“Equality and Tolerance. The Masonic Values that may Fundamentally Define the 21st Century, a Century of Dramatic Changes."
R. W. Bro. George Duke
Grand Senior Warden of the Grand Lodge of A. F. & A. M. of India
Any institution founded on the principles of "Brotherly Love, Relief & Truth" and based on "The Five Points of Fellowship" has to be an extraordinary organization. Freemasonry is an exceptional Institution. It has survived wars and persecution, even when the odds have been stacked against us Freemasonry has survived and often prospered.
The positive values of "making a good man better" of "living within bounds of propriety set within the circle" of "meeting on the level and parting on the square" is a life style we have willingly accepted, for our good and the good of our family, our community, our country and now - globalization.
Can 3 million to 4 million Freemasons loosely connected globally truly make a difference to a world of 7 Billion people? To look to the future, we have to look to our past, did we made a difference and are we making a difference? The answer to that is very clear, many Freemasons worldwide have greatly impacted their countries and communities, and some are the founding fathers of nations & of political parties, writers & poets, judges & generals.
It has been said that Freemasonry advocates the principle of making “good men better” this alone extensively leads to Freemasons worldwide making a difference to the society they live in.
In India, we have had a president, several politicians, judges, generals and admirals, sportsmen and an array of others in our fraternity. Most of them have had a lasting impact on our country and we have honoured some of them. Some of them are humbled by their greatness. The most famous of our Indian Freemasons was Bro Swami Vivekananda, who was born 150 years ago. Was initiated, passed and raised in Lodge Anchor & Hope No1 in 1884 at Kolkata (Calcutta). He not only rationalized but also changed the thinking of millions of Indians. He created unity out of our diversity. A country of diverse religions, he preached that we were all reaching out to the one God through different routes.
QUOTE FROM BROTHER SWAMI VIVEKANANDA
God is at the Centre of all Religions. If it is true that God is at the Centre of all Religions, We must all move towards the Centre. Each of us may take a different radii, But ultimately must reach the Centre. Since we are all travelling on different radii, Differences there will be. All our differences must cease when we reach the Centre.
This is a direct reference to our Masonic rituals:
“This being a point from which a Master Mason can not err”
He travelled extensively in India and the USA. He advocated that all religions lay out different paths to the same God, this was a direct reference to Freemasonry in India where at least 5 religious books are placed on the altar of our Lodges, being the volumes of the sacred law. "Respect all religions and hold your own religion close to your heart" is our theme of respect, equality & tolerance. The principles of a fraternity, inculcated in its members always produces that single spark in an individual to make a difference to a nation.
The poem “If” was written by an Englishman born in India, Rudyard Kipling, a Freemason. The poem has been the essence of my life since I was 17 years old. It was framed and posted above every desk top at the Naval Academy. It has to a great degree molded me even before I knew Freemasonry was. Freemasons have since time immemorial had a profound impact on humanity.
The last verse of the poem“If”
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
It is widely written that Freemasonry had a tremendous influence on establishing the British Empire and its expansion in the 1700 & 1800s. This is also how Freemasonry came to India in 1730.
From these facts, we derive great confidence, that we Freemasons can, today and in time to come, make a serious difference for our people& communities, our countries and if we can have a unified body of Grand Lodges, have a profound impact on the world. RWBro Thomas Jackson is the unifying force having been the Grand Secretary of the Masonic World Conference body since inception, now in its 17th year. We are thankful to you Sir for this very noble act.
HAS THE WORLD LOST SOME OF THE OLD ETHICALVALUES & THE EFFECT OF THIS ON SOCIETY?
The management Guru Thomas Freedman in his book "The World is Flat" portraits a connected. How true. The world today is so connected that we have instant and live news of events as they play out at even remotest corners of the earth. We can be in touch with family and friends, send them letters and or photographs by email or face book or twitter or whatsapp, we can send CAD drawings and engineering details by email or hot-wired to another office, we can transfer money from bank to bank, all instantaneous. Today we use American technology, programmed in India, built in China, delivered by Norwegian ships, banking through London or New York. It is a Wow world that we live in.
But, all this technology has taken control of our everyday lives. It is now said, that children at 2 can play their favorite tunes or stories on I pads and phones before they learn to write a number or alphabet. Most often with both parents working, they have very little time to spend with their children teaching them core values. Schools today, also concentrate on teaching technology rather than teaching values. Hence we have a technology driven generation who have little or no values, not because they did not wish to learn, but because there was no one to teach them. Fewer people today attend churches or temples or religious institutions for the purpose of learning values of and for life. Sometimes if they do attend religious institutions, they imbibe the wrong values of intolerance to other religions.
This is where we Freemasons can step in to fill the gap, if our instructions within our Lodges is good and we truly make good men better, then these good men can make a difference to our communities, our countries and to the world we live in. we have done this in the past, we can do it again.
EQUALITY & TOLERANCE KEY MASONIC VALUES
Freemasonry being free, even within a Grand Lodge, the Districts or Regions, even the Lodges have a great degree of autonomy, which is good, but, restricts us to a great degree from executing large projects, whether it be setting up a school, or a hospital or even a social or cultural project. Often when we set up hospitals or schools, working on a singular level, we cannot raise the funds or the human resources to continue or maintain the projects resulting in us handing over these projects to NGO or Social organizations. This is how we lose assets of a social or cultural nature and the ability to imbibe our values to the community at large.
What would it be like if we could organize these projects at Grand Lodge level or several Grand Lodges handling super large projects?
Freemasonry is uniformly spread across the globe, our Brethren are from nearly every nation, every religion, every culture and every walk of life. It gives us striking examples of tolerance and equality. Tolerance of the different religions we practice, the different languages we speak and our different cultures. Equality that we all meet on the level, kings and regents trading the Scepter for the Trowel, we break bread together and are a united global fraternity.
CORE VALUES OF EQUALITY & TOLERANCE
In its essence, what is Equality? Equality covers a vast area; we have moral, social, political and legal equality. These several aspects of equality can be separately discussed in volumes, but let us look at equality from a Freemason view point.
Freemasonry teaches us that we are all free and by meeting on the level are all equal, very true, but equality is much more. Sir Thomas More, Henry the VIII Chancellor in his book "Utopia" tried to show a world where everyone was equal, worked to their capacity, but shared the gains. Karl Marx drew his inspiration from "Utopia" to write his volumes on socialism "Das Capital" unfortunately this idea of equality was sold to the poor and these ideas were used politically for a few to control their countries and their neighbors.
The noted philosopher Voltaire describes Equality in a very strange way:
“All citizens of a state cannot be equally powerful, but they can be equally free”
Voltaire goes further and defines equality very beautifully:
“Men are equal; it is not birth, but virtue that makes the difference”
Voltaire was a Freemason
He was initiated on 04th April 1778 at Les Neuf Soeurs Lodge in Paris.
Let us look at the facts of life, we are born with different levels of intelligence, different levels of physical health, different levels of social standing, we are born into families of different levels of wealth. What then is equality?
Equality is how we use these differences, it is how we humble ourselves from a position of strength or wealth to ensure that those who are less privileged, who are physically challenged, who come from single parent homes or orphans, who are refuges....... are firstly treated with respect and dignity, afforded health care and education. It is easy to state, but difficult to practice unless these values are inculcated into today's generation and generations to come.
Let us look at the Scandinavian countries, their social system is excellent. Let us for a moment put our political opinions about President Barack Obama aside, and take note of how he had staked his entire Presidency on the "Health Care Bill" a medical health care system for the less privileged, let us look at the two richest men in America, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, they have pledged their billions for social projects. Each of us in our small humble way can make a difference too.
Aristotle defines Tolerance: “as respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human. It is fostered by knowledge, openness, communication, and freedom of thought, conscience & belief. Tolerance is harmony in difference”
Toleration of breaking rules and regulations, breaking the law, toleration of family abuse, is the acceptance of indiscipline and as Voltaire says, can lead to anarchy.
However, Tolerance means acceptance or respecting that others will have different political views, opinions and beliefs and cultures, It is essential that we respect these different views, we don't have to accept them, but understand that different people will have different beliefs and thought process. This acceptance of different beliefs is very much evident in Freemasonry in India, where we have multiplicity of religions, cultures and languages, all free men of mature age believing in God are welcomed into our fraternity. On the altar, in our Lodges we place at least 5 volumes of the sacred laws and if someone from a different religion presents himself, his VSL is also placed on the altar. I have seen this in Ontario Canada too, predominately Christian, where a Hindu was being initiated and a Bhagwat Gita was specially brought and, placed on the altar for him to take his Solemn Obligation on. these facts may not be known worldwide in our fraternity but are very much part of our Masonic culture.
India’s unity comes from its diversity of multiple cultures, religions and languages, it is this diversity that has taught us the essence of equality and tolerance in society, yes, there are times when there is a break down, mainly created for political advantage, but the people at large are seeing through this smoke screen.
SPREADING AWARENESS THROUGH FREEMASONRY:
How do we get our message of core values of equality and Tolerance across to the present and next generations? We as Freemasons have all this technology, all these facilities and into the future even more. Today Freemasons post details of their meetings, of their Lodges, Districts and Regional Lodges including the Grand Lodge and during this world conference, Brethren will post our deliberations on the net, Facebook etc. In India, Freemasons are well connected using technology on mobile devises. These online postings encourage other Freemasons, lodges and Regions to emulate others and do as well, if not better.
Getting this message across to generation next, we need to establish schools, hospitals, cultural centers and putting social messages out on the internet, Facebook twitter.
In India, we have a Masonic school at Delhi with 1,300 students and this number is being increased gradually every year. Recently I visited this school for the inauguration of the 2nd floor of the school building, but what truly impressed me was that the 3rd floor construction had started. While at the school, the children received our Grand Master and his officers and displayed their talents with a cultural and musical show. Part of the curriculum is masonic values. At these schools we are not seeking to make new masons, but to ensure that are masonic values are transmitted to the masses.
Our Grand Lodge has several small hospitals and poly clinics, medical camps, old age homes, regular distribution for food grains to the poor and funding of juvenile cancer patient’s treatment among other things.
Over the preceding 3 years the Grand Lodge of India took up the project of solar power for electrification of over 200 villages which did not have electric lights. We managed to cross this target reaching 212 villages. The Grand Lodge has ensured a reserve of funds for the up keep and maintains of these projects.
The message of our ethics, our values and are beliefs are getting across to the people, however, if we had more schools and hospitals in every state and subsequently in every district, we would be amply able to spread our values first of Equality, then of Tolerance across to the next generation. This is a need not only in India, but across the world. A Global Masonic education institution may only be a dream, but “it is time we Masons dared to dream”
My personal Dream is to “Set up Masonic Schools and hospitals in every state in India” thereby creating Equality & Tolerance through education & good health