Salka Wind Blog

Posts on the Andean Cosmovision

Tag: religion

The Three Centers of Being (Part 1)

In the Andes they identify three centers of our being; the yachay, the munay, and the llankay. Each center is located in a different part of the body and each provides a different way of perceiving and understanding reality.

The yachay is located in our head. It is our ability to think, in other words it is the intellect. In our culture, at least in my world of science and academia, logic is viewed as the epitome of thought. In the Andes, however, wisdom as a quality of thought is valued more than logic and intelligence. Wisdom is built upon life experiences, accompanied by an appreciation and understanding of the larger-than-individual and larger-than-humanity systems involved in any action. I would add that wisdom also implies some amount of caring and compassion. Wisdom, it would seem, implies a yachay that acts in accord with the other two centers, which we will turn to next.

The munay is located in our heart. It is the center of love. The ‘love’ associated with the munay, however, is not an emotion. Emotions are tightly connected to our thoughts. How we respond emotionally to an event is largely a product of the meaning we assign to it. But the love of the munay is not an emotion; it has nothing to do with romance or sex or sentimentality, and jealousy does not apply. Our yachay and its ability to analyze (i.e. break things into pieces) gives us the experience of being separate from everything else in the Cosmos. In the Andean Cosmovision the Cosmos is a vast network of interconnected filaments of energy and we, rather than being disconnected things, are part of that network. Through the munay we experience our connection with the rest of the Cosmos. The Cosmos has an underlying frequency, and it is our (beautiful) experience of tuning into that frequency through our munay that gets labelled with the closest available term ‘love’. (This definition of love comes to us from don Americo Yabar).

To experience reality through our munay we need to move our consciousness from our head to the area of our heart, and when we do, we experience a different way of perceiving and understanding the world. It may seem strange to speak of moving our consciousness to our heart (compared to, say, keeping our consciousness in our head and simply being aware of our heart). In my culture it is generally assumed that consciousness is always, must always, be in our head. The best way I have, however, for describing how to experience the munay or the llankay is that all we need to do is to move our consciousness there. I’ll be sharing some meditations for exploring this in later posts .

Now to the llankay. The llankay is located a couple of finger-breadths below our navel and a few inches inside our body. The llankay is the center of our physical being and its ability to come into physical manifestation. It is also described as our ability to work, to use our physical body to alter the world. At the center of the llankay is our ‘not-being’, where we are ‘no-thing’, from which our physical being emerges. The llankay is another location where we can place our consciousness and shift our experience of the Cosmos.

I have found the concept of these three centers (yachay, munay, and llankay) to be helpful in integrating my boy-scientist, Western upbringing (very yachay) with my experiences in Peru (very munay). Science, religion, philosophy are all of the yachay. They are immensely useful…and they cannot possibly understand the munay (and vice versa). The intellect can describe and explain and think about reality all it wants and it still does not overlap with reality as experienced by the munay or by the llankay. The integration of these three centers of being comes from a deeper level of ourselves. For me it was at this deeper level–beyond the distinction of the yachay, munay, and llankay–where the beauty and value of my explorations of munay eventually established a level of credibility that my intellect could acknowledge even if it could not understand.

I’ll be sharing some more thoughts about the yachay, munay, and llankay and providing some meditations related to them in upcoming posts (see below)

July 9, 2011:  The following subsequent posts are available:  The Three Centers of Being (Part 2), Tuning the Three Centers of Being.

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Lesson of the Mask

Sacred Dan MaskJoseph Campbell, who in my view was the world’s greatest comparative mythologist, wrote a book about the role of masks in ancient ceremonies (The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology). He was interested in the experiences of people who participated in sacred rituals where a performer wore a mask which portrayed her or him as a deity. The people at the ceremony often knew the identity of the person wearing the mask, it may have been–for example–their uncle, so what did they believe about the person when he was wearing the mask in the ceremony? Did they believe that in the ceremony the mask actually transformed him into the deity or did they see him as representing the deity in a metaphorical sort of way?

Campbell argues that the people at these ancient ceremonies did not take either perspective. Those who believe that the mask transforms the person into a deity, the true believers–and this would include those who believe that their mythology is literally true–do not belong at the ceremony. On the other hand the spoil-sports, the skeptics for whom the mask has no power to transform its wearer into a deity, for whom the ritual must–at best–represent a metaphorical transformation, are also not invited. The statues of guardians–warriors, dragons, demons–who flank the entranceways into the ancient ceremonial sites are there to keep out what today we might call the ‘religious mind’ as well as the ‘scientific mind’. The people at these ancient ceremonies, Campbell believed, took a third option, experiencing the ritual as neither literally true nor essentially metaphorical. This third option involves moving out of the realm of logic and immersing oneself completely into the realm of the play, the realm of ‘as if’.

The anthropologist Gregory Bateson (who I think was one of the greatest minds of the 20th Century) had something similar to say.

“[In the 1500’s] in Europe, many Catholics and Protestants were burning each other at the stake, or were willing to be burned, rather than compromise about the nature of the bread and wine used in the Mass. The Catholics said that the bread is the body of Christ and the wine is the blood, the Protestants said, on the other hand, that the bread stands for the body of Christ and the wine stands for the blood. The point is not to say that one side is better than the other, but that the argument is one of fundamental importance in understanding the nature of the sacred and human nature…Now it is my suspicion that the richest use of the word ‘sacred’ is that use which will say that what matters is the combination of the two, getting the two together. And that any fracturing of the two is anti-sacred. The Catholics and the Protestants were equally anti-sacred. The bread both is and stands for the body.” (A Sacred Unity: Further Steps to an Ecology of Mind)

Bateson goes on to say that the path to the sacred, to getting to the place where the bread both is and stands for something, involves leaving what he labels ‘prose thinking’ (and that I label as ‘the intellect’) and entering into ‘dream thinking’, for in dreams our experiences are not labelled as true or false, or as literal or metaphorical.

What both Campbell and Bateson are talking about, I believe, is ‘intent’ (please see the post ‘Intent‘).

Photo of the Dan mask courtesy of the ArtyFactory.

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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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Why a Swan?

Our intellect is a very important part of our existence. It’s main task is to determine what is true and what is false. This is the context of both science and Western religion. While they differ in how they determine true from false they both take on this task.

Let us consider a performance of the ballet Swan Lake. A ballerina appears on the stage dressed as a swan. This is not the appropriate context for the scientist to leap up and shout “Don’t be fooled, that is not really a swan!”, nor is it appropriate for a priest to leap up and shout out “Look, its a giant swan, it’s a miracle!”. Nor does the ballerina stop, upon entering the stage, to announce “Please do not be fooled, I am not really a swan” nor to announce “It is important that you believe that I truly am a swan”. These considerations are appropriate in the correct contexts, but there are times when something very important is going on and the judgements of the scientist and the priest are simply not relevant.

The title of this post comes from the same-titled chapter of the book ‘Steps to an Ecology of Mind’, by the anthropologist Gregory Bateson, from which this particular thought arose.

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