Buenos Aires Mystery School? Oscar Ichazo, Arica and
By Corey Donovan, Corey@sustainedaction.org
Since Castaneda’s chronology for the early sixties (and his supposed meeting with "don Juan" in the summer of 1960) is in increasing doubt, some have speculated as to whether he actually learned the knowledge he attributed to don Juan from another master at an earlier point in his career ? i.e., the fifties ?and in some other part of Latin America. A few have speculated that Buenos Aires might have been a good place for Castaneda to have received this instruction, prior to his arrival in the ‘States.
If you review the early years chronology of Castaneda on this site, which places him squarely in Cajamarca and then Lima, Peru, prior to his arriving in San Francisco in 1951, it is hard to imagine when he would have been spending time in Argentina. (I know he made vague references to having spent time there as a child in a boarding school, but those stories were nowhere near as detailed as the ones he told about growing up in Brazil, which were also bogus.) And the Castaneda described in Margaret Runyan's book hardly sounds like someone who had learned any "real sorcery" prior to the early '60's. He was also constantly broke, and there is no evidence he made any trips to South America during those early years in the States (which would have been very expensive).
Nonetheless, it is interesting to note that Oscar Ichazo--founder of Arica and a Castaneda contemporary whose career parallels Castaneda's in a number of ways--claimed that his early training in mysticism and Eastern philosophy came from a mysterious group of foreigners operating out of Buenos Aires in the 1950's.
Since someone who had been through Arica training alerted me to some similarities between their "psycho calisthenics" or "Kinerhythm exercises" to some of the Tensegrity moves, I've been on the lookout for more info about Arica and Oscar Ichazo, its founder, whom I had also heard had known Castaneda. So while browsing a used bookstore for something else entirely, I happened on Interviews with Oscar Ichazo, a 1982 Arica Institute publication. I was certainly intrigued when I read the following from an interview of Ichazo in 1973 by Sam Keen (who had interviewed Castaneda in '72):
"Oscar: When I was nineteen [since Ichazo was born in Bolivia in July 1931, that would mean 1950 or '51], a remarkable man found me in La Paz. He was sixty years old and when he began to teach me, I knew from the beginning that he was speaking the truth. This man, whose name I have pledged not to reveal [sound familiar?], belonged to a small group in Buenos Aires that met to share their knowledge of various esoteric consciousness-altering techniques. I became the coffee boy for this group. I would get up at four A.M. to make their coffee and breakfast and would stay around as inconspicuously as possible. Gradually they got used to my presence and they started using me as a guinea pig to demonstrate techniques to each other. To settle arguments about whether some particular kind of meditation or mantra worked, they would have me try it and report what I experienced.
Keen: What kinds of disciplines were being shared in the group?
Oscar: About two-thirds of the group were Orientals, so they were strong on Zen, Sufism, and Kaballah. They also used some techniques I later found in the Gurdjieff work.
Keen: Where does the story go from here?
Oscar: One day when I was serving coffee, an argument arose between two members of the group. I turned to one and said, 'You are not right. He is right.' Just like that. Then I explained the point until both of them understood. This incident changed everything. They asked me to leave, and I thought I was being kicked out for being pretentious. But after about a week, they called me back and told me they had all decided to teach me. They worked with me for two more years and then opened doors for me in the Orient. After a time of remaining at home in Chile, I began to travel and study in the East [starting in '56], in Hong Kong, India, and Tibet. I did more work in the martial arts, learned all of the higher yogas, studied Buddhism, and Confucianism, alchemy, and the wisdom of the I Ching. Then I went back to La Paz to live with my father and digest my
learnings. After working alone for a year, I went into a divine coma for seven days. When I came out of it I knew that I should teach; it was impossible that all my good luck should be only for myself [also familiar?]."
In a 1976 interview, Ichazo further describes the Buenos Aires connection: "Now, the part in
Buenos Aires is very simple. There was a group of people and not one of them was Latin American. For some reason they chose Buenos Aires. They chose it because it was comfortable. At least one of them in the group was really a millionaire, and all the rest were more or less well-provided for. It wasn't formal. Somehow the millionaire in the group was trying to implement his idea that it was possible to synthesize all mysticism, that it was the time to do it and to present it. He was a very high mystic and all his friends there were of the very first class. Now, although the idea was to make the group in Buenos Aires, it never happened because, number one, they were never all together, because they were too busy, or surrounded by disciples at the same time, and also it was difficult for them to leave their places to come to Buenos Aires. So in reality most of the time was spent in communicating--this one is going and the other is coming.
Q: So there was a lot of circulation.
Oscar: A lot of circulation with very little result as effort in the work itself. They didn't do much about the work, but they talked about things until eventually they started really working with me. It was somehow quite sloppy in the sense that one would teach me one thing and the other another thing (by alex cillo). It was very eclectic because they were trying to see different things. There was never a complete line. Even though there was a point at which it almost came, it never really happened. That's what I can say about it."
According to yet another interview, "This was around 1950, and this man invited me to Buenos Aires, where I was involved with a group of mystics, many of whom were seventy or eighty years old when I met them. . . . None of them was South American. They were
Europeans or from the Middle East."
Other material in the book explains that Ichazo started teaching the philosophy he had created from this mix of influences to a group of ten in a remote town in Chile--Arica--in 1968 (and that he had been doing some kind of teaching as early as the mid-sixties in Santiago). In 1970, about fifty Americans, including fifteen from Esalen (where Castaneda was also a bit of a fixture for awhile, by the way), stayed with him for nine months. After that he decided to move "the work" to the U.S., opening centers in New York, L.A. and San Francisco.
A little more background on Ichazo: According to an official-sounding biographical squib in the book, Ichazo "trained in the martial arts while still a boy [growing up in Bolivia and Peru], and experienced psychotropic drugs and shamanism through contact with the Indians of the Andes [supposedly being given ayahuasca after getting involved with some curanderos when he was 13]. He was instructed in Zen, Sufism, the Kaballah, and Gurdjieffian cosmology by masters in Latin America. He then traveled widely in the East to do advanced work in martial arts, learn the higher yogas, and study Buddhism, Confucianism, alchemy, and the I Ching. This list leaves out his extensive study of science and physiology--he was, for example, assisting in the dissection of cadavers at a La Paz medical school at the age of twelve--and the wide range of his readings in philosophy and literature."
When asked how he could have absorbed so many complex disciplines in a relatively short time,
Ichazo "explains": "I got trained to a very fast and scientific way of seeing things and just taking the bones out of them. That was how I have studied all my life. It is like learning languages. The first is very difficult to learn. The second one is easier. If you know four, any language is easy. Once you have eight, it's like you jump. In Arica study we say that you jump the MMP (the material manifestation point). It's so easy. Another thing was that from the very beginning in the Orient, I was recognized as a man who as achieved what's called the satori condition. So from the beginning, I was respected differently. I was not treated as a disciple--never--not even by those who were very high in the realization."
Okay, so lest you think that Carlos and Oscar were just old "buds" from the Buenos Aires "mystery school," i.e., basically "homies" who each went off to "start their own franchise," be warned that Oscar has some very pointed things to say about Castaneda.
In a 1975 interview, when asked about some of the influences that were causing a "change of mentality" in America, Ichazo explained, "Another thing has been that precisely with the understanding of the drugs, America suddenly became aware that there was a kind of sacred knowledge in almost every culture and that the Indian cultures, at any rate, have got their own thing. That was very important. In the midst of this, because without it it wouldn't be possible, comes Castaneda's fake. I say it like that because it is a fake! But that's another matter. There are other things more important than that."
Replica Watches Replica Watches
In a 1976 interview with Rick Fields, however, Ichazo can't so easily restrain himself on this subject. When asked to comment on whether est "works," Ichazo first opines that the experience one gets in est is "absolutely false," but that "you can have that kind of suggestion, if you want. And the suggestion can be rather strong if it's validated with certain types of reasoning."
Then he's off onto Castaneda: "For example, Castaneda, at the end of his books, speaks about stopping the world, something nobody can do, not Castaneda, not his imagined character don Juan; nobody can stop the world. But you can really stop your mind. But you know, that is the trick of
Castaneda--trying to say nothing new about something very old. And he makes nonsense.
Q: You don't think Castaneda or Don Juan has a genuine teaching?
Oscar: Absolutely not.
Q: Do you think he made it up?
Oscar: Absolutely. Number one, you know there do not exist people who fly as he said. That is good for Spiderman. Number two, the sorcery that he says is Indian is not Indian at all. He doesn't understand Indians. I come from Indian country. He comes from Peru, but he's from the coast. He's from a Spanish culture that denies Indian culture, despises Indian culture and doesn't understand it at all. Well, so he's coming from a point where they don't have that understanding. I am from a point where that understanding is complete, because my country [Bolivia] is an Indian country.
The sorcery in Don Juan is Western sorcery. That is witchcraft as we know it. So it comes from witchcraft; Indians don't know that kind of thing. The idea of a warrior is not an Indian idea. It is a Chinese idea, because if there were a warrior thing in the Indian culture, there would be a martial art and there is none. The final thing is the Diamond Sutra involved in this thing. Instead of saying stop your mind, he says stop the world. One thing with concepts, and mostly with mystical concepts is that they don't allow you to manipulate them at random."
So, let's just say that "Oscar is not impressed." Nonetheless, it is interesting that there are a number of parallels between things Castaneda said at the workshops about Tensegrity in the '90's, and the principles of Arica's trainings. (Note: By 1981, the Arica Institute claimed that over 200,000 people had "taken advantage of at least one of Arica's wide variety of trainings, courses or workshops, developed to lead one on a nine-stage path toward enlightenment.")
To start with, Oscar and Carlos both disavowed being "gurus" -- "Absolutely not. I have been very clear from the beginning of all this in saying that I am not a guru." (1981 interview by Alfie Fox.)
Secondly, there are all those wacky movements.
According to Ichazo, "the Kinerhythm exercise . . . is not a new exercise, but has been synthesized by me in a new form that doesn't contradict the tradition and makes the experience more available to our time." (This from a 1978 interview.) He also claimed ancient roots for these movements: "This kind of exercise has really been developed in the Pamir [a plateau in Tadzhikistan near Afghanistan] a long time ago. "Because the Pamir was a point of encounter of cultures, it was the place where methods of all the knowledge of these cultures were synthesized. It was the meeting place of the Chinese cultures, of the Tartar culture, and the Arabic culture, and the Hindu culture. So it has been always a kind of university where these different cultures would be studied. . . . . There was a method of kinesthetic movement for deep concentration, and from that I developed the kinesthetic movements by compressing them to a high degree. This has two advantages. In one way it is easier to do in a limited space; we don't need the big spaces for kinesthetic movements which have always been required. Also, they required a pretty good silence and certain practices of a strong pranayama. Now all that has been synthesized in one, in what we know now as Kinerhythm. So they are traditional techniques that have been synthesized, compressed, and at the same time made easier. I would say that they are deeper. There is less to do, and it takes less time and less space, but it is more intense." [Wow, where have I heard that one before?]
Another similarity is that "we don't proselytize because, well, we are not making a cult. This is not a cult. So we don't proselytize." (1978 interview.)
Nonetheless, "things go better with mass." Ichazo: "Here school is meant in the same way that you would say a school of fishes, in the sense of a compact mass of individuals with the same purpose . . . they are equal, they are the same family. . . . . We are a family in the sense of metasociety. That is, for us, we are brothers and sisters, seriously. This is not an outside declaration; it's our family for sure." (1978 interview.) And with "mass" comes speed: "People working together in a group progress so fast that it is almost inconceivable. You can realize yourself with such speed when you start doing exercises in a group, that a week becomes like years for you." (1981 interview.) Also, "When we do 'tuning,' that is, when everybody meditates at the same time, the results are fantastic. The next day people's faces are different. The results are much faster, to the extent that if you speak of the traditional paths as a horse, Arica is a jet."
The Arica work also changes one's perception of reality: "[T]he main thing that a student feels is the reversing of the attitude about his world. What we call the waking state becomes the dream state and what we call the dream state becomes the waking state. A student becomes aware of different spaces and different realities which are more real than this reality. In making this transition, a student really needs a guide who has been there and is an expert." (1981 interview.) [But not a "guru."]
How about recapitulation, you ask? "We go along system by system and the student reviews his life experiences, seeing them from a neutral point of view rather than identifying with those experiences and processes. Understanding the systems means understanding how you are composed internally." (1981 interview.)
But how is this all going to help man to evolve, you ask? Isn't man as a species just doomed to destruction anyway, without Tensegrity and Cleargreen's workshops? In a 1979 interview, Ichazo was asked, "How much time would you say we have? You once gave a time scale for humanity to jump its level or disappear."
"Oscar: You know, after really consulting deeply in all that I have studied, it became very obvious that our timing was going to take about ten years. And that timing we started counting in 1973. That was the first year of counting. We've got to say 1983." So clearly, we're just running on borrowed time at this point.
In 1981, with only two years left for a doomed species, Ichazo promised, hopefully, "It's a matter of discovering the techniques of how to evolve and how to conduct ourselves in a mature and totally independent way." And "[Arica] is the last serious school that has appeared in our civilization. This is totally necessary to happen. Arica is not the product just of my mind; it is the product of our needs, it is the product of our times; it belongs to our time; it answers the questions of our time; and more than anything, it opens a new way to approach mysticism, a way that is much easier because it is logical, intellectual, and reasonable."
Alright, I'm getting a little nauseous here with this feeling of "deja vu all over again." but I think you get the picture.