Over 30 years ago I began reading the works of Carlos Castaneda with fascination. His first book came out in 1968 and it was entitled The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge. Since then his various books have sold over seven million copies. Toward the end of his life he drew quotes from all of his books, added commentary, and had it published in 1998 under the title of The Wheel of Time. The following quotes are drawn from that recent book.
Castaneda's books are all about his contacts, as an anthropologist, with a shaman by the name of don Juan who he meets in the high deserts of Mexico. Don Juan teaches Castaneda the secret ways of the shaman and this dramatically alters how he lives the rest of his life. Over the years I have consistently found the teachings to be of value. Although they are unique teachings, at the same time they have certain comparabilities with other spiritual and scientific knowledge bases. I find many of don Juan's teachings reflected in century old concepts of Judaic and Christian mystics as well as in the very latest ideas of cosmologists studying the physics that drive the universe. As you read these ideas, see if you can also find comparable ideas.
The main thrust of don Juan's efforts to teach Castaneda was an "intentional attempt to pull (him) into what he said was another cognitive system" (p. 2). In this system you can perceive the energy in humans and the universe "as it flowed freely in the universe, energy free from the bindings of socialization and syntax, pure vibratory energy…(don Juan) called this act seeing" (pp. 3-4). Do you begin to see why physics and string theory seem to be reflective of these ideas? Wasn't Jesus trying to get us to tap into another way of seeing, a different cognitive system? Was that not one of the reasons he didn't talk directly about a lot of the things he had to say?
"In order to elicit a seeing response in me, don Juan utilized other foreign units of cognition. One of the most important units, he called the recapitulation, which consisted of a systematic scrutiny of one's life, segment by segment, an examination made not in the light of criticism or finding flaw, but in the light of an effort to understand one's life, and to change its course. Don Juan's claim was that once any practitioner has viewed his life in the detached manner that the recapitulation requires, there's no way to go back to the same life" (p. 4) Isn't this a key reason that Hawking's sees value in his being physically challenged? Isn't this idea related to Jesus' going into the desert?
So now let us look at some of don Juan's teachings.
"To be angry at people means that one considers their acts to be important. It is imperative to cease to feel that way. The acts of men cannot be important enough to offset our only viable alternative: our unchangeable encounter with infinity" (p. 18). Sounds like a conclusion you could quickly reach via cosmology when you realize the vastness of the universe.
When you do stare out at the stars it can humble you. Hopefully it does not overwhelm you. Don Juan talks about you becoming a warrior. If you truly appreciate the vast universe and how relatively unimportant you are in that universe, then it does take a warrior's spirit not to be overwhelmed by it. "Feeling important makes one heavy, clumsy and vain. To be a warrior one needs to be light and fluid" (p. 30).
"The most effective way to live is as a warrior. A warrior may worry and think before making any decision, but once he makes it, he goes on his way, free from worries or thoughts: there will be a million other decisions still awaiting him. That's the warriors' way. A warrior thinks of his death when things become unclear. The idea of death is the only thing that tempers our spirit" (pp. 38-39).
"A warrior must know first that his acts are useless, and yet, he must proceed as if he didn't know it. That's a shaman's controlled folly" (p. 41).
"A warrior lives by acting, not by thinking about acting, nor by thinking about what he will think when he has finished acting" (p. 43).
"A warrior chooses a path with heart, any path with heart, and follows it; and then he rejoices and laughs. He knows because he sees that his life will be over altogether too soon. He sees that nothing is more important than anything else" (p. 44). Doesn't this start to sound like the lives of the apostles? "Come, I will make you fishers of men" (Mark 1:17)….and they just put the nets down and went. God wants us to be warriors! To be the very best and focused parents, husbands, and workers at whatever we have selected to do with our lives.
"The average man is either victorious or defeated and, depending on that, he becomes a persecutor or a victim. These two conditions are prevalent as long as one does not see. Seeing dispels the illusion of victory, or defeat, or suffering" (p. 51).
"The spirit of a warrior is not geared to indulging and complaining, nor is it geared to winning or losing. The spirit of a warrior is geared only to struggle, and every struggle is a warrior's last battle on earth. Thus the outcome matters very little to him. In his last battle on earth a warrior lets his spirit flow free and clear. And as he wages his battle, knowing that his intent is impeccable, a warrior laughs and laughs" (p. 60).
"The world is all that is encased here: life, death, people, and everything else that surrounds us. The world is incomprehensible. We won't ever understand it; we won't ever unravel its secrets. Thus we must treat the world as it is: a sheer mystery" (p. 62). The more the cosmologists dig into the physics that help them explain the universe, the more mysterious it becomes to them.
"The things that people do cannot under any conditions be more important than the world. And thus a warrior treats the world as an endless mystery and what people do as an endless folly" (p. 63).
Remember now, you have to take all of don Juan's teachings as a whole. Don't get unbalanced and run with just one of his messages. Yes, it is a folly…but you still become a warrior, you still get involved, and you still have choices and the ability to influence events and your life through seeing and recapitulation.
"We hardly ever realize that we can cut anything out of our lives, anytime, in the blink of an eye" (p. 75).
"Death is our eternal companion. It is always to our left, an arm's length behind us. Death is the only wise adviser that a warrior has. Whenever he feels that everything is going wrong and he's about to be annihilated, he can turn to his death and ask if that is so. His death will tell him that he is wrong, that nothing really matters outside its touch. His death will tell him, 'I haven't touched you yet.'" (p. 81).
"Whenever a warrior decides to do something, he must go all the way, but he must take responsibility for what he does. No matter what he does, he must know first why he is doing it, and then he must proceed with his actions without having doubts or remorse about them" (p. 82).
"The internal dialogue is what grounds people in the daily world. The world is such and such or so and so, only because we talk to ourselves about its being such and such or so and so. The passageway into the world of shamans opens up after the warrior has learned to shut off his internal dialogue" (p. 117).
"The recommendation for warriors is not to have any material things on which to focus their power, but to focus it on the spirit, on the true flight into the unknown, not on trivialities. Everyone who wants to follow the warrior's path has to rid himself of the compulsion to possess and old onto things" (p. 189). Jesus and numerous other spiritual philosophers have alerted us to the dangers of materialism for thousands of years. What has been our response? Ever greater materialism as the most dynamic and powerful "ism" moving our world today! Why is this so? We have known the right path all along, have we not?
"In order to follow the path of knowledge, one has to be very imaginative. On the path of knowledge, nothing is as clear as we'd like it to be" (p. 231).
One of the key reasons that things are not clear on the path of knowledge is that we are relying too much upon reason. We think everything must add up in some Newtonian understanding of the universe. But, we now know things that Newton never knew and one of the things we know is that we cannot ever really know everything. Life is far more mysterious and our lives are governed by forces beyond even our imagination.
"The greatest flaw of human beings is to remain glued to the inventory of reason. Reason doesn't deal with man as energy. Reason deals with instruments that create energy, but it has never seriously occurred to reason that we are better than instruments: we are organisms that create energy. We are bubbles of energy" (p. 241).
Can you let go? Can you begin to see? Can you take the time to do a recapitulation? Can you suspend, even for a brief time each day, your attachment to things and to reason? If your answer is "yes", then you can begin the journey and one day evolve into a warrior---a warrior like Jesus was a warrior, a warrior like Stephen Hawking. Whatever your choices, good luck on the journey and "may the force be with you". (Sorry about that….just couldn't help myself---remember, one of the greatest strengths a warrior develops is their ability to laugh, to laugh at the absurdity of life, to laugh at themselves.)