Sunday, January 29, 2012

Book Review: The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz

Title: The Four Agreements
Author: Don Miguel Ruiz
Format: Paperback, 160 pages
Publisher: Amber-Allen Publishing
Publication Date: November 7, 1997
Genres: Non-Fiction, New Age, Philosophy, Psychology

This small book contains some down-to-earth, very practical advice for everyday living, presented by a man who is an internationally renowned spiritual teacher, and formerly a neurosurgeon.  The book is supposedly based on the teachings of the Toltecs, an ancient indigenous people who lived in the area now known as Mexico.  According to Wikipedia, "The later Aztec culture saw the Toltecs as their intellectual and cultural predecessors and described Toltec the epitome of civilization..." This is a primer of the Toltec philosophy, detailing a path that is easy and hard to follow at the same time.  I had been hearing about this book for some time now, but had never picked it up.  It caught my eye while I was browsing in a bookstore recently, so I bought it.

Although I will say that this is a very fascinating and profound book, one that should be re-read, and pondered upon, several times, I find that I can't wholeheartedly support its teachings, despite the fact that there is much I do concur with.  Besides, having read some of the Amazon reviews, I'm now wondering whether all this is really "ancient Toltec wisdom"...

Ruiz asks a very important question, although he does so toward the end of the book: are we really and truly free?  His answer is a resounding "no".  The reason for that is, according to these teachings, that we have an accumulation of negative programming, erroneous assumptions, emotional wounds, and cultural influences which we carry around in our minds.  All of these things keep us from seeing the world as it really is.  Interestingly, psychologists have been saying this very same thing for years now. 

The Toltecs were considered men and women of knowledge, and they founded a community of teachers known as naguals, based in the city of Teotihuacan, Mexico.  After the Spanish conquest, these teachings became secret, being handed down from generation to generation.  Don Miguel Ruiz, a nagual of the lineage of the Eagle Warriors, decided to publish this book in order to reveal this previously hidden knowledge.

The basic premise of Toltec philosophy, as expounded by Ruiz, is that the mind is always dreaming, whether a person is awake or asleep.  When awake, people participate in what is called "the planetary dream", a collective dream consisting of all the societal rules, beliefs, religions, and cultures on the planet.  In addition to this, there is each person's personal dream, each individual's inner programming.  Due to all this, adds Ruiz, we live as if in a fog, which the Toltecs called mitote, known as maya in Indian (from India) philosophy.  Both of these words mean "illusion".

In order to become free, one must break one's old "agreements", as well as adopt the four agreements recommended by Ruiz.  Thus, according to the author, a new dream will be created.

The first agreement is to be "impeccable" with one's words, since words are such powerful things.  They contain the power of creation.  The term "impeccable" comes from Latin, and means "without sin".  According to Ruiz's definition of sin, it's whatever a person does that goes against him or herself.  So "being impeccable with your words" means, to Ruiz, never saying anything derogatory about yourself.  The author adds that words are "the instrument of magic".  He extends this to others, as well, giving as an example the way that parents say negative things to their children, thus unintentionally imprinting them in their children's subconscious minds.  This is part of the personal negative programming referred to earlier.

The second agreement is to take nothing personally.  In practical application, if someone insults you, the insult really says something about the person who insulted you, and nothing at all about you.  In other words, if someone calls you names, that person is speaking out of his/her own prejudices, preconceived notions, and opinions.  They are attempting to send you their personal poison, and, if you take that personally, you take in their venom, thus becoming an easy prey for future insults, or worse -- even black magic, according to the author.  Conversely, if someone praises you, you shouldn't take it personally, either.  Whatever people think of you doesn't matter, according to Ruiz, because you know you're wonderful!

The third agreement is to avoid making any assumptions.  We frequently do just that, asserts the author, and then believe our own assumptions as the truth.  Then we engage in gossip, thus passing our personal venom on to others, and causing problems for ourselves as well as those who take in our venom.  He also cites the example of a couple who get married with different assumptions, or expectations, of what marriage will be like.  Problems arise when these assumptions are seen to be unreal, when the expectations of one spouse are not met by the other.

The fourth agreement is to do your personal best, which will vary according to your health or energy level at any given moment.  In other words, you should always strive to work at your maximum capacity, living your life intensely, no matter what you do.  This means to engage in action, and this will lead to happiness if you do it because of the action itself, without expecting any reward.  What he's actually recommending is to not let life pass you by.

In evaluating this book as a whole, I have to point out some major disagreements I have with the author.  

First of all, Ruiz states, in his introduction, "The Smokey Mirror", that everything and everyone is God.  I do not subscribe to a pantheistic philosophy or religion.  Objectively speaking, however, this can immediately be shown to be a false assumption made by most New Age gurus.  If everyone is God, why is there so much evil in the world?  Surely gods would not intentionally cause harm to their fellow gods!  

I do agree with Ruiz's assertion that the universe is made of light.  Well, the Judeo-Christian God did say, "Let there be light", after all.  Besides, findings in quantum physics bear this out.  Just because everything and everyone is made of light, though, doesn't mean that human beings are gods, or God. 

Another problem I have with the book is with Ruiz's definition of sin.  It's much too narrow; sin, as understood in religious belief, is not only the evil that one carries out against oneself, but also against one's fellow human beings.  Ironically, the author moves from this narrow definition to a larger one when he subsequently states that human beings too frequently use their words to tear others down.  He does attempt to clarify his concept of sin by stating that when you say something negative to someone, you're really saying it to yourself.  Still, this part is a bit confusing, and bears re-reading. 

The agreement I have the biggest problem with is the second one.  If I'm supposed to take nothing personally, what exactly does that mean?  I can see that dismissing an insult by a random stranger will contribute to my own peace of mind, hence, my own freedom.  However, what about betrayal by a business associate, or by my spouse?  Am I not to take such things personally, either?  Does this mean I should not react in my defense in the face of abuse by others, whether that abuse is verbal, emotional, or physical?  If someone beats me up, should I simply shrug, and go on about my business, telling myself that, well, the beating says something about them, after all, and has nothing whatsoever to do with me?  Should I continue to tolerate future beatings?  Are there such things as personal boundaries in Toltec philosophy?

With this agreement, it sure seems as if the author is attempting to exonerate those who do hurtful things to others.  So, if someone does something terrible to you, it's just because of their negative programming, and you should not get upset?  According to Ruiz, you shouldn't.  Okay... so that does away with conscience, in one fell swoop, doesn't it?  And if I do something hurtful to another person, that person should shrug it off, as well.  So that means there are no consequences to one's behavior, whether good or bad...  No one is to be held accountable for their actions, then, because they're just acting out of their previous programming.  Very inspirational stuff! 

Last but not least, I find the concept of "the planetary dream" objectionable, as well.  It's true that there are no perfect societies or governments in this world.  One culture may indeed stifle personal freedom, as opposed to another.  The mind may indeed be held prisoner by certain erroneous beliefs.  However, Ruiz (as a proponent of Toltec philosophy) lumps all of the rules, religions and cultures into one gigantic mess that supposedly restricts the freedom of the mind.  This is just too simplistic.  There must be societal rules, as well as systems of belief.  It is our personal responsibility to discern which of them are true, and liberate the mind, and which do not.  To say that they all enslave the mind is totally inaccurate.

There is a grain of truth in what Ruiz propounds in this book.  Each of his "agreements" does have some validity, especially the third and the fourth.  I also concur with the first, especially when extended to include others. 

I believe that the third agreement is possibly the most important of the four.  Making erroneous assumptions about people and situations can have horrible consequences.  In an unbalanced mind, possessed by its own delusions, it can even lead to mass shootings.  In this sense, I do agree with the author that a mind can be enslaved, causing what he terms "the dream of hell".

To sum up, although the ideas presented in this book do have some validity, I believe there are some concepts I simply cannot accept.  I'm planning to study this book to see how I might apply these four agreements.  Ruiz's deceptively simple recommendations do merit some consideration, in spite of all the objections I have raised.  Who knows?  I might end up revising my opinion of this book in the future, although I surely can't see myself ever accepting that all of us humans are God...


Where To Buy:  Amazon


  1. Hiya!

    I have come across your blog by chance... And as I love books as well, I HAD to post a comment. Someone lent me this book a few weeks ago. I haven't read it yet but I will as soon as possible (my TBR shelf is quite full) DO you think it's worth reading then?
    Take care

    Lara Emilie @

  2. Hi, Lara!

    So nice of you to stop by!!

    I do think this book is worth reading, even though I don't quite agree with everything the author says. It does give the reader food for thought, however; you can thus come to a conclusion about your own beliefs regarding the topics he discusses. It IS an interesting book!

    Thank you so much for your great comment!! : )


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