The following excerpt is taken from the book, The Fifth Agreement, by don Miguel Ruiz & don Jose Ruiz.
Part 1 Chapter 2
Symbols and Agreements - The Art of Humans
During all the years that we grow up, we make countless agreements with ourselves, with society, with everybody around us. But the most important agreements are the ones we make with ourselves by understanding the symbols that we learned. The symbols are telling us what we believe about ourselves; they’re telling us what we are and what we are not, what is possible and what is not possible. The voice of knowledge is telling us everything that we know, but who tells us if what we know is the truth?
When we go to grammar school, high school, and college, we acquire a lot of knowledge, but what do we really know? Do we master the truth? No, we master a language, a symbology, and that symbology is only the truth because we agree, not because it’s really the truth. Wherever we are born, whatever language we learn to speak, we find that almost everything we know is really about agreements, beginning with the symbols that we learn.
If we are born in England, we learn English symbols. If we are born in China, we learn Chinese symbols. But whether we learn English, Chinese, Spanish, German, Russian, or any other language, the symbols only have value because we assign them a value and agree on their meaning. If we don’t agree, the symbols are meaningless. The word tree, for example, is meaningful for people who speak English, but “tree” doesn’t mean anything unless we believe that it means something, unless we agree. What it means for you, it means for me, and that’s why we understand one another. What I’m saying right now you understand because we agree with the meaning of every word that was programmed in our mind. But this doesn’t mean that we completely agree. Each of us gives a meaning to every word, and it’s not exactly the same for everyone.
If we focus our attention on the way any word is created, we find that whatever meaning we give to a word is there for no real reason. We put words together from nowhere; we make them up. Humans invent every sound, every letter, every graphic symbol. We hear a sound like “A” and we say, “This is the symbol for that sound.” We draw a symbol to represent the sound, we put the symbol and the sound together, and we give it a meaning. Then every word in our mind has a meaning, but not because it’s real, not because it’s truth. It’s just an agreement with ourselves, and with everybody else who learns the same symbology.
If we travel to a country where people speak a different language, we suddenly realize the importance and power of agreement. Un árbol es sólo un árbol, el sol es sólo el sol, la tierra es sólo la tierra si estamos de acuerdo. Ένα δέντρο είναι μονάχα ένα δέντρο, ο ήλιος είναι μονάχα ο ήλιος, η γη είναι μονάχα η γη, αν συμφωνούμε. Ein Baum ist nur ein Baum, die Sonne ist nur die Sonne, die Erde ist nur die Erde wenn wir uns darauf verständigt haben. A tree is only a tree, the sun is only the sun, the earth is only the earth if we agree. These symbols have no meaning in France, Russia, Turkey, Sweden, or in any other place where the agreements are different.
If we learn to speak English and we go to China, we hear people talking, but we don’t understand a word they’re saying. Nothing makes sense to us because it’s not the symbology that we learned. Many things are foreign to us; it’s like being in another world. If we visit their places of worship, we find that their beliefs are completely different, their rituals are completely different, their mythologies have nothing to do with what we learned. One way to understand their culture is to learn the symbols they use, which means their language, but if we learn a new way of being, a new religion or philosophy, this may create a conflict with what we learned before. New beliefs clash with old beliefs, and the doubt comes right away: “What is right and what is wrong? Is it true what I learned before? Is this true what I’m learning right now? What is the truth?”
The truth is that all of our knowledge, 100 percent of it, is nothing more than symbolism or words that we invent for the need to understand and express what we perceive. Every word in our mind and on this page is just a symbol, but every word has the power of our faith because we believe in its meaning without a doubt. Humans construct an entire belief system made up of symbols; we build an entire edifice of knowledge. Then we use everything we know, which is nothing but symbology, to justify what we believe, to try to explain first to ourselves, then to everybody around us, the way we perceive ourselves, the way we perceive the entire universe.
If we are aware of this, then it’s easy to understand that all of the different mythologies, religions, and philosophies around the world, all of the different beliefs and ways of thinking, are nothing but agreements with ourselves and with other humans. They’re our creation, but are they true? Everything that exists is true: the earth is true, the stars are true, the entire universe has always been true. But the symbols that we use to construct what we know are only true because we say so.
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There’s a beautiful story in the Bible that illustrates the relationship between God and humans. In this story, Adam and God are walking together around the world, and God asks Adam what he wants to name everything. One by one, Adam gives a name to everything he perceives. “Let’s call this a tree. Let’s call this a bird. Let’s call this a flower….” And God agrees with Adam. The story is about the creation of symbols, the creation of an entire language, and it works by agreement.
It’s like two sides of the same coin: We can say that one side is pure perception, what Adam perceives; the other side is the meaning that Adam gives to whatever he perceives. There’s the object of perception, which is the truth, and there’s our interpretation of the truth, which is just a point of view. The truth is objective, and we call it science. Our interpretation of the truth is subjective, and we call it art. Science and art; the truth, and our interpretation of the truth. The real truth is life’s creation, and it’s the absolute truth because it’s truth for everyone. Our interpretation of the truth is our creation, and it’s a relative truth because it’s only truth by agreement. With this awareness, we can begin to understand the human mind.
All humans are programmed to perceive the truth, and we don’t need a language to do this. But in order to express the truth, we need to use a language, and that expression is our art. It’s no longer the truth because words are symbols, and symbols can only represent or “symbolize” the truth. For example, we can see a tree even if we don’t know the symbol “tree.” Without the symbol, we just see an object. The object is real, it is truth, and we perceive it. Once we call it a tree, we are using art to express a point of view. By using more symbols, we can describe the tree — every leaf, every color. We can say it’s a big tree, a small tree, a beautiful tree, an ugly tree, but is it the truth? No, the tree is still the same tree.
Our interpretation of the tree will depend on our emotional reaction to the tree, and our emotional reaction will depend on the symbols that we use to re-create the tree in our mind. As you can see, our interpretation of the tree is not exactly the truth. But our interpretation is a reflection of the truth, and that reflection is what we call the human mind. The human mind is nothing but a virtual reality. It isn’t real. What’s real is truth. What’s truth is truth for everyone. But the virtual reality is our personal creation; it’s our art, and it’s only “truth” for each one of us.
All humans are artists, all of us. Every symbol, every word, is a little piece of art. From my point of view, and thanks to our programming, our greatest masterpiece of art is the use of a language to create an entire virtual reality within our mind. The virtual reality we create could be a clear reflection of the truth, or it could be completely distorted. Either way, it’s art. Our creation could be our personal heaven, or it could be our personal hell. It doesn’t matter; it’s art. But what we can do with the awareness of what is truth and what is virtual is endless. The truth leads to self-mastery, to a life that’s very easy; our distortion of the truth often leads to needless conflict and human suffering. Awareness makes all the difference.
Humans are born to perceive the truth; we are born with awareness, but we accumulate knowledge, and we learn to deny what we perceive. We practice not being aware, and we master not being aware. The word is pure magic, and we learn to use our magic against ourselves, against creation, against our own kind. To be aware means to open our eyes to see the truth. When we see the truth, we see everything just as it is, not the way we believe it is, not the way we wish it to be. Awareness opens the door to millions of possibilities, and if we know that we are the artist of our own life, we can make a choice from all those possibilities.
What I’m sharing with you comes from my personal training, which I call Toltec Wisdom. Toltec is a Náhuatl word meaning artist. From my point of view, to be a Toltec has nothing to do with any philosophy or place in the world. To be a Toltec is just to be an artist. A Toltec is an artist of the spirit, and as artists we like beauty; we don’t like what is not beauty. If we can become better artists, our virtual reality becomes a better reflection of the truth, and we can create a masterpiece of heaven with our art.
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. The truth is only one, and the truth is what we are talking about. These three masteries guide us out of suffering and return us to our true nature, which is happiness, freedom, and love.
The Toltec understood that we are going to create a virtual reality with or without awareness, and if it’s with awareness, we are going to enjoy our creation. And whether we facilitate the transformation or resist it, our virtual reality is always transforming. If we practice the art of transformation, soon we’re facilitating the transformation, and instead of using our magic against ourselves, we use our magic for the expression of our happiness and our love. When we master love, intent, or faith, we master the dream of our life, and when all three masteries are accomplished, we reclaim our divinity and become one with God. This is the goal of the Toltec.
The Toltec didn’t have the technology that we have at the present time; they didn’t know about the virtual reality of computers, but they knew how to master the virtual reality of the human mind. The mastery of the human mind requires complete control of the attention — the way we interpret and react to information we perceive from inside of us and outside of us. The Toltec understood that each one of us is just like God, but instead of creating, we re-create. And what do we re-create? What we perceive. That is what becomes the human mind.
If we can understand what the human mind is, and what the human mind does, we can begin to separate reality from virtual reality, or pure perception, which is truth, from symbology, which is art. Self-mastery is all about awareness, and it begins with self-awareness. First to be aware of what is real, and then to be aware of what is virtual, which means what we believe about what is real. With this awareness, we know that we can change what is virtual by changing what we believe. What is real we cannot change, and it doesn’t matter what we believe.
Don Miguel Ruiz is the international bestselling author of the Toltec Wisdom series, including The Four Agreements (over 7 years on The New York Times bestseller list), The Mastery of Love, and The Voice of Knowledge. He continues to share the wisdom of the ancient Toltec through lectures, workshops, and journeys to sacred sites around the world. Don Jose Ruiz was chosen by his father to carry on the centuries-old family legacy of healing and teaching. For the past 7 years, he has lectured widely across the United States and at sacred sites around the world. Learn more at www.MiguelRuiz.com