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"The only way to escape the eagle is to leave on tiptoe, holding one's breath."


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Home » Features » Impeccability: The Way of the Toltecs

The Way of the Toltecs

A Conversation with CARLOS CASTANEDA (Second Part)
By Graciela N. Corvalan (Translation from the Spanish by Alina Rivero)

In the early 1980s, Graciela Corvalan, a writer and publisher from St. Louis, Missouri, was writing a book consisting of a series of interviews with contemporary mystical thinkers in the Americas. She and three friends met with Carlos Castaneda in Los Angeles and discussed his work with him. Carlos Castaneda requested that the conversation be published first in Spanish. Fulfilling this requirement, the author published a Spanish version of the interview in Mutantia, Buenos Aires, Argentina. The first part of the English version of that conversation originally appeared in Seeds of Unfolding, Vol. I, No. 4 (Summer 1983), and was re-published on this site in February 2005 under the title The Freedom of Don Juan. The first part of the interview concludedwith Castaneda’s description of the purpose of life, according to the Toltecs: “To get out of this world alive, past the fearsome eagle, whole.” The second part of the interview, originally published in Seeds, Vol. II, No. 2 (Spring 1984) and reproduced here, continues with this theme.

Q. Did don Juan and don Genaro leave “whole”? Did they escape the eagle?

A. Don Juan will never die. He left this world alive and kicking, whole! So did don Genaro. Toltecs never die. But they must leave this world through the left side of the eagle, on tiptoe .

Q. Is the eagle a metaphor or a real entity? Does it resemble the allies who guard the entrance to the other side?

A. The Toltecs believe in an entity they call the eagle. It is an immense darkness, stretching to infinity, through which lightning flashes. They call it the eagle because it has wings, a black body and a luminous chest.

The eagle holds everything that is, it encompasses all the beauty that is human and all the savagery and ugliness that are not properly human. The eagle is the blackest mass imaginable. It is not human and it has no pity.

The eagle devours all energy that is about to disappear because it feeds off this energy. Like a giant magnet it draws vital energy from the world. This is what don Juan told me. But he and the others are sorcerers. They live what is a metaphor for me.

The only way to escape the eagle is to leave on tiptoe, holding one’s breath. When one is ready to leave the world, one must offer the eagle something, a sacrifice of the self. This offering is called the personal recapitulation.

Toltecs cannot save themselves individually, only as a group of eight. They can only leave the world in that basic nucleus. The others stay behind to maintain the tradition alive.

Q. How does one “recapitulate”? Is this similar to reviewing your life before death?

A. First you have to make a list of every single person you have ever known in life, a list of all those who have made you put your ego on the line, that multiheaded monster of personal pride. You have to bring back all those who have helped you play the game of “Do they love me or don’t they”–a game in which you spend your life licking your wounds. Recapitulation requires a great effort of memory. The images have to be drawn forth carefully and set before you. Then, with a movement of the head from right to left you blow each image away, as if sweeping it from your vision. The breath is magical.

At the end of the recapitulation there are no more tricks, games or self-deceptions. Then, the task alone is left–the task in its simplicity, purity and crudity.

Q. Is recapitulation possible for everyone? Can anyone escape the eagle?

A. Yes, but one must have an unbending will. If one wavers or hesitates, the eagle will devour him. Doubt is not possible. For example, in order to recapitulate, doña Soledad hid in a hole for seven years and never came out. She stayed there until she had finished with everything. That’s all she did for seven years.

Doña Soledad’s transformation was truly amazing. She exerted such will power that she was able to change herself. But by developing her will to such a level, she also developed a stronger personal pride. That is why she will not be able to fool the eagle. But she is fantastic! She has such power! Before she was Pablito’s “mamacita,” always washing clothes, ironing, cleaning, offering little meals to people. You should see her now. She is a young, strong woman. Not anyone to fool around with. Even if she cannot escape the eagle, she will never be the weak being she once was.

Q.You have often mentioned other sources in your booksthe Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Tractatus of Wittgenstein, the works of St. John of the Cross, St. Augustine, and the poets Juan Ramón Jiménez and César Vallejo. Do you have time to read and find out what is happening in this world? Have you found many parallelisms between teachings of don Juan and other esoteric traditions?

A. I don’t read anything anymore. My car is always full of books, tons of books, things people send me. I used to read books to don Juan. He loved poetry! But he only liked the first four lines of a poem. After that, he said, the strength was lost. For him the idea and the image are there in the first four lines or they’re not. Afterwards, don Juan thought it all repetition.

I have been interested in the works of Husserl and have been in contact with practitioners of hatha yoga, which I think is wonderful. But there is no way to explain don Juan’s teachings through these systems. Husserl never transcends the theoretical and philosophical level in his work. He doesn’t deal with man in his everyday life. The phenomenological method is a good base for research but Western man, that is, European man, has only produced a political man. This political man represents our civilization. Don Juan’s teachings open the door for another man, a much more interesting man, a man who already lives in a world of magic, a magical universe.

Once I met a disciple of Gurdjieff who modeled himself completely after the master. He had shaven his head and sported this huge mustache. I invited him to come over. As soon as he came into my house, he grabbed me by the throat and started beating me. He told me I had to leave my teacher because I was wasting my time! According to him he could teach me everything I needed to know in six or seven lessons. Can you imagine? Six or seven lessons can teach you everything…


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