Obligation in Modernity

Obligation in Modernity

Freemasonry is built on the idea of obligating yourself to perform certain tasks, with a specific set of goals in mind. The word “obligation” comes from the roots of Middle English, from the verb “oblige,” which means to formally legally or morally bind someone to a promise. North Americans are used to hearing the phrase “much obliged,” in a sort of archaic sense, which means “to be indebted or grateful.” This is a derivation of the word; the more archaic form, from where the word “obligation” comes from is “to bind (someone) by an oath, promise, or contract.” The current 21st century definition is “an act or course of action to which a person is morally or legally bound; a duty or commitment.”

The most common obligation people run into is that of marriage. Divorce rates in the United States are down, possibly because marriage rates are also down. A shift? What about other obligations we make during our lives, especially the ones to ourselves? Upwards of 25% of current high school Freshmen will never complete high school. College drop out rates are the highest they have ever been, even with the highest enrollments ever. Even fraternal and social groups suffer from those who start and, for whatever reason, drop out.

To be fair, there are many reasons for giving up the path; financial, health, and family issues may cause problems for the student or spouse. Yet, we find little effort being made to surmount those challenges; we see the heroes as ones who complete school against all odds – but those odds are sometimes no greater than odds we all face. Everyone has challenges in their life. Completing or dedicating yourself to an endeavor takes will and strength, a desire to go against the easy life and really work hard to achieve your own success, whatever that might be. In an age of “Alexa” and “Siri,” doing things for yourself is seen as too much effort.

Molecular Thoughts

People who choose an esoteric path have put themselves on an extremely hard working journey. It’s not easy. As Buddha said, “life is suffering.” Enlightenment is not found in simple meditation. Physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual work are all necessary. Freemasonry, an esoteric and mystery path built on the foundations of “operative masonry,” is perhaps the epitome of working esoterically and externally.

An excellent article on the “Obligations of a Freemason” can be found on Pietre-Stones. In this article, the author expounds on the obligations of the individual as well as the collective. As Freemasonry is an “individual path worked in a group/collective,” it’s very right that we also look at not only what our obligations to ourselves but also to the group. In fact, from the very onset, in our application, we are promising certain actions that are considered obligatory.

Why all this emphasis on obligation, promises, and commitment? Is there some deeply esoteric meaning in obligating yourself to someone or something? Perhaps.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” ~ (John 1:1)

Much has been said about the divine logos, or, according to the Greeks, “The One Great Reason.” It’s representative of the unseen force of the universe that links us all together, whether we call it God, Love, the Divine, the Force, or whatever. Our ideas about “the Word,” and I suspect John’s as well, came from the Greek philosophers – Heraclitus, Plato, and Epictetus. Where Plato defined logos as an archetype, an idea representation of the divine in an independent-of-physical world, the Stoics refined the idea of logos to impart to it an active principle, and one which incorporated “the Reason” for all being into the function of “The Word.” It’s clear that The writer of the Gospel of John, as well as Buddhists, Jews, Taoists and others have also integrated this idea of the logos into the active Divine in the function of speaking the Word.

The divine Logos is the divine purpose, plan, or word that is the ultimate reason for the cosmos, which orders the universe and gives it meaning. That is, the sound or word has meaning, weight, in creation. As noted above, the Stoics defined logos as the law of generation in the Universe, which was the principle of the active reason working in inanimate matter. Humans, too, each possess a portion of the divine logos. That is, we humans, through our actions and words have generative power. The act of committing ourselves, or creating a binding agreement to complete work has power over us, either consciously or subconsciously. It also has the power to affect other individuals and other groups. This is a ripple effect; what we achieve has a lasting effect on the world around us, and flows out from us in a physical and metaphysical wave.

LOGOS-GreekThus, in giving our “word” or “bond,” we are creating. We create not only the superficial matter – such as our place in a Lodge or our status as spouse in a marriage, but we are creating an unseen, immaterial ripple that will create an effect throughout time. We create – it’s what humans do – and through our words, we create more than just simple relationships. Each word is a spoken manifestation of divinity.

Thus, promises, obligations, and commitments have weight – perhaps even more weight than we realize – when it comes to our overall spiritual life. It is important that we chose and use them carefully.

It’s funny that some individuals see their obligations as infringements on their time, or resources, or futures; funny because most, if not all commitments, promises, and obligations are solely made as the choice of the individual.  We think the promise we make to ourselves and others is somewhat disposable, minimal, with little effect on others and perhaps not even ourselves. Divorce and breakups, broken familial relationships and school dropouts – these are the failures of not understanding ourselves and our words. Failure is always an option and do-overs are necessary – but in order to achieve relief from the suffering, we have to be willing to be honest with ourselves. Pain is inevitable, and suffering doesn’t arise from pain but from our resistance to it – from our resistance to honesty and careful thought; it comes from our resistance to speak “the Word.”

I’ll leave you with a quote from a children’s fantasy book, one which understands and captures the essence of “the Word” in a very real sense – The Wizard of Earthsea.

“It is no secret. All power is one in source and end, I think. Years and distances, stars and candles, water and wind and wizardry, the craft in a man’s hand and the wisdom in a tree’s root: they all arise together. My name, and yours, and the true name of the sun, or a spring of water, or an unborn child, all are syllables of the great word that is very slowly spoken by the shining of the stars. There is no other power. No other name.”
― Ursula K. Le GuinA Wizard of Earthsea

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 

 

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?

 

Silence: A Way to Wisdom

Silence: A Way to Wisdom

What happens in silence? Many argue that silence can invite reflection, contemplation, and discipline. In other words, silence  — along with inquiry — engages learning. It makes you wise. The significance of silence has been highlighted in practically all mystery traditions. Secrecy and silence play a big part in the masonic teaching. Pythagoras, one of the best known champions of silence, is thought to have said:

Silence is the first stone of the temple of wisdom. Listen and you will be wise; the beginning of wisdom is silence.

Silence is generally considered to mean quietness or not making any sound. And while this is indeed silence, I do not think it is everything silence is. It can also mean to preserve a secret, calm the emotions, or still the mind. There is no real silence when emotional tides are raging within us and when we find our monkey mind chattering to itself. 

Is cultivating silence a way to becoming wise?

I think it would be fair to say that for many Greek philosophers, the quest for wisdom was the be all and end all of philosophy. Basically, many of us want to be wise. To know the truth. To know thyself. To know others. To know our beliefs. To know answers Silence 2to questions. To know, know, know.

However, I am not sure we all want to know silence. Why?

The practice of silence invites us to not-know. Is there room in our seeking for not-knowing? Is there space in our pursuit for un-knowing? Listening? Unlearning? For dumping how we have come to cherish our beliefs? To dismiss the knowledge that we carry in our small boxes of understanding? To be open to a magnificent, wondrous world of undiscovered realities? To hold a mystery?

Can we embrace a secret? Can we live in the question?

The Pythagoreans were huge advocates of secrecy and silence. A wonderful little book called Divine Harmony describes the Pythagorean way of life as it is thought to have existed, although we know little for sure. To become a member, an Initiate took an oath of silence for two to five years. Novices were called “listeners” and were not permitted to partake in class discussions. The ancient brothers were quite serious about silence, believing it develops powers of attention and memory.

The school curriculum consisted of developing a host of virtues in the students. Silence 3Knowledge was transmitted symbolically, through cryptic statements and riddles.

The Pythagorean Y

One of the symbols studied was called the “Pythagorean Y.” Manly P. Hall explains:

The famous Pythagorean Y signified the power of choice and was used in the Mysteries as emblematic of the Forking of the Ways. The central step separated into two parts, one branching to the right and the other to the left. The branch to the right was called Divine Wisdom and the one to the left Earthly Wisdom.

This symbol reminds me of the fork in the road that Robert Frost talks about in his poem,  “The Road Not Taken.” Earthly wisdom or Divine Wisdom? Each path corresponds to a different direction his life may take. He must choose carefully. Left turn or right turn? Mundane or spiritual?

I look back on my own life, wondering how many times I have faced that fork (and still do). I do not always take the road “less traveled.” Sometimes it is just easier to be busy with the mindless daily grind. Wise people are people who make the hard choices, who know things – things that matter. They put that knowledge to good use in practice. I saw a saying the other day on someone’s T shirt that said:

Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.

Confucius, another wise person, once said that there were three ways to learn Wisdom:

First, by reflection, which is noblest;

Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and

Third by experience, which is the bitterest.

As we can see the ancient philosophers thought a lot about the nature of wisdom and silence. But what relevance does it have for our modern times?

Silence in a Modern World

First, it seems to me that silence is a very good thing. The powers of observation can lead to truth and wisdom. Moreover, seeking truth and finding wisdom both have Silence 4instrumental value to the modern world.

On the other hand, not all silences are created equal. Some silences don’t lead to truth. We could, I suppose, spend all our time in silence seeking to know every possible truth, but that does not seem like the path of wisdom. What we want to know are silences that matter, that lead to those truths that are relevant to our practical projects and society. Some truths are clearly more actionable than others.

I find encouragement in the exemplary lives of those who have practiced silence, people like Gandhi, the Indian civil rights leader. He is one of the wisest people I know that did great things while being dedicated to spending one day a week in silence. For him, it was a choice to continue to redeem the world and to save the world from our own selves. He knew that a person cannot be wise if he arrogantly over-estimates the power of his own beliefs and judgments. There needs to be humility: to listen and learn, and to give other voices their due.

Thomas Carlyle, philosopher and writer, speaks of a Ghandi type of silence in Sartor Resartus:

Silence is the element in which great things fashion themselves together; that at length they may emerge, full-formed and majestic, into the daylight of Life, which they are thenceforth to rule.

The great things are not “over there” somewhere. They are all right here, where we are, waiting in silence, the element of not-knowing. Vast. Majestic. Subtle. No knowing them. No rushing them. No trapping them. Only accepting the silence for what it is. And what it will become.

 

Why Beauty? The Splendor of Truth

Why Beauty? The Splendor of Truth

Is beauty important? Why does it even exist in the first place? Everyone has a definition of beauty, and they are all different: A beautiful body, a beautiful painting, a beautiful sunset. It captivates and arrests the gaze. Beauty shines through the whole universe. When confronted by true beauty, one cannot turn away one’s eyes. We aspire to be beautiful so people will love us. It captivates all the senses, the soul and the spirit.

Maybe the question is not “what is beauty,” but “why is beauty?” Why is it any use to us at all? How do we know it? As Freemasons, we are taught that Beauty adorns all great and important undertakings. Beauty in the arts gives pleasure through inspiration. A gentle obsession with beauty is a source of much in our lives. Let us muse together on beauty.

How does one decide if something is beautiful or not? The Greek philosophers Socrates and Plato are said to have been the first who tried to define beauty. They thought that an object is inherently beautiful. Other philosophers argued that beauty is subjective. Beauty is not the quality of the object but it is an experience of our own, thus the popular phrase, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” For example, after seeing a starry sky, a gorgeous painting, or a mystical rainbow, a person may feel wonder and awe by the beauty in it. But not everyone may feel the same way about those same things.

Is beauty objective or subjective? Does our perception of beauty define us?

Plato’s Ladder

Plato uses the symbol of a ladder to show different levels of beauty in his dialogue in The Symposium. Each rung of the ladder gives a different perspective. On the first step or level, a person loves a body, and then all bodies. By the third step, he relates to the beauty of souls over that of bodies. This leads to the love of laws and institutions, leading to the love of certain types of knowledge. It ends in the pursuit of knowledge, or the love of wisdom. Upon reaching this, the person will see Beauty in its purest form or Beauty itself.8154643392_20cf304518_z

Step 1 – A beautiful Body
Step 2 – All beautiful Bodies
Step 3 – Beautiful Souls
Step 4 – Beautiful Laws, Institutions
Step 5 – Beautiful Knowledge
Step 6 – Beauty Itself

Looking at this it seems that beauty is not just about pretty things, but it’s something much deeper and vaster. It involves some sort of process of transformation. There is a saying In Italian, “bello da morire” which means “beautiful to die for.” The presence of beauty creates the possibility for a shift in us. If we change too much, we die of our old selves. According to philosopher David Hume, “Beauty is no quality in things themselves. It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.”

I think that beauty is like love in that it is one of those big realities in our life. Our relationships may be complex and at times contradictory and difficult. For example, we know that someone who looks traditionally very beautiful could be very dreadful indeed.

Ultimately, we face a paradox. Beauty may be important because it has strength and the power to transform us. But there are parts of us that resist that; we are attached to our old images of ourselves, old dogmas, and habits, and therefore, we prefer not to let in too much to beauty. It can be dismissed or ignored, and life goes on anyway in quiet desperation.

Do we even dare climb the ladder to this ineffable beauty? Plato said that beauty is truth. For example, if a statement is true it will also be beautiful. But there is even a problem 3913221135_a6918bf8cf_zwith this. We might see a statement that is beautiful to us, yet if we test it we find out it is not true. Beauty is a very complicated relationship.

Beauty in Freemasonry

In Freemasonry, we learn the concept of beauty cannot only be of a material beauty. If we go deep enough we will indeed find out that beauty is the splendor of truth. Inner beauty is goodness, and inner goodness is beauty. At some point, comes a decision to tread the way and be a better person. Embracing beauty helps with that.

Plotinus, one of the most influential philosophers in the ancient world, talks about fostering an inner vision:

Cut away that which is superfluous, straighten that which is crooked, purify that which is obscure: labor to make all bright, and never cease to fashion your statue until there shall shine out upon you the godlike splendor of virtue, until you behold temperance established in purity in her holy shrine.

By making “crooked things straight,” it seems that we can begin to experience a portion of those beautiful truths. Raise your consciousness and beauty will unfold before you. Attending a beautiful masonic ceremony or engaging in the creative arts can be enlightening and so can eating a box of chocolates. Divine!

I recently was listening to an interview by the late poet John O’Donahue. Something in his words and in his haunting deep Irish voice touched my soul ever so beautifully. I closed my eyes to as if to pay homage to the gods of poetry and philosophy. It was one of those rare encounters with beauty. We have all had them. In a moment of sublime Beauty, we are all rendered speechless. Beauty is ineffable. Why Beauty? It conveys something Divine that book knowledge doesn’t. Beauty gives way to contemplation. Admittedly, the very heart of Beauty cannot be captured in words.

Beauty does not linger, it only visits.
Yet beauty’s visitation affects us and invites us into its rhythm,
it calls us to feel, think, and act beautifully in the world:
to create and live a life that awakens the Beautiful.

– John O’Donahue     

 

Eritque Craticula Usque ad Tenebras

Eritque Craticula Usque ad Tenebras

The precipice of Winter. The hollow wind of Autumn. We humans are always on the edge of something. In this case, we are on the edge of seasonal change. As we slip from the warm days of Summer into the chillier nights of Autumn, we sense that change is imminent. We are on the edge, slipping from one day to the next, seasons rushing by in a flowing, ever changing stream. A stream, I must add, upon which we are always standing on the edge.

Nature teaches us a great deal of how to be in the world; most of the time, we just choose not to listen. Cement jungles are no place for the breath of the Green Man or the dance of a water nymph. Yet, Nature finds a way to express herself. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, this is expressed as Yin and Yang. A Taoist concept, everything contains Yin and Yang. Yin and Yang are two opposite yet complementary energies. Although they are opposite in their individual qualities and nature, they are interdependent. They are never separate and cannot exist without one another. The hard Yang of the cement contains in it air and space, Yin, in which it yields to the grass growing in its cracks. The meadow is dotted with hard boulders, unyielding and yet grounding to the lush, loamy soil.

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The traditional translation of Yin-Yang is Dark-Bright, which in turn translate to the traditional Chinese icon we see for it – two tear drops, intertwined, with a dot of the other deep in their bellies. Saying they are opposites is a faint allusion to their true natures. They are complex and rich for as simple as they appear. Both are archetypes and ideals, where simple human words are inadequate modifiers. They may be translated as “the shady side of the mountain (yin)” and “the sunny side of the mountain (yang).” Yin may also indicate the feminine, the moon, softness, passivity, sinister, darkness, overcast, or even treacherous. Yang, the “opposite” indicates masculine, the sun, hardness, assertiveness, open, overt, relief, light, and positivity.” There is always a bit of one in the other, a taste which makes them less opposite and more like polarities. Neither is good or bad, they just exist; intertwined for eternity in a dance of possession.

Chapter 42 of the Tao Te Ching (about 500 B.C.E. by Lao Tzu) is where the duality and Yin-Yang are found:

“The Way gave birth to unity,
Unity gave birth to duality,
Duality gave birth to trinity,
Trinity gave birth to the myriad creatures.
The myriad creatures bear yin on their backs and embrace yang in their bosoms.

They neutralize these vapors
and thereby achieve harmony.”

This may be interpreted that while the Way (Tao) gave birth to all of material life, it is contained within that life in the form of this duality. Thus, all matter, of animal, plant, or mineral contains yin and yang. All of Nature contains within it opposing truths, a constant tug of each end of the living spectrum. Being of Nature, we should be intimately at ease with the duality of our natures, right?

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Relative and absolute. We see absolute as our eternal goal – absolute truth. Is this not what the philosopher strives to attain? Is this not what the Freemason seeks? Absolute is the Truth which we hold as dearest, that which give us “rightness” of whatever we are understanding. Yet, relativity is important to our personal lives. We make judgments and choices about the relative Truths we perceive with our senses every day. How does that green shirt go with those pink pants? Does the omelet need more salt? Are we thirsty? These are truths, however small, in which we are always seeking answers and using our senses, our knowledge of duality, to provide answers. We are always on the edge, wondering if we are being deceived, somehow, by falsehood and ignorance. Curiosity is a sword to slay our own ignorance. Curiosity is not sheathed in ego.

The philosopher sees the duality in the people and situations around him. We recognize that there may be two sides to a situation: yours and mine, his and hers, etc. Without this sharing, we cannot see more Truth. We have to stand on the edge of reality, with another human being, and accept that this truth might fill in our blanks. Once we let judgement of Truth go, there is vast chasm in front of us. It is in recognizing duality that the pieces start to come together. Unity. We realize that we cannot have the whole picture. We may not ever have the absolute truth; yet, we may have relative truth to share. In heaps and bounds.

Thus, we are always on the edge of true understanding. Of knowledge. Of peace. Thus, perhaps we are always at an equinox within our natures. Halfway to Darkness. Halfway to Light. Eritque craticula usque ad lucem ac tenebras. A motto of change? A reminder of being on the edge? Perhaps we need not be so afraid of the darkness and the change, go out into nature, and learn what living really means. We can find Nature in everyone we meet, sharing in a brief bit of harmony by seeking to understand. Enjoy this Equinox, with balance and joy, understanding that the world will keep turning, seeking balance and yet, always on the edge. The Darkness is coming. So is the Light.

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Investigative Journalism and Democracy: The White House Correspondents’ Association

Investigative Journalism and Democracy: The White House Correspondents’ Association

How important is the role of robust and investigative journalism in a healthy democracy? Many political scientists argue journalists perform a crucial role in informing the public debate so that the electorate can make educated choices. Politicians are elected to make decisions and take action that reflects the wishes of the voters who elected them to office. In order to inform and educate the voters, journalists must scrutinize the politician’s decisions and report the implications to the public.  Thus, journalism could be viewed as crucial to the correct functioning of a Democracy.

The White House Correspondents’ Association

In 1913, President Wilson, concerned about remarks quoted by some newspapers, threatened to end the practice of Presidential Press Conferences. Pledging themselves to a professional code of conduct, a group of White House correspondents conviWhiteHouseCorrespondentsnced President Wilson to relent.

On February 25, 1914,  these journalists formally organized as the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) in response to a rumor that a Congressional committee was planning to select which journalists could attend Presidential press conferences. The organizations original mission was to keep Wilson from ending his press conferences. Since its founding, the group has expanded its mission to pushing for broader access to the White House and supporting vigorous reporting on the presidency.

Advocating for openness and transparency in every operation of the presidency, the WHCA fulfills its mission of oversight of the Oval Office and the federal agencies and supplies reporters to travel aboard Air Force One, the President’s official aircraft.

Filling the White House press room on a daily basis, the WHCA represents each sector of the media. According to the WHCA’s website, the organization traces its roots back to the newspaper reporters who, in the 1890s, stood outside the White House fence to question the President and visitors of the White House. Each generation of WHCA reporters has diligently worked to provide regular coverage of the President’s public activities through a rotating group of representatives the organization refers to as “the pool.”

The White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner

On April 25, 2015, the Annual White House Correspondent’s Dinner was held in Washington D.C. Bringing together journalists, celebrities, and members of Congress, a diverse croPresidentObamaWhiteHouseCorrespondentswd gathered to hear President Obama speak in a candid fashion: reciting a collection of what his aides call the “State of the Union of Jokes.” While Journalism awards and scholarships were presented, the mainstream media’s focus remained lighthearted and jovial as President Obama and Saturday Night Live comedian Cecily Strong made humorous remarks about politics and the media. When the President took center stage, he provided the American public with these jokes:

– “Six years into my presidency, people still say I’m arrogant. Aloof. Condescending. People are so dumb. That’s why I don’t meet with them.”

– “On Saturday Night Live, Cecily impersonates CNN anchor Brooke Baldwin, which is surprising, because usually the only people impersonating journalists on CNN are journalists on CNN.”

Humorous anecdotes aside, the role of investigative journalism is not a laughing matter. President Obama highlighted America’s need for journalists that expose corruption and provide a voice to the marginalized in our society when he honored Journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley, who in his words were “murdered for nothing more than trying to shine a light into some of the world’s darkest corners.” Telecast live by Fox News, MSNBC, C-SPAN and CNN, the dinner was hosted by the White House Correspondents’ Association, an organization of journalists who cover the press related to the President and the White House.

Freemasonry’s Search for the Truththomasjeffersonfreemason

Former U.S. President Thomas Jefferson, once remarked, “were it left to me to decide whether we should have a Government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate for a moment to prefer the latter.” Like American journalism, Freemasonry’s purpose is founded in search for truth. Sharing in the journalist mission of shining light in darkness, Freemasons operate under a strong moral code of conduct. To think high, to do well, to be tolerant to others, and to search after Truth are some of the duties of a Mason. To protect our Nation’s Democracy, all Americans have a responsibility to support the search for truth and the eradication of ignorance. A robust and investigative system of journalism is provides key information needed to ensure a well-functioning democratic government.