Traversing Transitions: Where Freemasonry and Tibet Meet

Traversing Transitions: Where Freemasonry and Tibet Meet

“It’s hard to have those conversations,” the palliative care doctor was saying. She was talking about telling a loved one that Stage 4 cancer is terminal, and all the discussions and decisions that surround such a prognosis. The patient, an 85-year-old man, had lived a good life and yet, because of his fear of death, of losing this life, he was in denial and angry. This caused him and his family pain and turmoil as he sought to find his way to some acceptance of his situation.

Conversations about death are hard because U.S. culture is steeped in the fear of death. One only needs to look at television or magazine ads to see this; a culture that prides itself on fitness, youthfulness, and acquiring things has little understanding of the true nature of death. Death is a skeleton to be feared, a lurker in the closet that should not be acknowledged. Many aged have lived a life of denial of death, waiting until perhaps the last possible moment to “find God” or think about “the other side.”

People fear dying, not death, in general. They fear the pain and suffering that comes with long illnesses. Who wouldn’t? Cancer is certainly not a pleasant state. We hope for a quick death or to die in our sleep. Death in this way removes the focus on the body, on the horrors of what happens to the flesh that decays. Westerners don’t spend a lot of time on what it means to transition in death; they mostly focus on the unpleasant physical effects of the dying process. What is fascinating is that if one steps outside of perhaps the standard Western religions, he sees a far greater world that is not only accepting of death, but embracing of death.

While the Egyptian Book of the Dead (The Book of Coming Forth By Day) is a book, or set of scrolls, that specifically addresses the stages of death and afterlife, it doesn’t speak to the reader in such a way as to make the stages of death clear. It is still, after all, a Western book, early (2670 B.C.E.) as it may be. The scrolls were lists of spells which were left in the tombs of the dead. Their purpose was to provide the deceased a way to navigate the afterlife successfully. A very good modern interpretation / translation of this book is titled “Awaking Osiris.”

The Bardo Thodol, or “The Great Liberation Upon Hearing in the Intermediate State” is a book which is written for the living to assist the dying and deceased to make the transition off the Wheel of Life to Nirvana. This book is also known as the Tibetan Book of the Dead, although that is a fanciful 20th C. Western name.

Three bardos, or intermediate states between activities, are to be navigated, and success in these provides pathways toward different ends. A bardo may be any intermediate state, such as between birth and death, death and rebirth, even between something like sleeping and awakening. The guru or teacher sits with the person that is about to die and speaks to him of his journey, reminding him of his true being. He is prompted to enter the Clear Light, and thus, remove himself from the path of Earthly physical life. If he transitions to the second bardo, further instructions are given, and so on, until the soul either returns to Nirvana or back into a physical body, depending on the spiritual acumen of the deceased person. That all sounds a little complicated; in essence, it is assistance by the earthly person to the unearthly one, guiding him on his way to reincarnation or elevation.

“O Nobly Born, that which is death being called to thee now, resolve thus: “O this now is the hour of death. By taking advantage of this death, I will so act for the good of all sentient beings, peopling the illimitless expanse of the heavens, as to obtain the Perfect Buddhahood, by resolving on love and compassion towards them, and by directing my entire effort to the Sole Perfection.”

This section, from the First Bardo, is an example of the cultural views of death; not only its acceptance but total embrace to do what is best for the good of the collective humanity. This section goes on to remind the deceased that his life is in service to the greater good. The bardos continue in a cycle, all the while being guided by a guru, a “man of Faith,” a brother, or other person. The person acts as a guide from this realm to the next, allowing the soul to find peace by whatever means it finds possible. The thought of reading these beside the dying person is somehow comforting, perhaps as much to the speaker as to the “hearer.”

I think much of this same type of symbolism and instruction is provided to the Craft Mason, who winds through these bardos in the the rituals of all Craft degrees. Freemasonry, being an initiatory rite, seeks to impress on its membership the repeated lessons of life and death, until these ritual words and actions become very familiar to him. At first he is the recipient and later the provider. The nature of Freemasonry, the Service to Humanity, maybe partly this: imparting the ability to have each human experience a peaceful transition from this life to the next, and thereby improve the overall state of all beings.

The three bardos of death to rebirth transition, as explained in the book, are the Bardo of the Moment of Death, the Bardo of Experiencing Reality, and the Bardo while seeking Rebirth. To me, these mirror perfectly with the Craft degrees, where the lessons are told in with a Western slant. In some Masonic traditions, a chamber is used to create a space for the candidate to experience a true bardo, an intermediate state between activities, where reflection and change can take place. Symbolic in this world, perhaps these ritual trappings are faint shadows of the reality of our earthly transition.

It was said to me, recently, that Freemasons seem to be less afraid of death than perhaps the average Western human. If we listen to what Freemasonry is imparting, the Mason can’t help but put away the denial of his physical, transitory nature. We will die from this world. Freemasons may be better able to embrace the transcendence of being that marks the animus, the soul, the spirit, or whatever you wish to call the immortal principle in each living thing. Fear is the mind killer and is that which brings pain to what may not need to be a painful experience.

Freemasons are repeatedly provided the tools, symbolic and ritualistic, to learn to guide themselves and others through all the bardos of the human existence. It seems to me that all humans could use a lot more peaceful transitions into whatever intermediate state we find ourselves.

“Thine own consciousness, shining, void and inseparable from the Great Body of Radiance, hath no birth, nor death, and is the Immutable Light.” ~ Buddha Amitabha

Freemasons, Political Awareness, and Voice

Freemasons, Political Awareness, and Voice

In a recent “Today, Explained” podcast, the narrators were discussing the recent Supreme Court decisions involving arbitration and the American worker. In essence, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a 1925 law that stated that Corporations have the right to force arbitration (Federal Arbitration Act of 1925 is the name of the law) clauses into many, if not all, types of contracts, including those that involve a contract to work. What this does is overturn a New Deal-Era law (National Labor Relations Act of 1935) that stated that employees had the right to work in concert with each other for their mutual benefit.

What does this mean? No Class-Action lawsuits for employees when wrongfully treated by their employers. For the nitty-gritty details, the podcast is recommended. In general, it means that arbitration clauses can now be put into nearly any contract and are binding. Employees who have been sexually harassed, been denied wages, or otherwise wrongfully treated during employment must now seek arbitration for grievances rather than a lawsuit. Where this has the most implication is when there are many injured in the workplace but have little ability, financially or otherwise, to stop ongoing wrongful acts.

Many people and corporations think this is a good thing; law suits are a burden on more than just the plaintiff or defendant. They are a burden on the taxpayers and the court systems – sometimes causing far more difficulties than they solve. However, taken in the context of several court decisions in recent years, it should give the people of the United States something, perhaps, to consider. This decision, by the Supreme Court, in effect provides corporations with a great deal of power and the individual, the worker, with very little.

Like Citizen’s United, this is an example of corporate legal power leveraging the judicial system of the country to produce vast corporate influence on the American political andimg_0218-1 social landscape; in essence, corporations are circumventing the executive and legislative branches of government, and using the judicial system to create a very corporate-forward, individual-backward landscape.

People are often fond of saying that the United States is becoming an oligarchy, where government is the hands of a few people. What they are really trying to say, though, is that America has become a CorporatocracyEconomist Jeffery Sachs, in The Price of Civilization, stated that America is, in effect, a corporatocracy in which “powerful corporate interest groups dominate the policy agenda.” He gives four reasons for this being the case: 1) weak national political parties, 2) strong political representation of individual districts, 3) globalization weakening the power of employees, and 4) large corporations financing political campaigns for their own agendas.

A moment of reflection will give one enough fodder to at least question corporate influence in America. From sports arenas to libraries and entertainment centers, corporations have lent their funding, as well as views, to what we consume in America. From Citizen’s United ruling (see this well done video on the decision) to the fact that some companies are “too big to fail,” our government has come a long way from its roots of “We the People…”

Is a corporatocracy in keeping with the values of Freemasonry?

One might ask, what would our Masonic forefathers thought of the idea of Government by a small group of corporate entities? John Adams said, “Let us disappoint the men who would raise themselves upon the ruin of our country.” Yet, Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying: “No nation was ever ruined by trade.”

Presidents over the centuries, Freemasons or not, have had something to say. U.S. President and Freemason Franklin Roosevelt stated, “No business is above Government; and Government must be empowered to deal adequately with any business that tries to rise above Government.” President Eisenhower said, “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

One might equate the “military-industrial complex” as perhaps a single, corporate power.

President Abraham Lincoln wrote – 

I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. …corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.

~ (U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, Nov. 21, 1864, letter to Col. William F. Elkins, in The Lincoln Encyclopedia, by Archer H. Shaw)

Others throughout history have weighed in on the idea of corporations, from writers to inventors to even businessmen themselves.

Commerce is entitled to a complete and efficient protection in all its legal rights, but the moment it presumes to control a country, or to substitute its fluctuating expedients for the high principles of natural justice that ought to lie at the root of every political system, it should be frowned on, and rebuked.

~ James Fenimore Cooper, The American Democrat, 1838.

Great corporations exist only because they are created and safeguarded by our institutions; and it is therefore our right and our duty to see that they work in harmony with those institutions.

~ President and Freemason, Theodore Roosevelt, 1901, first annual message to Congress.

And finally, regarding Jefferson –

Thomas Jefferson, the man who wanted an amendment to the Constitution prohibiting monopoly, would be aghast at our billion-dollar corporations. Jefferson, who abolished primogeniture and entail in Virginia in order to prevent monopoly in land, would be appalled by our high percentage of tenancy. Jefferson as the man who dreaded the day when many of our citizens might become landless, would perhaps feel our civilization was trembling on the brink of ruin, if he were to find so many of our people without either land or tools, and subject to the hire and power of distant corporations. If the Jefferson of 1820 could see his name used by men crying `States’ rights!’ in order to protect not individual liberties but corporate property, then he would shudder.

~ Henry A. Wallace, November 17, 1937, former populist U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and Vice-President of the United States.

The United States is a democratic republic, or a representative democracy, a sordid mix of Greek and Roman ideals, thrown together in some kind of weird experiment that has yet to play itself out. Yet, the overt goal in the foundation of this country was that the people themselves should have a say in the government of it – true individual representation – not the boards of directors of a few, extremely large and wealthy corporations. Corporations are not structured to be democratic nor a republic; they are in truth, oligarchies.

So, what is the United States? Is it any better or worse off than anywhere else in the world? Has the grand experiment worked to the satisfaction of our founding fathers,img_0213-1.jpg some of whom held the ideals of Freemasonry? The experiment is still very much a living organism.

Freemasonry itself is not a democracy; it is not a dictatorship, nor a republic. Each Master Mason has a vote, but not all Freemasons have a vote. Majority rules, not plurality. However, the Master of the Lodge is the voice of the Lodge, the final “say,” when it comes to matters of some Masonic jurisprudence – a sort-of dictator.

However, the Master of the Lodge does not always have the final say. He may be a tie-breaker in votes but he typically does not have a vote on general matters. But each Lodge is not an independent body; they tie back to either a Grand Lodge, Supreme Council, or other Supreme body governing the rules and regulations of their order. Each individual Lodge is represented to their Grand Lodge by a single vote made up of the votes of the Lodge. Therefore, the Lodge is a representative to the Grand Lodge for the individual, ergo a republic. If we’re not sure what the United States’ Government is, we may be just as confused as to the government of the system of Freemasonry.

Why bring all this up in a blog on philosophical debates of interest to Freemasons? This is not to stir the passions of partisanship or state that Freemasonry itself should be political. It is simply because Freemasons, especially within the United States, are inextricably linked to government. The motto of “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity’ are on the lips of every Freemason at one time or another, whether spoken in rote repetition or with true feeling. Freemasons should ask these hard and difficult questions in order to shape the world we live in as well as the groups to which they belong. We should be unafraid to discuss the ideals of government, religion, and all aspects of life.

While it is not within the purview of Freemasonry as an institution to take a political stance, should the Freemason make his individual voice heard, in representation of what he or she feels is liberty, equality, and fraternity?

Global governance is shifting, perhaps trying to find a new way of being. It behooves us, no matter what we believe in keeping, be it a corporatocracy, oligarchy, plutocracy, theocracy, democracy, or republic, to be the voices of what the future holds. This is something that perhaps Freemasons should discuss, in educated, philosophical terms, and let the debate ensue. No one creates in a vacuum and no one creates change without speaking up. New ways of thinking evolve from educated, passionate, and respectful debate. If Freemasons are working to be leaders within humanity, these discussions should be on their tongues and not remain in the shadows of their hearts. If those who are working toward the perfecting of humanity don’t speak up, and take responsibility for shaping their nations, then who?

Death and the Maiden

Death and the Maiden

I’ve long been fascinated by this picture, statue, or representation of “Death and the Maiden” as it relates to Freemasonry. I first saw the picture when I became a Freemason, in one of the many books that I was able to pour through. Masonic art in general has fascinated me because it is, generally, not only beautiful but also weird; it was weird in a way that made you ask “why does that bird sit on the oddly-shaped stone” or “why is that man holding the woman’s hair while carrying a scythe?” It spoke to me, begging me to figure out what it was trying to tell me. Still, today, I can sit for hours and look at paintings, engravings, and statues and wonder what their creators meant to impart.

Death and the Maiden isn’t a new concept. Artists as far back as Duerer, Baldung, and Beham in the Middle Ages were showing that “all human beauty is ended in death (Beham.)” Shubert and Dorothea Tanning created at least two pieces of their art around the concept of Death and The Maiden. Yet, the pictures attributed to the Freemason’s ideas of Death and the Maiden seem to be very specific and rich in symbolism.

The Freemason’s “Death and the Maiden” seems to be attributed to a 19th Century Freemason named Jeremy Cross. A student of Webb and follower of Preston, he taught and lectured on Freemasonry extensively at the beginning of the 19th Century. General knowledge about him seems to be all we can find, according to Phoenix Masonry scholars and articles, but it seems the idea of the entire composition is attributed to his genius.

The composition has been recreated by others, but the basic design is as you see it above. Some have the maiden holding specific tools with an evergreen and others have her holding a piece of Acacia and an urn. The latter is a modern invention as cremation is a relatively modern invention. However, for my purposes for this post, we will still talk about it. It’s important to reflect on how symbols may change but meaning remains the same – and in this case, the emphasis is to see death on one hand, and everlasting life on the other.

Ostensibly, the winged figure behind the Maiden is Death. Shown as an old man, long-bearded, with wings and a scythe, he seems to be, as one author put it, removing the tangles from her hair. When one looks at this picture, it appears that he is about to cut her hair; taking a purely Judaeo-Christian point of view, from the inventor, the inference is that this is about the moment before death, before life is cut short. Tearing of hair and cutting hair were signs of grief and distress to the Israelites, and even implied the whole destruction of a people. Women’s hair was grown long to distinguish them from men but hair overall was a sign of health, virility, and life. That Death’s scythe is not raised implies that death of the physical world is not imminent but it is on the horizon. Death prepares the youth for what may come at any time, as implied by the hourglass sitting beside the figures. As one is born and grows, Death is always behind them, preparing.

The broken column seems to be the main figure of the composition, and implies that it is a symbol of the Freemason who is viewing the piece. Why not “every man?” Because columns are, symbolically, the individual Freemason. Freemasons are columns to uphold that “temple not made with hands.” Freemasons are there to hold up the ideals for others to emulate and must be strong and sturdy enough to do so. As we age, we start to crumble, become weak, and eventually our “bent backs” signify the end of our contributions to Humanity. Again, the broken column sitting beside its foundation shows that while Death is not ready to strike, we must prepare for it by the time our moment draws near. Hence, what appears to be a book of sacred knowledge, of whatever kind speaks to us, sits beneath the Maiden’s hands. She is studying intently, in quiet contemplation and thoughtfulness. She is not distraught or upset. Both figures are somber and still and accepting.

Then what is the Maiden? The Maiden seems to represent the essence of Life, the Will, Wisdom, and Beauty that we all can tap into to do whatever work calls us. This work is not fixing plumbing or diagnosing code or mopping floors; this work is the Work that is remembered when our time is done, in the Service of Humanity. Someone may remember that we always cleaned up the dishes or swept floors, and in that memory they see the love and dedication we had to a principle. That principle might be as material as “cleanliness” or it might be more virtuous, such as loyalty or dedication, sacrifice and service. The floor will get dirty again but the memory of the work we put into keeping it clean is what we bring to the world. The memory of Service to Humanity. The Maiden represents the potential we all bring with us at birth.

The most interesting of the symbols is the acacia plant. There are many, many theories regarding the use of Acacia as regards Freemasonry. I choose to take a more practical approach, beyond the poor or convoluted translations of the word and speculation as to Acaciaits use as a sacred symbol to the mystery school of Freemasonry. It is, generally, a low shrub or tree that grows in all parts of the world but appears to have originated in Africa and the Middle East. It is evergreen with watering, and is still cultivated mainly in the Middle East, Africa, and Australia for its gum. Besides being an evergreen plant and symbolizing ever lasting life, its qualities as a gum make it far more interesting in relation to Freemasonry.

Since ancient times, the gum or sap of the tree has been used as a fixative. Powdered, the sap is a powerful glue that can be ingested by humans. It is used to combine, fix together, and generally adhere human consumables; this includes things like beverages, soaps, and icings and sweets. It is also used to combine and emulsify paints, slips for ceramics, printing inks, and photography. Thus, it is used to bring together individual components into a sooth solution, able to create works of art as well as feed the human body. Weird as that may be, these attributes show it is directly related to our Work as Freemasons – to bring together, to combine into a well-oiled “machine” to nourish the body, mind, and emotions of the Human Being.

Lastly, there is the myth of Osiris’ death at the hands of his brother, Typhon, and his body being placed into a coffin, and the coffin being thrown into a river. Presumably, Osiris dies and the coffin is captured by low hanging Acacia plants by the river. Over time, the Acacia tree is cut down to create a column for a new temple, and in the cutting of the column, the body of Osiris is found by Isis and she uses her wings to breathe new life into her fallen husband. Many myths of Osiris’ death and resurrection are found, in parts or in whole, throughout literature and this is only one of those (Plutarch). What I find this particular myth explaining to me is that the physical form can be had once again, if the aspirant is understanding the nature of everlasting life and perhaps of the lessons that nature and Freemasonry have to teach us. In this, the column and the acacia seem to go hand in hand.

Thus, in one hand we have the energy of our lives holding onto the evergreen which brings us all together, and the ultimate symbol of our physical passing – the urn. In ancient cultures where the belief in the physical body’s transference to the Underworld was prevalent burning of bodies was not performed, namely China and Egypt. In general, however, bodies were burned using many methods, and the remains were sometimes kept in a funerary urn. Additionally, the remains of skeletons and internal body organs were also kept in urns as a sign of respect and reverence. The practice of cremation became even more prevalent in Western cultures after the creation of the first cremation chamber in 1873. For some, the urn is one of those symbols that is still a little vague as regards a deeper meaning. Maybe there isn’t one. Maybe it is simply the reminder of our physical passing, and the fact that we keep the ash-filled urns of our loved ones near us is a constant reminder of the transient nature of this mortal life.

Death and the Maiden is better for its whole than its individual parts. It is a story of humans who strive for better, only to be still chained and linked to the eventual death we all face. That the Maiden is not facing her Death but still working to better the world is hope to me. It is the hope we all bear that in our work as Builders and Creators, we have left Humanity a little better for our having been part of it. We leave behind our passions, our principles, and our virtues to be passed on to further generations of humans. Our ripples effect the ocean of Mankind. While I live, I can carry on the Work of those who have passed before me, and I hope I leave a good enough legacy that others may find their burdens lighter.


For Joy Cornell, who will always remind me to be Authentic, Passionate, Joyous, Lively, and Loyal to home and hearth. Thank you for your Light. And May Light Perpetual shine upon you, my dearest brother and friend.

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.

braincogs

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.

Freemasonry and the Individual Collective

Freemasonry and the Individual Collective

In a recent conversation with a long-time Freemason, she mentioned that people misunderstand the meaning of being a Freemason, and what Freemasonry is really doing in the world. Deeper into the conversation, what she was talking about was the current trend of all this “personal journey” hubbub. A lot of people join Freemasonry to find a way to enlightenment or expand their consciousness or become a better person. When people join Freemasonry, they want to find something – spiritual awakenings, meaning, purpose, secrets, a way to some secret treasure, power, sometimes even a business partner. Some people want to join to find a mate or get rich. Yes, there’s every type of something out there that people are seeking. Yet, that’s not why Freemasonry exists. The tenets, rituals, symbols of Freemasonry do not speak to these personal journeys.

Freemasonry doesn’t exist for the individual. It exists for the individual collective. Taken another way, Freemasonry doesn’t care about your personal journey. Your personal path and reason for joining Freemasonry doesn’t matter. Really. It doesn’t.

Freemasonry’s goal is not to perfect the human. One stone a temple does not make. Freemasonry’s goal is to “perfect humanity.” To perfect humanity, it needs a group of individuals that are willing to work and abide by its principles. Freemasonry’s principles are not those of a specific individual, religion, or philosophy. These principles are moral and ethical in nature; morality and ethical behavior are for the collective and affect the collective. Religion, politics, civil obedience – these are preferences which affect the individual. There is a reason that individual preferences are kept out of the Lodge room; the individual ego and desire doesn’t have a “special snowflake” place within Freemasonry.

I hear the rustling in the columns now: “No, just hold on. We’re asked for opinions and thoughts. We are supposed to express our individual thoughts and develop our own ideas and strength of mind.” True enough. However, we are asked in a context of opinion to be shared with the whole, and discussion and healthy debate, which in turn illumines the mind. A mind stuck in dogma or rigid behavior finds a difficult path in Freemasonry. Dogma and rigidity are the ego speaking through the personality. They are not the collective working through the individual but the individual trying to work through the collective.

Another Freemason that I know is fond of saying “Freemasonry is an individual path in a group setting.” In discussing this idea, he thought I was crying foul on this statement. Actually, I’m not. What I am saying is that the individual path does not effect or affect Freemasonry. It is a fixed set of landmarks and rituals with guiding principles that the individual may interpret and apply to their own life. The individual’s life and purpose for joining the group does not impose itself on Freemasonry.

This is not to say that Freemasons should be automatons and blindly follow leadership. Absolutely not. In fact, quite the opposite: they should feel comfortable enough in their individuality to share it with the whole, taking what works for them and discarding, but img_0176-1not dismissing, the rest. Yet, in the end, they work toward the good of the collective, which in turn, works towards the good of Humanity.

The individual Freemason struggles sometimes to see himself as a part of something greater. Perhaps it gets easier as one progresses in Freemasonry, when the message is provided again and again about humanity, not the individual. We cannot divorce ourselves from being individuals – that is physically, emotionally, and mentally impossible. However, we can see ourselves as part of the greater society, taking our mind and emotions outside of our own comfort zone and do what is necessary for the greater – good, Lodge, group, whatever.

I was struck by a recent commercial for a popular TV show. The show was about police officers, and their dedication to their city, country, and community, to the point of putting their lives on the line for any and all of those things. Not all of us can do police work, or be fire fighters, or doctors and nurses. There is a deep dedication in these people that goes beyond a nine-to-five job. We applaud those people because they actually save lives – regardless of danger, pain, or even their own death.

But, who is to say something like Freemasonry is any different? Bold statement, to be sure. Yet, what happens if Freemasons, through their Lodge or Order, strive to make the world a more educated, thinking, devoted, and aspiring place? If that striving for education produces one more doctor where perhaps there was none before, haven’t we made humanity better? What if the work of an Order creates a publishing company, and one of those books inspires a young reader to go on to a career in science, and they create a cure for a devastating disease? What if a Lodge has an outreach campaign to their older members and they are able to bring some bright light to their fading days? What if their family sees this and recognizes compassion, and in turn, creates a foundation to help others with the same disease?

Sure, the individual can do all these things. In fact, these examples are all accomplished by individuals working with a collective mind, a collective heart, and a collective intention. The Lodge is an entity of individuals but it too is “a single mind.” It is an individual collective, like a brain filled with firing neurons. It is not the Borg, there is no assimilation or lack of individuality; it is a melting pot. It is a collection of living stones, all in the process of perfection to create something greater than themselves. We are not stones that stand alone. There is no purpose in that. It’s in the group, the collective, that we can build that place that “shelters humanity” and provides a place of advancement for the entire human race.

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.

How Do You Know?

How Do You Know?

Our modern times have brought us many great advancements. We find ourselves living longer, becoming more globally connected, and enjoying medical ingenuities, such as antibiotics, blood transfusions, and artificial organs. There are many amazing necessities and niceties that are enjoyed by the human race in varying degrees because of Science. Science has given us a lot to be thankful for. Or has it?

In recent years, there have been debates, and at times heated arguments, over the likes of genetically modified foods, vaccinations, and global warming. Even the effectivenessFlat Earth of Western medicine has cropped up in many personal conversations over the years. Ideas such as Flat Earth have come back to the scene in modern discussions and often with contention.

Once thought for certain by the general populace, many scientific concepts are met with skepticism. But before you believe this blog is about winning you over to one side or the other, I ask you read on, because it not. There is something greater underneath these debates, and it has everything to do with you.

When researching the Philosophy of Science the other day, I came upon a very intriguing
question: How do you know your knowledge is authentic?

What a wonderful question, and it has given me more than a pause. Now before we reduce this question to reducto adsurdum, and say how can we really ever know anything, let’s try to accept the question for what it is: an invitation to know ourselves a little bit better.

Knowledge. It is a formidable due to its ubiquitous nature. It is an invading species that finds life in the uninhabitable regions of our brain. It plants its roots and digs deep so it cannot be easily removed, often without our realizing it.

Thus, when we allow “knowledge” to pass our acceptance filters and impregnate itself in our world view, it becomes almost impossible to remove. Especially if it comes from an authority – like science, religion, or a person of a particular importance. But are these sources enough to make an idea become an organism of knowledge?

One of the greatest lessons science has taught me is that it is only at its best when it is being challenged, and I find that this true of human knowledge in general. Authenticity cannot exist if challenge is not present. Growth is a product of conflict, not peace. Knowledge that is real will survive and become stronger; the ideas that do not deserve to be uprooted and replaced with a more genuine concept.

How do you know your knowledge is real? We listen and we give the other side their due. This is a very Masonic and scientific principle. In doing so, the only danger we will face is the danger of becoming more authentic in what we know. That doesn’t sound so bad, does it?