“For me there is only the traveling on paths that have heart, on any path that may have heart, and the only worthwhile challenge is to traverse its full length–and there I travel looking, looking breathlessly.”
― Carlos Castaneda, The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge
Recently a name has kept on cropping up that takes me back several decades. There seems to be a resurgence of interest in the books of Carlos Castaneda, an intriguing figure who, with the unlikeliest of stories, managed to capture the imagination of a generation of spiritual seekers.
The first books to hit the shelves were written when he was an anthropology student. They purported to be true accounts of a meeting with Don Juan, a Yaqui Man of Knowledge of a lineage of Toltec Seers… and of the author’s training and subsequent journeying into ‘nonordinary reality’. Originally hailed as accurate and authentic, the veracity of these books has since been called into question and opinions are still divided, much as one would expect given the fantastic nature of the experiences recounted by Castaneda. His personal life too has come in for much criticism and speculation and that shadow hangs heavy over his work.
There appears to be an automatic connection between an artist’s way of life and the way we, as a society, value their works. Many much-loved artists, writers and musicians have fallen out of favour when their personal lives have hit the tabloids over the past few decades, although, place a century or two between the work and our sensibilities and we seem less ready to pass sweeping and dismissive judgements. I do not think that there is an automatic correlation between the value of art and the morality and veracity… or otherwise… of its creator. Writers of fiction are not castigated but applauded for invention and yet readers still learn from their books. Had Castaneda’s books been marketed as fiction, he might not have had the same publicity, but what made sense to his readers would still have made sense and changed their world view.
For me, it simply doesn’t matter what kid of man Castaneda was in his personal life or if the actual encounters and events were true or not; what matters is the way that reading those books made me think, feel and question a reality that appeared solidly set in the stone of normality. It matters not at all to me what they were supposed to teach, it matters only what I, personally, was able to learn through my experience and interaction with his words and the way those words opened a door into the world for me. Truth, in this sense, has nothing to do with fact. It is a personal perception.
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