After watching the movie Mongol, about Genghis Khan’s life story, my curiosity was piqued. I discovered an amazing Tale of Wisdom, Humanity, Courage, Survival, Ancestry, Will-to-Live, Excellence, Learning, Conquest, and unfolding Consequences that informed much of what I have spent my lifetime learning and unlearning. I discovered someone about whom I knew little, but had very distinct impressions, most of which were entirely misconstrued. The title of this essay, Genghis Khan and the Grass Eaters, may sound bizarre. The reality that it points to is even more curious.
Genghis Khan was an indigenous Way-Finder. He created an Alliance for different Peoples and former enemies to address the very real threat of empires that were already conquering and debasing People like his “People who live in felt tents.” He also created a way for other Peoples into whose territories he entered to become part of that alliance. Against all odds, he refused to ignore, submit to, or embrace the destiny of debasement that empires subject all conquered peoples to.
The friend who turned me onto Mongol then turned me on to Jack Weatherford’s books, Genghis Khan: and the making of the Modern World and The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How Genghis Khan’s Daughters Saved His Empire. He said, “This is going to blow your mind.”
The more I delved into, not just the history of Genghis Khan, on the world stage, but his personal story of survival, and his commitment to the survival of the Peoples of his Homeland, and to the Wisdom and Excellence he realized to that end, the more I discovered a Wisdom Tale so rich and profound, that it is worthy of dedicated study and consideration, especially by anyone who realizes that there is a price and a level of mastery required to remain free in the face of the ongoing onslaught of the global imperial machine.
There is no denying that this a bloody history. There is nothing pretty about resisting empire, or even talking about it honestly.
This is the story of a choice: submission to the bloody and dehumanizing debasement of empire, or daring to develop a response commensurate to the reality of that imperial challenge. This choice was made in response to the spirit-crushing reality of empire, the challenge of understanding an imperial system wholly alien to the lifeways of the People of Felt Tents, and the challenge of those People developing an alliance and a skillset that could respond to the realities of empire with new responses of their own.
The tale of the one whose name was Temujin, later named “Genghis,” after the “Ocean,” is a tale of indigenous People responding to empire. I have mentioned many Peoples on this website. All of us had Ancestors who, at some point, were faced with the human degradation and exploitation that imperial conquest inevitably brings to the conquered. They were also offered the debasing comforts of slaves that empires offer to all those who accommodate themselves to the kiss-up, kick-down hierarchies that empires thrive on.
The story of Genghis Khan is of a man with a unique history. He neither bowed his knee to have his head chopped off to hold on to his dignity, nor did he suck up to tyrants in exchange for “benefits.” He chose to respond to a call of Wisdom, of Excellence, and of Absolute Ability to Respond to Tyranny decisively.
He developed a skillset that responded to Reality’s requirements, not just his ‘big idea” or his “big ideals.” He did not ignore his enemies, idealize them, or vilify them. He studied them. He accepted the challenge they posed to him, his People, and other Peoples with a different way of Life. And he used the Challenge of his Enemies’ Abilities and Excellence to cultivate Abilities and Excellencies of his own and among his own People. And he dared to forge a new People, the Mongol Alliance, not by obliterating differences but by uniting them without eliminating them. It is an amazing legacy that all who LOVE Freedom enough to LIVE Freely have much to learn from.
Jack Weatherford’s books are an excellent introduction to this fascinating history of this Wise Defender of his People’s Dignity. Weatherford has written a number of books on indigenous peoples, such as Indian Givers: How Native Americans Transformed the World, a fascinating chronicle of the endowments of American Indigenous Peoples to so many aspects of what we take for granted in “modern” culture, yet give little credit to the Peoples of the Americas for restoring albeit the most basic aspects of human dignity from the ongoing debasement and self-estrangement, from personal hygiene to our most common foods, medicines, and understanding of the world.
Weatherford has written a number of books on Indigenous People and their Wisdom. His writing is informed by a rich and subtle attention to details and connected rooted in the Wisdom of People still exercising Natural Intelligence. His books on Genghis Khan and his family read like a real-life portrayal of so many of the Principles I have written about here.
To learn something deeply, it is not simply enough to study the topic at hand, and proceed with our impressions. We also benefit from really getting a sense of our own habits of mind, of perception, what defines them, and what constricts them.
I challenge you to explore your own perceptions.
Before I learned about the challenges that Genghis Khan and his People faced, I pictured a metal-helmeted, mustachioed, blood-thirsty, hard-riding, brutal horseman commanding a horde of ruthless men into bloody battles that swept over the entirety of the Eurasian continent, from Hungary, to Turkey, to China, and covered them in a sea of blood. “A ruthless war monger.” “A war lord.” A “mass murderer.” A “Mongol chief.” These portrayals ignore the subtleties, the humanity, and the commitments of a man for whom not a single one of his warriors, or of their families, were expendable; and a man who invited totally foreign people, already under imperial regimes, to relearn a Life-Centric way of being and of defending themselves and each other.
In thinking of Genghis Khan, prior to learning about him in more detail, I would picture him entirely in cartoonish terms and according to values which are assumed by most “modern” people. It would be easy for me to fail to appreciate that “modernity” and the almost-complete ignorance of one’s own ancestry and history, the sense of the words we use to think about the world, or the nature of the “system” we are each ensconced in, is precisely the systematic dehumanization that Genghis Khan took preemptive, decisive action to NOT become a part of . That refusal had an extraordinary cost, not only to the Peoples whom he would band together as “the Mongols,” but also to the Peoples whom he fought against.
Genghis Khan was “a chief.” It’s easy to misconstrue the term to the opposite of its sense. He came from tribal, indigenous, capital-P People. We don’t.
For people accustomed to living our lives in chains-of-command, and external direction and “authority,” whether at “school,” at work, or at home, it’s easy to conceive of a “chief” as a “little king.”
As a result, it’s very hard for us to conceive of any form of leadership that is not based on command and control. Tribal chiefs lead from competence, from wisdom, their capacity to see clearly, their courage to face unpleasant realities, and not from the ability to make others bow to their will. Among non-imperialized Peoples ALL relationships are chief-to-chief, rooted in connection and competence, speaking to the heart, and speaking to and acting in reality.
Pierre Clastres’ book Society Against the State is an excellent introduction to a vast variety of chiefly cultures among indigenous American Peoples. For someone truly interested in the deeper dynamics of human communities, and relational and existential alternatives to imperial models, it is fascinating. It will also do much to help a modern person begin to consider other ways of being human and being in community that already proved themselves over the vast expanse of the human experience and still today.
There is a challenge when trying to understand people whose values are so different from our own, because we have to experience of them. Idiotic (literally “self-referent” from the Greek idios: “self” -> idiotes: “self-referent”) instructional systems reinforce this way of looking at everything and everyone from the reference point of “the authoritative version” while, at the same time, having zero context beyond the “official, disconnected factoids.”
“There are two world histories. One is the official and full of lies, destined to be taught in schools, the other is the secret history, which harbors the true causes and occurrences.” –Honoré de Balzac
Genghis Khan’s history is a perfect example of what Balzac was pointing to. We are easily duped by the “official” histories of everything, always taught to promote an agenda, in ignorance of the context and consequences they not only engendered, but also emerged from. Modern people can barely imagine that modern history, just like imperial religions, science, “schooling,” or medicine, is just another weapon against us, the conquered, designed to further confuse us and diminish our competence to lead ourselves to live in any way other than ways that serve empire’s purposes.
Genghis Khan understood this clearly. He saw first-hand what had become of other once-great “People of Felt Tents,” living in territories that the Chinese imperial system had already overrun.
There are profound differences between a war chief, among chiefly people, and a war lord, among conquered people.. We might easily think of these as simply “a matter of degree.” Having no context, we come up with an explanation that fits our “worldview” and not the people or the part of the world we only “think” we are “viewing.” Few of us would imagine that the relationship of a chief to his people is almost the opposite of a lord.
The movie Mongol portrays these relationships according to dynamics more reflective of imperial cultural dynamics than that of tribal peoples, much less of the different tribal Peoples who banded together to face empire, under Temujin’s leadership.
The relationship of warriors to their chief are almost opposite that of soldiers to their commanders. We tend to perceive others according to our experience from our own context. This, of course, is to be expected. All of us are integral adaptations to whatever experiences and contexts we have grown up in. Even after a lifetime of living with many different peoples, I still see how easily, and unconsciously, I lapse into using my own terms to define the experiences of others.
This is tricky. Even though I have lived among many different people for my entire life, I’m still tricked by my own presumptions. It takes living, not just traveling, among people for extended periods of time to eventually get it that there may be very obvious things that escape the attention of both the foreign visitor and friend, and their hosts.
Genghis Khan was also faced with that challenge. He not only had to understand the imperial systems which he learned where expanding from the East, the West and the South. He not only had to understand the various bands, clans, and small tribes composing the vast array of “the People of Felt Tents” many of whom were at odds with each other. He challenged himself to understand who and how they would have to become to constitute a united front to the imperial war machines already expanding into their homelands. And then he challenged himself to communicate all of these differences, dynamics and challenges to the People of Felt Tents for whom the imperial system remained outside of their experience.
How he managed to do this, as a leader of a rag-tag clan of survivors, and a recent escapee from the Chinese prison system, has much to do with the difference between a culture of chiefly People, and that of hierarchical imperial structures. He had no “power,” except the power to see things directly, in reality, and to speak sense to People who still lived sense-ably.
Often an ASSUMPTION can be SO obvious to both parties, yet in entirely different ways, that the difference of perception remains unperceived. Chiefs do not lord over their People. Such a person would rapidly cease to be a Chief. Chiefs don’t rule, they lead. A leader leads due to proven capacity, and the intelligence to allow the most competent to lead, without “commanding” ever coming into the equation.
That doesn’t mean that chiefs don’t establish standards. They do. Those who join their forces with them agree to uphold excellence and their commitments. But they don’t do that because of submission to the chief. They do that because of shared dedication to one’s People and a shared Intention to decisively deal with a threat.
Genghis Khan did not gather “the People of felt tents” to try to deal with empire. He called them to deal, DECISIVELY. He understood the nature of the threat facing the People of the Steppes. They would NOT have multiple chances to engage that threat.
They would either outgrow all of their petty differences, tribal rivalries and enmities and DO something they had never done to face an enemy most of them could barely conceive of, much less understand, or they would be turned into empire’s bitches. There was no room for “trying” in the reality they were facing.The odds were already thoroughly stacked against them. They were not only outnumbered, they were surrounded by four different empires on all sides.
An advantage the Mongol Peoples had was neurological, existential, cellular, VITAL. Their intelligence was NATURAL. They had not been biologically degraded. Genghis Khan understood that. he used it to full advantage.
At the same time, petty, insular clannish feuding would cripple their ability to unite, face, understand, and overcome the nature of imperial war-machine anti-culture, and to do so effectively. THAT is where the story becomes so incredible. It is a story of mastery on an incredible scale. It is the story of different Peoples who became One People, while still cultivating their differences, rather than eliminating them. It is the story of ancestral enemies who became relatives. They reformed themselves into family groups that embraced and united THROUGH their ancestral enmity and differences.
This is not only a story of indigenous People protecting themselves. It is an incredible story of learning and unlearning.
A chief is one who has demonstrated unfailing commitment to the service of his People. Of course, many soldiers will also commit to “serving their people,” but they are not led by chiefs, but by commanders, something profoundly, different, as we will soon see. Soldiers become part of a war machine . Warriors become part of a war party, where ALL of the lives of individuals are sacred and not expendable.
Chiefly people are raised by mothers capable of profound attunement with their children. Chiefly men and women are self-mastering and wholly devoted to the continuity of their community of relatives.
The courage, generosity, and powerful mothering of Mongol women raised men who were absolutely devoted to and inspired by their women to dedicate their lives to those who gave them life. Mongol women did not “belong” to their men. They were not “bossed around” by their men, nor did they raise the kind of children or men who would allow themselves to be “bossed around” by men or women.
That’s not how free, response-able, tribal cultures work and endure.
Relationships are built on speaking to each others’ hearts. In cultures of People who are not cowed by their own parents and people, and who are raised in the fullness, rather than the frustration of their WILL, the only way to get anyone to do anything is to inspire them, to speak to their intelligence and excellence, not “tell them what to do.” Commanding them, on the other hand, is the most likely way to have them not do what you are convinced should be done. A self-respecting People often cast out a budding tyrant who wants to lord it over others or kill him or her.
Genghis Khan’s story is very much interwoven with this kind of dynamic. His father was a tribal chief who was poisoned to death by members of a neighboring, hostile tribe. Genghis Khan grew up as an orphan on the run, living in the Sacred Mountains of his People, and neighboring Peoples, like those who killed his father. They would have sliced him in two simply to avoid having him grow up and exact vengeance and almost did. He grew up both avoiding, and making friends and learning from some of those other Peoples, some of whom had pity on him and showed him kindness, when they could have killed him.
It’s a misconception to think that “Genghis Khan led a horde of Mongols.” Until Genghis Khan stepped up to the challenge of uniting “the people of felt tents” in response to the imperial expansion into their homelands from both the East and West, there was no such thing as a “Mongol” identity. He inspired an amazing alliance of once-enemies to become united at a whole different level of excellence.
The way he brought people together into multi-cultural families makes reading Weatherford’s history worthwhile, all on its own.He reshaped multiple tribes into One Tribe of an entirely different order, within which their prior differences remained intact!
His very tough upbringing, as an orphan, being hunted down and having to discover and navigate both hostility and kindness among Peoples foreign, even adversarial, to him personally, and tribally, equipped him with a vision of human grandeur, potential, treachery, and excellence that far surpassed the clannishness and divisiveness common to that Human Landscape in that place at that time. He was a Way-Finder from his early years, a tracker of realities.
Genghis Khan’s childhood forced him to develop a capacity to SEE Realities that few people ever do. I am talking about reality, not fantasy, not mystical dissociation: reality.
Culturally, he was a “border jumper.” He had the advantage of having grown up without the advantage of a stable, culturally-insular support system in which to be both supported, isolated, and perceptually limited. In order to survive he had to develop the capacity to tune into people and situations upon whom his survival both depended and who could, at a moment’s notice, easily, and justifiably, kill him. He began to master not only individual psychology, but to see the patterns among the different families and cultural groups living in his Greater Homeland, very early on.
His experience endowed him with a pan-cultural wisdom (literally “knowing the ways, the paths, the habits, the trails”) in that Human and Natural Landscape. Few people achieve this. It’s only achieved through disruption of the presumptions unique to particular, stabilizing family and cultural systems.
He belonged to the Sacred Mountain. Sacred Mountains are off-limits to war and hunting.
They are places of both natural refuge, of Way-Finding, and with very real dangers and challenges of their own.
Sacred Mountains are not places to visit or to hang out in casually. The violation of Sacred Places over the last few thousands years in Europe goes hand-in-hand with the total degradation of human beings into the grotesque, existentially-quadriplegic freak of the modern human resource. Europe is not the only place this happened.
It happens everywhere that humans began eating grains as their principal food source, and degrading into the agricultural (literally “field culture,” from the Latin agres: “field”), religious, political human livestock that maintains a warring class to rule over everybody, a priest caste trained to mystify and stupefy the laboring caste that lead the lives of exploitable human cattle.
This “human cattle” way of life and mentality was foreign and unknown to the Mongols. Genghis Khan discovered it as a young man in a Chinese prison.
When Genghis became a man he assumed his responsibilities for the People his father had led. He also forged alliances with childhood friends from former enemies who were actually much, much stronger than the small, rag-tag band of clans Genghis led. During a battle in alliance with his best friend, that “friend” turned on him. This had disastrous results for his people. Many of Genghis Khan’s fellow tribesmen got slaughtered. He got sold into slavery and hauled off to a prison on the outskirts of China, which was already expanding westward into the homelands of various “people who live in felt tents.”
The tale cannot be told without speaking of the incredible Courage of the Women who give birth to and inspire Men of incredible Courage. Genghis Khan’s Wife was Unstoppable. She was a Sacred Gift to Genghis Khan from the Very Heart of the Sacredness of Ancestry, of the Land, and of the Mountain. When Her Man got hauled off to imperial Chinese hinterlands unknown, She went, with two children in tow, and all alone, and freed Her Man.
The two of them had met, and promised themselves to each other, when Genghis Khan was but a child on the Journey during which his father would be poisoned. When they met, being but 9 or 10 years old, they knew that they would one day wed. As children, they pledged to be together. When Genghis Khan became a young man, he went to find her and marry her. She, in turn, went to free her husband when he got sold into captivity. Her story, and her WILL are amazing in their own right. The greatness of the Mongol People was very much an expression of the Women who raised them and inspired them.
Temujin’s Chinese prison cell became his School in the Psychology of Imperial Culture. Prison life revealed the dynamics at play in the lives of those who live in chains of command. These kind of people were new to Genghis. He studied them. He learned from them. He learned, as he had learned during his own childhood, not only of their weaknesses, but of their methods, their particularities, their mentality, their organizational methods, and their strengths. He learned that this imperial way of “life” was spreading from the West and from the East and the South toward his Northern Homelands.
He saw what other “people of felt tents” had become after conquest by the Chinese had degraded them into the latest crop of “imperial grunts.” He studied that transformation closely. He contemplated what would become of the rest of the Peoples of the Northern Steppes if they did not face and respond to the challenge.
In the maelstrom of imperial Chinese prison culture, where people from all over the Eurasian continents were getting caged, he began to notice that there were very distinct mentalities and even physiognomies between pastoral and hunting peoples such as him, and the grass-eating (rice, barley, wheat, oats) peoples with whom he rubbed shoulders, such as his prison guards, and even recent pastoral nomads who had recently been subjected to empire’s ways and diet.
When Genghis’ Wife finally found him caged in solitary he had already figured out how corruptible underlings in imperial systems are. His wife was able to free him thanks to what he had learned, and her exceptional courage, love, and selflessness. Her dedication to the man she had pledged herself to, from an early age, was total.
The Greatness of the man, Genghis Khan, and of his Peoples, owes much to the Greatness of Yesui, his Sacred Partner and the Mother of his Children. They found their way back to their Homeland together with their children.
Genghis had completed a very vast and tactical study in the Cross-Cultural Human Experience. He had studied the machinery of Imperial anti-cultures; of imposition, obligation, submission, resignation and mechanization. He and His People lived from inspiration, excellence, collaboration, and emergent unfolding.
As someone who had grown up as a fugitive living far away from people, Genghis Khan had a lifetime of observing Animals in Nature, as have all Mongols, who are not only pastoral but also hunt. Mongols have a distinct term for grass-eating prey species. There are specific hunting strategies which they apply to herd animals to take advantage of herd psychology.
What Genghis Khan discovered, while completing his graduate studies in Chinese Imperial Psychology in the Chinese prison system, is that grass-eating humans acted collectively and very predictably, in herds. They were not communities of fully-developed individuals who responded to reality.
They were collectives of developmentally-arrested persons whose wills had been destroyed and Natural Intelligence stunted. They responded to orders, and threats.
Their neurologies are imprinted, predictable, and micro-synchronized, like all herd animals. They are poorly individuated. They do not think or observe for themselves. They are so used to being commanded that their self-leadership and awareness are very underdeveloped. They repeat stock “truisms” that “sound right” but that they never really think through. They are patterned against their own natural awareness and intelligence.
As a man whose survival had depended on cultivating, rather than destroying, his natural awareness and intelligence, Temujin began to understand clearly that the debasement of the human resourceswho form the imperial war-machines into monolithic, top-down, command-control structures resistant to natural and diversified intelligence was its Achille’s heel.
Numerically, the People of Felt Tents were vastly outnumbered. In terms of Diversified Intelligence, however, the unruly, non-uniform clans of the North, were vastly superior. The trick would be to unite them, while conserving and fomenting that diversified intelligence, then applying it to imperial war machines of synchronized human herds. And this is where Temujin’s genius is so stunning.
He knew that the tribal peoples of the Northern Steppe country could use the same hunting techniques used on wild horses, yaks, and other grazing animals, on the populations of neurologically-dulled, herd-mentality humans who filled the ranks of the imperial war machines surrounding the Greater Mongolia.
Genghis Khan returned to his Greater Homeland with a vision which came, not from imagination but from seeing the reality and consequences of reality clearly. He saw that the destiny of the Peoples of the Northern Steppes was not just a matter of “fate.” They could SEE and CHOOSE a Way through the Realities and Consequences unfolding across the Eurasian continent.
But they would have to become an entirely different People, in order to do this, while still keeping alive the skills, strengths and differences which they had. This would require that they develop entirely new capacities and forge new alliances. Genghis Khan saw clearly how they could step up to the challenge.
In SEEING the who, the how, the what, the where, the when and the why of who and what moved, and the qualities of the players and their movements, across the vast array of Human Ecologies his life had led him to, the who, what, where, when and why of how People like his tribal relatives and enemies could form a successful Alliance to stop the spread of empire into their Homeland became clear.
He saw all the way to the Realities of what he had SEEN. He didn’t just look. He SAW.
This was the particular Gift of Genghis Khan: his capacity to SEE to far greater contexts of reality, possibility, and responsibility, than people whose attention is confined to their “particular individual, familial, clan, and cultural outlook.” Genghis Khan’s actual name was Temujin. The word “Genghis” or “Ching-gis” referred to the Ocean. Genghis allied himself with the soft, flowing, irrepressible power of Ocean Waters. These qualities of Water were at the heart of his entire combat strategy and allowed him to defeat imperial armies that vastly outnumbered his own, sometimes by 50 to 1!
The very word “empire” comes from the Latin imperare: “to impose, to command.”The imperial psychology is often one of hardness and brute force. Temujin understood this first-hand. He saw how the qualities of water could be used to lure, to surround, to draw out, to disappear, to flood, and to drown imperial armies.
His time in prison was not wasted in the spell of his own personal experience or tragedy. He READ all the way to the Realities of what he was in. He was a man upon whom neither time, nor hardship, nor idleness were lost to his Attention. He had a lifetime navigating very tough situations with Attention and Abilities that aligned with challenging, mutable Realities. Personal, clan and tribal allegiances and his responsibilities as a leader for his People, did not blind him to the unseen virtues, weaknesses, and potential of People beyond his own, even traditional enemies.
When Genghis Khan reappeared in his Homeland he was like some strange figure who had survived catastrophic events, since childhood, that would have spelled automatic and guaranteed death and annihilation to countless others. Yet there he was again; the relentless survivor, the man who spent his entire childhood successfully evading rival tribes who had killed his father. He was the one who reappeared against all odds.
Here was the man betrayed by his very best friend in battle. Here was a man who had been sold off to slave traders who sold captives in far-away lands from which they never returned. Here was a man who was the “leader” of a small, rag-tag band of families reduced even further into a band of decimated survivors. Here was a man who had nothing but his understanding of how to find one’s way against all odds. And no one had that in the way that Genghis Khan did, and he had it in spades. His return, and his discourse, was proof that this man had skills that few others ever achieved.
He came with a strategy of alliance and a clear map of the dangers that were already sweeping down upon the grassy plains of the high steppes of Asia. Imperial armies from the South, East and West would mow down all of the Northern Peoples, friends and foes, under the advance of vast platoons of behaviorally mechanized, grass-eating, order-obeying, herd-forming, rank-and-file, imperial soldiers who were absolutely expendable to those who commanded them. These soldiers would follow whatever orders were given to them, no matter how stupid, to the death.
In the tribal way of non-imperial Peoples, one’s own People are not expendable. Those who lead do so by going first and by demonstrating the sort of competence, wisdom, and commitment to something greater than themselves that makes their fellows want to collaborate and assist them.
Those who are led commit to upholding the standards of excellence of those they are led by. They are not “led by the nose” but by “by the heart,” and their natural commitment to their People. Genghis Kahn undertsood that they could no longer all “do their own thing,” at whatever level of excellence or sloppiness they “prefer.” Genghis Khan’s guiding principles for the alliance that he had forged were stringent and were known as the Yasa. Genghis Khan had no delusions as to how much the odds were stacked against his small Mongolian alliance. They were at war.
Indulging a culture of lame-asses and half-asses was not at all what made the Mongols what they dared to become. They were either going to be 100% or they were going to be slaves!
The only way that they would succeed against great, imperial military forces was by every single adult, men and women, calling themselves and each other to the highest level of excellence, and eliminating those who wanted to drag the rest down. People are led by those who live as an example that inspires others with their Courage, Intelligence, Generosity, and Dedication to their People. Every single individual chooses who their leader is, based on their respect for their Wisdom, Competence, and Courage.
Genghis Khan had these Qualities not only for his own tribe, but for all of the Tribes whom he had known intimately. Alien neighbors had very much been as much a part of his survival, as of the adversities he had had to overcome. He owed them his Life as well as its tremendous challenges. He knew all of them in a way that they did not even know themselves. He was not merely a member of one ethnic band. He knew all of the Peoples in his Greater Homeland in a way, and with an intimacy and perspicacity, that few ever attain.
He knew the Greater World and the Forces at Play with the same Astuteness and Dedication. He was a wise man, which is to say, a Way-Man. He tracked REALITY. He was the fruit of a Journey that few take, and even fewer survive. He had traveled as well as studied, many, many trails of what is moving where, and how, and when, and with whom, and with what sort of consequences. He knew not only how to find HIS Way, but to track out the WAYS of what moved in the Field of His Attention.
He had also been Undone and Remade repeatedly. He had grown outside the soft comforts of family, clannishness and home. His was a Greater Vision attained by LIVING and SEEING, not just by hatching pipe dreams in a mystified, dissociated mind. His Skills were Real and Honed. His Presence was a Testament to possessing Skills beyond the Pale.
Aside from this, and a Woman whose Dignity, Courage and Grandeur inspired and nurtured his own, a growing number of Children born of the Union of two such Beings, and a small band of survivors, Genghis Khan, upon his return, had little else but his Vision of the Challenges that would soon be facing all of the Peoples of the Steppes.
He wasn’t bringing “good news.” He was warning people who didn’t necessarily trust him that they would either face the threat to their way of Life, or be sucked into a slave-making imperial machine. They would either step up to the challenge and call themselves to a Greater Ability, Unity and Excellence, or they would be transformed into empire’s livestock, as so many other Peoples quite similar to his own already had.
He showed the various Peoples of his Greater Homeland how they could forge their current skill sets, and transform their differences into an Alliance that would rival the empires of herd-like humans. The Alliance that Genghis Khan forged was something vastly different from the imperial armies of today. Empires crumbled and were overrun by warriors inspired by a vision utterly distinct from the machine-culture of chains of command. They were called by their love for their People and for their Peoples’ Continuance, and not by a fear of punishment and a desire for imperial plunder and greed.
For Genghis Khan, not one of his warriors was expendable. As a pan-tribal leader he had no authority to put anybody in harm’s way.
Furthermore, the Mongols had a blood taboo. They considered contact with human blood spiritually polluting. They avoided hand-to-hand combat at all costs. Instead they developed very high-power, compact bows, 12 foot long lances, and their skills at shooting from horseback, using catapults, etc. Their war strategies against grass-eating, neurologically-debased, imperialized humans were not like the wars of empires.
They didn’t have to be. Imperialized humans, from the top-down, behave in ways that are too predictable to waste one’s life putting oneself in harm’s way when facing mechanized, militarized troops. They can be hunted, in herds.
Genghis Khan had discovered something about grass-eating humans in prison. The fundamental neurological and herd behavior patterns were the same as that of other herd animals. Mongols used the same term for grass-eating humans as they did for any other grass-eating, herd animals due to the similarities of behavior.
The Mongols used standard hunting strategies for grass-eating animals against the grass-eating herd humans. Herd humans, locked in chains of command, couldn’t even conceive of a force of people who were led by someone who inspired them to their individual best for the sake of an Aliveness Greater than their own. They couldn’t conceive of a way of warring that warriors make. It is entirely alien to the mentality of “soldiering.”
The lords who ruled over the herd humans never suspected that the Peoples of the Steppes did not come to make the kind of war that imperial armies make. To many, the tactics of the Mongols were laughable, even ridiculous. The Mongols didn’t come to “show strength.”
They came to offer peaceful, multi-cultural, respectful alliance and an alternative to the mechanized dehumanization that empires subject the conquered to. Many so-called nobles laughed at the Mongol “offers of peace.” After all, what could what appeared to be rag-tag gangs of short men on short horses, armed only with weapons they could carry on the move do to highly-trained armies with sophisticated weaponry and fortified castles and defenses?
But the Mongols did not come merely to offer peace. They came to decimate those who insisted on continuing in the imperial way which is necessarily and irrevocably expansionist. They came to herd them and to hunt them down with utmost efficiency while conserving their efforts and their lives.
Genghis Khan’s men not only formed extremely cohesive forces; each warrior was also fully self-sufficient. The battles between “the people of felt tents” and the lackeys of empire were absolutely devastating to imperialized armies, even though they had overwhelming superiority of numbers and armaments. The tale is fascinating, and it was told from China, to Hungary, to the Bosphorus.
Although certainly a hunt has dangers of its own, hunters do not deliberately act in ways that put themselves carelessly in harm’s way. Between the peoples of Genghis Khan and the grass eaters there was a vast relational and spiritual difference to just about everything. Genghis Khan knew exactly what these differences were. He took advantage of them. Jack Weatherford’s books are full of fascinating details worthy of careful study.
Genghis Khan’s alliance of nomadic, pastoral and hunting peoples were not on carbohydrate diets. Every one of his men had four or five mares which he rode and milked. Every one of them would fill bags made of animal stomachs with mares’ milk under their saddles. The milk would turn to cheese while they were riding. When they had no more cheese, they would gently pierce the neck veins of their horses and drink their blood. Each horse was only ridden every five days, so they always had fresh mounts.
Every warrior’s five mares not only provided him with fresh mounts, but they also provided them with milk and cheese, as they went. As Peoples of the Grasslands, they also knew the Plants which would nourish, heal, and sustain them. The People were fed with fat. Fat gives long-lasting energy without the sugar, insulin, and hunger spikes that the armies of grass-eating soldiers were subject to. Fat is not only exquisitely healthy, it also feeds the brain optimally. The Mongols were able to learn and master, on the fly, what grain-fed soldiers never could.
The grain-eating soldiers of imperial armies got hungry every 3-4 hours. They were worthless for combat within a day or two of not eating. The Mongols knew this. They took advantage of this in fascinating ways, often baiting entire cities and armies with several hundred “weak forces of easily-defeated Mongols.” They would send a small, rag-tag force to attack cities and feign overwhelm and impending defeat. Then they would turn tail.
The Mongols would present such a ridiculous military offensive that the grandiose psychopaths who lead imperialized humans soon let their “visions of grandeur” feed the fantasy that they were going to “rout Genghis Khan’s rag-tag band of pathetic barbarians.”
The Mongols would feign disarray then retreat on the run, but only after presenting such a disorderly, confused appearance of easy defeat that the commanders would order their soldiers out of their fortified cities and in hot pursuit. They baited armies into long, multi-day chases all the way to long valleys many-days’ ride away. Tens of thousands of Genghis Khan’s fellow warriors waited on high slopes above those valleys. They would ride down and slaughter the herds of grass-eating soldiers whose behavior, from the top-down, were utterly predictable. The Mongols could ride for many days and remain healthy, vital, and well-fed.
This is something that would have seemed unimaginable to me until I began implementing the Vital Health in Five Steps and doing so 100%. The change in cognition I experienced after implementing a saturated fat-based diet was unbelievable to me.
Adversaries whom Genghis Khan and his people rode upon were always invited to surrender peacefully. Khan’s vision was of multi-cultural alliances, rooted in his entire lifetime’s experience. When surrender was refused, death ensued for the soldiers and the entire leadership caste who had put their own people in peril. Learned and skilled people in any Art were, however, invited with the utmost consideration and care to exercise their Arts in the Mongolian capital with full patronage of Genghis Khan himself.
Genghis Khan transformed a small gaggle of pastoral-hunting tribes into an alliance that transformed the world. He created a capital where the highest expressions of all Arts and Learning was in full ferment, from all over the world.
He also charged his daughters with mastering learning from various parts of the Eurasian continent. The greatest scholars of Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Taoism, Confucianism, and of Western and Eastern Christianity were present in the Mongolian capital, as were the Ancestral Wisdom Keepers of countless peoples. Numerous languages were not only spoken, but taught to Genghis Khan’s daughters who became some of the most exquisitely and broadly cultured, multi-lingual, learned, and wise human beings in history.
As Genghis Khan’s fighting force began defeating foes, from India to Hungary, the wisdom of collaborating with, versus resisting, the Mongol advance, soon brought large kingdoms and principalities into alliance with the Mongols. Genghis Khan’s own daughters would marry the leaders or sons of the leaders of large kingdoms. Genghis Khan’s own daughters would then give birth to the descendant heir of those peoples’ own recognized leader.
When one of Genghis Khan’s daughters married a foreign leader, it was understood that the country itself would be under the regency of the now-Queen, his daughter. The leader, as soon as he had fulfilled his conjugal duties and gotten his wife pregnant, would join Genghis Khan in the army, and be schooled in the vast differences of Warriors response-able to their People, in contrast with imperial Kings beholden to their own Power and dominion over their subjects.
Thus a vast expanse of the world came under a surprisingly wise, diverse and humanitarian vision, led by a man who handed the administration of the lands he conquered to women of exceptional achievements and broad mastery. This was very different from grass-eating imperial systems. Jack Weatherford’s The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How Genghis Khan’s Daughters Rescued His Empire is a masterly sequence to the history of Genghis Khan.
Genghis Khan’s own children were Christians, Muslims, Chinese and Buddhist Scholars. They were well acquainted with the many hints and nuances of human culture, languages, and lifestyle at every level, as it existed across the Eurasian continent. Genghis Khan instituted the Silk Road, facilitating international trade throughout the lands he ruled. He united numerous enemies into one single yet extremely diverse system. Local culture was not only allowed to continue, but encouraged to flourish at never-before-seen levels.
What Genghis Khan instituted had profound differences from the homogenization of modern imperial cultures. Genghis did not impose Mongol culture, language or practices on the people he conquered, very much the contrary. What he did impose was the Mongol call to excellence, diversity, and alliance, starting with himself, his family, his People.
He charged his own sons and daughters with becoming competent and learned in the cultures, languages and customs of the people they ruled. He charged the most competent carriers of those cultures to become even more competent. He did not destroy local culture, he invigorated them.
Ruling families who put their own people in peril for the sake of their own power and prestige would be killed.
Typically, the conquest of such people would be followed by a feast and celebration. Genghis’s men would cut trees into planks and lay them out for the feast to be held upon. The ruling families would be found under those planks, with the Mongol people feasting top-side while they suffocated.
As a side-note, there are many points in Weatherford’s books which illuminate themes and principles addressed throughout my writing here. Many of the kingdoms which Genghis Khan and his People conquered and overthrew early on, such as the Jurchen, had also once been pastoral hunters like the Mongols and allied Peoples. They, in turn, had overtaken grass-eating fiefdoms thanks to their physical, intellectual, spiritual and relational superiority. They, too, had used their superior intellect, health, and attention to reality to overcome people who had degraded themselves biologically, and thus in every other expression of their humanity.
Eventually, however, those same people became infatuated with imperial power and all its seductions into self-degradation. They debased themselves.
What’s fascinating, as a side note, is how degraded human beings can be incorporated into impressive imperial machines. A degraded human resource becomes a very predictable and programmable sub-human reared, through trauma and arrested development, into an existential quadriplegic in need of perpetual external guidance and support and devoid of any appreciation of the long game, of Greater Context and Consequences.
Even though the human components of imperial machines are humanly degraded, they also become, once amalgamated and assembled into chains of command, and programmed into the mytho-manic, life-dissociated mysticism of the “inevitability” and “inexorability” of imperial imposition, very real, impressive life- and relationship-destroying and devouring machines.
The word “inexorability” is used precisely here for its sense. It comes from the Latin in: “not” + ex: “out of” + orare: “to pray,” habilis: “ability.” Its sense is
“you cannot pray your way out of it.”
How did Genghis Khan defeat the Grass Eaters without losing a single battle, EVER? With attention and skill.
Within a generation or two the ruling families of once-tribal Peoples who conquered agricultural peoples had also adopted the diet and mental habits of the people they conquered. Over a few generations the leadership degraded itself nutritionally, neurologically, relationally, and existentially. They became soft, violent, and abusive not only to the peoples they ruled, but to themselves. They debased their Vitality in the Luxury of Power. They, in turn, became easy prey, and were easily overrun by hardier, healthier, sharper people.
Khan knew that maintaining the hardy lifestyle habits of the pastoral-hunters, while publicly adopting the local culture, was key to maintaining his family’s rule over a vast expanse of peoples and cultures. His daughters understood this too. They assumed the governance of kingdoms from the East to the West while also learning to embody the highest order of culture of the kingdoms they ruled. These were People who understood the value of being multi-faceted individually and even familially. This was a legacy of Genghis Khan’s childhood years, struggling to survive in a landscape inhabited by different peoples, many of whom helped him when they could have killed him.
When they ruled China, the Mongols built a Forbidden City which contained a huge pastureland, complete with large herds of horses, yak, sheep, and other livestock. The Royal Family of China continued to live a pastoral lifestyle, in yurts, in the Mongol manner, beyond the sight of the Han Chinese whom they ruled. In essence they had created a mini-grasslands in the heart of China’s imperial capital. When they went out in public, they adopted the clothing and manners befitting the Chinese Imperial Family. As soon as they got home, in the middle of the Chinese capital, they went back to living their Mongol lifestyle and practices. The interior of their Forbidden City was forbidden to non-Mongols.
In one lifetime Genghis Khan had united small, rival bands into a fighting force, but also a force of culture, humanity and excellence unrivaled in history. He had created a climate of utmost respect for the arts, sciences, crafts, and wisdom of vastly different cultures. He brought their best practitioners, from around the world, into contact and collaboration with each other.
Among his own children were exemplars of the highest level of learning and culture from very different parts of Eurasia. He created a trade route, the Silk Road, which allowed commerce and culture to flow from East to West and North to South, under the protection of his men. He pushed totally foreign cultures to further advance their understanding and expertise. He sent his own family members to master what they had to teach.
He built a capital where people of the highest levels of learning and mastery could devote themselves to their pursuits, under the most favorable circumstances, among other such individuals from all over the world. Genghis Khan understood the connections between diet, neurology, and psychology on mass scales. He understood how profoundly human populations could be debased and manipulated through biological and dietary degradation.
What Genghis Khan achieved, however, was not some “peaceful Kumbaya fantasy.” Millions of people in the lands surrounding Mongolia lost their lives and were slaughtered. In Persia, for example, it is estimated that it took nine centuries for the population to recover from the massacre brought on by Genghis Khan’s army. The mere name of Genghis Khan elicits profound horror for many Persian people today. The history, the cultures, the politics and personalities engendering these consequences are riddled with nuances far more subtle, entrenched, ephemeral, known and unknown than we imagine.
Just like the individuals whose stories are told and remembered, the lives of entire Peoples appear as characters upon the screen of Hollywood’s telling and remembering, often with profound distortions. It can easily escape noticing that for each of these People, the tales and histories of hundreds of others are no longer told, and the tales and histories of countless others are still told, in huts, tents and firesides, bequeathing the gifts and challenges of acting in favor of one’s People to new generations.
With all the wisdom that Genghis Khan awoke among his people, with the wisdom he both conserved and destroyed among other people, and the incredible legacy which he passed on to his sons and daughters, but principally his daughters; with the permanent reshaping of the human experience into what has, ever since, become a “world culture” of pluralities, one can only wonder how the wisdom Genghis Khan attained and made real in the lives of so many could vanish in but a few generations of his own family. But it happened to Genghis’s people in the same way as it had happened to so many before Genghis, and in pretty much the same way.
The history of Genghis Khan and the Grass Eaters plays out in each of our lives today.
Genghis Khan’s grandsons were the scions of kings from around the world, and of his own daughters. They were the grandsons and darlings of the most powerful and brilliant families in the world. Their generation took the hard-won lessons, wisdom and legacies of their grandfather and debased them, and thus themselves.
Theirs is the tale of the danger of ruling over cultures of slavish people; people who, unlike the Mongols, respond not to wisdom and vision, but to force, to being commanded, mystified, and mesmerized, in herds. To become a ruler who gives orders to expendable people, who mystify and debase their own expendable intelligence, and become mesmerized in herd hypnosis is to not only debase others, but oneself, as well, in the very same process. Such rulers also debase themselves by their drunkenness to power.
You don’t become completely free by just avoiding to be a slave; you also need to avoid becoming a master! –Nassim Taleb
Genghis Khan’s grandsons reveled and wallowed upon the greased imperial skids of their own debasement. They became grass-eating humans. They degenerated.
It is said that Kublai Khan, the grandson who ruled China, spent his days carried around on a palanquin in drunkenness, sex and general debauchery. As Emperor of China he succumbed to the seductions of his own imperial debasement. Only two generations removed, the descendants of Genghis Khan debauched the unspeakable wisdom and wealth which they inherited. They got seduced into their own degradation.
Genghis Khan and the Grass Eaters’ history is intimately tied into, and illuminates, the dynamics at play in our own lives. There is much we can learn from all of the characters involved. Who are we most like? Perhaps we should study them, and the course they took rather carefully.
Life is not a “tooth and claw” reality but one of attention or distraction, of care-LESS-ness or care-FULL-ness, of mystified, self-involved ignorance or of response-ability to the Continuity of a Greater Community of Aliveness. Life is an Invitation to Excellence and Decay, and all their Permutations and Consequences. All are part of Life. All Feed and are Fed By Living.
When one lives on the Land and observes the comings and goings, and the qualities of lizards, and fawns, the qualities of their Attention and Vitality, one begins to notice which ones are still around months later, and which ones have become Nourishment for other Shapes of Aliveness. Genghis Khan’s childhood among the many Shapes of Aliveness made this clear to him. His spirituality was rooted in the response-abilities of Living Beings, and not the grass-eating, Kumbaya fantasy-land mysticism of Life-disconnected herd-humans.
Most people I meet have no palpable connection to the Wisdom of Life Itself. They want to have a philosophy “about” Life while avoiding sustained, prolonged observation of and contact with actual, natural, non-domesticated Life, long enough to notice its Wisdom, its Cycles and the Qualities and Consequences that move through the Cycling of Living Shapes.
Life is a Reality of Excellence and Decay. Both are essential. To extend our Journey on the Excellent side of the cycle requires Attention and Action. Eventually it is our turn to Decay. We are given our opportunity to Feed a Greater Aliveness BEAUTY-FULLY, instead of pitifully and care-less-ly. How we take the Journey of LIVING is up to us.
Genghis Khan’s legacy was not merely lost. Today the Peoples of the Northern Steppes still tend their herds, live in their yurts, hunt with eagles, and assume their Response-Abilities to a Greater Aliveness. The Great Tree, too, eventually falls and surrenders to the small, humble, oft-overlooked Wisdom of the Seed.
The Invitation that the Greater Aliveness extends to each one of us is far Greater, Nobler and more Generous than our Inclination to enter into its Apprenticeship. It is one thing to “get” an Invitation. It is something entirely different to Receive, to Honor, and to Become that Invitation. Genghis Khan understood the difference.
Genghis Khan had the Dedication of a True Learner, an Apprentice whose Deep and Passionate Desire and Love of Living is True, and Connected to the Continuity of a Greater Aliveness, to Response-Ability and not just wishful non-thinking ad avoidance of anything “unpleasant” with the excuse that “I can’t do anything about that.”
For further reading on Genghis Khan, HERE is a very useful bibliography.
Gather Seeds, My Relative,
That you may Find a Way Worthy of the LIVING.
To CHOOSE requires WILL to make the Choosing REAL:
Excel or Decay.
It’s up to YOU!