As you know, ayni—reciprocity—is at the foundation of Andean social and spiritual life. In both realms, it is, in essence, the practice of the golden rule: do unto others are you would have them do onto you. In the agrarian culture of the Andes, it entailed helping where help was needed, whether in the fields, in the market, or in the home. In the spiritual realm, it is making energetic interchanges with nature and the cosmos of living energy with as pure an intent as possible. In these respects and others, ayni is a driving force of social relationships in Andean culture and a force of evolutionary growth in the spiritual realms. Because of ayni, no one is ever alone. Nothing is unconnected.
Ayni is the foundation from which we can best understand and appreciate the concept of the ayllu. At its simplest, the ayllu is community. It is the interconnected web of social bonds and spiritual kinship that provides the foundation of life. There is nothing more anomalous in the Andes than the loner, the solitary one, the hermit. Connection, reciprocity, community are necessary for living life both in the social and spiritual realms.
This focus on community is not only Andean. While we in westernized, first-world countries valorize the individual, more traditional and indigenous communities value groups, as do most spiritual traditions. Once the Buddha was awakened, he instructed followers to form sanghas, which were and are to this day communities of Buddhist practitioners. Christ formed the church (upon the rock of Peter), which provides community to religious adherents. While we tend to valorize and even sentimentalize the lone spiritual seeker, the guru meditating in the cave, the spiritual adept who no longer heeds the pull of the world, actually nothing is further from the “norms” of a spiritual life than being alone. Community and social relations are necessary to the well-being of human beings.
So an important question for those of you who are practicing the Andean spiritual arts and are on the path of the paqo is, “Do I have an ayllu?”
If you don’t have a community, then it is wise to begin to form one. If you already have one, what state is it in? How vibrant is it? Is it active or passive? Are you in only occasional contact? Do you get together only to do spiritual practices or are you able to rely on your ayllu members for everyday concerns?
Your ayllu can be a circle of friends, and perhaps even your family, but ideally it is not simply a collection of like-minded individuals. While there is immense power, and indeed comfort, to be found in a community of people who are alike (masintin), as businessman and author Stephen Covey says, “Strength lies in differences, not in similarities” (yanantin). Diversity is the spice of life and breeds health in a true ayllu.
Your ayllu is not so much meant to “do,” but to “be there.” While you will indeed want to gather for specific activities, the strength of the ayllu lies in its very existence and the way its member trust in the connected web of your humanness. The ayllu measures its significance in ways both large and small, significant and seemingly insignificant. As paqos we aim to see reality as it really is. So, a community can have a grandiose spiritual vision (through our Inka Seeds recognizing our divinity and realizing our individual missions in this life) while at the same time acknowledging that we live in a profoundly disordered and often distressing human world.
Humanitarian Jean Varnier eloquently provides us with a distinction between a group (like your ceremonial group or your book club) and a true community (ayllu): “A community is only being created when its members accept that they are not going to achieve great things, that they are not going to be heroes, but simply live each day with new hope, like children, in wonderment as the sun rises and in thanksgiving as it sets. Community is only being created when they have recognized that the greatness of man is to accept his insignificance, his human condition and his earth, and to thank God for having put in a finite body the seeds of eternity which are visible in small and daily gestures of love and forgiveness. The beauty of man is in this fidelity to the wonder of each day.”
Once an ayllu has formed, it remains—it persists—because it becomes the very fabric of life. Although we have to adapt the traditional form of Andean ayllu to our own cultures, we would do well to consider the web of connections in our lives. Our fierce individualism has its merits, but ultimately “living the good life” is less about “me” and more about “we.” So take a moment to examine the breadth, depth, and strength—and the resilience—of your social relations. Are you a member of a lot of impermanent groups? Or do you have the support of an abiding ayllu?