The Four Agreements

by

Don Miguel Ruiz

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The Four Agreements Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Don Miguel Ruiz's The Four Agreements. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Don Miguel Ruiz

Don Miguel Ruiz is the youngest of 13 children born to his father José Ruiz and his mother Sarita Vasquez, whom he describes as healers of the Toltec tradition. Ruiz originally trained as a doctor but changed his life’s path after being in a near-fatal car crash in the 1970s. He began to study indigenous Mexican tradition, based on the oral history passed down to his mother from previous generations of his family, which Ruiz refers to as “Toltec.” Ruiz published The Four Agreements in 1997, and it was the first of Ruiz’s 10 books (some co-written with his son Jose Ruiz) that frame indigenous Mexican shamanistic beliefs in practical terms pertaining to contemporary life, with the aim of providing spiritual enlightenment to the reader. Ruiz’s works are highly respected by writers and thinkers in the “New Thought” movement, which centers on philosophies of personal empowerment based on the cultivation of an optimistic worldview. 
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Historical Context of The Four Agreements

The Toltec civilization of southern Mexico thrived between 900 and 1168 C.E. before mysteriously falling into decline. The Toltec people are known for excellent craftsmanship, polytheistic religious beliefs centering on two gods, and the ritual practice of human sacrifice. However, although Ruiz invokes the word “Toltec” to capture the spiritual beliefs of his ancestors, his books have no direct connection with concrete evidence of this historical civilization and its traditions, of which few written records exist. Ruiz’s use of the word “Toltec” instead alludes to spiritual beliefs among shamanistic healers drawn from Mexico’s broader indigenous culture and oral history, including influences from Aztec culture, which thrived in the 1300s, before the Americas were colonized by Europeans. Ruiz’s writing is also associated with neoshamanism—a movement that derives its understanding of spirituality from indigenous American traditions—which was popularized in the 1980s.

Other Books Related to The Four Agreements

The Four Agreements is the first of 10 books written by Miguel Ruiz between 1997 and 2018, including The Fifth Agreement (2015), which advocates that the reader adopt an additional belief—to be skeptical but learn to listen—along with the original four beliefs Ruiz outlines in The Four Agreements. Ruiz’s collective body of work is often considered compatible with books embraced by members of the “New Thought” movement, who endorse writing that focuses on personal empowerment, optimism, and the universal presence of God. Early examples include Prentice Mulford’s 1887 work Your Forces and How to Use Them and Bruce MacLelland’s 1907 book Prosperity Through Thought Force, which advocates for positive thinking as a way to attract success in one’s daily life. This idea was more recently popularized by Rhonda Byrne in her 2006 bestseller The Secret.
Key Facts about The Four Agreements
  • Full Title: The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom
  • When Written: 1997
  • Where Written: Unknown
  • When Published: 1997
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Nonfiction; Spirituality; Self-Improvement
  • Setting: The mind of the reader
  • Climax: Ruiz recites two prayers to help the reader recognize their union with divinity and embrace the power of universal love, which he believes is abundant in the universe. 
  • Antagonist: The Judge, The Victim
  • Point of View: First-person

Extra Credit for The Four Agreements

The Oprah Effect. The Four Agreements gained widespread popularity when Oprah Winfrey catapulted Ruiz to fame by mentioning his book on her television show, The Oprah Winfrey Show. Winfrey subsequently recorded a lengthy interview with Ruiz on his life philosophy and spiritual teachings.

Coined. The recognition received for The Four Agreements includes a challenge coin engraved with the four agreements, issued to Ruiz by the United States Navy.