The Teachings of Don Juan

I’ve finally finished reading Carlos Castaneda‘s The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge. The book documents Casteneda’s time with a Yaqui shaman named Juan Matus. In the book, Don Juan takes Casteneda, a then young anthropology student at UCLA, under his wing as an apprentice shaman, teaching him the ways of Mescalito, Devil’s Weed, and a smoke mixture containing mushroom. (During my reading, a number of people asked if the book served as a sort of manual for these entheogens. Spiritual, perhaps, but not practical.)

There’s plenty of controversy surrounding the series of books, of which The Teachings of Don Juan is the first, but I really don’t see why it matters if Don Juan was a real person, or whether he was created as a medium for the book’s message – or whether Castenada simply hallucinated the whole thing. The books explores many interesting ideas, many of which would do good to be considered by people today.

Don Juan’s personification of not only the plants mentioned in the book, but also non-living objects, such as his pipe, have been imprinted on my mind. Regardless of whether you honestly suscribe to the indigineous way of thinking – that, in Don Juan’s case, the peyote plant is actually a teacher named Mescalito with various human characteristics – it is undeniably a healthy way of living.

Try this: take one day, or one hour, out of your life and treat everything you come in contact with – from your underwear, to your boss(es)/teacher(s)/parent(s)/friend(s), to your food – not as an item to be exploited but as a being to enter into a relationship with. If you look at a tree and see dollar bills, you’ll treat it one way. If you look at a tree and see a tree, you’ll treat it another. Which way of thinking, do you think, children seven generations from now will thank you for? (Those who listened to the Derrick Jenson interview I previously linked to will find this concept not so new.)

I look forward to continuing Castaneda’s series.