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[Have you had a chance to read the in-depth interview with Victor Sanchez?]

The Teachings Of Don Carlos: Practical Applications Of The Works Of Carlos Castaneda by Victor Sanchez, translated by Robert Nelson. Bear & Company Publishing, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1995; 247 pp., $12.95 (softcover). Reviewed by Jordan S. Gruber.

Overall Rating: 7 (out of 10)

Difficulty Level: 6 (out of 10)

Recommendation: Buy it and work it.

*To Purchase*


When The Teachings of Don Carlos - with its dashing visage of Victor Sanchez on the back cover, its invocation of the "incredible" Castaneda legacy, and its fancifully day-glow shamanistic cover - winked to me from the personal growth section of my bookstore, I was sure that it was going to be just another ripoff attempt at magical autobiography. (See GNOSIS # 2, on "Magical Autobiographies - When Is Fiction Stranger Than Truth?," by Chas Clifton, for a thoughtful perspective on this type of work.) Having recently suffered through The Celestine Prophecy and Mutant Message Down Under, I was fully prepared to glance at a random paragraph and then write off Sanchez's book forever.

Instead, I was struck by the clarity, intensity, and power of what I was reading. Before I knew it I had bought the book, was reading it, and found myself back in the world of Carlos Castaneda and Don Juan Matus--not the fictional world that held me absolutely spellbound when I was younger, but the actual, potentially possible, world of the "other self" that could, perhaps, be actualized by following the disciplines and exercises enumerated by Victor Sanchez.

But who is Victor Sanchez? According to the book jacket, he:

has lived for fifteen years with indigenous peoples of Mexico who, hidden in the mountains, have kept alive the spiritual path of the ancient Toltecs. His work among them has not been as an academic investigator, but instead as a participant dedicated to the preservation and continuation of their tradition. He gives workshops worldwide on the techniques described in this book.

Book jackets may be notoriously inaccurate and prone to exaggeration, but based on the quality and detail of the exercises which form the core of this book, it seems likely that Sanchez is the genuine article. Not, necessarily, that Sanchez is a shaman who can leap into alternate universes with a single bound and change himself into a crow at will, but rather, that Sanchez understands the nature of magic and magical transformation, that he has understood and learned how to teach others how to focus and change their modes of attention and consciousness, and that he has an excellent grasp on the mysterious and what it takes to full bodily encounter it as a "warrior."

"Warrior," of course, is a term of art in the "donjuanist" worldview, and the book follows the precepts outlined in Castaneda's eight books (to date) quite closely. As for the issue of whether don Juan truly existed, Sanchez writes that:

Personally, I am not particularly interested if the ideas came from don Juan or from Castaneda. The fact is they exist and - most important - they work. Putting these teachings into practice reveals that in each one of us there lies hidden another awareness - the awareness of the other self - which opens unlimited possibilities of perception and experience. This is what is really significant. Therefore, throughout the ensuing pages, I will refer to Carlos Castaneda and to don Juan interchangeably as the creators or bearers of a complex system of knowledge. That is how they present themselves to us: together, in the same work, the binomial Castaneda/don Juan inviting us to penetrate into their mysterious world. Thus, I abstain from commenting on something that is totally out of my reach - namely, to affirm or deny the existence of someone whom I've never seen, a matter that seems irrelevant.

It is, in part, Sanchez's hardheaded, no nonsense perspective, as demonstrated by the above paragraph, that makes this book so effective. Also, as revealed here, the writing is complex yet straightforward, and only occasionally suffers in its translation from Spanish.

After explaining his methodology and the importance of group work, and after downplaying his role as a "master" in the groups he teaches, Sanchez focuses on three types of material: (1) the donjuanist metaphysics, with a special emphasis on the importance of personal energy (never to be wasted, always to be conserved); (2) exhortations to lead the impeccable life of the warrior; and (3) detailed instructions on how to perform a wide variety of exercises, most of which are mentioned in Castaneda's works, but which are here discussed in far greater detail. In all three of these categories, Sanchez delivers outstanding material.

First, his description of the donjuanist worldview is in many ways more simply, elegantly, and comprehensively (although perhaps not more poetically) put than can be found in any single one of Castaneda's books. His descriptions of such concepts as the assemblage point, impeccability, stalking, dreaming, the energy cocoon, the internal dialogue, self importance, and "not-doings" are uniformly detailed, clear, and satisfying. In some cases, Sanchez launches into fascinating ruminations about topics that we've always wanted to see discussed, such as "What, exactly, would someone see who was watching a sorcerer turn himself into a bird?"

Second, his exhortations on how, and why, to live the warrior's impeccable life are quite convincing:

the myth of the warrior is a marvelous invitation for its incarnation to become real within us. The attitude of a warrior begins by bringing a little of that magic time into our everyday lives. In place of acting like machines preprogrammed from outside, we choose to act purposefully. The challenge for those who follow the way of the warrior is to work hard so that these magic moments in which the myth is incarnated become more frequent and continuous, until the magic predominates over submission and harmony over chaos. Until the dream of power and freedom predominates over the chaotic reality of everyday people. Until the dream becomes reality.

Lastly, the breadth and the depth of the exercises' descriptions constitutes the real heart of the book. Some of the exercises can, or should, only be done in a group, but many of them are applicable to self-study and exploration. Virtually all of the instructions seem to be given by someone who has actually tried the exercises himself and who, moreover, has taught them to others. Acting for the sake of acting, dreaming the dreamed as the dreamed dreams the dreamer, the gate of power, capturing energy from the sun, stopping the internal dialogue, exercises for eliminating self importance and stopping the internal dialogue, and many, many others are all spelled out in convincing and tantalizing detail. For anyone whose world was once captured by the powerful prose, storytelling, and vision of Carlos Castaneda, The Teachings Of Don Carlos will inescapably prove to be a uniquely stimulating and challenging volume.

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