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… See more details below
"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.
Read an Excerpt
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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