Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Really Important Things


Brethren all,

This just arrived from our friends from Loge Erasmus in Bangkok. It's the Summer Oration given by Bro.: John Casson at the Loge Erasmus St John's Celebration held on July 12th, 2009. It's longer than I normally post, but its very good reading.

Jim.:

During the last few months I have came to the conclusion that there is a certain amount of confusion amongst you, and Robert Lomas described in one of the Hiram books what I can see, when he said that when considering Freemasonry the world is divided into two sets of people.

The first are non Masons who look at our rituals and traditions and ask “what is this all about”. The second are the brethren themselves who sit through these rituals but also ask themselves, “What is this all about”.

I will in fact be looking at three areas, and these come directly from talking with a number of brethren:

Firstly, could we make Freemasonry more relevant and start to address the world’s problems, by discussing topical matters such as global warming, the economic situation, third world problems etc.?

Secondly, why don’t we get onto the more interesting stuff in Freemasonry - the mystical element and the elusive ancient secrets?

Lastly, if the JW educates the EA’s and the SW educates the FC’s, who educates the Master Masons?

So, a lot to cover, let’s get stuck in and consider first whether we should be discussing more worldly matters, even though politics and religion are specifically no go areas.

A good starting point to discover why we are actually sitting here today is our Founders Declaration, which states:

Freemasonry is a spiritual movement arising from an inner need,….

And the Loge is founded ……

on a fundamental trust in the spiritual and moral principles that stimulates the world and its progress.

Another way of saying this is, by concentrating on spiritual and moral matters, as individuals we have a direct, positive influence on those around us and our world.

And let’s just ponder a moment on the words of our Grand Master on this very subject, who said:

“We are not material beings on a spiritual path but

spiritual beings on a material path”

And with regards how Freemasonry interacts with the outside world he says:

I’m sure that every individual mason is concerned with particular aspects of the current world situation. Yet, masonry itself does not aim to influence the world situation. I full heartedly agree with the Pro Grandmaster of the United Grand Lodge of England, who said, “the only influence masonry should be seeking is over itself and its members”.

I will come back to our Grand Master’s words when I look at who educates the Master Masons. For now, lets say that we are a collection of individuals who think alike on a number of matters, not all matters, but we choose deliberately to concentrate on those things that unite us:

  • The spirituality
  • The times for sharing & lending a helping hand
  • The fellowship – the fun we have together

Rather than deliberating on the things that divide us, amongst them - politics & religion. I would say we do not ignore politics & religion; we simply relegate them to our world in the “west”, and deal with them there.

Our Loge is our sanctuary. Our place to stop a while, ponder and recharge our batteries to tackle our worldly problems. Mahatma Gandhi encapsulated in a few words the essence of the message I wish to leave with you, when he said:

"We must become the change we wish to see in the world."

Which brings me on nicely to my second point which is about the more “interesting” stuff in Freemasonry - the esoteric, the mystic, the ancient secrets which seem to be so elusive.

I would partly answer this by simply saying that “complicated is not necessarily better”, and with that thought I would suggest we consider Puff the Magic Dragon. This song was written in the late 1950’s, and was very much a part of my formative years as was my mother.

It is only in recent years that I realised my mothers advice had prepared me for Freemasonry. She was a wonderful woman, full of good honest common sense, love for her family and friends and a deep belief in God and it is her words that still echo through my mind to this day:

  • Play fair
  • Everything in moderation
  • Clean up your own mess
  • Don’t take things that aren’t yours
  • Stand up and admit your mistakes
  • Be proud of your achievements
  • If you’re wrong, say you’re sorry
  • Always say thank you for any kindness

With all of these I see simple Masonic messages - doing unto others as you would wish they would do unto you – acting on the square to name but two.

Is there a lesson for all of us here? I think so. There is a tendency as we grow older, with greater knowledge and sophistication, to lose sight of the basic, common sense life lessons taught to us by our parents.

Now, whilst it is important to make a daily advancement in Masonic knowledge there is a danger in becoming lost in the more “intellectual” side of the Craft.

My mother would call it “not seeing the wood for the trees”, and my point is - if you do not understand and apply the basics, there will be so much in Freemasonry that will slip through your fingers.

For this reason all of us should not lose touch with some of our most basic tenets and should try and retain just a little bit of this past world.

This brings me nicely to Puff the Magic Dragon. For those of you not familiar with this song, it is about the lost innocence of childhood. The loss of the wonder of imagination - the loss of dreams - of having spontaneous fun - laughing until your sides hurt.

Little Jacky Paper no longer visits his old friend Puff, because he has other toys, perhaps we would say more adult, sophisticated toys. How many of you realise that this song about innocence lost was banned in a number of countries, and the reason? Apparently the lyrics were said to be drugs related, more specifically about smoking marijuana, and the reasons, well...

  • Puff was an obvious name for a song about smoking pot isn’t it?
  • little Jackie Paper's surname referred to rolling papers
  • "autumn mist" was either clouds of marijuana smoke or a drug-induced state
  • the land of "Hannah Lee" was really the Hawaiian village of Hanalei, known for its particularly potent marijuana plants; and so on.

Unfortunately none of it is true (Google it if you like). It is just one example of supposedly sophisticated minds, a few years later, seeing things which are just not there. The point I want to make is that there is always the danger of reading a situation or a person incorrectly. Using our own perception of reality to judge something or someone, and Puff is a fine example of this.

To illustrate the point further there is a cautionary tale from Zen Buddhism. Many, many years ago pilgrims would travel very large distances to a remote monastery in Tibet to learn from a famous spiritual teacher.

When his disciples began their evening meditation, the cat who lived in the monastery made such a noise that it distracted them, so the teacher ordered that the cat be tied up during the evening practice.

Years later, when the teacher died, the cat continued to be tied up during the meditation session, and when the cat eventually died, another cat was brought to the monastery and tied up in its place.

Centuries later, learned descendants of the spiritual teacher discussed at great lengths, held weekend seminars and wrote scholarly treatises about the religious significance of tying up a cat for meditation practice.

So, we have a few diverse threads to bring together:

  • my mother’s advice
  • Puff the Magic Dragon
  • and a Tibetan monk and his gagged cat

I hope you see my thread of thought, but if not, here’s a summary of my message in second part.

Firstly, especially for our newer brethren, do not get distracted by the more remote areas of Masonic study, these are very worthy areas of future study but, for now, they are for another day.

Secondly, a message to us all, bear in mind that our increased knowledge and sophistication may have distorted our view of many matters which should be straight forward.

We all view the world through the lens of our own prejudice, what psychologists call “confirmation bias”. By this they mean we seek evidence that confirms our beliefs and ignore or reinterpret evidence that refutes them.

I am sure many of us here have experienced “confirmation bias” in relationships. You do something wrong, and no matter what you do to try and make amends (the flowers, the chocolates), those good and worthy actions are viewed in a negative light.

For now brethren, my advice is learn your craft; concentrate on the basics; remember, complicated is not necessarily better; and most importantly, have fun. Enjoy it. If your time in Loge gives you nothing else, having fun is a wonderful feeling to take with you back to the west.

My last point related to the question: If the JW educates the EA’s and the SW educates the FC’s, who educates the Master Masons?

I would suggest we expand the question further to ask how we apply what we learn in the Loge to the real world.

Just to set the scene lets have the briefest of retrospects of the three degrees

Firstly, one who works with his hands is a labourer Remember that the tools of the first degree are ones of manual labour; - the mallet and the chisel.

Secondly, one who works with his hands and head is a craftsman and in the second degree tools of design are added, for the completion of the rough ashlar.

Lastly, one who works with his hands, head & heart is a master, which is the essence of the third degree.

Now, the JW’s role of educating the labourers of the first degree, and the SW’s of educating the craftsman of the second are very, very different to the skills a master will use, when applying not only his head & hands but his heart.

.

Let me tell you another story to illustrate my point. A philosophy professor stands before his class. He picks up a large empty mayonnaise jar and proceeds to fill it with rocks, about 2 inches in diameter. He then asks the students “is the jar full?”, and they agree it is.

The professor then picks up a box of small pebbles and pours them into the jar, he shakes the jar and the pebbles roll into the open spaces between the rocks, and he asks them again if it is full, they laugh and agree it is.

He then picks up a box of sand and pours it into the jar, and the sand fills all the space left. "Now," says the professor, "I want you to recognise that this is your life. The rocks are the important things - your family, your partner, your health, your children - things that if everything else were lost and only they remained, you would be happy & your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house, your car. The sand is everything else. The small stuff. If you put the sand into the jar first, there is no room for the pebbles or the rocks. The same goes for your life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you.

"Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner out dancing. Attend your Lodge. (OK, I added that one) There will always be time to go to work, clean the house, and fix the waste disposal. Take care of the rocks first - the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand."

There is absolute silence. Then a student approaches the podium, takes the jar and proceeds to pour in a glass of beer, which of course fills the remaining spaces, making the jar truly full.

And the moral of this tale is: No matter how full your life; there is always room for a BEER. Seriously though, there should always be time for a beer, for G&T’s, for fun - whatever you perceive that to be; without detriment to yourself, your family or friends.

However, coming back to the question of who educates the Master Masons.

It is our duty to know what each others large rocks are, and to help recognize and acknowledge what is important in our lives.

I will come back now, full circle, to the words of our Grand Master:

We don’t only need to learn to practice our rituals but we also need to learn to see and to hear how our ritual is mirroring the essence of who we are, and who we may become in our hearts and lives.

Most of all, we need to learn to share our individual insights with each other in the Lodge. The Masonic Lodge of the 21st century needs to become the place where modern men support each other to reveal and practice this essence in their individual lives outside the Lodge.

The simple answer Brethren is that we educate each other, and I see my duty during the rest of my tenure as Orator of Loge Erasmus to assist each of you in this task. That for me is our road ahead - not just dispelling Masonic clichés, articles and books, but getting as close to our brethren as a real brother, understanding the big rocks, and what are just pebbles and sand - the small stuff.

So brethren, that brings me to my final few words. I cannot think of a better conclusion to the message I wish to give you today than to borrow some words from the English ritual.

“I therefore hope that you will have but one aim in view,

to please each other and unite in the grand design

of being happy and communicating happiness to others”.


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