In my last post, I wrote about how paqos are beings of joy and service. That is true—in the ideal. But I might have left the impression that paqos are more loving, joyful, and self-aware than the rest of us. While many of them have mastered incredible energetic practices, they are human beings with failings, foibles, and personality conflicts. They are working the practices to become more self-aware and to further their own conscious evolution, just as we are. They are models for us, but, for the most part, we put them on a pedestal reluctantly. We respect and even honor them, but we would do well not to fall into a hero-worship mode.
I remember one of the first things my primary teacher, Juan Nuñez del Prado, told me when I was about to start the interviews for my book Masters of the Living Energy: The Mystical World of the Q’ero of Peru.”* He counseled, “Don’t sentimentalize the Indians.” At that time I couldn’t follow his advice. I was more or less in awe of the paqos I was interviewing. But over the years, as I got to spend time with them and know some of them a little better, I learned that they are just like the rest of us when it comes to their humanness. They can be outgoing, playful, talkative, even egoistic; they also can be shy, unsure of themselves, embarrassed, jealous, acquisitive, angry, even a bit vindictive.
Most of the paqos I worked with have passed on, and some of their teachers I only knew through reputation and stories told to me by Juan Nuñez del Prado or others. To highlight my point that the paqos are very much like all of us, I share some anecdotes about paqos from both my own experience and from reliable sources.
One of the most surprising tidbits of information I learned from Juan is that the late don Manuel Q’espi, who was once the kuraq akulleq of Q’ero, was actually booted out of paqo school when he was a young man! High in the mountains where the Chua Chua and Totorani rivers meet, there was a paqo school that ran every year for the month of August. The year Juan attended was the same year don Manuel attended. The headmaster was the famous Q’ero master don Andres Espinosa. Apparently don Manuel and don Andres had a falling out and don Andres kicked don Manuel out of the school!
I did not meet don Manuel until years later, and whenever I was with him he was always pleasant, smiling, and happy. That is, until he began his despacho ceremonies—then he became all business. I sometimes found it trying to do a despacho with him, as more often than not the ceremony lasted for hours and, frankly, it was hard to stay focused. In fact, once, so I have been told, don Manuel, having had a bit too much pisco, actually fell asleep while leading a group despacho ceremony! No problem. The others carried on, and when don Manuel woke up, he picked up as if nothing had happened.
Most of the paqos we knew (and others I know today) are friendly and quick to offer their knowledge if asked. But don Andres Espinosa was not known as overly approachable. In fact, he had a reputation for being ornery. When Juan first met him, he was terse and dismissive. The word “taskmaster” comes to mind when I remember the stories I have heard of don Andres. Tough, exacting, even demanding are other words that come to mind. Even though the stories about him are intimidating, I wish I had had the chance to meet him. He was a master chunpi paqo, the only one I ever heard about. Thankfully, we have his teachings.
In contrast, don Benito Qoriwaman, another great master of the last generation, was as magnanimous as they come. But even he was decidedly human. Juan tells how when don Benito had had enough of dealing with the townspeople, the clients at his healing center, his wife and kids, and his apprentices, he would just leave. He literally would take off for days or longer, telling no one where he was going or when he would return.
Of all the paqos I knew personally, I spent the most time with don Mariano Apasa Marchaqa, which doesn’t mean I got to know him well, as most of the time he was simply inscrutable. It was impossible to read his face, and thus I was usually left in the dark about what he might be feeling. Overall, his demeanor was dignified but a bit stand-offish. He wasn’t someone you approached spontaneously, giving a big hug. Even though his face usually was a blank slate, every so often he would break into a smile and, to use a cliché, the room would light up. He also had an oblique sense of humor. I remember during the interviews for my book he looked up at one point and said, with seriousness and great humility, something to the effect of: “If I had known that one day I would be here talking to you, I would have listened better to my father and grandfather when I was a child. I wasn’t interested then. Their stories and teachings went in one ear and out the other.”
Many of the paqos of the last generation were very unsure of themselves when they were among mestizos in Cuzco because the norms of the culture differed so much from their everyday lives in their mountain villages. That’s entirely understandable, and it in no way detracts from them. But it was hard to witness their discomfort sometimes. I remember being at Juan Nuñez del Prado’s house one day for lunch when three Q’ero showed up. Juan’s wife, Lida, invited them to join us. They put their bundles down, came in, and sat at the table with us. If you could have seen their faces and body language! They were so unsure of themselves, exuding nervousness as Lida laid out plates and cutlery. They watched carefully as we used knives and forks, and then they, clumsily, tried to use them. My heart went out to them. I wished they had had the confidence to just eat with their fingers, so they could really enjoy the meal. None of us would have cared. (I was able to commiserate with their unease because I had felt it many times myself when with the paqos, especially the few times I was in the Q’ero villages. I didn’t know the proper way to do things or what was expected of me.) I have to laugh at something that happened when the lunch was over. One of the Q’ero, I think it was don Julian Pauqar Flores, got up, opened the screen door to the back covered patio/garage area, and stepped out to relieve himself in full view of the rest of us. He didn’t appear tentative at all when it came to that aspect of his comfort!
The most playful paqos I ever met were the youngest ones—don Juan Pauqar Espinosa and don Augustine Pauqar Qapac. Don Juan has passed on, but he was as mischievous as a six-year-old, always ready to play and quick with a joke (which, because of translation, I mostly missed at the moment and had to play catch up later). Don Augustine appeared to be shy, but what a prankster he was. I understand from people who know him today that he is much less playful. Maybe that’s what age does to you! But when he was a young man and I was interviewing him, he would slip words like “breast” and “vagina” into our mutual Quechua-English language lessons. It cracked him up as we repeated the words before the translation was given and we knew what they meant. Both don Juan and don Augustine were also game for adventure and to learn anything new. There was a foosball table in the courtyard of the place we stayed in Urubamba during the book interviews, and after a little instruction, they played game after game. And they were wildly competitive with each other!
One thing I was surprised about back then (the 1990s) was that despite their very real and well-deserved reputation as the masters of the sacred tradition, the Q’ero I interviewed had lost a lot of the practices. They did not know hucha mikhuy and there was no chunpi paqo in Q’ero (at least not one openly practicing). When they heard about hucha mikhuy, they wanted us to teach them. Despite having lost knowledge of some of the practices common to the older paqos, these young paqos followed in their teachers’ and ancestors’ footsteps in terms of their ayni. Participating in ayni ceremonies, whether a despacho or connecting with an apu, was a solemn, sacred, and deeply moving experience. Their munay infused all of their ayni practices.
While today I know only a few of the younger paqos who now travel the world teaching and sharing the tradition, I am aware that there are more than a few who have been heavily influenced by outsiders and by practices from other traditions. Some of them are less than particular about explaining what is authentically Andean and what is not. That’s all well and good depending on your preferences. I, for one, prefer to be educated about what is part of the tradition and what comes from beyond it, because as Juan has stressed (based on the teachings from his masters, especially don Benito Qoriwaman, who was not Q’ero), in order to be a fourth-level paqo, you must know your lineage, and that includes the lineage of the practices.
The point of this post is that while we respect and honor the paqos, we also are not starry-eyed. While we are open to receiving counsel and teachings, we also keep our clarity of discernment. We reserve judgment, but we trust our instincts if things don’t feel right. We aren’t afraid to ask questions—and to expect honest and clear answers. Bottom line is that most paqos are human beings walking a sacred path, not masters with infallible knowledge. Juan Pauqar Espinosa said during the interviews, ‘We are all human beings, only our clothes are different.” That is the crux of the issue, because to wear blinders when it comes to the paqos—putting them on a pedestal as if they are infallible—is to miss the teaching of the tradition, which is to “see reality as it really is.” That includes the reality of the humanness of your teachers.