Life of Anthony de Mello
Anthony "Tony" de Mello was born on September 4th, 1931 in Santa Cruz a
suburb of Bombay. His parents were natives of Goa, a then Portuguese
colony on the south-west coast of India. The De Mellos belonged to a
long line of Catholic families, going back 400 years, renowned for their
Tony's early education was at St Stanislaus High School, run by the
Jesuits, in the parish of St Peter's, located in Bandra, a northern
suburb of Bombay. From an early age, he expressed his interest in
becoming a Jesuit priest. He realised that wish and became both a priest
and psychotherapist who became widely known for his books, seminars and
conferences on spirituality. He died suddenly of a heart attack on June
2nd 1987, at Fordham University, New York City at the age of 56. His
body was flown back for burial in St Peter's Jesuit vault, Bandra,
Are you Sleepwalking?
The scriptures are always hinting of that, but you'll never understand a
word of what the scriptures are saying until you wake up. Sleeping
people read the scriptures and crucify the Messiah on the basis of them.
You've got to wake up to make sense out of the scriptures. When you do
wake up, they make sense. So does reality. But you'll never be able to
put it into words. You'd rather do something? But even there we've got
to make sure that you're not swinging into action simply to get rid of
your negative feelings. Many people swing into action only to make
things worse. They're not coming from love, they're coming from negative
feelings. They're coming from guilt, anger, hate; from a sense of
injustice or whatever. You've got to make sure of your "being" before
you swing into action. You have to make sure of who you are before you
act. Unfortunately, when sleeping people swing into action, they simply
substitute one cruelty for another, one injustice for another. And so it
goes. Meister Eckhart says, "It is not by your actions that you will be
saved" (or awakened; call it by any word you want), "but by your being.
It is not by what you do, but by what you are that you will be judged."
What good is it to you to feed the hungry, give the thirsty to drink,
or visit prisoners in jail?
Remember that sentence from Paul: "If I give my body to be burned and
all my goods to feed the poor and have not love . . ." It's not your
actions, it's your being that counts. Then you might swing into action.
You might or might not. You can't decide that until you're awake.
Unfortunately, all the emphasis is concentrated on changing the world
and very little emphasis is given to waking up. When you wake up, you
will know what to do or what not to do. Some mystics are very strange,
you know. Like Jesus, who said something like "I wasn't sent to those
people; I limit myself to what I am supposed to do right now. Later,
maybe." Some mystics go silent. Mysteriously, some of them sing songs.
Some of them are into service. We're never sure. They're a law unto
themselves; they know exactly what is to be done. "Plunge into the heat
of battle and keep your heart at the lotus feet of the Lord," as I said
to you earlier.
Imagine that you're unwell and in a foul mood, and they're taking you
through some lovely countryside. The landscape is beautiful but you're
not in the mood to see anything. A few days later you pass the same
place and you say, "Good heavens, where was I that I didn't notice all
of this?" Everything becomes beautiful when you change. Or you look at
the trees and the mountains through windows that are wet with rain from a
storm, and everything looks blurred and shapeless. You want to go right
out there and change those trees, change those mountains. Wait a
minute, let's examine your window. When the storm ceases and the rain
stops, and you look out the window, you say, "Well, how different
everything looks." We see people and things not as they are, but as we
are. That is why when two people look at something or someone, you get
two different reactions. We see things and people not as they are, but
as we are.
Anthony De Mello, Wake Up, How to Love
Remember that sentence from scripture about everything turning into good
for those who love God? When you finally awake, you don't try to make
good things happen; they just happen. You understand suddenly that
everything that happens to you is good. Think of some people you're
living with whom you want to change. You find them moody, inconsiderate,
unreliable, treacherous, or whatever. But when you are different,
they'll be different. That's an infallible and miraculous cure. The day
you are different, they will become different. And you will see them
differently, too. Someone who seemed terrifying will now seem
frightened. Someone who seemed rude will seem frightened. All of a
sudden, no one has the power to hurt you anymore. No one has the power
to put pressure on you. It's something like this: You leave a book on
the table and I pick it up and say, "You're pressing this book on me. I
have to pick it up or not pick it up." People are so busy accusing
everyone else, blaming everyone else, blaming life, blaming society,
blaming their neighbor. You'll never change that way; you'll continue in
your nightmare, you'll never wake up.
Put this program into action, a thousand times:
(1) Identify the negative feelings in you;
(2) Understand that they are in you, not in the world, not in external reality;
(3) Do not see them as an essential part of "I"; these things come and go;
(4) Understand that when you change, everything changes
The Most Important Minutes in Your Lives
What I'm about to say will sound a bit pompous, but it's true. What is
coming could be the most important minutes in your lives. If you could
grasp this, you'd hit upon the secret of awakening. You would be happy
forever. You would never be unhappy again. Nothing would have the power
to hurt you again. I mean that, nothing. It's like when you throw black
paint in the air, the air remains uncontaminated. You never color the
air black. No matter what happens to you, you remain uncontaminated. You
remain at peace. There are human beings who have attained this, what I
call being human. Not this nonsense of being a puppet, jerked about this
way and that way, letting events or other people tell you how to feel.
So you proceed to feel it and you call it being vulnerable. Ha! I call
it being a puppet. So you want to be a puppet? Press a button and you're
down; do you like that? But if you refuse to identify with any of those
labels, most of your worries cease.
Later we'll talk about fear of disease and death, but ordinarily you're
worried about what's going to happen to your career. A small-time
businessman, fifty-five years old, is sipping beer at a bar somewhere
and he's saying, "Well, look at my classmates, they've really made it."
The idiot! What does he mean, "They made it"? They've got their names in
the newspaper. Do you call that making it? One is president of the
corporation; the other has become the Chief Justice; somebody else has
become this or that. Monkeys, all of them.
Who determines what it means to be a success? This stupid society! The
main preoccupation of society is to keep society sick! And the sooner
you realize that, the better. Sick, every one of them. They are loony,
they're crazy. You became president of the lunatic asylum and you're
proud of it even though it means nothing. Being president of a
corporation has nothing to do with being a success in life. Having a lot
of money has nothing to do with being a success in life. You're a
success in life when you wake up! Then you don't have to apologize to
anyone, you don't have to explain anything to anyone, you don't give a
damn what anybody thinks about you or what anybody says about you. You
have no worries; you're happy. That's what I call being a success.
Having a good job or being famous or having a great reputation has
absolutely nothing to do with happiness or success. Nothing! It is
totally irrelevant. All he's really worried about is what his children
will think about him, what the neighbors will think about him, what his
wife will think about him. He should have become famous. Our society and
culture drill that into our heads day and night. People who made it!
Made what?! Made asses of themselves. Because they drained all their
energy getting something that was worthless. They're frightened and
confused, they are puppets like the rest. Look at them strutting across
the stage. Look how upset they get if they have a stain on their shirt.
Do you call that a success? Look at how frightened they are at the
prospect they might not be reelected. Do you call that a success? They
are controlled, so manipulated. They are unhappy people, they are
miserable people. They don't enjoy life. They are constantly tense and
anxious. Do you call that human? And do you know why that happens? Only
one reason: They identified with some label. They identified the "I"
with their money or their job or their profession. That was their error.
Did you hear about the lawyer who was presented with a plumber's bill?
He said to the plumber, "Hey, you're charging me two hundred dollars an
hour. I don't make that kind of money as a lawyer." The plumber said, "I
didn't make that kind of money when I was a lawyer either!" You could
be a plumber or a lawyer or a business man or a priest, but that does
not affect the essential "I." It doesn't affect you. If I change my
profession tomorrow, it's just like changing my clothes. I am untouched.
Are you your clothes? Are you your name? Are you your profession? Stop
identifying with them. They come and go.
When you really understand this, no criticism can affect you. No
flattery or praise can affect you either. When someone says, "You're a
great guy," what is he talking about? He's talking about "me," he's not
talking about "I." "I" is neither great nor small. "I" is neither
successful nor a failure. It is none of these labels. These things come
and go. These things depend on the criteria society establishes. These
things depend on your conditioning. These things depend on the mood of
the person who happens to be talking to you right now. It has nothing to
do with "I." "I" is none of these labels. "Me" is generally selfish,
foolish, childish -- a great big ass. So when you say, "You're an ass,"
I've known it for years! The conditioned self -- what did you expect?
I've known it for years. Why do you identify with him? Silly! That isn't
"I," that's "me."
Do you want to be happy? Uninterrupted happiness is uncaused. True
happiness is uncaused. You cannot make me happy. You are not my
happiness. You say to the awakened person, "Why are you happy?" and the
awakened person replies, "Why not?"
Happiness is our natural state. Happiness is the natural state of little
children, to whom the kingdom belongs until they have been polluted and
contaminated by the stupidity of society and culture. To acquire
happiness you don't have to do anything, because happiness cannot be
acquired. Does anybody know why? Because we have it already. How can you
acquire what you already have? Then why don't you experience it?
Because you've got to drop something. You've got to drop illusions. You
don't have to add anything in order to be happy; you've got to drop
something. Life is easy, life is delightful. It's only hard on your
illusions, your ambitions, your greed, your cravings. Do you know where
these things come from? From having identified with all kinds of labels!
The Four Steps to Wisdom
The first thing you need to do is get in touch with negative feelings
that you're not even aware of. Lots of people have negative feelings
they're not aware of. Lots of people are depressed and they're not aware
they are depressed. It's only when they make contact with joy that they
understand how depressed they were. You can't deal with a cancer that
you haven't detected. You can't get rid of boll weevils on your farm if
you're not aware of their existence. The first thing you need is
awareness of your negative feelings. What negative feelings? Gloominess,
for instance. You're feeling gloomy and moody. You feel self-hatred or
guilt. You feel that life is pointless, that it makes no sense; you've
got hurt feelings, you're feeling nervous and tense. Get in touch with
those feelings first.
The second step (this is a four-step program) is to understand that the
feeling is in you, not in reality. That's such a self-evident thing, but
do you think people know it? They don't, believe me. They've got Ph.D.s
and are presidents of universities, but they haven't understood this.
They didn't teach me how to live at school. They taught me everything
else. As one man said, "I got a pretty good education. It took me years
to get over it." That's what spirituality is all about, you know:
unlearning. Unlearning all the rubbish they taught you.
Negative feelings are in you, not in reality. So stop trying to change
reality. That's crazy! Stop trying to change the other person. We spend
all our time and energy trying to change external circumstances, trying
to change our spouses, our bosses, our friends, our enemies, and
everybody else. We don't have to change anything. Negative feelings are
in you. No person on earth has the power to make you unhappy. There is
no event on earth that has the power to disturb you or hurt you. No
event, condition, situation, or person. Nobody told you this; they told
you the opposite. That's why you're in the mess that you're in right
now. That is why you're asleep. They never told you this. But it's
Let's suppose that rain washes out a picnic. Who is feeling negative?
The rain? Or YOU? What's causing the negative feeling? The rain or your
reaction? When you bump your knee against a table, the table's fine.
It's busy being what it was made to Be -- a table. The pain is in your
knee, not in the table. The mystics keep trying to tell us that reality
is all right. Reality is not problematic. Problems exist only in the
human mind. We might add: in the stupid, sleeping human mind. Reality is
not problematic. Take away human beings from this planet and life would
go on, nature would go on in all its loveliness and violence. Where
would the problem be? No problem. You created the problem. You are the
problem. You identified with "me" and that is the problem. The feeling
is in you, not in reality.
The third step: Never identify with that feeling. It has nothing to do
with the "I." Don't define your essential self in terms of that feeling.
Don't say, "I am depressed." If you want to say, "It is depressed,"
that's all right. If you want to say depression is there, that's fine;
if you want to say gloominess is there, that's fine. But not: I am
gloomy. You're defining yourself in terms of the feeling. That's your
illusion; that's your mistake. There is a depression there right now,
there are hurt feelings there right now, but let it be, leave it alone.
It will pass. Everything passes, everything. Your depressions and your
thrills have nothing to do with happiness. Those are the swings of the
pendulum. If you seek kicks or thrills, get ready for depression. Do you
want your drug? Get ready for the hangover. One end of the pendulum
swings to the other.
This has nothing to do with "I"; it has nothing to do with happiness. It
is the "me." If you remember this, if you say it to yourself a thousand
times, if you try these three steps a thousand times, you will get it.
You might not need to do it even three times. I don't know; there's no
rule for it. But do it a thousand times and you'll make the biggest
discovery in your life. To hell with those gold mines in Alaska. What
are you going to do with that gold? If you're not happy, you can't live.
So you found gold. What does that matter? You're a king; you're a
princess. You're free; you don't care anymore about being accepted or
rejected, that makes no difference. Psychologists tell us how important
it is to get a sense of belonging. Baloney! Why do you want to belong to
anybody? It doesn't matter anymore.
A friend of mine told me that there's an African tribe where capital
punishment consists of being ostracized. If you were kicked out of New
York, or wherever you're residing, you wouldn't die. How is it that the
African tribesman died? Because he partakes of the common stupidity of
humanity. He thinks he will not be able to live if he does not belong.
It's very different from most people, or is it? He's convinced he needs
to belong. But you don't need to belong to anybody or anything or any
group. You don't even need to be in love. Who told you you do? What you
need is to be free. What you need is to love. That's it; that's your
nature. But what you're really telling me is that you want to be
desired. You want to be applauded, to be attractive, to have all the
little monkeys running after you. You're wasting your life. WAKE UP! You
don't need this. You can be blissfully happy without it.
Your society is not going to be happy to hear this, because you become
terrifying when you open your eyes and understand this. How do you
control a person like this? He doesn't need you; he's not threatened by
your criticism; he doesn't care what you think of him or what you say
about him. He's cut all those strings; he's not a puppet any longer.
It's terrifying. "So we've got to get rid of him. He tells the truth; he
has become fearless; he has stopped being human.'' HUMAN! Behold! A
human being at last! He broke out of his slavery, broke out of their
No event justifies a negative feeling. There is no situation in the
world that justifies a negative feeling. That's what all our mystics
have been crying themselves hoarse to tell us. But nobody listens. The
negative feeling is in you. In the Bhagavad-Gita, the sacred book of the
Hindus, Lord Krishna says to Arjuna, "Plunge into the heat of battle
and keep your heart at the lotus feet of the Lord." A marvelous
You don't have to do anything to acquire happiness. The great Meister
Eckhart said very beautifully, "God is not attained by a process of
addition to anything in the soul, but by a process of subtraction." You
don't do anything to be free, you drop something. Then you're free.
It reminds me of the Irish prisoner who dug a tunnel under the prison
wall and managed to escape. He comes out right in the middle of a school
playground where little children are playing. Of course, when he
emerges from the tunnel he can't restrain himself anymore and begins to
jump up and down, crying, "I'm free, I'm free, I'm free! A little girl
there looks at him scornfully and says, "That's nothing. I'm four."
The fourth step: How do you change things? How do you change yourselves?
There are many things you must understand here, or rather, just one
thing that can be expressed in many ways. Imagine a patient who goes to a
doctor and tells him what he is suffering from. The doctor says, "Very
well, I've understood your symptoms. Do you know what I will do? I will
prescribe a medicine for your neighbor!" The patient replies, "Thank you
very much, Doctor, that makes me feel much better." Isn't that absurd?
But that's what we all do. The person who is asleep always thinks he'll
feel better if somebody else changes. You're suffering because you are
asleep, but you're thinking, "How wonderful life would be if somebody
else would change; how wonderful life would be if my neighbor changed,
my wife changed, my boss changed."
We always want someone else to change so that we will feel good. But has
it ever struck you that even if your wife changes or your husband
changes, what does that do to you? You're just as vulnerable as before;
you're just as idiotic as before; you're just as asleep as before. You
are the one who needs to change, who needs to take medicine. You keep
insisting, "I feel good because the world is right." Wrong! The world is
right because I feel good. That's what all the mystics are saying.
Come Home to Yourself
Come home to yourself. Observe yourself. That's why I said earlier that
self-observation is such a delightful and extraordinary thing. After a
while you don't have to make any effort, because, as illusions begin to
crumble, you begin to know things that cannot be described. It's called
happiness. Everything changes and you become addicted to awareness.
There's the story of the disciple who went to the master and said,
"Could you give me a word of wisdom? Could you tell me something that
would guide me through my days?" It was the master's day of silence, so
he picked up a pad. It said, "Awareness." When the disciple saw it, he
said, "This is too brief. Can you expand on it a bit?" So the master
took back the pad and wrote, "Awareness, awareness, awareness." The
disciple said, "Yes, but what does it mean?" The master took back the
pad and wrote, "Awareness, awareness, awareness means -- awareness."
That's what it is to watch yourself. No one can show you how to do it,
because he would be giving you a technique, he would be programming you.
But watch yourself. When you talk to someone, are you aware of it or
are you simply identifying with it? When you got angry with somebody,
were you aware that you were angry or were you simply identifying with
your anger? Later, when you had the time, did you study your experience
and attempt to understand it? Where did it come from? What brought it
on? I don't know of any other way to awareness. You only change what you
understand. What you do not understand and are not aware of, you
repress. You don't change. But when you understand it, it changes.
I am sometimes asked, "Is this growing in awareness a gradual thing, or
is it a 'whammo' kind of thing?" There are some lucky people who see
this in a flash. They just become aware. There are others who keep
growing into it, slowly, gradually, increasingly. They begin to see
things. Illusions drop away, fantasies are peeled away, and they start
to get in touch with facts. There's no general rule. There's a famous
story about the lion who came upon a flock of sheep and to his amazement
found a lion among the sheep. It was a lion who had been brought up by
the sheep ever since he was a cub. It would bleat like a sheep and run
around like a sheep. The lion went straight for him, and when the sheep
lion stood in front of the real one, he trembled in every limb. And the
lion said to him, "What are you doing among the sheep?" And the
sheep-lion said, "I am a sheep." And the lion said, "Oh no you're not.
You're coming with me." So he took the sheep-lion to a pool and said,
"Look!" And when the sheep-lion looked at his reflection in the water,
he let out a mighty roar, and in that moment he was transformed. He was
never the same again.
If you're lucky and the gods are gracious or if you are gifted with
divine grace (use any theological expression you want), you might
suddenly understand who "I" is, and you will never be the same again,
never. Nothing will ever be able to touch you again and no one will ever
be able to hurt you again.
You will fear no one and you will fear nothing. Isn't that
extraordinary? You'll live like a king, like a queen. This is what it
means to live like royalty. Not rubbish like getting your picture in the
newspapers or having a lot of money. That's a lot of rot. You fear no
one because you're perfectly content to be nobody. You don't give a damn
about success or failure. They mean nothing. Honor, disgrace, they mean
nothing! If you make a fool of yourself, that means nothing either.
Isn't that a wonderful state to be in! Some people arrive at this goal
painstakingly, step by step, through months and weeks of self-awareness.
But I'll promise you this: I have not known a single person who gave
time to being aware who didn't see a difference in a matter of weeks.
The quality of their life changes, so they don't have to take it on
faith anymore. They see it; they're different. They react differently.
In fact, they react less and act more. You see things you've never seen
You're much more energetic, much more alive. People think that if they
had no cravings, they'd be like deadwood. But in fact they'd lose their
tension. Get rid of your fear of failure, your tensions about
succeeding, you will be yourself. Relaxed. You wouldn't be driving with
your brakes on. That's what would happen.
There's a lovely saying of Tranxu, a great Chinese sage, that I took the
trouble to learn by heart. It goes: "When the archer shoots for no
particular prize, he has all his skills; when he shoots to win a brass
buckle, he is already nervous; when he shoots for a gold prize, he goes
blind, sees two targets, and is out of his mind. His skill has not
changed, but the prize divides him. He cares! He thinks more of winning
than of shooting, and the need to win drains him of power." Isn't that
an image of what most people are? When you're living for nothing, you've
got all your skills, you've got all your energy, you're relaxed, you
don't care, it doesn't matter whether you win or lose.
Now there's human living for you. That's what life is all about. That
can only come from awareness. And in awareness you will understand that
honor doesn't mean a thing. It's a social convention, that's all. That's
why the mystics and the prophets didn't bother one bit about it. Honor
or disgrace meant nothing to them. They were living in another world, in
the world of the awakened. Success or failure meant nothing to them.
They had the attitude: "I'm an ass, you're an ass, so where's the
Someone once said, "The three most difficult things for a human being
are not physical feats or intellectual achievements. They are, first,
returning love for hate; second, including the excluded; third,
admitting that you are wrong." But these are the easiest things in the
world if you haven't identified with the "me." You can say things like
"I'm wrong! If you knew me better, you'd see how often I'm wrong. What
would you expect from an ass?" But if I haven't identified with these
aspects of "me," you can't hurt me. Initially, the old conditioning will
kick in and you'll be depressed and anxious. You'll grieve, cry, and so
on. "Before enlightenment, I used to be depressed: after enlightenment,
1 continue to be depressed." But there's a difference: I don't identify
with it anymore. Do you know what a big difference that is? You step
outside of yourself and look at that depression, and don't identify with
it. You don't do a thing to make it go away; you are perfectly willing
to go on with your life while it passes through you and disappears. If
you don't know what that means, you really have something to look
forward to. And anxiety? There it comes and you're not troubled. How
strange! You're anxious but you're not troubled.
Isn't that a paradox? And you're willing to let this cloud come in,
because the more you fight it, the more power you give it. You're
willing to observe it as it passes by. You can be happy in your anxiety.
Isn't that crazy? You can be happy in your depression. But you can't
have the wrong notion of happiness. Did you think happiness was
excitement or thrills? That's what causes the depression. Didn't anyone
tell you that? You're thrilled, all right, but you're just preparing the
way for your next depression. You're thrilled but you pick up the
anxiety behind that: How can I make it last? That's not happiness,
I wonder how many non-addicts there are reading this book? If you're
anything like the average group, there are few, very few. Don't look
down your nose at the alcoholics and the drug addicts: maybe you're just
as addicted as they are. The first time I got a glimpse of this new
world, it was terrifying. I understood what it meant to be alone, with
nowhere to rest your head, to leave everyone free and be free yourself,
to be special to no one and love everyone- because love does that. It
shines on good and bad alike; it makes rain fall on saints and sinners
Is it possible for the rose to say, "I will give my fragrance to the
good people who smell me, but I will withhold it from the bad"? Or is it
possible for the lamp to say, "I will give my light to the good people
in this room, but I will withhold it from the evil people"? Or can a
tree say, "I'll give my shade to the good people who rest under me, but I
will withhold it from the bad"? These are images of what love is about.
It's been there all along, staring us in the face in the scriptures,
though we never cared to see it because we were so drowned in what our
culture calls love with its love songs and poems -- that isn't love at
all, that's the opposite of love. That's desire and control and
possessiveness. That's manipulation, and fear, and anxiety -- that's not
love. We were told that happiness is a smooth complexion, a holiday
resort. It isn't these things, but we have subtle ways of making our
happiness depend on other things, both within us and outside us. We say,
"I refuse to be happy until my neurosis goes." I have good news for
you: You can be happy right now, with the neurosis, You want even better
news? There's only one reason why you're not experiencing what in India
we call anand -- bliss, bliss. There's only one reason why you're not
experiencing bliss at this present moment, and it's because you're
thinking or focusing on what you don't have. Otherwise you would be
experiencing bliss. You're focusing on what you don't have. But, right
now you have everything you need to be in bliss.
Jesus was talking horse sense to lay people, to starving people, to poor
people. He was telling them good news: It's yours for the taking. But
who listens? No one's interested, they'd rather be asleep.