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THE MESSAGE AND MISSION OF MASONRY: ITS MEANING TO INDIA
by Narayan P. Pandit
With intent to gain clearer and broader vision of the entire Fraternity the editor of THE AMERICAN FREEMASON addressed inquiries to representative brothers of other lands and peoples. Too long have American Craftsmen been content to remain ignorant of all Masonry except that of their own jurisdiction, or of their own country. Because of this ignorance is a narrow provincialism engendered and intolerance manifested. It is time that our section of Freemasonry, most prosperous in material things and numerically the strongest, should pass beyond mere provincialism in any outlook upon the universal institution. The view from the heights is always inspiring, and well worth exertion of the upward climb. We can look from thence beyond the petty boundaries which an imagined convenience has marked, and the walls of division that prejudice and ignorance have raised. Sweeping the full horizon, we may see that men and Masons, the wide world over, are striving in many ways for the betterment of humanity, for the revelation of the Truth that maketh free, for the coming of the reign of righteousness on this sin- and sorrow-stained earth. Is it not better, my brother; more worthy a real man's thinking and doing, to have part in these great strivings, and a generous sympathy for all the diverse workers, than to fold supine hands self-righteously, and condemn all who are not our own house-hold.
The editor's question to these foreign brothers was, in substance: "What message has Masonry to men of your race and country, and what work is it doing for its membership and the world?" To this query several replies have already been received, each one giving new and inspiring thought. First place is here found for that from India. Brother Narayan Purushottam Pandit speaks well for that vast conglomerate of races which fills the great Asiatic empire. Such a letter certainly gives us better understanding of the needs and aspirations of these our far-away brothers:
"To the Editor of The American Freemason:
"I am greatly pleased to acknowledge receipt of your letter of inquiry. The high sentiments therein expressed are truly admirable, and they do honor to the editor of a paper which is specially designed to enlighten the Craft by placing facts fairly and clearly before its members; giving, at the same time due attention to the spiritual, ethical and philosophical teachings of our beloved institution.
Whatever may be our differences of race and environment and heredity and education, we are Brothers - bound by the Mystic Tie. As Freemasons we all look to the Light. Every one of us is bound to a work of enlightenment - not only for our brothers, but for the world at large, where yet millions are groping in darkness and enslaved by ignorance and superstition. It is our duty to raise the standard of Truth, to rescue that Humanity which is being crushed beneath despotism, tyranny and cunning in many forms. It is the noble aim and object of Freemasonry to lift high and rally under the peaceful banner of Light and Truth - to bring together the nations and peoples of the earth, long separated and eyeing each other as enemies. Let us look forward and prepare ourselves for the day when there shall be no distinctions of caste, color or creed; when there shall be no rank achieved by mere possession of wealth or the accident of birth; when all men shall stand upon the level of opportunity, free to join hand in hand, and united in singing praises to the Great Architect of the Universe. It is necessary that we come now to an understanding of each other; that we help, each other; that we work for the whole world. It is not a noble task to liberate the poor slaves of ignorance and superstition, and to aid them in reaching the free and blessed atmosphere of Knowledge and Enlightenment.
It may not be amiss for me to say something for you on the present state of Freemasonry in India. Lodges of the English and Scottish Constitutions have been and are working side by side, in harmony and accord, to spread the grand principles of the Craft. Men of the different castes, colors and creeds meet on the level in our Lodges, and there learn to love each other as children of the same Supreme Being, who is the Father of all.
There are six District Grand Lodges under the English Constitutions - those of Bombay, Madras, Punjaub, Bengal, Burma and Ceylon. These have jurisdiction over thirty-three, twenty-five, twenty-six, seventy-four, fourteen and seven Lodges, in the ordered given. There are several Lodges in the principal cities, as Bombay, Madras and Calcutta. To many of these Lodges Royal Arch Chapters are attached. In these bodies many Brahmins, Mahommedans, Parsis, Jains and Sikhs have been initiated. Other Masonic bodies, such as Roman Eagle conclaves, Consistories of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, etc., are flourishing. Their ranks, however, are chiefly filled from the Europeans and high governing officials. Indeed, it may be said that at present they are exclusively confined to Europeans, as but few persons among the natives aspire to rise in them. Brother Prasono Coomar Duti was, I think, the only Hindu who has ever risen high in these offshoots of Masonry.
You ask "What message does Freemasonry hold and bring for the people of your great and ancient land?" Let me declare the truth, and so I may communicate to you something of this message. Freemasonry has been considered solemnly secret, from every point of view, by many narrow-minded brethren. And yet its work is, and should be, open as the day. Our institution was formed to help the weak and to raise the fallen. Your Great Teacher said: "They who are whole need not a physician, but those who are sick." If we do not give up narrow-minded prejudices and superstitions and intolerances, and extend hands to embrace those who arc qualified to be raised, it is quite impossible for us to do the intended work.
You know well, dear brother, that India is a poor country now. The rich, who fatten themselves on the blood and brawn of the poor, have no value of time and life. They smother themselves in senseless enjoyment. The poor have not the means to maintain themselves. Under these circumstances it is clear that there is no opportunity for men of limited means to join our ranks. The rich merchants and high officials who join us are too busy with their cares and affairs. They lack the interest to study and understand the grand philosophy of Masonry, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols. Because of these things our Institution, flourishing though it is, has so far failed to extend its benign influence to the public at large.
As to the social, political and religious aspirations of brethren in India; Masonry here is truly unsectarian, and broad as the thoughts of men. Every Mason is at liberty to maintain and hold to his religious and social beliefs. The Brahmins, the Mahommedans, the Parsis and the Christians are on a level. For social and political discussions there is no scope. And except for a few brethren, there are none to seek for information and enlightenment in the Craft. Our institution is, I say, unsectarian. That is the great, the irremovable bulwark of the Craft. The Gita, the Bible, the Koran, and the Zendavesta can each be taken as the Volume of Sacred Law, without any violation of the ancient and honored landmarks. Universal Masonry, as we understand it, invites to her peaceful standard all good men and true, without distinction because of caste, color or creed. Why should we, or any of us, in this day of spiritual awakening and enthusiasm, refuse to march forward together. The Divine Light is before us all, and the Divine Secrets are revealed to all. Is it any wonder, my dear brother, that Americans and Europeans speak of India as "the inscrutable East?" A man living on the material plane can not find out nor grasp the living truths revealed to him who is upon the spiritual plane. The Indians are called "dreaming heathens," because Western materialists have never really tried to understand them. The great object of Indian philosophy is to be one with all that we see, which is the apparent garb of God, and by this we may hope to reach understanding of and communion with the spirit hidden within. "That thou art" is the foundation of Indian ethics. "I am Brahma" is the motto of Indian philosophy. "God is indescribable enlightenment and joy" is our watchword. "Do unto others as you would be done by"; "I and my Father are one"; "I am the light of the world" - all these are Indian truths in another garb. Occidentals have no enthusiasm to study the philosophy of India in its original form, and so the Indians, not being understood, are dubbed "heathen."
But the day is near now when we can understand each other. I entreat you to ponder over the Bhagavad-Gita and the Upanishadas, which contain the highest teachings of Indian philosophy. Islamism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism and Christianity reach the same great truths in different forms. You will not think me carrying this matter too far, for surely you are of like opinion, if I say that God never revealed His will and His Spirit exclusively to any one nation or any one person. He is the Father of all His children and is not partial to some and neglectful of others. His love is unlimited, and whosoever becomes one with Him will know Him in essence, which is the Supreme Knowledge and Bliss.
Freemasonry has its mission with and for men of all peoples; to raise from gross materialism to a perception of spiritual truths. There is even a broader Masonry than is taught in our Lodge rooms - though for which the Lodge gives us direction. God has spread His symbols everywhere - in water, in sky and on earth. Every phenomenon in Nature expresses some Divine Truth. Let us but open our eyes and seek to understand. Let us make effort to raise the veil of allegory and read aright this wonderful symbolism of the Universal Temple that the Great Architect has placed before us.
I shall be greatly pleased to send you articles on Indian Masonry, as its principles are taught in the Vedas, the Upanishadas and the Puranas, which are our national treasures. Tell your readers I will consider it a pleasure and a privilege to answer any queries as to Indian ethics, philosophy or symbolism.
Dear brother, may the Light of the World enlighten you.
Arand, India, February 23, 1911.
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Last modified: March 22, 2014