Being a Toltec
Do we really live on the earth? On the earth, we won’t always dwell: We’re only here for a spell. Even jade can break; Even gold can be fake; Even the feathers of quetzal Can be torn off and fall. On the earth, we won’t always dwell: We’re only here for a spell.
(Cantares Mexicanos, poem translated by Alan Steinle))”
In Toltec civilization, man’s experience was truly spiritual, even though the Earth was a place of human activities. For them, everything was fleeting and trivial compared to the priority of “learning” to influence the Spirit and liberate the divine particle that inhabits us all.
In his most humanized and conceptual appearance, God was considered a divine duality, half female and half male. In the Christian faith, this would be the equivalent of Jesus Christ, the Son of God on Earth. He was also understood to be a fusion of the pair of complementary opposites with which the “world in which we live” was built. The Ancients referred to this pair as the “God of Water” and the “God of Wind.” The first comprises everything that surrounds us, since by its nature it is made of atoms and is energy “condensed and materialized.” The second includes the “other energy” of which the world is built, the “Divine Breath” that bestows consciousness on the material world. The God of Water was named Tlaloc by the Nahuas, and the God of Wind was named Quetzalcoatl. The Mayas named this pair Chac and Kukulcán, respectively. Each culture conceived the same pair in a similar way, symbolized under different names, as our ancestors made up one single civilization, despite the diversity of the cultures in which such wisdom was expressed.
The Warrior of Blossoming Death
During the peak of the ancient Mexican civilization (200 BC – 850 AD), any adolescent who completed his studies in the telpochcalli and wished to gain a mastery of Toltec knowledge would enrol in a higher education centre knows as a calmécac.
These aspirational young men and women were called warriors, because they prepared to embark upon the most difficult battle that a human being can undertake: the inner battle to control the ego. Thus, with the material world fading away, the spirit would be allowed to blossom.
The warrior’s ferocious inner battle was conducted against his or her own individualistic and physical impulses, with a view to defeating the inertia of the material that makes up the body. The battle would take place against the vices and weaknesses that plague an individual through the maelstrom of temptations in the material world, plunging the warrior into emptiness. Without a doubt, it was a colossal challenge that strengthened the spirit and purified the material self.
The earth is a mad dash of a race. What is life like in the other place? Can any joy be found? Are our dear friends around? Or is it only here that we know our face?
(Cantares Mexicanos, poem translated by Alan Steinle)
In a world in which physical matter is fleeting and ephemeral, and the subsequent reality belongs to the spiritual realm, the conscious human being faces life like a battle, fought in order to move on toward the spiritual plane, where the soul is immortal.
The warrior’s iron will and strength of determination were derived directly from the understanding of his true nature, his mission on the Earth, his unlimited possibilities as Spirit, and the higher level of consciousness. His resolve was thus known as an “abstract life plan.”
The warrior looks upon life as an opportunity—limited in space and time—to purify his energy and expand his consciousness. He knows that his physical body is only a vessel through which he can reach the ultimate end: transcendence of the Spirit. He understands that the material world is a virtual world and that, being a divine creature, he possesses immeasurable capabilities that are unknown to most people. In essence, the basic instincts and the pull of somatic forces, which we share with the animals, serve to anchor us to the material world. Nevertheless, we cannot continue to waste our higher potential with impunity. To live for the satisfaction of these impulses is like attempting to quench one’s thirst by drinking salt water; the more water we drink, the thirstier we get. Pleasure, power, and wealth are the things that pull us into the whirlpool of the material world.
The Warrior’s Weapons
It was customary for the ancient Mexicans to expand their knowledge through poetic language. Metaphor was the optimal language at their disposal for transmitting the inexplicable concepts that make up the divine, which is itself ineffable.
The warrior’s weapons were, symbolically, “flower and song,” where “flower” stood for beauty and “song” stood for wisdom. Thus, philosophers, as well as being great thinkers, were poets. In order to understand the philosophical thinking of the Toltecs, it is necessary to delve into their metaphoric language:
Emeralds upwards spring, Like flowers in the spring. O giver of life, your songs I thread Like emeralds around your head. The gold in the beads is strong; On your form they belong. Your only wealth is here, On earth, and very near!
(Collection of Huexotzingo, poem translated by Alan Steinle)
For the Toltecs, beauty was inherent in wisdom. For something to carry wisdom, it must contain beauty, for that is how the Spirit is expressed. For this reason, art is the language, par excellence, of the Spirit; it is the link between the divine and the worldly, Heaven and Earth, the abstract and the concrete, the spiritual and the material. Beauty is the garden in which the flowers of the Spirit grow; the songs are of the most profound, sensitive, tranquil and brilliant wisdom. So “flower and song” are the mysterious weapons of the “warrior of the blossoming death.”
The warrior’s strength has its roots in three great virtues: sensitivity, responsibility, and discipline.
Sensitivity is characteristic of all living beings. All things are sensitive to their surroundings, from the planet itself right down to the bacteria that inhabit it. But human sensitivity is distinguished by consciousness. All humans possess potentially the same sensitivity, but the fact is that some develop their consciousness more than others.
Responsibility is an attitude born of the most profound consciousness. In an attempt to explain the ineffable, we could say that consciousness exists on two levels: one that appears through the “small self” and which moves and reacts—nervously, bitterly, ignorantly—to the ups and downs of daily life; and the elevated consciousness or the interior being, whose reality, unlimited and immortal, unites with the Supreme Consciousness of the universe. To continue to try to describe the indescribable, we can say that such a thing is characterized as perennial blessedness, contemplation, government, and control through inaction or, to put it another way, through a subtle and all-encompassing motive.
Consciousness is the essential part of the warrior. Taking up temporary dwelling in the body, consciousness is destined to walk towards the original light and merge with the Supreme Consciousness of the universe. However, one of the biggest challenges to a warrior is initiating a dialogue between his “small self” and his higher consciousness—both polar aspects of being—to receive the light of the latter for all of his most important decisions in life.
In the beginning, the Supreme Consciousness of the universe broke apart in order to take up shelter in every individual and thus initiate the “game” of learning and transcendence. As a result of this game, every individual consciousness is destined to merge once more with the Supreme Consciousness. While the “small self” and the higher consciousness are not united, man will live a divided life, in which he experiences the duality of the cosmic game and the temporary contradiction between his individual impulses and his more elevated aspirations.
The difference between a “warrior” and the common man is that the first endeavors to expand his consciousness, while the second attempts to satisfy the desires of the “small self.” Each and every one of us identifies with one of these two tenets of life. In everything, both are needed to grow: physical health and mental equilibrium depend upon the decisions of the “small” but healthy “I.” The development of disinterested love and the pursuit of the highest ideals are inspired by a higher consciousness.
The consciousness of man includes of all of humanity’s knowledge and wisdom. The problem is that people never stop to check in with their interior; they no longer pick up the inner call of consciousness or even recognize its existence. Nevertheless, consciousness is the ally that inevitably indicates what to do and what not to do. Since consciousness exists eternally and independently of the physical body, upon making contact with each individual body, it gives rise to the cosmic game of learning and transcendence. On the other hand, if a person directly or indirectly turns all of his efforts towards the satisfaction of the mental and physical ego, he will miss out on the thing that distinguishes him from an animal: consciousness. And so, both the “small self” and the potentially all-encompassing consciousness integrate themselves into the duality of a person, without which “project man” would not exist.
Discipline is the third element in the warrior’s arsenal. This is not the sort of military discipline that blindly obeys others, but rather the discipline that comes from a committed, personal decision. This sort of discipline constitutes a personal achievement, because it is one thing to know what to do, and it is another thing to acquire the strength of will to actually carry it out. Discipline is an attitude. There are those who prefer that someone sets on them with a whip and takes responsibility for their decisions and, on the other hand, there are those who don’t allow others to take responsibility for what they need to do. It is from this group of people that “warriors” arise.
Although discipline is an attitude and a personal decision, it needs to be cultivated for it to be strengthened and consolidated. Discipline responds to a premeditated intention, conscious and unceasing, that gradually gains a powerful inner strength that we call “will.” The warrior develops an unyielding will to transform himself. As a result, he begins to notice subtle changes in his inner workings and in the world that surrounds him. Without this strength, human beings are no more than dust in the strong winds of the surrounding world.
One of the greatest achievements of our ancestral culture was humility. The Toltecs, in their impressive spiritual development, arrived at the highest point of expansion of consciousness: humility. Humility is derived from wisdom. In his profound understanding of existence and the meaning of individual life, the subject becomes humble; conversely, the greater his ignorance and profound lack of awareness, the more overbearing and arrogant he appears. Humility is as much the result of an inner dedication to self-control as it is the expansion of consciousness and, hence, of understanding.
Indigenous and peasant towns, direct heirs to the wisdom of ancient Mexico, characterized themselves by maintaining a discreet humility in their outlook on life. Nonetheless, during five hundred years of intense colonization, the commanders and explorers converted this into servitude. In turn, the indigenous people, as a defense and a way of cultural resistance, became “crafty people.”
The warrior is invulnerable because he doesn’t have anything to defend. Arrogance, high-handedness, and self-importance imply the defense of something that one wishes to impose upon others. Humility purifies not only the soul, but also the surroundings in which the individual moves. The warrior doesn’t need to feign, defend, or strengthen anything on his person. He passes unnoticed amongst the masses. He knows that what he seeks is to be found inside and that he requires much less from the outside world than others.
As a result, the warrior doesn’t tire himself in pettiness with his kindred, fighting to increase or enlarge his standing. He knows that life is short, that energy is limited, and that death can spring upon him with the heavy and devastating blow of its scythe.
Another weapon of the warrior is his ability to remain centered. All things in the universe, tangible and subtle, possess a vibration and a magnetic field. The planet, as much as a mountain or a bacterium, is characterized by a specific vibration. It is more intense and defined in the centre of the body, and more broad and diffused in the periphery, far from the centre.
The centre of a human being is his consciousness, and the more alive it appears to be, the more we say that he is “in his centre.” The person who doesn’t live in tune with his consciousness is, therefore, “off centre.” The being that operates from his centre outwardly emits a serene and relaxed vibration, even though the flame of his consciousness burns brightly. The “off centre” individual, on the other hand, outwardly emits a disruptive vibration, while on the inside he remains out of focus, distracted. It goes without saying that the warrior orbits around his centre, and therefore doesn’t operate in bursts of euphoria, depression, or anger. His style is characterized by fluidity, simplicity, and amiability.
The warrior does not attempt to be someone he is not. On the contrary, his appearance dissolves into the crucible of all human beings, because he understands that the entire material world is mere appearance and transience. On the other hand, he fights “like a jaguar, like an eagle” to conquer his interior virtue and defend the most noble and just causes in life.
It is hard to express the consciousness of the Spirit in words because it is an attitude, a state of mind, a sustained and unyielding higher intention, a way to live and deal with the world, and, above all, a way to die. Because of this, the warrior moved unnoticed through the world, respecting its rules without allowing the world, with its whims and confusions, to move through him; he firmly fixed his gaze on his “battle of flowers” in his eagerness to “make his heart bloom.”
As a direct result of these concepts, another characteristic of the warrior is his silence. The common man spends a lot of his time talking about others and discussing nonsense, because chat and gossip allow him to forget his emptiness. His irresponsible and poisonous thoughts thus become darts. In the meantime, the warrior contemplates exterior events in silence, while realizing the depth of life and becoming closer to his inner being, which he has made his ally. The warrior is distinguished by his discreet, silent, and humble attitude. The imposter and cheat fail in their efforts to feign this attitude.
A powerful weapon at the disposal of the warrior is his understanding of the difficulty of leaving his “battle of flowers” victorious. What makes him a warrior is not his perfection but his fight—through pain and exhaustion—to polish the rough edges of his imperfections, which he sees as his greatest teachers. This fight is extremely difficult and generally occurs as a result of great pain, which motivates a restructuring. For this reason, if he fails, the warrior doesn’t lose hope, let alone abandon the fight. Patience is the inescapable beginning of his struggle. Without the fear of failure, he works to overcome his imperfections for as long as it may take.
Another powerful tool of the warrior is his detachment. Attachment to people, ideas, memories and objects makes humans extremely vulnerable and weak, as it restricts their decisions and limits their field of action. The desire to possess, a somewhat natural desire, has been severely exacerbated and reinforced by trade, and has managed to get people to attempt to fill their existential emptiness by buying and acquiring things. The warrior, on the other hand, trains himself in his capacity to become detached from what he owns, and this detachment makes him a truly free, invulnerable, and powerful being. By yearning for nothing, he can do without everything. Thus, his manner is neither voracious nor abusive, but rather light and playful. By not getting bogged down in the snares of pleasure, he loves and pays attention to everyone equally. He doesn’t have anything, but neither does he lack anything. He makes the most of the world without mistreating or damaging it, and he gives the best that he can as he continues on his journey.
Finally, the loss of the fear of death is the greatest achievement a warrior can attain. Since the dawn of time, the ancient Mexicans have maintained a very close relationship with death. One cannot attain a complete consciousness of life without embracing death. In short, by merely pondering death and all her splendor and mystery, one can acquire a fair estimate of life. Physical death is simply the beginning of an incorporeal experience on the astral plane. All living beings must die. In truth, there is nothing more terrifying and painful than not having lived a life with intensity and full consciousness of the opportunity that life represented.
The warrior understands that he fights tirelessly to liberate Being from the inertia of material, the “creatures of the night” that threaten to put out the light of the spirit. He knows that at any given moment he could leave without any warning from death, and he waits for that magnificent moment fully prepared. Furthermore, in the hope of understanding the plenitude of his spirit, he fights every day to achieve it. The “battle of flowers” makes his life grand, generous, and transcendent.
*Quetzalcoatl*—the feathered serpent—is the symbol of material as well as spirit. The serpent slithers upon the earth, the dust of the world, interacting with it, learning about it. The quetzal spreads out its wings to break through the clouds in search of its origins. The warrior follows the same path as the feathered serpent and would find transcendence in his “battle of flowers.” The end result doesn’t worry him; he already lives by virtue of being a warrior. He walks towards the horizon of the “blossoming death” fearlessly and without ambition, in compliance with his destination. It would be hard to find a better way to live.
Text translated by Adam Oldfield and revised by Alan Steinle
- The Cantares Mexicanos is the name given to a manuscript collection of Nahuatl songs or poems recorded in the 16th century. The 91 songs of the Cantares form the largest Nahuatl song collection, containg over half of all known traditional Nahuatl songs. It is currently located in the National Library of Mexico in Mexico City. The Spanish version of the same poem says: *¿Acaso de verdad se vive en la Tierra? No para siempre en la Tierra: sólo un poco aquí. Aunque sea jade, se quiebra; Aunque sea oro, se rompe; Aunque sea plumaje de quetzal, se desgarra. No para siempre en la Tierra: sólo un poco aquí. ↑
<li id="fn:fn2"> ** *Aquí en la tierra es la región del momento fugaz.* *¿También es así en el lugar donde de algún modo se vive?* *¿Allá se alegra uno?* *¿Hay allá amistad?* *¿O sólo aquí en la tierra hemos venido a conocer nuestros rostros?* *(Cantares mexicanos) <a class="footnote-return" href="#fnref:fn2">↑</a></li> <li id="fn:fn3"> ** *Brotan cual esmeraldas,* *tus flores,* *oh dador de la vida.* *Tus cantos reúno* *Como esmeraldas los ensarto:* *Hago con ellos un collar:* *El oro de las cuentas está duro:* *Adórnate con ellos.* *¡Es en la tierra tu riqueza única!* (Colecc. de Huexotzingo) <a class="footnote-return" href="#fnref:fn3">↑</a></li>