Dense, narcissistic musings on death and the shaman's life. Onetime anthropologist Castaneda has built a three-decade career out of relaying the teachings of his Yaqui Indian mentor, Juan Matus, in works ranging from The Teachings of Don Juan (1968) to 1993's The Art of Dreaming. Apparently, Castaneda feels that he has yet more wisdom to impart. Still, this vague assortment of personal vignettes offers little in the way of spiritual guidance. Paradoxically, although Don Juan often tells Castaneda that a sorcerer must be emptied of self to accept infinity (annoyingly, this latter word is always italicized in the text), the book seems self-absorbed from the start. In preparation for accepting infinity, true, Castaneda must revisit some of the most pivotal events in his life. A few of the stories are hopelessly sad (and one relentlessly misogynist). One of the most touching occurs when Don Juan urges Castaneda to track down the two women who helped him when he was a very young man. Castaneda is instructed to reward them—while rendering himself penniless—with an extravagant gift. And one of the women, now a homemaker with three kids, is indeed overjoyed to receive a top-of-the-line station wagon. Yet it's hard to find a larger meaning in the stories. We wind up learning something more of Castaneda but not much at all about the active side of infinity, which is mystically translated as "intent." It appears that we ought to live with intent, never forgetting that we will die, regardless. Death (and the knowledge of it) should thus inform all of our actions and relationships, providing a perspective and enforcing our humility. This is hardly an original idea, and it can—t justify wading through Castaneda's welter of self-indulgence, which might translate better to a bumper-sticker adage.
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