I discovered Castañeda's books almost by chance. When I first moved to the US, the town I lived in had a small used bookstore across the street from the train station. Being alone, not knowing anyone besides my employer and a handful of colleagues who were in the consulting business like me, I decided to explore the bookstore.
I'd always been a book worm, so it was somehow apropos that the store was called "Ye old bookworm". Walking into the store, I had that familiar feeling I'd get of anticipation laced with excitement at the idea of discovering something new to read. As I was perusing the books, one caught my eye. It was Carlos' first book -- 'Don Juan and the Yaqui Way of Knowledge'.
This was around the time when VHS tapes were still in use and DVDs had not yet come out...internet was still dial-up and so reading was the perfect past time. I picked the book up, and devoured it overnight. Dazed, I went back to the store the very next day, and picked up another 3 volumes of his books. Luckily for me, they seemed to fall into place in the right sequence (of chronology) for me.
As incredulous as I was about many things in his writing, something in it spoke very strongly to me. Maybe I wanted to explore psychedelics (I was 25 at that time), maybe it was just an inherent lack of skepticism (I've been told that I'm naive to the point of being gullible more than a few times in my life). But over the next couple of years, I became quite the Nagual-head. The main thing I got out of his body of work were a few key concepts that resonated with my Hindu upbringing.
- Impeccability - Be the best that you can be, at whatever you do. This was a call for excellence for the sake of excellence, not some other motive. To act as if every act would be our last one on earth is a very powerful way to ensure we are always 100% invested and 100% divested at the same time. Do the action without seeking results of your action -- this is the essence of the Bhagavad Gita (nishkāma karma).
- Stalking -- The warrior always and ruthlessly stalks himself, to never allow his ego to get the better of him. This is a very potent way to practice self-inquiry. Every thought that arises, recognize it for what it is -- is it rising from your ego or from a deeper, more ancient part of your mind? Stalking teaches us to not take ourselves too seriously because that which we are serious about, is a figment of our ego/imagination.
- Nagual and Tonal -- That there is the Nagual (Noumenon) which is nondual, indescribable, ineffable and its action manifests mysteriously in the phenomenal world (Tonal). This is very clearly the articulation of Nonduality and duality.
- Stopping the world -- this is, as I understand it, the stopping of the mind or going to the no-mind state of Samādhi. This gives rise to the understanding of our true nature, and eventually the non-grasping mind (of sahaja samādhi).
- Controlled Folly -- According to this, the Warrior (Spiritual warrior) knows the futility of his actions in the world, as neither the world, nor the actions are of any consequence (or real for that matter). Yet, he continues to act with impeccability, letting the universe unfold for him as it will.
I doubt if someone without deep and profound spiritual awakening could have written something so powerful, poignant and elegant. Even if he had ripped off Daoists and Hindus and Buddhists, it took a special kind of spiritual genius to put something like that together. I however don't think he really stole anything. I think he was being literal about his experiences with Don Juan and the Nagual tradition...