Andean Worldview

    Andean Worldview

    Corné van Nijhuis

    “The love you receive is equal to the love you give”

    Everyone has, consciously or unconsciously, his (or her) own worldview, his idea about the reality he perceives. One of the most interesting worldview I’ve come across in my quest for understanding the mysterie of existence is the Andean worldview. This time I thought to share some of the fundamental ideas of this concept in this monthly more philosophical column. 

    The more you get set into your own world, 

    the smaller your world becomes.

    (J.R. Rim)

    Andean civilization

    The Andes in South America is one of the six oldest pristine civilizations (indigenous and independent from other cultures) in the ancient worlds. The rest are the earliest known Mesopotamia, ancient Egypt, Indus River Valley, ancient China, and Mesoamerica. The Norte Chico Civilization in Peru is identified as the oldest in the Americas dating back to 3200 BCE, existing roughly one millennium after the Sumer Civilization (Mesopotamia) and nearly two millenniums before the Olmec (Mesoamerica). 


    In the Andean cosmo-vision, the universe is undifferentiated and unified. From this perspective the Incas regarded space and time as a single unified concept which they called ‘Pacha’, often translated as ‘the World’, but probably better pointed by ‘Spacetime’ (as it includes a temporal context). The peoples of the Andes have upheld this concept until now, as the word pacha is still found in the Quechua and Aymara languages. 

    Time and space is where we chase things we pretend we don’t have.

    (Mike Dooley)

    To grasp this concept more deeper the Incan mythology divided pacha into three different spheres: the hana pacha (world above), ukhu pacha (world below) and kay pacha (this world). The upper world consists of the things in the Milky Way such as the stars and the sky, where the energy is the strongest and is also the upper realm one could reach in his life. The living world is the place in which we live, existing in between the upper and lower worlds, where the energy is moderate and is flowing among the living beings. The lower world is the inner world, which is linked to the dead and the pathway of the new life. In relation to the dead, the lower world is inhabited by supay—a group of demons that torment the human beings. As the realm of the new life, the inner world is deeply connected to Pachamama, the respected mother earth and fertility Goddess, who offers life to every living beings inside the cosmos.

    As the universe was considered a unified and undifferentiated system within Incan cosmology, these three realms are not solely spatial, but simultaneously spatial and temporal. But at the same time the conceptual division between the worlds was part of the dualism prominent in Incan beliefs, known as Yanatin. The concept of Yanatin is defined as ‘the complement of difference’ or ‘complementary opposites’, similar to the Chinese Taoism. This dualism found that everything which existed contained both sides of any feature: both hot and cold, positive and negative, male and female, dark and light, etc. It is the union of opposing yet interdependent energies. Because of the flow of energy, Yanatin dedicates to build connection in opposite forces instead of enlarging the difference between contrasting existences.


    One God, many faces.

    One family, many races.

    One truth, many paths.

    One heart, many complexions.

    One light, many reflections.

    One world, many imperfections.


    We are all one,

    But many.” 

    (Suzy Kassem)


    Ayni means ‘reciprocity’ or ‘exchange of energie’. This principle is derived from the Andean perception of ‘energy beyond form’ and is practiced between individuals and with all of nature. From this idea follows the goal for each living being: to walk in perfect harmony – ayni – in all 3 levels of existence. In the upper world, the living world and the lower world. Ultimately it is done by sending love to someone or something else without expecting something in return, in the pure spirit of giving. Each time you practice ayni, miraculously you do receive something back. A concept closely related to karma and dharma. 

    So to live in perfect ayni means:

    • to see life as a harmonious interchange of energy between the self, all others and all of nature;
    • to walk the three pathways of all energy, represented by the serpent, puma and condor;
    • to enter and perceive reality in two complementary ways:
      • the ordinary world of linear time by the five outer senses
      • the non-ordinary or sacred world (yoge), which can be perceived energetically as direct experience, through inner sense.
    • to walk in balance is to hold all aspects of the worlds in the light of the creator.

    Perfect ayni comes directly from the hearth. 

    I hope to have shared an inspiring authentic world view for you to contemplate upon.


    Dhr Corne van Nijhuis is a scholar and has devoted his time to the study and practice of Vedanta. He is a regular contributor to this magazine.