In something of (forgive the expression) a turn up for the books, I sold a book, face to face the other day to a Hare Krishna devotee. It made me laugh – in a good way – because, over the years, I’ve bought a lot of books from Hare Krishna devotees but never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that the situation might be reversed.
It happened like this: I was early for an appointment in Plymouth so I thought I’d go and sit in the park as it was a sunny day. I had romantic ideas about leaning against a tree and playing my mandolin which I just happened to have on my back, but as I walked into the park my attention was caught by a man, about my age, maybe a little older, sitting on a bank with his hand in a tell-tale bead bag: a Hare Krishna! Now, I may be alone in this, but, as a general rule, I like Hare Krishna devotees. They’re mostly well-meaning, kind, earnest seekers after some sort of Spiritual truth. They don’t drink or smoke or gamble; they are, for the most part, aiming for a higher, better life. They also serve some the best vegetarian food around…and they sell (and sometimes give away) good books…
Anyway, i called out, ‘Hare Krishna,’ in greeting and veered up the bank to say hello. Weirdly, it turned out to be a guy I’d bumped into in Birmingham over a year ago…strange co-incidence… We were chatting for a while. He often gives talks on Hinduism in schools and I’m a teacher so the talked drifted towards education and schools and the question of what life is all about… Then, obviously it drifted over to religion and Spirituality and how we are all trying to make sense of things… He’s a ‘qualified/licensed’ Hindu priest as well as a monk and I’m certainly that way inclined so the talk was deep and interesting and satisfying… And then we got talking about writing and publishing and marketing work and he asked my what kind of stuff I wrote… I had a copy of the two Masonic Meditations books in my bag so I showed him… He looked at them for a while, opening random pages, reading and, clearly, thinking about what they said…and then, most surprisingly, he asked if I was selling them… We agreed a price and I sold him one of the books and made a gift of the other (they’ve fed me well over the years!) and we continued to chat for a while about the nature of God and the purpose of human life… and then it was time for my appointment and we parted…
I always think books are magical things…If you open one at random, you so often find a meaningful message waiting for you and I’d been interested to see on what page he first opened up one of mine… What, i wondered, could the world of Masonic ritual, symbolism and philosophy have to say to a member of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness?
I first handed him the books in the order they were written: with the blue one, ‘Level Steps,’ on top and the red one, ‘Hidden depths,’ underneath. He immediately reversed their order and opened ‘Hidden Depths’ and he opened it to a page and a quotation I love:
‘When a man finds his path, Heaven is kind.’
The accompanying meditation in the book is as follows:
One of the great things that Freemasonry can do
for us is to provide pointers on the road of life that
help to keep us on the right path. Although it is up
to each of us to find our own way and to discover
our own truths and our own sense of what is right
for us and our connections, there is no doubt that
Freemasonry can provide a framework that helps
keep us within due bounds: with ourselves, our
connections and with God. Life can often be difficult
and the way sometimes is not that clear, but if
we use the tools that the Craft and Royal Arch put
at our disposal, we will find that it becomes more
easily visible, more easy to tread and more joyful
to follow to the end.
It seemed somehow very fitting that he should read that page first – for both of us. There we were, two men from, ostensibly, very different worlds, treading paths that, on the surface, are so different, bound together for a moment in the appreciation and realisation that we were both doing our best to get to the same place. If Hare Krishna devotees have a fault, it is their tendency to be overly dogmatic…it’s understandable, of course, but it’s not my way and, I believe, it is not Freemasonry’s way. But there we were, understanding at least for a moment that our chosen paths had the same goal: self-realisition; surrender to God’s plan for us, a desire to make ourselves perfect building blocks for His Temple. it was a moving moment, full of strength and faith and knowing.
When I was younger, I used feel a little overawed by the Hare Krishnas. I’d often walk away from them feeling like I was somehow falling short of the high standards they were setting in terms of self-discipline and Spiritual practice. The other day I walked away feeling happy, proud to be a Freemason; proud to be part of an organisation that promotes tolerance and understanding between all people, all cultures, all religions; proud and secure in the knowledge that my path will lead me to throne of God as surely as that devotee’s path will lead him to the lotus feet of Krishna; as surely as the path of any true seeker will lead them to their heart’s desire…