CUSCO, Peru – Among the cloud-covered peaks of the Peruvian Andes, local people speak of a “geographic shift” of the world’s spiritual center from the Himalayas to the Andes and of the increasing role of American indigenous traditions in rebalancing the earth.
The May 8 visit of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Cusco and his meeting with indigenous representatives there seemed to many to be a symbolic act that confirmed this shift.
The current Dalai Lama is head of the Tibetan government in exile and is considered by Tibetan Buddhists to be the 14th reincarnation of the Buddha of Compassion.
“This is a chance to exchange ideas in brotherhood,” said Gregorio Sotalero Tacuri, one of the 25 representatives from local indigenous communities who waited expectantly in the Incan temple of Korikancha for the Dalai Lama’s arrival, along with about 100 other visitors.
The representatives, some of whom had walked for two days to attend the event, had varying degrees of knowledge about who the Dalai Lama was.
“I hear he’s supposed to be a spiritual leader,” said one woman of the Q’ero Nation. “Does he know how to make offerings to the earth?”
Like the Tibetans, who fled Chinese occupation in 1949 and went into exile, the Q’eros fled the Spanish conquistadors 500 years ago and exiled themselves high in the remote Andean peaks of their own country, where they have lived in isolation, preserving many of the traditional ways of their Incan ancestors.
The Dali Lama arrived, smiling, in his traditional dark red robes and took the stage next to Isaac Flores, a representative from the Q’ero community.
Flores offered a song in Quechua about Cusco, the capital of the Incan empire. Other representatives gave the Dalai Lama traditional weavings and a cuya, a black stone from one of the Incan ceremonial sites.
“We are very happy that you have come from so far away and have been waiting for you with an open heart,” Flores told the Dalai Lama. “We are Incas. We are Incas. We are Incas. That’s all I have to say,” he concluded.
“I’ve been hearing about the Incas for a long time,” said the Dalai Lama. “And I very much appreciate anything you express and also the gifts made with your own hands.”
He spoke of the similarities between his culture and the Andean culture, and called the 21st century “a time when Native people have every right to preserve their traditions” while encouraging them to advance with modern education.
Flores wore the traditional clothing of his people: red poncho, knee-length pants, sandals and a white-beaded cap which symbolizes the snow covered peaks of the Andes.
The Dalai Lama joked with Flores that his clothing seemed very practical for the cold high altitudes, but that he “really should get himself a proper pair of shoes.” Flores smiled and defended his sandals as the traditional custom.
The Dalai Lama concluded the meeting with a brief Tibetan prayer for altruism and an open heart, which was followed by the music of Andean flute players.
Later, he spoke to an audience of 850 people in the Cusco convention center on “Ancient Cultures in Modern Societies.” Modern people in cities, he said, need to learn from Native traditional cultures about respect for mother nature.
“We have a wrong perception that we control nature; but look at global warming in the Antarctic, the Himalayas, the Andes. It really affects us now in our life.”
He described traditional cultures as consisting of two parts: the social system that changes according to the needs of the time, and the spiritual wisdom that is unchanging.
Answering an audience member’s question about poverty, which affects almost half of all Peruvians, he said the social system that creates poverty and the mental state of the person living in poverty needed to be changed.
“The Q’ero that I met today,” he added, “are tough like the Tibetans, which helps them deal with poverty.”
Technology, he said, answering another question from the audience, was not to blame for human ills, but the neglect of community values in favor of independence.
Though he was forced to cut his planned hourlong speech to 15 minutes because of an earlier delayed flight, his audience – made up of Peruvians as well as tourists – seemed to appreciate the Dalai Lama’s visit to Cusco, which was his first.
Gabriela Callo Guzman, a descendant of the Incans and the Spanish, said the meeting of the Dalai Lama with the Q’ero was significant because it represented an opening of Andean indigenous culture to other parts of the world, though she felt there should have been more chakaruna, or “bridge people,” at the meeting to help explain Andean culture to the Dalai Lama.
“This is the right moment for this visit from the Himalayas,” said her husband, George Figueroa, a doctor who is of Quechua descent. “Many things are opening up to humanity, like the new Nazca lines I heard last night were discovered,” he said, referring to huge pictograms on the Peruvian coast whose origin is unknown. “It seems that nature itself opened up to welcome this being of light.”