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Literature

Toltec Wisdom

Words of wisdom from those who ruled central Mexico a thousand years ago.

En español

  • Be Impeccable With Your Word.
  • Don't Take Anything Personally.
  • Don't Make Assumptions.
  • Always Do Your Best.


Words of wisdom from the teachings of the Toltec, who ruled central Mexico a thousand years ago. These ancient maxims have created a modern sensation thanks to The Four Agreements. Former President Bill Clinton quotes from the book in his speeches. Oprah Winfrey raved about it on her television show and in her magazine. Celebrities such as Ellen DeGeneres, Carlos Santana, Madonna, and Britney Spears are all fans of the book's author, Mexican-born Don Miguel Ruiz.

Published in 1997, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, (Amber-Allen Publishing), has been translated into 30 languages. It reached the top of The New York Times bestseller list in 2000, and though no longer number one, it remains on that prestigious list.

"The truth is that we are already perfect in very individual ways. Whatever you are, you are." — Miguel Ruiz

Ruiz, 51, is a cultural icon to millions worldwide, but fame and fortune have never motivated him. Instead, his goal always has been to help others find "the path to personal freedom" by sharing simple, yet powerful tools he refers to collectively as the "Toltec knowledge." Besides The Four Agreements, Ruiz has written three other books; his latest is The Voice of Knowledge: A Practical Guide to Inner Peace, (Amber-Allen Publishing, 2004). In it, he recounts his quest to "discover the source of human suffering."

The father of three grown sons spends much of his time in the San Diego area, where his nonprofit Sixth Sun Foundation is based. The foundation supports Living the Four Agreements Wisdom Groups around the world; Ruiz's apprentices organize journeys to sacred Toltec sites such as the great pyramids at Teotihuacán, outside Mexico City. Ruiz also lectures throughout the world.

Recently, the soft-spoken Ruiz described his journey from rural Mexico into the international spotlight, a journey filled with wonder, mystery, and mysticism. Joining him at the family's home outside San Diego were his mother, Sarita Vasques, 94, and son Jose Luis, 25.

Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, Ruiz is the youngest of 13 children in a family of traditional healers descended from the Toltec. His grandfather was a nagual, or shaman. His mother is a highly regarded curandera (healer). Vasques says she knew before her son was born that he, too, would carry on the family traditions. "I received a sign that some day he would be known throughout the world as the liberator of the Toltec," says Vasques, a tiny woman with a forceful voice and strong gaze.

The Toltec ruled central Mexico from the 10th through the 12th centuries. Today they are primarily known for establishing the great city of Tula, which stands in ruins 40 miles outside Mexico City, and for the iconic feathered serpent god Quetzalcoatl. The Toltec also were revered for their spiritual teachings: the word "Toltec," according to Ruiz, means "men and women of knowledge."

Archaeologists describe the Toltec as one of the great Mesoamerican cultures. Ruiz, however, distinguishes the Toltec from the Aztecs, Maya, Olmecs, and other peoples. The Toltec were actually a society, he says, unified by an esoteric spirituality that was passed from generation to generation of Toltec, then to the other great civilizations that succeeded them.

The Toltec were also artists, though not in the traditional sense. Ruiz explains: "They considered the manner in which you lived your life as your art. The Toltec believed that life is a dream and that we are always dreaming, even when awake. Using a modern-day analogy, the Toltec concept of a dream is similar to starring in our own movie, following a script we write ourselves. All those around us are starring in their own movie based on their realities and concepts of the world."

While Vasques always knew her son would bring Toltec philosophies to the modern age, her son-despite growing up in Mexico-remained unconvinced. Rather than follow his mother and grandfather into the practice of traditional healing, he entered medical school. A near-death experience in the late 1970s, however, changed his life. While driving home from a party with two friends, he fell asleep. After his car careened into a concrete wall, Ruiz felt himself leaving his body. He looked down to see himself pulling his two friends out of the car. He awoke in the hospital to find that neither he nor his friends were seriously hurt. The accident convinced Ruiz the spiritual world did exist. He knew it was time to devote himself to the Toltec teachings.  

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