When you read “Inka,” what may flash through your mind is creepy Hollywood scenes of terrible and tortuous sacrifice rituals or Spanish conquistadors slaughtering masses to procure Peruvian gold for King and Church. Apparently any tradition can lose its bearing when human frailty takes the helm. Yet, for all that the Inka system was authoritarian and imperfect, it was one of the greatest empires of antiquity, and its people flourished.
What you may not know is that the cultural framework of the Inka is based in ancient mystical philosophies for living in harmony with the Creator and the living world. The Inka Empire was created by the unification of many tribes and the collaboration of their skills and beliefs. After its destruction, the clans became distinguishable again, but over the centuries they have held on to their identity as Inka and its mystical legacy.
In Peru today, most of the native Quechuas are devout Catholics. However, their Catholicism is interlaced with their Inkan beliefs about the cosmos and how we relate to God. It’s even woven into the symbolism of the Inkan cross which tourists can buy in any Peruvian market today with a small guide to its symbolism. They believe, for example, in a single Creator (God,) but they also recognize the Sacred in the natural world, seeing nature spirits as extensions of God. Quechuan and Mestizo (Quechuan/Spanish mix) priests (shamans) and healers (curanderos) understand themselves to be stewards of Life and Creation, and that when we heal a part of Creation, we heal the whole. They believe we are all meant to be stewards—even Westerners—which is why so many healers happily share their teachings with outsiders.
Peruvian sages teach five concepts at the heart of the Inkan philosophy that are crucial to being healthy, balanced, and an “investor” in life, rather than a “consumer” of life: Kawsay, Munay, Yachay, Llanchay, and Ayni. These five concepts are as relevant to us today as they were in the archaic world that brought them to light.
Kawsay (cow-sī): The foundational concept of their legacy is that the world is filled with living conscious energy, called Kawsay (akin toQi), and we need this energy to flow through us and throughout the cosmos for life to blossom and continue. This energy is an extension of the Creator, and brings life to all things. The Kawsay Pacha is the “world of living energy,” and we each have a subtle “bubble of energy” (Poq’po in Quechua) which is a part of this energetic web. We’ve seen similar ideas in Eastern philosophy, and even in quantum physicist David Bohm’s concept of the super-implicate order.
The Andean sages don’t just teach these concepts in the abstract, but rather teach people how to perceive and engage this world of living energy. The many temples and sacred places of the region primarily serve the purpose of engaging this living energy for wisdom and nourishment.
Munay: (moo-nī) There are three practices for growing our connection with the kawsay pacha. The first is munay, which means love. However, this love is more than an emotion. It is an energetic expression of divine love and beauty, and being in harmony with the kawsay pacha. In his book The Andean Codex, J.E. Williams explains that “Beauty is the outer wrapping of munay; inside is kindness and love. To the Q’ero [an Inkan priest tribe], beauty and love are inseparable” (81).
Yachay (ya-kī) Another of the three practices is Yachay, “knowledge.” This means to seek wisdom and knowledge in their highest form. To seek the deeper knowledge and inner knowing that transcends surface observations. This is easier to do when we actually believe there is a living and conscious life force within and underlying the material world. True knowledge includes both rational and intuitive learning.
Llanchay (yong- kī) The third practice, Llankay, is the practice of earnest labor, or more accurately, service. It is the belief that “whatever work I do, I should do with an attitude of contribution.” Modern Andeans often reduce this to “Don’t be lazy,” but in truth it is as much about ethics and attitude as it is about will. This is about living by right action and service as stewards of the cosmos. Rather than striving to do great things, they strive to do things great.
When we bring these three practices into in our lives, we become better vessels for living energy, which not only helps our personal well-being, but also helps the whole.
Ayni (aye-nī): This final practice is critical to the Inkan legacy. This is the practice of Ayni, which basically means reciprocity. When we are in Ayni, we are in a harmonious state of giving and receiving. Ayni is sometimes translated as “I give to you now, and you give to me later, when I need it.” It is a spirit of cooperation and being in right (reciprocating) relationship.
I have found in my own efforts to adopt these practices that I can no longer believe that that how I treat others or the planet, or even myself doesn’t matter. I can only imagine the amazing world we could create if our global community adopted these practices and understood that by living in a harmonious state with the rest of Creation we would make our own lives better.