Don Juan, Carlos Castaneda, Petty Tyrants, Self Importance, Impeccability
Don Juan did not discuss the mastery of awareness with me until months later. We were at that time in the house where the nagual’s party lived.
“Let’s go for a walk,” don Juan said to me, placing his hand on my shoulder. “Or better yet,
let’s go to the town’s square, where there are a lot of people, and sit down and talk.”
I was surprised when he spoke to me, as I had been in the house for a couple of days then and he had not said so much as “hello”.
As don Juan and I were leaving the house, la Gorda intercepted us and demanded that we take her along. She seemed determined not to take no for an answer. Don Juan in a very stern voice told her that he had to discuss something in private with me.
“You’re going to talk about me,” la Gorda said, her tone and gestures betraying both suspicion and annoyance.
“You’re right,” don Juan replied dryly. He moved past her without turning to look at her.
I followed him, and we walked in silence to the town’s square. When we sat down I asked him what on earth we would find to discuss about la Gorda. I was still smarting from her look of menace when we left the house.
“We have nothing to discuss about la Gorda or anybody else,” he said. “I told her that just to provoke her enormous self-importance. And it worked. She is furious with us. If I know her, by now she will have talked to herself long enough to have built up her confidence and her righteous indignation at having been refused and made to look like a fool. I wouldn’t be surprised if she barges in on us here, at the park bench.”
“If we’re not going to talk about la Gorda, what are we going to discuss?” I asked.
“We’re going to continue the discussion we started in Oaxaca,” he replied. “To understand the explanation of awareness will require your utmost effort and your willingness to shift back and forth between levels of awareness. While we are involved in our discussion I will demand your total concentration and patience.”
Half-complaining, I told him that he had made me feel very uncomfortable by refusing to talk to me for the past two days. He looked at me and arched his brows. A smile played on his lips and vanished. I realized that he was letting me know I was no better than la Gorda.
“I was provoking your self-importance,” he said with a frown. “Self-importance is our greatest enemy. Think about it – what weakens us is feeling offended by the deeds and misdeeds of our fellow men. Our self-importance requires that we spend most of our lives offended by someone.
“The new seers recommended that every effort should be made to eradicate self-importance from the lives of warriors. I have followed that recommendation, and much of my endeavors with you has been geared to show you that without self-importance we are invulnerable.”
As I listened his eyes suddenly became very shiny. I was thinking to myself that he seemed to be on the verge of laughter and there was no reason for it when I was startled by an abrupt, painful slap on the right side of my face.
I jumped up from the bench. La Gorda was standing behind me, her hand still raised. Her face was flushed with anger.
“Now you can say what you like about me and with more justification,” she shouted. “If you
have anything to say, however, say it to my face!”
Her outburst appeared to have exhausted her, because she sat down on the cement and began to weep. Don Juan was transfixed with inexpressible glee. I was frozen with sheer fury. La Gorda glared at me and then turned to don Juan and meekly told him that we had no right to criticize her.
Don Juan laughed so hard he doubled over almost to the ground. He couldn’t even speak. He tried two or three times to say something to me, then finally got up and walked away, his body still shaking with spasms of laughter.
I was about to run after him, still glowering at la Gorda – at that moment I found her
despicable – when something extraordinary happened to me. I realized what don Juan had found so hilarious. La Gorda and I were horrendously alike. Our self-importance was monumental. My surprise and fury at being slapped were just like la Gorda’s feelings of anger and suspicion. Don Juan was right. The burden of self-importance is a terrible encumbrance. I ran after him then, elated, the tears flowing down my cheeks. I caught up with him and told
him what I had realized. His eyes were shining with mischievousness and delight.
“What should I do about la Gorda?” I asked.
“Nothing,” he replied. “Realizations are always personal.”
He changed the subject and said that the omens were telling us to continue our discussion back at his house, either in a large room with comfortable chairs or in the back patio, which had a roofed corridor around it. He said that whenever he conducted his explanation inside the house those two areas would be off limits to everyone else.
We went back to the house. Don Juan told everyone what la Gorda had done. The delight all the seers showed in taunting her made la Gorda’s position extremely uncomfortable.
“Self-importance can’t be fought with niceties,” don Juan commented when I expressed my concern about la Gorda. He then asked everyone to leave the room. We sat down and don Juan began his explanations.
He said that seers, old and new, are divided into two categories. The first one is made up of
those who are willing to exercise self-restraint and can channel their activities toward pragmatic goals, which would benefit other seers and man in general. The other category consists of those who don’t care about self-restraint or about any pragmatic goals. It is the consensus among seers that the latter have failed to resolve the problem of self-importance.
“Self-importance is not something simple and naive,” he explained. “On the one hand, it is the core of everything that is good in us, and on the other hand, the core of everything that is rotten. To get rid of the self-importance that is rotten requires a masterpiece of strategy. Seers, through the ages, have given the highest praise to those who have accomplished it.”
I complained that the idea of eradicating self-importance, although very appealing to me at
times, was really incomprehensible; I told him that I found his directives for getting rid of it so vague I could not follow them.
“I’ve said to you many times,” he said, “that in order to follow the path of knowledge one has to be very imaginative. You see, in the path of knowledge nothing is as clear as we’d like it to be.”
My discomfort made me argue that his admonitions about self-importance reminded me of
Catholic postulates. After a lifetime of being told about the evils of sin, I had become callous.
“Warriors fight self-importance as a matter of strategy, not principle,” he replied. “Your
mistake is to understand what I say in terms of morality.”
“I see you as a highly moral man, don Juan,” I insisted.
“You’ve noticed my impeccability, that’s all,” he said.
“Impeccability, as well as getting rid of self-importance, is too vague a concept to be of any
value to me,” I remarked.
Don Juan choked with laughter, and I challenged him to explain impeccability.
“Impeccability is nothing else but the proper use of energy,” he said. “My statements have no inkling of morality. I’ve saved energy and that makes me impeccable. To understand this, you have to save enough energy yourself.”
We were quiet for a long time. I wanted to think about what he had said. Suddenly, he started talking again.
“Warriors take strategic inventories,” he said. “They list everything they do. Then they decide which of those things can be changed in order to allow themselves a respite, in terms of expending their energy.”
I argued that their list would have to include everything under the sun. He patiently answered that the strategic inventory he was talking about covered only behavioral patterns that were not essential to our survival and well-being.
I jumped at the opportunity to point out that survival and well-being were categories that could be interpreted in endless ways, hence, there was no way of agreeing what was or was not essential to survival and well-being.
As I kept on talking I began to lose momentum. Finally, I stopped because I realized the
futility of my arguments. Don Juan said then that in the strategic inventories of warriors, self-importance figures as the activity that consumes the greatest amount of energy, hence, their effort to eradicate it.
“One of the first concerns of warriors is to free that energy in order to face the unknown with it,” don Juan went on. “The action of rechanneling that energy is impeccability.”
He said that the most effective strategy was worked out by the seers of the Conquest, the
unquestionable masters of stalking. It consists of six elements that interplay with one another. Five of them are called the attributes of warriorship: control, discipline, forbearance, timing, and will. They pertain to the world of the warrior who is fighting to lose self-importance. The sixth element, which is perhaps the most important of all, pertains to the outside world and is called the petty tyrant.
He looked at me as if silently asking me whether or not I had understood.
“I’m really mystified,” I said. “You keep on saying that la Gorda is the petty tyrant of my life. Just what is a petty tyrant?”
“A petty tyrant is a tormentor,” he replied. “Someone who either holds the power of life and death over warriors or simply annoys them to distraction.”
Don Juan had a beaming smile as he spoke to me. He said that the new seers developed their own classification of petty tyrants; although the concept is one of their most serious and important findings, the new seers had a sense of humor about it. He assured me that there was a tinge of malicious humor in every one of their classifications, because humor was the only means of counteracting the compulsion of human awareness to take inventories and to make cumbersome classifications.
The new seers, in accordance with their practice, saw fit to head their classification with the
primal source of energy, the one and only ruler in the universe, and they called it simply the tyrant. The rest of the despots and authoritarians were found to be, naturally, infinitely below the category of tyrant. Compared to the source of everything, the most fearsome, tyrannical men are buffoons; consequently, they were classified as petty tyrants, pinches tiranos. He said that there were two subclasses of minor petty tyrants. The first subclass consisted of the petty tyrants who persecute and inflict misery but without actually causing anybody’s death. They were called little petty tyrants, pinches tiranitos. The second consisted of the petty tyrants who are only exasperating and bothersome to no end. They were called small-fry petty tyrants, repinches tiranitos, or teensy-weensy petty tyrants, pinches tiranitos chiquititos.
I thought his classifications were ludicrous. I was sure that he was improvising the Spanish
terms. I asked him if that was so.
“Not at all,” he replied with an amused expression. “The new seers were great ones for
classifications. Genaro is doubtless one of the greatest; if you’d observe him carefully, you’d
realize exactly how the new seers feel about their classifications.”
He laughed uproariously at my confusion when I asked him if he was pulling my leg.
“I wouldn’t dream of doing that,” he said, smiling. “Genaro may do that, but not I, especially when I know how you feel about classifications. It’s just that the new seers were terribly irreverent.” He added that the little petty tyrants are further divided into four categories. One that torments with brutality and violence. Another that does it by creating unbearable apprehension through deviousness. Another which oppresses with sadness. And the last, which torments by making warriors rage.
“La Gorda is in a class of her own,” he added. “She is an acting, small-fry petty tyrant. She
annoys you to pieces and makes you rage. She even slaps you. With all that she is teaching you detachment.”
“That’s not possible!” I protested.
“You haven’t yet put together all the ingredients of the new seers’ strategy,” he said. “Once you do that, you’ll know how efficient and clever is the device of using a petty tyrant. I would certainly say that the strategy not only gets rid of self-importance; it also prepares warriors for the final realization that impeccability is the only thing that counts in the path of knowledge.”
He said that what the new seers had in mind was a deadly maneuver in which the petty tyrant is like a mountain peak and the attributes of warriorship are like climbers who meet at the summit.
“Usually, only four attributes are played,” he went on. “The fifth, will, is always saved for an ultimate confrontation, when warriors are facing the firing squad, so to speak.”
“Why is it done that way?”
“Because will belongs to another sphere, the unknown. The other four belong to the known,
exactly where the petty tyrants are lodged. In fact, what turns human beings into petty tyrants is precisely the obsessive manipulation of the known.”
Don Juan explained that the interplay of all the five attributes of warriorship is done only by seers who are also impeccable warriors and have mastery over will. Such an interplay is a supreme maneuver that cannot be performed on the daily human stage.
“Four attributes are all that is needed to deal with the worst of petty tyrants,” he continued.
“Provided, of course, that a petty tyrant has been found. As I said, the petty tyrant is the outside element, the one we cannot control and the element that is perhaps the most important of them all. My benefactor used to say that the warrior who stumbles on a petty tyrant is a lucky one. He meant that you’re fortunate if you come upon one in your path, because if you don’t, you have to go out and look for one.”
He explained that one of the greatest accomplishments of the seers of the Conquest was a
construct he called the three-phase progression. By understanding the nature of man, they were able to reach the incontestable conclusion that if seers can hold their own in facing petty tyrants, they can certainly face the unknown with impunity, and then they can even stand the presence of the unknowable.
“The average man’s reaction is to think that the order of that statement should be reversed,” he went on. “A seer who can hold his own in the face of the unknown can certainly face petty tyrants. But that’s not so. What destroyed the superb seers of ancient times was that assumption. We know better now. We know that nothing can temper the spirit of a warrior as much as the challenge of dealing with impossible people in positions of power. Only under those conditions can warriors acquire the sobriety and serenity to stand the pressure of the unknowable.” I vociferously disagreed with him. I told him that in my opinion tyrants can only render their victims helpless or make them as brutal as they themselves are. I pointed out that countless studies had been done on the effects of physical and psychological torture on such victims.
“The difference is in something you just said,” he retorted. “They are victims, not warriors.
Once I felt just as you do. I’ll tell you what made me change, but first let’s go back again to what I said about the Conquest. The seers of that time couldn’t have found a better ground. The Spaniards were the petty tyrants who tested the seers’ skills to the limit; after dealing with the conquerors, the seers were capable of facing anything. They were the lucky ones. At that time there were petty tyrants everywhere.
“After all those marvelous years of abundance things changed a great deal. Petty tyrants never again had that scope; it was only during those times that their authority was unlimited. The perfect ingredient for the making of a superb seer is a petty tyrant with unlimited prerogatives.
“In our times, unfortunately, seers have to go to extremes to find a worthy one. Most of the time they have to be satisfied with very small fry.”
“Did you find a petty tyrant yourself, don Juan?”
“I was lucky. A king-size one found me. At the time, though, I felt like you; I couldn’t
consider myself fortunate.” Don Juan said that his ordeal began a few weeks before he met his benefactor. He was barely twenty years old at the time. He had gotten a job at a sugar mill working as a laborer. He had always been very strong, so it was easy for him to get jobs that required muscle. One day when he was moving some heavy sacks of sugar a woman came by. She was very well dressed and
seemed to be a woman of means. She was perhaps in her fifties, don Juan said, and very
domineering. She looked at don Juan and then spoke to the foreman and left. Don Juan was then approached by the foreman, who told him that for a fee he would recommend him for a job in the boss’s house. Don Juan told the man that he had no money. The foreman smiled and said not to worry because he would have plenty on payday. He patted don Juan’s back and assured him it was a great honor to work for the boss.
Don Juan said that being a lowly ignorant Indian living hand-to-mouth, not only did he believe every word, he thought a good fairy had touched him. He promised to pay the foreman anything he wished. The foreman named a large sum, which had to be paid in installments. Immediately thereafter the foreman himself took don Juan to the house, which was quite a distance from the town, and left him there with another foreman, a huge, somber, ugly man who asked a lot of questions. He wanted to know about don Juan’s family. Don Juan answered that he didn’t have any. The man was so pleased that he even smiled through his rotten teeth. He promised don Juan that they would pay him plenty, and that he would even be in a position
to save money, because he didn’t have to spend any, for he was going to live and eat in the house. The way the man laughed was terrifying. Don Juan knew that he had to escape immediately. He ran for the gate, but the man cut in front of him with a revolver in his hand. He cocked it and rammed it into don Juan’s stomach.
“You’re here to work yourself to the bone,” he said. “And don’t you forget it.” He shoved don Juan around with a billy club.
Then he took him to the side of the house and, after observing that he worked his men every day from sunrise to sunset without a break, he put don Juan to work digging out two enormous tree stumps. He also told don Juan that if he ever tried to escape or went to the authorities he would shoot him dead – and that if don Juan should ever get away, he would swear in court that don Juan had tried to murder the boss.
“You’ll work here until you die,” he said. “Another Indian will get your job then, just as you’re taking a dead Indian’s place.”
Don Juan said that the house looked like a fortress, with armed men with machetes
everywhere. So he got busy working and tried not to think about his predicament. At the end of the day, the man came back and kicked him all the way to the kitchen, because he did not like the defiant look in don Juan’s eyes. He threatened to cut the tendons of don Juan’s arms if he didn’t obey him.
In the kitchen an old woman brought food, but don Juan was so upset and afraid that he
couldn’t eat. The old woman advised him to eat as much as he could. He had to be strong, she said, because his work would never end. She warned him that the man who had held his job had died just a day earlier. He was too weak to work and had fallen from a second-story window. Don Juan said that he worked at the boss’s place for three weeks and that the man bullied him every moment of every day. He made him work under the most dangerous conditions, doing the heaviest work imaginable, under the constant threat of his knife, gun, or billy club. He sent him daily to the stables to clean the stalls while the nervous stallions were in them. At the beginning of every day don Juan thought it would be his last one on earth. And surviving meant only that he
had to go through the same hell again the next day. What precipitated the end was don Juan’s request to have some time off. The pretext was that
he needed to go to town to pay the foreman of the sugar mill the money that he owed him. The other foreman retorted that don Juan could not stop working, not even for a minute, because he was in debt up to his ears just for the privilege of working there.
Don Juan knew that he was done for. He understood the man’s maneuvers. Both he and the other foreman were in cahoots to get lowly Indians from the mill, work them to death, and divide their salaries. That realization angered him so intensely that he ran through the kitchen screaming and got inside the main house. The foreman and the other workers were caught totally by surprise. He ran out the front door and almost got away, but the foreman caught up with him on the road and shot him in the chest. He left him for dead.
Don Juan said that it was not his destiny to die; his benefactor found him there and tended him until he got well.
“When I told my benefactor the whole story,” don Juan said, “he could hardly contain his
“That foreman is really a prize,” my benefactor said. “He is too good to be wasted. Someday you must go back to that house.”
“He raved about my luck in finding a one-in-a-million petty tyrant with almost unlimited
power. I thought the old man was nuts. It was years before I fully understood what he was talking about.”
“That is one of the most horrible stories I have ever heard,” I said. “Did you really go back to that house?”
“I certainly did, three years later. My benefactor was right. A petty tyrant like that one was one in a million and couldn’t be wasted.”
“How did you manage to go back?”
“My benefactor developed a strategy using the four attributes of warriorship: control,
discipline, forbearance, and timing.” Don Juan said that his benefactor, in explaining to him what he had to do to profit from facing
that ogre of a man, also told him what the new seers considered to be the four steps on the path of knowledge. The first step is the decision to become apprentices. After the apprentices change their views about themselves and the world they take the second step and become warriors, which is to say, beings capable of the utmost discipline and control over themselves. The third step, after acquiring forbearance and timing, is to become men of knowledge. When men of knowledge
learn to see they have taken the fourth step and have become seers.
His benefactor stressed the fact that don Juan had been on the path of knowledge long enough to have acquired a minimum of the first two attributes: control and discipline. Don Juan emphasized that both of these attributes refer to an inner state. A warrior is self-oriented, not in a selfish way, but in the sense of a total and continuous examination of the self.
“At that time, I was barred from the other two attributes,” don Juan went on. “Forbearance and timing are not quite an inner state. They are in the domain of the man of knowledge. My benefactor showed them to me through his strategy.”
“Does this mean that you couldn’t have faced the petty tyrant by yourself?” I asked.
“I’m sure that I could have done it myself, although I have always doubted that I would have carried it off with flair and joyfulness. My benefactor was simply enjoying the encounter by directing it. The idea of using a petty tyrant is not only for perfecting the warrior’s spirit, but also for enjoyment and happiness.”
“How could anyone enjoy the monster you described?”
“He was nothing in comparison to the real monsters that the new seers faced during the
Conquest. By all indications those seers enjoyed themselves blue dealing with them. They proved that even the worst tyrants can bring delight, provided, of course, that one is a warrior.” Don Juan explained that the mistake average men make in confronting petty tyrants is not to have a strategy to fall back on; the fatal flaw is that average men take themselves too seriously; their actions and feelings, as well as those of the petty tyrants, are all-important. Warriors, on the other hand, not only have a well-thought-out strategy, but are free from self-importance. What
restrains their self-importance is that they have understood that reality is an interpretation we make. That knowledge was the definitive advantage that the new seers had over the simpleminded
Spaniards. He said that he became convinced he could defeat the foreman using only the single realization that petty tyrants take themselves with deadly seriousness while warriors do not. Following his benefactor’s strategic plan, therefore, don Juan got a job in the same sugar mill as before. Nobody remembered that he had worked there in the past; peons came to that sugar mill and left it without leaving a trace.
His benefactor’s strategy specified that don Juan had to be solicitous of whoever came to look for another victim. As it happened, the same woman came and spotted him, as she had done years ago. This time he was physically even stronger than before.
The same routine took place. The strategy, however, called for refusing payment to the
foreman from the outset. The man had never been turned down and was taken aback. He
threatened to fire don Juan from the job. Don Juan threatened him back, saying that he would go directly to the lady’s house and see her. Don Juan knew that the woman, who was the wife of the owner of the mill, did not know what the two foremen were up to. He told the foreman that he knew where she lived, because he had worked in the surrounding fields cutting sugar cane. The man began to haggle, and don Juan demanded money from him before he would accept going to
the lady’s house. The foreman gave in and handed him a few bills. Don Juan was perfectly aware that the foreman’s acquiescence was just a ruse to get him to go to the house.
“He himself once again took me to the house,” don Juan said. “It was an old hacienda owned by the people of the sugar mill – rich men who either knew what was going on and didn’t care, or were too indifferent even to notice.
“As soon as we got there, I ran into the house to look for the lady. I found her and dropped to my knees and kissed her hand to thank her. The two foremen were livid.
“The foreman at the house followed the same pattern as before. But I had the proper
equipment to deal with him; I had control, discipline, forbearance, and timing. It turned out as my benefactor had planned it. My control made me fulfill the man’s most asinine demands. What usually exhausts us in a situation like that is the wear and tear on our self-importance. Any man who has an iota of pride is ripped apart by being made to feel worthless. “I gladly did everything he asked of me. I was joyful and strong. And I didn’t give a fig about my pride or my fear. I was there as an impeccable warrior. To tune the spirit when someone is trampling on you is called control.”
Don Juan explained that his benefactor’s strategy required that instead of feeling sorry for
himself as he had done before, he immediately go to work mapping the man’s strong points, his weaknesses, his quirks of behavior.
He found that the foreman’s strongest points were his violent nature and his daring. He had shot don Juan in broad daylight and in sight of scores of onlookers. His great weakness was that 17
he liked his job and did not want to endanger it. Under no circumstances could he attempt to kill don Juan inside the compound in the daytime. His other weakness was that he was a family man. He had a wife and children who lived in a shack near the house.
“To gather all this information while they are beating you up is called discipline,” don Juan
said. “The man was a regular fiend. He had no saving grace. According to the new seers, a perfect petty tyrant has no redeeming feature.”
Don Juan said that the other two attributes of warriorship, forbearance and timing, which he did not yet have, had been automatically included in his benefactor’s strategy. Forbearance is to wait patiently – no rush, no anxiety – a simple, joyful holding back of what is due.
“I groveled daily,” don Juan continued, “sometimes crying under the man’s whip. And yet I
was happy. My benefactor’s strategy was what made me go from day to day without hating the man’s guts. I was a warrior. I knew that I was waiting and I knew what I was waiting for. Right there is the great joy of warriorship.”
He added that his benefactor’s strategy called for a systematic harassment of the man by taking cover with a higher order, just as the seers of the new cycle had done during the Conquest by shielding themselves with the Catholic church. A lowly priest was sometimes more powerful than a nobleman.
Don Juan’s shield was the lady who got him the job. He kneeled in front of her and called her a saint every time he saw her. He begged her to give him the medallion of her patron saint so he could pray to him for her health and well-being.
“She gave me one,” don Juan went on, “and that rattled the foreman to pieces. And when I got the servants to pray at night he nearly had a heart attack. I think he decided then to kill me. He couldn’t afford to let me go on.
“As a countermeasure I organized a rosary among all the servants of the house. The lady
thought I had the makings of a most pious man.
“I didn’t sleep soundly after that, nor did I sleep in my bed. I climbed to the roof every night. From there I saw the man twice looking for me in the middle of the night with murder in his eyes. “Daily he shoved me into the stallions’ stalls hoping that I would be crushed to death, but I had a plank of heavy boards that I braced against one of the corners and protected myself behind it.
The man never knew because he was nauseated by the horses – another of his weaknesses, the deadliest of all, as things turned out.”
Don Juan said that timing is the quality that governs the release of all that is held back.
Control, discipline, and forbearance are like a dam behind which everything is pooled. Timing is the gate in the dam.
The man knew only violence, with which he terrorized. If his violence was neutralized he was rendered nearly helpless. Don Juan knew that the man would not dare to kill him in view of the house, so one day, in the presence of the other workers but in sight of his lady as well, don Juan insulted the man. He called him a coward, who was mortally afraid of the boss’s wife. His benefactor’s strategy had called for being on the alert for a moment like that and using it to turn the tables on the petty tyrant. Unexpected things always happen that way. The lowest of the slaves suddenly makes fun of the tyrant, taunts him, makes him feel ridiculous in front of
significant witnesses, and then rushes away without giving the tyrant time to retaliate.
“A moment later, the man went crazy with rage, but I was already solicitously kneeling in
front of the lady,” he continued.
Don Juan said that when the lady went inside the house, the man and his friends called him to the back, allegedly to do some work. The man was very pale, white with anger. From the sound of his voice don Juan knew what the man was really planning to do. Don Juan pretended to acquiesce, but instead of heading for the back, he ran for the stables. He trusted that the horses would make such a racket the owners would come out to see what was wrong. He knew that the man would not dare shoot him. That would have been too noisy and the man’s fear of
endangering his job was too overpowering. Don Juan also knew that the man would not go where the horses were – that is, unless he had been pushed beyond his endurance.
“I jumped inside the stall of the wildest stallion,” don Juan said, “and the petty tyrant, blinded by rage, took out his knife and jumped in after me. I went instantly behind my planks. The horse kicked him once and it was all over.
“I had spent six months in that house and in that period of time I had exercised the four
attributes of warriorship. Thanks to them, I had succeeded. Not once had I felt sorry for myself or wept in impotence. I had been joyful and serene. My control and discipline were as keen as they’d ever been, and I had had a firsthand view of what forbearance and timing did for impeccable warriors. And I had not once wished the man to die.
“My benefactor explained something very interesting. Forbearance means holding back with the spirit something that the warrior knows is rightfully due. It doesn’t mean that a warrior goes
around plotting to do anybody mischief, or planning to settle past scores. Forbearance is
something independent. As long as the warrior has control, discipline, and timing, forbearance
assures giving whatever is due to whoever deserves it.”
“Do petty tyrants sometimes win, and destroy the warrior facing them?” I asked.
“Of course. There was a time when warriors died like flies at the beginning of the Conquest.
Their ranks were decimated. The petty tyrants could put anyone to death, simply acting on a whim. Under that kind of pressure seers reached sublime states.”
Don Juan said that that was the time when the surviving seers had to exert themselves to the limit to find new ways.
“The new seers used petty tyrants,” don Juan said, staring at me fixedly, “not only to get rid of their self-importance, but to accomplish the very sophisticated maneuver of moving themselves out of this world. You’ll understand that maneuver as we keep on discussing the mastery of awareness.”
I explained to don Juan that what I had wanted to know was whether, in the present, in our times, the petty tyrants he had called small fry could ever defeat a warrior.
“All the time,” he replied. “The consequences aren’t as dire as those in the remote past. Today it goes without saying that warriors always have a chance to recuperate or to retrieve and come back later. But there is another side to this problem. To be defeated by a small-fry petty tyrant is not deadly, but devastating. The degree of mortality, in a figurative sense, is almost as high. By that I mean that warriors who succumb to a small-fry petty tyrant are obliterated by their own
sense of failure and unworthiness. That spells high mortality to me.”
“How do you measure defeat?”
“Anyone who joins the petty tyrant is defeated. To act in anger, without control and discipline, to have no forbearance, is to be defeated.”
“What happens after warriors are defeated?”
“They either regroup themselves or they abandon the quest for knowledge and join the ranks of the petty tyrants for life.”