Cathy Meadows, M. A., Clinical Psychology
Carlos Castaneda, Con-Artist or Prophet?
He's been dead for years and his infamy continues to grow. He's been accused of academic misrepresentation, plagiarism, severe mental cruelty, lying about his background (age, homeland, military service, family), being a hoaxster, being a slut, and being an all-round disreputable individual.
On the other hand, he was deemed, "Godfather of the New Age," and "a compelling writer," who wrote "beautifully lucid books that had a narrative power unmatched in other anthropological studies" by Time Magazine, "one of the most profound and influential thinkers of the century," by Deepak Chopra, and a "neolithic sage" by Life Magazine. His admirers included John Lennon, William Burroughs, Federico Fellini and Jim Morrison.
Many people have worked tirelessly to debunk and destroy the Castaneda mystique including Richard DeMille ( son of the famous director), Weston Labarre (a foremost authority on Native American peyote ceremonies), Joyce Carol Oates, and even Time Magazine, who formally had nothing but praise for Castaneda, reversed itself calling him a liar and a "hoaxster." Many of Castaneda's own students have told tales of Castaneda's cruelty and abuse.
I wonder, probably as you do, how someone as spiritually enlightened as Castaneda seemed to be could have behaved in such a despicable manner? Then I remembered that Castaneda's spiritual mentor, Don Juan, often pointed out that Castaneda was slow, stupid, too egotistical, and an all-round, screwed up guy. Don Juan was very puzzled about why Spirit would select Carlos Castaneda to teach such sacred mysteries to. Why? Probably because Castaneda was chosen to be a messenger and nothing else. He was not a saint. His great gift was that he could convey tricky information in a way that could be understood by millions. Many spiritual teachers throughout history have come to us as communicators and nothing more.
Myself and millions of others who have read and re-read Castaneda's books, often for the pure entertainment value it, can tell you that while his stories about being a sorcerer's apprentice of a Yaqui Indian brujo named Don Juan may be fictional, the wisdom inherent in his books is real. Myself and many others who have experimented with the exercises described in the Castaneda books have had some genuine success. This success may be attributed to what I will call, the believability factor.
(I will define the believability factor as, the pivotal element needed to actualize desire, will, and imagination into reality. That is, whatever you believe is true will become true and, indeed, is true as soon as you believe it. If you and your grandfather truly believe, for example, that prayer will cure your grandfather, your grandfather has a better chance of recovering. If you believe you will be wealthy, you will become so, etc.)
Further, one of the arguments that Castaneda couldn't have been a sorcerer's apprentice to Don Juan is that he was incorrect about the geography. "There shouldn't have been any mountains where he said there were," etc. As far as I can see, when you're in a strange land at sunset or at night, as often was the case, and you're exhausted, your perceptions aren't always on target. Certain types and configurations of clouds could look like mountains, for example. Carlos, himself told a story about how he had stood up and found that he had mistaken a piece of cloth, blowing in the wind, for a strange and frightening animal in it's death throes. Further, his teacher, Don Juan, became upset with him for investigating the "strange and frightening animal," because he was trying to rattle Carlos into changing his perceptions. In fact, the whole story was about changing one's perceptions of the world, from beginning to end.
Another argument is that Castaneda had stolen ideas from truly spiritually, enlightened others in order to write a fantasy novel. In Castaneda's defense, there were many, many people during the 1960's who were writing spiritual books and I'm sure they all learned from each other. However, there's nothing that I have ever read on the subjects of magic, perception, and self-actualization that's been as successful in synthesizing heartfelt spirituality with hysterical humor, edge-of-your-seat suspense, and "just add water" instructions as Castaneda's books have.
After all, Jesus himself is famous for telling parables and stories which he used to convey knowledge and wisdom. For example, Jesus tells a story about meeting Satan in the mountains during a spiritual retreat during which time he fasted, meditated, and prayed. In Jesus' story, Satan magically transports them both to several different places, each one miles from the other, while trying to convince Jesus to join forces with him. Jesus had this vision under extreme physical and psychological stress, no doubt, and so the whole experience probably happened in a "separate reality."
Though he seems to come across as somewhat egotistical, Carlos Castaneda always reminded his students that it wasn't about him and that it was never about him. He didn't want people focusing on him, apparently. He always said that it was about the spiritual knowledge in his books and that everyone should be focusing on that. I don't doubt that he was a tad egotistical, or more, but I don't think it was as over-bearing as some others might think.
We will never really know if Carlos Castaneda really did experience what he claimed that he experienced in the Sonoran Deserts of Mexico and in the bus depot of Nogales, Arizona. For me, personally, Don Juan, Genero, Carlos, Pablito, Katrina, and all of the other characters in his books live on, and what they taught me is not an illusion. It is as real as you are, sitting there reading this blog, and that's a loaded statement.