THE WHEEL OF TIME THE SHAMANS OF ANCIENT MEXICO, THEIR THOUGHTS ABOUT LIFE, DEATH AND THE UNIVERSE
THE WHEEL OF TIME
This series of specially selected quotations was gathered from the first eight books that I wrote about the world of the shamans of ancient Mexico. The quotations were taken directly from the explanations given to me as an anthropologist by my teacher and mentor don Juan Matus, a Yaqui Indian shaman from Mexico. He belonged to a lineage of shamans that traced its origins all the way back to the shamans who lived in Mexico in ancient times.
In the most effective manner he could afford, don Juan Matus ushered me into his World, which was, naturally, the world of those shamans of antiquity. Don Juan was, therefore, in a key position. He knew about the existence of another realm of reality, a realm which was neither illusory, nor the product of outbursts of fantasy. For don Juan and the rest of his shaman-companions - there were fifteen of them - the world of the shamans of antiquity was as real and as pragmatic as anything could be.
This work started as a very simple attempt to collect a series of vignettes, sayings, and ideas from the lore of those shamans that would be interesting to read and think about. But once the work was in progress, an unforeseeable twist of direction took place: I realized that the quotations by themselves were imbued with an extraordinary impetus. They revealed a covert train of thought that had never been evident to me before. They were pointing out the direction that don Juan's explanations had taken over the thirteen years in which he guided me as an apprentice.
Better than any type of conceptualization, the quotations revealed an unsuspected and unwavering line of action that don Juan had followed in order to promote and facilitate my entrance into his world. It became something beyond a speculation to me that if don Juan had followed that line, this must have also been the way in which his own teacher had propelled him into the world of shamans.
Don Juan Matus's line of action was his intentional attempt to pull me into what he said was another cognitive system. By cognitive system, he meant the standard definition of cognition: "the processes responsible for the awareness of everyday life, processes which include memory, experience, perception, and the expert use of any given syntax." Don Juan's claim was that the shamans of ancient Mexico had indeed a different cognitive system than the average man's.
Following all the logic and reasoning available to me as a student of the social sciences. I had to reject his statement. I pointed out to don Juan time and time again that whatever he was claiming was preposterous. It was, to me, an intellectual aberration at best.
It took thirteen years of hard labor on his part and on mine to discombobulate my trust in the normal system of cognition that makes the world around us comprehensible to us. This maneuver pushed me into a very strange state: a state of quasi-distrust in the otherwise implicit acceptance of the cognitive processes of our daily world.
After thirteen years of heavy onslaughts, I realized, against my very will, that don Juan Matus was indeed proceeding from another point of view. Therefore, the shamans of ancient Mexico must have had another system of cognition. To admit this burned my very being. I felt like a traitor. I felt as if I were voicing the most horrendous heresy.
When he felt that he had overcome my worst resistance, don Juan drove his point as far and as deep as he could into me, and I had to admit, without reservations, that in the world of shamans, shaman practitioners judged the world from points of view which were indescribable to our conceptualization devices. For instance, they perceived energy as it flowed freely in the universe, energy free from the bindings of socialization and syntax, pure vibratory energy. They called this act seeing.
Don Juan's prime objective was to help me to perceive energy as it flows in the universe. In the world of shamans, to perceive energy in such a manner is the first mandatory step toward a more engulfing, freer view of a different cognitive system. In order to elicit a seeing response in me. don Juan utilized other foreign units of cognition. One of the most important units, he called the recapitulation, which consisted of a systematic scrutiny of one's life, segment by segment, an examination made not in the light of criticism or finding flaw, but in the light of an effort to understand one's life, and to change its course. Don Juan's claim was that once any practitioner has viewed his life in the detached manner that the recapitulation requires, there's no way to go back to the same life.
To see energy as it flows in the universe meant, to don Juan, the capacity to see a human being as a luminous egg or luminous ball of energy, and to be able to distinguish, in that luminous ball of energy, certain features shared by men in common, such as a point of brilliance in the already brilliant luminous ball of energy. The claim of shamans was that it was on that point of brilliance, which those shamans called the assemblage point, that perception was assembled. They could extend this thought logically to mean that it was on that point of brilliance that our cognition of the world was manufactured. Odd as it may seem, don Juan Matus was right, in the sense that this is exactly what happens.
The perception of shamans, therefore, was subject to a different process than the perception of average men. Shamans claimed that perceiving energy directly led them to what they called energetic facts. By energetic fact, they meant a view obtained by seeing energy directly that led to conclusions that were final and irreducible; they couldn't be tampered with by speculation, or by trying to fit them into our standard system of interpretation.
Don Juan said that for the shamans of his lineage, it was an energetic fact that the world around us is defined by the processes of cognition, and those processes are not unalterable: they are not givens. They are a matter of training, a matter of practicality and usage. This thought was extended further, to another energetic fact: the processes of standard cognition are the product of our upbringing, no more than that.
Don Juan Matus knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that whatever he was telling me about the cognitive system of the shamans of ancient Mexico was a reality. Don Juan was among other things, a nagual, which meant, for shaman practitioners, a natural leader, a person who was capable of viewing energetic facts without detriment to his well-being. He was, therefore, capacitated to lead his fellow men successfully into avenues of thought and perception impossible to describe.
Considering all the facts that don Juan had taught me about his cognitive world, I arrived at the conclusion, which was the conclusion that he himself shared, that the most important unit of such a world was the idea of intent. For the shamans of ancient Mexico, Intent was a force they could visualize when they saw energy as it flows in the universe. They considered it an all-pervasive force that intervened in every aspect of time and space. It was the impetus behind everything; but what was of inconceivable value to those shamans was that intent - a pure abstraction - was intimately attached to man. Man could always manipulate it. The shamans of ancient Mexico realized that the only way to affect this force was through impeccable behavior. Only the most disciplined practitioner could attempt this feat.
Another stupendous unit of that strange cognitive system was the shamans' understanding and usage of the concepts of time and space. For them, time and space were not the same phenomena that form part of our lives by virtue of being an integral part of our normal cognitive system. For the average man, the standard definition of time is "a nonspatial continuum in which events occur in apparently irreversible succession from the past through the present to the future." And space is defined as "the infinite extension of the three-dimensional field in which stars and galaxies exist; the universe."
For the shamans of ancient Mexico, time was something like a thought; a thought thought by something unrealizable in its magnitude. The logical argument for them was that man, being part of that thought which was thought by forces inconceivable to his mentality, still retained a small percentage of that thought; a percentage which under certain circumstances of extraordinary discipline could be redeemed.
Space was, for those shamans, an abstract realm of activity. They called it infinity, and referred to it as the sum total of all the endeavors of living creatures. Space was, for them, more accessible, something almost down-to-earth. It was as if they had a bigger percentage in the abstract formulation of space. According to the versions given by don Juan, the shamans of ancient Mexico never regarded time and space as obscure abstracts the way we do. For them, both time and space, although incomprehensible in their formulations, were an integral part of man.
Those shamans had another cognitive unit called the wheel of time. The way they explained the wheel of time was to say that time was like a tunnel of infinite length and width, a tunnel with reflective furrows. Every furrow was infinite, and there were infinite numbers of them. Living creatures were compulsorily made, by the force of life, to gaze into one furrow. To gaze into one furrow alone meant to be trapped by it, to live that furrow.
A warrior's final aim is to focus, through an act of profound discipline, his unwavering attention on the wheel of time in order to make it turn. Warriors who have succeeded in turning the wheel of time can gaze into any furrow and draw from it whatever they desire. To be free from the spellbinding force of gazing into only one of those furrows means that warriors can look in either direction: as time retreats or as it advances on them.
Viewed in this manner, the wheel of time is an overpowering influence which reaches through the life of the warrior and beyond, as is the case with the quotations of this book. They seem to be strung together by a coil that has a life of its own. That coil, explained by the cognition of shamans, is the wheel of time.
Under the impact of the wheel of time, the aim of this book became, then, something that had not been part of the original plan. The quotations became the ruling factor, by themselves and in themselves, and the drive imposed on me by them was one of staying as close as I possibly could to the spirit in which the quotations were given. They were given in the spirit of frugality and ultimate directness.
Another thing that I tried unsuccessfully to do with the quotations was to organize them into a series of categories that would make reading them easier. However, the categorization of the quotations became untenable. There was no way of setting arbitrary categories of meaning that suited me personally to something so amorphous, so vast as a total cognitive world.
The only thing that could be done was to follow the quotations, and let them create a sketch of the skeletal form of the thoughts and feelings that the shamans of ancient Mexico had about life, death, the universe, energy. They are reflections of how those shamans understood not only the universe, but the processes of living and coexisting in our world. And more important yet. they point out the possibility of handling two systems of cognition at once without any detriment to the self.
QUOTATIONS FROM THE TEACHINGS OF DON JUAN
Power rests on the kind of knowledge that one holds. What is the sense of knowing things that are useless? They will not prepare us for our unavoidable encounter with the unknown.
Nothing in this world is a gift. Whatever has to be learned must be learned the hard way.
A man goes to knowledge as he goes to war: wide-awake, with fear, with respect, and with absolute assurance. Going to knowledge or going to war in any other manner is a mistake, and whoever makes it might never live to regret it. When a man has fulfilled all four of these requisites - to be wide awake, to have fear, respect, and absolute assurance - there are no mistakes for which he will have to account; under such conditions his actions lose the blundering quality of the acts of a fool. If such a man fails, or suffers a defeat, he will have lost only a battle, and there will be no pitiful regrets over that.
Dwelling upon the self too much produces a terrible fatigue. A man in that position is deaf and blind to everything else. The fatigue itself makes him cease to see the marvels all around him.
Every time a man sets himself to learn, he has to labor as hard as anyone can, and the limits of his learning are determined by his own nature. Therefore, there is no point in talking about knowledge. Fear of knowledge is natural; all of us experience it, and there is nothing we can do about it. But no matter how frightening learning is, it is more terrible to think of a man without knowledge.
To be angry at people means that one considers their acts to be important. It is imperative to cease to feel that way. The acts of men cannot be important enough to offset our only viable alternative: our unchangeable encounter with infinity.
Anything is one of a million paths. Therefore, a warrior must always keep in mind that a path is only a path; if he feels that he should not follow it, he must not stay with it under any conditions. His decision to keep on that path or to leave it must be free of fear or ambition. He must look at every path closely and deliberately. There is a question that a warrior has to ask, mandatory: Does this path have a heart?
All paths are the same: they lead nowhere. However, a path without a heart is never enjoyable. On the other hand, a path with heart is easy - it does not make a warrior work at liking it; it makes for a joyful journey; as long as a man follows it, he is one with it.
There is a world of happiness where there is no difference between things because there is no one there to ask about the difference. But that is not the world of men. Some men have the vanity to believe that they live in two worlds, but that is only their vanity. There is but one single world for us. We are men, and must follow the world of men contentedly.
A man has four natural enemies: fear. clarity, power, and old age. Fear, clarity, and power can be overcome, but not old age. Its effect can be postponed, but it can never be overcome.
The essence of whatever don Juan said at the beginning of my apprenticeship is encapsulated in the abstract nature of the quotations selected from the first book, The Teachings of Don Juan. At the time of the events described in that book, don Juan spoke a great deal about allies, power plants, Mescalito, the little smoke, the wind, the spirits of rivers and mountains, the spirit of the chaparral, etc., etc. Later on when I questioned him about his emphasis on those elements, and why he wasn't using them anymore, he admitted unabashedly that at the beginning of my apprenticeship, he had gone into all that pseudo-Indian shaman rigmarole for my benefit.
I was flabbergasted. I wondered how he could make such a statement, which was obviously not true. He had really meant what he said about those elements of his world, and I was certainly the man who could attest to the veracity of his words and moods.
"Don't take it so seriously," he said, laughing. "It was very enjoyable for me to get into all that crap, and it was even more enjoyable because I knew that I was doing it for your benefit."
The Wheel of Time
"For my benefit, don Juan? What kind of aberration is this?"
"Yes, for your benefit. I tricked you by holding your attention on items of your world which held a profound fascination for you, and you swallowed it hook, line and sinker.
"All I needed was to get your undivided attention. But how could I have done that when you had such an undisciplined spirit? You yourself told me time and time again that you stayed with me because you found what I said about the world fascinating. What you didn't know how to express was that the fascination that you felt was based on the fact that you vaguely recognized every element I was talking about. You thought that the vagueness was, of course, shamanism, and you went for it, meaning you
"Do you do this to everybody, don Juan?" "Not to everybody, because not everybody comes to me, and above all, I'm not interested in everybody. I was and I am interested in you, you alone. My teacher, the nagual Julian, tricked me in a similar way. He tricked me with my sensuality and greed. He promised to get me all the beautiful women who surrounded him, and he promised to cover me with gold. He promised me a fortune, and I fell for it. All the shamans of my lineage had been tricked that way, since time immemorial. The shamans of my lineage are not
teachers or gurus. They don't give a fig about teaching their knowledge. They want heirs to their knowledge, not people vaguely interested in their knowledge for intellectual reasons."
Don Juan was right when he said that I had fallen for his maneuver fully. I did believe that I had found the perfect shaman anthropological informant. This was the time when, under don Juan's auspices, and due to his influence, I wrote diaries and collected old maps that showed the locations of the Yaqui Indian towns throughout the centuries, beginning with the chronicles of the Jesuits in the late 1700's. I recorded all those locations and I identified the most subtle changes, and began to ponder and wonder why the towns were shifted to other locales, and why they were arranged in slightly different patterns every time they were relocated. Pseudo-speculations about reason, and reasonable doubts overwhelmed me. I collected thousands of sheets of abbreviated notes and possibilities, drawn from books and chronicles. I was a perfect student of anthropology. Don Juan spurred my fancy in every way he possibly could.
There are no volunteers on the warriors' path," don Juan said to me under the guise of an explanation. "A man has to be forced into the warriors' path against his will."
"What do I do, don Juan, with the thousands of notes that you tricked me into collecting?" I asked him at the time.
His answer was a direct shock to me. "Write a book about them!" he said. "I am sure that if you begin to write it, you'll never make use of those notes, anyway. They are useless, but who am I to tell you that? Find out for yourself. But don't endeavor to write a book as a writer. Endeavor to do it as a warrior, as a shaman-warrior."
"What do you mean by that, don Juan?" "I don't know. Find it out for yourself." He was absolutely right. I never used those notes. Instead I found myself writing unwittingly about the inconceivable possibilities of the existence of another system of cognition.
QUOTATIONS FROM A SEPARATE REALITY
A warrior knows that he is only a man. His only regret is that his life is so short that he can't grab onto all the things that he would like to. But for him, this is not an issue; it's only a pity.
Feeling important makes one heavy, clumsy and vain. To be a warrior one needs to be light and fluid.
When they are seen as fields of energy, human beings appear to be like fibers of light, like white cobwebs, very fine threads that circulate from the head to the toes. Thus to the eye of a seer, a man looks like an egg of circulating fibers. And his arms and legs are like luminous bristles, bursting out in all directions.
The seer sees that every man is in touch with everything else, not through his hands, but through a bunch of long fibers that shoot out in all directions from the center of his abdomen. Those fibers join a man to his surroundings; they keep his balance; they give him stability.
When a warrior learns to see he sees that a man is a luminous egg whether he's a beggar or a king, and that there's no way to change anything; or rather, what could be changed in that luminous egg? What?
A warrior never worries about his fear. Instead, he thinks about the wonders of seeing the flow of energy! The rest is frills, unimportant frills.
Only a crackpot would undertake the task of becoming a man of knowledge of his own accord. A sober-headed man has to be tricked into doing it. There are scores of people who would gladly undertake the task, but those don't count. They are usually cracked. They are like gourds that look fine from the outside and yet they would leak the minute you put pressure on them, the minute you filled them with water.
When a man is not concerned with seeing, things look very much the same to him every time he looks at the world. When he learns to see, on the other hand, nothing is ever the same every time he sees it, and yet it is the same. To the eye of a seer, a man is like an egg. Every time he sees the same man he sees a luminous egg, yet it is not the same luminous egg.
The shamans of ancient Mexico gave the name allies to Inexplicable forces that acted upon them. They called them allies because they thought they could use them to their hearts' content, a notion that proved nearly fatal to those shamans, because what they called an ally is a being without corporeal essence that exists in the universe. Modern-day shamans call them inorganic beings.
To ask what function the allies have is like asking what we men do in the world. We are here, that's all. And the allies are here like us; and maybe they were here before us.
The most effective way to live is as a warrior. A warrior may worry and think before making any decision, but once he makes it, he goes on his way, free from worries or thoughts; there will be a million other decisions still awaiting him. That's the warriors' way.
A warrior thinks of his death when things become unclear. The idea of death is the only thing that tempers our spirit.
Death is everywhere. It may be the headlights of a car on a hilltop in the distance behind. They may remain visible for a while, and disappear into the darkness as if they had been scooped away; only to appear on another hilltop, and then disappear again. Those are the lights on the head of death. Death puts them on like a hat and then shoots off on a gallop, gaining on us, getting closer and closer. Sometimes it turns off its lights. But death never stops.
A warrior must know first that his acts are useless, and yet, he must proceed as if he didn't know it. That's a shaman's controlled Folly.
The eyes of man can perform two functions: one is seeing energy at large as it flows in the universe and the other is "looking at things in this world." Neither of these functions is better than the other; however to train the eyes only to look is a shameful and unnecessary loss.
A warrior lives by acting, not by thinking about acting, nor by thinking about what he will think when he has finished acting.
A warrior chooses a path with heart, any path with heart, and follows it; and then he rejoices and laughs. He knows because he sees that his life will be over altogether too soon. He sees that nothing is more important than anything else.
A warrior has no honor, no dignity, no family, no name, no country; he has only life to be lived, and under these circumstances, his only tie to his fellow men is his controlled folly.
Nothing being more important than anything else, a warrior chooses any act, and acts it out as if it mattered to him. His controlled folly makes him say that what he does matters and makes him act as if it did, and yet he knows that it doesn't; so when he fulfills his acts, he retreats in peace, and whether his acts were good or bad, or worked or didn't, is in no way part of his concern.