Carlos Castaneda: Death is the Benefactor

“Vom Tode und nur vom Tode fängt alles Erkennen an.” — Schiller

(Roughly translated, “The presence of Death is the beginning of all knowledge.”)

Last year I was in Vancouver, and, as is my custom while there, I visited some of the antiquarian bookstores. In one I found a Buddhist book by Judith Lief entitled Making Friends With Death: A Buddhist Guide to Encountering Mortality, which I purchased (much to my mother’s horror when I showed her my find). I have yet to read it (you can read a brief excerpt here), but I was drawn to the book by the title which reminded me so much also of don Juan’s attempt to teach Castaneda to accept death as a friend, a teacher, and a benefactor.

To “die to oneself daily” is even an instruction in the New Testament to those who would follow “the Way, the Truth, and the Life”. It has been trivialised and made petty as “born again” fundamentalism, which is just another evasion of the ever-present immanence of our death — our situation as Nietzsche’s tight-rope walker over the abyss in Zarathustra, or his image of the dancer on black ice. Yet in our supposedly “Christian” influenced culture and society the unpleasantness of reflecting upon our personal mortality led Ernst Becker to write an important book called The Denial of Death as a social critique of our society’s inability by such denial to attain full freedom, adulthood, consciousness, and a mature and fulfilling attitude towards life and experience of the fullness and wholeness of all life.

No one who seeks freedom, truth, self-transcendence, self-overcoming, transfiguration, metamorphosis and metanoia can avoid the issue of personal mortality. Familiarity with death is the beginning of all wisdom. It is for that reason that the very first step don Juan took in guiding Castaneda upon the path of knowledge and into the new shaman’s cognition was to have him meditate constantly on the immanence of his own death, and to recognise and attune his ear towards death as a warrior’s most valuable teacher, counselor, and benefactor, as well as a strategy for overcoming the “first enemy of the man of knowledge” — fear.

“Vom Tode und nur vom Tode fängt alles Erkennen an”  means also, no awareness without the recognition of death, the experience of the abiding presence of one’s death, and the power that is bestowed by the touch of death. No new life and vitality can enter the days of our lives without a prior death — to become nothing except “dust on the wind” or Shakespeare’s “brief candle”. Old growth always suffocates the possibilities of new and renewed life.

Recognising that we are all creatures on our way to dying sets up the parameters for the cultivation and discipline of the warrior’s spirit and the new cognition or metanoia. It cuts through all the pettiness and triviality of human behaviour and thought as well as being the essential condition for realising common empathy or compassion. The true equality of all living beings was no mere Enlightenment abstract value or idea for don Juan. Equality was the heart-felt acknowledgement that all living beings share the same fate — we are all beings on our way to death. Death makes a human being equal to a plant or an ant or, for that matter, a planet or a star. Death teaches humility and the vanity of all self-importance — our transience, our impermanence, and our nothingness.

It is Nietzsche’s incinerating stare into the abyss. “When you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back into you”. That is a poignant description of Nietzsche’s own experience of his own mortality and of the shared tragedy of physical life faced by all living creatures. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. When Nietzsche-Zarathustra carries his own ashes up the mountain for a ten-year’s sojourn in the wilderness, one must understand this about Nietzsche and his philosophy. He had experienced the touch of death. This is what gives Nietzsche’s subsequent philosophy such potency. It has been touched by death. And yet Nietzsche managed to escape becoming merely morbid. He became, instead, a joyous “free spirit”.

Death, in other words, is the infinite. It is the loss of all boundaries and definitions. Rumi (and Buddhism too) call it “emptiness”. It is the dissolution and disintegration of the human form, but which is an essential transformation and restructuration. The infinite is what you are, but there is no escaping the fact that the loss of personal definition that is death is at the same time a loss of a fixed form, rigid outline, border, and boundary that Blake calls “the Selfhood”. One becomes this infinity or abyss oneself — death being a movement beyond the boundaries of oneself and beyond all definition of “the human form” or “the human mold”. Becoming infinite or no-thing, one becomes All, which Buddhism calls “the Ultimate Truth”.

Essence is emptiness.
Everything else accidental.
Emptiness brings peace to your loving.
Everything else, disease.
In this world of trickery emptiness
is what your soul wants. — Rumi

Emptiness is, nonetheless, death. And yet, the strange paradox of it is this — that in dying to oneself into this Emptiness or Nothingness, one also becomes All. And that is what Castaneda also experienced in his “leap into the abyss”, for the man called Carlos Castaneda definitely died in that leap. He expanded beyond the boundaries of himself, well beyond the “common sense” definition of what is “man”.

Seth has a subtly interesting imaginative practice which is, in some ways, the equivalent of this “leap into the abyss”. In Seth Speaks, he recommends imagining one’s consciousness expanding to fill the entire cosmos, which is infinity. That sly devil (affectionately) is actually encouraging the reader to surrender to personal death and dissolution just as don Juan tried to teach Castaneda directly. For to become “one with the cosmos”, to hurl oneself into the abyss in this way, is to surrender to infinity, to acquiesce to death, and death is the loss of definition, outline, boundary, or form. But here is what Rumi experienced when he accomplished this “emptiness” or nothingness and gave up the boundaries and denied all definition of himself.

Say, I Am You

I am dust particles in sunlight.
I am the round sun.

To the bits of dust I say, Stay.
To the sun, Keep moving.

I am morning mist,
and the breathing of evening.

I am wind in the top of a grove,
and surf on the cliff.

Mast, rudder, helmsman, and keel,
I am also the coral reef they founder on.

I am a tree with a trained parrot in its branches.
Silence, thought, and voice.

The musical air coming through a flute,
a spark of stone, a flickering in metal.

Both candle and the moth crazy around it.
Rose, and the nightingale lost in the fragrance.

I am all orders of being, the circling galaxy,
the evolutionary intelligence, the lift, and the falling away.

What is, and what isn’t.

You who know, Jelaluddin,
You the one in all, say who I am.
Say I am you.

6 responses to “Carlos Castaneda: Death is the Benefactor”

  1. amothman33 says :

    Alfina is the tool of the sufi to taste death.Death is our door to infinity. the unification of the I with you. The meaning of the Iam that negates everything where wilful death and natural death are equated.Mohammad mantra..make me light inorder to merge in the LIGHT, the light of the above and the below. Cultural exchange is the way for the new human civilisation, away from all types of separation.

    • CSWIFT says :

      Castañeda Writer faceless

      Admirers of Carlos Castañeda wonder how much truth about his mysterious death . But despite Castaneda’s obsessive pursuit of complete anonymity , he refused to be photographed or recorded and almost never gave interviews , he gained international fame , and books continue to sell well after their fashion passed. In recent years , he emerged with a new vision , the teaching of Tensegrity , which is described in Cleargreen site as “a modernized version of some movements called magical passes developed by Indian shamans who lived in Mexico in times prior to the Spanish conquest . ” he even made public appearances and spoke at seminars that promote the work .

      Unknown to customers just for the seminars that cost $ 600 and more – Castaneda was dying of cancer while describing his route to vibrant good health, perhaps one of their shamanic journeys or even a future of deception that would happen to you . Indeed , although only his inner circle knew about it , he died on April 27 at his home in Westwood , a section of well -to-do Los Angeles , where he lived for many years with some of the self – described witches , stalkers , dreamers and spiritual seekers who shared his work .

      Invariably described as a flawless person who kept his affairs in perfect order , Castaneda apparently signed the will on April 23 , and then strangely died at 3 am on April 27 , ie four days later where his death certificate said mortis causa ” metabolic encephalopathy , a neurological breakdown” that followed two weeks of liver failure and 10 months of cancer. Something very strange , because the signature is partially obscured , and his son CJ Castaneda and his mother , Margaret Castaneda , say that does not look like the signature Castaneda .

      He was cremated within hours of his death . His death was kept secret for more than two months until the word was leaked and confirmed by their representatives , who said the death was kept quiet in line with the pursuit of lifelong Castaneda privacy .

      His will cited assets of $ 1 million , a modest number for an author who has sold so well and apparently lived simply. All their goods were delivered to the Eagle Trust , created while the will . It is unclear how much additional assets had been placed in the trust , but a London newspaper recently estimated its assets at $ 20 milhões.Ao it seems to some of his fans and the author pesquyisadores simulated perópria his death and disappeared as the their shamanic writings and now lives in Mexico or by some track raised by his followers in Brazil , in the same place from where he left to study at UCLA in North America . Apparently today writes under the pseudonym C.S.Scriblerius known as writings faceless . author misterioso Percyfaw Code and MAGICAL MYSTERY TRAVEL,

      • Scott Preston says :

        Castaneda did publicly reveal his liver disease, apparently, in a peculiar interview he gave to an Argentinian journalist named Graciela Corvalan. There’s a peculiar response Castaneda gave to a question Corvalan put to him,

        To break that perceptive arc isn’t an easy task; it could take years. The difficulty with me, he affirmed laughing, is that I am very pigheaded. Quite unwillingly I went on learning: For this reason, in my case, Don Juan had to use drugs…and so I ended up…with my liver in the stream!

        Here, Castaneda seems to be suggesting that his liver disease was a direct result of the powerful drugs given to him by don Juan. Castaneda is actually quite consistent on this point. As he only learned later (as revealed much later in his books) the drugs were unnecessary and not essential to the teachings. But in his case he was so “pig-headed” (as he puts it here), that don Juan felt his narcissism/egotism needed to be “blasted”, drawing an analogy between the drugs and dynamite. Some of those drugs seemed to be quite potent and dangerous, far more potent and dangerous than the typical psychotropics taken in normal native religious ceremonies (like peyote).

  2. LittleBigMan says :

    Very insightful comments, citations, quotes, and poems. It feels like being a kid in the candy store — or to fit that expression to my own taste — like being a kid in an icecream store 🙂

    To the bits of dust I say, Stay.
    To the Sun, Keep moving.

    An excellent portrayal and celebration of “the loss of all boundaries and definitions”.

    The excerpt from Judith Lief’s book was profound and filled with truth and meaning; especially her writings from pages 20 and 21 (the last two pages):

    “instead of covering them over and living in fear, we could make friends with the constant transitions that mark our lives from beginning to end, with no interruptions whatsoever. In effect, we are learning to accept death as our constant companion in life.”

    I remember don Juan advising Carlos Castaneda to (and I’m paraphrasing): “make friends with death.” Although, I always understood the instruction as don Juan’s reminder to Castaneda that he should always be mindful of his mortality, this is the first time that I have begun to understand it as the importance of being aware of all points of transition during the course of life itself. In fact, what Judith Lief states in her book, has been symbolized before my eyes innumerable times within life itself. I cannot count the number of times a point of transition in my life was also the source of some sort of awakening or radical change. In fact, it was after moving from one state to another and changing from one field of study to another that I also stumbled on The Guardian’s CIF and eventually The Dark Age Blog, the two forums which, in conjunction, revolutionized my inner world.

    So much calm and peace has been created in my inner life — many misconceptions dispelled and ignorant thoughts crushed — due to stumbling on and reading pieces and comments in The Guardian and The Dark Age Blog. I believe that the peace and calm I enjoy in my outer life today is related to this calm and peace that was created in my linner life before it.

    Judith Lief again writes:

    “Choose a twenty-four-hour period in which to pay attention to transitions……Notice the process of falling asleep and the flickering between consciousness and unconsciousness as you approach the transition from being awake one moment to being asleep the next.”

    It was no more than a few months ago that I first began to take notice of the moment prior to when I fall asleep. I had had a very tiring day and night and it was way past midnight before I got home and could go to bed sometime around 2:00am. But I couldn’t fall asleep. After more than a couple of hours of tossing and turning, I think it was about 4:30am, when a sensation of complete and irreversible relaxation came over me and moments later my eyes closed and I fell asleep. After that night, I puzzled over the sensation and wondered that of all the things I had thought about throughout my life, I had never — not until that very moment — taken notice of the immediate seconds before falling asleep every night. A few times since then, I have instructed myself to keep track of the sensation that overtakes me right before asleep and the result has always been that “flickering between consciousness and unconsciousness” that I feel as a sensation of complete and irreversible relaxation. The seconds prior to falling asleep are truly remarkable when we focus our attention on it. It’s a sensation unlike what I experience throughout my day-to-day living.

    Judith Lief also says: “Notice the gaps in your experience, when you seem to blank out.”

    One time, at some point during the drive toward my destination, this happened and I blanked out. It was some 2 miles later, when I was closing in on my destination that I came back to myself and began noticing the roadway, traffic lights, and cars going by again. I’m still at awe as to how on earth I had been able to go through all those many traffic lighs and lots and lots of stop and go situations through the dense city traffic without recalling a thing I saw or did through that distance and without making an accident. And I was driving a stick at the time!

    Once again from Judith Lief’s book:

    “Pay attention to your inner world as well, the shifts of thoughts, emotions, and moods, as they come and go……………Try to maintain your awareness through each transition.”

    Exactly. And it just struck me, as I’m typing, why ‘relationships’ are so important in developing and expanding our consciousness. Through our relationships we deal with and learn quite a bit with thoughts, emotions, and moods, “as they come and go,” and as a result we learn quite a bit about this inner world.

    • Scott Preston says :

      I don’t know if you caught my reply comment to srosesmith earlier about the series on YouTube entitled “The Holographic Universe”. It is actually a 5 part series, each episode being a couple of hours long, so it’s quite lengthy. I just finished viewing Part 2. Have a look. I think you’ll find that the ideas presented tie together the Seth Material with Castaneda, as well as reminding me in some places of Nietzsche (Part 2 is very suggestive of Nietzsche. You might see the connection after reading the section called “The Despisers of the Body” in Zarathustra at

      Part 1 of 5 begins here

  3. LittleBigMan says :

    Yes, I noticed the comment by srosesmith and your reply to her, and I have been watching Part 1 of the Holographic Universe since Friday. I have seen about 45 minutes of Part 1 so far and it has been absolutely fascinating. I intend to watch and rewatch all 5 parts. Even now and not having finished wacthing part 1 yet, no documentary has taught me more about quantum mechanics and its implications about how we understand the true nature of reality. Thank you ad infinitum 🙂

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