Friday, August 13, 2010

The Trestle Board Cat (from "Zen Masonry) - Commentary

"When Hiram Abif spent time in the evenings working on the designs for the trestle board of the next day, a cat that wandered around the building often made such a noise that it distracted him. He ordered that the cat be tied up in the evening. After his death, the cat continued to be tied up during the evening planning. When the cat eventually died, another cat was brought to the work site and tied up in the evenings. Centuries later, learned and experienced Past Masters wrote scholarly treatises about the significance of tying up a cat before planning the work of the next day."

Brother Tom Accuosti's blog Zen Masonry presents an interesting look at Zen, Freemasonry and the use of koans as teaching tools. Br. Tom explains a koan as something which "can be thought of as a riddle. Unlike a riddle, a koan does not necessarily have a logical or inferential answer. In fact, it may have no answer at all. The effect of a koan can be to break the student out of his “thinking” mind. Some koans can be obscure and impenetrable. Often, they are paradoxical and seem nonsensical. They may require long study and deep contemplation. Yet, some koans can trigger a very sudden and profoundly clear insight, knocking us backwards as if struck by a blow to the head. Just as koans are like riddles, they are also like fables. The difference is that a koan typically doesn’t tell you the moral to the story. Your task is to use whatever means you can to bridge the gap between the words and whatever meaning the koan may hold for you."

This was the case for me with "The Trestleboard Cat." Recently, some of my Lodge Brothers and I have been discussing various projects that we would like to see happen over the next few years. One of the topics deals with some educational dinners we are planning and how to determine if they are a success or not. I suggested that every "tradition" started somewhere with some Brother who may have thought "Hey, I'd like to do this..." - and so it was. This was true with other things that our Lodge does or is starting to do - they are traditions or customs.

This got me further thinking. Some of the things we currently do don't necessarily make sense. Oh, they may have at one time or another, but for some reason they just don't seem to now. You might be thinking, "Well, maybe they just don't make sense to YOU." You might be right. However, some of our practices might just be Trestleboard Cats. For instance, in New York there is a pretty strong sentiment toward alcohol. Now, I can understand why that might be in some instances, but is there a reason that we need to be such a dry fraternity? Was there a reason behind the legislation? There must have been - it's there. But is it important now? I can also see Trestleboard Cats in our Lodge - some outdated "custom" or "tradition" that may have made sense at the time, but just doesn't now or, like the koan, it was something that was done because that was how it needed to be done, but not so much now.

There is another story I heard recently that concerned a mother and her daughter preparing Easter dinner. The mother took the ham out of the refridgerator, set it in the pan and cut both the ends off. The daughter asked the mother why she did that. The mother replied, "I don't know. I do it because that's how my mother did it." She reaches for the phone and calls her mother. "Mom, why did you cut the ends off the ham?" Her mother replied, "Because that's how my mother did it." Later, while everyone was gathered at the table for dinner, the ladies looked to the eldest matriarch at the end of the table. The mother asked, "Grandma, why did you cut the ends off the ham?" The matriarch answered, "I did it so it would fit in my oven."

How about you, dear reader? Do you have any Trestleboard Cats in your Lodge?


  1. Hi Bro. Q.

    Just so nobody mistakes me for a creative type, while ZenMasonry is my blog, I merely copied the "koans" from the original site when Yahoo took down the GeoCities websites last year. I had saved a version of the site on my Palm Pilot, so rather than let this most excellent material disappear, I converted it back to text and put it up on a Wordpress blog.

    I did take the opportunity to add a few of my own koans, and fixed some spelling and grammar errors. The other pages discussing the koans, Masonic meditation, etc., are from the original site.

    Fortunately, I've managed to contact the original owners, who are happy to see that the material is back up and available.

  2. Thanks for the clarification, Bro. Tom! It is a great blog and a treasure trove of ideas. Thanks for helping to keep it alive.

  3. Glad you did it. It's a great read tks. Clay PM