The Four Agreements NPR coverage of The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, a Toltec Wisdom Book by Don Miguel Ruiz. News, author interviews, critics' picks and more.
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The Four Agreements

A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom: A Toltec Wisdom Book

by Don Miguel Ruiz

Paperback, 138 pages, Hay House Inc, List Price: $12.95 |


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The Four Agreements
A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom: A Toltec Wisdom Book
Don Miguel Ruiz

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Book Summary

Don Miguel Ruiz identifies four self-limiting beliefs that impede one's experience of freedom, true happiness and love.

Read an excerpt of this book


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14 weeks on NPR Paperback Nonfiction Bestseller List

Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: The Four Agreements

Chapter One

Domestication and
the Dream of the Planet

What you are seeing and hearing right now isnothing but a dream. You are dreaming right now inthis moment. You are dreaming with the brain awake.

    Dreaming is the main function of the mind, andthe mind dreams twenty-four hours a day. It dreamswhen the brain is awake, and it also dreams whenthe brain is asleep. The difference is that when thebrain is awake, there is a material frame that makesus perceive things in a linear way. When we go tosleep we do not have the frame, and the dream hasthe tendency to change constantly.

    Humans are dreaming all the time. Before wewere born the humans before us created a big outsidedream that we will call society's dream or thedream of the planet. The dream of the planet is the collectivedream of billions of smaller, personal dreams,which together create a dream of a family, a dreamof a community, a dream of a city, a dream of a country,and finally a dream of the whole humanity. Thedream of the planet includes all of society's rules, itsbeliefs, its laws, its religions, its different culturesand ways to be, its governments, schools, socialevents, and holidays.

    We are born with the capacity to learn how todream, and the humans who live before us teach ushow to dream the way society dreams. The outsidedream has so many rules that when a new human isborn, we hook the child's attention and introducethese rules into his or her mind. The outside dreamuses Mom and Dad, the schools, and religion toteach us how to dream.

    Attention is the ability we have to discriminateand to focus only on that which we want to perceive.We can perceive millions of things simultaneously,but using our attention, we can hold whateverwe want to perceive in the foreground of our mind.The adults around us hooked our attention and putinformation into our minds through repetition.That is the way we learned everything we know.

    By using our attention we learned a whole reality,a whole dream. We learned how to behave insociety: what to believe and what not to believe;what is acceptable and what is not acceptable; whatis good and what is bad; what is beautiful and whatis ugly; what is right and what is wrong. It was allthere already — all that knowledge, all those rulesand concepts about how to behave in the world.

    When you were in school, you sat in a little chairand put your attention on what the teacher wasteaching you. When you went to church, you putyour attention on what the priest or minister wastelling you. It is the same dynamic with Mom andDad, brothers and sisters: They were all trying tohook your attention. We also learn to hook the attentionof other humans, and we develop a need forattention which can become very competitive. Childrencompete for the attention of their parents, theirteachers, their friends. "Look at me! Look at whatI'm doing! Hey, I'm here." The need for attentionbecomes very strong and continues into adulthood.

    The outside dream hooks our attention andteaches us what to believe, beginning with the languagethat we speak. Language is the code for understandingand communication between humans. Everyletter, every word in each language is an agreement.We call this a page in a book; the word page is anagreement that we understand. Once we understandthe code, our attention is hooked and the energy istransferred from one person to another.

    It was not your choice to speak English. Youdidn't choose your religion or your moral values — theywere already there before you were born. Wenever had the opportunity to choose what to believeor what not to believe. We never chose even thesmallest of these agreements. We didn't even chooseour own name.

    As children, we didn't have the opportunity tochoose our beliefs, but we agreed with the informationthat was passed to us from the dream of theplanet via other humans. The only way to storeinformation is by agreement. The outside dreammay hook our attention, but if we don't agree, wedon't store that information. As soon as we agree,we believe it, and this is called faith. To have faith isto believe unconditionally.

    That's how we learn as children. Childrenbelieve everything adults say. We agree with them,and our faith is so strong that the belief systemcontrols our whole dream of life. We didn't choosethese beliefs, and we may have rebelled against them,but we were not strong enough to win the rebellion.The result is surrender to the beliefs with our agreement.

    I call this process the domestication of humans. Andthrough this domestication we learn how to live andhow to dream. In human domestication, the informationfrom the outside dream is conveyed to theinside dream, creating our whole belief system. Firstthe child is taught the names of things: Mom, Dad,milk, bottle. Day by day, at home, at school, atchurch, and from television, we are told how to live,what kind of behavior is acceptable. The outsidedream teaches us how to be a human. We have awhole concept of what a "woman" is and what a"man" is. And we also learn to judge: We judge ourselves,judge other people, judge the neighbors.

    Children are domesticated the same way that wedomesticate a dog, a cat, or any other animal. Inorder to teach a dog we punish the dog and we giveit rewards. We train our children whom we love somuch the same way that we train any domesticatedanimal: with a system of punishment and reward.We are told, "You're a good boy," or "You're a goodgirl," when we do what Mom and Dad want us to do.When we don't, we are "a bad girl" or "a bad boy."

    When we went against the rules we were punished;when we went along with the rules we got areward. We were punished many times a day, andwe were also rewarded many times a day. Soon webecame afraid of being punished and also afraid ofnot receiving the reward. The reward is the attentionthat we got from our parents or from otherpeople like siblings, teachers, and friends. We soondevelop a need to hook other people's attention inorder to get the reward.

    The reward feels good, and we keep doing whatothers want us to do in order to get the reward. Withthat fear of being punished and that fear of not gettingthe reward, we start pretending to be what weare not, just to please others, just to be good enoughfor someone else. We try to please Mom and Dad,we try to please the teachers at school, we try toplease the church, and so we start acting. We pretendto be what we are not because we are afraid of beingrejected. The fear of being rejected becomes the fearof not being good enough. Eventually we becomesomeone that we are not. We become a copy ofMamma's beliefs, Daddy's beliefs, society's beliefs,and religion's beliefs.

    All our normal tendencies are lost in the processof domestication. And when we are old enough forour mind to understand, we learn the word no. Theadults say, "Don't do this and don't do that." Werebel and say, "No!" We rebel because we aredefending our freedom. We want to be ourself, butwe are very little, and the adults are big and strong.After a certain time we are afraid because we knowthat every time we do something wrong we are goingto be punished.

    The domestication is so strong that at a certainpoint in our life we no longer need anyone todomesticate us. We don't need Mom or Dad, theschool or the church to domesticate us. We are sowell trained that we are our own domesticator.We are an autodomesticated animal. We can nowdomesticate ourselves according to the same beliefsystem we were given, and using the same system ofpunishment and reward. We punish ourselves whenwe don't follow the rules according to our beliefsystem; we reward ourselves when we are the "goodboy" or "good girl."

    The belief system is like a Book of Law thatrules our mind. Without question, whatever is inthat Book of Law, is our truth. We base all of ourjudgments according to the Book of Law, even ifthese judgments go against our own inner nature.Even moral laws like the Ten Commandments areprogrammed into our mind in the process ofdomestication. One by one, all these agreements gointo the Book of Law, and these agreements rule ourdream.

    There is something in our minds that judgeseverybody and everything, including the weather, thedog, the cat — everything. The inner Judge useswhat is in our Book of Law to judge everything wedo and don't do, everything we think and don't think,and everything we feel and don't feel. Everythinglives under the tyranny of this Judge. Every time wedo something that goes against the Book of Law, theJudge says we are guilty, we need to be punished, weshould be ashamed. This happens many times a day,day after day, for all the years of our lives.

    There is another part of us that receives thejudgments, and this part is called the Victim. TheVictim carries the blame, the guilt, and the shame. Itis the part of us that says, "Poor me, I'm not goodenough, I'm not intelligent enough, I'm not attractiveenough, I'm not worthy of love, poor me." Thebig Judge agrees and says, "Yes, you are not goodenough." And this is all based on a belief systemthat we never chose to believe. These beliefs are sostrong, that even years later when we are exposed tonew concepts and try to make our own decisions, wefind that these beliefs still control our lives.

    Whatever goes against the Book of Law willmake you feel a funny sensation in your solar plexus,and it's called fear. Breaking the rules in the Book ofLaw opens your emotional wounds, and your reactionis to create emotional poison. Because everythingthat is in the Book of Law has to be true,anything that challenges what you believe is going tomake you feel unsafe. Even if the Book of Law iswrong, it makes you feel safe.

    That is why we need a great deal of courage tochallenge our own beliefs. Because even if we knowwe didn't choose all these beliefs, it is also true thatwe agreed to all of them. The agreement is so strongthat even if we understand the concept of it notbeing true, we feel the blame, the guilt, and theshame that occur if we go against these rules.

    Just as the government has a book of laws thatrule the society's dream, our belief system is theBook of Laws that rules our personal dream. Allthese laws exist in our mind, we believe them, andthe Judge inside us bases everything on these rules.The Judge decrees, and the Victim suffers the guiltand punishment. But who says there is justice in thisdream? True justice is paying only once for eachmistake. True injustice is paying more than once foreach mistake.

    How many times do we pay for one mistake?The answer is thousands of times. The human is theonly animal on earth that pays a thousand times forthe same mistake. The rest of the animals pay oncefor every mistake they make. But not us. We have apowerful memory. We make a mistake, we judgeourselves, we find ourselves guilty, and we punishourselves. If justice exists, then that was enough; wedon't need to do it again. But every time we remember,we judge ourselves again, we are guilty again,and we punish ourselves again, and again, and again.If we have a wife or husband he or she also remindsus of the mistake, so we can judge ourselves again,punish ourselves again, and find ourselves guiltyagain. Is this fair?

    How many times do we make our spouse, ourchildren, or our parents pay for the same mistake?Every time we remember the mistake, we blamethem again and send them all the emotional poisonwe feel at the injustice, and then we make them payagain for the same mistake. Is that justice? TheJudge in the mind is wrong because the belief system,the Book of Law, is wrong. The whole dream isbased on false law. Ninety-five percent of the beliefswe have stored in our minds are nothing but lies,and we suffer because we believe all these lies.

    In the dream of the planet it is normal forhumans to suffer, to live in fear, and to create emotionaldramas. The outside dream is not a pleasantdream; it is a dream of violence, a dream of fear, adream of war, a dream of injustice. The personaldream of humans will vary, but globally it is mostlya nightmare. If we look at human society we see aplace so difficult to live in because it is ruled by fear.Throughout the world we see human suffering,anger, revenge, addictions, violence in the street, andtremendous injustice. It may exist at different levelsin different countries around the world, but fear iscontrolling the outside dream.

    If we compare the dream of human society withthe description of hell that religions all around theworld have promulgated, we find they are exactly thesame. Religions say that hell is a place of punishment,a place of fear, pain, and suffering, a place where thefire burns you. Fire is generated by emotions thatcome from fear. Whenever we feel the emotions ofanger, jealousy, envy, or hate, we experience a fireburning within us. We are living in a dream of hell.

    If you consider hell as a state of mind, then hellis all around us. Others may warn us that if we don'tdo what they say we should do, we will go to hell.Bad news! We are already in hell, including thepeople who tell us that. No human can condemnanother to hell because we are already there. Otherscan put us into a deeper hell, true. But only if weallow this to happen.

    Every human has his or her own personal dream,and just like the society dream, it is often ruled byfear. We learn to dream hell in our own life, in ourpersonal dream. The same fears manifest in differentways for each person, of course, but we experienceanger, jealousy, hate, envy, and other negative emotions.Our personal dream can also become anongoing nightmare where we suffer and live in astate of fear. But we don't need to dream a nightmare.It is possible to enjoy a pleasant dream.

    All of humanity is searching for truth, justice,and beauty. We are on an eternal search for the truthbecause we only believe in the lies we have stored inour mind. We are searching for justice because in thebelief system we have, there is no justice. We searchfor beauty because it doesn't matter how beautiful aperson is, we don't believe that person has beauty.We keep searching and searching, when everythingis already within us. There is no truth to find. Whereverwe turn our heads, all we see is the truth, butwith the agreements and beliefs we have stored in ourmind, we have no eyes for this truth.

    We don't see the truth because we are blind.What blinds us are all those false beliefs we have inour mind. We have the need to be right and to makeothers wrong. We trust what we believe, and ourbeliefs set us up for suffering. It is as if we live in themiddle of a fog that doesn't let us see any furtherthan our own nose. We live in a fog that is not evenreal. This fog is a dream, your personal dream oflife — what you believe, all the concepts you haveabout what you are, all the agreements you havemade with others, with yourself, and even with God.

    Your whole mind is a fog which the Toltecscalled a mitote (pronounced MIH-TOE'-TAY). Yourmind is a dream where a thousand people talk at thesame time, and nobody understands each other.This is the condition of the human mind — a bigmitote, and with that big mitote you cannot see whatyou really are. In India they call the mitote maya,which means illusion. It is the personality's notionof "I am." Everything you believe about yourselfand the world, all the concepts and programmingyou have in your mind, are all the mitote. We cannotsee who we truly are; we cannot see that we are notfree.

    That is why humans resist life. To be alive is thebiggest fear humans have. Death is not the biggestfear we have; our biggest fear is taking the risk to bealive — the risk to be alive and express what wereally are just being ourself is the biggest fear ofhumans. We have learned to live our life trying tosatisfy other people's demands. We have learned tolive by other people's points of view because of thefear of not being accepted and of not being goodenough for someone else.

    During the process of domestication, we forman image of what perfection is in order to try to begood enough. We create an image of how we shouldbe in order to be accepted by everybody. We especiallytry to please the ones who love us, like Momand Dad, big brothers and sisters, the priests and theteacher. Trying to be good enough for them, wecreate an image of perfection, but we don't fit thisimage. We create this image, but this image is notreal. We are never going to be perfect from thispoint of view. Never!

    Not being perfect, we reject ourselves. And thelevel of self-rejection depends upon how effectivethe adults were in breaking our integrity. Afterdomestication it is no longer about being goodenough for anybody else. We are not good enoughfor ourselves because we don't fit with our ownimage of perfection. We cannot forgive ourselvesfor not being what we wish to be, or rather what webelieve we should be. We cannot forgive ourselves fornot being perfect.

    We know we are not what we believe we are supposedto be and so we feel false, frustrated, and dishonest.We try to hide ourselves, and we pretend tobe what we are not. The result is that we feel unauthenticand wear social masks to keep others fromnoticing this. We are so afraid that somebody elsewill notice that we are not what we pretend to be. Wejudge others according to our image of perfection aswell, and naturally they fall short of our expectations.

    We dishonor ourselves just to please other people.We even do harm to our physical bodies just tobe accepted by others. You see teenagers takingdrugs just to avoid being rejected by other teenagers.They are not aware that the problem is thatthey don't accept themselves. They reject themselvesbecause they are not what they pretend to be. Theywish to be a certain way, but they are not, and forthis they carry shame and guilt. Humans punishthemselves endlessly for not being what they believethey should be. They become very self-abusive, andthey use other people to abuse themselves as well.

    But nobody abuses us more than we abuse ourselves,and it is the Judge, the Victim, and the beliefsystem that make us do this. True, we find peoplewho say their husband or wife, or mother or father,abused them, but you know that we abuse ourselvesmuch more than that. The way we judge ourselves isthe worst judge that ever existed. If we make a mistakein front of people, we try to deny the mistakeand cover it up. But as soon as we are alone, theJudge becomes so strong, the guilt is so strong, andwe feel so stupid, or so bad, or so unworthy.

    In your whole life nobody has ever abused youmore than you have abused yourself. And the limitof your self-abuse is exactly the limit that you willtolerate from someone else. If someone abuses you alittle more than you abuse yourself, you will probablywalk away from that person. But if someoneabuses you a little less than you abuse yourself, youwill probably stay in the relationship and tolerate itendlessly.

    If you abuse yourself very badly, you can eventolerate someone who beats you up, humiliates you,and treats you like dirt. Why? Because in your beliefsystem you say, "I deserve it. This person is doingme a favor by being with me. I'm not worthy of loveand respect. I'm not good enough."

    We have the need to be accepted and to be lovedby others, but we cannot accept and love ourselves.The more self-love we have, the less we will experienceself-abuse. Self-abuse comes from self-rejection,and self-rejection comes from having an imageof what it means to be perfect and never measuringup to that ideal. Our image of perfection is thereason we reject ourselves; it is why we don't acceptourselves the way we are, and why we don't acceptothers the way they are,


    There are thousands of agreements you havemade with yourself, with other people, with yourdream of life, with God, with society, with your parents,with your spouse, with your children. But themost important agreements are the ones you madewith yourself. In these agreements you tell yourselfwho you are, what you feel, what you believe, andhow to behave. The result is what you call your personality.In these agreements you say, "This is whatI am. This is what I believe. I can do certain things,and some things I cannot do. This is reality, that isfantasy; this is possible, that is impossible."

    One single agreement is not such a problem, butwe have many agreements that make us suffer, thatmake us fail in life. If you want to live a life of joyand fulfillment, you have to find the courage tobreak those agreements that are fear-based and claimyour personal power. The agreements that come fromfear require us to expend a lot of energy, but theagreements that come from love help us to conserveenergy and even gain extra energy.

    Each of us is born with a certain amount of personalpower that we rebuild every day after we rest.Unfortunately, we spend all our personal power firstto create all these agreements and then to keep theseagreements. Our personal power is dissipated by allthe agreements we have created, and the result isthat we feel powerless. We have just enough powerto survive each day, because most of it is used tokeep the agreements that trap us in the dream of theplanet. How can we change the entire dream of ourlife when we have no power to change even thesmallest agreement?

    If we can see it is our agreements which rule ourlife, and we don't like the dream of our life, we needto change the agreements. When we are finally readyto change our agreements, there are four very powerfulagreements that will help us break those agreementsthat come from fear and deplete our energy.

    Each time you break an agreement, all the poweryou used to create it returns to you. If you adopt thesefour new agreements, they will create enough personalpower for you to change the entire system of your oldagreements.

    You need a very strong will in order to adopt theFour Agreements — but if you can begin to live yourlife with these agreements, the transformation inyour life will be amazing. You will see the drama ofhell disappear right before your very eyes. Instead ofliving in a dream of hell, you will be creating a newdream — your personal dream of heaven.

Copyright © 1997 Miguel Angel Ruiz, M.D.. All rights reserved.
ISBN: 1-878424-31-9