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Ayni, the natural law of reciprocity

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Ayni and theft

Ayni can be translated as “reciprocity.” In this view, it is similar to the popular saying, “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” However, ayni is not just reciprocity, for it is much more. Reciprocity is a relative term, but if we add the concept of “natural law” then we are implying that it is always accomplished, in one way or another. That is, the Universe always tallies the accounts in such a way that we always end up giving in accordance with what we have received.

Some people believe that ayni is similar to barter. However, this is not the case, since barter means the following:

“I’ll give you this, and you’ll give me that.”

Barter is the precursor of money, since the step after the type of exchange mentioned above is represented by the following:

“I’ll give you this in exchange for money,
And with that money I’ll get something else
That I need and that you don’t have.”

In contrast, ayni is based on the full acceptance of the universal law, which asks that you give in accordance with what you have received.

In a society governed by such rules, wouldn’t it be easier to ask for what we need than to steal it?

Money is needed in order to buy things; and to barter, we need something to exchange that the other person wants. Therefore, in both situations, people might steal out of necessity. They will steal because they have neither the money to buy nor something to barter. Consequently, they’ll find themselves in a situation in which they are in need but nobody helps them.

However, if we ask for something through ayni, we don’t need to bring anything except the willingness to give. And when the time to give arrives, we don’t need to provide to the same person from whom we received. We can give to somebody else and let the Universe take care of settling the score.

Therefore, if everyone can have, with the simple act of asking, and with the only obligation of giving something someday, then reciprocity is maintained and there is no need to steal.

Ayni and laziness

Ayni also eliminates the need for the second precept: “Don’t be lazy.” Laziness emerges from an imbalance between giving and receiving. It arises from a situation in which giving without receiving and receiving without giving coexist. People who receive without giving stand idle because they have everything they need without having to work for it. While people who are forced to give without receiving will long for some spare time to relax and be idle. So this imbalance creates laziness on the one hand and the yearning for laziness on the other.

Slavery was not abolished for moral reasons, as they would have us believe, but because it was not financially viable. It stopped being profitable to have slaves, who needed to be fed and lodged when their productivity was low. And it was so because they were forced to give without receiving; they received only food, ill-treatment, and inadequate housing. The new slavery consists of low-paying jobs, which are financially more profitable because there are fewer responsibilities for the employer, and there is the option of dismissal if the need arises or the productivity falls.

Conversely, when a society is governed by ayni, such an imbalance between giving and receiving does not take place since people realize that they have to give in accordance with what they have received. There will be people who will work more than others because they wish to have more, and those who work less, because they need less. However, there will not be lazy people, because everyone needs to eat.

Ayni and lying

Finally, those who have become more conscious of the universal law, called the natural law of reciprocity or karma, which balances all actions, know that lying will not allow them to avoid such a law. The Universe makes the balance from what was given, done, or said, and not from what we claim to have given, done, or said. Therefore, a society ruled by ayni is one in which every individual knows that lying will not help him or her to avoid obligations.

Conclusions

This is why the above-mentioned rules only made sense when a different logic was imposed on the indigenous world. The logic was that of the conquerors. The newcomers stole from the indigenous people, gave very little in return, hoarded what they had, and lied to conceal their actions. The indigenous people saw this and learned from it, so at some point they also started acting in the same way. It was then, and only then, that such rules had to be proclaimed to the people. The people were told that the rules came from the Incan period to make the rules more legitimate.

This does not mean that during the Inca Confederation, theft, laziness, and lying did not exist. Since there are words in Quechua or Aymara to refer to them, this means that they were present at that time. In the same way, we can infer that there was no starvation because there are no Aymara words for hunger. Theft, laziness, and lying were present, but at such a low level that a rule to address them was not needed. Let me give an example: Once I read a notice in an elevator in an Asian country that said: “It is forbidden to urinate.” Do I have to infer that because it is forbidden in such a country, nobody urinates in the elevators, whereas in the rest of the world it is a normal practice? On the contrary, in the rest of the world it is not common to urinate in elevators and in the previous country it is, and because of that they had to ban it.

Translated by Ayelén Magalí Capel

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Marc Torra
Marc comes from Urus, a community in the Pyrenees, the land of the Cathars. The name Urus is of Indo-European origin and it means ‘a place where the water springs’. He went abroad in 1995 after graduating in Economics from the university of Barcelona, and since then has lived and worked a little in every continent. Through living in other countries, Marc has associated with many different cultures and ways of thinking; especially with those he calls ‘earth people’. From them he has learned a different way of reasoning, and discovered that the future of the planet depends on our ability to learn what such cultures have to offer. As an author he writes about spirituality and new tendencies, developing and intermingling genres, making use of both narrative and essay writing. Marc tries to understand and experience things for himself in order to build bridges, both to unify different cultures and spiritual traditions across the globe, and help visualise a better future.