Salka Wind Blog

Posts on the Andean Cosmovision

Tag: sacred

Thread A: Paths to the Other Side of Reality

This post is a continuation of Thread A and is pretty much what I have been working up to in that thread.  My goal is to shed further light on the Andean Cosmovision by viewing it within the larger context of various other paths that lead into the other side of reality.  I usually don’t step out of my path to compare it to others as I know them less well.  I would like to apologize ahead of time if I do not adequately or accurately portray the path you are on.  In any event I hope that you find this post interesting or useful or both.


In the post The Other Side of Reality I developed the idea that we do not consciously experience reality itself, we experience instead a neuronal representation of reality created by our mind, brain and sensory organs. This representation can be thought of as a map of reality, and like all maps it corresponds to the territory being mapped yet at the same time it is fundamentally different than, and much less than, the territory. The territory, reality itself, exists beyond all of our thoughts and concepts and perceptions. I refer to this essential “suchness” of reality as “the other side of reality”.

Our consciousness is the observer who experiences our representation of reality.  It is possible to turn off our mind/brain’s process of representing reality and when we do our consciousness becomes directly aware of reality itself. When we do this we turn our eyes away from the shadows cast by puppets on the wall (ala Plato’s Cave) and walk out into the ineffable, sacred, beauty of the Cosmos. Over the millenia many paths have been developed in many cultures for reaching that state.

In the post The Guardian of the Threshold I defined our “ego” as all of the thoughts, concepts, and beliefs we have about ourselves. Our ego is not who we are, it is our map or representation of who we are. We exist as Beings, however, beyond all of the thoughts and beliefs we have about ourselves. Just as the essential suchness of reality is ineffable, beyond all thought, and ultimately mysterious, the essential suchness of who we are is ineffable, beyond all thought, and ultimately mysterious.

A major challenge we face when we seek to experience the other side of reality is that when we endeavor to turn off our map of reality we are also turning off our ego. Our ego tends to respond to this as if it were facing death. In mystical approaches this is known as the little death, the (temporary) death of the ego, as compared to the big death (our actual physical death). Like the computer HAL in the movie 2001, the ego does not take the prospect of being turned off very well. The ego responds with everything it can think of to stop us. Its main weapon is fear. In this way the ego, in mythological terms, serves as the guardian at the threshold to the other side of reality.

In this post I would like to take these two ideas–the nature of the other side of reality and the nature of the ego–and use them to differentiate three paths that lead to the other side of reality; the Path of Knowledge, the Path of Power, and the Path of Heart. While the Andean Cosmovision cannot be encompassed with words or understood through thought, my intellect (yachay) likes to have some idea of where that-which-is-beyond-thoughts might fit into the scheme of things.  It is with that in mind that I would like to share the following reflections.

1) Mystics and the Path of Knowledge. The goal of the mystic is to turn off the brain/mind’s interpretation (map) of reality. When this happens our consciousness gets to know (in a purely experiential, not intellectual, way) the other side of reality. The other side of reality cannot be put into words. “The Tao that can be talked about is not the Tao” (Tao Te Ching). When mystics do attempt to describe the mystical experience their words point at that which is beyond words. The concepts of time, and of the universe being made up of separate objects, are concepts, part of our brain/mind’s map of reality, rather than being a part of the essential suchness of reality that exits beyond our thoughts. Thus when mystics attempt to describe the mystical experience they speak of entering Eternity (a state outside of time) and they speak of being One with the Cosmos (of no longer being a separate entity). They also speak of experiencing the Sacred (which exists beyond any belief system).

Many mystical paths use meditation to achieve this special way of knowing reality. When I first entered the field of psychology there was a great deal of interest in the psychology of consciousness, altered states of consciousness, and meditation. The following was proposed as a way of understanding meditation. I am not sure it quite does meditation justice, but I have found it to be interesting at least.

Meditations generally fall into one of two categories; those that call for us to “focus in” and those call for us to “open up”. Focussing-in meditations involve attending to an unchanging stimulus, such as a mantra, or our breathing, or a flower. Opening-up meditations involve paying attention to all of the every-changing stimuli reaching our senses in the moment. In order to work properly our mental processes that create our representation (map) of reality rely upon a certain rate of information flowing into our minds. Focussing-in meditations (attending to an unchanging stimulus) underwhelm our map-making processes causing them to collapse, rather like a wind sock with no wind. Opening-up meditations (paying attention to everything at once), on the other hand, bring in so much information that they overwhelm our map making processes, also causing them to shut down. With either type of meditation, and extensive practice, we can learn to stop our process of creating a representation of reality and when that happens we become conscious of what is left, the essential, unprocessed suchness of reality itself. This is what I believe is pointed at by such terms as enlightenment, satori, buddhahood, etc.

It may take many years of dedicated practice to collapse our representation of reality. But along the way benefits arise. Our maps of reality tend to be self-reinforcing. Our map largely determines what we pay attention to and what meaning we assign to what we perceive, which then tends to reinforce our map, which then determines our experience of reality, and so on. My relatively limited experience on the path of the mystic is that when I am meditating, cracks (metaphorically) appear in my map of reality, light from the essential nature of the Cosmos leaks through, and my map of reality begins to change in ways that open me up to new ways of Being.

To touch the other side of reality requires that we temporarily put aside our ego. It is a challenge to put aside our concepts of reality and our concepts of ourselves when moving through our social world. Everyone we meet reinforces our concept of the world and our concept of self.  For this reason mystics often seek isolation, by going to meditation retreats, or even by becoming hermits. It is much easier to shed our society’s view of reality and of ourselves when we are outside of our society. The archetype of the wise old person living in a cave in the mountains comes from this path.

2) Shamans and the Path of Power. The term “shaman” comes from the indigenous culture of Siberia where it refers to people who have special powers that fall outside of our normal map of reality. The term has since been adopted by our Western culture and applied to people with similar powers in cultures across the globe. I am simply using the term here to refer to individuals who walk the path of power. The power might be used to gain information on the origins of a person’s health problems, or to retrieve lost pieces of a person’s soul, or to alter the energy of a person or a situation, or for other purposes that lie outside of our culture’s view of reality.

An important characteristic of power is that it is not inherently good or bad. Technology, for example, is a path of power and technology can be used to heal someone (e.g. medicine) or to kill them (e.g. nuclear weapons). How power is wielded, for good or bad, depends not upon an inherent characteristic of power but upon the values of the person wielding it. Shamanism is a path of power. Some people become shamans in order to have the power to heal others, to do good, to serve humanity. Other people become shamans to boost their ego, to feed their own self-importance, and to manipulate the world to their own advantage. In observing people who follow this path I note that some are loving and humble, some are creepy and have huge egos, and others are somewhere in between. Power is power, it doesn’t care.

How is it possible for someone to enter into the other side of reality and at the same time maintain a big ego? How is it possible to have the mystical experience of immersion in the essential suchness of reality and still maintain a materialistic and selfish approach to reality? The answer is that it is not possible. The path of power is not a path into the essential nature of reality that lies beyond all maps of reality. It is, instead, the development of a different map of reality, one that includes aspects of reality that fall outside of the map provided by Western culture. It is still a map of reality, just a different map, one that opens up new abilities and power.

My understanding of this has been shaped by don Juan Matus (a Yaqui spiritual guide) in the writings of Carlos Castaneda. Don Juan used the term “sorcerer” to refer to people who are on the path of power. To gain power a sorcerer needs to experience a completely different way of perceiving, being in, and interacting with reality. This is no easy task, and to survive the challenges that arise a person needs to have the impeccability of a warrior. Much of the earlier work of don Juan with Carlos was to help Carlos develop a sorcerer’s map of reality.

In don Juan’s worldview there is also a step beyond becoming a sorcerer, and that is to become a “man of knowledge”. Having two completely different maps of reality (our every-day map and the sorcerer’s map) makes it possible, for a sorcerer who so wishes, to transcend all maps and know the ineffable suchness of reality itself. Thus the path of power can eventually become a path of knowledge. For this to happen the ego would need to be dropped to get past the guardian at the threshold of the other side of reality.  According to don Juan, relatively few sorcerers choose to move on to become people of knowledge.  Those who take the path of power to feed their ego and sense of self-importance, or to gain advantage in the material world, would be actively moving away from what it would take to reach the other side of reality.

I often see references to the Andean Cosmovision as a path of power. Peru is a land of many paths and some are paths of power. I have heard don Americo refer to shamans/sorcerers in Peru as “brujas” (witches) but without the negative connotation the word carries in English. On several occasions he has arranged for brujas he respects to work on my energy. I have noticed that he hangs around as they do, I assume that he is monitoring the work to make sure it is beneficial, and I have indeed benefited from their beautiful work. I have also heard many stories of shaman/sorcerers (in Peru and in the West) who do great harm, either on purpose or through ignorance. Power doesn’t care whether it is used for good or harm, only the people on the path of power care (and some do not).

Another term I have heard applied to people on the path of power in the Andes is “layqa”. I believe layqas are the people that don Americo refers to as brujas and brujos. I have searched the anthropological literature to see if this is a correct use of the term layqa, particularly when compared to “paq’os” (described below). I view the academic literature with ambivalence. On the one hand it seems more reliable to me than second-hand information coming through Westerners, particularly as that information is often translated from Quechua to Spanish and then to English. On the other hand, academicians can be completely ensconced in the Western worldview and utterly and stubbornly oblivious to how the Andean Cosmovision may differ from the Western worldview. The bottom line of my research is that it seems layqa is more connected with power, power over nature and power over people, while paq’o has a different, more beneficent, connotation. We will consider paq’os next.

3) Paq’os and the Path of Heart. “Paq’o” is a quechua term that is usually translated into English as either “mystic” or “shaman”. Both terms apply a little and neither exactly fits (see the post Paq’os:  Shamans or Mystics). “Paq’os” and a “path of heart” go together and the latter defines the former, and so I will hold off on a definition of paq’o and develop instead the essential nature of the path of heart.

There are undoubtedly many paths of heart on the planet. I want to focus on the path of heart as I have experienced it during my twenty plus years of working with don Americo Yabar, don Gayle Yabar, and the paq’os of Peru. To what degree my experiences on this path correspond to other paths of heart I know not, but I suspect there are many similarities.

The Andean path of heart is the path of the munay. The munay is one of our three centers of being. It is located in the area of our heart and is the center of love. The love associated with the munay, however, is not an emotion. It has nothing to do with romance or sex or sentimentality or jealousy. It is, instead, the feeling that arises from experiencing our interconnectedness with the rest of the Cosmos, and this feeling is labelled with the closest word in English, which is “love”.

The path of heart is a path of interconnectedness, not as an ideal or a concept but as a process. As for how exactly to proceed along this path, well, I have written this blog and a whole book about it, and that is only part of what I could have said. I would, however, like to give a brief overview here, and perhaps that will be of interest even to those who have read my blog or book or both.

The main image or metaphor that comes to my mind for describing the path of heart is that it involves a certain way of dancing with the Cosmos. Dancing is an active process, something we do, and we are doing it in response to the Cosmos, which in turn is responding to our dance. The dance is, in other words, an active relationship with the Cosmos where we influence each other.

This dance with the Cosmos is made possible through a non-Western map of reality, the Andean Cosmovision. Within this way of experiencing reality the whole Cosmos is conscious. This includes, specifically and especially, the Pachamama (the great Being who is the planet Earth), Mama Tuta (the void, the night, who holds the stars in her embrace), the stars themselves, Tai Tai Inti (the sun), Mama Killa (the moon), the Apus (the Beings who are the majestic mountain peaks), the rivers that cascade down the mountains, Mama Cocha (the ocean), the trees, the stones, everything, including the Cosmos itself. They are all conscious, we can interact with them, we can dance with them, and if we make our dance with the Cosmos a work of art then our life begins to unfold in beauty.

Our steps in the dance are the “meditations” I have shared in this blog and in my book. They are not like the meditations of the path of the mystics, and I only call them meditations because I have no better term. These meditations provide a means for experientially exploring new and profound aspects of ourselves and of the Cosmos. While the meditations have value in themselves there are also beautiful effects that slowly emerge as we continue down this path. These effects arise naturally from the way the meditations allow us to connect to the consciousness of Nature and the Cosmos. This is beautifully stated in a quote from Eckhart Tolle (while not from an Andean perspective it fits nicely).

“There is a higher order, a higher purpose, a universal intelligence. We can never understand this higher order through thinking about it because whatever we think about is content while the higher order emanates from the formless realm of consciousness. But we can glimpse it, and more than that, align ourselves with it, which means be conscious participants in the unfolding of that higher purpose. In a forest, not a man-made garden, let go of thought, become still and alert, and don’t try to understand or explain. Only then can you be aware of the sacredness of the forest. And soon as you sense that hidden harmony, that sacredness, you realize you are not separate from it, and when you realize that, you become a conscious participant in it. In this way, nature can help you become realigned with the wholeness of life.” Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth, pp 194-195.

The Andean meditations change our relationship with Nature and the Cosmos. When a relationship changes the relata (the entities in relationship) change as well. My experience is that as I have learned to dance with the Cosmos in this new way that subtle and beautiful changes have arisen within me unplanned and unexpected. Don Americo calls these “kamaskas”, small initiations into a new way of being that arise when we align ourselves with the Cosmos. This unfolding of a new way of experiencing reality takes us closer to the other side of reality which begins to inform our experience of who we are.

The theme of the paq’os relationship with the Cosmos is service and the operating principle is ayni. To be a paq’o is to be of service, service to the community, service to the Pachamama, service to the Apus, service to the Cosmos. Ayni (the Andean principle of reciprocity…see the post Ayni) insures that the service is service and is neither servitude nor mastery. We neither dissolve and surrender ourselves to the Cosmos (the path of the mystic), nor do we attempt to coerce and manipulate the Cosmos (the path of power). We dance with the Cosmos and as we do we become realigned with the wholeness of life, and we find our salka.

 

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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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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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