Book Review
Nancy Coker

Life's Riddle by Nils A. Amneus, Theosophical University Press, Pasadena, 1998; 264 pages, ISBN 1-55700-130-8, softcover $10.00.

Watching the cars on a busy street corner, a little girl once wondered how the lights knew when the traffic was going to stop. How often young children are mystified and fascinated by the world around them — how exciting to discover that things are not what they seem!

Some teachers have a marvelous way of coaxing the secrets of the world to unfold before us, but many others have little tolerance for questions, sometimes acting as if normal curiosity were inappropriate prying. So it is doubly important to nurture and respect the questions of those who, having preserved their curiosity despite their schooling, seek to examine life's mysteries. But where to turn? — familiarity with a subject is not sufficient to produce a good teacher, and the world is over full with average or indifferent instructors.

In the recently republished Life's Riddle, Nils Amneus proves he is a skillful educator. He considers the entire universe one big school of experience and, like a kindly, patient teacher, using abundant examples and verbal illustrations, introduces us to the principles of theosophy in an engaging manner. He anticipates and addresses our concerns, culling from many disciplines to help us discern the eternal laws that underlie mother nature and human nature. Short stimulating essays addressing life's dilemmas draw from world mythology, religious scriptures, nature, and the morning newspaper. Using examples from everyday experiences, he helps make sense of the philosophy behind our complex nature, karma, and reimbodiment. Nature repeats herself everywhere, and Amneus uses what we already know to help us discover more about what we don't know.

For example, he compares the journey into death to crossing a familiar threshold. "Man's consciousness lives in a body, a 'house' of flesh. Every twenty-four hours it passes out of this house through the door of unconsciousness into sleep, and then finds itself in some sort of 'out-of-doors' of consciousness, with conditions of existence very different from those inside the 'house' " (p. 96). Dying, he then suggests, is a little like staying in the "outdoors" and not returning home, perhaps because the house has aged and weathered and the door simply gets jammed shut. "Why should we think . . . that [our] condition in the 'out-of-doors' on the other side of death was any different from what it would have been if the door had not jammed and the consciousness had returned this time also?" (p. 97). Just as leaving our family home doesn't change our essential nature, leaving our house of flesh doesn't change us because our essential nature is not physical. Explaining that we are each rooted in the divine, he evokes an image of a garden and compares a perennial flower to a human being.

And as the visible part of the plant wilts and dies in the fall, when its vitality is re-absorbed into the root, so is the Human Ego re-absorbed into its root, the Higher Ego, both in sleep and after death. In sleep, the return is incomplete, perhaps more like the closing of the petals of some flowers at night. At death, the "foliage," the body with its brain and lower mind dies, and the return of the Human Ego to its "Father," the Higher Ego, is complete. — p. 40

Born in Sweden in 1878, Amneus arrived in America at age 20 and eventually became an engineer. In 1901 he joined the Theosophical Society, and in 1920 moved his family for five years to the Society's headquarters at Point Loma, California. There he taught math and mechanical drawing at the Raja Yoga School. He later wrote Does Chance or Justice Rule Our Lives? and shortly before his death in 1952 completed Life's Riddle.

Life's Riddle is a helpful and hopeful companion for anyone looking to unravel some of the mysteries of life.

(From Sunrise magazine, October/November 1998. Copyright © 1998 by Theosophical University Press)

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