don Miguel Ruiz"It was common for me to witness miracles," says don Miguel Ruiz of his childhood in rural Mexico. He did not attend church regularly, but he was raised by his mother and grandfather, both folk healers in the tradition of their ancestors, the Toltecs--a diverse group of indigenous people who dominated northern Mexico from the 10th to the 12 centuries C.E.

In his last year of medical school Ruiz was in a car accident. The out-of-body experience he had during the incident sent him into a spiritual tailspin and led him to reevaluate his life. He found himself drawn to the mystical teachings of his upbringing and left his medical career behind. Ruiz's 1997 book "The Four Agreements" is based on teachings inspired by his Toltec heritage.

In his latest book, "The Voice of Knowledge" Ruiz explores the notion of truth, which, he writes, cannot be captured in words; but like the divine, can only be experienced.

Tell us about your spiritual path.

At the present time I really have no religion at all. But I love and respect all religions and philosophies. I see how they get formed, how they grow up, and how powerful they are. But for me to believe in a specific god-no. Because what I believe is that the infinite, the absolute, is a living being and the only one living being that really exists. And we all are part of that living being. And from that point of view, the way I see the universe, the way I see God is as perfection, like only perfection exists and it's not difficult to understand at all. Life is very, very simple and easy to understand but we complicate it with the beliefs and ideas that we create.

There is a confrontation between the two important things that really exist, which is the truth and lies. This is something that my grandfather showed me when I was in my late teens. He told me, "Miguel, you know all the philosophies and religions believe that there's a conflict between good and evil." And he said, it's not exactly true because good and evil are just a result of a confrontation that only exists in the human mind. It doesn't exist in animals or anything else. And he told me that conflict is between the truth and lies. If you believe in truth you live in goodness, and everything is about joy and happiness. But if you believe in lies, it will be exactly the opposite.

Can you give an example of one of these lies?

You just feel "I am not good enough. I cannot make it. I cannot be happy. I'm born to suffer. Life is a valley of tears and we are here to suffer and if we suffer with patience, when we die, we will reach paradise." All of those are nothing but lies, and we believe it.

And the way we express ourselves in life is with a lot of fear. And we justify it by saying, "Oh, I'm shy. Oh, I'm not a good singer. I cannot speak in public. I'm not a good artist." We use all of those beliefs to limit expression of ourselves. We're really afraid to live life.

What do you mean when you write, "We're all artists of the spirit"?

Every human is an artist. And this is the main art that we have: the creation of our story. We create stories that we live on and you know it's a little difficult for ordinary humans to understand this, but it's something extremely beautiful when we have that awareness and even more when we can change it. And it's not really that difficult.

You say it is our story that comes between us and God.

Well it's a creation, but when we believe it, we forget what we really are. When we recover awareness, we find out that our relationships become better, the relationship with our beloved, with our children, with our parents, with friends, with everybody around us becomes much, much better.

You finally have enough power to see all those lies face to face and no longer believe in those lies. And the miracle of that is that you trust yourself completely, you don't need to trust anymore in any guru, in any outside God. You understand God because you experience God and you see God everywhere because you just see life in action all the time.

So are you saying is it impossible to put truth into words?

It is impossible, exactly. You have to experience it. When you open your spiritual eyes, what you are doing is experiencing the truth. And yet you try to explain the truth to other people.

Let's say you want to write a book about one single tree. You can use thousands of pages to describe that tree. It doesn't matter how close you are to the description of that tree, you never will describe what it really is. But it doesn't mean that you don't understand, because you had the experience and that is exactly what makes the difference. And you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. Free from all those lies.

It's so beautiful, Christianity and Buddhism. All that is so beautiful because all those masters, they experienced the truth. Christ called it heaven, and Buddha named it nirvana. But they mean the same and what they tried to express is that experience that they had when they experienced the truth. And whoever experienced the truth, he will explain in their own way, but whoever listens, whoever is explaining the truth will understand it right away because they were there.

You say that our only mission in life is to be happy, which on the surface seems self-centered. How does this square with other belief systems that orient people to something larger than themselves?

Everything guides you to search for your own happiness. You cannot make anybody else happy but you. You cannot make your children happy, you cannot make your husband happy, you cannot make your parents happy. They have to make themselves happy. The only one that you can make happy is yourself.

Do you believe we have any obligations toward a creator or towards others?

You know, this is the beautiful part. We don't have any obligations with anybody. It's a choice. When you have the awareness you will not choose to live in drama. You will choose to be happy. That will be your choice. And even if your body is in pain, you can be happy anyway.

You know, for example, if you see a child that is one or two years old and he has a headache or a pain in any part of his body. If something holds the attention of this child, you will see right away a smile in the face until the attention returns into what is causing the pain. Then he will cry again.

But our tendency is to be happy and it's not about being self-centered, no. Because if you're happy, the happiness will extend all around you. Everybody will feel your presence. They can compare themselves and they can make the choice to be happy also.

You had a life-changing epiphany after a car accident, but you say that such a dramatic experience is not necessary, that anyone can cultivate this awareness.

Yes, and this is what makes it so beautiful. You know it's available for everybody, not everybody has to have an accident in order to have that awareness. And we see in the story of humanity that to happen many, many times to different people around the world, and it's not exactly that one philosophy is better than the other, or one religion is better than the other, because this is not truth, it's not truth at all. You know life is very, very simple and we can make it so, so easy. And it's up to us to make it easy.

What I recommend is awareness and more awareness and more awareness. And from that, whatever religion people want is ok. It is wonderful to have any kind of religion. It is not really that important. To be happy. That is what is important. To be happy.

Do you pray?

Well it's not necessary. I can say that my life is an ongoing prayer without praying. As an artist-and every human is an artist-I contemplate everything. I enjoy perception, I enjoy the changes in my physical body and just being alive and living in gratitude is the best prayer that we could have. I can assure you that I see God everywhere, I see the actions of God, I see the expression in everything I perceive. I live in constant ecstasy.

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