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The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge (1968)

af Carlos Castaneda

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Om brugen af hallucinogener hos Mexicos yaqui-indianere.
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Well, I’ve finally found the combination of dope and spirituality I’ve been looking for in works such as The Joyous Cosmology by Alan Watts, The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell by Aldous Huxley, and why I perused the works (I inherited a full set of books from my late uncle) of Thomas Merton (I found him distasteful in that he hid behind God on every other page and esp. after reading his poem God of Death putting his Islamophobia plain). I do have Confessions of an English Opium-Eater by Thomas De Quincy still sitting on my reading table. However, I have been universally disappointed by all the previously mentioned works, and as mentioned in the Teachings Don Juan, they failed in that they forgot what they saw and heard while under the influence thus failing to achieve knowledge of the trip. Now, I’m not a big dope fiend but I do occasionally indulge (legally) though I rarely experience out of the ordinary for the commonalities of the experience(s). As for the truthfulness or accuracy of the drug trips in this book, well, there may be room for doubt.
Some of my favorite quotes dealing with the trippy part are:
“The difficulty of the ingredients,” he proceeded suddenly, “makes the smoke mixture one of the most dangerous substances I know. No one can prepare it without being coached. It is deadly poisonous to anyone except the smoke’s protégé! Pipe and mixture ought to be treated with intimate care. And the man attempting to learn must prepare himself by leading a hard, quiet life. Its effects are so dreadful that only a very strong man can stand the smallest puff. Everything is terrifying and confusing at the outset, but every new puff makes things more precise.” [pg.69]
And:
[…] I told him I could see in the dark.
He stared at me for a long time without saying a word; if he did speak, perhaps I did not hear him, for I was concentrating on my new, unique ability to see in the dark. I could distinguish the very minute pebbles in the sand. At moments everything was so clear it seemed to be early morning, or dusk. Then it would get dark; then it would clear again. Soon I realized that the brightness corresponded to my heart’s diastole, and the darkness to its systole. The world changed from bright to dark to bright again with every beat of my heart.
I was absorbed in this discovery when the same strange sound that I had heard before became audible again. My muscles stiffened. [pg.98]
Lastly:
The sound of my voice did not project out, but hit the roof of my palate, bounced back in to [sic] my throat, and echoed to and fro between them. The echo was soft and musical, and seemed to have wings that flapped inside my throat. Its touch soothed me. I followed its back-and-forth movements until it had vanished. [pg.96]
This work purports (more on that later) to be a “true” record in the form of a young anthropologist student’s (Carlos Casteneda’s) diary documenting his time spent learning as an acolyte of a Yaqui (a Native American ethnic group in Mexico where this story takes place) shaman named Don Juan in the text. For the most part, this book is very readable, and the narrative moves at a good pace. This is not a boring book granted most of the action is contained in the shamanistic drug trips of its protagonist culminating in a “battle” with a disguised witch. I enjoyed the first section of the book.
The second section, however, is not really good reading, it’s an analysis of the previous text and the logical structuring of the basis of Don Juan’s teachings. It is somewhat interesting but can be skipped as the tone of this last part of the book is whiplash from vibrant descriptive content to a very dry scholarly and analytical blandness. Don’t get me wrong, it does help to clarify some aspects of the previous section, but it does detract a little from the reading experience of the first three-fourths of the book.
Are there tidbits of wisdom in this book? A few, I guess.
“Is the smoke the best possible ally for everybody?”
“It’s not the same for everybody. Many fear it and won’t touch it, or even get close to it. The smoke is like everything else; it wasn’t made for all of us.” [pg.68]
There’s even a little advice for the majority of people on the internet:
“No! I’m never angry at anybody! No human being can do anything important enough for that. You get angry at people when you feel that their acts are important. I don’t feel that way any longer.” [pg.72]
I might share a little personal sentiment here in the context of the net.
And then hilariously (and smartly):
I followed him. He walked around the house, making a complete clockwise circle. He stopped at the porch and circled the house again, this time going counterclockwise and again returning to the porch. He stood motionless for some time, and then sat down.
I was conditioned to believe that everything he did had some meaning. I was wondering about the significance of circling the house when he said, “Hey! I have forgotten where I put it.” [pg.77]
Would I recommend this book? Well, first, this book is considered entirely fictional for good reason which I was aware of when I dove in. However, I still found the main text of the book (the first section) compelling and interesting. This is despite the book being nowhere near factual when it comes to anything concerning the Yaqui people of Mexico. The shamanistic beliefs represented in the narrative are (admittedly by the author) based on Toltec shamanic beliefs (according to Wikipedia). There are also several other books published that refute the anthropological truth of the work.
So, would I still recommend this book? Yes, I liked it and taking this as a work of fiction does lessen the impact a little, but it was a fun read, at least to me. However, remember that datura is definitely toxic, and knowing that this book is entirely fiction, DO NOT take this book as a guide to consuming such a dangerous plant. Otherwise, this book is interesting as a hero’s journey of a young, educated skeptic into the “non-ordinary reality” of sorcery via the ritual consumption of peyote buttons, hallucinogenic mushrooms, and bits of the deadly datura plant.
“The desire to learn is not ambition,” he said. “It is our lot as men to want to know, but to seek the devil’s weed is to bid for power, and that is ambition, because you are not bidding to know. Don’t let the devil’s weed blind you. She has hooked you already. She entices men and gives them a sense of power; she makes them feel they can do things that no ordinary man can. But that is her trap. And, the next thing, the path without a heart will turn against men and destroy them. It does not take much to die, and to seek death is to seek nothing.” [pg.161] ( )
  Ranjr | Nov 29, 2023 |
For me, this is shamanistic philosophy, you know. I don’t know whether or not it makes sense to say whether it’s “fiction” or “non-fiction”, right. What about Plato’s Republic? Is that “fiction” or “non-fiction”? What about the last chapter or book in Plato’s Republic? For some people, it’s primitive garbage, but for me, it was the most rewarding part of the book, the WHY of philosophy.

And, you know, I’m going to try not to whine and spit like a kid in the chess club who gets bullied by the basketball team and makes it worse—I don’t mean that like as how you guys are, (basketball, bullying), but just about me (‘the importance of being earnest’, although I haven’t read that book)—it’s…. I don’t know, it’s funny. Apparently a LOT of people thought that shamanistic philosophy and non-ordinary reality was going to have the same standards of thinking as vote-counting, obviously the exclusive pinnacle of human existence, right. I mean, it’s like, if you watched C-SPAN for four hours (was a pirate making you keep going?) and then at the end complained that it was boring, that it was ultimately trivial and ordinary or whatever, that it was petty and material, it’s like—well, you knew that it was C-SPAN, right? Surely you knew that that was one way of looking at C-SPAN? And yet you were…. Surprised, I guess?

For myself, I found that there’s a lot less dividing shamanistic philosophy from Jewish or Christian philosophy, I think, than it’s easy to assume, you know. (“He’s a witch! He’s a witch! Torture him, torture him! *crying* In the Name of Jesus, torture him! *collapses in emotion*). I mean, ultimately even a good “primitive” teacher, I think, certainly many Native teachers, will tell you that the most important thing is not the “devil’s weed”, sex and power, and greed, you know, (as difficult as that can be to fend off when you’re young, or even just when you’re having a bad day, and I’ve come to appreciate that the histrionics of moralism and basically reacting and rejecting don’t really help you to live a more pure life), but that it’s better to work with “the smoke”, a purer sort of knowledge that isn’t about power, sex, control.

Of course, both of these things are, in their literal forms, actually plants or drugs that are probably illegal to use in the United States for most people, which is kinda instructive, in the sense that while it’s certainly not illegal for a Native person to convert to Christianity or for a non-Native person to stigmatize Carlos or whoever as being primitive and sad, it is illegal to use these substances, and stigmatizable for someone to try to understand a way of looking at the world that is neither German philosophy or C-SPAN, you know, nor our medicine; it’s, neither anti-body (even Soren made fun of Hegel), or 100% materialistic.

Probably the best part of the main part of the book, and that has become the title to another book, is the “path with heart” part. In the end, the thing is to follow a path with heart. It doesn’t lead anywhere, in particular—that is the great misunderstanding of the ordinary person, I think, like, one day they’ll wake up with ten million dollars in the bank, and now they’ll really be…. Somewhere! And after that, somewhere else!…. But I mean, you follow the path with heart, at least you’re really living, you’re really alive, you know. It’s not about “ending up” somewhere where you’re Rich and you’ve “arrived”.

It’s not about being the most macho warrior in all of Homer, you know.

…. Walter Cronkite: Thank you, Carlos. Well, that concludes today’s edition of the CBS Evening News with Normie. Tune in next week for the Midcentury Schoolboy’s Structural Analysis of the Teachings of the Man of Knowledge—the midcentury schoolboy, making the simple stilted and the profound weird, for a holistic simple and profound into stilted and weird experience. Well, this is the Most Trusted Man of the Midcentury, signing off. Until next time, stay safe—stay normal.
  goosecap | Dec 23, 2022 |
Unlike many others I found nothing of value in this book. For a long time, I felt as if I missed something, since so many people enjoy it. However, after critical consideration I can't help but concluding that this book may offer some reflections on life, but not a system that is capable of finding truth. Don Juan' s system is not open for criticism, judging fRom his incapability to answer some justified answers. It is not a system which is in constant reflection about its core assumptions and methods. It is a system that is only to be understood, when accepted and when played by its rules, and therefore of no objective value when looking for tRuth. The same could be said for science, but the difference is that science should by definition be open to change and inclarity and unreasonable assumptions are not tolerated. Don Juan has a system, there is some sort of logic in it, but it is a flawed system because it is based on myths without explaining how these myths work, and without systematically testing if there are other explanations for the experienced special phenomenona. This is the main prolem with Don Juan, not so much with the writer (who seems to be able to remain some sense of objectivity), but because this book is about Don Juans system it is also a problem of the topic of the book. In the end I was just frustrated and annoyed with his person and I was happy when I finished reading. This book might be inspiring for some, but not for me. ( )
  Boreque | Feb 7, 2022 |
"Como Lázaro vuelto de la tumba" (dijo algún crítico), un antropólogo narra la primera etapa del aprendizaje que lo convertirá en "hombre de conocimiento" bajo la guía de un brujo yaqui. Por diversos medios, don Juan sumerge a su discípulo en una "realidad no ordinaria", tan objetiva como la cotidiana pero totalmente distinta, inexplicable para nuestros esquemas de pensamiento pero no para la sabiduría antigua que el maestro transmite con impecable coherencia lógica y poética.
  Daniel464 | Sep 19, 2021 |
I read this 40 years ago as non-fiction, and it struck me as genuine foo-foo. And I was young and impressionable. I think that there is general agreement now that it is complete fiction.* That makes it worse: fake foo-foo.

The philosophy resembles nebulous reflections that might be of use to astrologers. Castaneda got rich off his Don Juan books, checked out of normal society when critics began to catch up to him, and started his own cult of mostly young, beautiful, smart, vulnerable women and got high on his own supply of fantasy.**

The second star is freely given for the writing, which is persuasive in style if not in substance and is fully serviceable in a purely technical sense. Any interest I had was initiated by the book's popularity and reduced in the reading to mere curiosity about a curious book.

* https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/225444.Richard_de_Mille

** https://www.salon.com/2007/04/12/castaneda/
( )
  KENNERLYDAN | Jul 11, 2021 |
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Castaneda, Carlosprimær forfatteralle udgaverbekræftet
Jubels, HeinrihsOversættermedforfatternogle udgaverbekræftet
Lukaz, P. J.Oversættermedforfatternogle udgaverbekræftet
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Para mi solo recorrer los caminos que tienen corazon, cualquier camino que tenga corazon. Por ahi yo recorro, y la unica prueba que vale es atravesar todo su largo. Y por ahi yo recorro mirando, mirando, sin aliento. (For me there is only the traveling on paths that have heart, on any path that may have heart. There I travel, and the only wortwhile challenge is to traverse its full length. And there I travel looking, looking, breathlessly.)
—Don Juan
...nothing more can be attempted than to establish the beginning and the direction of an infinitely long road. The pretension of any systematic and definitive completeness would be, at least, a self-illusion. Perfection can here be obtained by the individual student only in the subjective sense tat he communicates everything he has been able to see.
—Georg Simmel
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For don Juan-and for the two persons who shared his sense of magical time with me
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Introduction
In the summer of 1960, while I was an anthropology student at the university of California, Los Angeles, I made several trips to the Southwest to collect information on the medicinal plants used by the Indians of the area.
My notes on my first session with don Juan are dated June 23rd, 1961.
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