What Is The Fifth Agreement Book About?

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In the follow up to don Miguel Ruiz’s best-selling book, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, he, along with his son don Jose Ruiz and Janet Mills, brings us The Fifth Agreement: A Practical Guide to Self Mastery.

A quick warning, I go a little nuts over these books. 

Though the agreements that the authors put forth in these books seem fairly simple, the deeper implications of them have been addicting to me to explore. I do find myself reevaluating the things I say and do and holding them up to the concepts explained here. 

I will try not to geek out to much over them and give you a fair representation of the contents.

The First Four

If you have not read The Four Agreements Book, I highly recommend that you read it before reading The Fifth Agreement. Though the authors do briefly cover the first Four Agreements in this book, it is good to take the time to read and contemplate on the first Four Agreements before hearing the fifth.

In the introduction to the book don Miguel Ruiz tells of trying to teach the fifth agreement to people at the same time as he taught them the first four agreements. He was unable to get his apprentices to understand the last concept he was trying to teach.

Their minds were not ready to grasp and integrate the words he was trying to convey. Though the first four agreements seem simple, implementing them can be life-changing.  

I completely understand why he did this. When I first read the Fifth Agreement, the concepts they put forth in the first few chapters were enough to keep my mind running in circles for weeks.

For those of you who would rather have a brief overview of The First Four Agreements, you can read my review of it here  Or for a more in-depth review of each of the agreements, you can read any of these posts:

  1. Be Impeccable With Your Word
  2. Don’t Take Anything Personally 
  3. Don’t Make Assumptions
  4. Always Do Your Best


You are born as a message to the world. Born with all the knowledge you need to become who the universe intends you to be. You are a unique message, one that the universe has never heard, but it wants to hear from you. That’s why it created you and programmed you to be what you are.

When we are born and first growing up, we follow this programming completely; we know of nothing else save the knowledge we have encoded in our DNA.  

This knowledge is instinctual when we are born, and we follow it because we know of nothing else.

You follow your instincts, and those instincts guide you to be happy, to enjoy life, to play, to love, to fulfill your needs. – The Fifth Agreement

Growing and Learning

But as we grow older, this instinctual knowledge is replaced with things we learn from those around us. No longer do we rely on instinct to grow and learn, we no learn through a system of reward and punishment. A system based on symbols of everything around us. These symbols are given meaning from the language we learn as children.

We learn what is considered right and wrong from those around us. We learn the names of everything; we learn what is real and what is purely derived from the imagination of others. Each thing we learn is derived from the language we learn as children and converted into symbols for our brains to process.

Lost in the Knowledge

Our attention is used to fill our heads with enough knowledge that we can start to think for ourselves. We believe that using the knowledge of the symbols we were taught helps us make sense of ourselves and everything around us.

This process of learning continues throughout our lives. No longer using the instinctual knowledge we had at birth. We constantly seek the state of innocence we had at birth using the imperfect system of symbols and attention to try and find that moment again.

We look everywhere for it except in the one place it has always been, inside ourselves. We seek perfection, even after having been taught our entire lives that the concept of perfection does not exist. 

When the reality of life is that we as a creation of the universe are the perfection we seek, we have just lost ourselves in the noise of the planet.

Agreeing on Symbols

Language is just a set of agreed-upon symbols that we use for the process of understanding one another. 

Each letter or symbol is a made-up idea only useful if the person you are trying to communicate with agrees on the meaning of the symbol you are trying to use. Without agreement on the meaning of the symbols, the symbols themselves have no meaning.

If we travel to a country where people speak a different language, we suddenly realize the importance and power of agreement.

Everything we know or think is just a representation of the symbols that we have learned and agree on with others that speak our own language. 

To go to another country and understand them, you would first have to learn the symbols they use to represent the things that you learned as a child. You would have to meld their use of symbols with the symbols that you learned.

Creating Our Own Reality

Even this process of learning another set of symbols is an imprecise way of learning. We each have taken the meaning of the image the symbol represents and given it our own definition based on our own experiences.

Let’s try a little experiment here. I’m going to give you a word. When you read the word write down in the comments below, what you picture the word to mean. Ok, here goes.


“Tree” is a basic word in the English language, and we can all agree on what a tree is, but when I read just the word tree, what I picture in my head is probably not what you picture in yours. 

For me, the symbol tree brings to mind a large weeping willow tree in the middle of summer, limbs tall and branches reaching down towards the ground. The leaves are narrow and long; the rough bark is used to easily climb the tree for a child.

Is this what you pictured in your mind? Or did you see something different? Maybe you saw a pine tree, or an apple, or a coconut tree. 

Little Variations

This little test goes to show you the imprecise nature of the symbols we use to communicate. The word tree can mean a thousand different things to a thousand different people. 

Of course, we can keep adding other symbols to the first to get our meaning across. But this is still hard to convey. 

You say apple tree, but which kind of apple? A Red Delicious? A Honeycrisp? A Granny Smith? Then, even more, symbols must be used to convey what we mean. For this to work, we must agree on what these symbols mean. 

If you have never seen a red apple, then the concept of a red apple will be harder for you to understand.

The nature of language and, therefore, the nature of symbology is imprecise. 

The tree is real. It is the truth. Our interpretation of the tree is where the art comes in. 

It is a virtual reality that we each create in our minds. The tree does not care how we describe it; the tree will continue to be exactly what it is, no matter what words or symbols we use to describe it.

Toltec lessons

What the authors of The Fifth Agreement want you to learn is the ancient Toltec mastery of self.

Thousands of years ago, the Toltec created three masteries of the artist: the mastery of awareness, the mastery of transformation, and the mastery of love intent, or faith.  The separation is just for our understanding, because the three masteries become only one.

By following the five agreements that don Miguel Ruiz puts forth, he believes that you can change your perspective from one of living in a self-created virtual reality of suffering and return us to a natural state of happiness and love.

The First Agreement

Be Impeccable with Your Word. As humans, we have a gift with the power of creation. With the power of creation, we possess the power of selecting the words we use. 

We can use words to create harmony in our lives or create chaos and discord. The message you choose to create with your words or your life is the way you present yourself to the universe around you.

Simply put, Being Impeccable with Your Word means to be honest with how you use your words to create the reality that is you. 

If you use your words to judge yourself and others around you, you are not impeccable with your word.

To be impeccable is, to be honest with yourself about yourself and everything around you.

The Second Agreement

Don’t Take Anything Personally. Once we have mastered the first agreement of being impeccable with our word, it is time to work on the second, not taking anything personally. What we learn from the first agreement is that everyone creates their own version of reality. 

We are all living in a virtual reality created by our own interpretation of the symbols we have learned from birth.  

It stands to reason that if you accept you are doing this, then everyone else around you is doing this as well. No one sees you the way you see yourself. You don’t see anyone else the way they see you. 

If you were able to see yourself from their perspective, you would probably not recognize yourself in their eyes. Learning how to accept how others see you should not have any effect on the real you is the second agreement.

The reality that what others see should not affect your own personal reality. If someone is angry at you, you do not have to get angry back. Accept that they have their own reality to live in and simply go on your way. Don’t let their perception of reality affect your own.

The Third Agreement

Don’t Make Assumptions. The third agreement is probably going to be the hardest one, but then again, I am making an assumption. Ceasing to assume is the hardest one for me.  

When we make assumptions about what other people are saying or doing, we are trying to push our version of reality onto others. Sometimes we do this before they even say or do anything. When we make assumptions about others, we are creating a version of reality that hasn’t happened and probably won’t happen.  

Making assumptions creates even more problems for us because usually, when we make an assumption, we are taking the perceived outcome personally, which leads to us to breaking the second agreement because we are taking things personally. 

We break the first agreement too. We can not be impeccable with our words if we are putting a false version of reality onto our own lives and those around us.  

Not making assumptions is key to following the Toltec path of enlightenment.

The Fourth Agreement

Always Do Your Best. If you are going to change the beliefs that you have held for a lifetime. If you want to follow the path to taking back control of your life, it takes more than just being aware there is a problem.

But its more than just being aware.  Its the practice that will make a difference, because you can be aware, but that doesn’t mean your life will change.  Change is the result of action; its the result of practice. Practice makes the master. – The Fifth Agreement

Changing the beliefs we built our entire lives is going to take work. To unravel all the lies we have been told and the lies that we have told ourselves will take time. It is the practice of untying these knots that will determine the success of reclaiming the happiness that we seek in life.

Does always doing your best mean you will succeed every time?. No, it just means giving a 100 percent effort every time you try to break the illusions we have come to live with. Always do your best and striving every day to be a little better will eventually lead you to become a master of your own transformation.

The Fifth Agreement

This brings us to the fifth and final agreement for this book.  

Be skeptical but learn to listen.

According to Ruiz,

You know that humans speak with symbols, and that symbols aren’t the truth.  Symbols are only the truth because we agree, not because they are really the truth.  But the second half of the agreement is learn to listen, and the reason is simple:  When you learn to listen, you understand the meaning of the symbols that people are using; you understand their story, and the communication improves a lot. – The Fifth Agreement

When you become aware that the life you are living is based on a false sense of the world when you have practiced and mastered the first four agreements. You will begin to see the wisdom of the fifth agreement.

You see according to Ruiz, being skeptical about what you see hear and think is only the beginning. If we agree that everyone is an artist creating their own reality, then the stories they create and tell are not done maliciously, but as a means to live for each one of us.

By learning to be skeptical and listen, we can learn to discern the truth. You will be able to sort the fiction from the reality of your life, not getting caught up in your or others’ drama.  

Once you can see the difference between reality and the virtual reality, you know that you can trust reality, and you don’t have to trust the virtual reality, but you can enjoy both. You can enjoy what is, and you can enjoy what you create.

Being aware of your own reality allows you to take responsibility for the choices you make. Even after you are aware of the virtual reality that you use to live in, other people will try to lead you down their versions of reality. It is up to you to discern what you will believe, it is your life, after all, you get to decide how to live it.

In Conclusion

This post is just a basic review of The Fifth Agreement: A Practical Guide to Self-Mastery book

Ruiz and his son go much deeper into the story of the Toltec way and how to master the path they layout for you.  

Whether you are looking for a new path for your life or just an interesting mind exercise, I highly recommend this book. You never know, you may just discover a whole new reality for your life.

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