Castaneda’s A separate reality


Ozodi Osuji

     Two days ago, I began reading Carlos Castaneda’s book (1971), A separate Reality, New York: Pocket books, 262 pages. I just got done reading it. I was so impressed by it that I was going to write a review of it and encourage folks to read it. To do so, I wanted to know what other people have said about it. I googled it and learned that there is a controversy as to whether the book was a true anthropological study, as the author claimed, or a mere work of fiction.

     Carlos, attended UCLA and studied anthropology, said that the book is a field work that he conducted between 1961 and 1969, among the Yaqui Indians of Mexico, and a study of one of their sorcerers, or as today we would say, a shaman. He was awarded a PhD for that supposed study by UCLA.

     Investigation did not show that he ever lived with the Yaqui Indians and did a study of them and that there was no evidence that a Yaqui traditional healer called Don Juan existed. Thus, folks felt that the book, a runaway best seller in the 1970s, was made up, was pure fiction, is from the imagination of Carlos Castaneda (1925-1998), a Peruvian turned American citizen.

      I am not able to ascertain whether the book is fiction or not, nor do I want to wade into that controversy. All that I can tell you is that the book reads like a work of art, not written by a mere scholar; by that I mean that his language is artistic, something you find in gifted writers not in social scientists and physical scientists. I am a social scientist; my language is not artistic, I use language to express ideas, but my language does not have the music and cadence of gifted writers, such as Carlos’s writing has. Appreciating the musical cadence in his writing, I wondered if an uneducated Yaqui Indian would express his self in such lovely language; I also suspected that given what I know about the USA and the various classes of people that it would be exceedingly difficult to find uneducated Americans and Mexicans who have the profound knowledge of philosophy and metaphysics that Don Juan exhibited. The man’s level of knowledge is at the level seen in the best Western philosophers, such as Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and others.

      Someone said that forty-seven pages of it were lifted from Ludwig Wittgenstein’s philosophy (Tractatus). I do not know whether that accusation is true or false. All I know is that the book contains profound insights into human nature. If you follow my writing, you would have appreciated that I am trying to distinguish between normal perception, spiritual perception and knowledge. That is exactly what the book did.

      It called normal perception, the way you and I see things, empiricism, looking; it called seeing what Helen Schucman and I call spiritual seeing, aka Christ vision, a type of seeing that overlooks what you see people do and see them in light forms, seeing. From that improved spiritual sight, aka purified seeing you enter the world of knowledge, the world of God that is beyond words and it is silly trying to explain it in words; suffice it to say that when we have improved our seeing we are able to have insights into people and being.

     For example, if you are a Black person, you probably see white folks as racists. In your perception you magnify them to mount Everett size and see them as great obstacles to your life. Now, see them differently, forgive them their racism and what do you see? You see them in light forms!

     That is correct, if you forgive people, black and white, you see them with purified vision and the people that hitherto did wrong to you now look like the sons of God in light forms. I speak from experience here because racism made me want to kill all white people but when I forgave them, I recognized that they are just children that I need to help learn that love is who we are and therefore love all people rather than discriminate against people.

      There is a purified world, what Catholics call purgatory, what John in Revelation called the New Jerusalem and new man, what I call the world of light forms and Hinduism calls the astral world. Physicists these days posit multiverse; there is no reason why one of them could not be the universe of light forms and one the formless, joined universe, aka heaven.

      Don Juan did try to clarify the difference between looking and seeing and did an excellent job of doing so. As in my philosophy, he understands that the physical universe does not exist. That is true; where you see the universe of space, time and matter is nothing. Nothingness exists; we are all made up images given solid forms.

     The danger you see confronting you seem insurmountable but try to forgive the person who you believe caused it and you see it transformed to nothing, in Don Juan’s language, to a gnat, and you can get around it.

      The ego and its separation are our only problem; we have false self-concepts called our ego separated selves; our egos show us a world that does not exist, and we struggle to cope with the exigencies of that world; some people, through fortuitous experience, learn that the ego and its world are nonexistent and from it no longer take our world seriously.

       I do not take me and our world seriously; I know that it is one huge nothing and has no importance and from that awareness I experience peace. I know that all things, at the spiritual level, are joined; joining is love; in God we are all formless joined spiritual light, in that union we are eternal; nothing done to us on earth has permanent effect on us, for they were done as in a dream.

     Don Juan and his writer, Carlos Castaneda, have awareness of this truth that Aldous Huxley called the perennial wisdom of humankind, and for that reason alone, the book and others written by Castaneda, are worth reading regardless of whether they are works of fiction or actual anthropological studies.

Ozodi Osuji, PhD (UCLA)

April 13, 2022

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