D. Miguel Ruiz. 1997. The Four Agreements – A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom. A Toltec Wisdom Book

A couple of weeks ago, a colleague at work mentioned having acquired this new book, and then on Friday, mentioned having just finished reading it, thanks to a very long wait at a medical clinic. This is not the type of book I typically spend any time on, so let me tell you why I did.



There is an entire world that I have wanted to research in-depth for a few years now, and I simply do not have the time to dedicate to it yet: that of tarot cards, angels and guardians, readings and dreams and the universe speaking to you, and messages and visions and mediums and astrological phases, reiki and psychic abilities, and so on and so forth… And in short, this is the world of this particular colleague, and I have no doubt that if she is reading something, it is only to walk even further down that path of what I will simply refer to as alternative beliefs.

If I may open a bracket here, let me mention that I have done some research on the topic, and obviously started forming an opinion about various aspects of this web of beliefs, but I am not yet comfortable talking about its genealogy in the Nietzschian and Foucauldian senses yet. So until such time is available to undertake the research, I do seize the opportunity when it presents itself to me to learn what I can about it, and in this instance, it seemed that the “universe” was offering me access to a book that I thought is worth the hour of reading to validate or invalidate my current opinions on the topic.

The book is 140 pages long, printed in rather big writing, on small pages, with lots of white space… the author is presented as someone who has been guided and able to present ancient Toltec wisdom and beliefs to the rest of us lowly commoners in need of guidance.

The author explains to us that there is no right or wrong, simply a domestication process through which we were brainwashed into thinking and believing everything we know and believe. So our entire behaviour is unauthentic, and based on the fear, frustration and guilt of not being consistent with our domestication, and therefore being someone we are not. In other words, you live in constant victimization, self-torture and self-abuse for never living up to a false image of perfection – a false agreement made with yourself, or your god, or your family or your society… And that is also why we are full of judgment towards ourselves and others as well. The reality is that we are all made of light, along with every other living things in the universe. We are simply extensions of each other, but matter acts as a smokey mirror or fog preventing us from seeing this truth.

The totality of the agreements make the dream of your life, so to change your dream, or your life, you must change your agreements. Currently we are living in hell, because we are all stuck in these illusions and false agreements. Every agreement requires energy, and if that energy is negative, it becomes a poison. The author then goes on giving us 4 agreements that will enable those who have the will to live by them to find themselves in a dream of heaven, instead of hell. The four agreements are:

  • be impeccable with your word: word here meaning your ability to create in the outside world, like magic, which of course, can be good good or evil; it is a reminder of the psychological power of the word; this agreement is so powerful, we are reminded again and again, that it will enable us to transcend hell. “Tell yourself how wonderful your are, how great you are. Tell yourself how much you love yourself. Use the word to break all those teeny, tiny agreements that make you suffer.” (45)
  • don’t take anything personally: because everything that comes from others is because of themselves, not because of something in you. This, of course is simply an absurd oversimplification and even if it were not, is simply bad advice. (I am guessing that this is the point where I am snapping, no longer able to simply summarize the author’s claims without adding my own comments in there… sorry) If someone points out a flaw or a lacking area in your personality, don’t you want to take it personally, and do something about it? And all the examples he gives are “you are so stupid”, “you are so ugly” and “you are so fat.” What are we, 7 year olds? If these examples to him represent everything, and that is why he says “don’t take anything personally,” then this person needs to grow a little… And in fact, if someone tells you that you are getting fat, believe it or not, you may actually be getting overweight compared to your previous weight and they genuinely care about your health, or is that not even remotely possible?! But no, apparently, if you accept what anyone else is telling you: “You eat all their emotional garbage, and now it becomes your garbage.” (49) YES, HE ACTUALLY WROTE THIS!!
  • Don’t make assumptions: basically, the author doesn’t like the fact the human mind requires assumptions to function (the human mind, in order to work, must make logical assumptions that are based on a calculation of probabilities… read the Logical Foundations of Induction of S. M. B. Sadr).
    In this chapter he actually writes the following lines, which start off with a valid point, but soon deteriorate into something sarcastically funny, and it is quite scary to think that there are people who will live by this: “We don’t need to justify love; it is there or not there. Real love is accepting other people the way they are without trying to change them. If we try to change them, this means we don’t really like them. Of course, if you decide to live with someone, if you make that agreement, it is always to make that agreement with someone who is exactly the way you want him or her to be. Find someone whom you don’t have to change at all. […] Also, that person must love you just the way you are, so he or she doesn’t have to change you at all. If others feel they have to change you, that means they really don’t love you just the way you are. So why be with someone if you’re not the way he or she wants you to be?” (70-1) Where do I start here, seriously. So if I try to change my son, who happens to be wasting his life on drugs, so that he gets a job and an education, it can only be because I don’t really love him? Does the author not realize that human beings are evolving every single day, learning new things, reacting differently to the world around them, gaining new insights and experiences… which one of these is the person I am supposed to love? Am I basically cheating with the person I am with today because they have changed a lot in the 3 years we’ve been together, as have I? And does the author actually believe that a human being can seriously consider another human being perfect from every angle, all the time? Seriously? The only time a human being will think that every aspect of another human being is perfect, is if they are immature or delusional (which happens for instance when we fall in love with someone, and we are temporarily blinded to their flaws or simply downplay them). No human being is perfect in every way to another human being. This author and all those who choose to live by his teachings will live a long, lonely and sad life – or a delusional one in which they make themselves believe that they are with people they pretend are perfect…
  • Always do your best: which comes down to recognizing that your best is a relative measure. But then he links doing your best to enjoying what you’re doing: “Doing your best really doesn’t feel like work because you enjoy whatever you are doing.” So the author is imposing on everyone the imperative of having to enjoy everything you do. What about doing something because of your sense of duty, because you need to provide for your family for instance. You don’t want to do it, and there is certainly not much enjoyable about doing it, but you do enjoy knowing that it will help you provide for your family. Or does he live in a differently world where money is growing on trees, and everyone enjoys living off the money they picked from trees that morning? What about the person who has a disease, and they are told that they need to go through chemotherapy, will they enjoy that part of their treatment? Or are simplifying things for the 7 and 8 year-olds who are the main audience of the book? And would you let your 7 or 8 year old read a book that teaches them: “ If you take action because you have to, then there is no way you are going to do your best. Then it is better not to do it.” (81)

some issues with the book

The book also provides an attempt at reframing religious teachings (such as God, or sinning, or the Word) according to whatever system of beliefs this author believes in – supposedly Toltec (such as mitote which he attempts to explain quite a few times…), but I am not sure that the Toltec notions he is presenting reflect Toltec culture fully, when they have been reduced to pop-culture banalities and cliches. And we are just asked to fully accept everything he says and change our lives based on this, without any explanation of why this might be a better way of understanding the world.

And there is a lot of talk of God in this book, that I feel something should be said about it, but what?! In short, the author is forcing his own understanding of God on the readers, without providing any reason why this understanding is better than any other. The main ideas presented about God in the book are that: by saying no when you feel like it and saying yes when you feel like it, you are letting God pass through you, and you are saying “I love you God.” (85) “The best way to say “Thank you God” is by letting go of the past and living in the present moment.” (83) “You don’t need to worship idols of the Virgin Mary, the Christ, of the Buddha. You can if you want to; if it feels good, do it. Your own body is a manifestation of God, and if you honor your body everything will change for you. When you practice giving love to every part of your body, you plant seeds of love in your mind, and when they grow, you will love, honor, and respect your body immensely.” (87) “You don’t need to be religious or go to church every day.” (90) “You need to be a great hunter, a great warrior, who can defend these Four Agreements with your life. Your happiness, your freedom, your entire way of living depends on it. The warrior’s goal is to transcend this world, to escape from this hell, and never come back. As the Toltecs teach us, the reward is to transcend the human experience of suffering, to become the embodiment of God. That is the reward.” (89) “we need to forgive our parents, our brothers, our sisters, our friends, and God. Once you forgive God, you can finally forgive yourself.” (115)

By all accounts, it is a book that attempts to speak to the heart, not the mind, but even by that account, I am not sure it is worth spending any time on. Again and again, we are asked to believe things just because the author says so, without providing any rationale or justification for them… It just seems to me that a book that makes such generalizations as:

  • gossiping has become the main form of communication in human society
  • the book is built on the idea that the author is more guided than us all, but we are never told in what way. For instance he says:
    • “It is possible because I did it, and I am no better than you. […] If I was able to break those agreements and create new agreements, then you can do the same. If I can be impeccable with my word, why not you? Just this one agreement can change your whole life. Impeccability of the word can lead you to personal freedom, to huge success and abundance; it can take away all fear and transform it into joy and love.” Here are some the problems with this small quote (representative of the 140 pages of the book…): before investing our time and energy, and putting our blind faith in this kind of person whose simplistic words and childish analogies are supposed to be our new gospel, don’t we need to know why we are supposed to trust him?1. How can we validate the author’s claim that he is in fact impeccable with his word? That he was able to break to break the bad agreements?

      2. in saying that this will lead to freedom, huge success, abundance, etc. The implication is that the author knows because that’s what happened to him. Who says?

      3. How do we know that being impeccable with our word will lead to all of these heavenly outcomes? What gives us the right to believe it?

  • Humans are addicting to suffering at different levels (57)
  • Wherever you go, you will find people lying to you, and as your awareness grows, you will notice that you also lie to yourself. Do not expect people to tell you the truth because they also lie to themselves. (57)
  • When you transform your whole dream, magic just happens in your life. What you need comes to you easily because spirit moves freely through you. (74)

The book is basically a long series of random analogies that are completely unnecessary; such as gossip being like black magic, poison, and computer viruses… in other words, the author thinks that the concept of gossip and its negative repercussions is too complicated to understand on its own, so he must fill pages to explain how black magic or computer viruses works, and how gossip is doing the same thing…

To a large extent, the book is written (in both style and vocabulary) as though it is a transcript from a conversation between two 10 year old kids. As for the author, although what he is presenting seems to preach a positive attitude, it truly seems like he is someone who was seriously abused in life, trying to run away from all sorts of complexes and issues. Every sentence and every teaching reeks of selfishness and egocentrism, leaving no place for the welfare or happiness of anyone else. It would be difficult to read something more self-centered than what is being promoted here, and this must say something about the author. There is  also a striking lack of responsibility and accountability towards anything outside of the author. So they see every hurt feeling as something worth thinking about, and talking about, and writing about… As though they are completely oblivious to the entire history of human civilization and its present, including world famine and poverty, wars, pollution, disease, illiteracy, crime… and it doesn’t seem that someone like this would even know how to comprehend activism in any of these domains, by it like the work of Assange, or Amartya Sen, or Muhammad Yunus, or anyone else who is not absolutely self-absorbed.

some contradictions

The reason why I mentioned earlier that this book speaks to the heart and not the mind is because I was trying to put a good spin on the lack of logic. The instances where the author contradicts himself are too many to list, but here are a couple of representative examples:

“Even the opinions you have about yourself are not necessarily true; therefore, you don’t need to take whatever you hear in your own mind personally. The mind has the ability to talk to itself, but it also has the ability to hear information that is available from other realms. Sometimes you hear a voice in your mind, and you may wonder where it came from. This voice may have come from another reality in which there are living beings very similar to the human mind. The Toltecs called these beings Allies. In Europe, Africa, and India they called them the God. Our mind also exists in the level of the Gods. […] You have the right to believe or not believe these voices… ” (54) but this seems contradictory with what he says on the next page: “The mitote is the reason humans hardly know what they want, how they want it, or when they want it. They don’t agree with themselves because there are parts of the mind that want one thing, and other parts that want exactly the opposite. Some part of the mind has objections to certain thoughts and actions, and another part supports the actions of the opposing thoughts. All these little living beings create inner conflict because they are alive and they each have a voice. Only by making an inventory of our agreements will we uncover all of the conflicts in the mind and eventually make order out of the chaos of the mitote.” (56) So at first, we are told that you can do whatever you want about everything you hear, including the voices in your mind because pretty much everything is a lie, even when you are talking to yourself. So don’t waste any of your energy on lies. But then we are told that we must make an inventory of everything in order to uncover the conflicts and make order.
– so do I listen to everything or not?
– what tool do I have at my disposal to assess truth from falsehood?
– why do not I need to uncover the conflicts and make order of the chaos? maybe I should embrace the chaos and ignore the conflicts simply by not taking anything personally? no?

more contradictions:

“When we really see other people as they are without taking it personally, we can never be hurt by what they say or do.” (57)  VS.  “If someone is not treating you with love and respect, it is a gift if they walk away from you. If that person doesn’t walk away, you will surely endure many years of suffering with him or her. Walking away may hurt for a while, but your heart will eventually heal.”(58) If we can never be hurt if we don’t take it personally, why would we care if they walk away or not? It shouldn’t make any difference. And why would their walking away hurt for a while if we don’t take it personally?

Who is this book written for?

I believe that these kinds of books (and beliefs in general) will resonate with three categories of people:

  • those who have a spiritual void to fill, who are in need of making sense and finding meaning; and this is the biggest reason to explain why there is such an immense and still growing market for all such beliefs, and there is always more demand for gurus, and guides, and healers, and authors…
  • those who feel they have been victimized and need to be reassured and reestablish a positive attitude, trust and confidence in themselves (like the author himself!!); because these books will rationalize to them their lacks of confidence, or lack of accomplishments, or whatever else is bothering them, and make them finally see themselves as the superstars that they think they really are. Case in point:“If you live without fear, if you love, there is no place for any of those (negative) emotions. If you don’t feel any of those emotions, it is logical that you will feel good. When you feel good everything around you is good. When everything around you is great, everything makes you happy. Yu are loving everything that is around you, because you are loving yourself. Because you like the way you are. Because you are content with you. Because you are happy with your life. You are happy with the movie that you are producing, happy with your agreements with life. You are at peace, and you are happy. You live in that state of bliss where everything is so wonderful, and everything is so beautiful. In that state of bliss you are making love all the time with everything that you perceive.” (52-53)

    Unless you are talking to some delusional person about to commit suicide and the only way to save them is to convince them of this stuff, how can anyone who knows how world powers produce wars to sustain a state of chaos all over the world to fill their pockets and keep themselves in a position of geopolitical control swallow a word of this kind of paragraph?!

  • those who have not really been exposed to anything of significant depth intellectually and psychologically in their lives. For instance, anyone who has read a book by Niklas Luhmann or Carl Jung will find the lack of rigour, the shallowness, the over simplification of these books simply leaving them speechless, wondering why would anyone read them.

in conclusion

I have to admit that I laughed out loud quite a few times reading the book, not because the author intended to be funny, but because his statements were so absurd they sounded like sarcastic punch lines from a good stand-up comedy routine.

The last 40 pages of the book read a little bit more seriously than the first 100, and the book ends with two prayers; one for love, and one for freedom.

All in all, I do not recommend reading this book, and I sure hope that there are better books to talk about the way of life and application of the Toltec perspective to life than this one.

As always, your comments are welcome. happy blogging!

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