Salka Wind Blog

Posts on the Andean Cosmovision

Tag: paqo (page 2 of 3)

Filling in the Conceptual Corners

In the Andean Cosmovision the Cosmos does not play by the rules of Aristotelean logic where everything must be either A or not A. An example of this can be found in the various ways in which the Andeans conceive the difference between the energies found on the right and left side.

In the previous post (Right Side / Left Side) I described how in the Andes the right side is our ability to operate in everyday life while the left side connects us to the ineffable mystery of the Cosmos. This distinction, and the meditation I provided that goes with it, come from what I learned from don Americo Yabar. Don Americo, however, also draws a different distinction between the right and left side, that of the mystical and the magical.

Our right side is our mystical side, it involves our ability to connect with and learn from the larger Cosmos of which we are but a part. This is the path of knowledge, to follow it we must leave our ego behind and seek the at-one-ment with the Cosmos as a whole. Our left side, on the other hand, is our magical side, it involves our ability to work with the energy of the Cosmos to accomplish our goals, goals that may be wise or not, benevolent or not, loving or not. These goals may be driven by our ego.

Another view of the right/left side distinction in the Andes is provided by the anthropologist Douglas Sharon in his description of the relative roles of the right and left side of the paqo’s mesa (Shamanism, Mesas, and Cosmologies in the Central Andes, 2006).  A mesa (from the Spanish word for table) is a woven cloth that serves as a portable altar. A paq’o spreads the mesa on the ground or on a flat rock and arranges upon it sacred objects. The objects are placed upon either the right side or the left side of the mesa depending upon their attributes. On the left are placed objects associated with ‘hot’ energy, with the past, with the undoing of energies related to sickness and misfortune. On the right are placed objects associated with ‘cold’ energy, with the future, with the energy of good fortune. The paq’o then works from the center of the mesa, transcending both energies.

Besides being interesting on their own merits, the point I want to make is that these various distinctions between the energies of the right and left side don’t necessarily boil down to being different ways of saying the same thing. The right and left side are like this…and they are also like that…and they can be like this other thing entirely. This may not be logical, but who says the Cosmos is logical? Logic is but a part of our ability to think, and our ability to think is but part of our experience, and our experience is but part of the Cosmos, and a part of the whole (e.g. logic) cannot subsume the whole (i.e. the Cosmos). Another way to say this is to point out that our ability to think in a logical way arose out of the evolutionary processes of the Cosmos. That logic works as well as it does in understanding the Cosmos is due to it being a product of the same Cosmos it is trying to understand. Logic cannot, however, be expected to be able to understand the processes from which logic itself emerged. For a really nice exposition of this I recommend Alan Watts’ book Man, Woman, and Nature.

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Remember to Wave Your Warak’as

In this post we continue to pursue an understanding of how the complementarity of opposites informs the Andean people’s understanding of themselves, their relationships with each other, and their relationships with the Cosmos. In earlier posts we looked at the basic concepts underlying the complementarity of opposites (Yin/Yang of the Andes), how it informs the relationships between women and men (Wharmi-Qhari), and how the ritual encounter (‘tinkuy’) of differing energies can give rise to new life force (Tinkuy: Confirming the Rules of Life).

In that latter post tinkuy was introduced within the context of ritual battles that up until recent times were waged between neighboring communities in the Andes, and in the whipping dances that continue through today. In this post I would like to take a look at tinkuy in the form of competition between communities and between individuals, and then use that as a foundation to understand don Americo Yabar’s description of the three levels of relationship between people in the Andes.

The true treasure of the Andean Cosmovision is found in the ways that it differs from the view of reality offered by my modern, western, culture. This difference is deeper than simply having a different set of beliefs, or a different set of meditative practices, and this is exactly what is lost if we skim off a few beliefs and meditations from the Andean culture and toss them into our eclectic bag of ways for working with the energy of Nature. The change I believe we need as a culture if we wish to head toward a future of greater beauty and health, not only for us but for the whole planet (our future cannot be beautiful or healthy without accomplishing that for all of Nature as well) involves deep and fundamental changes in the way we experience reality, and in our relationships with each other, in our relationships with the Cosmos, and with the various aspects of our own Being.

The Festival of Qoyllu Rit’i

We have seen the role of tinkuy in the ritual battles and whipping dances of the festival of Pukllay (earlier post), now I’d like to turn to the expression of tinkuy in the dance and band competitions found in the Andean festival of Qoyllu Rit’i (held in May/June of each year). Qoyllu Rit’i is a time when communities of the region come together on the slopes of the majestic Apu Ausangate range. Communities bring their own bands and dance groups to compete during the festival. The battle of the bands is somewhat like a real battle in that the various bands don’t just take turns playing their best but at times try to drown each other out with their music. The competing dance groups have worked long and hard during the preceding year on their costumes and on their dances in the hope of outperforming both in style and energy the other groups. These band and dance competitions are tinkuy, an encounter of differences leading to a union that is greater than the sum of its parts.

“It may seem paradoxical that competition enters so strongly into an event that serves to integrate ayllus (communities defined by relationships) over a large region, and whose overall effect is to produce an overwhelming sense of ‘comunitas,’ an ecstatic submersion of individual selfhood into a larger whole. Yet it is exactly the competition–the clash of ayllu with ayllu, province with province, puna (high grasslands) people with valley people–that explodes in a huge jingle of sound and blaze of color, in an intensity of activity and noise, which vibrates for a few days in the sun and ice of the Apu’s glacial solitude.” (Allan, pg 176).

View of Asungate Range

Ausangate Range

Paucartambo

My own experience of a regional dance competition was at a festival in the town of Paucartambo, which don Americo Yabar had taken me to see. It was a festival that is not well-known by outsiders and I was about the only non-Andean there (it was one of those ‘pinch me I must be dreaming’ moments). Some of the dance groups had walked over 15 miles through the mountains to represent their village in the competition. The photos below are of the dancers from the village of Mollamarka.

Dancers of Mollamarka

Dancers of Mollamarka

Dancers of Mollamarka

Earning Smiles and Applause

The Day of the Horse

Dance and band competitions are tinkuy between communities. Competitions in the Andes can also be between individuals. In her book Rituals of Respect the anthropologist Inge Bolin describes a horse race that plays the title role in a sacred festival held in the high Andes, a festival the locals call ‘The Day of the Horse’.

The festival is held to honor (in ayni for) ‘Illapa’, the Andean deity of thunder and lightning. As a reminder (from earlier posts), the Quechua language has no word that translates without distortion into our word ‘god’. The Andean gods are not transcendent spirits, they are, instead, the consciousness inherent in that aspect of Nature or the Cosmos.

The honoring of Illapa plays an increasingly important role in the culture as one moves higher up in the Andes. In the high villages death of both people and their animals by lightning is a recurring threat. The thundering sound of the horse’s hooves during the race and the celebrations surrounding the event honor and appease Illapa.

The race is held in a high mountain valley with the massive range of Ausangate towering over its far end. The track is about two kilometers long, at its end the riders need to negotiate a steep mountain side before returning. Women, children, and men not in the race sit on the surrounding slopes to get a vantage point from which they can cheer and applaud the riders. The race is held in heats of four which take all day to complete. By the time the last, championship, heat is held it is dusk, and the riders disappear into the gloom of night to emerge again from the darkness as they come charging back.

Inge Bolin notes that the riders, who are called the ‘Sons of the Thunder’ are enthusiastic and every contestant hopes to win. And yet, while they are racing, they often sacrifice speed to sit up and swing their warak’a (slings) above their heads and jubilantly shout out the names of important sacred sites and spirits.  ‘Every contestant hopes to win.  Yet, it is more important to participate, to celebrate this day, to remember the gods, to be together in joy and harmony.”  (Bolin, pg 173).

In the evening, when the race was over, Inge realized that she hadn’t heard who had won. She asked the people around her but they just smiled. Finally, someone pointed out the winner.  “I congratulate him for having won this thrilling race. He smiles and shyly averts his eyes. Only later do I full comprehend that winning is not the prime reason for staging the race, and I realize that it was not proper behavior to ask for the winner or to congratulate him openly. In an egalitarian society where respect for others is a primary concern, it is not considered polite to make much fuss about one person, stressing his individual achievement to the detriment of others. The race was a success…The gods were pleased…It was a great competition in which the riders competed with and not against each other. Everyone who witnessed or participated in this energetic ritual was equally important.” (Bolin, pp 173-174).

As I read the phrase ‘competed with and not against each other’ something arose in my mind, something I remember don Americo Yabar talking about years ago that had not made sense to me at the time. Now I think I have a better understanding of it.

The Three Stages of Relationship

Americo was describing three stages that can occur in a relationship. The first stage of a relationship he called ‘tinkuy’, and he uses the term a bit more narrowly than Bolin and Allen.  Tinkuy is the encounter of two different energies (e.g. two different people).  This happens when the sphere of energy around one person first comes into contact with the sphere of energy around another. At this point one can begin to sense in which ways you are similar and in which ways you differ from the other person.

The second stage in the relationship Americo calls ‘tupay’, which he described as involving a competition between the two people. At this point in the explanation, in my notes, Americo hesitates and tries to explain the nature of this competition, that it is not the western, aggressive form of competition where a victor stands in triumph over the loser. I could never quite grasp what he was getting at until I read Bolin’s account of ‘The Day of the Horse’, a jubilant race where you compete with the others rather than against them. The point of the competition in ‘tupay’ is not to triumph over your competitor, but to discover in which areas each of you excels over the other.

For the relationship to then reach its deepest level, the third and final stage is to move from ‘tupay’ into ‘taqe’. In ‘taqe’–now that you have found what each one of you is better at–you bring the other person up to your level of expertise in that area. You become equal by both of you becoming more than you were before.

These three stages are described by Joan Wilcox (from her studies with Americo and others) in the book Masters of the Living Energy: The Mystical World of the Q’ero of Peru (pp 58-62). She goes on to explain how this process informs the living tradition of the Andean Cosmovision. The people in the Andes who are the maestros of the Andean Cosmovision are called paqos (also spelled paq’o).  They differ in their ability levels, in what they can accomplish in dancing with the living energy of the Cosmos. Their abilities are not, however, measured by their adherence to a set of specific, traditional, teachings or techniques. The abilities are, instead, the product of their relationships with other paqos, who all have their own set of knowledge and skills. And through the process of tinkuy, tupay, and then taqe these skills are shared with others. As you grow in skill from these relationships you are more able to learn higher skills from others, and you will be more in a position of being able to share something they would benefit knowing how to to do as well.

I would like to expand our view a bit and look at all of the parties involved in these relationships. The abilities of the paqos concern their relationships with the vast, beautiful, sometimes frightening, mysterious, unfathomable multitude of beings (consciousnesses) of Nature and the Cosmos. The ability of interacting, for example, with an Apu (a being who is a majestic mountain peak) is not just a skill, it is a relationship between two beings, the Apu and the paqo. Learning from another paqo how to open the door to that relationship is one step, what happens after that is up to the paqo and the Apu. The skills of the paqos, thus, are not just based upon what the paqos have learned to do, they are also the result of their subsequent relationship with Nature and the Cosmos.

Summary

In looking over the past few posts this is what I see. There are at least three patterns of healthy relationships in the Andes.

1) When two differing energies/beings (complementary opposites) come together they can retain and honor their differences, yet form a union, and this is called ‘yanantin’, the harmonious bringing together of complementary opposites, which leads to a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. From this union of complementary opposites new life force emerges from the synergy of the complementary energies dancing together. A harmonious interaction of female and male energies is an example of yanantin.

2) When two similar energies/beings come together this is called ‘masintin’. I do not know if the alliance of two similar energies also produces a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts, or if it creates a whole that is equal to the sum of the parts. I suspect it is the latter but none the less beautiful for that. In our lives we have the opportunity to form many yanantin and many masintin relationships.

3) A third option is one that might be called co-evolution, where we start off by noting our differences, specifically differences in our abilities, and then we endeavor to pull each other up to our best levels. What starts off as difference ends up as equality, not by finding a mean but by mutual elevation. This, as I see it, is the path of the paqos.

 

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Touching Pachamama

This is a very simple meditation (like the Bellybutton to the Pachamama meditation) but after years and years of seeking to know more and more I find that I have returned to the simple meditations as the foundation for integrating the Andean Cosmovision into my daily life. This meditation is very useful for coming into harmony and balance within ourselves. I don’t use this meditation to get rid of unwanted energy (e.g. anger, anxiety, stress)–there are other meditations for that–I use it when I have simply become too focussed on only part of who I am. For me this often means that I have gotten way too much into my head. There is a certain way I feel after a long spell of intellectual endeavor; from listening to papers being presented at an academic conference, writing computer programs, teaching (or taking) classes, or attending several meetings on the same day. It is a feeling of being disconnected from the full experience of being alive, which is what this meditation can resolve. This meditation is also beneficial for recovering from other ways we might be imbalanced, for example when we are too caught up in our emotions, or when we are feeling spacey and ungrounded from a mystical or spiritual experience. What this meditation can do is to balance our energy and get us in touch again with all of who we are, bringing the various aspects of ourself into harmony.

Here is the meditation in all of its simplicity. Sit on the ground. Begin by noticing the state of your energy, i.e. notice how it feels to be you right now, take a few seconds to do this. Now place your hands on the Pachamama (our mother Earth) and with intent connect the energy of your body through you hands with the energy of the Pachamama. Ask her to bring your energy into harmony with hers. Notice how your energy shifts as you do this, continue until you feel the shift is complete. Thank the Pachamama. Spend a few seconds being aware of your new state of energy, how you feel being you. That’s it.

Well, that’s it as far as the meditation goes, but there is more about this that I would like to share. I recommend that you do the meditation and then come back to this post to read the rest (if you are interested). It is the experiential aspect of the meditation that is important and I don’t want that to be overshadowed by my now going on to some of my thoughts about it.

————

The Andean Cosmovision cannot be explored intellectually, it is explored by noticing the quality of some energy, doing some meditative-like process, and seeing how that affects the energy. If you experienced a shift in your energy when you did this meditation what does that prove? The answer is that it doesn’t prove anything. It doesn’t prove the Andean Cosmovision is true, it doesn’t prove (blah, blah, blah), it doesn’t prove nada. What it means is that you can notice how your energy is and that you have a way of changing it into something more pleasant, that is shaman work.

The Andean meditations all involve our relationship with Nature and the Cosmos (I see Nature as just the most local aspect of the Cosmos) and the foundation of that relationship is ayni. Ayni is the Andean principle of reciprocity, whenever something is received something is given back in return. This applies to the relationships people have with each other as well as to their relationship with the Cosmos. When done with love and respect this is not a matter of ‘breaking even’ it is an act that leaves both sides enriched and it opens the door to a deeper level of exchange. In this meditation the Pachamama does something wonderful for us, she brings our energy into harmony within ourselves by bringing our energy into harmony with her. To nurture this relationship we can insert into our lives smalls acts of ayni for the Pachamama, giving a little wine to her before we drink by pouring a few drops onto the earth, or laying a few flowers upon her breast (red flowers are traditionally offered to the Pachamama), or digging a small hole and putting the flowers and a few sugar cubes into the hole (the Q’ero women told me that the Pachamama has a sweet tooth…don Americo added with a smile that this might be a projection) then covering it with earth, all with the intent of expressing gratitude. There are also more formal expressions of gratitude that can be made (despachos and pagos) which I will cover in later posts but here I believe that intent is again the most important ingredient.

On the surface these offerings of gratitude seem almost to be a social act but more deeply they are energetic acts. We form a loving, respectful, mutually-supportive, energetic relationship with the Cosmos, this is the heart of the Andean approach, this is paqo work. The ayni takes our meditation–whose goal is to make our energy more harmonious and balanced–and elevates it to being a step in our dance with the Cosmos.

[Added later].  Please see the subsequent post on ayni.

Source of this meditation: don Americo Yabar.

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Don Americo Yabar

Don Americo Yabar

Don Americo Yabar

Don Americo Yabar (don Américo Yábar) is a mystic from the Andes of Peru. Since childhood he has been studying under and working with some of the greatest paqos (mystics/shamans) of the Andes. Having also received a college education in Europe he serves as a chakaruna, a human bridge of energy that connects the energy of the Andes with that of the West.

I first met don Americo in 1994 at a workshop in the deserts of Southern Utah. I subsequently went to several more of his workshops and then began to travel to Peru to study with him there. While I have been in Peru he has also arranged for me to work with other paqos and healers of the area, and in general has provided the opportunity for me to connect with the Andean people at a very heart-felt level.

There are some things I would like to share about Americo that reflect not only upon him but also, and perhaps more importantly, upon the basic qualities of the path that he exemplifies, the path that attracted me, that I am attempting to nourish with the Salka Wind site, and that perhaps is attractive to you as well.

 

Don Americo Yabar and Q'ero Paqos

Don Americo Yabar & Q'ero Paqos

What has drawn me to associate with Americo is (among other things) his integrity, his love, and his joy of life. ‘Walking your talk’ is for me a minimum requirement for a path with a heart. Americo not only walks his talk, his walk is even more expressive and impressive than his talk (and as a mystic who is also a poet he talks very beautifully indeed). Anywhere I go with Americo in the Andes, from Cusco to the smallest village, people come running up with smiles, or lean out of a window and wave in delight to see Americo. Being with him is an instant ticket to having the opportunity to interact with the villagers at a heart-felt level, this is an opportunity I always embrace, and is an important part of the ineffable beauty and power of my experiences in Peru. While Americo is an impressive mystic in the traditional sense (whatever the hell that means) the path he walks shows up most profoundly in the way in which he interacts with the people of Peru, and does what he can to help them get by, and works to nourish their roots in their traditional culture.

For all of that, Americo is “just this guy, you know?” (description of Zaphod Beeblebrox, galatic president, in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy), not a Saint, not a guru, just a very human guy. I find this attractive about the path as well, as we travel it we don’t turn into Americo Yabar clones, we instead begin to blossom into who we uniquely are, we don’t rise above our humanity, we begin instead to express its true nature.

Don Americo and Oakley Gordon in Peru

Don Americo and me in Peru

 

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Andean Cosmovision: The Basics

One overriding factor to take into account when contemplating the Andean Cosmovision (view of the basic nature of the Cosmos) is that it is fundamentally different than that of Western* culture. This means that we can’t simply force their ideas into our own conceptual categories. The temptation to do so, however, is strong and rather automatic for we are accustomed to making sense of new things by relating them to what we already know.

We in the West essentially have two ways of viewing the basic nature of reality; through the lens of science or through the lens of (Western) religion. While these two approaches have some important differences they both arose within our culture and were built upon the same philosophical foundation. The indigenous Andean culture, however, does not share that foundation. Neither science nor religion have a counterpart in the Andean Cosmovision, and what they have (for which we have no corresponding terms) has no counterpart in our Cosmovision (or we would have corresponding terms).

Imagine, if you will, a view of reality that was not influenced by the Bible (where God as the creator stands outside of the creation and who made humans, alone of all the species, in His own image). It was not influenced by the classic Greek philosophers who emphasized the intellect as the highest form of knowledge, nor was it shaped by Descartes (the ‘Father of Modern Philosophy’) who proposed that reality consists of two separate realms, a transcendent realm of spirit and mind and a physical realm of mindless energy and matter. If we wish to explore the Andean Cosmovision we need to let go of our normal way of thinking about the world and approach it with room for it to be something brand new, we need to be a more accommodating (letting new information change how we view the world) and less assimilating (making new information fit how we already view the world).

The Andean Cosmovision is mystical in its essence. Mysticism is the belief that words (including beliefs) are, at best, signposts or blueprints for how to connect directly with the sacred underlying nature of reality, and that it is that connection with the Sacred–not the words or beliefs–that is of fundamental importance. The Andean Cosmovision is not primarily about their beliefs, it is about the experience of reality that becomes possible with these beliefs, it is about the relationship with Nature and with the Cosmos that becomes possible with these beliefs. Neighboring villages in Peru differ somewhat in what they believe, as do paqos (mystics/shamans) within the same village, but those differences are irrelevant to being a paqo, for what matters is what they can accomplish through those beliefs. What they can accomplish arises from the loving and mutually supportive relationship with Nature and the Cosmos that is made possible and nourished by their Cosmovision.

Here is my representation of the Andean Cosmovision. Imagine the Cosmos as consisting solely of filaments of energy organized into a tremendous three dimensional web. Where the filaments come together to form a bundle or a node is what we experience as an object. You are such a node, as am I, as is my coffee mug sitting here by my keyboard as I type. There are some important consequences of this world-view:

  1. Everything in the universe is part of this web of filaments and so ultimately everything in the universe is connected to everything else. This means that a flow of information or energy or influence can exist between ourselves and anything else, including other people, the stars, the river, the wind, and the rest of the Cosmos.
  2. While these bundles of filaments, these nodes in the web of filaments, are distinct from each other they are really inseparable parts of the larger, unified whole that is the Cosmos. Perceiving the world as consisting of isolated objects and experiencing our consciousness as limited to just our own being is but one way of approaching the Cosmos, the way most supported by our Western Cosmovision. The ability to actually experience the Cosmos as an undifferentiated whole is a defining goal of every mystical approach of which I am familiar, including that of the Andean Cosmovision.
  3. While the nodes that constitute humans may differ in the way the are organized from the nodes that make up a stone or a tree, we are all just bundles of filaments of energy and the differences between us is less in the Andean perspective than in the perspective of Western culture (where the gap between being a stone and being human is immense indeed). The diminishing of the difference between types of objects in the Andean Cosmovision is tied at least partially to their view that everything is conscious.

In the Andean Cosmovision consciousness is an inherent attribute of the filaments, rather than being a byproduct of an advanced nervous system . The idea that stars, trees, and even stones are conscious is so far from how my discipline of psychology views consciousness as to make the idea seem ludicrous from that perspective. Consciousness, however, from the perspective of the intellect, is and must remain the ultimate mystery of the universe, for consciousness, while it can be experienced, cannot be understood. The intellect trying to understand consciousness is like a knife trying to cut its own edge. Consciousness needs to be separated from all of our concepts about it, including what we think about thinking and about being self-aware and so on. Rather than consciousness being something of dubious reality because it is so unapproachable intellectually, it is instead the most real thing in the universe, for consciousness is that out of which our ability to think emerges. But I digress.

Of all the nodes of filaments in our neighborhood of the Cosmos perhaps the most important one is the Pachamama, the great bundle of filaments, the incredible spiritual Being, who is our Cosmic mother the planet earth. While I call the Pachamama a ‘spiritual’ being she is not a transcendent spirit residing in the large rock we call earth. Western culture essentially only gives us two options for viewing ‘spirit’, that spirit is transcendent (e.g. a soul that descends from heaven to inhabit the physical realm) or that ‘spirit’ does not exist. The Andes provide a third option, that the planet itself is a great spiritual being, that the sacred is not separate from the filaments but is immanent in them. The Pachamama is not the great spiritual being who resides in the earth, she is the great spiritual being who is the earth.

Other important Beings (nodes in the web of filaments) include the Apus. The Apus are the great beings who are the majestic mountain peaks. While the Apus are physically part of the Pachamama they are also Beings themselves. This is a common feature of the Andean Cosmovision. The Cosmos is one tremendous web of filaments but it does have places where the filaments come together to form a node. The Pachamama is but a node in the whole web, yet she is herself; the Apus are but part of the node that is the Pachamama but they are themselves as well; a cultivated field (called a ‘chakra’) is but part of the Pachamama, but before planting the field the villagers communicate with and make offerings of gratitude to the chakra (the daughter of the Pachamama) as well as to the Pachamama herself.

The further we go into details about the Andean Cosmovision the more variations we will find across individuals, villages, and regions of the Andes. The version I have given is my personal, inevitably Western-flavored, account but I have found that it provides good support for my exploration of this Cosmovision and I offer it to you in the hope that it may serve you as well. Before drawing to a close I want to emphasize again that the beliefs themselves are of little importance, what is important is the loving and mutually supportive relationship with Nature and the Cosmos that becomes possible within this Cosmovision, within this relationship some beautiful and magical things can occur that cannot be understood by the intellect.

The Andean Cosmovision opens us up to a whole new way of understanding reality, a whole new realm for us to explore. This blog is essentially a guidebook based upon my experiences. Treat it as you would any guidebook, understanding that while it is meant to contain useful information that my tastes, evaluations, and interests may differ in some cases from your own, and that a guidebook is no substitute for actually going there.

*The distinction of Western (Occidental) vs. Eastern (Oriental) philosophy doesn’t really make sense in this context. I need, however, a term to refer to the view of reality that arose in Europe and that served as the foundation of modern, industrial, technological society. For simplicity of expression I simply call it ‘Western’ society.

 

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