“The Power of Silence”

I recommend you ignore the blurb on the front cover by the ‘New York Times Book Review’. In my opinion, there is nothing ‘New Age’ in the ancient traditions underpinning don Juan’s teachings.

Above is the title of the 8th book by Carlos Castaneda about his apprenticeship as a sorcerer, or “a man of knowledge”, under the tutelage of don Juan Matus, a Yaqui Indian. I have read most of Castaneda’s earlier books, starting in 1968 when he first published The Teachings of don Juan, A Yaqui Way of Knowledge. I came across the present book in Antikvariat August in Stockholm and couldn’t resist revisiting don Juan, a respected figure for me, known through the writings of his apprentice, Castaneda.

“The Silent Knowledge” would have been a more apt title for the book, in my judgment. It seems more implicit than explicit that silent knowledge is powerful. This will be developed, below.

Don Juan explains to Carlos the appellation ‘sorcerer’ is one of convenience rather than accuracy. Throughout the constant questioning and answering between student Carlos and teacher don Juan, the latter tells Carlos that words cannot capture the essence of key concepts that a sorcerer employs or states of being he undergoes. (NB: I am using ‘he’ as the pronoun because the actors in this book are male. It develops in other of Castaneda’s books that the most powerful sorcerers are women).

The aim of a sorcerer is total awareness.

Don Juan says that a sorcerer must master three areas of expertise:

  1. Awareness (or ‘mind’). “The mastery of awareness is the riddle of the mind; the perplexity sorcerers experience when they recognize the astounding mystery and scope of awareness and perception.
  2. Stalking (or ‘heart’). “The art of stalking is the riddle of the heart; the puzzlement sorcerers feel upon becoming aware of two things: first that the world appears to be unalterably objective and factual, because of peculiarities of our awareness and perception; second, that if different peculiarities of perception come into play, the very things about the world that seem so unalterably objective and factual, change.” (My emphasis)
  3. Intent (or ‘spirit’). Intent is the pervasive force that causes us to perceive. We do not become aware because we perceive; rather, we perceive as a result of the pressure and intrusion of intent.”

This writing examines the third area of a sorcerer’s expertise, intent, or spirit.

The written and mental notes that Carlos takes during these question-and-answer periods which he later commits to his manuscript, often seem circular and even non-logical. I keep in mind that English is not don Juan’s original language; and, as don Juan reminds Carlos:

…being too rational is a handicap. Human beings have a very deep sense of magic. We are part of the mysterious. Rationality is only a veneer with us. If we scratch that surface, we find a sorcerer underneath… (There is also a good deal of action in the book, which emphasizes the knowledge don Juan wants Carlos to awaken to).

Jumping right into the middle of the book, here is don Juan instructing Carlos:

Silent knowledge is something that all of us have… but it cannot think, therefore it cannot speak of what it knows… When man became aware that he knew, he lost sight what he knew. The silent knowledge… is the spirit, the abstract. Man’s error was to want to know it directly, the way he knew everyday life. The more he wanted, the more ephemeral it became.

And further, responding to Carlos’s incessant questioning: “Man gave up silent knowledge for the world of reason… The more he clings to the world of reason, the more ephemeral intent [spirit] becomes…”

Still more questions from Carlos with a patient response from don Juan:

Ancient man knew, in the most direct fashion, what to do and how to do it. But, because he performed so well, he started to develop a sense of selfness, which gave him the feeling that he could predict and plan the actions he was used to performing. And thus, the idea of an individual ‘self’ appeared; an individual self which began to dictate the nature and scope of man’s actions.

As the feelings of the individual self became stronger, man lost his natural connection to silent knowledge. Modern man… therefore finds himself so hopelessly removed from the source of everything that all he can do is express his despair in violent and cynical acts of self-destruction… The reason for (this) cynicism and despair is the bit of silent knowledge left in him which does two things: it gives man an inking of his ancient connection to the source of everything; it makes man feel that without this connection, he has no hope of peace, of satisfaction, of attainment…

I remember reading about athletes and practitioners of martial arts who ‘know what to do’ without thinking in advance, due to their rigorous training and having, in don Juan’s way, connected with their silent knowledge. Similarly, I remember reading about a big cat chasing its prey; it didn’t ‘think’ as we would do, it just did what came naturally from its silent knowledge. Thinking would diminish its power and effectiveness.

Here are some other instructions to Carlos from don Juan, to close out this article:

“Warriors (sorcerers) no longer feel sorry for themselves; they have overcome feelings of self-importance. The ‘self’ becomes abstract and impersonal.”

“There is no way to talk about the spirit; it can only be experienced.”

“Knowledge cannot be turns into words. Knowledge is there for everyone. It is there to be felt, to be used, but not explained.”

“When the spirit cuts our chains of self-reflection it is marvelous, but undesirable because nobody wants to be free.”

Our greatest collective flaw is that we live our lives completely disregarding the connection we have with everything in the universe. The busyness of our lives, our relentless interests, concerns, hopes, frustrations and fears take precedence, and on a day-to-day basis we are unaware of being linked to everything else.

“And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.”
–Wm. Shakespeare, Hamlet

A summary of don Juan Matus’s teachings in the book, by Rick Mace.