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3.9 out of 5 stars
The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge
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261 of 290 people found the following review helpful
on October 23, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
"The Teachings of Don Juan" is the first in a series of about 15 books by Carlos Casaneda describing the author's experiences with Yaqui Indian shamanism in Northern Mexico. As a studier of religion for many years (although not as knowledgeable as some scholars) I find these books to be utterly unique in their scope and subject matter. They are not like other New Age books. The journey that Castaneda takes his readers is mind-boggling, and his experiences are simply beyond what most people have even remotely encountered.
Castaneda first met Don Juan in the early 60's, before the hippy movement, before psychodelic drugs became popular. He was studying anthropology in Los Angeles, and Don Juan served as a field source for some fading knowledge of tribal and shamanistic rituals in Northern Mexico. Castaneda was specifically interested in peyote, a plant that gives its users hallicinations and mixes the senses in strange ways, and which LSD was meant to be a chemical reproduction of. Castaneda's first book presents a very detailed scholastic interpretation of his experiences. All books after the first simply focus on Castaneda's experiences with Don Juan.
Castaneda's drug experiences are different from other accounts I have read, because they are intimately tied with the Yaqui philosophy and mythology. The drugs only serve as a means to an end, not as the end in themselves. The first 2 books in the series describe Castaneda's drugs experiences with Don Juan, but from the 3rd book on, the drugs disappear forever and Carlos' experiences are actually more fantastic, more amazing, more unbelieveable as he slowly becomes a practicing sorceror, traveling to alternate dimensions and battling other sorcerors. Many of the books seem to reach a definitive conclusion, only to have Castaneda's perceived understanding of Don Juan's teachings completely destroyed in the next volume. Again these experiences do not in any way compare to magic and sorcery you might find in pagan, christian, or celtic mythology, nor does the "world-philosophy" of Don Juan resemble in any way the wholistic ideals of Eastern religions like Hinduism or Buddhism. How can you describe things most people have never seen before? Castaneda does a good job, considering the fantastic nature of some of his journeys. However, while the visions and magical feats are mesmerizing to read, I often found that Don Juan gave his most profound knowledge while simply talking to Castaneda.
Do to its subject matter, most Christians will find these books offensive, but I promise you that nothing in any of these volumes will turn you onto the path of Satan :) There is a certain participation required from the reader - Castaneda repeatedly affirms that everything he has ever written is absolutely true, but intelligent readers will be constantly wondering if such fantastic things could possibly exist. By turning off this little nagging "naysayer" in my own head and allowing myself to simply sink into the mood of the work and believe, I found that I was better able to intuitively understand the very abstract concepts that overwhelm you. However, because these accounts are SO unbelieveable, SO fantastic, SO unlike our everyday life here in the US, I found that I never confused my world with Castaneda's. It's like reading a book about walking on the Moon - you can understand and appreciate what it must have been like, but you don't start wearing a spacesuit to work!
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49 of 55 people found the following review helpful
on April 4, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I enjoy Carlos Castaneda's books because they always offer an escape from reality -- in this case, I mean that quite literally.
Castaneda's books involve an age-old technique of storytelling, the teaching of a body of knowledge from a master to a pupil. In this case, the master, a Yaqui Indian known as Don Juan, teaches the ancient Toltec art of sorcery to a young, first-person narrator, Carlos Castaneda. This narrator is dubious and incredulous as Don Juan shows him things about the nature of reality and our perceptions of it, but increasingly he has to conclude that the world of Don Juan is an accurate description of the may facets of reality, and our modern world is merely one narrow view.
There is controversy over whether Castaneda's books are "real" --Castaneda was granted a PhD for his "field" work; but other scholars have found a lot of Castaneda's research to have no anthropological authenticity. Supporters of Castaneda dispute this.
That there is even an argument over whether the books are "real" or not indicates how good the stories are -- like the world of J.R.R. Tolkien, people really, desperately want to visit Castaneda's world. His books are riveting, fascinating, beautiful, and also very scary.
Although later books in the series (Tales of Power, for instance) are better than this introductory work; I think it is important to read the books in their order of writing, in order to get the "lessons" that Castaneda learns in the correct order.
I am a great fan of the books, even if they are 100% fiction. But one is really just never sure if they are. . .
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30 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on February 26, 2000
Format: Audio Cassette
To fully understand,if possible,the teachings of Don Juan one must suspend all preconcieved notions of what is real.This is true,if you follow the readings,even if you believe this is a fictionalized account of many different conversations the author had with different people.The lessons taught still hold true in most cultures;that a well trained and disiplined mind will allow a person to see things others may not.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on April 7, 1997
Format: Paperback
Carlos Castaneda's "The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui way of Knowledge"
is a vivid yet dark and spiritually disturbing novel of Carlos'
experience with the teachings of the Indian Yaqui knowledge led by his
mentor Don Juan. Carlos Castaneda takes us through his own spiritual
journey to become "a man of knowledge" being the strongest and fearless man with a heart to love.
His expressive writing allows you to become engulfed in his mind and to
feel his emotions. Brilliantly done, this novel has moved many and will
continue to do so as Carlos Castaneda and his experience makes each and
every one of his readers question their own spiritaul guidance, and
maybe one day have the desire to become a man of knowledge.

"For me there is only the traveling on paths that have a heart, on any
path that may have heart. There I travel, and the only worthwhile challenge is to traverse its full length. And there I travel, looking,
looking breathlessly."
-Don Juan
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27 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on October 25, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This Book allow you to connect to an ancient Indian Shaman collection of 'extreme knowledge into nature'a captivating and enthraling reading. You will walk through the writer's experiences of altered realities, and other dimentions, a confrontational, sometimes frightful journey. Through The writer Carlos learns to be masterful and have "intention" in all he does in his life. When he comes back to California he cannot leave his Shaman life behind. I unintentionally found this book to be psycologically powerful for me. My life has changed by not acepting less than full intention in all that I do. I own a metaphysical healing store in La Habra and bring the power of Carlos Castanada writings here every day. The story goes something like this: A young student Carlos Costanada, goes to Mexico to meet an old Indian man who knows about medicinal & hallucinogenic plants. Carols doesen't really like him at first. Their relationship develops into Shaman and apprentice. Carlos doesn't choose to be Don Yuan's apprentice. He is there to take notes, and to study all he can for his degree. For aproximently 10 years Carlos unites with The Shaman and goes through intrepid and exhilarating experiences, beyond his scholarly responsibilities. A brimming study of What it means to be on the path of a Shamans apprentice. Is it true? Carlos says it is. First you must read all the books. The first one, is the only one where there are drug induced rituals. Don Yuan explains this is needed for Carlos because of his 'limited western mind's ability to see another reality'. This is one of the controversies about the book. Perfectly written.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on May 21, 1998
Format: Paperback
My first reading of CC's book, "The Teachings..." occurred back in 1975. I have read it many more times since then. What this book did was help me establish once and for all, that there does exist the realm of the unexplained/unexplainable. Things do happen to us that we are much too frightened to confide in others, for fear of reprisals. Left alone we begin to question our own sensibilites and in an act of self-preservation dismiss this part of our reality.
What CC does for us is help verify and describe these unexplained/unexplainable events. It is a journey that only the pure of heart and courageous can attempt.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on March 19, 2010
Format: Paperback
In our times when darwinism and so-called science is pushed down the throats of toddlers who never have a chance to acquaint themselves with different ways of looking at the world than the PC version, this book, along with many others, should be compulsory reading - or rather, is compulsory reading, morally, for any thinking individual who wants to make up his own world-view instead of adapting to one served to him so as to make him a servant for the system.

i won't argue whether or not Castaneda was a conman or not, that is entirely beside the point of whether or not the philosophy and worldview of don Juan are true and realizable.

This book is of course only an introduction to don Juan's path, and the teachings of almost pure shamanism have little to do with the direxion it is shown to take later on. However, this serves as a plaform upon which one must step before venturing further, introducing a way of life more in connexion and in tune with nature and natural surroundings.

What sets this, and Castaneda in general, apart from the plethora of New Age is the obvious lack of pandering to the audience, by way of talking about "love" and "we are all one." Neither are there any religious aspects to the Yaqui Way of Knowledge. This is not for middle-aged women craving for something exciting in want of a love affair. This does not offer a social pastime to replace cocktail parties with. This book, just like Castaneda in general, offers nothing easy to occupy oneself with, but forces a ruthless and relentless re-evaluation of the self and one's relationship with his/her axions and surroundings alike, if one at all wants to follow the spirit of the teachings.

To put it succinctly, many many years ago this book changed the way i looked at the world - or rather, offered me for the first time a way to look at it that made any intuitive sense to me, as the "concrete reality status quo" never ever satisfied me.
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16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on June 18, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I cannot recommend this book and those that follow too highly. While this "introduction" may be less engaging than the books that follow, that means only that it is merely very engaging, rather than obsessively engaging. I see from previous reviews that the "fact or fiction" debate still rages. To those who have not yet read any of the books, I would say only this on that matter: If you "get" these books, the "fact or fiction" debate is less than irrelevant. To those about to begin, I wish you well on the journey.
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79 of 110 people found the following review helpful
on January 24, 2008
Format: Hardcover
That might not come from reading this book alone, as it is the most believable of the series. When I was a student, I like many others I know who will confess to having read a Castaneda book or two when pressed, went through a couple of years of Castanedism, reading the 8 classics 2 - 3 times each, and even the later four, quite different books a couple of times. Being someone who likes to give the benefit of the doubt until conclusive evidence proves otherwise, I must admit to only getting suspicious by Journey To Ixtlan, the third book. The second book, A Separate Reality, picks up on the supernormal happenings, but these are still within the realms of possibility when one considers Spiritualist literature. By Tales of Power, when at the end Carlos throws himself off a cliff and only survives by becoming pure perception, bouncing elastically back and forth 17 times between the two inherent realms of all creation, the tonal and the nagual, the game was up. In Carlos' terms, my assemblage point had just experienced a considerable shift into the realms of disbelief. The cocoon had burst. I read the remaining books still interested, but with the growing realization that I'd been had. Bizarre ideas not found in any other spiritual traditions, such as the necessity for people on the path of knowledge to kill their children to reclaim the power they'd lost to them, plus fill in the holes in their cocoons the children had caused, made me wary. This was surely not a philosophy the whole world should turn to, or else we'd be living in a fearful, lonely world with every man for himself.

However, this would be fine if the books weren't made out to be non-fiction. While I have seen these books placed with science fiction books in many libraries, in most European bookshops they're still sold with real, non-fiction 'Mind, Body, Spirit' books. The reason I give this book such a low rating is that an intensive study of his works, the books by his various colleagues, plus Richard De Mille's intelligent criticisms, can only lead to the conclusion that Castaneda, the writer, used Don Juan and Carlos, two fantasy characters, to verbalize his own beliefs, which were culled from his own spiritual and academic experience. That there are some useful nuggets of wisdom, or advice in these books I do not deny. That is their very attraction, plus the belief that it all really happened, and is a new spiritual revelation. But as these are mixed up with increasingly bizarre assertions and beliefs (by the Art of Dreaming it seems all pretence at non-fiction had been given up), it is doubtful whether a lifetime devoted to these practices (as opposed to say, real shamanic practices) would lead to spiritual improvement. If you must have a Castaneda book in your library, rather get The Wheel of Time, a selection of the spiritual highlights of the first eight books, but consider it rather 'The best of the personal philosophy of Carlos Castaneda' than anything to do with Don Juan or Shamanism. This understanding may not have the romantic mix of wild Mexican deserts, ancient wisdom, wise old men and naive westerners which captures the hearts of so many, but it is a lot closer to the truth.

The anonymous ghost-writer at Simon and Schuster who corrected Peruvian immigrant Castaneda's English for at least all of his earlier works (a sample of his writing from 1969 reveals it was still far from perfect, not like what is in books), giving the books their special character, certainly deserves more credit than he or she gets. But they are not written well enough to succeed as fiction, hence their continued classification as non-fiction, besides the intense academic embarrassment it would cause copyright holders UCLA to have to admit such a dramatic change in classification, from fact to fantasy, after having previously given the author a doctorate for his work! I give this book one star on the basis that any book claiming to represent the truth which is later found to be fraudulent deserves no stars by definition, so I must give the minimum rating allowed. The day this book is reclassified as Fiction, I will up my rating to 3 stars though, as it is a quite entertaining and authentic piece of fiction-posing-as-non-fiction.

At this point many a true believer will try play the only card they have left - the allegory or metaphor card, with the implication that the critic is not deep enough to have gathered that by now. However, there is a vital difference between a Castaneda book and an allegory - the latter always make it perfectly clear at the start that what follows is not to be taken as fact. A misunderstanding would mean losing the effect of the allegory. The Castaneda books, on the contrary, always start out with the reassurance that what follows is definitely fact. As UCLA Library stack request records prove that Castaneda was sitting in the library on the exact dates when he was supposed to be hanging out with Don Juan, it is thus fair to say that these books are neither factual nor allegorical.

If you have bought the book already, I might as well warn you not to waste any time on the Structural Analysis at the end. That was only placed there to make a point for Castaneda. Coming after the gripping narrative of the Teachings, the impossibly dry and intentionally unreadable analysis in pseudo-academic jargon is merely meant to score points for Castaneda's one-time anthropological field of phenomenology, which is basically scientific reporting of the first-hand, direct experience type. Hopefully no true believers have fallen for Castaneda's joke and wasted time actually wading through it - I doubt it'll have done you more spiritual good than throwing yourself off a cliff.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on December 29, 1999
Format: Mass Market Paperback
For anyone interested in spiritual guidance that is far from ordinary, but warmly uplifting, should read this book. Castaneda is a wonderful author who thoroughly explains his visits to see the sorceror don Juan Matas. During these visits the reader comes to many spiritual realizations along with Castaneda, who narrates the story. This book is a delightful read which I recommend to anyone who likes to read. period
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