Atanu Dey On India's Development

A Path with a Heart

Many years ago, while in high school, I had read a bunch of books by Carlos Castaneda about the Yaqui shaman don Juan. Later on in the US, I learnt that Castaneda’s claim that don Juan was a real person was questioned and most likely he made up the shaman. In short, his books were not an anthropological study but fiction. In any case, what the books presented was an alternate reality which was accessible through magic and psychoactive drugs. I am wary of all claims of magic. I do believe that the world is magical but I don’t believe that magic is a sufficient explanation of the world. Keeping the caution that one should not throw out the baby with the bath water, the don Juan’s advice is worth remembering. Hence the following bit.

From Carlos Castaneda’s The Teachings of don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge:

Anything is one of a million paths. Therefore you must always keep in mind that a path is only a path; if you fell you should not follow it, you must not stay with it under any conditions. To have such clarity you must lead a disciplined life. Only then will you know that any path is only a path, and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you to do. But your decision to keep on the path or to leave it must be free from fear or ambition. I warn you. Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself and yourself alone, one question. This question is one that only a very old man asks. My benefactor told me about it once when I was young, and my blood was too vigorous for me to understand it. Now I do understand it. I will tell you what it is. Does this path have a heart? All paths are the same: they lead nowhere. They are path going through the bush or into the bush…In my own life I could say I have traversed long, long paths, but I an not anywhere. My benefactor’s question has meaning now. Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t it is of no use. Both paths lead nowhere; but one has a heart, the other doesn’t. One makes for a joyful journey; as long as you follow it, you are one with it. The other will make you curse your life. One makes you strong; the other weakens you.

From time to time, I find myself asking where am I headed. Don Juan is right in his claim that all paths lead nowhere. Lacking any specific distinguishing destination, the journey has to be the destination. The important thing then is the choice of path. The way that has a heart is the one that I should journey on.

I do see myself as a seeker of — what I call for lack of a better term — truth. Jiddu Krishnamurty’s insight that truth is a pathless land is enlightened. That is, there are no hard inbuilt paths which traverse the plane that is the truth. Anyone who claims that there is only one path to the truth — and more importantly that it is the path that they are on that leads to the truth — I summarily reject. Hence my antipathy towards all revealed religions. To me, truth is a pathless land where the path you follow depends on you. Whatever path you freely take, is the path that is for you. Following that path is your dharma, as the Indian spiritual traditions hold.

The ancients of China had another great insight into the path. They called it the Tao or the Way. They realized that the Way — the Tao — cannot be circumscribed or defined. Any attempt at limiting and describing the ineffable was futile. They said therefore

The Tao that can be named is not the Eternal Tao.

The ancients of India also have a way of expressing that same idea. When it came to defining the Truth, they responded neti, neti or “not that, not that.” Whatever you conceive of as the Truth, it is not that. That is the negative conception of the Truth.

There is a positive conception of the Truth that the ancients of India expressed as Tat tvam asi or “I am that“. It is a non-dualistic apprehension of the world — that which is not you is also you. The path and the traveler are the same, the dance and the dancer are identical, the question and the questioner are identical. I am the Bramha and I am the hymn to the Bramha.

Which brings me back to where I started. Does the path that I am on have a heart? It does.

  • Frank McNeill

    This reminded me of Dr. Holden, a prof. at Texas Tech that I interviewed in connection with a course in journalism and a column that I wrote for the school newspaper. One thing I wrote was about Dr. Holden’s Yaqui research. What made this interesting was that the Yaqui were the last “wild Indians” in North America, with the exception, of course, of Indians that came here from India! I decided to do a bit of web surfing and found this at: which indicates that Holden was probably Castaneda’s “informant.”

    Best wishes, Frank

  • http://http// Jyoti Iyer

    What serendipity,

    I have been reading up Christmas Humphreys “A Buddhist way of life” and Alan Watts “Buddhism, the religion of no-religion”.

    Walk on!

  • Suhit Anantula


    This is so timely for me. For where I am, this is possibily the best advice I can get.

    Thanks a lot.


  • rjf

    I believe the path with a heart can also mean a “way of life”…a way of conducting oneself on this journey which we call our life…
    For me, it is Zen to bring wisdom into my mind and Karate to bring strength into my body.
    Joining the phenomena with the phenomenan…creating a way of life, or path with focus and attention to the reality which is unique to each and every one of us…
    …that’s what I believe anyway…

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