Active Side of Infinityby Carlos Castaneda
"Ordinarily, events that change our path are impersonal affairs, and yet extremely personal. My teacher, don Juan Matsus, said this is guiding me as his apprentice to collect what I considered to be the memorable events of my life…. Don Juan described the total goal of the shamanistic knowledge that he handled as the preparation for facing the definitive
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"Ordinarily, events that change our path are impersonal affairs, and yet extremely personal. My teacher, don Juan Matsus, said this is guiding me as his apprentice to collect what I considered to be the memorable events of my life…. Don Juan described the total goal of the shamanistic knowledge that he handled as the preparation for facing the definitive journey: the journey that every human being has to take at the end of his life. He said that what modern man referred to vaguely as life after death was, for those shamans, a concrete region filled to capacity with practical affairs of a different order than the practical affairs of daily life, yet bearing a similar functional practicality. Don Juan considered that to collect the memorable in their lives was, for shamans, the preparation for their entrance into that concrete region, which they called the active side of infinity."
In this book written immediately before his death, anthropologist and shaman Carlos Castaneda gives us his most autobiographical and intimately revealing work ever, the fruit of a lifetime of experience and perhaps the most moving volume in his oeuvre.
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A Journey of Power
At the time I met don Juan I was a fairly studious anthropology student, and I wanted to begin my career as a professional anthropologist by publishing as much as possible. I was bent on climbing the academic ladder, and in my calculations, I had determined that the first step was to collect data on the uses of medicinal plants by the Indians of the southwestern United States.
I first asked a professor of anthropology who had worked in that area for advice about my project. He was a prominent ethnologist who had published extensively in the late thirties and early forties on the California Indians and the Indians of the Southwest and Sonora, Mexico. He patiently listened to my exposition. My idea was to write a paper, call it "Ethnobotanical Data," and publish it in a journal that dealt exclusively with anthropological issues of the southwestern United States.
I proposed to collect medicinal plants, take the samples to the Botanical Garden at UCLA to be properly identified, and then describe why and how the Indians of the Southwest used them. I envisioned collecting thousands of entries. I even envisioned publishing a small encyclopedia on the subject.
The professor smiled forgivingly at me. "I don't want to dampen your enthusiasm," he said in a tired voice, "but I can't help commenting negatively on your eagerness. Eagerness is welcome in anthropology, but it must be properly channeled. We are still in the golden age of anthropology. It was my luck to study with Alfred Kroeber and Robert Lowie, two pillars of social science. I haven't betrayed their trust. Anthropology is still the master discipline. Every other discipline should stem fromanthropology. The entire field of history, for example, should be called 'historical anthropology,' and the field of philosophy should be called 'philosophical anthropology.' Man should be the measure of everything. Therefore, anthropology, the study of man, should be the core of every other discipline. Someday, it will."
I looked at him, bewildered. He was, in my estimation, a totally passive, benevolent old professor who had recently had a heart attack. I seemed to have struck a chord of passion in him.
"Don't you think that you should pay more attention to your formal studies?" he continued. "Rather than doing fieldwork, wouldn't it be better for you to study linguistics? We have in the department here one of the most prominent linguists in the world. If I were you, I'd be sitting at his feet, catching any drift emanating from him.
"We also have a superb authority in comparative religions. And there are some exceptionally competent anthropologists here who have done work on kinship systems in cultures all over the world, from the point of view of linguistics and from the point of view of cognition. You need a lot of preparation. To think that you could do fieldwork now is a travesty. Plunge into your books, young man. That's my advice."
Stubbornly, I took my proposition to another professor, a younger one. He wasn't in any way more helpful. He laughed at me openly. He told me that the paper I wanted to write was a Mickey Mouse paper, and that it wasn't anthropology by any stretch of the imagination.
"Anthropologists nowadays," he said professorially, "are concerned with issues that have relevance. Medical and pharmaceutical scientists have done endless research on every possible medicinal plant in the world. There's no longer any bone to chew on there. Your kind of data collecting belongs to the turn of the nineteenth century. Now it's nearly two hundred years later. There is such a thing as progress, you know."
He proceeded to give me, then, a definition and a justification of progress and perfectibility as two issues of philosophical discourse, which he said were most relevant to anthropology.
"Anthropology is the only discipline in existence," he continued, "which can clearly substantiate the concept of perfectibility and progress. Thank God that there's still a ray of hope in the midst of the cynicism of our times. Only anthropology can show the actual development of culture and social organization. Only anthropologists can prove to mankind beyond the shadow of a doubt the progress of human knowledge. Culture evolves, and only anthropologists can present samples of societies that fit definite cubbyholes in a line of progress and perfectibility. That's anthropology for you! Not some puny fieldwork, which is not fieldwork at all, but mere masturbation."
It was a blow on the head to me. As a last resort, I went to Arizona to talk to anthropologists who were actually doing fieldwork there. By then, I was ready to give up on the whole idea. I understood what the two professors were trying to tell me. I couldn't have agreed with them more. My attempts at doing fieldwork were definitely simpleminded. Yet I wanted to get my feet wet in the field; I didn't want to do only library research.
In Arizona, I met with an extremely seasoned anthropologist who had written copiously on the Yaqui Indians of Arizona as well as those of Sonora, Mexico. He was extremely kind. He
didn't run me down, nor did he give me any advice. He only commented that the Indian societies of the Southwest were extremely isolationist, and that foreigners, especially those of Hispanic origin, were distrusted, even abhorred, by those Indians.
A younger colleague of his, however, was more outspoken. He said that I was better off reading herbalists' books. He was an authority in the field and his opinion was that anything to be known about medicinal plants from the Southwest had already been classified and talked about in various publications. He went as far as to say that the sources of any Indian curer of the day were precisely those publications rather than any traditional knowledge. He finished me off with the assertion that if there still were any traditional curing practices, the Indians would not divulge them to a stranger. The Active Side of Infinity. Copyright © by Carlos Castaneda. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Carlos Castaneda was the author of the bestselling books, including the acknowledged classic The Teaching of Don Juan and most recently The Art of Dreaming and Magical Passes. He departed on his definitive journey in 1998.
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Which is what I felt on reading 'The Eagle's Gift'. This 'review' basically reflects my personal 'sense' of what Life is *really* all about. I mean, what kind of 'personality' (and 'ego'-*bound* one obviously!) would want/choose to become so 'rigor'ously (as in rigor-mortis) conscious as to be able to maintain and live *as* the samn 'personality' as one's 'identity' *forever*?!
I have always been a Castaneda fan and have read Sufi books as well as authors like Robert Ornstein etc. yet I was amazed at how unexpectedly good this was. I found it very clear and linear, the best book by Carlos Castaneda by far. The ideas are sometimes incredible but it uses a similar terminology as the Sufis of the classical period 'as expressed in the early works of Idries Shah- not the religious Islamist mumbo jumbo stuff'. I wonder if anyone else has made this connection. This book is also an excellent guide for budding writers, how to find stories in life which are not fake and self centred but have the dark touch of the impersonal.
Castaneda's work is interesting and at times provocative, but the organization of the text and lack of some linear connection between ideas and concepts makes this work difficult to understand as a whole. A good reader can extract many interesting ideas and concepts about life and purpose, along with a key component to Yaqui sorcerers' teachings--abandonment of the ego--yet the reader will likely struggle to connect these elements with the context of the book in order to construct some main theme or overarching revelation about life and purpose. I would recommend that a prospective reader of this book instead look to the works of Wayne Dyer, a new age author, former professor, and longtime counselor, who derives some of his concepts directly from Castaneda, in fact often referencing Castaneda in his work. Dyer's most complete work, 'The Power of Intention,' available in print and also on DVD/VHS from PBS, like Castenada's 'The Active Side of Infinity,' centers around abandonment of the ego and helps the reader to understand Castaneda's concept of 'Intent' and how to harness it to co-create the world our way. While sometimes interesting, I would not strongly recommend 'The Active Side of Infinity,' but I would not dismiss it's unique contribution to Western society's understanding of alternative worldviews, an ancient way of life, and an original account of Juan Matus, Yaqui sorcerer. Two interesting things to note... Juan Matus, Yaqui sorcerer speaks of abandoning the ego, yet his actions and treatment of Castaneda hint that he has a large ego, believes himself very important, and believes himself much wiser than others. Also, some of the more 'supernatural' aspects of the book are not explained and leave logically minded people to wonder endlessly. It should be mentioned that Castaneda and Juan Matus did occasionally use hallucinogens, as divulged in some of Castaneda's earlier works on Matus, such as 'The Teachings of Don Juan.'
I enjoyed a lot of Castaneda's earlier books. Techniques like 'seeing' and 'stopping the world' have helped me to gain a new perspective in my life. In this book however I had the growing feeling that although Castaneda had some good ideas initially, this time there was a lot of BS in the book, masterfully woven into the story. I tend to follow my gut a lot and this time it's saying, 'No Way!' Look for a spiritual path elsewhere.
The Active Side was colossal and brought things into a new, frightening, perspective. This is the last book, prior to Castaneda's departure, and a fitting testimony to the path that he followed. I could not find the Wheel of Time on this site, but that book deals with quotations and important passages from the first five or six books. I would not recommend it, as the full experience of those books is truly rewarding. Then buy the Wheel of Time if you wish to experience it in a different way.
(Carlos)Castanada has again given the world a masterpiece. An excellent book but readers should be forewarned this in heavy duty reading. I would suggest beginners either work up to this (and other works by Casatana) or read simpler books in conjunctin with Castanada.