Wywiad z Carlos Castaneda
Navigating Into the Unknown: An Interview with Carlos Castaneda for the magazine Uno Mismo, Chile and Argentina, February, 1997
by Daniel Trujillo Rivas *
See the January/February '98 issue of Utne Reader for excerpts from this interview and from another interview with Carlos Castaneda entitled "The World of Waking Dreams," written by Michael Brennan.
Question: Mr. Castaneda, for years you've remained in absolute anonymity. What drove you to change this condition and talk publicly about the teachings that you and your three companions received from the nagual Juan Matus?
Answer: What compels us to disseminate don Juan Matus's ideas is a need to clarify what he taught us. For us, this is a task that can no longer be postponed. His other three students and I have reached the unanimous conclusion that the world to which Don Juan Matus introduced us is within the perceptual possibilities of all human beings. We've discussed among us what would be the appropriate road to take. To remain anonymous the way don Juan proposed to us? This option was not acceptable. The other road available was to disseminate don Juan's ideas: an infinitely more dangerous and exhausting choice, but the only one that, we believe, has the dignity don Juan imbued all his teachings with.
Q: Considering what you have said about the unpredictability of a warrior's actions, which we have corroborated for three decades, can we expect this public phase you're going through to last for a while? Until when?
A: There is no way for us to establish a temporal criteria. We live according to the premises proposed by don Juan and we never deviate from them. Don Juan Matus gave us the formidable example of a man who lived according to what he said. And I say it is a formidable example because it is the most difficult thing to emulate; to be monolithic and at the same time have the flexibility to face anything. This was the way don Juan lived his life.
Within these premises, the only thing one can be is an impeccable mediator. One is not the player in this cosmic match of chess, one is simply a pawn on the chessboard. What decides everything is a conscious impersonal energy that sorcerers call intent or the Spirit.
Q: As far as I've been able to corroborate, orthodox anthropology, as well as the alleged defenders of the pre-Colombian cultural heritage of America, undermine the credibility of your work. The belief that your work is merely the product of your literary talent, which, by the way, is exceptional, continues to exist today. There are also other sectors that accuse you of having a double standard because, supposedly, your lifestyle and your activities contradict what the majority expect from a shaman. How can you clear up these suspicions?
A: The cognitive system of the Western man forces us to rely on preconceived ideas. We base our judgments on something that is always "a priori," for example the idea of what is "orthodox." What is orthodox anthropology? The one taught at university lecture halls? What is a shaman's behavior? To wear feathers on one's head and dance to the spirits?
For thirty years, people have accused Carlos Castaneda of creating a literary character simply because what I report to them does not concur with the anthropological "a priori," the ideas established in the lecture halls or in the anthropological field work. However, what don Juan presented to me can only apply to a situation that calls for total action and, under such circumstances, very little or almost nothing of the preconceived occurs.
I have never been able to draw conclusions about shamanism because in order to do this one needs to be an active member in the shamans' world. For a social scientist, let's say for example a sociologist, it is very easy to arrive at sociological conclusions over any subject related to the Occidental world, because the sociologist is an active member of the Occidental world. But how can an anthropologist, who spends at the most two years studying other cultures, arrive at reliable conclusions about them? One needs a lifetime to be able to acquire membership in a cultural world. I've been working for more than thirty years in the cognitive world of the shamans of ancient Mexico and, sincerely, I don't believe I have acquired the membership that would allow me to draw conclusions or to even propose them.
I have discussed this with people from different disciplines and they always seem to understand and agree with the premises I'm presenting. But then they turn around and they forget everything they agreed upon and continue to sustain "orthodox" academic principles, without caring about the possibility of an absurd error in their conclusions. Our cognitive system seems to be impenetrable.
Q: What's the aim of you not allowing yourself to be photographed, having your voice recorded or making your biographical data known? Could this affect what you've achieved in your spiritual work, and if so how? Don't you think it would be useful for some sincere seekers of truth to know who you really are, as a way of corroborating that it is really possible to follow the path you proclaim?
A: With reference to photographs and personal data, the other three disciples of don Juan and myself follow his instructions. For a shaman like don Juan, the main idea behind refraining from giving personal data is very simple. It is imperative to leave aside what he called "personal history". To get away from the "me" is something extremely annoying and difficult. What shamans like don Juan seek is a state of fluidity where the personal "me" does not count. He believed that an absence of photographs and biographical data affects whomever enters into this field of action in a positive, though subliminal way. We are endlessly accustomed to using photographs, recordings and biographical data, all of which spring from the idea of personal importance. Don Juan said it was better not to know anything about a shaman; in this way, instead of encountering a person, one encounters an idea that can be sustained; the opposite of what happens in the everyday world where we are faced only with people who have numerous psychological problems but no ideas, all of these people filled to the brim with "me, me, me."
Q: How should your followers interpret the publicity and the commercial infrastructure a side of your literary work surrounding the knowledge you and your companions disseminate? What's your real relationship with Cleargreen Incorporated and the other companies (Laugan Productions, Toltec Artists)? I'm talking about a commercial link.
A: At this point in my work I needed someone able to represent me regarding the dissemination of don Juan Matus's ideas. Cleargreen is a corporation that has great affinity with our work, as are Laugan Productions and Toltec Artists. The idea of disseminating don Juan's teachings in the modern world implies the use of commercial and artistic media that are not within my individual reach. As corporations having an affinity with don Juan's ideas, Cleargreen Incorporated, Laugan Productions and Toltec Artists are capable of providing the means to disseminate what I want to disseminate.
There is always a tendency for impersonal corporations to dominate and transform everything that is presented to them and to adapt it to their own ideology. If it weren't for Cleargreen's, Laugan Productions' and Toltec Artists' sincere interest, everything don Juan said would have been transformed into something else by now.
Q: There are a great number of people who, in one way or another, "cling" to you in order to acquire public notoriety. What's your opinion on the actions of Victor Sanchez, who has interpreted and reorganized your teachings in order to elaborate a personal theory? And of Ken Eagle Feather's assertions that he has been chosen by don Juan to be his disciple, and that don Juan came back just for him?
A: Indeed there are a number of people who call themselves my students or don Juan's students, people I've never met and whom, I can guarantee, don Juan never met. Don Juan Matus was exclusively interested in the perpetuation of his lineage of shamans. He had four disciples who remain to this day. He had others who left with him. Don Juan was not interested in teaching his knowledge; he taught it to his disciples in order to continue his lineage. Due to the fact that they cannot continue don Juan's lineage, his four disciples have been forced to disseminate his ideas.
The concept of a teacher who teaches his knowledge is part of our cognitive system but it isn't part of the cognitive system of the shamans of ancient Mexico. To teach was absurd for them. To transmit his knowledge to those who were going to perpetuate their lineage was a different matter.
The fact that there are a number of individuals who insist in using my name or don Juan's name is simply an easy maneuver to benefit themselves without much effort.
Q: Let's consider the meaning of the word "spirituality" to be a state of consciousness in which human beings are fully capable of controlling the potentials of the species, something achieved by transcending the simple animal condition through a hard psychic, moral and intellectual training. Do you agree with this assertion? How is don Juan's world integrated into this context?
A: For don Juan Matus, a pragmatic and extremely sober shaman, "spirituality" was an empty ideality, an assertion without basis that we believe to be very beautiful because it is encrusted with literary concepts and poetic expressions, but which never goes beyond that.
Shamans like don Juan are essentially practical. For them there only exists a predatory universe in which intelligence or awareness is the product of life and death challenges. He considered himself a navigator of infinity and said that in order to navigate into the unknown like a shaman does, one needs unlimited pragmatism, boundless sobriety and guts of steel.
In view of all this, don Juan believed that "spirituality" is simply a description of something impossible to achieve within the patterns of the world of everyday life, and it is not a real way of acting.
Q: You have pointed out that your literary activity, as well as Taisha Abelar's and Florinda Donner-Grau's, is the result of don Juan's instructions. What is the objective of this?
A: The objective of writing those books was given by don Juan. He asserted that even if one is not a writer one still can write, but writing is transformed from a literary action into a shamanistic action. What decides the subject and the development of a book is not the mind of the writer but rather a force that the shamans consider the basis of the universe, and which they call intent. It is intent which decides a shaman's production, whether it be literary or of any other kind.
According to don Juan, a practitioner of shamanism has the duty and the obligation of saturating himself with all the information available. The work of shamans is to inform themselves thoroughly about everything that could possibly be related to their topic of interest. The shamanistic act consists of abandoning all interest in directing the course the information takes. Don Juan used to say, "The one who arranges the ideas that spring from such a well of information is not the shaman, it is intent. The shaman is simply an impeccable conduit." For don Juan writing was a shamanistic challenge, not a literary task.
Q: If you allow me to assert the following, your literary work presents concepts that are closely related with Oriental philosophical teachings, but it contradicts what is commonly known about the Mexican indigenous culture. What are the similarities and the differences between one and the other?
A: I don't have the slightest idea. I'm not learned in either one of them. My work is a phenomenological report of the cognitive world to which don Juan Matus introduced me. From the point of view of phenomenology as a philosophical method, it is impossible to make assertions that are related to the phenomenon under scrutiny. Don Juan Matus' world is so vast, so mysterious and contradictory, that it isn't suitable for an exercise in linear exposition; the most one can do is describe it, and that alone is a supreme effort.
Q: Assuming that don Juan's teachings have become part of occult literature, what's your opinion about other teachings in this category, for example Masonic philosophy, Rosicrucianism, Hermeticism and disciplines such as the Cabala, the Tarot and Astrology when we compare them to nagualism? Have you ever had any contact with or maintain any contact with any of these or with their devotees?
A: Once again, I don't have the slightest idea of what the premises are, or the points of view and subjects of such disciplines. Don Juan presented us with the problem of navigating into the unknown, and this takes all of our available effort.
Q: Do some of the concepts of your work, such as the assemblage point, the energetic filaments that make up the universe, the world of the inorganic beings, intent, stalking and dreaming, have an equivalent in Western knowledge? For example, there are some people who consider that man seen as a luminous egg is an expression of the aura
A: As far as I know, nothing of what don Juan taught us seems to have a counterpart in Western knowledge.
Once, when don Juan was still here, I spent a whole year in search of gurus, teachers and wise men to give me an inkling of what they were doing. I wanted to know if there was something in the world of that time similar to what don Juan said and did.
My resources were very limited and they only took me to meet the established masters who had millions of followers and, unfortunately, I couldn't find any similarity.
Q: Concentrating specifically on your literary work, your readers find different Carlos Castanedas. We first find a somewhat incompetent Western scholar, permanently baffled at the power of old Indians like don Juan and don Genaro (mainly in The Teachings Of Don Juan, A Separate Reality, A Journey To Ixtlan, Tales Of Power, and The Second Ring Of Power.) Later we find an apprentice versed in shamanism (in The Eagle's Gift, The Fire from Within, The Power of Silence and, particularly, The Art Of Dreaming.) If you agree with this assessment, when and how did you cease to be one to become the other?
A: I don't consider myself a shaman, or a teacher, or an advanced student of shamanism; nor do I consider myself an anthropologist or a social scientist of the Western world. My presentations have all been descriptions of a phenomenon which is impossible to discern under the conditions of the linear knowledge of the Western world. I could never explain what don Juan was teaching me in terms of cause and effect. There was no way to foretell what he was going to say or what was going to happen. Under such circumstances, the passage from one state to another is subjective and not something elaborated, or premeditated, or a product of wisdom.
Q: One can find episodes in your literary work that are truly incredible for the Western mind. How could someone who's not an initiate verify that all those "separate realities" are real, as you claim?
A: It can be verified very easily by lending one's whole body instead of only one's intellect. One cannot enter don Juan's world intellectually, like a dilettante seeking fast and fleeting knowledge. Nor, in don Juan's world, can anything be verified absolutely. The only thing we can do is arrive at a state of increased awareness that allows us to perceive the world around us in a more inclusive manner. In other words, the goal of don Juan's shamanism is to break the parameters of historical and daily perception and to perceive the unknown. That's why he called himself a navigator of infinity. He asserted that infinity lies beyond the parameters of daily perception. To break these parameters was the aim of his life. Because he was an extraordinary shaman, he instilled that same desire in all four of us. He forced us to transcend the intellect and to embody the concept of breaking the boundaries of historical perception.
Q: You assert that the basic characteristic of human beings is to be "perceivers of energy." You refer to the movement of the assemblage point as something imperative to perceiving energy directly. How can this be useful to a man of the 21st century? According to the concept previously defined, how can the attainment of this goal help one's spiritual improvement?
A: Shamans like don Juan assert that all human beings have the capacity to see energy directly as it flows in the universe. They believe that the assemblage point, as they call it, is a point that exists in man's total sphere of energy. In other words, when a shaman perceives a man as energy that flows in the universe, he sees a luminous ball. In that luminous ball, the shaman can see a point of greater brilliance located at the height of the shoulder blades, approximately an arm's length behind them. Shamans maintain that perception is assembled at this point; that the energy that flows in the universe is transformed here into sensory data, and that the sensory data is later interpreted, giving as a result the world of everyday life. Shamans assert that we are taught to interpret, and therefore we are taught to perceive.
The pragmatic value of perceiving energy directly as it flows in the universe for a man of the 21st century or a man of the 1st century is the same. It allows him to enlarge the limits of his perception and to use this enhancement within his realm. Don Juan said that to see directly the wonder of the order and the chaos of the universe would be extraordinary.
Q: You have recently presented a physical discipline called Tensegrity. Can you explain what is it exactly? What is its goal? What spiritual benefit can a person who practices it individually get?
A: According to what don Juan Matus taught us, the shamans who lived in ancient Mexico discovered a series of movements that when executed by the body brought about such physical and mental prowess that they decided to call those movements magical passes.
Don Juan told us that, through their magical passes, those shamans attained an increased level of consciousness which allowed them to perform indescribable feats of perception.
Through generations, the magical passes were only taught to practitioners of shamanism. The movements were surrounded with tremendous secrecy and complex rituals. That is the way don Juan learned them and that is the way he taught them to his four disciples.
Our effort has been to extend the teachings of such magical passes to anyone who wants to learn them. We have called them Tensegrity, and we have transformed them from specific movements pertinent only to each of don Juan's four disciples, to general movements suitable to anyone.
Practicing Tensegrity, individually or in groups, promotes health, vitality, youth and a general sense of well-being. Don Juan said that practicing the magical passes helps accumulate the energy necessary to increase awareness and to expand the parameters of perception.
Q: Besides your three cohorts, the people who attend your seminars have met other people, like the Chacmools, the Energy Trackers, the Elements, the Blue Scout . . . Who are they? Are they part of a new generation of seers guided by you? If this is the case, how could one become part of this group of apprentices?
A: Every one of these persons are defined beings who don Juan Matus, as director of his lineage, asked us to wait for. He predicted the arrival of each one of them as an integral part of a vision. Since don Juan's lineage could not continue, due to the energetic configuration of his four students, their mission was transformed from perpetuating the lineage into closing it, if possible, with a golden clasp.
We are in no position to change such instructions. We can neither look for nor accept apprentices or active members of don Juan's vision. The only thing we can do is acquiesce to the designs of intent.
The fact that the magical passes, guarded with such jealousy for so many generations, are now being taught, is proof that one can, indeed, in an indirect way, become part of this new vision through the practice of Tensegrity and by following the premises of the warriors' way.
Q: In Readers of Infinity, you've utilized the term "navigating" to define what sorcerers do. Are you going to hoist the sail to begin the definitive journey soon? Will the lineage of Toltec warriors, the keepers of this knowledge, end with you?
A: Yes, that is correct, don Juan's lineage ends with us.
Q: Here's a question that I've often asked myself: Does the warriors' path include, like other disciplines do, spiritual work for couples?
A: The warriors' path includes everything and everyone. There can be a whole family of impeccable warriors. The difficulty lies in the terrible fact that individual relationships are based in emotional investments, and the moment the practitioner really practices what she or he learns, the relationship crumbles. In the everyday world, emotional investments are not normally examined, and we live an entire lifetime waiting to be reciprocated. Don Juan said I was a diehard investor and that my way of living and feeling could be described simply: "I only give what others give me."
Q: What aspirations of possible advancement should someone have who wishes to work spiritually according to the knowledge disseminated in your books? What would you recommend for those who wish to practice don Juan's teachings by themselves?
A: There's no way to put a limit on what one may accomplish individually if the intent is an impeccable intent. Don Juan's teachings are not spiritual. I repeat this because the question has come to the surface over and over. The idea of spirituality doesn't fit with the iron discipline of a warrior. The most important thing for a shaman like don Juan is the idea of pragmatism. When I met him, I believed I was a practical man, a social scientist filled with objectivity and pragmatism. He destroyed my pretensions and made me see that, as a true Western man, I was neither pragmatic nor spiritual. I came to understand that I only repeated the word "spirituality" to contrast it with the mercenary aspect of the world of everyday life. I wanted to get away from the mercantilism of everyday life and the eagerness to do this is what I called spirituality. I realized don Juan was right when he demanded that I come to a conclusion; to define what I considered spirituality. I didn't know what I was talking about.
What I'm saying might sound presumptuous, but there's no other way to say it. What a shaman like don Juan wants is to increase awareness, that is, to be able to perceive with all the human possibilities of perception; this implies a colossal task and an unbending purpose, which can not be replaced by the spirituality of the Western world.
Q: Is there anything you would like to explain to the South American people, especially to the Chileans? Would you like to make any other statement besides your answers to our questions?
A: I don't have anything to add. All human beings are at the same level. At the beginning of my apprenticeship with don Juan Matus, he tried to make me see how common man's situation is. I, as a South American, was very involved, intellectually, with the idea of social reform. One day I asked don Juan what I thought was a deadly question: How can you remain unmoved by the horrendous situation of your fellow men, the Yaqui Indians of Sonora?
I knew that a certain percentage of the Yaqui population suffered from tuberculosis and that, due to their economic situation, they couldn't be cured.
"Yes," don Juan said, "It's a very sad thing but, you see, your situation is also very sad, and if you believe that you are in better condition than the Yaqui Indians you are mistaken. In general the human condition is in a horrifying state of chaos. No one is better off than another. We are all beings that are going to die and, unless we acknowledge this, there is no remedy for us."
This is another point of the shaman's pragmatism: to become aware that we are beings that are going to die. They say that when we do this, everything acquires a transcendental order and measure.
* Translated from Spanish. Reprinted here with permission from Uno Mismo. Copyright 1997 Laugan Productions.
Original Information © Copyright 1997-1999 Laugan Productions, Incorporated. All rights reserved.