talking to

Grand Master of Grand Lodge of Mauritius

Mauritius, a fascinating land of whom Mark Twain, also famous Freemason, said after visiting it, “Mauritius was first made by God, and then heaven was made, and heaven was copied after Mauritius”, lost in the middle of the Indian Ocean, providing a home for 1.3 million ­people of different cultures and religions from the far corners of the planet during the colonial period. We will meet here: Hindu with their colourful gods and festivals, Creoles – descendants of ­African slaves, Muslims, Chinese and Europeans, each with their own culture, traditions and religion. These populations live in a limited territory, in balance, tolerance and mutual respect. Perhaps the whole world – much larger than this island – should learn from the way of life of these people and put an end to the misunderstandings and ambitions for expansion and domination that are doing us so much harm.

I would like to start our interview by making a short presentation of you, both as a Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Mauritius and as a citizen of the Republic of Mauritius.
Thank you for coming to us, to Mauritius. As for myself, as a profane, I was born and bred in Mauritius. I studied in France and in the UK. I am a land surveyor by profession, and also hold an M.B.A., a Masters in Business Administration. In Mauritius I currently have a practice of surveyors and valuation, and we are also in the property development business. This is my profane side. I am married, with three sons who are already grown‑ups, each one with his own life. As for Masonry, I was initiated in 1993 and climbed all the stairs to becoming Worshipful Master of my Lodge in 1999. At this time, when I was initiated, the Mauritius Lodges were part of the Grand Loge Nationale française – GLNF. We also had had, over the last 100 years or so, the presence of English Masonry in Mauritius through the United Grand Lodge of England, the Grand Lodge of Scotland and the Grand Lodge of Ireland, who had Lodges present in Mauritius. In 2005, GLNF granted us independence and full recognition. So, the Grand Lodge of Mauritius was really born in March 2005. As for myself, after being Worshipful Master I pursued Masonic studies in different rites. In Mauritius we have the advantage, so to say, to practice Freemasonry in seven different rites – seven; namely the English Emulation Ritual, the Scottish Standard, the Modern Rite, the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, the Rectified Rite, the York Rite of the US and the Memphis Misraim Rite, which is quite particular. I decided, after being Worshipful Master, to pursue studies in all of them. I reached the 33rd Degree Ancient and Accepted and also became Supreme Commander of the Mother Lodge. I also belong to the Knight Templars and to the Order of Malta. So, in an nutshell, this is me.

It’s a very impressive CV! How many Masons and Lodges are in Mauritius? Are there Lodges in languages other than French or English? What appendant bodies do you have here?
The Grand Lodge of Mauritius currently has 23 Lodges, working the seven Rites which I’ve just mentioned in both languages, both English and French. We have a total of approximately 700 Freemasons in the Grand Lodge of Mauritius, all of them spread among the seven Rites and the 23 Lodges. Alongside them we also have side degrees and appendant bodies. For example, in the Emulation and Scottish Standard we have the Royal Arch Masons and the Cryptic Degrees. For the York Rite we also have the American Royal Arch, its independence granted by the General Grand Chapter in the USA, together with Cryptic Degrees also. For the Modern Rite we have the whole body of Chapters, the supreme body being the Supreme Commander of the Modern Rite. By the way, I used to be the Supreme Commander a few years ago. And we also have the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, with the whole body of chapters and Supreme Council of Ancient and Accepted Rite in Mauritius, with its Supreme Commander. All of this independent, granted recognition worldwide.

Do you think that today’s world needs Freemasonry as in the past? What do you think is the role of Freemasonry today?
The efforts of Freemasonry articulate themselves around three fundamental principles, namely brotherly love, relief and truth, in addition to the cardinal virtues of temperance, fortitude, prudence and justice. The Lodge is an allegory of what I’ve just mentioned and all members aspire to setting up a society where the divisions of the outer world, or the profane world, do not find a foothold. By way of symbols and allegories, in Ritual workings, we can unite our members. This is precisely what the founding fathers required, that no politics and no religion find their way in our workings and in our Lodges. These are more than enough reasons why Freemasonry has its place in today’s world.

What is the most difficult problem facing Freemasonry today?
You’d be surprised if I tell you that the most difficult problem facing Freemasonry could be curiosity and suspicion – from the outside world. When you see that such a nice organization is working so nicely, you cannot not have curiosity and suspicion. Listen, everywhere in the world people talk about Freemasonry and we have to stop at our doorsteps, we have to stop candidates with misconceptions of what we are and find their real aspirations as profanes, as candidates, and whether they’ll be able to go through the Masonic journey or not, whether we will be able to take them through the Masonic journey. We also have to look at the visceral opponents and detractors who find in Masonry a scapegoat for all the major problems in the world. It’s very easy, you know? Through all the ages you can see and hear about Masonry being used as a scapegoat for problems facing the world. This has to be handled very prudently, with a balanced dosage of open‑mindedness, vigilance and caution in the recruitment of profanes. And, secondly, reinforcement of the ongoing training process within the Lodge.

Speaking about recruitment, is Freemasonry evangelical or parochial? Do we go out and recruit or wait on applications?
Freemasonry is in essence universal and its principles aiming at making good men better cannot be limited in any manner whatsoever. This can’t be. It proposes a pedagogy through a system of morality and brotherhood, by the use of symbols and allegories and dramatic presentations. It encourages its members to expand their knowledge about the world around them. It is devoted to the promotion of welfare and happiness of all mankind. This is our Brotherhood. Freemasonry teaches its members that philanthropy and service is a moral obligation of man for mankind. So I think that the terminology of “evangelical” or “parochial” is inappropriate, as Freemasonry has never been and never will be a religious organization. It does require the belief in a superior being – this is our first obligation, you have to believe in a superior being – but it never has been a religious organization. Never. It promotes all beliefs, all religions, and sets all religions at par. No religion is superior to the other. Every human being finds his or her own way to good, and you respect this. Freemasonry wishes to remain the center of union of all men. This is our aim. Irrespective of color, creed, race, religion etc. Freemasonry has nothing to do with religion, nothing to do with creeds. We just aim at the betterment of mankind as per the plans of the Grand Architect of the Universe.

English‑speaking Grand Lodges have problems because the membership is decreasing. What is the situation in Mauritius and in the Grand Lodges influenced by the French language?
As I told you earlier, we practice Freemasonry in both languages in Mauritius – French and English. I’m tempted to say that language itself is not the barrier. I would say it is – probably – the content of the Rite. Be it in English or in French, we all notice what you just mentioned, a decrease in numbers. But, for my part, in Mauritius, we have many different degrees but depending on what Masonic content it has to offer to the Brother. You already know you have two types of rituals: the rituals which have to be learned by heart – these are mostly of English origin. The York Rite, the Emulation, Scottish Standard – these are of Anglo‑Saxon origin and these are rituals that must be known by heart. Then you have continental rites, which are the Modern Rite, the Ancient and Accepted, the Scottish Rectified Rite and the Memphis Misraim Rite. These are not by heart, these are rituals which are read and worked and in these rituals the Brothers are requested to prepare the working and to come and share the working with the Brothers in Lodge Assembly and to discuss. We have noticed that most of the time there is a greater interest for those rituals where you have full‑fledged discussions on workings presented by Brothers in Lodge Assembly. So I wouldn’t say it’s a question of English or French, it’s more a question of content, of what is offered to the Brother. But in many of our Lodges we have plenty of our Brothers who prefer learning and doing the ritual by heart rather than discussing. We have both. But in the Grand Lodge of Mauritius the rituals by heart are not the most important. Our Brothers prefer the rituals where you have discussions, in English or in French.

Do you think that Freemasonry has somehow eroded? Has Freemasonry become more of a charity organization?
A Freemason has to be in a position to fit in the plans of the Temple, of the Lodge and of the Grand Architect of the Universe. This is why we are seen as being rough ashlars. The Freemason is a rough ashlar who has to constantly work on himself. We see the light of initiation, but it is just the first step as we start on this path. So whether it’s eroded or not – I would say not necessarily, because in the process of refining ourselves as rough ashlars we have the Mason’s working tools, of which we make use to better ourselves. And Freemasonry has a motto: “We try to make good men even better”. A Grand Lodge and its Brethren make use of the working tools of the Freemason cannot have failures.

What is the importance of the Masonic philosophy and spirituality today?
That’s a big question. Especially in our contemporary era Masonry proposes to its members a method based on myths and allegories and symbols, embodied in rituals and ceremonies which provide them the opportunity to grow as individuals. It creates a form of unprejudiced exchanges between men from all walks of life, professions, socio‑economic backgrounds and cultural backgrounds as well, particularly in Mauritius. It is by all means, I would say, a progressive method, provided the Freemason is presented with working tools at each specific step he takes in his Masonic journey and in his Masonic career. Therefore, although Masonry is not a religion, members must have a belief in a supreme being. Masonry insists on the right and duty of each member to think for himself on religious, political and social matters. These have nothing to do with it. Like any fraternity, some of the Masonic information is privileged only to its Brethren – however, Freemasonry is not a secret society. We may be discreet, but we are not secret and we don’t have possession of a “Masonic secret”. In these days, when everything is available on the internet, you know we don’t have any secrets. But the secret is perhaps the way we work with our Brethren in our Lodges. It’s the way we impart to them that part of philosophy, that part of the Masonic path which can take them to a higher level.

It was a very good answer to a very complex problem! From your international Masonic experience, have you noticed differences between Eastern and Western European Freemasonry, between South and North Africa? What kind of Freemasonry do you think is closer to what Freemasonry should be?
I am tempted to say that Freemasonry should be as it is. Freemasonry has nothing to change in itself. Freemasonry is a whole set of values where nothing has to change. But maybe different populations around the world have to learn how to adapt to Freemasonry, and not the other way around. You rightly said so, I’ve traveled the world, I’ve seen Masonry everywhere in the world – recently I was the Executive Secretary for African Grand Lodges, so I’ve seen all throughout Africa – and you’re right, the way different populations view Masonry might be different, but not Freemasonry itself. It’s a journey where each human being, coming from different areas of the world, has to learn how to come to Freemasonry. If I can use an expression: Freemasonry is for everybody. Freemasonry is for anyone, from any walk of life, anywhere on the surface of the globe, provided there is a belief in a supreme being. Freemasonry, wherever it’s practiced on the globe, will touch your heart, your mind and, lastly, your soul. I believe that, wherever you are on earth, you have the same soul as I do. You think and reflect with your mind and you react with your heart. So whether you practice Freemasonry in Africa, in Romania, in England, in Southern America, India – it’s the same trinity, the heart, the mind, the soul. The Brother in one area has to adapt to come to Freemasonry. So there is no one freemasonry for each and every one – there is Freemasonry. Because wherever you are, we are the same. Freemasonry is for each and every one of us.

The public perception of Freemasonry has changed in time. What has led to these variations?
Numbers aren’t everything. We have to maintain the quality of the profanes who knock at our doors. Quality is always better than quantity, always. If indeed the public perception of Freemasonry does not give signs of change, Freemasonry should not alienate itself in a radical information process which would alter its foundations and its specific nature. Freemasonry certainly has a mission to be more outspoken, to go to the outer world on what its objectives are. We have to remain cautious of any form of over‑exposure. We are not a service club, we are a philosophical club. Well, “club” – I should say philosophical “school”. We are not out for publicity, so we let people discover who we are and come to us. As I was saying earlier, numbers are not a question – quality is.

How do you see the future of the Craft?
Tough challenges sometimes, probably, yet still very exciting, as we are bound to reinforce our approach and pedagogy. We adapt our teachings to an ever‑changing and volatile world, and thereby we improve our footprint in terms of goodwill and charity serving. I was telling you earlier that we are not a service club, but a philosophical school – a philosophical school with the practice of charity, but never in an indiscrete way. We also have to go through our continuous pursuit of knowledge, ethics – ethics today is very important –, spirituality and leadership, building more meaning for the life of our people and more ­values to our lives as Freemasons. We have to respect the opinion of others. If your opinion differs from mine, I will protect your opinion even though I don’t agree with it. We also have to strive to improve and develop as human beings, making a difference; as Freemason we have to make a difference in our communities, through charity – discreet charity –, community service and maybe some volunteering as well. So you see, a Freemason is a human being who encompasses all these aspects. But we always say “use our teachings to better yourself, and when you better yourself you can better your environment, you can better your community”. Here in Mauritius I always say to all my Brethren to be lighthouses to which Mauritians look at when they have some problems etc., don’t say you are Freemasons. Let people say “that must be a Freemason, he has goodwill, he is behaving good, that must be a Freemason”. This is what I like to tell them here.

Talking about changes in the world: the pandemic changed humanity. Masonic meetings became mostly virtual. How do you see the future of the Masonic libraries and the knowledge they contain? What is your view on storage and accessibility?
The latest pandemic has certainly been an acid test with regards to the ability of the organization to have some resilience, to adapt, and also rising up to the task with regards to the principal tenets – brotherly love, relief and truth – the first place in our meetings and towards the rest of society. Whenever it was possible we had meetings, committee meetings. For the first time, probably, Masonry made use of modern, digital tools. This, I think, was worldwide. In Mauritius as well the pandemic brought us to Teams, Zoom, all these tools. We made use of them, but there is one limitation. In Mauritius we used digital tools only for committee meetings, not for workings, because it is our belief that the magic of Freemasonry is what happens in a Lodge meeting where Brethren meet one to one, face to face, where Brethren can touch one another, can share the warmth of brotherhood. This cannot be done behind a screen, it’s impossible. Yes – the pandemic has brought us some challenges, yes – we make use of digital tools, but the essence of Freemasonry must remain the workings in the Lodge meetings.

I’d like to ask you something – I’ve stayed in Mauritius for six days and I saw many religions here. I would like to approach Freemasonry from a religious perspective. Freemasonry is open to all religions, and Mauritius is a country with a population of diverse religions. Who has Freemasonry accepted, from this perspective?
Before Freemasonry, let me talk about Mauritius itself. Mauritius didn’t have any initial people living here. We all came from somewhere. For a few years we were Arab, the Arabs colonized us and called us “Dina Arobi”. After the Arabs we were Portuguese – the Portuguese called us “Ilha do Cisne”, “The Island of the Swan”. Then we were French, and then we were English, and then we were independent – we have been independent for more than 50 years. All of us come from somewhere. Mauritius is not a mosaic, but a patchwork. We have a social fabric here where since my birth I’m used to hear the muezzin at 5:30 in the morning, then 30 minutes later I hear the bell of the Roman‑Catholic church – that’s completely normal for us. In the streets we see people – mainly ladies – who are dressed in so many different ways; we are not surprised. You can see ladies dressed in the European way, in the creole way, in the Hindu way, in the Islamic way – it makes nothing to us, we are used to all of this. I would say that we are rich off our differences. We are really rich off our differences. In Mauritius you can have a culinary tour of the world. Whatever you want to eat, you can get in ­Mauritius. Whatever your faith, be it Hebraic, be it Zoroastrian, you have it in Mauritius. For example, in the Hindu faith you have different types of prayers – we have all of them here. In the Islamic faith – we have all of them here. In the Chinese way, we have the Buddhist and the Lao Tzu etc, – we have it all here. All the Roman‑Catholic or non‑Roman‑Catholic ­Christians – we have them all here. Everywhere in Mauritius there is a patchwork of…

It’s an example that the world can function without conflict.
There was a writer who visited Mauritius 200 years ago and said “when you visit Mauritius you get the impression that God created Mauritius, then created Paradise from this example”. This is Mark Twain. We won’t boast this way, but we live in harmony, we also have the different beliefs. Myself, I am a mixed breed, from my origins of Jewish, Chinese, Indian, European, I married a Hindu girl. My three sons practice both religions, Christian and Hindu. That is perfectly alright. We have so many festivals, and we take pride in all the festivals. Chinese Festival of the Full Moon? We have it here. Hindu Festival? We eat the cakes. The Diwali Festival? We light the candles. For the Eid Festival – that is the sacrifice of Abraham for the Muslims – we eat with our Muslim Brothers. It’s so natural! Coming to Freemasonry, when you live in this kind of country Freemasonry has to be open. Like I told you earlier, we only request belief in a supreme being – call it as you like, but you must have a belief in the revealed God. So we have our Sacred Books on our Altar: the Holy Christian Bible, the Quran, the Torah and the Bhagavad Gita. All of them are open on our Sacred Altars, all of them are considered as our Sacred Books. It would mean nothing if I asked a Hindu to take his Masonic oath on the Bible. This would not tie him to anything. If he takes the oath on the Bhagavad Gita, it’s different. So we have all the books open and in all our Lodges we have Brothers from all cultures, from all faiths – and it works perfectly. It really works perfectly.

Many thanks for this interview, Most Worshipful Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Mauritius.
Thank you for coming to us, thank you for making it possible for such a small country, lost in the Indian Ocean, to be able to voice out our feelings at an international level. Thank you for this.