. Are we not the same person?

One would argue that of course we are. Or are we? Really?

We cling to our identities like dryer sheets to hot cotton shirts. In our minds, we are who we always have been. We are that twelve-year-old child who swam in the lake as well as that adult who had their first job in fast food. We remember events, creations, or possessions and claim them to be ours.

Conversely, we claim our “self” to exist because of those things. We do not change, or if we do, it is at a glacial pace. We affix our identity in time and space, and like an astronaut, place a flag on it and proclaim it to be ours, to be “true” identity: knowing who we are.Theseus_Helene_Staatliche_Antikensammlungen_2309_n2

In a recent conversation with a fellow Mason, I was discussing the Ship of Theseus. The paradox is quickly explained in this video: The Paradox of the Ship of Theseus. In essence, the question is this: at what point does the ship cease to become Theseus’ ship and become something else?

If we take one plank from the ship and replace it, we generally can agree that the ship is still Theseus’ ship. At what point, however, do you fix enough broken pieces that the ship becomes something else? My colleague was convinced that the ship remained and always remained Theseus’ ship. For him, the idea of identity stays with the generally recognized “thing” even if the sum of its parts is not original.

Conversely, the argument is this: if I am a thief, and I slowly steal the pieces of Theseus’ ship, replace them with identical parts,  take the original parts, and put them together in my backyard, who has the ship of Theseus? The original owner, or me?

My friend said that the original owner did. I disagree. If I take a painting from the Louvre, and replace it with an identical painting, and everyone recognizes it as the “painting,” who has the “real” painting? In my colleague’s eyes, then, have I really stolen anything?

identityI contend that I have, if nothing else, I have stolen the certainty of the Ship of Theseus. I have stolen, or potentially stolen, the idea of the ship. But these painful musings do have a purpose: they help us work out our identity – the answers to the question of: Who am I?

A brilliant article on this is found on Brainpickings. I would encourage you to watch the other short videos on this site: not only is the one on Who Am I thought-provoking, but there are links to life’s other huge questions. How do I know I exist? What is the Nature of Reality? But, I digress.

The question is, at what point is our self no longer “us?” Is it when all the cells in our body have replaced themselves? What about new neural pathways or brain cells? If we replace a leg or arm or heart, are we the same person? 

Freemasons live by an adage of “Know Thyself,” which also adorned the Oracle of Delphi  at the Temple of Apollo. We must first understand what it is that makes up our “self” and when does that “self” become something else. I think this is a life long exploration and, since the self is constantly undergoing change, are we always who we were? Perhaps not.

But then, where did “we” go? Does our identity persist? If it does so, how? What makes us, us?fingerprint

I asked my fellow Mason about clones, which sent us down an entirely different path, discussing identical twins, and the like. Does time make a difference? If a plank is rotten on Theseus’ ship, and it is replaced, does that make identity linger, as opposed to replacing a “new” plank? If I change my mind about how I feel about something, am I still the same person? What if I create new habits? What then?

We are ever seeking to understand our true natures; yet, our true nature is ever-changing. Freemasonry teaches us about the cycles of life, death, rebirth, nature. and science. It teaches us all of Life’s Mysteries. If stagnation is death and change is life, how can we ever be the same person moment to moment? Perhaps that is the mystery that we must ever follow: a constant, persistent discovery of who we are, and what we are doing.