AD writes: “Can you tell me about The Five Agreements? I have found out the author is a nagual shaman and it originates with the Toltic religion and culture. To me this is very New Age and someone close to me is encouraging me to buy into this.”
Don Miguel Ruiz is indeed a popular writer of New Age spiritualist and neoshamanistic texts. His teachings are very much influenced by the work of Carlos Castaneda, the 1960’s-era author whose books based upon an authentic Yaqui Indian shaman were eventually proven to be fabrications.
The Mexican-born Ruiz is a medically trained neurosurgeon who became a shaman after a near fatal car accident. According to his bio, at the time of the accident, “He experienced himself as pure awareness outside the constraints of his physical body.” This led to the realization that the ancient Toltec wisdom of his family (the Toltecs were a Mesoamerican culture that predated the Aztecs) contained “all the tools needed to change the human mind.” He then became a shaman, moved to the U.S. and devoted himself to sharing his wisdom and exploring ways to change the human mind. The Four Agreements (he didn’t add the Fifth Agreement until years later), published in 1997, is the result of this period in his life.
He claims that after exploring the human mind from a Toltec as well as scientific perspective, he has “combined old wisdom with modern insights and created a new message for all mankind, based in truth and common sense.”
That depends on what you call “truth.” Remember, Ruiz is a shaman and shamanism is a belief system based on animism. The animist believes that all created things have a soul and consciousness. Mountains, woods, forests, rivers, and lakes are perceived to possess spirits and to be living, thinking impassioned beings like man. Animists believe the world is pervaded by these spiritual forces that hover about man at all times and are the cause of his mishaps, pains and losses. Because man is thought to be helpless against these spirits, he relies on the services of a shaman who knows the appropriate words and acts to perform that shield man from harm and envelope him in a kind of protective armor so that the evil spirits become inactive or at least inoffensive.
“A shaman knows his spirits intimately by name,” writes Mark Andrew Ritchie in the Christian Research Journal. “He speaks to them daily and even views them as his alter ego. Hallucinogenic drugs are often part of the ritual in which he interacts with his spirits for guidance. Whenever he has a problem his spirits cannot solve, they summon another spirit that can solve it.”
Shamans are part of indigenous cultures worldwide and go by a variety of names such as medicine man, healer, and the pejorative “witch doctor.” They are believed to possess secret knowledge and to have the power of assuming other shapes and of employing souls of the dead. They interact with spirits in a variety of ways such as through magic, incantations, dances and contortions with rattles and drums are also common. Possession by a spirit is another device. In some cultures, such as Korea, the shaman is thought to have power over the spirits only because he or she is possessed by a more powerful demon.
However, Ruiz’s original four agreements sound innocent enough:
1. Be Impeccable With Your Word.
2. Don’t Take Anything Personally.
3. Don’t Make Assumptions.
4. Always Do Your Best.
The fifth was added later:
5. Be Skeptical but Learn to Listen.
As innocuous as they sound, these statements are based on a common New Age belief that man is in complete control of his destiny – what is known as the human potential movement.
As one advocate described: ” . . . (E)verything we do is based on agreements we have made — agreements with ourselves, with other people, with God, and with life. But the most important agreements are the ones we make with ourselves. With these agreements we tell ourselves who we are, how to behave, what is possible, what is impossible. The Four Agreements slowly helps you to recover your authentic self, and the real you starts to awaken. . . . The reward is your eternal happiness. . . . ”
Needless to say, the writings and belief system of Ruiz are based in animism and New Age thought, neither of which is compatible with Christianity.
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