SEMANTICS and MEANING
The work throws wide open the question of meaning and application of language in human communication. It shows us in a dramatic fashion that powerful and effective intra-human communication, especially between diverse cultures can only take place when the concepts and terms used convey the meaning and essence of that which needs to be communicated, is in the most simplest and direct language as possible. Unless this is clearly understood, i.e., the basic context and purpose of the communication is clear and common to both parties, the communication can never be creative or constructive, only deceptive, for the party who's intent is not genuine. This also holds true for the relationship between the books as an entity and the reader.
"The central importance of entering
into worlds other than our own - and hence of anthropology itself - lies in the fact
that the experience leads us to understand that our own world is also a cultural
By experiencing other worlds, then, we see our own for what it is. Hence the allegory as well as the ethnography.
The wisdom and poetry of don Juan, and the skill and poetry of his scribe, give us a vision both of ourselves and of reality. As in all proper allegory, what one sees lies with the beholder." .....Intro to "Teachings of Don Juan"
" Obviously the events that occurred within this alien system of sensible interpretation could be explained or understood only in terms of the units of meaning proper to that system. This work is, therefore, a reportage and should be read as a reportage. The system ( ?) I recorded was incomprehensible to me, thus the pretence to anything other than reporting about it would be misleading and impertinent. In this respect I have adopted the phenomenological method and have striven to deal with sorcery solely as a phenomena that was presented to me .
I , as a perceiver, recorded what I perceived, and at the moment of recording I endeavored to suspend judgment."
The Spirit of Don Juan and the Intent of the lineage of Don Juan becomes available to the reader who has a genuine motivation and intention to learn from the expressed experience of diverse and unique human beings. But if one is looking for only just reinforcement and defense of one's own ideas, opinions, methods, or evidences ( or lack of ) for scientific hypothesis, this work will prove to be a waste of one's energy.
The point here is that meaning ultimately rests upon the motivations of the interpreter. The context of the source and the receiver of a communication can never be totally identical. The context of the source of the communication, i.e., the communicator, also cannot afford to be oblivious of the context background and likely interpretations of the target receiver. The best communicator is the one who in the most simplest and efficient use of language is able to not only express the essence of what one means to convey to as wide an audience as possible, but also in a manner that benefits and even provokes a creative response in the receiver of the communication.
The books not only effectively present the dialogues but also the meaning behind the communication, and this is so because CC has not gone into superfluous interpretations and meaningless analysis of the conversations and experiences, at least not in the books, although he is no doubt always in the look out for meaningful concepts and ideas that can relate to his cultural and educational background. It is best that the work is taken as a reportage by the reader, and then let meanings follow, in case the reader can apply the concepts or make use of the contents according to one's motivations, consequent actions, their results and experiences.
Approaching the books with a preconceived meaning, or assigning meanings to the acts of the characters, and the most likely outcome is bound to be that the work turns out to be bewildering, confusing, frustrating, misleading and even draining on one's faculties and resources, leading one to jump to hard and fast conclusions. The difficulty is compounded by the cultural contrasts, not by the semantics.
The contrast is so striking between the two cultural contexts and specifically betweeen the context of a sorcerer and the context of a scientist, that no definitive meanings are apparent or easily interpreted.
As CC remarks in A Separate Reality :
"Certain explanations are needed, however, to make my reportage cogent, since its clarity depends on the elucidation of a number of key concepts or key units that I want to emphasize . This emphasis is congruous with my interest in social science. It is perfectly possible that another person with a different set of goals and expectations would single out concepts entirely different from those I have chosen myself."
"What I perceived in those states of altered consciousness was incomprehensible and impossible to interpret by means of our everyday mode of understanding the world. In other words, the conditions of inapplicability entailed the cessation of the pertinence of my world view. Don Juan used this condition of inapplicability of the states of non-ordinary reality in order to introduce a series of preconceived, new units of meaning . Units of meaning were all the single elements pertinent to the knowledge don Juan was striving to teach me. I have called them units of meaning because they were the basic conglomerate of sensory data and their interpretations on which more complex meaning was constructed."
For example :
"Apparently in his system ( ? ) of knowledge there was the possibility of making a semantic difference between 'seeing' and 'looking' as two distinct manners of perceiving. 'Looking' referred to the ordinary way in which we are accustomed to perceive the world, while 'seeing' entailed a very complex process by virtue of which a man of knowledge allegedly perceives the 'essence' of the things of the world. "
But don Juan and his lineage were men of knowledge based upon action rather than thought and meanings, even when engaged in conversations where intellect has to play a major role. They were not given to thinking, explaining or intellectualizing about their actions and experiences, unless the situation demanded of them to do so. Then too their choice of words was minimal and simple but forceful and dramatic. They were men of knowledge but the kind of knowledge that demands actions first and words later, if at all.
And so to say that DJ was teaching CC new units of meaning is not accurate, rather it would be more appropriate to say that the teaching was aimed at new units of action, although reconceptualization was no doubt also part of the process.
For example all the 'Lessons of Don Juan' like disrupting routines, erasing personal history, becoming inaccessible, using death as advisor, etc are all teaching aimed at forceful action and definitive acts demanded to be performed with conviction, without going into detailed meanings of these.
The overall meaning of DJ was to make CC a man of knowledge by forcing CC to claim knowledge as power by the acts involved in the process. A knowledge that becomes available only when the seeker develops the ability to 'see' beyond the surface appearance of things and beyond the linear relationship between events. An ability that is in harmony with the seeker's own unique quality - or as Don Juan puts it : predilection.
The following dialog illustrates this brilliantly :
DJ : My predilection is to see. I like to see because only by
seeing can a man of knowledge know.
CC: But I also see everything and I am not a man of knowledge.
DJ : No, you don't see. You only look at the surface of things.
CC : Do you mean that every man of knowledge actually sees through everything he looks at ?
DJ : No, that is not what I mean. I said that a man of knowledge has his own predilections ; mine is just to see and
to know ; others do other things.
CC : What other things, for example ?
DJ : Take Sacateca, he's a man of knowledge and his predilection is dancing. So he dances and knows.
CC: Is the predilection of a man of knowledge something he does in order to know?
DJ : Yes, that is correct.
CC : But how could dancing help Sacateca to know ?
DJ : One can say that Sacateca dances with all he has.
CC : Does he dance like I dance ? I mean like dancing ?
DJ : Let's say that he dances like I see and not like you may dance.
Now from a purely scientific point of view, the above dialog is just gibberish, meaningless chatter, but for a seeker of real knowledge it is loaded with meanings and significance that depend upon the seeker's predilection and purpose.
Meaning and purpose go hand in hand, and a man of knowledge acts
with purpose not just for the heck of it.
It is only when acts are driven by purpose that they become meaningful. This is apparent in the exchange :
DE : Oh its you, How's Juan ?
CC: He's fine . But how are you don Elias ?
DE : Has Juan sent you on some errand ?
CC : No. I came here by myself.
DE : What in the world for ?
CC : I just wanted to talk with you.
DE : What do you want to talk about ?
CC : Nothing in particular. I just came to chat with you in a friendly way.
You once asked me to come to your house.
DE : Yes I did, but its not the same now.
CC : Why isnt't it the same ?
DE : Dont't you talk with Juan ?
CC: Yes I do.
DE : Then what do you want with me ?
CC: I thought maybe I could ask you some questions.
DE : Ask Juan, Isn't he teaching you ?
CC : He is, but just the same I would like to ask you about what he is teaching me,
and have your opinion. This way I'll be able to know what to do.
DE: Why do you want to do that ? Don't you trust Juan ?
CC: I do.
DE : Then why don't you ask him to tell you what you want to know ?
CC: I do. And he tells me. But if you could also tell me about what don Juan is teaching me,
perhaps I will understand better.
DE : Juan can tell you everything. He alone can do that. Don't you understand that?
CC: I do, but then I'd like to talk to people like you don Elias.
One does not find a man of knowledge every day.
DE : Juan is a man of knowledge.
CC : I know that.
DE : Then why are you talking to me?
CC : I said I came to be friends.
DE : No you didn't. There is something else about you this time.
The exchange goes around in circles as don Elias sees that CC just wants to ask questions without any clear purpose and snubs him so that CC does not pester him. Whereas Don Juan is obliged to involve himself in CC's questions, even if they are repetitive, annoying or absurd, don Elias is not. Don Juan makes it clearas to what are his motivations and purposes :
DJ: It is not a matter of personal choice
who is selected to learn the sorcerers knowledge. Have you ever asked yourself why you, in
CC: All the time. I've asked you that question hundreds of times but you have never answered it.
DJ: I didn't mean that you should ask it as a question that begs an answer, but in the sense of a warrior's pondering on his great fortune, the fortune of having found a challenge. To make it into an ordinary question is the device of a conceited ordinary man who wants to be either admired or pitied for it. I have no interest in that kind of question, because there is no way of answering it. The decision of picking you was a design of power ; no one can discern the design of power. Now that you've been
selected, there is nothing that you can do to stop the fulfillment of that design.
DJ : You, Genaro and I are stuck together by a purpose that is not our decision.
CC: What purpose are you talking about ?
DJ: Learning the warrior's way. You can't get out of it, but neither can we. As long as our achievement is pending, you will find me or Genaro, but once it is accomplished, you will fly freely and no one knows where the force of your life will take you.
CC: Do you mean that I won't see you anymore, don Juan ?
DJ: Not ever again. Genaro and I will be then what we always have been, dust on the road.
Right from the start Don Juan keeps Carlos on his toes about his (
CC's ) motivations and purposes in seeking to know something, rather than just to collect
data and notes :
CC : Would you teach me about poyote, don Juan ?
DJ : Why would you like to undertake such learning ?
CC : I really would like to know about it. Is not just to want to know a good reason ?
DJ : No ! You must search in your heart and find out why a young man like you wants to undertake such a task of learning.
CC: Why did you learn about it yourself, don Juan ?
DJ: Why do you ask that ?
CC: Maybe we both have the same reasons.
DJ : I doubt that. I am an Indian. We don't have the same paths.
CC: The only reason I have is that I want to learn about it, just to know. But I assure, my intentions are not bad.
DJ : I believe you.
CC: Will you teach me then ?
DJ: No !
CC: Is it because I'm not an Indian ?
DJ : No ! It is because you don't know your heart. What is important is that you know exactly why you want to involve yourself. Learning about 'Mescalito' is the most serious act. If you were an Indian your desire alone would be sufficient.
Yes, the most important questions that should always be asked whenever one undertakes something ( or anything, for that matter ) are :
1. Why does one want to know about
something? or What are one's motivations ?
( What drives oneself to seek a particular knowledge )
2. For what does one have to know about something ? or What are one's purposes ?
( What one intends to do with that knowledge ? )
Motivations......purpose....meaning....related and connected in time and using knowledge as the means....that is the whole process.
The whole question then shifts to knowledge itself ; What
is knowledge ?
This exploration then enters into the domain of the first book whose central theme is :
BOOK1:A Man of Knowledge
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