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An essay donated by Susan Humphreys

"The Controlled Folly of the Warrior" lesson
from Carlos Castaneda's "A separate reality"

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There are more lessons we can pick up from Don Juan, the Yaqui sorcerer from the books by Carlos Castaneda. Earlier I wrote about “Tools and Traps. Don Juan also teaches us about being a “Warrior and about “Controlled Folly.

If you have ever read the Chinese book “The Art of War you will have a better understanding of what Don Juan means by a Warrior. It isn’t about a fighting man, a man prone to violence, brute force, act first than think. A Warrior is one who makes determined actions, and once his decision is made he doesn’t look back, he has no regrets, he doesn’t second guess himself, or waste time worrying about the “what ifs and “what I should haves. If things don’t work out quite as planned he accepts what happens and adjusts as needed.

As I wrote this I remembered an old TV show where the good guys were always bumbling things up but somehow everything still managed to work out and the one guy would always comment, “I love it when a plan comes together! And we, those of us watching the show, knew that little that had happened had actually been planned.

The Warrior is the one that steps up and does what is right even if it is difficult and makes him/her uncomfortable. He/she lives by (or tries to live by) standards of justice, fair play, equal rights for all, honor, integrity, honesty, responsibility, ….

The Warrior is one that will put the needs of another ahead of his/her own. The Warrior will turn and walk away from a confrontation and wait until the time is right to act. As Kenny Rogers said in his song:

“You have got to know when to hold them, and know when to fold them, know when to walk away and know when to run.

The Warrior knows that reacting without thinking can bring disaster in the form of unfortunate consequences.

The Warrior knows about the four traps and works to avoid them and is aware when others have fallen into them.

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In the Analects of Confucius, Book XVII, #1 we read:

“Can one who hides his jewel (in essence his talents) in his bosom and lets his country continue to go astray be called Good? Certainly not. Can one who longs to take part in affairs, yet time after time misses the opportunity to do so " can such a one be called wise? Certainly not.

In the Tao Te Ching we read, #79:

“The virtuous attends to his duties; The virtueless knows only to levy duties upon the people


“The Way of Heaven diminishes the more-than-enough to supply the less-than-enough. The way of man is different: it takes from the less-than-enough to swell the more-than-enough.

The Warrior is an active and thoughtful participant in life and the world.

Controlled Folly is a confusing teaching for many. We all know what control means, it is self-control as opposed to wanton willfulness or knee jerk reactions.
Folly is often seen as a foolish act. But I think foolish misses the point of how it is used here. It is an act that to the unenlightened, makes no sense. Controlled Folly is doing what is right even though on the surface it appears to be counterproductive, or illogical.

In the Tao te Ching #78 we read:

“Nothing in the world is softer and weaker than water; But, for attacking the hard and strong, there is nothing like it! For nothing can take its place. That the weak overcomes the strong, and the soft overcomes the hard, This is something known by all, but practiced by none.

In the Bible, Matthew 5:5, we read:

“Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.

We in the West read “meek as “wimps which misses the point. We should think of “meek as “humble or “mild mannered as opposed to aggressive or belligerent.

There was a great book written in 1990 by Wes Nisker called “Crazy Wisdom. As the author says in the introduction,

“Crazy wisdom is the wisdom of the saint, the Zen Master, the poet, the mad scientist, and the fool. Crazy wisdom sees that we live in a world of many illusions, that the Emperor has no clothes, and that much of human belief and behavior is ritualized nonsense.

Practicing “Crazy Wisdom as seen by the examples above from the Tao te Ching and the Bible, is Controlled Folly. It certainly goes against the conventional wisdom that declares that “might makes right!

Controlled Folly is doing what is right even though you know it is a waste of time and effort " but to not do it would be wrong.

An example is speaking up when confronted by racism, bigotry, intolerance. You know you won’t change the mind of the bigot, racist or the intolerant BUT by speaking up you let them know that you at least don’t approve of their words or actions, that you live up to higher standards or conduct. Silence in such cases is seen as consensus, agreeing with what they say and emboldens and encourages them. By speaking up you knock them off their stride, and put a damper on their sense of self-righteousness.

Controlled Folly is doing what is right for the here and now knowing that it really doesn’t matter, one way or another, in the greater scheme of things.

Controlled Folly is the thoughtful and determined action of the Warrior, or as I would prefer to call it the Enlightened Soul.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. The Art of War is an ancient Chinese military treatise attributed to Sun Tzu, a high-ranking military general, strategist and tactician.
  2. Sun Tzu, "The Art of War" can be read at:

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Originally posted: 2014-JAN-03
Latest update: 2014-JAN-03
Author: Susan Humphreys

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