Search Results for Castanada
Carlos Castanada (1925-1998) was a Peruvian born anthropologist and author who immigrated to California hoping to attain an academic career.
For his master thesis, he published the book The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge (1968).
The book was promoted as an anthropological account of Castanada’s encounter with a wise, benevolent Yaqui sorcerer in Mexico. It sold very well and Castanada continued with a series of best-sellers, all making the same claim of authenticity.
Critics of Castanada’s work point out that he took no real field notes and is elusive about his past, suggesting that his books are cleverly crafted fiction.
Whether they be fictional, embellished facts, or factual, these widely acclaimed stories outline a belief in interactive fields of reality. In the broadest sense these fields could be differentiated as ordinary and non-ordinary worlds, or as Mircea Eliade put it, mundane and supramundane realities.
But Don Juan’s teachings involve more than a simple “this or that” cosmology. Schematically, his vision is not unlike the mathematical fractal. The sorcerer is said to control interactive fields of power. Accordingly, he or she may exert influence from one power region to another to bring about an ethically good outcome.
An apparent physical illness, for instance, could be healed by inwardly perceiving spiritual disturbances or fields that are interacting with a patient’s bodily organs. Don Juan claimed that, by focusing awareness and exerting the will, the sorcerer can correct a seemingly isolated physical disturbance.
This is now called distance healing. And in Don Juan’s story, distance healing could be a single or complex, multi-layered event.
This approach might seem fanciful to some, but semiotics wedded to subatomic physics seems to point in a similar direction. Leading physicists and modern science writers say that matter and energy are two humanly constructed concepts. As such, the ideas of matter and energy apparently represent two forms of one underlying essence.
Interestingly, Castanada criticized the beatnik, drug guru Timothy Leary for suggesting that psychotropic drugs, alone, could cure. For Castanada, ingesting drugs was only an initial step in a complicated inner journey requiring a great deal of prolonged training and personal discipline.
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Mircea Eliade (1907-1986) was a Romanian scholar, fluent in eight languages, who authored seminal works on the history of world religions and mythology. He is perhaps best known for his studies on shamanism, yoga, and alchemy. Eliade also edited the multi-volume Encyclopedia of Religion. And The Eliade Guide to World Religions (1991) offers a concise summary of his scholarly publications.
While some critics of Eliade’s work say it’s overly selective, it’s difficult to find a researcher who isn’t selective. Critics also say that Eliade superimposes grand theory on his research data. This seems a more reasonable charge, but the inevitability of subjectivity arguably lessens the impact of this criticism.
Eliade also wrote works of fiction, saying that he had no choice when the artistic muse struck him. He simply had to follow, alternating between the international scholar and budding author. With this kind of outlook it’s not surprising that Eliade was on good terms with C. G. Jung, Joseph Campbell and others of like mind.
Eliade’s scholarly views, however, sometimes differed from those of Jung and Campbell, a fact that he handled quite diplomatically, always politely disagreeing and never alienating them within the scholarly circle that met annually at the Switzerland Eranos conferences.
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In her book Illness as Metaphor (1978), Susan Sontag argued, not unlike Michel Foucault, that contemporary ways of approaching and understanding illness are intricately linked to societal norms. Huston Smith, in Beyond the Postmodern Mind (1982), also contends that current views about illness are culture-bound.
Other cultures, particularly those located in different historical periods, would probably regard as abnormal some contemporary beliefs, ideas and practices which many today see as normal.
This kind of argument is often used in relation to mental illness (and an inverse argument is often used with regard to homosexuality and polygamy¹), but Sontag (and Foucault) point out that it also applies to physical illness.
As with mental illness, bias with physical illness is evident in the way the issue is construed—i.e. the apparent causes, the best course of treatment, and what an illness supposedly signifies about a sick person’s moral character.
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¹ That is, other cultures, particularly those located in different historical periods, would probably regard as normal some contemporary beliefs, ideas and practices which many today see as abnormal. For instance, many in the ancient world believed that illness was caused by spiritual attack. Today, this belief would probably be uncritically dismissed by medical science.
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Timothy Leary (1920-1996) was an American psychologist who believed that mind-altering substances such as THC and LSD facilitated self-discovery.
Leary’s ideas remain controversial, not only because he advocated what in many countries is illegal, but also because an increasing body of scientific research suggests that street drugs can be deleterious to users’ physical, psychological and spiritual health.
The Christian scholar J.N.D. Anderson questions whether the experiential quality, orientation and commitment of drug induced mysticism are equal to those of the sincere seeker who aims to know and serve God, and in so doing, encounters grace without chemical intervention or, for that matter, direct personal effort.¹
Some minority groups claim that drugs like THC, if taken ‘responsibly,’ are liberating and therapeutic. But the vast majority of people see illegal drugs as debilitating and enslaving.
Another perspective deconstructs the issue by noting that alcohol was once prohibited but is now legal.
Meanwhile, medical watchdog groups and organizations critical of allopathic medicine say that some legal medications have serious long-term side effects that can be harmful to patients’ health. Tom Cruise, representing the views of the Church of Scientology, has taken an extreme position in this controversy with regard to psychiatric medications, one not necessarily reflecting the varying needs of different individuals over the course of a lifetime.
These contemporary issues about the safety and efficacy of so-called ‘drugs’ and ‘medications’ aside, Leary’s popularity among the hippies of the late 1960′s is attested in the Moody Blues song “Legend of a Mind” (1968):
He’ll fly his astral plane.
He’ll take you trips around the bay.
He’ll bring you back the same day.
¹ See J. N. D. Anderson, Christianity and Comparative Religion, The Tyndale Press: 1970, pp. 20-26. Of course, one could argue that praying the Rosary, for instance, is a technique and therefore an “effort” to attract graces. And other Christians, especially fundamentalists, ask God to “cover them” with Jesus’ “precious blood” in order to be washed of their sins, just as most Christians invoke the “Holy Spirit” to come and shower them with grace. So although many uphold Christianity as a religion where grace comes without any special effort, this might seem a bit misleading. However, the Christian asks, whereas some conjurers may command spirits to protect or assist them–spirits which they believe are essentially under their personal control. Moreover, some meditators say that once they achieve a certain level of awareness, their meditative technique – be it a mantra, the development of inner silence or assuming bodily postures – will undoubtedly lead to mystical experience. By way of contrast, Christians hope for assistance but never command nor expect with certainty, for this kind of attitude is anathema to having a humble relationship with God who created them. In a nutshell, a sincere Christian would never claim to be able to control or have mastery over God’s supernatural graces. And that’s why it’s so distasteful to them when some New Age enthusiasts use the term “Christ Consciousness” as if to imply that, by perhaps listening to a mediation CD or through some other store-bought technique, one can definitively turn on God’s grace like water from a tap.
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One definition of the word spirit points to an incorporeal being which may not be seen, as compared to a ‘ghost’ which allegedly is seen by a living person.
Spirit has several other meanings, such as an animating or vital force within life, the soul or some some kind of invisible force or presence that permeates the created universe.
Spirit arguably becomes an ambiguous concept if assessed merely from a conceptual level of analysis.
Many New Age thinkers, for instance, equate the notion of spirit with that of matter/energy. This is a dubious analog when we consider Rudolf Otto and C. G. Jung‘s treatment of the term numinosity and, moreover, the Christian understanding of The Holy Spirit.
It almost seems as if those who haven’t experienced any difference between the perception of matter/energy and spirit tend to automatically equate the two, just as one might equate any seemingly similar variables without having had a significantly direct experience of them.
By way of analogy, if one had never drunk white wine they might look at its color, recognize it as a liquid and say white wine is equivalent to apple juice or perhaps urine. And so it is, many mystics content, with the experience of spirit. Those who know, they claim, realize that spirit’s character may vary significantly, not only because spirit is passing through psychological and cultural filters, but also because of the differences inherent to spirit itself.
Since the experience of ‘the spirit’ may be associated with a ‘particular spirit,’ as in the opening definition, we have the notion of ‘pure and impure,’ ‘holy and unholy,’ ‘good and evil’ spirits, along with their respective abilities to influence human beings for good or ill.
This tremendous diversity as to the meaning of spirit is not just found in Christianity but in most world religions. But again, some well-meaning but arguably unknowing individuals tend to simplify this diversity by making unsupportable claims, as did Sri Ramakrishna, that all paths involve the same type of spirit, lead to the same place, and so on.
This may have been Ramakrishna’s belief when dabbling in different religions from his master perspective of Hinduism but it certainly isn’t everyone’s.
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