For years I’ve tried to finish Journey to Ixtlan by Carlos Castanedas. It was first assigned to me in a philosophy in literature class in college. Although I was having my first experiences that resembled the actual passed down traditions of the so-called Yaqui sorcerer Don Juan…plant experimentation, losing my identity, becoming a warrior…I found little interest in the narrative. It wasn’t until years later when I found the book on the shelf of my Buddhist monk friend that it really grabbed me. Now for the third time I’ve picked it up and felt like expounding on some of what I’ve read and also documenting some of the oddities surrounding this book.
For starters: authenticity. Carlos Castanedas was an anthropology student at UCLA in the 60’s. He wrote the teachings of Don Juan as his thesis. Now there are other anthropologists who have gone out to Arizona and New Mexico (his region of exploration) looking for Don Juan or any proof he existed and generally they haven’t found anything. In one article I read, the woman reporter says “The Yaqui’s themselves are now approached by outsiders in search of Don Juan. A Pascua Nueva Yaqui leader related that no few Volkswagon buses, usually with California plates, find their way to Pascua Nueva.” She goes on to say basically that no one claims to have known him or anyone who did. But if you understand the text from “Journey to Ixtlan”, this does not disprove his existence. In fact, the way the first few chapters are set up make it so Don Juan’s very Modus Operandi is to be allusive. Basically, if he is real OR false, he is none other than liquid in human form. He says in chapter 2 “”Little by little you must create a fog around yourself. You must erase everything around you until nothing can be taken for granted; until nothing is any longer for sure, or real.” So seriously, if he practiced what he preached couldn’t he have created such a mystique or unavailability as to not have carried with him any strong social attachments, it really sounds like that was what he was ALL about. I do not think the lack of personal associations provides any kind of proof of his inexistence.
There are also questions which arise from inconsistency among his account of these visitations. For instance, in “Journey…” he meets Don Juan at a train station. In “The Teachings…” he is basically driven to a house in an arranged encounter. His books were written over the course of thirty years so perhaps poor memory could explain these flaws in detail, but again we are dealing with a book about metaphysics where this world is an ever changing matrix of realities inter-meshing so could he have met him both ways simultaneously? Trying to validate a book that explains a multi-dimensional reality that ordinary people just don’t see seems futile. Or Castanedas just may have found the validity loophole, he can always just claim Don Juan physically had the capability to disappear or some other made-up pretend nirvana-type deus ex machina. The book paves a way for there to be no real answers to the question of validity or changing sources.
The one device that may make for a good argument is the fact that he recorded and published it at all. Don Juan repetitively shoots down Castanedas attempts to learn by means of being told. He says learning can really only be achieved by doing. Obviously that is the way Castenedas is trying to teach the world the lessons of Don Juan by counteracting his advice. Now that proves to be both ironic and invalidating IMO.
Many reviewers are content with the message of these books with or without validity. Whether they are true or not for some fans of the series makes no difference in the message. Being able to ride this reality bending roller coaster and feel almost a drug-induced effect from simply reading the excerpts is enough transcendence to last a lifetime and beyond.
Lastly, there is a very interesting tale following the mystique of this whole deal. Doing research not only on the books, but Castanedas life and his subsequent cult-ish existence ends in the disappearance of several women. Huh? Yeah. Someone already wrote an article on this so I’ll provide a link https://seanmunger.com/2013/08/17/disappeared-the-women-of-tensegrity-missing-15-years/. But once again, did they disappear or are they just trapped in another dimension?