Spirituality is universal. It couldn’t be any other way. 

What do I mean by this?

In reality, independent of cognitive labels, there is no split between the physical, psychological or spiritual worlds. When you look in your direct experience, you can never find a line distinguishing them. We only separate these domains for the sake of communication and scientific investigation. 

Why, however, is this important to point out? Well, because religions and belief systems are simply pointers from apparent mental and physical worlds to the spirit world. 

To say that one tradition has the answer is an oxymoron, the answer lies outside of tradition. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that each tradition has its own unique way of explaining things, and different ideas will connect with different people. 

My mother was raised a catholic and my father Jewish. I was raised an atheist – but later turned to Buddhism, before becoming interested in Yoga and Advaita Vedanta in search of something more. Ultimately, however, no teaching was more believable than actual experience. 

Along the way I’ve explored Christian mysticism, Sufism, and even neo-shamanism. One of the most well known neo-shamanistic writers was a Peruvian-American who draws inspiration from the ancient Toltec culture of Hidalgo, Mexico. I have spent years in both Mexico and Peru respectively, and I can tell you that their cultures – both modern and traditional, vary greatly. Make no mistake, he was not born into the tradition he introduced to the world.

Born on Christmas day, 1925, in Cajamarca Peru, Carlos Castaneda went on to study a PhD in anthropology at the University of California Los Angeles. In the early 1960s, his work as an anthropologist took him to Arizona, where he met Don Juan Matus, a shaman who was shrouded in mystery and promise. After a series of initiation ritual of sorts, whereby Castaneda was supposedly introduced to a series of hallucinogens, he returned to Los Angeles and wrote his first book The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge. 

Published in 1968, the book was well-received by the Californian counterculture of the time, and spurred two further works; A Separate Reality: Further Conversations with Don Juan (1971) and Journey to Ixtlan: The Lessons of Don Juan (1972). Castaneda was reclusive, despite the fact he developed a degree of fame and unintentionally became a figurehead for the new age movement. 

His books have been translated into seventeen languages, and are still well known, now 50 years later. Admittedly though, they have not been without controversy. The three books have been criticised for appropriating the shamanistic cultures from which he drew his ideas. It’s a valid criticism, it should be made clear that his books are one academics modern interpretation of Toltec spirituality. He doesn’t speak for their culture. Also, though Castenada had a PhD in anthropology and his first books were initially taken to be works of non-fiction, they are now largely regarded as works of fiction. 

However, none of this takes away from the value of the ideas presented in his work. 

As you will see below, from wherever you are reading this article, his words often still resonate over half a century after they were written. Ideas will always be just that, ideas. If, however, they can point you towards something important, then they are valid. 

Whenever wisdom is repackaged form the modern age it becomes stripped of some of the authentic culture presented in their original form, and even to some sense diluted. This is clearly what has happened with mindfulness when Jon Kabat-Zinn brought it over from Buddhism to Western Medicine. 

So without further ado, here are;

25 Carlos Castaneda Quotes To Awaken Your Inner Shaman

Death & Spirit

“In a world where death is the hunter, my friend, there is no time for regrets or doubts. There is only time for decisions.”

“Death is the only wise advisor that we have. Whenever you feel, as you always do, that everything is going wrong and you’re about to be annihilated, turn to your death and ask if that is so. Your death will tell you that you’re wrong; that nothing really matters outside its touch. Your death will tell you, ‘I haven’t touched you yet.”

“We hardly ever realize that we can cut anything out of our lives, anytime, in the blink of an eye.”

“Malicious acts are performed by people for personal gain … Sorcerers, though, have an ulterior purpose for their acts, which has nothing to do with personal gain. The fact that they enjoy their acts does not count as gain. Rather, it is a condition of their character. The average man acts only if there is a chance for profit. Warriors say they act not for profit but for the spirit.”

Many shamanic traditions have a different attitude towards death and spirit than modern culture. Though specific beliefs vary between cultures, there is commonly a ritualistic partaking in some form of acted death – such as psychedelics or long periods dancing or in a fasted state. Like many esoteric traditions, spirit is something that is more fundamental than the body, and therefore the death of the body is not feared, as it is simply a natural process of the essence returning to the earth. Castaneda often talked of ‘The Warrior’ and contrasted this to ‘The Normal Man’ – a warrior is someone who has seen the truth of spirit, and as a result, does not fear death.

Dreaming & Awakening

“Once it has learned to dream the double, the self arrives at this weird crossroad and a moment comes when one realizes that it is the double who dreams the self.”

“Forget the self and you will fear nothing, in whatever level or awareness you find yourself to be.”

“Through dreaming we can perceive other worlds, which we can certainly describe, but we can’t describe what makes us perceive them.”

“The average man is hooked to his fellow men, while the warrior is hooked only to infinity.”

“What makes us unhappy is to want. Yet if we would learn to cut our wants to nothing, the smallest thing we’d get would be a true gift.”

“Beware of those who weep with realization, for they have realized nothing.”

“There is no beginning, the beginning is only in your thought.”

“Don Juan had always said to me that our great enemy is the fact that we never believe what is happening to us.”

Dreaming and Awakening are often to domains and metaphors that are used to examine the nature of experience and question our assumptions about reality. In 1993 Castaneda wrote a book called The Art of Dreaming, which explained the process of lucid dreaming and its application in spiritual endeavours. Lucid dreaming has been used for thousands of years as a spiritual practice, most notably in Tibetan Dream Yoga. Don Juan Matus’ approach to dreaming, as described by Castaneda, takes the dreamer through 7 gates which are obstacles to pure awareness. 

Intention & Emotion

“To worry is to become accessible, unwittingly accessible. And once you worry you cling to anything out of desperation; and once you cling you are bound to get exhausted or to exhaust whoever or whatever you are clinging to.”

“A warrior takes his lot, whatever it may be, and accepts it in ultimate humbleness. He accepts in humbleness what he is, not as a grounds for regret but as a living challenge.”

“The trick is in what one emphasises. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves happy. The amount of work is the same.”

“A man goes to knowledge as he goes to war, wide awake, with fear, with respect, and with absolute assurance.”

“Once you decide something put all your petty fears away. Your decision should vanquish them.”

“Think about it: what weakens us is feeling offended by the deeds and misdeeds of our fellow men. Our self-importance requires that we spend most of our lives offended by someone.”

“I have no routines or personal history. One day I found out that they were no longer necessary for me and, like drinking, I dropped them. One must have the desire to drop them and then one must proceed harmoniously to chop them off, little by little.”

“…only if they remain totally detached can they have the energy to be free. Theirs is a particular type of detachment which is born not out of fear or indolence, but out of conviction.”

Like many psychological systems throughout human history, Castenada emphasised intention and its impact on our emotions. This intention meant the literal emotional intention, such as trying to think positive thoughts, but it was also a broader way of engaging with life. Notably, he had a very controlled and strict diet and believed that what you eat was a direct reflection of mental content. “Si comes mal, te sientes mal y ves todo mal” he told one reporter – meaning “If you eat bad, you’ll feel bad and see everything negatively.”

Life

“A path is only a path, and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you . . . Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself alone, one question . . . Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t it is of no use.”

“A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting.”

“The basic difference between an ordinary man and a warrior is that a warrior takes everything as a challenge while an ordinary man takes everything as a blessing or a curse.”

“The art of a warrior is to balance the terror of being a man with the wonder of being a man.”

“You say you need help. Help for what? You have everything needed for the extravagant journey that is your life.”

Life, from Castaneda’s perspective, was something that was both eerily short and vastly expansive. This is because the shaman lives from a place of connectedness with the absolute, and radical honesty with his humanity. The human experience of life is brief and is to be lived as such. Fear is put aside and challenges are confronted head-on, the senses are to be enjoyed but not to the point of hedonism. Level Headedness is what guides the warrior.

Ben Fishel

Ben is an author and the creator of Project Monkey Mind, a blog that looks at Psychology and Spirituality to find practical wisdom for the digital age. He has background in neuroscience and psychology.

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