Beyond Carlos Castaneda
“Perception is containment.”
– Dolores Cannon
Perhaps like many others, I find myself perplexed at the idea of writing anything about Carlos Castaneda. So much has been written about him already. So much that any attempt on a decent biography would be a mere regurgitation of what’s already out there.
- One of the best and most comprehensive articles about Castaneda is a 2007 article by Salon, written nearly ten years after his death.
- A fairly good (albeit somewhat “Hollywood-ized”) BBC video about him resides on YouTube.
- A really good long-read biography: The Teachings of Don Carlos
Instead of writing about the man, I think it’s best to eventually lead one’s attention away from this man, and rather focus (unfocus?) on what he was trying to have people understand as the ultimate endeavor: freedom.
All evidence makes it clear that Castaneda had a profound reach upon an entire generation.
Considered in recent decades by many as the founding father of the new age movement, , Castaneda’s writings have become a knowledge base for a discipline of awareness established by an ancient race of peoples called the Toltec, who lived in pre-Columbian South America. According to Castaneda, the teachings of these ancient people were passed on to him by his mentor Don Juan Matus, an enigmatic Yaqui Indian whom he met under fantastic circumstances.Read more about the modern application of the Toltec here.
Castaneda first established his audience during the cold-war era of the 1960s and 70s. While he continued to publish until his death in 1998, he wrote for a world that was greatly unaware to the problems that spiritual seekers face today. Any discussion of spirituality was a topic still fiercely administered by approved religious institutions. While alternative perspectives were offered by classic texts of ancient cultures (such as India’s Bhagavad Gita and the Vedas) were available, they were widely interpreted by readers of that time as allegorical stories. Official interpretation of classic texts were subject only to approval by established academic authorities.
With these ancient texts taken as mere allegory, it’s no wonder that many readers were disenchanted, as they imparted little to no practical knowledge for those seeking enlightenment. People of Castaneda’s era were justifiably pleased to find that he not only provided a modern take on spirituality, his later books clarified a discipline (sometimes known as the Toltec Path or Toltec Wisdom). This in turn helped spawn other practices such as Castaneda’s esoteric system of bodily movements called Tensegrity, whose desired effects included heightening one’s health, awareness, and overall sense of well-being.
The effect of Castaneda’s work went well beyond the English-speaking audience. Aside from those people who no doubt sought out Castaneda himself at the height of his popularity, Mexico and other parts of South America were inundated with people seeking their own personal shamanic teacher; their own version of Don Juan Matus, Castaneda’s enigmatic Yaqui Indian mentor.
Obsessed with the Story
In the years that followed after his works were translated, the ripples of Castaneda’s message spread even further throughout the globe. Shamanic groups have been founded overseas, claiming to be the official regional adherents of the Toltec tradition. This author remembers some years ago seeing a website originating from Germany, bearing a mystical name, and attesting to be the official webpage of a Toltec group – likening itself to the mystical Toltec group of which Castaneda had been a part.
The site had a main page defining what Toltec meant, how the group was directly connected with Castaneda, and then had link pages going to each of the Toltec group’s members’ page. Each page bore the name of the person as they were know to others in “normal” life, and then bore their “abstract” name as a Toltec warrior. As further detail, each person then had a label that likened themselves to the various “positions” (“female dreamer of the East”) of warrior-hood that each person occupied, formulaicly corresponding to each of the abstract warrior positions of Castaneda’s mentor’s group. Another page described the group’s recent accomplishments and stories.
What was sad to see was that the group and its members had been “accredited” by a regional authority in Toltec wisdom. This need to “belong” to a larger groups completely misses one of the main precepts that Carlos Castaneda’s mentor, Don Juan Matus, taught Carlos. Namely…
Obsessed with the Man
While he was certainly an amenable character, the man himself and the mystical group of people with whom he eventually associated himself were a tight-knit group. Because Castaneda wrote about powerful, life-changing concepts, no doubt people sought membership in this group for various reasons. He was sought after by many people.
At least one couple who sought a close association with him, and who were later rejected, became wholly disenchanted with the man and the concepts he posed to humanity. Eventually they even went so far as to video record the group’s comings and goings from his home in California. They even began sifting through his garbage in a desperate attempt to understand the man, perhaps even to become closer with him.
While forensic and anthropological garbage sifting have become recognized forms of social studies, in this couple’s case such activity qualifies as neither, based upon the intent of the values which Castaneda shared. What Carlos was attempting to have his audience learn was to detach oneself from one’s fellow human, to become an extra-ordinary person (a warrior), and intend as Don Juan said: to link oneself to the limitlessness of Infinity.
The link was not meant to be with one man, or even the manic myth of the man, but with Infinity.
A Modern Application of the Teaching
While the man himself and his stories were fantastically inspiring, and served to shift the lives of many people, since his death in 1998 Castaneda has left a gaping hole in the “new age” and other modern spiritual movements. However, after a long and restive era between the appearance of his last book, a more modern application of Castaneda’s work has appeared in the form of the new book Becoming Awareness: Earth. Energy. Evolution by Voss, which I have written about here.
What’s wonder-full about this book is that it does not at all serve as a reinterpretation of Castaneda’s past work. Rather, it discusses modern issues such as the the intentional disruption of humanity’s natural connection with the Earth through wholesale destruction of the environment, GMO foods, fracking, social conditioning and other issues.
But perhaps Lorraine’s book embodies a most important teaching exactly: to stop being so enthralled, distracted by, enslaved by other people, their systems, their stories, even the very notion of all these – and to hook oneself instead directly to earth and thus infinity – the abstract light to freedom.
“It is like a finger pointing away to the moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory.
– Bruce Lee