Carlos Castaneda coined the phrase ‘petty tyrant’ in his book The Fire From Within. A number of people have written about it, but they obviously have not undergone it themselves, so I have decided to discuss my own experiences.
To have a petty tyrant in one’s spiritual development is a blessing, although this is not what it feels like when. To have a good petty tyrant is to experience the torments of Dante’s Hells. Life is on a perpetual state of fear, pain, worry, an exquisite torture the like of which you do not wish on your worst enemies. My teacher, Punditt, took me through this experience for many, many years. Every time I met him, which was on a daily basis, I never knew his moods, what he would say, what would happen. I did not know if he was God or the Devil. I could not tell. He threw me into situations that were bizarre, extreme, polarised, terrifying. I would be force to face every inconsistency, every weakness, and every tiny detail of my belief frameworks. I remember him spending hours telling me I was racist, and at the point I started to think that maybe he was right, he suddenly relented, and said that I wasn’t. I was facing situations where I had to convince people black was white, and white was black – and they believed me. Remember the story of St Peter and the Cock crowing? That happened to me. Very early on I had to deny I had a teacher – to do otherwise would have created appalling situations in my life. There were so many events going on that those days were a blur; I remember very little of them. A very important aspect to learning the spiritual path is to spend time with your teacher. In my case, I had to go to his apartment around 10am every morning, and spend the day with him. If he didn’t go out, I didn’t either. Very often I was there from 10am to 10pm, when he would say that I could go. I went home, and next day the pattern was repeated.
Eventually I realised that and not rely on him for every spiritual problem (and there were innumerable problems), I had to work out my solutions. At this point, he told me that if I made a mistake, he would fix it, which is what happened. I made terrible mistakes, particularly when he was not available – he knew when to disappear at moments of crisis in my life when I had to figure out what to do. Your petty tyrant knows exactly what to do and say to totally de-construct your psyche, your personality, your spiritual makeup. Everything. Then these de-constructed aspects of your being, at all levels are patiently reconnected, reconfigured, upgraded, enhanced, purified. This is true alchemy at work, performed by the Master. For years I was tested. Tests could happen at any time of the day or night, with never any warning. There was never a sign that a test was happening, while it was happening, or if I had passed! There were trick questions, false directions, all sorts of diversions, some from him, many from spirits trying to get me to fail. Throughout all these years of suffering, he never told me anything – except spiritually through the Silence. Whenever I questioned him on anything spiritual, he would say, “Spirit”. It didn’t matter if the experience or situation was good or bad, the reply was “Spirit”. If I asked what kind of spirit, he would say, “Spirit”.
This perfect, impeccable, sublime level of communication from the consciousness of the Master to the Student has its problems. Punditt could not, and did not ask for spiritual help, when in fact this is what I was supposed to do. For many years I laboured under the illusion that I was not qualified to help him, when in fact the reverse was the case. Punditt suffered for many years as a result. There are deeper and mysterious levels to this, in that what he was doing was taking on my Karma – if he had not done this (and continues to this day), the suffering and misery I would have endured would have been indescribable.
The Man who Knows the Unknown
“The man who knows the Unknown”, is a slogan Punditt used on his advertising. It sounds incredible and outrageous, even arrogant, but eventually I realised a deeper and more profound implication that would help me with my spiritual development. If he knew the Unknown, it means that nobody had told him what it was, because if they did, it would no longer be Unknown! Now I understood why he could not communicate any more than he did to me – I had to work it out myself. Ten years ago, he took to me to Faisalabad in Pakistan to meet his mysterious colleagues. I never met them, but I went to a shrine of a Sufi Saint. After the ‘holiday’ I felt that I had been through an initiation, but it is only recently that it was confirmed that was what had happened to me. You see, the most profound initiations are not of significance to the person undergoing the process – flashy experiences are counter-productive.
Years later, I read Castaneda’s books, and I recognised that his experiences were in many ways similar to mine – there is universality to spiritual experience. Real spiritual power is only bestowed upon those who are ready and have worked for it, and the Master and Spirits have it in their gift to bestow those powers. There are no shortcuts, no cheats; the knowledge cannot be stolen in any way possible. However that does not stop frauds trying to do this.
The consequence of undergoing ordeals such as these for many, many years is a level of integration, power, spiritual insight, and serenity that is unobtainable in any other way. To have a petty tyrant is indeed a blessing. To have a petty tyrant with real power and spiritual ability is rare, sacred, an extraordinary gift, and I still do not understand what it was that singled me out for this experience. Even through the darkest days (and there were far too many of them), I knew I had to keep on going. The TINA doctrine (there is no alternative) was uppermost in my mind – where else could I go to? If he is who I think he is, I am truly blessed. If he isn’t, I am so far beyond redemption that I would have no idea where to get help from.
The true, Spiritual, Petty Tyrant is indispensable to the true Spiritual Path. The pace of evolution is incredible – you can barely gather your breath sometimes in the face of so much change. Every blemish, every obstacle, every imperfection is blown up in your face – you cannot escape anything. Until those imperfections are eradicated your Petty Tyrant will haunt you. As part of the knowledge, you will even have to know the false petty tyrants and deal with them.
Petty Tyrants are everywhere
They are there whether we invite them into our life or not. We have inner petty tyrants, those who say we are inadequate, that we are a failure, we will never find happiness. When you say or think “So and So made me do it…” you have a petty tyrant at work Those thoughts are worked upon and eradicated. Mothers in Law, parents, colleagues, siblings, traffic wardens can all be petty tyrants – if we allow them to, and most of us do. Petty Tyrants appear in group consciousness, such as lawlessness, petty rules, fear of crime.
The importance of the Petty Tyrant
The function of the petty tyrant is to remove the arrogance, self-conceit, self-importance, that we all have in one way or another. If you are on the spiritual path, this particularly important, but here lies the paradox. Self importance has to be defeated, but it is also the mechanism for achieving spiritual power! I wrestled with this one for many years when I was suffering in those early days. You have to have the arrogance and self belief to know that you can do it, but the humility to know that it is not you that does it. Let me explain. ‘I’ does nothing, even though it believes it does. It is not the ‘I’, but the Ego or personality that does the acting. ‘I’ is impersonal, ‘beyond the three gunas’. Now this in no way negates the Doer from responsibility – done properly, the responsibility is heightened. This is the safety net that has to be invoked, otherwise you are doomed.
At the centre of Castaneda’s views on the petty tyrant is a contradiction, as he says that the petty tyrant is not spiritual, and yet Castaneda’s petty tyrant is not La Gorda, but Genaro, who scares him shitless – I know the experience well.
Thus far, we have looked at what the petty tyrant does, and what benefits we can expect, after all the pain and hurt and humiliation subside, sometimes after many years.
“Someone who either holds the power of life and death over warriors or simply annoys them to distraction”
Castaneda, The Fire from Within
Castaneda goes to the sub-classifications, which he acknowledges are somewhat absurd – after all the only way to deal with petty tyrants is with humour, in much the same way the British dealt with the Nazi threat in World War II. Petty tyrants teach self-detachment. Castaneda points out that self-importance consumes vast amounts of energy, which could be better employed elsewhere.
“One of the first concerns of warriors is to free the energy in order to face the unknown with it… the act of rechannelling that energy is impeccability”
Here is what Punditt was doing for me, teaching me how to re-channel that energy into finding the Unknown. Castaneda lists six elements of stalking:
Did I have to learn how to fight! Never fisticuffs, but I had to learn to fight spirits, demons, ignorance, despotism; injustice… the list is endless. Control was exemplified in many ways. For example, it didn’t matter how much alcohol I had to consume, I still had to act and deport myself with dignity – I could not act drunk. I had to master my emotions, my feelings, and spirits. I had to be disciplined and controlled at all times, despite the constant feeling that my life was totally outside of my control. Forbearance and timing are interlinked. Many times the extreme discomfiture I was experiencing had to continue until Punditt said the time was right to remove the pain. Bizarrely, when he said things would improve, invariably they got worse. The result of all these elements is Will, Will to face Punditt’s formidable Will, Will to conquer and reshape my Will, the Will to continue in the face of all adversity, when I really thought I had lost the plot, and defeated. All these elements interlinks and are simultaneously cause and effect in ongoing melee or soup that constantly changes vicariously. As Castaneda says, Will belongs to the Unknown:
“… if seers can hold their own in facing petty tyrants, they can certainly face the unknown with impunity, and then they can even stand the presence of the unknowable.”
False Petty Tyrants
This website concerned with uncovering and working with the Unknown – it exists because of my struggles with my powerful Spiritual Teacher who had to take the place of the other petty tyrants in my life. Thus far, we have dealt with that rarity, a spiritual petty tyrant, but what of those who think they are petty tyrants? Castaneda has the answer:
“In fact, what turns human beings into petty tyrants is precisely the obsessive manipulation of the known.”
This kind of petty tyrant believes he or she has power over life and death. The ego inflates to extraordinary levels, and as Castaneda describes, any revelation of the hidden always involves the known, and its obsessive manipulation.
It so happened that shortly after Punditt no longer needed to be my petty tyrant; another petty tyrant came into my life. At the time it did not seem like he was, but I began to recognise his behaviour as acting like a parody of a petty tyrant. After some months of indulgence, I got bored of it, and told him that I was fully aware of what he was up to, I wasn’t impressed, and could he stop.