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Carlos Castañeda was right...

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dwai
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I discovered Castañeda's books almost by chance. When I first moved to the US, the town I lived in had a small used bookstore across the street from the train station. Being alone, not knowing anyone besides my employer and a handful of colleagues who were in the consulting business like me, I decided to explore the bookstore. 

I'd always been a book worm, so it was somehow apropos that the store was called "Ye old bookworm". Walking into the store, I had that familiar feeling I'd get of anticipation laced with excitement at the idea of discovering something new to read. As I was perusing the books, one caught my eye. It was Carlos' first book -- 'Don Juan and the Yaqui Way of Knowledge'. 

This was around the time when VHS tapes were still in use and DVDs had not yet come out...internet was still dial-up and so reading was the perfect past time. I picked the book up, and devoured it overnight. Dazed, I went back to the store the very next day, and picked up another 3 volumes of his books. Luckily for me, they seemed to fall into place in the right sequence (of chronology) for me.

As incredulous as I was about many things in his writing, something in it spoke very strongly to me. Maybe I wanted to explore psychedelics (I was 25 at that time), maybe it was just an inherent lack of skepticism (I've been told that I'm naive to the point of being gullible more than a few times in my life). But over the next couple of years, I became quite the Nagual-head. The main thing I got out of his body of work were a few key concepts that resonated with my Hindu upbringing.

  • Impeccability - Be the best that you can be, at whatever you do. This was a call for excellence for the sake of excellence, not some other motive. To act as if every act would be our last one on earth is a very powerful way to ensure we are always 100% invested and 100% divested at the same time. Do the action without seeking results of your action -- this is the essence of the Bhagavad Gita (nishkāma karma).
  • Stalking -- The warrior always and ruthlessly stalks himself, to never allow his ego to get the better of him. This is a very potent way to practice self-inquiry. Every thought that arises, recognize it for what it is -- is it rising from your ego or from a deeper, more ancient part of your mind? Stalking teaches us to not take ourselves too seriously because that which we are serious about, is a figment of our ego/imagination. 
  • Nagual and Tonal -- That there is the Nagual (Noumenon) which is nondual, indescribable, ineffable and its action manifests mysteriously in the phenomenal world (Tonal). This is very clearly the articulation of Nonduality and duality. 
  • Stopping the world -- this is, as I understand it, the stopping of the mind or going to the no-mind state of Samādhi. This gives rise to the understanding of our true nature, and eventually the non-grasping mind (of sahaja samādhi).
  • Controlled Folly -- According to this, the Warrior (Spiritual warrior) knows the futility of his actions in the world, as neither the world, nor the actions are of any consequence (or real for that matter). Yet, he continues to act with impeccability, letting the universe unfold for him as it will. 

I doubt if someone without deep and profound spiritual awakening could have written something so powerful, poignant and elegant. Even if he had ripped off Daoists and Hindus and Buddhists, it took a special kind of spiritual genius to put something like that together. I however don't think he really stole anything. I think he was being literal about his experiences with Don Juan and the Nagual tradition...

 

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manitou
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@dwai

I am in complete agreement there.  My husband and I followed the Castaneda path for quite a while.  He started reading the books (I had read the first one back in the '60's) at my recommendation - and he was enthralled.  In fact, in the middle of the book, he looked at me strangely one day and said that the things that were happening to Carlos in the book were also happening to him.  I started the series again and found that the books were very fertile grounds for self-realization.  If you remember, he also had Carlos do a recapitulation of his life, looking for times that Carlos was less than impeccable, and realigning his inner psyche.  This is absolutely analogous to the steps of recovery - it is an inner inquiry into one's habits, thoughts, deeds.

The impeccability, the self-stalking, the ineffability, the Samadhi.  The more I understand the nature of metaphysics, the more I understand Castaneda - and his wonderful way of demonstrating the ineffable to people in more of a folklore or indigenous settings.  Yes, Castaneda is a perfect fit within all of this, IMO.

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steve
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I discovered Castaneda at the ripe old age of 18-ish...

It also happened to correspond to a time of psychedelic experimentation. Despite the drug piece, I dove deep into those precise aspects you point out dwai, and it was my first step on the spiritual path. As in the books, the psychedelic experiences seemed to serve the purpose of shaking me out of the dream of mundane reality at the time and open my eyes to different ways of seeing.

I reread several of the books about a decade ago and thoroughly enjoyed them for the second time.

I happened to read his book The Art of Dreaming while on vacation many years back in the Dominican Republic. I recall lying on the beach, reading and suddenly having complete certainty that I would dream lucidly that night. Sure enough, I had extended and quite wonderful lucid dreams that night. 

I was disturbed at some of the negative things that seemed to develop around him in the end. Never got into the tensegrity stuff or his last books. His works did lead me eventually to Don Miguel Ruiz which I highly recommend as well. 

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Taomeow
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I discovered Castaneda a few years after coming to the US.  Nothing in his books was even remotely similar to anything in my cultural upbringing, and everything went against its grain.  I was raised in the traditions of "intelligentsia," a rather unique Russian phenomenon which in English, Wiki describes as "a status class of educated people engaged in the complex mental labours that critique, guide, and lead in shaping the culture and politics of their society."  Which is not wrong but it also proceeds to assert that the members of the "class" are known as "intellectuals" -- and this is, at best, only half (or less) of what an "intelligent" (a noun in Russian that does not equal an "intellectual" and does not mean the same thing as "someone intelligent" albeit includes that too) encompasses.  Part of being that implied having accepted pretty high moral standards for oneself (with or without demanding them of others) -- usually way higher than the average level maintained by the society as a whole.  More honesty, more human decency, more intellectual and emotional courage, more altruism were usually part of what defined that status.  Another part had to do with manners and meant something not unlike what "a real gentleman" or "a real lady" used to mean, but without the aristocratic bloodline connotations -- a member of intelligentsia could come from any social stratum, and if they came from the lower classes, they might be referred to as "a first generation 'intelligent'," whereas a descendant of a family of "intelligents" was  "a hereditary intelligent."  I was that, and it meant many things -- but shamanic, psychedelic, tribal, esoteric-spiritual etc. explorations were not part of the deal.  Quite the opposite was true -- you primarily accepted Eurocentric culture as your birthright and were expected to feel right at home everywhere therein, but you were never encouraged to venture too far from that home.

So, to me, discovering Castaneda -- I started with the very first book, The Teachings of Don Juan -- was a bit of a cultural shock.  And a bunch of pages into that shock I found myself laughing uncontrollably over the scene where Mescalito turns into a magical dog with streams of light and water bursting out of his body instead of fur (if I remember correctly), and Carlos plays with him, only to find, when he comes to his senses, that what others observed was that he was chasing the poor dog (the real resident dog) and urinating on him on the run, scaring the dog shitless.  I was laughing because it was hilariously absurd, but also because something about that scene rang an ancient bell...  My grandmother used to have a potted palm tree in her home, and when I was about two or three, I used to dream, repeatedly, that the leaves on that palm tree became transparent and I could see light and water streaming through them and the whole thing turning into a beautiful fountain -- and that was my signal that I have to wake up and go potty.  When I was done laughing, I gave the book (and the ones I read after that one) my full attention.  

I laughed again -- with delight -- when a couple of years later I came across this irreverent Zen poem:                   

On Mount Wu-tai

clouds are steaming rice;

before the ancient Buddha-Hall

dogs piss at heaven.  

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thelerner
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I like the concepts, some of the books.  Don't like the man.  But he opened up the eyes of Western readers to some powerful concepts.  

 

Are there other authors who expand on his subject of esoteric spiritual warrior, but do it with more authenticity? 

< I see Steve recommending Don Miguel Ruiz>

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dwai
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@thelerner Don Miguel Ruiz for sure. Another was Victor Sanchez, albeit I’m not sure about authenticity per se. There was another writer Theune Mares iinm, who wrote in a similar vein. But I didn’t find anyone else’s writing carry as much power as Carlos’.

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Taomeow
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@thelerner Don Miguel Ruiz for sure. Another was Victor Sanchez, albeit I’m not sure about authenticity per se. There was another writer Theune Mares iinm, who wrote in a similar vein. But I didn’t find anyone else’s writing carry as much power as Carlos’.

I found all epigones non-memorable enough to not even retain the names -- Don Miguel seems to ring a bell, but may have been one of those authors whose books I put down without finishing, or else read diagonally.  There's been thousands like that over the years -- I have little patience with reading material that doesn't fit one of three bills.  Either it's an outstanding literary accomplishment that excites me on the cultural/aesthetic/poetic/artistic level; or else it's entertaining enough in a way I don't find dumb; or educational in a way that expands either my mind or my empirical skills.      

Castaneda's books (with the exception of a couple I found too convoluted and strained) met the second two criteria. 

There's another criterion though, a bit harder to pinpoint and explain.  I feel the qi of books.  Not just whether a book "has it" or not but many things about it -- if its qi is healthy or sick, convoluted or flowing unimpeded, cold or hot or neutral, mostly yin or mostly yang, dry or moist, its wuxing phases, and so on.  Many, many aspects -- I can "diagnose" a book the way a classical Chinese medicine practitioner diagnoses a patient by observing the whole pattern -- organ pulses, the tongue, complexion, voice, gait, etc..  As a result, I sometimes have to put down a book after a few minutes (or less) of "diagnostic examination."  Sometimes I can't even bear to keep some books in my home and have to get rid of them.  While others have to always be there -- lifelong friends emanating good qi (not necessarily "positive" -- just appropriate, healthy, strong, meaningful.  Qi is meaningful.)

Also, qi of books can suffer from what Don Juan named as one of the enemies that can't be conquered: old age.  (As a taoist I'm not so sure about that. 🙂 ) Well...  long term, Castaneda's books exhibited a bit of that affliction.  But still, they didn't fare half bad, considering my overall approach.  I.e. I don't need them beside me -- but I don't resent them when they're there.  I think by now I only have them on Kindle.   

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dwai
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@taomeow fascinating about the 'qi of books'. I don't read the qi so much as whether something in the book speaks to me at a deeper (than intellectual) level. Some books radiate the presence/essence of the author/the contents.

One such book for me was 'The Autobiography of a Yogi' -- it was a life-changer. I read it after my father's untimely and sudden demise in 1996. I was 21 at that time. The book found me and put me on a course of spiritual practice. 

Carlos' first 3-4 books were like that for me -- they spoke to me.

The interesting thing was some experiences I had during reading his books (pretty sure I didn't imagine them). For e.g., I used to live on the 8th floor of a building when I started reading the books. I had started practicing some of the 'magical passes' by then...one day as I'm doing one magical pass, I look out of the 8th-floor window and I see a giant moth flying outside. It was bizarre...never before have I seen such a moth, nor after.  It was the size of a large bat...and I'm pretty sure it wasn't a bird either!

 

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manitou
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The qi of books is an excellent way of putting it.  And Carlos was the most life altering for me because that was the first shamanic author I'd read.  And like you say, after that came Ruiz, Sanchez, Eagle Feather - I loved each and every author, but the most was gained from the first.  And probably also because you felt like you were there with Carlos when he went through all his initiations.  He didn't talk at you.  He took you along with him.

I am probably on my 5th reading of Advanced Course in Yogi Philosophy and Oriental Occultism, by Yogi Ramacharaka.  Of course,it's one of those books that talk to you differently every time you read it, because your eyes are higher.  I was thinking about starting a thread on that very thing.  Once in a while I come to a paragraph that I find astounding, and there's nobody around to share it with.  His occasional paragraphs would be a great binder for a deeply metaphysical thread.

Yup.  That's what this old girl is going to do.

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Spotless
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I devoured them in my late teens - many things struck me, but the visceral nature - being with him in being lost and coming back was exceptional.

You could feel the dryness and hear the desert and wait on the side of a road unknown only to find a hand reaching for you all soiled upon yourself. 

It was an exquisite motivation for practice and a friendly companion in the intensity of great change and completely new environs - both inside and out. 

It was also having a teacher and birds and dogs and beings everywhere and nowhere - excitingly unpredictable but with developing practice and a whole way of living - not inconsistent with my current practices at that time. It was practice shared with no deodorant - alone, silent but for the incredible.

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manitou
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@spotless

I'm afraid I cheated on the deodorant thing

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