Fiction

A Separate Reality by Carlos Castaneda

The world is such-and-such or so-and-so only because we tell ourselves that that is the way it is. If we stop telling ourselves that the world is so-and-so, the world will stop being so-and-so.

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My dad handed me the Castaneda books years ago and told me to start with A Separate Reality. He was truly inspired by the wisdom of Don Juan and wanted to share that with me, especially when we started talking about spirituality and beliefs. Sadly, its taken me a very long time to get through the first book and in that time, a lot has come out about the veracity of Carlos Castaneda. These books started my TBR pile and now, I’m finally tackling them. I find his writing very dry and it was hard to really involve myself with the lessons. There are two parts to this review. My feelings when reading the story initially, followed by my thoughts after conducting some research into the authenticity of Castaneda and Don Juan.

Worry and think before you make any decision, but once you make it, be on your way free from worries or thoughts; there will be a million other decisions still awaiting you. That’s the warrior’s way.

I like delving into the beliefs of cultures that I’m not familiar with because alternate perceptions of the world can lead to wisdom and understanding for myself personally, and the society that I live in. Several times I felt that Castaneda was trying to much to relate what he was learning with facets of his life, in other words, finding comparables. In the study of Anthropology, one of the first lessons you learn, is about cultural relativism, meaning that individual perceptions should be understood in the context of that person’s culture instead of your own. There are very few universal truths across cultures and things that we find taboo (like sibling marriage) aren’t consider taboo to subgroups or other societies (intermarriages between royal families in Europe and Egypt). Don Juan’s lessons are much more understandable when not trying to fit them into a known and recognized world.

I’d like to know more about Don Juan’s world. There are some great lessons to be learned though and some lessons that aren’t that enlightening. In other words, this is more interesting rather than life changing and my response when reading some of these lessons was, “interesting idea.” Rather bland, to be honest.

In order to become a man of knowledge one must be a warrior, not a whimpering child. One must strive without giving up, without complaint, without flinching, until one sees, only to realize then that nothing matters.

After doing research, Carlos Castaneda has been debunked as a legitimate anthropologist and his work is considered fiction. There is some compelling evidence for this and that Castaneda followers, searching for truths, have disrupted the lives a multiple tribes. One piece of evidence that is fairly damning is that the Yaqui do not use peyote. There’s also mention of plagiarism and borrowing from other religions and contradictions between in story telling between books. If this is fiction, it has value, the philosophy is interesting, but marketing it as nonfiction and marketing it as lessons from the Yaqui cultural group is a far more damning and moreover, extremely disrespectful to the Yaqui in particular and other groups where mythology was pulled and dissected to be used for subterfuge.

Others still attest that Castaneda’s work was accurate and truthful and he has many die hard fans. I’m not sure what the truth is. Here’s what I do know, Castaneda shares a mythos that he most likely concocted by pulling various philosophical traits from others and incorporating the possible encounters of real people and experience. The result of this is a new age religion that sparked followers and possible cults. Should his work be wholly disregarded because people are following his teachings or should we be looking at his work with the understanding that it could and most likely is fiction?

Life has been neither good nor bad to me; life has been hard. Life is hard and for a child it is sometimes horror itself.

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3 thoughts on “A Separate Reality by Carlos Castaneda

  1. I see read the Vanity Fair article. He very likely did fabricate much of what he wrote. I’ve found that if I could feign credulity in myself and live in that world, the veracity changes and fabricate means something else… something outside the tonal.

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