Castaneda Meets Muktananda . . . and generates a whole lot of questions about don Juan's 'departure' and the 'apprenticeships' of Florinda, et al.
by Corey Donovan

The following excerpts are from In the Company of a Siddha, by Swami Mukktananda, S.Y.D.A. Foundation Oakland 1978.

Castaneda came to meet Muktananda in Piedmont, California. Muktananda responds to Castaneda's initial greeting by saying, "In India, it is impressed upon our minds again and again that we must seek the company of yogis, saints, and other spiritually evolved people." Castaneda tells him that don Juan had shown him "that the only way to grow is to seek the company of beings who are on the path of knowledge." (p. 147)

Castaneda then relates how don Juan tricked him into becoming don Juan's apprentice. Muktananda responds, "I don't have to trick my disciples into accepting me," explaining that the "shakti" Muktananda received from his guru does that work for him. Castaneda counters that the American Indian tradition is different, since "American Indians believe that no one is willing to undertake a very rigorous training. Don Juan's people feel that a volunteer should be doubted. They believe that the only people who can handle the knowledge are naturally reluctant people . . . . That is why the teacher has to go out and lasso an apprentice." (p. 148)

Castaneda then states something that, in retrospect, is very revealing: "Don Juan has had only two apprentices--I am one--in his lifetime, and they came to him when he was at a very advanced age, around eighty." (p. 148)

This is particularly interesting in light of the discrepancies I turned up while doing Florinda's chronology--i.e., the fact that Florinda did not hold herself out as a "disciple of don Juan" until late 1992. (See summary of Florinda Donner chronology.) In a February 1992 Dimensions article, after her 1991 book came out, she explained, "Actually I'm not an apprentice of Don Juan. I was an apprentice of Castaneda who was an apprentice of Don Juan." So Castaneda's statement about don Juan having only two apprentices is consistent, at least, with Florinda's pre-1993 statement that she was not one of don Juan's apprentices. It also suggests that neither Taisha nor Carol were the other one either.

It is unclear to whom Castaneda is referring as don Juan's other disciple. Maybe "Pablito," or "La Gorda"? (Certainly not "Merilyn Tunneshende," I guess.)

At any rate, this little passage heightens the need to figure out when this exchange took place. My best guess is anywhere between 1975 and 1977. We know that Muktananda's book was published in 1978, so it is obviously before that. And it is most likely after 1973, especially given the additional excerpts below.

Castaneda states, "I have finished my apprenticeship, which lasted fifteen years. Don Juan has now left me; he has thrown me out into the world. Now everything is up to me."

[Since Castaneda purportedly first met don Juan in the summer of 1960, that would mean his apprenticeship had lasted until 1975 (although he and the others always consistently put the departure of don Juan and his group in 1973).]

Toward the end of the interview, Muktananda asks Castaneda, "Is Don Juan still alive?" Castaneda responds, "Oh, yes."

Muktananda offers, "From the account that you have given of him, he seems to be worth meeting."

Castaneda: "Yes, and it would be very interesting if he would come to the United States, but he never does. He likes to travel a great deal, but he doesn't go out of Mexico."

[This is remarkable because, especially in Castaneda's later years, there were a lot of references to don Juan spending time in L.A. There were also claims that Castaneda traveled with don Juan to Tucson (e.g., that he was with don Juan when they encountered anti-war protesters in Tucson). So did the mythic don Juan just become a lot more mobile in Castaneda's later years?]

Muktananda concludes, "I am very fond of meeting such beings."

And Castaneda closes: "We should make an arrangement, but I don't know when I will see Don Juan again. It may be a matter of a few months or perhaps years; he doesn't see me any more. It depends on me now, and on how well I live my life."

[This statement suggests that Castaneda had not yet resolved to "kill off" don Juan. Maybe that decision just came while he was writing The Second Ring of Power, which wasn't published until 1977.]

Relevant to dating this encounter is the story Castaneda told at a few workshops about a Chinese yogi who broke his neck and died on the way to meeting Castaneda. This was the "omen" that purportedly caused Castaneda to give up his year-long search for "gurus"? Castaneda elaborated the story with various details at various times, but at the August 1995 intensive, he said:

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"The last one I found was a Chinese yogi in Oakland. He [the yogi] had told us not to come through the front door, that that was only for 'luminaries.' A crowd of people in back were prostrating themselves. This guru stood at the top, made some pompous gesture, and then fell down the stairs, breaking his neck and dying. That was the last guru.

"Taisha Abelar has already told the story [at Omega] of the one man I met that truly had an amazing level of awareness. I met him through this woman writer who had awakened at a very advanced age after years in a coma. [Carobeth Laird, an anthropologist who was first married to the legendary field ethnologist John Peabody Harrington, and who later married a Chemehuevi Indian, George Laird, who had been her chief informant on Chemehuevi lore and language. Ms. Laird had not been for "years in a coma," but had basically disappeared from the world of academic anthropology for decades until 1975, when she was 80 (and living in a retirement home), with the publication of her acclaimed book, Encounter with an Angry God. In 1976, her book The Chemehuevis, was published by the Malki Museum Press, and included a foreword by Harry Lawton (Daniel's father). According to Harry Lawton, Carobeth Laird once had a meeting with Castaneda.] That was the year I had gone looking for gurus."

It seems safe to assume that Castaneda met with Ms. Laird after she had become a fellow anthropology celebrity -- probably in 1976. So, although Castaneda and his cohorts consistently claimed throughout the 90s that don Juan and his party "left" in 1973, it appears that in 1975 or 1976, when he met with Muktananda, Castaneda had not yet decided to "kill off" his most famous artistic creation.