Don Miguel Ruiz

[Don Miguel Ruiz, The Voice of Knowledge: A Practical Guide to Inner Peace(San Rafael, CA: Amber Allen Publishing Inc., 2004).  This is labeled VK.  Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Inner Freedom(San Rafael, CA: Amber Allen Publishing Inc., 1997).  This is labeled FA.  Miguel Angel Ruiz and Mary Carroll Nelson, Beyond Fear: A Toltec Guide to Freedom and Joy(Tulsa, OK: Council Oaks Books, 1997). This is labelled BF.    All italics in the original.]


Many spiritual teachers say that in higher states of consciousness people get beyond polarities.  They stop seeing only one side of an issue or situation and get a more encompassing view.  In his series of popular books, Don Miguel Ruiz has a polarity at the core of his worldview: the heaven of early childhood versus the hell of adulthood.  He says that when children are very young, they are totally happy and live in the moment.  Everything is great for them as they are born good and young children are “completely authentic.” (VK, p. 29)  Ruiz says that “if we observe humans who are two years old, we find that most of the time these humans have a big smile on their face and they’re having fun….they don’t worry about the past, don’t care about the future, and only live in the present moment.”  Their “tendency is to enjoy life, to play, to explore, to be happy, and to love.” (FA, p. 94-5)  Ruiz even states that we have stories of the Garden of Eden, nirvana, and heaven because everyone’s childhood was idyllic like these places.  He says of these places “you were there when you were born, and during the first and second years of your life, you were physically there.” (VK, p. 214)

Children lose this blessed state because they are trained to live by society’s rules and trained to feel bad about themselves.  Ruiz calls this process being domesticated by society. This process is so bad, Ruiz says “all our normal tendencies are lost in the process of domestication.” (FA, p. 8) Once children are domesticated, they lose their authenticity, and sense of connection and worst of all, they criticize themselves by saying they are not good enough as they are. (VK, p. 34-5)

Ruiz offers a solution to the loss of our blissful childhood, which he calls the four agreements.  Ruiz’s prescriptions for how we should act is most likely helpful to many people.  For example he says that we should not take things personally (FA, p. 48) and also not make assumptions about other people. (FA, p. 63)  When I take things personally or make assumptions about others, I get in trouble in my relationships.  So I can understand that  implementing these ideas would be helpful to many people.

Most people who read his books are centered on his prescriptions and probably spend little time thinking about the fundamental paradigm underlying these prescriptions.  That makes sense for them as their concern is getting their life to work better.  My concern though is helping us all find a more spiritual way of living in the modern world.  That means I am interested in looking at the underlying structure of what he says about how people got into their predicament.  The reason I do that is because we spiritually oriented people need to have the proper view of the human situation and our relationship with the divine.   Only if we understand that in the right way, will our spirituality work in the long run. And only if we do that well will mainstream people find our ideas convincing.


My first concern is that his view of human experience has a sharp dichotomy between childhood when things were absolutely wonderful and adulthood when things are like being in hell. (FA, p. 14)  Everything about childhood he paints in rosy colors while everything about adulthood is painted in black.  Can anything in life be this simple? When he says that we are all born totally pure and good, this seems to be a romantization of childhood.

I have memories of some of my past lives and I can see how karma from those lives has carried over to this life.  Thus I think that people in general carry over karma from their past lives and people are not born totally pure, good, and innocent.   How could we be pure if we bring negative karma over from our previous lifetimes?  Many other spiritual people remember their past lives or believe we have them.  I hope they see that Ruiz’s view of children being pure and totally good is inconsistent with any notion of negative karma from past lifetimes.

In Ruiz’s worldview, each person has absolutely no responsibility for losing her sense of deep connection to the Oneness.  Instead Ruiz puts all the responsibility on society or, sometimes, a negative force he calls the prince of lies.  He says our teachers or parents domesticated us and we followed them because we were too young to know better. (FA, p. 5-6) While I can see how that message might be useful to some people who are overcritical of themselves, it does not match my experience of following my spiritual path.  I often get pulled from my connection to God/the Universe by my lower wants and desires.  I want more social status or social acceptance than I get from following the Universe’s will and these wants sometimes pull me off my spiritual path. When I relate to other people, I often am not perfect as I am;  I sometimes do things that hurt them and sometimes do not give them the things they need because I am too stuck in my own selfish concerns.  So it is not just society’s fault for pulling me out of connection with God:  it is my fault too.

Clearly lots of people are receptive to Ruiz’s message because his books are so popular.  But is it a good message for people?  Why shouldn’t we be humble and see ourselves as less than perfect?  Why shouldn’t we take some responsibility for losing our connection to the divine instead of blaming it on society?

Ruiz says we have no blame for losing connection to the deeper spiritual reality because of the nature of our relationship to each other and God.  He says that each person sees herself as a separate individual, but she is not; instead we are all One.  “We might recognize ourselves by our names, our personalities, our seperateness, but when we alter our point of view, the concept of individuality seems very limited. We are not individuals.  We are one.” (BF, p. 38)  More than just being all one, we are all God: “I am God.  But you are also God.  We are the same…We are God.” (FA, p. xviii)   From this Oneness with God, he says it follows that we are perfect. Ruiz says “Only perfection exists…I realized that I am perfect because I am inseparable from the infinite…I don’t need to be what I am not.” (VK, p. 52)   He makes this point about perfection clear: “ the first lie you believe is that you are not: you are notthe way you should be, you are notgood enough, you are notperfect.  We are born perfect…only perfection exists.” (VK, p. 20)


I am quite aware that it is an extremely popular idea among spiritual people that we are all one and that we are perfect because of that.  I have gotten messages from my Higher Self telling me such things as to quit college and to have children.  I have been led to wonderful things by these messages.  I often have other deep intuitive feelings that lead me to wonderful synchronicities.  So I have extensive experience in my personal life that we have a deeper connection to the spiritual realm than the mainstream culture says we do.  But I do not experience my connection to the divine as being oneness with the Universe.  I experience a deep connection, but not oneness.  Moreover, thinking of  the relationship to the spiritual realm as oneness does not lead to a practical way of surviving in the modern world if one has children and needs to eat.  On the other hand, thinking of our relationship to the spiritual realm as one of connection but not oneness leads to a very practical way of existing in the modern world while being spiritual. {See the critique of Pema Chodron’s bodhisattva ethics on this site.  She preaches an ethic of oneness from a Buddhist perspective.  In that essay I show there are many insoluble problems living that way if one is concerned for one’s body, one’s relationships, or one’s children.}

Getting messages from one’s Higher Self or getting deep intuitive feelings are common experiences spiritual people have.  These things are evidence of a connection to the spiritual realm but do not lead to the stronger view that we are all one.  The evidence for the much larger claim of oneness is that some people get into states of consciousness where they experience a oneness with all things.  These people report that they lose their sense of separate self and experience themselves as one with nature or God.  So many credible people report this experience of oneness that it would be silly to say they are making it up or being deluded.  It would seem they are experiencing some kind of oneness.

What I disagree with is the larger intellectual conclusion that these experiences show that we actually are one with all things and if we just rose to a higher state of consciousness we would see that we are all one.  Sometimes people can get into states of oneness but these are extraordinary states of consciousness when for a short time people rise above their embodiment in physical bodies that separate us.  But that does not mean that oneness is our natural state or our deepest state.  It does not mean that we should try to live in the world based on this short experience of oneness.  Too many spiritual people move from the extreme position of the mainstream culture which says that we are totally separate and detached from the spiritual realm to the other extreme that we are one with God and have all the powers of God.  I advocate a spirituality that is in the middle: we are connected to the Spirit/God/Flow but we are not one with it.

Each person is connected to the spiritual realm, but each one has her own separate reality and concerns.   If we try to live a lifestyle based on total oneness  we will be denying our bodies and not be able to take care of the people we are responsible for such as our spouses or children.  Too many teachers in the New Age movement are making a mistake embracing a spirituality that rests on total oneness with all that is. Spiritual people would do better to embrace a spirituality of connectedness to the divine, but not oneness with it.