Carlos Castaneda Interviews and Articles
Kindred Spirit - Jun 1997
Kindred Spirit Magazine
The Guide to Personal & Planetary Healing
Quarterly, Summer (June - August 1997)
In the early 1960's, Carlos Castaneda made a profound impact on the world when he published his first of nine books, "The Teachings of Don Juan - A Yaqui Way of Knowledge." In this work he related his experiences as a sorcerer's apprentice under the guidance of a Yaqui Indian from Sonora, Mexico. As an anthropology student as UCLA, he encountered don Juan Matus while collecting information for his Ph.D. about the hallucinogenic cactus peyote.
From the moment of the book's publication, Castaneda became a cult figure. Although he rarely gives interviews Castaneda spoke out in February this year, and we thought you'd like to see what he had to say.
Castaneda's works presented a vision of 'the warrior's way', living impeccably, erasing personal history, using death as one's advisor and losing self-importance. Castaneda's interactions with don Juan and his fellow teachers and apprentices are intimately portrayed, revealing a serious Western scholar who becomes the target of jeers and criticisms, then puts aside his social paradigm, and awakens to the mysteries of the unknown.
Besides its pragmatic value, Castaneda's work has an indisputable literary quality. It is filled with poetry, magic and beauty. His nine books have greatly surpassed the best seller category and are translated into all major languages.
Castaneda's companions, Taisha Abelar and Florinda Donner-Grau, have also related their experiences with don Juan in "The Sorcerer's Crossing" and "Being-In-Dreaming." Carol Tiggs, a protagonist in some of Castaneda's books, as yet remains unpublished.
Carlos Castaneda's Tensegrity: Magical Passes from the Shamans of ancient Mexico
At present, Carlos Castaneda and his companions Taisha Abelar, Florinda Donner-Grau and Carol Tiggs are interested in making don Juan's world more accessible. Recently they have come forth with a discipline of physical movements taught to them by don Juan Matus and which they call Tensegrity.
This modernized version of some movements called "magical passes", developed by Indian shamans who lived in Mexico in times prior to the Spanish Conquest, are designed to enhance perception and to physically strengthen the body. Tensegrity borrows a term from architecture to represent the quintessence of tensing and relaxing the muscles and tendons of the body.
When applied to the body, this term describes most appropriately the interplay of tension and integrity that drives the magical passes.
Tensegrity seminars, ranging in length from weekends to week-long workshops, dedicate several hours daily to these movements. Also three videos have been released for the individual learner: Volume 1, Twelve Basic Movements to Gather Energy and Promote Well-Being; Volume 2, Redistributing Dispersed Energy, and Volume 3, Energetically Crossing from One Phylum to Another, all available through Cleargreen, Incorporated, Santa Monica, California or through www.castaneda.com (www.webb.com/Castaneda). Cleargreen will also publish a book on Tensegrity by Carlos Castaneda later this year.
In February this year Castaneda answered the questions presented to him by Daniel Trujillo Rivas for the Chilean and Argentinean magazine Uno Mismo: Facing Carlos Castaneda, this unclassifiable writer surrounded by 30 years of legend and myth, was a terrifying moment for me. He has become one of the most important literary phenomena of the century, revolutionizing ideas about pre-Colombian American culture.
After nine books I still had many of the same questions about Castaneda I had at the beginning, starting with: Who is he really? An anthropologist? A gifted writer? A sorcerer's apprentice? Or an accomplished shaman in his own right? Now being able to speak to him personally I hoped to have some of these questions answered.
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?
Carlos Castaneda: What compels us to disseminate don Juan Matus' 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 amongst ourselves 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 available road 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 into all his teachings.
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?
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 chess match, one is simply a pawn on the chessboard. What decides everything is a conscious impersonal force that sorcerers call Intent or the Spirit.
As far as I've been able to corroborate, orthodox anthropology, as well as the alleged defenders of the cultural 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 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?
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 in 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 a sociologist for example, 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.
Why do you not allow yourself to be photographed, have your voice recorded or make your biographical data known? Could this affect, and if so how, what you've achieved in your spiritual work? 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 really is possible to follow the path you proclaim?
With reference to photographs and personal data, I and the other three disciples of don Juan 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 the shamans like don Juan seek is a state of fluidity where the personal "me" does not count.
He believed that an absence of photography and biographical data affects whoever 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. This is the opposite of what happens in the everyday world where we are faced with people with psychological problems and without ideas, all of these people filled to the brim with "me, me, me."
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 such as Laugan Productions and Toltec Artists? I'm talking about a commercial link.
At this point in my work I needed someone able to represent me regarding the dissemination of don Juan Matus' ideas. Cleargreen is a corporation that has great affinity with our work, as do 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 wasn't for the sincere interest of Cleargreen, Laugan Productions and Toltec Artists, everything don Juan said would have been transformed into something else by now.
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 of the actions of Victor Sanchez, who has interpreted and reorganized your teachings in order to elaborate a personal theory? And what 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?
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 this 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 on using my name or don Juan's name is simply an easy maneuver to benefit themselves without much effort.
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?
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 where 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.
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.
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.
One can find truly incredible episodes in your literary work. How could someone who's not an initiate verify that all those "separate realities" are real, as you claim?
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 surrounding us in a more inclusive manner.
In other words, the goal of don Juan's shamanism is to break the parameters of historical and everyday 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.
You have recently presented a physical discipline called Tensegrity. Can you explain what it is exactly? What's its goal? What spiritual benefit can a person who practices it individually get?
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 awareness 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 for anyone.
Practicing Tensegrity, individually or collectively, 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.
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?
Every one of these persons are defined beings whom 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 warrior's way.
Here's a question that I've often asked myself: does the warriors' path include, like other disciplines do, spiritual work for couples?
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/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".
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?
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 up 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 cannot be replaced by the spirituality of the Western world.
Copyright June 1997 Kindred Spirit Magazine