What is Freemasonry?
What did George Washington, Winston Churchill and Benjamin Franklin have in common with Goethe, Mozart, and Voltaire? And with Motilal Nehru and Swami Vivekanand? They all belonged to the biggest and the oldest fraternal organization in the world. And so did Edwin E. Aldrin, the first astronaut to land on moon, Sir Author Conan Doyle, the celebrated writer of “Sherlock Holmes” fame, Edward VII – King of England, George VI – King of England, Sir Alexander Fleming who invented Penicillin, many of the Presidents and Vice-presidents of America, many prime ministers of Canada, Henry Ford, pioneer automobile manufacturer, King C. Gillett of the Gillett Razor Co., Rudyard Kipling, the famous writer who lived in India, Sir Thomas Lipton, the Tea Man.
Freemasonry, spread across four corners of the globe, has thousands of men who are of rank and opulence. Monarchs and kings have always taken keen interest in Freemasonry and have with great enthusiasm worked for furtherance of its objectives. Did you know that Royal Society was started as a virtually a Masonic Lodge subsidiary, before becoming an independent body? Those of you who know Masonic symbolism will never fail to notice them on the USA $1 bill.
Without any doubt included in the list of Masons have been people who changed the course of history. However, the organization they all belonged to remains the least understood organization among public. It has always perplexed outsiders and has always been an organization shrouded in mystery. People lack even the rudimentary knowledge about Masonry, and ignorance results in confused ideas and spread of misinformation. It has a fair share of critics, and detractors, and baseless allegations have often levelled against it. Freemasonry has a long history of not answering to the critics, and this has been the reason why so many misconceptions exist about Freemasonry.
Speak of Freemasonry to a common man, and you find his mind is filled with many unanswered questions: Is Freemasonry a religion? Is it a political organization? Isn’t Masonic Lodge a Secret organization? How can one become a Mason? In this short article, I have tried to explain what Freemasonry is, what are its objectives, what do Masons do, and have tried to deal with some misconceptions that surround Freemasonry.
Freemasonry is a society of men concerned with moral and spiritual values. Its members are taught its precepts by a series of ritual dramas, which follow ancient forms and use stonemasons’ customs and tools as allegorical guides. The fundamental ritual consists of a drama of building of King Solomon’s Temple, and the fate of its master architect. Using this allegory, moral lessons are taught. Since the story concerns building of a temple, Masonic rituals are replete with the tools of masons like level, plumb-rule, square, compasses and so on. Some of the Masonic terminology has found its way to the dictionary, and ‘on the level’ and ‘on the square’ are no longer exclusive Masonic clichés.
Every Freemason believes in God and asserts this belief. His way of worshipping may be different, and it is never discussed in a Masonic Lodge (“Lodge” is the place where Masons meet). What is important is the belief in God. Freemasonry is a brotherhood, and the basic premise for the brotherhood of men is the fatherhood of God. In order to agree to the fatherhood of God, one must agree that there is one Supreme Being controlling our thoughts and actions. It is this philosophy that makes it a prerequisite that Masons have a firm belief in the Supreme Being.
How a man worships God is purely his private affair. Masonry is not a religion, but it certainly is about God, since it wants you to affirm your belief in the Almighty. Since it does not interfere with the way you worship, it stands firmly for the freedom of religions. On the sacred pedestal in the Lodges in India it is customary to place with reverences the Holy Books of all the faith members subscribe to.
However, Masonry is not a substitute for religion. Its essential qualification opens it to men of many religions and it expects them to continue to follow their own faith. It does not allow religion to be discussed at its meetings. Since Masonry is not a religion, it does not offer a pathway to salvation. That is the area of religion. It constantly reminds you of the duty that you owe to the Almighty and to your fellow-men and expects you to follow the path shown by your religion to attain that. Because religion and politics often drive people apart, they are never discussed in a Masonic Lodge. Masonry also provides an avenue for charity, since Masonic Lodges do a great deal of Charity, it being one of the three tenets of Freemasonry.
While freemasonry expects a member (“brother”) to be active, it also makes it explicitly clear to him that a Mason must never put his duties and responsibilities to Freemasonry ahead of his duties to his family, to his God and to his country.
Freemasonry tries to induct good men into its Order, and strives to make better men out of them, by constantly reminding them of the duty they own to their family, friends, neighbors, to people in distress, and to the Almighty.
There is only one essential qualification for admission into and continuing membership of a Masonic Lodge: Belief in a Supreme Being. Membership is open to men of the age of 21 and above, of any race or religion who can fulfil this essential qualification and are of good repute. The greatest condition, the belief in Supreme Being, is asserted before one is initiated into the Lodge, and before one takes the Masonic Oath. It is required to be asserted much before that, at the time when one applies for the membership of a Lodge. How to become a Freemason? Traditionally, a Mason would not invite a friend to join, but would wait for the friend to ask “of his own free will”. If you want to join Freemasonry, you may contact another Freemason, of may get in touch with the Masonic Lodge in your city. Freemasonry in India is firmly established and has been there for 275 years.
For many years Freemasons have followed three great principles: Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. Every true Freemason will show tolerance and respect for the opinions of others and behave with kindness and understanding to his fellow creatures, pouring his brotherly love over him. By relief Masons mean relief to the community from their sufferings. When a candidate is initiated in the Lodge, he is reminded of this duty he is expected to fulfill to those who need his help. Freemasons are taught to practice charity, and to care, not only for their own, but also for the community as a whole, both by charitable giving, and by voluntary efforts and works as individuals. Moreover, charity need not be a financial charity alone; a Mason is expected to practice charity of thought. Needless to say, the charity expected of a Mason is an absolutely voluntary contribution. Freemasonry has seldom publicized its charitable activities, though Masons do a great deal of charity through its institutions spread all over the world. From its earliest days, Freemasonry has been concerned with the care of orphans, the sick and the aged. This work continues today. In addition, large sums are given to national and local charities. Freemasons strive for truth, requiring high moral standards and aiming to achieve them in their own lives. Freemasons believe that these principles represent a way of achieving higher standards in life.
Freemasonry demands from its members a respect for the law of the country in which a man works and lives. Its principles do not in any way conflict with its members’ duties as citizens but should strengthen them in fulfilling their public and private responsibilities. The use by a Freemason of his membership to promote his own or anyone else’s business, professional or personal interests is condemned, and is contrary to the conditions on which he sought admission to Freemasonry. His duty as a citizen must always prevail over any obligation to other Freemasons, and any attempt to shield a Freemason who has acted dishonorably or unlawfully is contrary to this prime duty.
Allegations have often been levelled on Masonry that is a secretive organization. Let me clarify, it is not a secret society, but is a society with secrets. The secrets of Freemasonry are concerned with its traditional modes of recognition. It is not a secret society, since all members are free to acknowledge their membership and will do so in response to inquiries for respectable reasons. Its constitutions and rules are available to the public. There is no secret about any of its aims and principles. Thousands of books have been written about various aspects of Masonry by both Freemasons and non-Masons, and they are easily accessible to the general public. Search the Internet and you will find thousands of pages giving all the information about different aspects of Freemasonry. People are often invited to visit the Masonic Lodge buildings to see the place where Masons meet. Like many other societies, it does regard some of its internal affairs as private matters for its members. A visit to the United Grand Lodge of England is a treat for the Masons as well as non-Masons, and they welcome you to a guided tour. How can an organization with so much public presence be called a Secret Organization?
A Freemason is encouraged to do his duty first to his God (by whatever name He is known) through his faith and religious practice; and then, without detriment to his family and those dependent on him, to his neighbor through charity and service. While none of the ideas Masons follow are exclusive to Freemasonry, and there may be many organizations which have similar objectives, what is however, unique about Freemasonry is the allegorical drama in which the principles are presented to the members, and the constant reminders that the Masonic rituals give to the members to help them remember the duties that people often tend to forget.