What is a summary of A Separate Reality: Further Conversations with Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda?

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Stephen Holliday eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Castaneda's work has enthralled and motivated millions of readers since the publication of The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge in 1968 and the following A Separate Reality, including me.  Unfortunately, as most academic anthropologists now understand, Castaneda's work--and I am taking nothing away from its influence on readers--is most likely a creation of Castaneda's imagination and, most academics acknowledge, an ability to pull together a wide range of anthropology and mythology to create a coherent (and convincing) personal narrative of spiritual growth.  The commercial success of his first two books also helped to delay a thorough analysis of Castaneda's mythology, but several academics and other readers began to question not only the authenticity of his narrative but also the existence of Don Juan.

Beginning in 1972 with Joyce Carol Oates, a poet and novelist, who was astounded that a reviewer of Castaneda's work in the New York Times described the work as non-fiction, investigative reporters began to discover that Castaneda lied about several aspects of his own biography, including his military service, and academic anthropologists began to doubt that Castaneda's experience, including the existence of Don Juan, was based on real events.  As Robert Marshall pointed out in his article "The Dark Legacy of Carlos Castaneda," 

DeMille also uncovered numerous instances of plagiarism. . . .  his 1980 compilation "The Don Juan Papers" includes a 47-page glossary of quotations from don juan [sic] and their sources, ranging from Wittgenstein and C. S. Lewis to papers in obscure anthropology journals. (see below for link)

After studying Castaneda's work closely, DeMille's conclusion is that Castaneda's work originated "in the library at UCLA" (where Castaneda was working on his doctorate in anthropology.  One of the most impressive problems with Castaneda's narrative is that the Yaqui tribe--led by its shaman, Don Juan--did not use peyote in its ceremonies, a staple ingredient in Castaneda's spiritual growth and a central part of the "Yaqui way of knowledge." 

One can argue, of course, that Castaneda's work--even as fiction--has had the ability to capture the attention and imagination of readers for fifty years. The belief system articulated by Castaneda resonates with readers who seek answers to the questions posed by Castaneda and answered by his alter-ego, Don Juan, and the narrative's truth resides within the narrative rather than its fictional or non-fictional origin.

Still, clearly, readers who adopt the Yaqui way of knowledge should understand that the belief system is Castaneda's, not Don Juan's.

Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Anthropolist Carlos Castaneda's A Separate Reality: Further Conversations With Don Juan is a sequel to his earlier published book titled The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge. Both books detail his account of undertaking an apprenticeship under a Yaqui Indian Sorcerer Don Juan Matus.

Castaneda met Don Juan in central Mexico in 1961. After writing his first book, Castaneda went to visit Don Juan again in 1968. While sitting on a park bench, Castaneda verbalizes grief over the impoverished state of children in Mexico, but Don Juan disagrees, arguing instead that one can't know the true state of a life without first being able to view the life through knowing eyes.

At a mitote ceremony, Don Juan gives Castaneda peyote, a mixture of hallucinogenic herbs and mushrooms one can ingest through smoking; Castaneda feels reluctant to accept the peyote because he does not want to lose his current viewpoint of the world. Don Juan doesn't force Castaneda to take the peyote, but instead explains to him about the peyote spirit named Mescalito. Castanedo senses what Don Juan calls the peyote spirit as a buzzing noise in his ears and a pink light seen on faces at the ceremony.

Later, at another mitote, Don Juan does insist Castaneda smoke the peyote. Castaneda accounts that even before smoking, he saw another sorcerer performing inconceivable gymnastics stunts in front of a waterfall.

Castaneda further details being told to live as though he has full power over all situations, meeting a water spirit, nearly being drowned, and confronting his ally, which is terrifying and can be life-threatening.

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