Reviews


THE TEACHINGS OF DON CARLOS
Practical Applications of the Works of Carlos Castaneda
Victor Sanchez, translated by Robert Nelson
Bear & Company, Santa Fe, NM, 1995

Amid the controversy surrounding Carlos Castaneda's work and that of the women of his party, Taisha Abelar and Florinda Donner-Grau, someone has finally published a book describing how to use the techniques of sorcery that Castaneda has written about since the 1960s. That someone is Bear & Company and the author of this book, Victor Sanchez. Sanchez has lived among the indigenous people of Mexico for fifteen years, immersed in their reality and their spiritual tradition, a legacy from the ancient Toltecs. When Sanchez discovered the works of Castaneda, he was surprised to find many of the themes, such as the dreaming body, the tonal, and the nagual, that he had encountered during his stay with the Indians. He was especially intrigued by the large number of "specific possibilities for action" contained in Castaneda's writings.

These "specific possibilities for action" are often hard to pick out in the tortuous, fascinating, and thoroughly distracting story of Carlos the apprentice. Don Juan's lessons and magical insights are often incompletely told or their usefulness eclipsed by Carlos's personal quandries and constant self-examination. I have occasionally been frustrated by Castaneda's written treatment of his episodes with don Juan, which read more like entertaining fiction than a serious accounting of a magical apprenticeship. This tactic seems almost a deliberate maneuver to prevent the reader from assimilating anything of practical value. Drawing on his own experience and using Castaneda's first eight books as "indexes to knowledge," Sanchez has ferreted out and expanded on these exercises. He provides clear, step-by-step instruction in many of the techniques of sorcery taught to Carlos by don Juan Matus, as well as many more from his own fieldwork.

Sanchez addresses one aspect of the Castaneda controversy early in the introduction by stating: "The question of whether don Juan existed or not seems to me insignificant in comparison with the ideas set forth in these books. Personally, I am not particularly interested if the ideas came from don Juan or Castaneda. The fact is they exist—and most important—they work." Sanchez suggests that, rather than condemn or accept without reservation, we make a "living study" of the techniques and exercises contained in Castaneda's work—as Sanchez himself has done for the eleven years prior to this writing.

One of the best aspects of this book is the author's extremely lucid explanation of the "donjuanist" view of reality. Sanchez's chapter on the sorcerer's worldview, "The Eagle's Emanations," is particularly illuminating. Sanchez collects the bits and pieces of description of the sorcerer's reality scattered throughout Castaneda's work and presents a whole, coherent view of reality from the sorcerer's perspective: the composition of transcendent reality, how we organize our perceptions, and how to break free from our ordinary perception of the world. All of this is familiar from Castaneda's work, but Sanchez's clear, connected description of this worldview makes it accessible in a way that Castaneda's writing style does not.

Sanchez also examines the practices for the right side, or tonal, and the practices for the left side, or nagual. The tonal is described as "ordinary awareness," "an island upon which is passed the whole of life." The teachings for the right side are meant, in Sanchez's words, "to create more healthy and functional elements on the island of the tonal," and include an explanation of the body as an energy field, the art and practice of stalking, and the not-doings of the personal self. Sanchez gives clear examples of these practices and exercises designed to apply the principles of each in a concrete way.

In the final section, the author describes the nagual as all that remains outside the tonal, about which it is impossible to think but possible to witness and experience. The teachings for the left side are designed to aid "integration of the other self with everyday awareness," and include exercises to develop inner silence, the first and second attention, dreaming, corporal perception, and reconnecting with the Earth.

In The Teachings of Don Carlos, Victor Sanchez has not only dispersed the perceptual fog surrounding the workings of the sorcerer's reality, but he has given us the chance to experience it for ourselves. I recommend this book highly for both readers of Castaneda and those as yet unfamiliar with his work.

Reviewed by Myrriah Lavin





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