Ancestral Wisdom

By Grace F. Knoche
[While in Africa last summer, the Editor visited Nigeria, where she was invited to give a public lecture on Theosophy. By request, we share with our readers her opening address delivered on July 1st at the British Council Hall at Enugu, capital of the East Central State.]

It is an honor and privilege to be here this evening to talk with you on those subjects which you hold most dear, as do we: the subject of man, of man's relation to man, and man's relation to the world be lives in. All of us are interested in working toward and forming, ultimately, a universal fraternity of human souls, a brotherhood that will span the entire universe, including the suns and the stars, men and women and children and even the plants under our feet.

Now what is theosophy, and how does it relate to you here in Nigeria, who already have your own ancestral wisdom deep within your religious and tribal myths? Where does theosophy come in? Theosophy is a modern word of Greek origin, from theos — god, and sophia — wisdom; so it means simply, 'wisdom concerning the divine.' Is that not what you in your country have also sought, and what you meant when you spoke of Chukwu? The Infinite, the uncreate Being, the supreme artificer of this universe, God, if you like — Chukwu, that inexpressible divine force that must manifest and bring a universe into being. Once Chukwu begins to express itself from the infinity of Space, you have Chi-na-eke, meaning father and mother, the polar opposites, spirit and matter, male and female.

This beautiful rhythm of the two polar conditions of Being manifests from the very beginning of time to the endless endlessness of time. In that great procession, that continuous pulsation of life, suns, universes, stars, men, women, children, plants, atoms, come into being in birth, live their life, die, go into the ancestral world, then return again, are born again, have a new life, a new expression. The marvelous rhythmic potency exists eternally because Chi-na-eke (or Chineke) demands it; because Chukwu needed to express itself in Chi-na-eke, and Chi-na-eke felt the urge to bring forth a fuller expression of itself. And the marvel is that every human being in every country in the world has Chi-na-eke within his own soul, has a spark of Chukwu also within the very depths of his being, and it is this that we must seek to unite with eventually. This is pure theosophy. This is pure Ibo, pure Yoruba, pure Basuto, or any other. Your African religions are manifold, with many different names, but all of them have some appreciation, some recognition of the divine transcendence that is also immanent within every human heart.

This, to me, is one of the most wonderful ideas that we can hold in our hearts, because it is this that makes real brotherhood. It gives the reason for wanting to work for better relations among human beings, It gives us the reason to hate war, and greed, and selfishness, and all those things that do not belong to the real person; that belongs only to the animal part of our nature, to the selfish, the greedy part, that wants things only for oneself, to the part of us that brings only pain, misery, and sorrow. This is why we have such suffering in so many parts of the world. We have forgotten our Chukwu origin. We have forgotten that we are sparks of God, divine manifestations, and so have identified ourselves with the lower elements, the selfish elements.

First of all, let me explain that not long after H. P. Blavatsky came to America, she founded in 1875 with a few others of like mind a society for the purposes of looking into the spiritual impulses that brought this physical universe into being; and also, of penetrating to the core of the mythologies and ancient traditions of other peoples so that one could better grasp what it was they held sacred. In this way one would have a very easy avenue of approach to others. If you and I realize that we are both worshiping the same Chukwu — I may call it one thing, and you another — and that in the highest, most illumined essence of ourselves we are One, what is there to quarrel about? Already we've established a bond, an appreciation of one another, and where there is understanding, brotherhood eventually follows.

Three fundamental principles are given in theosophy as axiomatic. The first we have already touched upon, what you call Chukwu, and for which theosophy has no name except THAT — the infinite, the uncreate, the rootless root, the cause without a cause. As you can see, all these are just words, in an effort to describe the indescribable, to reach toward the infinity of infinities, that boundless essence of divinity which we can't define because we are still human in our thinking and expressions. Nevertheless, we do posit that marvelous primordial essence which Genesis called the darkness on the face of the deep — that darkness which was sparked into light when the 'Elohim breathed on the waters of Space. The 'Elohim — not God, but a series of gods taking their command, as it were, from that infinite essence, because once Chukwu became Chi-na-eke, we have the primeval darkness already becoming light and darkness together. With the 'Elohim breathing on the waters of Space and bringing into being the universe, the heavens and the earth and all the kingdoms below man were born each in their turn. Then there was man. And the 'Elohim said: "We must breathe into man the spirit of God"; and so we had the highest breath, then the human breath, and the animal breath, until the whole was one breathing, living divinity in action — man. Then came man-woman. And from man-woman came infinite numbers of possibilities. That in brief is the Genesis story. It is also the theosophic story. And I believe in your own way you could say that it is your creation story — Chukwu bringing into expression through Chi-na-eke myriads of little essences of Chukwu, which are manifesting as human beings today, as suns, as your beautiful trees, so many and of so rich a variety.

The second great principle of theosophy envisions the rhythmic pulsation of spirit and matter, with everything in the universe, from stars to atoms, cycling back into being and going out. There is a continual birth and death, appearance and disappearance, of these "sparks of eternity" again and again as the rhythm of life brings forth new manifestations, new worlds, new galaxies and suns, new human beings, animals and plants. All things have their birth and their death cycles, because birth and death are part of life — myriads of births and deaths you and I will have before we will have finally perfected ourselves.

And the third proposition gives the reason and the pattern of evolution. Why must Chukwu become Chi-na-eke? Why must Chi-na-eke manifest so many times and in so many different forms on this earth? And for what purpose? Every seed of divinity, every spark of God, every unit of life, must go through the long great cycle of experience, from the most spiritual realms down into the most material, in order to gain firsthand knowledge of every condition of being. It must learn how to incarnate in every form, and as it comes down the arc of matter it must learn how to overcome the material pulls, until finally it reaches the lowest point. But before it reached that point, a very wonderful thing took place. Sons of Mind they have been called — really god-men — came and quickened the fire of mind, lighted the flame of intelligence, of choice, within us, so that we knew we were human beings, we knew that we had the choice between good and evil, and we knew right from wrong.

That, in the Biblical tale, is called eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which caused our leaving the Garden of Eden, Paradise. But this was not a tragedy. It was a grand moment in the evolutionary history of man, because we then went forth as intelligent, self-conscious, aggressively human individuals, who were going to work out our destiny with our own wills, and build our new mansions of experience with courage and with a vision of what we could become. Before that, we had been simply under the will, you might say, of the god-world, of the invisible world or hierarchies of beings that exist protecting man. But the moment our minds were lighted, then the gods said: "We will teach you how to plant sorghum and millet, how to smelt iron from the rocks, how to live in a moral and hygienic manner. We teach you these things so that you can be prepared to go forth alone, and then we retire. But never do we retire entirely, because we leave a spark of ourselves within the inmost of your being."

How wonderful that this event took place before the lowest point of the arc, so that when we would reach the bottom we would have the intelligence and fortitude, and understanding also, to make the turn and to continue on the upward arc. We have passed the midpoint, the lowest point of material evolution, which means we have already been through the worst of our difficulties. Now is the time when we can go ever forward into the light of our own natural heritage and rediscover our spiritual strength. We can advance fully as self-conscious thinking beings, recognizing that we have the power within to carve our future, to shape it nobly, and with compassion and love for our brothers. Many are the mistakes we have made, and will still make. But when we have a little hope and a little vision of who we are, it makes all the difference how we face our lives.

This is the message of theosophy: to give hope to every people. We do not ask them to adopt theosophy, but simply to look into their own traditional wisdom, and try to see the beauty and the nobility in it. Many times the original teachings have been crusted over with strange rituals, or with beliefs that have not retained their purity. But if you Nigerians can find the living spirit of truth beneath your traditions, then you will know that your ancestral wisdom springs truly from China-eke and even before that, from Chukwu. Because all religions come from the one beautiful source of truth that recedes into the endlessness of the past, and that comes truly from the gods.

This leads me to one of the most inspiring teachings of theosophy, that there is a noble Brotherhood of great men on this earth, who are the custodians of the truths of the universe; truths that are re-expressed over and over again by each messenger, or some great man or woman, in order to bring enlightenment to the people of the time, Not manmade, but truths that report how nature works, bow the universe functions, and how man relates to the cosmos — truths that have been given many and various names, and taken many and various forms. It reminds me of the old legend that truth is like a diamond, beautiful and sparkling, magnificent in wonder, giving forth light from every facet. But one day it fell to earth and splintered into a thousand pieces. And everyone who found a piece thought be had found the truth. He failed to realize that his little fragment was but one of the many facets of the entire diamond of truth.

Now truth is not static; nor can it be contained in the form of a diamond. We can advance toward truth forever, but never will any of us find it in its wholeness. The paradox is that we have to go inward to find truth before we can find it outside of ourselves; and yet we have to see the truth in everybody else's heart before we can really understand the truth in ourselves. It is a wondrous dualism: as we go inward, aspiring to the very depth of our inmost, we approach to the hub of our being, as it were, and then we find that the very core of ourselves is the same as the core of every other human being. It could not be otherwise for that hub, that core or center, is everywhere and nowhere because it is the very heart of the universe, the very heart of God. All people have this understanding, that deep within the soul there is an expression of the One, a spark, a facet, of the truth of the universe.

What, then, are some of the other teachings of theosophy, which are also found in many religions? There is the idea of reincarnation. Some people foolishly think that this means we come back as a beetle or a fly, a mosquito or a horse, a cow or a crocodile. This is not so. We come back as a human being. Does not the fact that we are here today indicate that we must have traveled this route before? Otherwise how is it that child after child is born into this world so easily, and most of them with love and with happiness? Do you think a soul is created at birth? Every one of us has had many, many lives, and when we again turn towards this earth and seek out the parents we want for this lifetime, this marks the return of a soul seeking entrance into a physical mother by way of a physical father. Intercourse, conception, gestation and birth — these are sacred processes and they should be regarded as such, and in your traditions you do so regard them. They are a preparation for the soul's reentry into this world for a purpose, for it to incarnate in a physical form for a magnificent journey of experience so that it may flower a little more fully on the pathway of its own interior development; in order, further, that it may give something of its light to others.

Another of the theosophical teachings that is also universally understood is the law of recompense: that as we sow in the field of our character, so shall we reap in future character in lives to come. "As ye sow, so shall ye reap," the Christian says. The Hindus speak of it as the law of karma, the law of action and reaction, that whatever we do, we are fully responsible for. This is a manly doctrine, because we don't put the blame for our difficulties on God, or on Jesus Christ, on Mohammed or on some ancestral spirit. We put the blame where it belongs — on ourselves. We also have the joy of recognizing that whatever good things come to us, we must have earned in former lives. This alone gives us a strength and a confidence for the future, because we know that there is never an effect without a preceding cause.

What a stupendous thought! It gives us a feeling of the continuity of life itself. For even though we have still many births and many deaths ahead of us, we know that the great law of justice and compassion which brings effect to cause will continue throughout countless ages. Because life is — and as long as we have life, we will have living beings sowing causes and reaping effects. In other words, there will always be another manifestation of Chi-na-eke, the two poles, father-mother, cause-effect, issuing forth from the causeless cause of Chukwu.

We see how universal these teachings are, and how wonderfully linked. For each of us is an individuality in his own right, a unique expression of Chukwu. As such, we last forever — not our bodies, not our minds, but the very core of our being is stamped with our individual essence. It is this that endures and urges us back into incarnation again and again, to unfold more and more of its intrinsic quality. As we ventured forth into this evolutionary experience, we had to evolve through many different phases of life, taking form way, way back, perhaps, as a tiny atom in a diamond, as a bit of coal, or as a rock, and then, when we were through with the mineral kingdom, the soul essence of us imbodied as a plant, in many a tree or flower, and when it could no longer find expression in the plant kingdom, it took birth in the next higher kingdom, lifetime after lifetime in all kinds of bodies in the animal kingdom. Finally Man had to know that he was man. The divine essence within us had now to assume the responsibility of humanhood, and know: I am a thinking being. We were then sparked with the flame of mind, and went forth as true humans, enlightened in part at least, yet still blinded with the darkness of material desire. This is where we stand today.

Finally, there is the noblest and most beautiful teaching of all — that of the pathway of choice which lies before every human soul. The choice whether to strive for advancement solely for ourselves, or to strive for all this wisdom and to bring forth our innate godliness in order to offer what we are, in humbleness and service for the benefit of people everywhere. This is the choice that is given the enlightened human being: whether to advance for himself and slip into the great ocean of infinity, forgetful of the world of men, or whether, when illumination comes to him in fullness, he will say: I cannot take this beautiful wisdom unto myself alone, I must return and help my brothers who need what little light I have. They are still sorrow-filled, still confused, crying in the wilderness of ignorance." So he turns back, filled with a great compassion and love for mankind. All the great teachers of this world have followed this same pathway again and again. Just so have your own great teachers. Periodically they have returned to your people to teach them, to remind them of their divine stature, to reawaken their innate knowledge, so that they could go forth in their own personal circumstances with fresh hope and courage.

  * * * *

Just as everyone here in his or her own way is a light, so everybody who has the light of brotherhood, of understanding, burning in his heart, is shining the light of hope, of courage, in the darkness of this world. Our very life will be representative of our understanding of the way to live, and isn't this the biggest contribution we can make? As we live, we shed a radiance on our surroundings, and thereby help others to find a better way to handle their own life's problems. Theosophy isn't just a series of ideas and a series of technicalities. It is indeed a system of grand and noble truths, truths about man, truths about the universe and the stars; but more than all else, it is a way of aspiring, a way of the heart, a way of living in harmony with our environment and with the whole of nature.

(From Sunrise magazine, June-July 1975; copyright © 1975 Theosophical University Press)


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