To Part II of the Victor Sanchez Interview
To the Enlightenment.com review of Victor Sanchez's first book,
The Teachings of Don Carlos.
An Enlightenment Interview with
Victor Sanchez, Part I
[Jordan Gruber conducted this interview with Victor Sanchez on September 17, 1998, in a Hilton Hotel lobby in downtown San Francisco. Sanchez has written two books, The Teachings of Don Carlos, which is reviewed elsewhere in Enlightenment.Com, and the newerToltecs of the New Millennium. The following interview was, in part, undertaken for GNOSIS Magazine.
Castaneda: Myth, Man, & Gratitude
The Seminar Problem
The Wisdom of the Toltecs
The Great Powers are in All Places
Creating Our Own Practices
Energy, Connection, & Freedom
Castaneda: Myth, Man, & Gratitude
E.com: Let's talk a little about Castaneda, something everyone is interested in.
Sanchez: Go ahead.
E.com: Your goals are very different than Castaneda's in some ways. He seemed very interested in a kind of immortality, being able to "run around the Eagle."
You seem more interested in helping people to generally get more freedom and in also supporting the native peoples and the Toltecs in continuing their traditions. He seemed so focused on immortality for his little group, and you seem to have a much broader perspective. Is that true?
Sanchez: You are describing it so well I don't know what I would add. One of the basic differences is that the Toltec knowledge includes as many people as possible; every little being, everything we relate to, should be included in what we are doing, in the sense that we are all connected with the rest of the people and things living around us.
In this sense, Castaneda's proposals seem to me very restricted. When you get to the point when there is a single group of maybe 16 people led by a Nagual, who are undertaking the task of looking for freedom, you are talking about something that is really far from what ordinary people are living.
This is the case for the latest doings and books of Carlos Castaneda, but in the earlier books the proposals were more open, there was more of the presence of the indigenous feeling. In the latest books, it was difficult to connect or be present with the experience of the indigenous people. It was more like intellectual proposals, something really, really, abstract.
E.com: Let me ask you a few questions about Castaneda's death. When they printed the picture of Castaneda in the San Jose Mercury News and Los Angeles Times, they printed the wrong picture. It wasn't him; it was completely somebody else. I thought that was very funny: Castaneda continuing to have his way about not having his picture taken, even after he died. It was amazing that he arranged that.
Sanchez: He had his style, and he tried to keep expressing his style at most times. It doesn't surprise me.
E.com: This was just in the New York Times [showing picture]. Is this Carlos Castaneda's picture?
Sanchez: Yes, sure. This is the picture from the book of Castaneda's wife. Certainly this is Carlos Castaneda.
E.com: What do you think of the claims of C.J. Castaneda that ClearGreen had a cult-like influence over him and had made him change his will and these sorts of claims? Have you read all about that?
Sanchez: I have read a little bit. I do not have first-hand information. I like to be very careful about what my opinions are. If I don't have first-hand information I say "I don't really know what's going on." It seems to me that these kinds of events are showing us again that when we are trying to see our spiritual leader like somebody who is living up in the clouds, with no connection to the material world, then we are wrong.
E.com. They are just people.
Sanchez: Of course. There has been a very strong lesson in the things that happened in the last years of Castaneda. It shows us that when we put a person on some spiritual level beyond human mistakes ... not only is the person a human person, but the sacred and the mundane are always mixed.
E.com: The sacred and mundane are one.
Sanchez: This is something that we should learn to deal with. If we are going to continue to expect the perfect and pure masters we find in books, then it will be very difficult for us as individuals to really have a glimpse of what the look for freedom or the look for knowledge could be in the real world. It is a very different experience to be reading books and having impressions or images about spiritual people doing things as opposed to the real and material expression of those things in everyday life.
E.com: Do you think that even people like Jesus and Buddha and Moses -- assuming they actually existed -- probably were ordinary people most of the time?
Sanchez: They were people -- not ordinary people -- but they were people. There is something very valuable in this. The memory of a writing by Nikos Kazantzakis, the author of The Last Temptation of Christ, comes to mind. In his prologue he was talking about a very important question. He said if Jesus was God, what he did was really big, really important. But if Jesus was a human being, what he did is even bigger than that, something really incredible. Once you recover the human dimension, once you recover the human level of the person, that is when you can really understand the value of what the person has done.
So, this news about Castaneda's interest in economic affairs, in business, and his having problems with his former wife or whatever, these kinds of things show us that the man had flaws and that not everything was so perfect with him. This could be understand as a criticism. But on the other hand, we can understand that he was a man like anyone else dealing with problems: business problems, affection problems, family problems ...
E.com: ... Health problems ...
Sanchez: Yes. If we can accept this, then we can understand the other side of Carlos Castaneda as well, which is, he was really -- mainly in his earlier works -- really touching spirit. But he was starting in the mundane world, like anyone else. This is very important for us, because that's the place where we live. We live in this world, where these kinds of issues are not that strange. We can go from this place and touch the spirit in our own experience. It's not a matter of becoming pure spiritual beings beyond human concern. That's not the way that it happens.
E.com: It's the opposite: you have to be in the world. In your new book, Toltecs of the New Millennium, you talk about how you don't want to have anyone in your more advanced parties until they've handled their bodies, and their finances, and their relationships. People have to be grounded in the world.
Sanchez: There is a double lesson here. First people should face the fact that their perfect master wasn't that perfect. That's one of the lessons. The other side of the lesson is if the perfect master was a human being, just a human being, then that's not that bad. It means he was dealing with the same problems that you and I are probably dealing with in our current lives, and then we go and touch something higher.
We're never going to be perfect, and that's not the goal anyway, that's just an image in our minds.
E.com: Some people say that it was odd, it was strange, that Castaneda would have a whole system, and then in the last few years with the Tensegrity seminars, he seemed to make a complete change.
Sanchez: Yes, completely different than the things he was writing for years and years.
E.com: That's one of the reasons it's said that he had come under the influence of ClearGreen, the group that marketed him.
Sanchez: Castaneda's life is always going to be a mystery. It's really, really difficult to gauge what was going on in the heart of the man, what was going on inside him, how strong the influence was of the people around him.
Think just for a moment of a person who for thirty years had been creating and living a myth. That's not easy. He created a myth around himself, and then he had millions of people believing that myth. All that energy, all that attention, would be an incredible pressure for any human being.
The game he was playing was an unbelievable game. Once you put yourself in front of millions of people and say, "I am the nagual, I am the one inheritor," once you put yourself in a place where you are going to focus on yourself so much attention and energy ... it is an incredible pressure. What kind of effects such pressure, for so many years, could have on a human being is difficult to predict, but it wouldn't be that strange if in the last years of his life the pressure took him to some kind of breakdown or something strange.
E.com: You talk about how what happens to someone is a direct result of their personal power and how much energy they have. It seems that given all the untidiness that has happened after his death, including articles in the New York Times, that he kind of lost it ...
Sanchez: Yes, there's something I'd like to make clear about this. When we are talking about so much energy and attention involved, we could ask the question: "Who was the owner of that energy?" Was it his energy, or it was the energy of all the people putting their attention on him? That's very, very interesting, because many important and powerful people in history were using the power of the people who were putting their attention and admiration onto them.
For example, many people like movie stars have the admiration of millions of people and seem to be on the top of the world, but once they lose that admiration, they are nothing, or they go back to being what they really are. That's the bottom line that counts: who you are when you go to sleep and you close your eyes. Who you are in that very moment.
E.com: You die alone.
Sanchez: That's right. That's right. I wouldn't be able to say a word about that kind of experience, whether talking about Carlos Castaneda or anyone else, because it's something so private and so mysterious, it would be too much to try to pretend to understand it.
E.com: Let's move on past Castaneda. You teach seminars and groups ...
Sanchez: ... Excuse me, there is one thing I would like to add. It's important to make a distinction, because in my 1991 book, The Teachings of Don Carlos, I found myself strongly and powerfully influenced by the writings of Castaneda. My book was a testimony to how we were applying his proposals, so I was very close to what he was writing and doing.
But things changed very much in the later years, and now people are asking me in my seminars and workshops about the Tensegrity workshops. People have been asking me whether I have found something like Tensegrity in the practices of the surviving Toltec people who I am working with. I should say that I have never seen anything like that.
Actually, once the proposals of Carlos Castaneda go really far from the close connection with nature that we find in the earlier books, the love for the earth, the connection with the indigenous world ... If you compare the earlier books with the latest proposals in the Tensegrity workshops and the later writings, you are going to find a very strong difference.
So, for me and I guess for many readers, things got to a point where you should use your own criteria and understand that even if you feel a great admiration and even love for an author, you should never resign your own criteria. Assess what you are practicing in the field of results. How are the practices making your life good or not? In this way you will choose and pick up what you find is better, because books are for reading and for using in the best way you can, but not for fanaticism.
There is a moment when you are reading something that you really like and love, and then you get to something which is not really that good for you. Like in The Second Ring of Power, when the reader finds the mother of Pablito pursuing him with a knife and trying to kill him and similar bizarre stories. People may say, "This is not what I like," but do they accept it because they really like or love the author? More and more you can start not using your own criteria, and then you can get to a moment where what you have is a cult, and whatever the master is going to say you are gong to follow.
This is not only dangerous, but it is not really respecting the incredible, valuable things that Carlos Castaneda gave us in his earlier works. So, if he got to the point where he went beyond what was good, or he forgot what he wrote before, we can do something good if we don't forget the good things that we got from the earlier writings and keep respecting and loving them.
E.com: It's almost as if the earlier Castaneda would not have wanted us to have believed in the later Castaneda.
Sanchez: Yes, it's almost like there are two Castaneda's, the businessman making companies, the person suing other people and competing for markets, the person trying to protect his proposals like personal property ... this is one Castaneda, and a strange Castaneda that I personally can not understand. But there was this other Castaneda who was very close to our hearts and who made a really incredible contribution to many peoples' lives in the invitation for freedom.
I want to say "thanks" because of the very valuable influence of his earlier works in my life, to remember that, and to keep honoring that apprenticeship instead of just focusing on this complex and sad story of the latest years.
E.com: It's about paying attention to what comes to you, because the ultimate decider is in your heart and what you see.
Sanchez: That's right.
E.com: You had to decide here whether or not to give me this interview, and you had to make a decision based just on this moment.
E.com: And that's how it always really comes down, if you're paying attention.
The Seminar Problem
E.com: I've taken a number of personal growth seminars of different types -- some a week long. Typically, I'm really expanded when the seminar finishes, but then when I go home, and I'm by myself or the people I'm ordinarily with, and I'm not with the people who I've just been with, well, I begin to forget right away what I learned, and I go back to my old patterns, habits, and lifestyle. What can people do, or what do you teach people to do, to keep up with the techniques from your seminars?
Similarly, when I read the techniques in your book, or any book, I tend not to do them by myself. It's different than being with a group of people. When I'm with the group, I can really make what seems like progress, but when I'm by myself, it seems very hard.
Sanchez: Let's talk about the group experience. My work is a very practical work. What we want to share is something that can be understood or perceived only by the action, by the experience, itself. Basically, we do not spend time with people talking about our theories or explanations of the world. We take them to experience what they are going to meet, a different side of themselves, what we call the other self.
This is a very valuable experience because one of our main problems as individuals and as a society is that we are trying to live our lives with only half of our awareness, which is the awareness of the tonal, the rational mind. We try to rule and direct our lives using that part alone. This is like being always out of balance: we are always expecting something with the rational mind, that life is going to bring us a different challenge, and we find ourselves again and again in a place where the results are so different from our expectations that the rational mind tries to deal with it and finds it can't do it in a really balanced way.
There is another part of ourselves that we are not using, called the other self, or it could be called the nagual side of the human being. What we do in our workshops is to create activities and exercises where people can enter into this side. What happens in this experience of jumping into the other self is not just that people will see visions, hallucinations, and strange ways of perception. This would be just another kind of fantasy. That's not the real thing.
The real thing is discovering that you are a lot more than you ever thought. The real thing is discovering that you are not condemned to be just the repetition of your past, that you can choose how to live, that you can choose how to be. I'm talking about freedom. So the rescue of the other self can only take place when you can start having at least a short experience, a short time experience, of entering into that side. Even if it is short, that's the way to start.
Once you get there, there's nothing to be explained. You don't need to go with me and ask me, "Oh, what happened to me?" Some people come to me and say "I was making a work of attention and then I saw a moving shadow and I don't know what it was so please explain it to me." I say, "How could I know? You were the one living that. You explain it to me. Tell me what it was. I was not there." They say, "But, what's the meaning?" I respond: "There is no meaning. You saw a shadow. Can you use it? If it has some sense for you, then use it. If it has no sense for you, then forget it. And go for the next thing."
When people get to really enter into the other side, they find that it has complete meaning for them. It's about their life, about what they're doing, it's about how can we connect and learn from different forces in nature -- the water, the sun, the fire. The big Powers of the world. But in a very meaningful way. You don't need to go and ask somebody else what the meaning of it is, because it's clear, and the most incredible thing is that it happens inside of us, it comes from the field of the silent knowledge. It's not something to be understood or explained.
So, we take people to that kind of experience, and I hope it is not too presumptuous to say that this kind of work changes lives. But I will say that after this experience, after you go and take the workshop in Mexico -- it's a five day experience in the mountains near Mexico City -- if you go and take this experience, I'm not going to tell you that your life will be changed forever and you'll be a full-time warrior.
It's not going to be like that. You're going to have a vision, an experience about yourself, about things that maybe you have not seen about yourself. We are trapped in the cage of the personal ego, and we are used to thinking that that's what we are, and I can tell you that you are a lot more than that. But the best thing is not just for me to tell you that. The best thing is that you enter into an experience where you are going to live it.
We have been human for a long time, and there are a lot more resources within ourselves that we have not used. We are using our brain in a very small amount ... we have been hearing that for a long time, and that's OK. But that's not going to change our life. What's going to change our life is the real experience of entering there.
But what happens next? What happens when the people in the workshop go home? We are going to forget, because we are condemned to forget. The big problem is to get to the state of awareness where you can enter into the other self. The second big problem is once you go back to your everyday life, the everyday life is going to pull you to the everyday experience, and then what are you going to do to remember?
That's why remembering is one of the most difficult things the warriors of the Toltecs deal with. You continue practicing and doing things which take you to the other side of your own awareness until these experiences start accumulating and create new memories, memories of your other self. If you practice more of this, the memories of your other self join them until you can build a hold to that reality. What happens then?
You do not become perfect. You are going to be full of shit in many ways. [Laughter.] But the difference here is that the part which is going to be winning and ruling your life is that part which has been liberated by the experience of the other self. That's when you start to live your own life. That's when you start to choose your own battles. That's when you discover that whatever is happening to you, you are the one who has gone there and you are the one who can change it. That's when you live your own battles. It's a big difference.
People ask me the same question. "After the workshop, I had an incredible open vision about my fate, my tasks, about really living as a warrior, but then, little by little that sensation faded and I felt sad because I promised myself to not forget, but then I am in my old problems again."
And I said: "What were you expecting? Were you expecting that one day you are going to fight a battle and after that battle you are going to be a 24 hour-a-day warrior, that there's not going to be more self-importance in your life, that all the shit is going to disappear?" If you're waiting for that, you're waiting in vain. Such a thing is never going to happen.
What is going to happen to us if we are really committed to following the path of the warrior is that we are going to touch the light, and then we're going to forget. And then we're going to try again. And then we are going to get to the place of awareness again. We are going to get there, and then we're going to be out, and that's the way it happens because that's the magic of life.
If we were always in a beautiful, incredible, magical time, when life had full meaning for us, it wouldn't be magic. It's magical just because we don't live in that luminous state the whole time. The flight of the Eagle is so valuable just because we are beings that crawl! If we were beings that only fly, it wouldn't be that important. If we were not going to die, life wouldn't be so precious and so valuable.
This is the balance of the two sides. That is the meaning of Quetzalcoatl, which is our symbol as Toltecs. The serpent and the eagle. We are not the eagle killing the serpent as in the symbol of the Aztec people you can see in the Mexican flag. In some way, spirit is winning and killing the material side, the "bad" side.
In the Toltec vision of knowledge it is not like that. Eagle and snake become one. The snake develops feathers and flies. That's the magic: that the snake can fly, not that the eagle can fly. So that's why it is so important to not pretend that we are going to just go beyond weakness, go beyond flaws; that's not going to happen: we are going to be just people, we are going to die stupid people. But the magic, the real magic, the real battle, is to go from that place where we crawl, where we have weakness, and then rise and touch spirit. That is the flight of Quetzalcoatl.
The Power of the Toltecs
Sanchez: When I was sharing time with the indigenous Toltec people, these men and women of knowledge, what were they doing? They were spending days and days fasting, walking to sacred places, making friends, spending nights and nights with no sleep at all. They undertook these special tasks just to serve spirit, just to serve their community, just to service the world, just to give back to the big Powers a little bit of what they have received.
That's living beyond self importance. I have seen many people who present themselves as masters, but I have never seen as strong a showing of soul as I have seen among these very simple people living in the mountains in the North of Mexico.
And the incredible thing is that ... somebody asked me: Do they have medicine? Do they know how to heal? Yes and no. Are all of them healthy? No. Some of them have problems, some of their children die from problems in the stomach or elsewhere.
What kind of men of knowledge have I known? Are they like Don Juan? What can I tell you? The Toltec people are dealing with some really big problems. Sometimes there is alcoholism, poverty, white people stealing their lands, etc. They have been suffering the violence of the non-indigenous society for hundreds and hundreds of years. Even to stay alive is a really big victory for them.
They are keeping alive their tradition, and that has not been easy. They have problems, they are not perfect, they live in poverty. There are strong material problems. The miracle for me is that coming from this very difficult place they can rise and touch incredible heights in terms of the spirit, in terms of really giving their life in the service of other people, in terms of not talking about what love or warriorship is, and not talking about looking for knowledge, but actually doing these things and living this way.
For me, that's bigger than any other book character because I can touch them, I can grab their hands, I can embrace them and I can learn from them. Those are the shamans I know. And the kinds of things that they are able to do when they are in their ceremonial time, their magical time, are beyond what it is possible to understand.
Last time when I was in the desert in my last pilgrimage with them, at the moment of the sunrise, for the first time I saw a man come running into the bushes. I have always seen them remain around the fire, because when they are in these ceremonies and pilgrimages they consider going away from the fire very dangerous. They say "we should stay with the Grandfather Fire to be safe."
This time a man was running into the bush just at the moment when the light was coming to the earth. Then he started singing, but he started singing like a wolf -- the way the wolf sings, his voice traveling and touches all the four corners of the world and coming back to us from the mountain. But the most amazing thing was that the howlings of wolves came back and answered him. He started talking to those wolves coming from every corner of the world.
What was that? I don't know. The only thing we could do when we were witnessing it was to just cry. To witness somebody with so deep a connection to the entire universe was such an incredible experience. He was singing, and the whole world was answering him, and they were singing together. It was so amazing.
E.com: You really love this work. You are almost in a state of ecstasy just talking about it.
Sanchez: I have not seen anything so real anywhere else. That's why I can travel through Europe, the United Sates, wherever, and see all the wealthy societies, and I don't feel impressed because I have seen higher things. The things that have touched me, and really touched my heart in such a deep way are the most simple things I have ever seen.
They have no books, they don't want to sell you anything, and they would never say "I am the one." I have asked them, "Please guide me. Please tell me how to follow the path of knowledge." And you know what they say? "I have no answer for you. I am just a man. I can lie to you, and how would you know if I am lying to you? Go and look for your own answers. Ask the Spirit, he is the only one who can answer your questions."
To Part II of the Victor Sanchez Interview.