The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge is the first of many books written by Carlos Castaneda. While there is, and has been, a great deal of controversy over the author and his books, the story itself-his alleged apprenticeship-is beyond fascinating.
A Yaqui Way of Knowledge is Castaneda’s reportage of his first four years of friendship with an old Indian shaman. Most of the book focuses on Castaneda’s experiences with a variety of hallucinogenics; this is because at the beginning of the teachings the author was under the impression that these altered states of reality were in fact the knowledge imparted by the old shaman.
I have read all of the books many times over during my eight or so years of owning them. Here and now, I just want to touch on the first book.
The one issue I have is my issue with many literary works; passive phrasing. All too often it is written that something could happen or something would happen; a personal pet peeve. The saving grace is that the whole of the book is essentially one big narrative; the apprenticeship as experienced by the author, and we do tend to talk in a sort of passive way. It’s just more natural.
That aside, the imagery-sounds, scents, sights, vivid descriptions of things for which we have no known inventory-is masterfully depicted, and the characters…they are simply astounding.
Fact or fiction, the method in which Castaneda openly presents himself as a pompous thick headed dummy reduced to tears every fifteen minutes makes for a great read, and the old Indian, Juan, appears to be the archetype of the wise and aged Indian medicine man. there’s also a great deal of humor.
“So I did have a body, as I do now?” I asked.
“No, you did not have a body the way you do now,” Don Juan answered. “The smoke took it away.”
“Then where did it take my body?”
“How in hell am I supposed to know that?”
Maybe it’s just me, but I find those kinds of exchanges absolutely hilarious. Unfortunately, it seems that most people want to dismiss the whole topic as fiction, and again, it may be, but for those who read beyond the first book and actually read through all the books over and over again, it becomes exceedingly evident that Castaneda admits that he mistook the hallucinogenic experiences as lessons, when they were not. I won’t get into the teachings with this post. Instead, I just want to invite you to try something new.