by Graciela Corvalan: During the planning stages for a book she is writing on mystical thinkers, Graciela Corvalan wrote a letter to Carlos Castaneda requesting an interview…
She later received a phone call from Castaneda in which he accepted her request, explaining that he was excited to be interviewed by her since she was not a member of the established press. Castaneda asked her to meet him at a specified time and date on the UCLA campus. When Graciela and a few colleagues arrived for the interview, she was asked not to use the tape recorder she had brought along. So, for seven hours, loaded with books and papers, Graciela kept notes as the man, who some have credited as being the crucial catalyst of mainstream awareness of metaphysics, explained his tutelage under the Yaqui Sorcerer, Don Juan, his present tasks assigned to him by the fierce Toltec Woman, and the nature of the Toltec teachings.
In the first part of this interview, published in Magical Blend issue #14, Graciela explained that the interview was conducted in Spanish, noting that although Castaneda is fluent in Spanish, his native language is obviously English. Graciela found that Castaneda, though well read, was not intellectual in a bookish sense. At no time, says Graciela, did he establish comparisons with other traditions of the past or present. It was obvious that he did not wish to contaminate his teaching with anything extraneous to it.
Graciela found Castaneda a master in the art of conversation as he talked at length about his past and present.
At the time he met Don Juan, Castaneda’s primary interest was anthropology, but, upon encountering him I changed.
Graciela remembers that, Don Juan was present with us. Every time Castaneda mentioned or remembered him, we felt his emotion.
From Don Juan, Castaneda learned the sorcerer’s principle rule: Give your all in each moment. And through Don Juan, Castaneda became involved in the long process of freeing himself from his past, a process which included divesting himself of both possessions and friends. According to Castaneda, the life of the Toltec warrior requires an unshakeable desire to be free. In the course of the interview, Castaneda revealed himself to be every bit the warrior showing a distaste for pacifism and cheap sentiment. Without an adversary, he maintains, we are nothing.
In questioning Castaneda about the Toltec tradition, Graciela found that, from an anthropological perspective, the word Toltec makes reference to an Indian culture of the center and south of Mexico that was already extinct at the time of the conquest and colonization of America by Spain. But, according to Castaneda, Toltec is descriptive not so much of hereditary characteristics but rather of a way of life and a way of looking at life. Toltec, says Castaneda is one who knows the mysteries of watching and dreaming. It is a tradition that has been maintained for more than 3,000 years. Though Toltec colonies or civilizations may have been destroyed by the white man, the Toltec nation could not be destroyed, for it represented something incomprehensible to the white man to whom the dream world remained cut off, mysterious and unapproachable.
According to Castaneda, the objective of the Toltec is to leave the living world; to leave with all that one is, but with nothing more than what one is. Don Juan succeeded in this activity, but it was not, emphasizes Castaneda, death, because Toltecs don’t die. In The Second Ring of Power, la Gorda says, when the wizards learn to ‘dream’ they tie together their two attentions and, therefore, there is no need for the center to push out…sorcerers…don’t die.
Freedom, says Castaneda, is an illusion perpetrated by the snare of the senses. The art of the wizard consists of bringing learning to discover and destroy that perceptive prejudice. In transcending, or breaking, the tyranny of the senses, a door to a magical universe is opened. Castaneda describes the universe as being polarized between two extremes: the right side and the left side-The two halves of the bubble of perception. On the left side is action. Here there are no words. Here the mind does not conceptualize but rather the entire body realizes, without thoughts and without words. The duty of a teacher such as Don Juan is to move all vision of the world into the right side, so that the left side can remain clear for the magical practice of will.
Presiding over the universe is the Eagle, an immense blackness representative of all the beauty and all the bestiality in everything that’s alive. According to Castaneda, that which can be called human is very small in comparison to the rest. As excessive mass, bulk, and blackness, the Eagle attracts and feeds on all life force that is ready to disappear. It is, he says, like an immense magnet that picks up all those beams of light that are the vital energy of that which is dying.
The key to escaping the Eagle is recapitulation which involves going backward from adult to infancy, clearing out the images of a lifetime, divesting oneself of everything until only the task remains and one arrives at the crack between the worlds. To arrive there, says Castaneda requires an indomitable desire, a total dedication. But one must do it without the help of any power and of any man.
According to Toltec tradition, all living things have a mold. The mold of man is the same for all human beings. In each individual it is developed and manifested according to the development of the person. The human form, on the other hand, impedes us from seeing the mold. In The Second Ring of Power, the form is described as a luminous entity. According to Don Juan, it is the fount and origin of man. The reason that Toltecs do not die is because, having lost the human form, they have nothing that the Eagle can devour.
In The Second Ring of Power, la Gorda relates that when she succeeded in losing the human form, she began to see an eye always in front of her which almost ended up driving her crazy. But someday she says, when I arrive at being a real being without form, I won’t see that eye anymore; the eye will be one with me.
So, without further digression, we proudly present the second part of Graciela Corvalan’s interview with Carlos Castaneda.[Beginning of Corvalan Interview – Part 2]
By Graciela Corvalan, Ph.D.
We continued talking about the Toltec Woman and Castaneda told us that she’s leaving soon. She’s told us that in her place are going to come two women. The Toltec Woman is very strict, her demands are terrible! Now, if the Toltec Woman is fierce, it appears that the two who are coming are much worse. Let’s hope that she’s not leaving yet! One can’t stop wanting nor can prevent the body from complaining and fearing the severity of the undertaking… Nevertheless, there’s no way of altering destiny. So, there it grabbed me!
I don’t have more liberty, he continued, than the impeccable one because only if I’m impeccable, I change my destiny; that is to say, I go on tiptoes by the left side of the eagle. If I’m not impeccable, I don’t change my destiny and the eagle devours me.
The Nagual Juan Matos is a free man. He is free in fulfilling his destiny. Do you understand me? I don’t know if you understand what I want to say, he asked worriedly.
Sure we understand! we retorted vehemently. We find a great similarity with what we feel and live daily in so much in this last section as in many other things that you have referred to us up to now.
Don Juan is a free man, he continued. He looks for liberty. His spirit looks for it.. Don Juan is free from that basic prejudice; the perceptive prejudice that prevent us from seeing reality.
The importance of all that which we came speaking about resides in the possibility of destroying the circle of routines: Don Juan made him practice numerous exercises so he would become conscious of his routines: exercises such as ‘walking in the darkness’ and the ‘power walk.’
How to break that circle of routines ? How to break that perceptive arc that ties us to that ordinary vision of reality? That ordinary vision that our routines contribute to establishing is, precisely, that which Castaneda denominates the attention of the tonal or ‘the first ring of attention.’
To break that perceptive arc isn’t an easy task; it could take years. The difficulty with me, he affirmed laughing, is that I am very pigheaded. Quite unwillingly I went on learning: For this reason, in my case, Don Juan had to use drugs…and so I ended up…with my liver in the stream!
In the line of not-doing is achieved the destroying of routines and becoming conscious, explained Castaneda. While saying this he stood up and started to walk backwards while he remembered a technique that Don Juan had taught him: Walking backwards with the help of a mirror. Castaneda continued reporting to us that to facilitate the task he devised an artifact of metal (like a ring that in the style of a crown he bore on his head) in which the mirror was fastened. In that way, he could practice the exercise and have his hands free. Other examples of techniques of not-doing would be to put on your belt backwards and to wear your shoes on the opposite feet. All these techniques have as an objective to make one conscious of what one is doing at each moment. Destroying routines, he said, is the way we have of giving the body new sensations. The body knows…
Immediately Castaneda related to us some of the games that the Toltec youth practice for hours. They are games of not-doing, he explained. Games in which there are no fixed rules but rather they are generated as they play.
It seems that by not having fixed rules, the behavior of the players isn’t foreseen and, consequently, everyone must be very attentive. One-of these games, he continued, consists in giving the adversary false signs. It’s a game of pulling.
As he said, in that game of pulling, three persons participate and two posts and a rope are needed. With the rope you tie up one of the players and hang him from the posts. The other two players must pull on the ends of the rope and try to fool him giving him false signs. All have to be very attentive so that when one pulls, the other also does it and the person who is tied doesn’t get twisted.
The techniques and games of not-doing develop attention: You can say that they are concentration exercises since they obligate those who practice them to be fully conscious of what they are doing. Castaneda commented that old age would consist in having remained shut in the perfect circle of routines.
The way of teaching of the Toltec Woman is to put us into situations. I believe that it’s the best way because in putting us in situations we discover that we are nothing: The other way is that of self love, that of personal pride. The former way transforms us into detectives, always attentive to all that could happen or offend us. Detectives? Yes ! We spent time seeking evidence of love: if they love me or they love me not. Thus, centered in our ego we don’t do anything but strengthen it. According to the Toltec Woman, the best is to begin considering that nobody loves us.
Castaneda told us that for Don Juan, personal pride resembles a monster of 3,000 heads. One destroys and knocks down heads but others always rise up… It’s that one possesses all the tricks! he exclaimed. With the tricks it appears that we fool ourselves believing we are somebody.
I then reminded him of the image of catching weaknesses, as rabbits are caught in a trap, that appears in one of his books. Yes, he answered me, you constantly have to be on the lookout.
Changing position, Castaneda began to give us the history of the past three years. One of the many tasks was that of cook in those roadside cafes. La Gorda accompanied me that year as a waitress. For more than a year we lived there as Jose Cordoba and his wife! My complete name was Jose Luis Cordoba, at your service, he, said with a profound reverence. Without a doubt, everyone knew me as Joe Cordoba.
Castaneda didn’t tell us the name or the location of the city in which they lived. It’s possible that they had been in different places. It appears that at the beginning, he arrived with la Gorda and the Toltec Woman, who accompanied them for a while. The first thing was to find housing and work for Joe Cordoba, his wife, and his mother-in-law. That was how we presented ourselves, commented Castaneda, otherwise, the people wouldn’t have understood.
For a long time they looked for work, until finally they found it in a roadside cafe. In that type of establishment you begin very early in the morning. At five a.m. you have to be already working.
Castaneda told us, laughing, that in those places the first thing they ask you is: Do you know how to make eggs? What could there be to making eggs? It appears that he delayed enough time in figuring out what they were trying to say until he finally discovered that they were talking about the diverse ways of preparing eggs for breakfast. In restaurants or cafes for truck drivers. ‘Egg making’ is very important.
They spent one year working there. Now I know how to ‘make eggs’, he affirmed laughing. All that you would want! La Gorda also worked a lot. She was such a good waitress that she ended up by taking care of all the girls there. At the end of a year, when the Toltec Woman told them, That’s enough, you’re finished with this task, the owner of the cafe didn’t want us to leave. The truth is that we worked very hard there. A lot! From morning till night.
During that year, they had a significant encounter. It relates to the story of a girl named Terry who arrived at the cafe where they were asking for work waitressing. By then, Joe Cordoba had gained the confidence of the owner of the establishment and was the one in charge of contracting and watching over all the staff. As Terry told them, she was looking for Carlos Castaneda. How could she know that they were there? Castaneda didn’t know.
This girl Terry, continued Castaneda with sadness and giving us to understand that she looked dirty and messy, is one of those ‘hippies’ who take drugs…a terrifying life. Poor thing! Later, Castaneda would tell us, that, even though he could never tell Terry who he was, Joe Cordoba and his wife helped her a lot during the months she spent with them. He told us that one day she came in very excited from the street saying that she had just seen Castaneda in a Cadillac parked in front of the cafe. He’s there, she screamed to us; he’s in the car, writing. Are you sure it’s Castaneda? How can you be so convinced? I told her. But she continued, Yes, it’s him, I’m sure.. . I then suggested to her that she go out to the car and ask him. She needed to get rid of that immense doubt. Hurry! Hurry! I insisted. She was afraid to speak to him because she said that she was very fat and very ugly. I encouraged her. But you look divine, hurry! Finally, she went, but came right back crying a river of tears. It seems that the man in the Cadillac hadn’t looked at her, and had thrown her out telling her not to bother him. You can imagine that I tried to console her, said Castaneda It gave me so much pain that I almost told her who I was. La Gorda didn’t let me; she protected me. Really, he couldn’t tell her anything because he was performing a task in which he was Joe Cordoba and not Carlos Castaneda. He couldn’t disobey.
As Castaneda told it, when Terry arrived she wasn’t a good waitress. With passing months, without a doubt, they brought her to be good, clean and careful. La Gorda gave much advice to Terry. We cared for her a lot. She never imagined who she was with all that time.
In these last years they had passed moments of tremendous deprivation during which people maltreated and offended them. More than once he was at the point of revealing who he was, but… Who would have believed me! he said. Besides, the Toltec Woman is the one who decides.
That year, he continued, there were moments in which we were reduced to the minimum: we slept on the ground and we ate only one thing.
Hearing this, we wanted him to explain to us the ways of eating they had. Castaneda told us that Toltecs only eat one type of food at a time, but that they do it continually. Toltecs eat all day, he commented in a casual tone. (In this affirmation of Castaneda one can see his desire to break the image that people have of the sorcerer or wizard – beings with special powers who don’t have the same needs as the rest of mortals. In saying that they eat all day, Castaneda united them with the rest of mankind.)
According to Castaneda, the mixing of foods, for example, eating meat with potatoes and vegetables, is very bad for your health. This mixture is very recent in the life of humanity, he affirmed. To eat one kind of food helps digestion and is better for the organism.
One time Don Juan accused me of always feeling sick. You can imagine that I defended myself! However, later I realized that he was right and I learned. Now I feel well, strong and healthy.
Also the way of sleeping that they have is different from that of the majority of us. The important thing is to realize that you can sleep in many ways. According to Castaneda, we have learned to go to sleep and to get up at a determined hour because that is what society wants from us. So, for example, said Castaneda, parents put the children to bed to get rid of them. We all laughed because there was some truth in his statement.
I sleep all day and all night, he continued, but if I add up the hours and minutes I sleep, I don’t believe they come to more than five hours a day. To sleep in that way requires on the part of the person the ability to go directly into deep sleep.
Returning to Joe Cordoba and his wife, Castaneda told us that one day the Toltec Woman came and told them that they were not working enough. She ordered us, he said, to organize a pretty big business in landscaping, something like designing and arranging gardens. This new task of the Toltec Woman wasn’t anything small. We had to contract a group of people to help us to do the work during the week while we were in the cafe. During the weekends we dedicated ourselves exclusively to the gardens. We had a lot of success.
La Gorda is a very enterprising person. That year we worked really hard. During the week we were in the Cafe and on the weekends always driving the truck and pruning trees. The demands of the Toltec Woman are very large.
I remember, continued Castaneda, that at a certain opportunity we were in the house of a friend when reporters arrived looking for Carlos Castaneda. They were reporters from The New York Times. So as to pass unnoticed, la Gorda and I put ourselves to planting trees in my friend’s garden. In the distance we saw them enter and leave the house. That was when my friend yelled at us and mistreated us a lot in front of the reporters. It seemed that Joe Cordoba and his woman could be yelled at without consequence. None of those who were present there came to our defense. Who were we? There, only the poor people and dogs work in the sun!
So that was how between my friend and us we fooled the reporters. My body, however, I couldn’t fool it. For three years we were involved in the task of giving experiences to the body to make it realize that, in truth, we are nothing. The truth is that the body isn’t the only thing that suffers. The mind also is accustomed to constant stimuli. The warrior, however, doesn’t have stimuli from the media; he doesn’t need them. The best place, therefore, is that where we were! There nobody thinks!
Continuing with the story of his adventures, Castaneda commented that more than once he and la Gorda were kicked out in the street. Other times, going by truck down the highway, we were pushed to the edge of the road. What alternative did we have? It’s best to let them pass!
Through all that Castaneda came telling us, it appears that the task of those years had to do with, learning to survive in adverse circumstances, and with surviving the experience of discrimination. This last, something very difficult to endure but very informative, he concluded with great calm.
The objective of the task consists in learning to remove oneself from the emotional impact which discrimination provokes. The important thing is not to react, not to get angry. If one reacts, he/she is lost One doesn’t get offended by a tiger when it attacks, he explained, you move to the side and let it pass.
In another opportunity, la Gorda and I found work in a house, she as a maid and I as butler. You can’t imagine how that ended! They kicked us out into the street without pay. Even more! To protect themselves from us in case we were to protest, they had called the local police. Can you imagine? We were jailed for nothing.
That year, la Gorda and I spent working very hard and suffering great privations. Many times we didn’t have anything to eat. The worst thing was that we couldn’t complain nor did we have the support of the group. In that task we were alone and we couldn’t escape. In whatever way, even though we might have been able to say who we were, nobody would have believed us. The task is always total.
Truthfully, I am Joe Cordoba, continued Castaneda accompanying his words with his whole body; and this is very beautiful because you can’t fall lower. I have already arrived at the bottom you can be. That is all that I am. And with these last words he touched the ground with his hands.
As I told you before, every one of us has different tasks to perform. The Genaros are quite bright; Benigno is now in Chiapas and he’s doing very well. He has a musical group. Benigno possesses a marvelous gift of imitation; he imitates Tom Jones and many more. Pablito is the same as always; he’s very lazy. Benigno is he who makes the noise and Pablito celebrates it. Benigno is the one who works and Pablito gathers the applause.
Now, he said in way of conclusion, we have all finished the tasks which we have been doing and we are preparing ourselves for new tasks. The Toltec Woman is the one who sends us.
The story of Joe Cordoba and his woman had impressed us a lot. It dealt with an experience very different from those of his books. We were interested in knowing whether he had written or was writing anything about Joe Cordoba.
I know that Joe Cordoba existed, said one of us; he had to exist. Why don’t you write about him? From all that you have come telling us, Joe Cordoba and his woman is what has impacted me most.
I just brought a new manuscript to my agent, Castaneda answered us. In that manuscript, the Toltec Woman is she who teaches. It couldn’t be any other way…The title might possibly be, The Stalking and the Art of Being in The World. [This book was published in 1981 as The Eagle’s Gift.] There is all her teaching. She is the one responsible for that manuscript. A woman had to be the one who taught about the art of stalking. Women know it well because they have always lived with the enemy; that is to say, they have always walked ‘on tiptoe’ in the masculine world. Precisely for that reason, because women have long experience in that art, the Toltec Woman is she who has to give the principles of stalking.
In that last manuscript, however, there is nothing concrete about the life of Joe Cordoba and his woman. I can’t write in detail about that experience because nobody would understand nor believe it. I can speak of these things with very few…Yes, the essence of the experience of the last three years is in the book.
Returning to the Toltec Woman and her nature, Castaneda told us that she was very different from Don Juan. She doesn’t love me, he insisted, la Gorda, on the other hand, yes, she loves her! You can’t ask the Toltec Woman anything. Before you speak to her she already knows what she has to say. Besides, you have to fear her; when she gets angry, she hits, he concluded making many gestures which indicated his fear.
We stayed in silence for a while. The sun had gone down and its rays reached us through the branches of the trees. I felt a little cold. It seemed to me that it was around 7 p.m.
Castaneda appeared also to become aware of the time. It’s already late, he told us. What do you think about getting something to eat? I invite you.
We got up and began to walk. As one of those ironies, Castaneda took charge of my notes and books for part of the way. The best thing was to leave everything in the car. That’s what we did. Free of our bundles, we walked for some blocks in animated conversation.
All that they had achieved requires years of preparation and practice. One example is the exercise of dreaming. That which seems so foolish, affirmed Castaneda emphatically, is very difficult to achieve.
The exercise consists in learning to dream at will and in a systematic way. You begin by dreaming about a hand that enters the visual field of the dreamer. Then, you see the whole arm. You continue in a progressive way until you can see yourself in the dream. The other step consists in learning to use dreams. That is to say, once you have achieved control over them, you have to learn to act on them. So, for example, Castaneda said, you dream about yourself that you leave the body and that you open the door and go out into the street. The street is something outrageous! Something in you leaves you; something that you achieve at will.
According to Castaneda, dreaming doesn’t take much time. That is to say, dreams don’t occur in the time of our watches. The time of the dream is something very compact.
Castaneda gave us to understand that in dreams an immense physical draining is produced. In dreams, you can live a lot, he said, but the body resents it. My body really feels it… Afterwards you feel like a truck has run over you.
Several times, touching upon that theme of dreaming, Castaneda would say that that which they do in dreams has a pragmatic value. In Tales of Power, you read that the experiences of dreams and those lived in one’s waking hours acquire the same pragmatic valence, and that for sorcerers the criteria to differentiate a dream from reality becomes inoperative. (p. 18).
That of leaving or traveling outside of the physical body keenly caught our interest, and we wanted to know more about those experiences.
He answered us explaining that every one of them had achieved different experiences. La Gorda and I, for example, go together. She takes me by the forearm and. . .we go.
He explained to us also that the group has common journeys. They are all in constant training whose objective would be ‘to become witnesses.’ To arrive at being witnesses means, affirmed Castaneda, that you can’t judge any more. That is to say, it relates to an internal sight which equals not having prejudices any more.
Josefina seems to have great abilities to journey in the body of dreaming. She wants to take you there and probes recounting marvels. La Gorda is the one who always rescues her.
Josefina has a great facility to break that arch of being able to reflect upon things. She’s crazy, crazy! he exclaimed. Josefina flies very far, but she doesn’t want to go alone and always returns. She returns and looks for me… She gives me reports that are marvelous.
According to Castaneda, Josefina is a being who cannot function in this world. Here, he said, she would have ended up in some institution.
Josefina is a being who cannot be held to the concrete; she is ethereal. In whatever moment she can definitively leave. La Gorda and he are, on the other hand, much more cautious in their flights. La Gorda, particularly, represents the stability and equilibrium that in some measure he lacks.
After a pause, I reminded him of that vision of an immense dome which in The Second Ring of Power is presented as the place of meeting and where Don Juan and Don Genaro would be waiting for them.
La Gorda also has that vision, he commented pensively. That which we see isn’t an earthly horizon. It’s something very smooth and arid in whose horizon we see rising an immense arch which covers all and which extends until it arrives at the zenith. In that point in the zenith, you can see a large brightness. You could say that it is something like a dome that emits an amber light.
We strove to press upon him questions so that he would give us more information about that dome. What is it? Where is it? we inquired.
Castaneda answered that by the size of what they see, it could be a planet. In the zenith, he added, there is like a great wind.
By the brevity of his answer, we realized that Castaneda didn’t want to talk much about that topic. It is possible, also, that he couldn’t find adequate words to express what they saw. No matter what, it is evident that those visions, those flights in the body dreaming, are a constant training for the definitive journey-that leaving through the left side of the eagle, that final leap which is called death, that giving an end to the recapitulation; that being able to say we are ready, in which we carry all that we are but nothing more than that what we are.
According to the Toltec Woman, Castaneda conferred to us, those visions are my aberrations: She thinks that that is my unconscious way of paralyzing my actions; that is to say, the way I have of saying that I don’t want to leave the world. The Toltec Woman also says that with my attitude, I am detaining la Gorda from the possibilities of a more fertile or more productive flight.
Don Juan and Don Genaro were great dreamers. They had an absolute control of the art. I am surprised, immediately exclaimed Castaneda, raising his hand to his forehead, at the fact that nobody notices that don Juan is an outrageous dreamer. The same can be said of Don Genaro. Don Genaro, for example, is capable of bringing his body of dream to the every day life.
The great control of Don Juan and Don Genaro is evidenced in that of not being noted or passing by unnoticed. (In all his books, Castaneda has referred to that of not being noted and to go by unnoticed. In The Second Ring of Power, Castaneda records the times that Don Juan had ordered him to concentrate on not being obvious. Nestor, also, says that Don Juan and Don Genaro learned to not be noticed in the midst of all this. The two are masters of the art of stalking. Of Don Genaro, la Gorda says that he was in the body of dreaming most of the time, (p. 270). All that they do, he continued with enthusiasm, is worthy of praise. Of Don Juan, I admire immensely his great control, composure and serenity.
Of Don Juan, it can never be said that he is a senile old man. He isn’t like other people. There is here on campus, for example, an old professor who when I was a young man was already famous. At that time, he was at the peak of his physical strength and intellectual creativity. Now, he’s chewing his tongue of cork! Now I can see him as he is, as a senile old man. Of Don Juan, on the other hand, you will never be able to say something like that. His advantage in respect to me is always abysmal.
In the interview with Sam Keen, Castaneda says that one time Don Juan asked him if he thought the two were equals. Even though he really didn’t think that they were, in a condescending tone he said yes. Don Juan listened to him, but he didn’t accept his verdict. I don’t think that we are, he said, because I am a hunter and a warrior and you are more like a pimp. I am ready at any moment to offer the recapitulation of my life. Your small world full of sadness and indecision can never be equal to mine. (Sam Keen, Voices and Visions (New York: Harper and Row, 1976), p. 122.)
In all that Castaneda had told us can be found parallels with other currents and traditions of mystical thinking. In his own books are cited authors and works of antiquity and of the present. I reminded him that, among others, there are references to The Egyptian Book of the Dead, to Tractatus by Wittgenstein, to Spanish poets like San Juan de la Cruz and Juan Ramon Jimenez, and to Latin American writers like the Peruvian Cesar Vallejo.
Yes, he responded, in my car there are always books, many books. Things that someone or another send me. He was accustomed to read sections of those books to Don Juan. He likes poetry. It’s clear that he only likes the four first lines! According to him, that which follows is idiocy. He says that after the first verse it loses force, that it’s pure repetition.
One of us asked him if he had read of or if he knew the yoga techniques and the descriptions of the different planes of reality which the sacred books of India offer. All that is marvelous, he said. I have had, moreover, pretty intimate relationships with people who work in Hatha Yoga.
In 1976, a doctor friend named Claudio Naranjo (Do you know him? he asked us.) connected me with a yoga teacher. That’s how we went to visit him in his ‘ashram’ here in California. We communicated by means of a professor who acted as interpreter. I was trying to discover in that interview parallels with my own experiences of traveling outside of the body. There, however, he didn’t speak of anything important. There was, yes, much show and ceremony, but he didn’t say anything. Towards the end of the interview, this character took in his hands a metal watering can and began to wet me with a liquid whose color I didn’t like at all. No sooner had he withdrawn, when I asked him what he had just thrown at me. Someone came near and explained to me that I should be very happy because he had given me his blessing. I insisted on knowing the contents of the container. Finally I was told that all the secretions of the teacher are saved: Everything that comes from him is sacred. You can imagine, he concluded in a tone between jocular and joking, that here concluded the conversation with the yoga master.
A year later, Castaneda had a similar experience with one of the disciples of Gurdjieff. He met with him in Los Angeles upon the insistence of one of his friends. It seems that the gentleman had imitated Gurdjieff in everything. He had shaven his head and had a huge mustache, he commented, indicating with his hands their size. We had just entered, when he energetically grabbed me by the throat and gave me some tremendous blows. Immediately after he told me to leave my master because I was wasting my time: According to him, in eight or nine classes, he was going to teach me everything I needed to know. Can you imagine? In a few classes he can teach someone everything.
Castaneda also told us that the disciple of Gurdjieff had mentioned the use of drugs to accelerate the learning process.
The interview didn’t last long. It seems that Castaneda’s friend realized right away the ridiculousness of the situation and the magnitude of his error. That friend had insisted that he see the disciple of Gurdjieff because he was convinced that Castaneda needed a teacher more serious than Don Juan. When the interview ended, Castaneda told us that his friend felt full of shame.
We continued walking some six or seven blocks. For a while we talked about circumstantial things. I remember that I commented to him that I had read in La Gaceta an article by Juan Tovar in which he mentions the possibility of filming the books. (See Juan Tovar. Encounter of Power, La Gaceta, F.C.E. (Mexico, December 1974).
Yes, he said. At one time that possibility was spoken of. He later told us the story of his encounter with the producer Joseph Levine, who would have intimidated him from behind an immense desk. The size of the desk and the producer’s words hardly comprehensible because of the huge cigar he kept between his lips, were the things that had made the biggest impression on Castaneda. He was behind a desk like it was a dais, he explained, and I, there below, very small. Powerful! With his hands full of rings with very large stones.
Castaneda had already said to Juan Tovar that the last thing he wanted to see was an Anthony Quinn in the role of Don Juan. It seems that someone had proposed Mia Farrow for one of the roles… To conceive of such a movie was very difficult, he commented. It’s neither ethnography nor fiction. The project in the end fell apart. The sorcerer Juan Matos told me that it wouldn’t be possible to do it.
During that same time he was invited to participate in shows like Johnny Carson and Dick Cavett. In the end I couldn’t accept things like that. What would I say to Johnny Carson, for example, if he asked me if I spoke to the coyote or not? What would I say? I’d say, yes… and then? Indubitably, the situation could have become very ridiculous.
Don Juan was the one who put me in charge of giving testimony of a tradition, said Castaneda. He himself insisted that I accept interviews and give conference to promote the books. Later he made me cut everything because that type of task burns a lot of energy. If you’re into those things you have to give them force.
Castaneda explained clearly that with the production of his books, he is in charge of taking care of the expenses of the whole group. Castaneda allows everyone to eat.
Don Juan, he insisted, gave me the task of putting in writing all that the wizards and sorcerers said. My task doesn’t consist in anything but in writing until one day they tell me, Enough, here you stop. The impact or not of my books, really is unknown to me because I’m not dealing with what’s happening here. To Don Juan before and to the Toltec Woman now belong all the material in the books. They are responsible for all that is said there.
The tone of his voice and his gestures impressed us in a lively way. It was evident that in that terrain the task of Castaneda consists of obeying. His objective isn’t anything but to be impeccable as receptor and transmitter of a tradition and of a teaching.
Personally, he continued after a pause, I am working on a kind of journal; it’s something like a manual. For this work, yes, I am responsible. I would like a serious publisher to publish it and to be in charge of distributing it to interested persons and to centers of study.
He told us that he had worked out some 18 units in which he believes he has summarized all the teaching of the Toltec nation. To organize the work, he has made use of the phenomenology of E. Husserl as a theoretical framework to make comprehensible what they taught him.
Last week, he said, I was in New York. I brought the project to the editors of Simon and Schuster but I failed. It seems they got scared. It’s that something like that can’t have success.
Of those 18 units I am the only one responsible, he continued in a meditative tone, and, as you can see, I wasn’t successful. Those 18 units are something like the 18 falls in which I was bumped hard on the head. I agree with the editors that it’s a work of heavy reading, but there I am… Don Juan, Don Genaro, all the others are different. They are fickle! (According to what Castaneda communicated to us by telephone, Simon and Schuster finally decided to accept the project of the journal that had seemed to worry him so much.)
Why do I call them units? he asked, moving ahead of us. I call them that because each one of them claims to show one of the ways to break the unit of the familiar. That unique perceptive vision can be broken in different ways.
Castaneda, trying once again to clarify this, gave us the example of the map. Each time we want to arrive at some place we need a map with clear points of reference to not get lost. We can’t find anything without a map, exclaimed Castaneda. What later occurs is that the only thing we see is the map. Instead of seeing what there is to see, we finish seeing the map we carry inside. Therefore, to break that arc of reflexibility, to constantly cut the bonds that lead us to the known points of reference, is the ultimate teaching of Don Juan.
Many times during that afternoon, Castaneda had to insist that he was just a contact to the world. All the knowledge of the books belongs to the Toltec nation. In the presence of his insistence, I couldn’t but react and tell him that the labor of arranging the material from notes into coherent and well organized book must have been immense and difficult.
No, responded Castaneda. I don’t have any work. My task consists, simply, in copying the page which is given me in dreams.
According to Castaneda, you can’t create something from nothing. To pretend to create like that is an absurdity. To explain this to us, he brought up an episode in the life of his father. My father, he said, decided that he was going to be a great writer. With that idea, he resolved to fix his office. He needed to have an office that was perfect. He had to keep in mind the smallest detail, from the decorations of the wall to the type of light on his work table. Once the room was ready, he spent much time looking for a suitable desk for his task. The desk had to be of a determined measurement, wood, color, etc. Another such incident occurred with the selection of the chair on which he would sit. Later he had to select the suitable cover so as to not ruin the desk’s wood. The cover could be plastic, glass, leather, cardboard. On this cover my father was going to rest the paper on which he would write his masterpiece. Then, seated at his chair, in front of the blank paper he didn’t know what to write. That is my dad. He wants to begin writing the perfect phrase. Surely you can’t write that way! One is always an instrument, an intermediary. I see each page in dreams, and the success of each one of those pages depends on the degree of fidelity with which I am capable of copying that model from the dream. Precisely, the page which impresses or impacts most is that in which I have achieved reproducing the original with most exactitude.
These commentaries of Castaneda reveal a particular theory of knowledge and of intellectual and artistic creation. (I thought immediately of Plato and of St. Augustine with his image of inner teacher. To know is to discover and to create is to copy. Neither knowledge or creation can ever be an undertaking of a personal nature.
While we ate dinner I mentioned to him some of the interviews which I had read. I told him that I had enjoyed greatly that which Sam Keen had done and which had been published first in Psychology Today. Castaneda was also satisfied with that interview. He has much appreciation for Sam Keen. During those years, he said, I knew many people with whom I would have liked to have continued being friends…one example is the theologian Sam Keen. Don Juan, however, said, Enough.
With respect to the interview in Time, Castaneda related to us that first a male reporter came to meet with him in Los Angeles. It seems it didn’t go well, (he used some Argentine slang) and so he left. They then sent one of those girls that you can’t turn down, he said making us all smile. It all came out well, and they understood each other magnificently. Castaneda had the impression that she understood what he had told her. In the end, however, she didn’t do the article. The notes which she had taken were given to a reporter that I think is now in Australia, he added. It seems that this reporter did what he wanted with the notes they gave him.
Every time that for one reason or another, the Time interview was mentioned, his annoyance was evident. He had observed to Don Juan that Time was too powerful and important a magazine. Don Juan, on the other hand, had insisted that the interview be done. the interview was done, ‘just in case’ concluded Castaneda informally using once again a typically port area (Argentinian) expression.
We also spoke of the critics and of that which had been written about him and his books. I mentioned to him Richard deMille and others who had put in doubt the veracity of his works and the anthropological value of them.
The work that I have to do, affirmed Castaneda is free from all that the critics can say. My task consists of presenting that knowledge in the best way possible. Nothing they can say matters to me because I no longer am Carlos Castaneda, the writer. I am neither a writer, nor a thinker, nor a philosopher…in consequence, their attacks don’t reach me. Now, I know that I am nothing; nobody can take anything from me because Joe Cordoba is nothing. There isn’t in all this, any personal pride.
We live, he continued, on a level lower than the Mexican peasants, which is already saying a lot. We have touched ground and we can’t fall lower. The difference between us and the peasant is that he has hopes, wants things, and works to one day have more than he has today. We, on the other hand, don’t have anything and each time we will have less. Can you imagine this? Criticisms can’t hit the target.
Never am I more full than when I am Joe Cordoba, he exclaimed vehemently standing up and opening his arms in a gesture of plentitude. Joe Cordoba, frying hamburgers all day with my eyes full of smoke…Do you understand me?
Not all the critics have been negative. Octavio Paz, for example, wrote a very good preface for the Spanish edition of The Teachings of Don Juan. To me his preface was most beautiful. Yes, Castaneda said feelingly, That preface is excellent. Octavio Paz is a complete gentleman. Maybe he is one of the last who remain.
The phrase, a complete gentleman doesn’t refer to the undeniable qualities of Octavio Paz as thinker and writer. No! The phrase points to the intrinsic qualities of being, the value of a person as a human being. That Castaneda might point out that he is one of the last ones who remain accented the fact that he is relating to a species in danger of extinction.
Well, continued Castaneda trying to soften the impact, maybe there remain two gentlemen. The other is an old Mexican historian friend of his whose name wasn’t familiar to us. He told us some anecdotes about him that reflected his physical vitality and intellectual vivacity.
At this juncture in the conversation Castaneda explained to us how he selects the letters that arrive to him. Do you want me to explain how I did it with yours? he asked directing himself to me.
He told us that a young friend receives them, puts them in a bag and keeps them until he arrives in Los Angeles. Once in Los Angeles, Castaneda always follows the same routine: First he dumps all the correspondence into a large box, like a toy box, and then he only takes out one letter. The letter he takes out is that which he reads and answers. Clearly nothing is done in writing. Castaneda doesn’t leave tracks.
The letter I took out, he explained, was the first one that you wrote. Later I looked for the other one. You can’t imagine how many problems I had to get your phone number! When I already believed that I wasn’t going to have any luck, I obtained it by the intervention of the university. I had really already thought that I wasn’t going to be able to speak with you.
I was very surprised to know all the inconveniences that he had had to get to me. It appears that once he had my letter m his hands, he had to try to exhaust all means. In the magical universe much importance is given to signs.
Here in Los Angeles, continued Castaneda casually, I have a friend who writes me a lot. Each time I come I read all his letters, one after the other as if it were a diary. One certain time, between the letters I bumped into another one that without realizing I had opened. Even though I immediately realized that it wasn’t from my friend, I read it. The fact that it was in the pile was for me a sign.
That letter put him in contact with two people who reported a very interesting experience to him. It was night and they had to enter the San Bernardino Freeway. They knew that to meet it they had to continue ahead until the end of the street. Then they had to take a left and continue until they reached the freeway. So they did it, but after some 20 minutes they realized that they were in a strange place. It wasn’t the San Bernardino Freeway. They resolved to get off and ask, but nobody helped them. At one of the houses where they knocked they were met with screaming.
Castaneda continued telling us that the two friends went back down the road until they reached a service station where they asked for directions. There they were told what they already knew. So they again repeated the same steps, and without any inconveniences arrived at the highway.
Castaneda met with them. Of the two of them, it seems that only one is truly interested in understanding the mystery.
On the earth, he said as means of explanation, there are sites, special places or openings, through which you can enter and pass through to something else. Here he stopped and offered to bring us. It’s near here… in Los Angeles… If you want, I can take you, he said. The earth is something alive. Those places are the entrances from where the earth periodically receives force or energy from the cosmos. That energy is that which the warrior must store up. Maybe, if I am rigorously impeccable, I might get close to the eagle. May it be so!
Every 18 days a wave of energy falls upon the earth. Count, he suggested to us, starting on the third of next August. You will be able to perceive it. This wave of energy could be strong or not; it depends. When the earth receives very large waves of energy, it doesn’t matter where you might be, it always reaches us. Before the magnitude of that force, the earth is small and the energy reaches all parts.
We were still animatedly conversing when the waitress approached and in a cutting tone asked if we were going to order anything else. As nobody wanted dessert or coffee, we had no other remedy than to get up. No sooner had the waitress moved away when Castaneda commented, It seems we are being thrown out. . .
Yes, we were being thrown out and, maybe, with reason. It was late. In surprise we checked the passing of time. We got up and left for the avenue.
It was night, the street and the people had the appearance of a fair. A mime dressed in tails and top hat was clowning around behind our backs. Everything we saw made us smile while our eyes searched for the plate that is always passed during those representations. To our right, under the eaves of an old theater, someone was trying another representation on a miniature stage. I believe I saw a cat ready for its function. Really there you could see everything. In other times; a man disguised as a bear tried to compete with a human orchestra. The question is to look for alternatives each time more extravagant, someone commented. While we walked, returning to the campus, Castaneda spoke about a prospective trip to Argentina.
There a cycle is closed, he told us. To return to Argentina is very important for me. I’m still not sure when I can do it, but I will go. For now I have things to do here. Just in August three years of tasks will be accomplished, and it’s possible that then I might go.
That afternoon, Castaneda spoke to us a lot about Buenos Aires, about its streets, neighborhoods and sports clubs. He remembered nostalgically Florida Street with its elegant stores and the itinerant multitude. He was even reminded with precision of the famous street of cinemas. Lavalle Street, he said making memory.
Castaneda lived in Buenos Aires during his childhood. It seems he was enrolled in a downtown school. Of that era he remembers with sadness that it had been said that he was wider than he was tall words that when one is a child hurt a lot. I always looked with envy, he commented, on those Argentinians so tall and handsome.
You know that in Buenos Aires you always have to belong to some club, continued Castaneda. I was from Chacarita. To be from River Plate isn’t surprising, right? Chacarita, on the other hand, is always one of the last.
In those times, Chacarita always came out last. It was touching to see him identified with those who lose, with the ‘underdog.’
Surely La Gorda will come with me. She wants to travel. Clearly she wants to go to ‘Parice’, he declared. La Gorda buys now in Gucci, is elegant and wants to go to Paris. I always say to her, Gorda, why do you want to go to Paris? There there is nothing. She has a certain idea about Paris, ‘the city of light’ you know.
Many times that afternoon, La Gorda was named. With her, Castaneda brought us to an extraordinary person due to the fact that he, without a doubt, feels great respect and admiration for her. What would be the sense then, of all that circumstantial information that he gave us about her? I believe that with those commentaries, as well as those in which he referred to the way of eating and sleeping of the Toltecs, Castaneda tried to prevent us from forming a rigid image of what they are. The work that they are doing is very serious and their lives are austere, but they aren’t rigid nor can they be squeezed into the traditional norms of society. The important thing is to liberate oneself from schemes, not to replace them with others.
Castaneda gave us to understand that he hasn’t traveled much in Latin America, if you exclude Mexico. Lately I’ve only been in Venezuela, he said. As I’ve already told you, I have to go to Argentina soon. There a cycle is closed. After that I will be able to leave. Well. . . the truth is that I don’t know if I want to leave yet. His last words were said smilingly, Who doesn’t have things that hold him down.
He has traveled through Europe several times for business related to his books. In 1973, however, Don Juan sent me to Italy, he affirmed. My task consisted of going to Rome to obtain an audience with the Pope. I didn’t claim to obtain a private audience but one of those audiences which are conferred on groups of persons. All I had to do in the interview was to kiss the hand of the Supreme Pontiff.
Castaneda did everything that Don Juan had asked him. He went to Italy, arrived in Rome and asked for the audience. It was one of those Wednesday audiences, after which the Pope officiates at a public mass in the plaza of San Pedro. They did confer on me an audience but.. . I couldn’t go, he said. I didn’t even arrive at the door.
That afternoon, Castaneda referred several times to his family and to his typically liberal and frankly anticlerical background education. In The Second Ring of Power, Castaneda also makes reference to the anticlerical heritage that he received. Don Juan, who doesn’t seem to justify all his prejudices and battles against the Catholic Church, says: To conquer our own foolishness requires all our time and energy. This is the only thing that matters. The others lack consistency. Nothing that your grandfather and your father have said about the Church has made them happy. To be an impeccable warrior, on the other hand, will give you force, youth and power. Thus, the appropriate thing for you is to know how to choose. (p. 236) Castaneda didn’t theorize about these themes. With respect to the disjunctive ‘clericalism-anticlericalism’ he only wanted us to receive a teaching with the example of his experience. That is to say, he makes us understand that it is very difficult to break the schemes which have been formed in youth.