Dharma, Duty, and Freemasonry: Part II

Dharma, Duty, and Freemasonry: Part II

This is Part II of a two part series on Dharma, Duty, and Freemasonry. Readers can view the first installment here: Part I.


“Hindu Dharma is like a boundless ocean teeming with priceless gems. The deeper you dive, the more treasures you find.”  –  Mahatma Gandhi, 1946


In the previous post of this series, I discussed the concepts of duty and dharma. Here, we continue to explore the factors in determining one’s dharma, dharma’s theological foundation, and address the Masonic connection of these themes. 

The Ashrams: Stages of Life

THE next factor in determining one’s Dharma is to consider the stage of life one is currently in: Youth (Student), Adulthood (Householder), Middle Age (Transition away from Worldly focus on the material), and Old Age (Devotion and isolation). These stages are as follows:

Brahmacārya:
  • Life of Preparation, responsibilities as a student
  • Duty: To learn and gain skills

Gṛhastha:

  • Life of the Householder, with family and other social roles
  • Duty: Focus on family and building up Material wealth

Vānprastha:

  • Life of Reflection, retired from past actions, transitioning from worldly occupations and affairs
  • Duty: Contribute back to society with intellectual, spiritual, or material wealth & spending time furthering spiritual development
Sannyāsa:
  • Life of Renunciation, giving away all property, becoming a recluse and devotion to spiritual matters.
  • Duty: Meditation, spiritual study, and worship

Note that individuals move through these stages on a unique basis. Some skip stages entirely, and some never reach the later stages. This is a part of one’s Svadharma or calling in life.

Syadharma: An Individual’s Calling or Life Purpose

FOR example, Sannyasa is a form of asceticism and is represented by a state of disinterest and detachment from material life with the purpose of spending one’s life in peaceful, love-inspired, simple spiritual life. Siddhartha, or Buddha, walked away from the material life to follow the path of Sannyāsa. Similar to a Monk or Nun, individuals may take this path after Brahmacarva and skip the two intermediate stages.

This means that what is “right” action for one individual is “wrong” conduct for another.  A soldier’s duty may require the individual to kill someone, but murder is incorrect conduct for a banker or teacher.

Dharma in The Bhagavad Gita

THERE is a 2,000-year-old treatise, called the Bhagavad Gita or “Song of God”, which is considered the world’s greatest scripture on Dharma. A smaller section of the larger epic work called the Mahabharata, the seven hundred verses of the Bhagavad Gita are arranged in a conversational format between two main speakers Krishna and Arjuna.

Dharma is the first word in the Bhagavad Gita. The great work begins when the blind old king, Dhritarashtra, asks his secretary, Sanjaya, about the battle that was to take place at “the field of Dharma” (Dharma-kshetra). In the name of Dharma, Arjuna (a great warrior and general of the Pandavas) argues for nonviolence by assuming that to attack and kill so many leading men, nearly all of whom are fathers and husbands, will destabilize the important families and communities for which these men are responsible. The families themselves are vital to the peace and virtue of society. 

Lord Krishna (God and Arjuna’s spiritual master) does not at once address Arjuna’s argument about Dharma, as we would expect in a typical debate. Rather, the Lord first reveals to Arjuna, in twenty verses (Bg. 2.11- 30) the eternal nature of the soul. Then the Lord comes back to the topic of Dharma to show that it is Arjuna who is neglecting his Dharma by refusing to fight:

“And even considering your personal Dharma as well, it is not right for you to hesitate. There is nothing better for a warrior than a fight based on Dharma.” (Bg. 2.31)

Here, we find that Dharma itself is meant to assist the real goal of life: understanding the eternal soul and its relationship with the Supreme Soul, Krishna. Lord Krishna concludes this brief reference to Dharma as one’s personal duty by saying: “Now if you do not execute this battle, then having given up your personal Dharma and reputation, you shall incur sin.” (Bg. 2.33)

Throughout the rest of the Volume, Lord Krishna speaks of Dharma in terms of His own teaching of spiritual knowledge and not directly in response to Arjuna’s argument about Dharma as ordinary religious and moral practices. Krishna’s next reference to Dharma reinforces his earlier statement that Arjuna must perform his own Dharma and not neglect it in the name of Dharma. Arjuna can neither protect Dharma nor keep himself on the spiritual platform if he abandons the duties born of his nature. Krishna explains:

“One’s own Dharma, performed imperfectly, is better than another’s Dharma well performed. Destruction in one’s own Dharma is better, for to perform another’s Dharma leads to danger.” (Bg. 3.35)

Thus, the complete picture begins to emerge. An effective government must not only create laws but enforce them as well. Similarly, the Supreme Lord brings forth His law as Dharma. When obedience to His law collapses, and human beings instead propagate their own illicit “law,” the Lord descends to protect the good citizens of His kingdom, vanquish the outlaws who practice adharma, and reestablish in human society the prestige and power of His will.

We can now see why Arjuna’s initial argument – that to obey Lord Krishna and fight would go against Dharma – cannot be correct. Dharma is nothing but the Lord’s will. For Arjuna to fight, then, is true Dharma.

Thus, Lord Krishna starkly contrasts the ordinary Dharma of the Vedas with “this Dharma,” which is pure devotional service to Krishna. Krishna concludes the important ninth chapter by showing the power of this Dharma – unalloyed Krishna consciousness – to purify and save the soul. It is simply on the strength of devotion to Krishna that even a man of terrible conduct quickly becomes devoted to Dharma. So, in this manner all human beings can approach duty or Dharma in the same manner. If all individuals seek the Divine and follow the leading which springs forth, the different rules or requirements of individual Dharma become a single path.

Dharma and Freemasonry

DUTY is an important concept in Freemasonry, similar to a code of conduct by which individuals should mold their character. Moreover, members are instructed to do their duty regardless of the consequence.

Since Masonry is an institution founded on the highest virtues and principles of morality, Masonic duties are in harmony with proper conduct and the laws of their country. Some of these duties include:

To think high, to speak truth, to do well, to be tolerant to others, to search after truth, and to practice liberty under law, fraternal equality, justice, and solidarity.

Moreover, Freemasonry calls on its members to follow an individual path while also working together to uplift humanity. The Craft also inspires the cultivation of similar virtues to those considered part of the Dharma system such as patience, fortitude, and prudence. For some individuals, I posit that Freemasonry could be viewed as a major component or the culmination of that Brother’s individual dharma. What do you think?

The Masonic Family

The Masonic Family

Having been a Freemason for over twenty years, I have seen many people come and go in the Fraternity. There are people who were well-established when I first entered into the Order and are still by my side today. There are many members who have joined over the years and added to the sweetness and depth of this large family unit. Some people have come in for as little as one meeting, and others have stayed on and off over the years. The path of Freemasonry is an open road that may see many people branch off.

As a member of fifteen different Lodges of varying degrees, each one of them is, to me, a sacred family where I am safe, secure, and can be myself. I can breathe easily and feel the fraternity that comes with a real love and dedication to a common goal: the perfecting of humanity of which each of us is a part.

When we join, we join for different reasons. We join to find like-minded people, to find some sense of peace with the Architect of the Universe, to have that “A-ha!” moment, to have a group of people to converse with, to break bread and share hard work, or perhaps to share in aging and passing with authentic humans. The road of Freemasonry isn’t easy and many people fall off the track – some earlier, some later – but the journey towards the higher degrees becomes less crowded and in many ways, more intimate and sweeter for having shared the labors of self-improvement.

The act of accepting the different paths of different people is extremely difficult. These are people with whom you have shared life’s journey and striking moments. From marriage to the birth of children, the death of parents and friends, to their own old age and passing, it is in these moments of strife and hardship, joy and bearing that Freemasons are there with each other, supporting, sharing, and providing true fortitude.

These are not easy moments and they are intensified by the quickening that focused self-improvement provides. They are sticky and painful at times. I have had nights of tearful crying, angst over love and loss, and laughter until I got in trouble. Discipline does that. It breeds purer moments of real life.

It also creates the moments when we stop and think: what is a family?

The birth family has always been, to me, that group of people who take care of you from that early age and teach you how to move in the world. They teach you how to survive. They do the best they can, with the tools and experiences of their own lives, to provide that guidance to help the child thrive in a very unsure and chaotic world. We carry those lessons, for better or ill, with us into our own realms, creating new families from these seedlings of experience.

Like the leaf that drops into the still pond, the ripples of one family flow and collide with those of others, creating an intricate pattern of artful energies of creation. We create families, when we’re older, to find a sense of stability and continuance. We may have children, adopt children, foster children, foster animals, care for the aged, or create intimate ties with friends, neighbors, and community. We may pastor to a church where the family is quite large, or we may shepherd the town council, where our influence might be low. We all form a family of woven relationships in the creation of… something.

Masonic families, like all families, can be quite intense. My childhood father was not a Freemason but his father and mother were extremely active in not only Freemasonry but Eastern Star, The Shriners, the White Shrine, and other auxiliary bodies. For nearly forty years, they were caretakers of the temple building behind their house; their days were filled with card games, socials, dinners, and Lodge meetings, fancy affairs and day-to-day work of Freemasonry. They cleaned the Lodge room and scrubbed the bathrooms, repaired the kitchen equipment and planted flower beds. They only stopped when cancer and Parkinson’s slowed their activities.

When they passed, I took up the mantle of Freemasonry. While they lived, I had no idea a woman could be a Freemason and neither did they. Freemasonry was a hobby my grandparents did but never, ever discussed it with the larger family.

My father harbored a deep resentment toward Freemasonry; he felt that it took my grandfather from his side. It hardened my grandfather’s ideals in a way that he imposed on my father. Resentment and dislike were the crops my father harvested from that sowing. Even so, my father grew up a good man, hard working and shaped by the ideals my grandfather provided. He struggled though, with the idea of what it means to be a father and to provide that example for his children. It’s a shame because I think my father would have really found solace and inspiration and fraternity of brotherhood something to sustain him latter in life. Maybe even earlier in life.

It’s funny that my desire for like-minded people in my life, people striving to educate and improve themselves, was driven by the lack of that in my own blood family. I wanted more than blood connections; I wanted that connection that propels us to be better than we think we can be. I do not think it took me from my family; in truth, close friends and family members have joined because of the work they’ve seen me do, the joy I’ve found in being with intelligent, hard-working individuals. They have joined because of my self-improvement.

The cycle, I think, repeats. The Masonic family taught me how to live, how to be in the world, how to succeed, challenged me to think, to be better than I am, and to constantly work on being a better person. They took what blood started and propelled that into new realms.

There are some people who do not think it’s right that families should join Freemasonry together. This does not make sense to me. If you want good people in your life, people who you respect, want to spend time with, learn from and also teach, why would you not want to be on a similar journey?

Not everyone is cut out to be a Freemason, however, Not every family member has the capacity or wherewithal to step onto such an intense path. We need to assess each person independently and give credit where credit is due. The people who have joined Freemasonry with me, in my life, are all fantastic people and yes, some are family members. I get the double blessing of being able to speak about all sorts of subjects and delve into deep thought with people that I truly love and who have a head start on knowing me. It’s like perfect icing on a perfect cake. We’re trying to perfect humanity; that doesn’t mean everyone except the people you grew up with. Far from it.

Not everyone who comes to Freemasonry is looking for a family. We call each other Brother for a reason though. It’s not arbitrary. Whatever you goals in joining the Craft are, you will end up with a family – one that you’ve chosen with forethought and daring. Make it your own.

“Neither man nor woman is perfect or complete without the other. Thus, no marriage or family, no ward or stake is likely to reach its full potential until husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, men and women work together in unity of purpose, respecting and relying upon each other’s strengths.” – Sheri L. Dew

With Passion

With Passion

I recently attended a Masonic Philosophical Society discussion about compassion – what was it, what is it, and how did it get from there to here. In the course of the discussion, many people discussed kindness and manners but little discussion about compassion took place.

The word comes from the roots of ‘with’ and ‘passion.’ The modern, Webster’s version of the word means, “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.” As language evolves, and many of the things that philosophers study are dusty with age and wear, it was important to see where the word began. From its Latin beginnings through Old French, the word actually meant “suffer with.” From the 14th Century C.E. backward, the word is associated with suffering. To look at meanings, suffering and sympathy/concern are two wholly different experiences. What is interesting is the the word “suffer” also comes from the Old French, in about the same time period as compassion, and the word originally meant “the be under the burden of something, to ensure, to hold up.” The word sympathy shows up much later in vocabulary, around 1570, and is of two Greek roots – “together” (sym) and feeling (pathos).

compassionrockIn his book, “Sympathy: A History,” author Eric Schliesser puts the confusion between sympathy and compassion to rest. He breaks down, right in the introduction, the differences between sympathy, empathy, and compassion. Sympathy and empathy, which are often confused for one another, are different breeds. Empathy, a word from the 12th century C.E., was created, the author states, to describe the German concept of Einfuhlung, or the state of entering into someone else’s feelings. That is, in empathy, the person is actually “in” the emotions of others, whereas with sympathy, the person experiencing it is recreating what their imagination can create, from the building blocks of society, family, and learned experience. The person in sympathy is not actually feeling the same emotions as the person conveying the experience.

So, the question bears asking: are compassion and empathy related? How can one suffer without actually feeling the suffering?

The Chopra Center has an interesting distinction for the word compassion. They state:

“When you’re compassionate, you’re not running away from suffering, you’re not feeling overwhelmed by suffering, and you’re not pretending the suffering doesn’t exist. When you are practicing compassion, you can stay present with suffering.”

In other words, you need to have both empathy and sympathy to be able to motivate yourself to compassion. Compassion is also action; it is the desire to relieve the suffering of the other person with real and meaningful work.

pairThe interesting difference between kindness and compassion is in the suffering. It is kind to hold the door open for people. It is compassionate to bring someone into your home and away from the cold. Kindness involves a gentle mindset and may be necessary for compassion; however, compassion demands more. It demands action that is substantial enough to relieve true suffering, a true burden. It’s not taking the burden off someone’s shoulders, or living the pain with the person. That achieves nothing. It is not only lifting the burden with someone but working on ways to bring the cause of the suffering to an end. The compassionate person has distance from the emotional weight and can therefore see more clearly what may be accomplished. In conjunction with the other, that clear-headed person can provide a guide through the suffering.

Compassion requires a higher thought, a higher attention to the greater good. It also seems to require an integrated person – someone who can truly see the person in all their different forms and deliver what is required. Compassion isn’t kindness.

Kindness is a quality of being gentle and generous. Empathy is the ability to actually feel the suffering of another, while sympathy is the ability to imagine that suffering. Compassion takes all of those facets and creates an action plan. We might equate kindness with the physical, empathy with the emotional, sympathy with the mental, and compassion with the spirit, if we were breaking this down in the sense of human experience. The highest emotion, in this human drama, then, is compassion. It requires the most energy, delivering the most gain. In other words, sometimes the kindest, and toughest act of compassion may appear to be harsh of difficult for the person to achieve. Saying “no” to the alcoholic is compassionate, as is saying “no” to the person who always wants the answer. Telling the intelligent person that their poor work is the result of laziness is kindness, empathy, and sympathy rolled up into a greater purpose – it is compassion. Enablement is not compassion: it is destruction.aroundcompassion

Freemasonry teaches you how to act but not how to think or feel. Freemasons are regularly taught to be kind and compassionate, yet subdue strong emotions in favor of thoughtful discourse.

Freemasonry also teaches you to act instead of standing on the sidelines and watching and simply thinking about a thing. Freemasonry provides opportunities for its adherents to be able to speak openly and view themselves authentically. Everyone requires a second set of eyes and experiences to become better, and it is in the bonds of fraternal love that compassion can be delivered. It requires different thought than the general society. It expects the Mason to not only learn to be compassionate but also to be able to receive that compassion. It becomes a true bond of fraternity, when honesty is the cement that not only binds us but supports us.

Are Freemasons perfect? Not by a long shot. It is in the compassion found in fraternal bonds that Masons can become better human beings and thereby better members and examples in the larger society.