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Anthony de Mello, Rediscovering Life


Anthony de Mello did a one day lecture called 'Rediscovering Life' back in the 80s. It is worth watching the entire lecture (e.g. here). Here I am picking out some of his main messages. Of course he has a lot more to say and he develops it beautifully in his lectures. There are a few more of his lectures. Another one is called 'Awareness' and can be found on Youtube, and a shorter one called 'Wake up'. Anthony de Mello died in 1987 before he was able to spread his message even further. It was planned that he would be going on tour with his lectures later on in 1987. Well, this did not happen.

But he did give us some pretty valuable basics. And it is up to us now to figure out what it all means instead of following a guru. Maybe that is one of the many reasons why his soul decided to leave the human body at that point in time. Maybe there was enough information given to us to rediscover life by ourselves and he left before anyone could get it all wrong by making a hero out of him or becoming a follower. Who knows? We cannot entirely grasp what our souls have in mind for us.

Some suggestions from the lectures I found extremely helpful:

  • How to deal with being upset: Watch yourself and remember 'we are programmed to upset ourselves' and through realizing this it vanishes almost immediately.
  • Plunge into the din of battle and keep your heart at peace -> No action from being upset but from wisdom.
  • If the eye is unobstructed there is sight -> If there is no upset we can act from our inner knowing instead.
  • If we do not depend emotionally on anyone we are free. If there is no need to impress anyone we are free.
  • Happiness arises if attachments are dropped and we understand that we are programmed to be unhappy or upset -> therefore drop the programming.
  • If you meditate on truth there is no need to listen to anybody else because you see it for yourself. You have it.

Video clip from "Rediscovering Life" by Anthony de Mello.
On love, happiness and freedom (Pt2 2/6)

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Transcript of video:

And you mean to tell me that if you have got attachments you can love? The biggest enemy to love: attachments, desire in the sense of attachment. You know why? Because if I desire you I want to possess you. I can't leave you free. I have got to get you. I have got to manipulate you so that I can get you, if I desire you in this way. I am going to manipulate myself so that I can hoodwink you into getting you.

You are following what I am saying? Oh yeah, you are on, all right, wonderful. So, when I have got fears ... you call this love? I mean, you are lacking intelligence. Look, for heaven's sake. I am not leaving you free, I am not leaving me free, I am manipulating you, I am manipulating myself. I am trying every means to get you and there is fear.

And so it is said so beautifully, perfect love casts out fear. No fear with perfect love. You know why? Because there is no desire. Now, ask your culture. I have asked mine. Ask your culture if it does make any sense of this statement: Where there is love there is no desire. Desire in the sense of attachment, ok, attachment. You know what they tell you? But attachment is love. That is how stupid they are. Then you expect to find life. You can only find death and misery. They say: how could you love if you don't feel attachment?

Later, I keep this for the end of the day I'll talk explicitly about love. Such a simple, such a sublime, such an extraordinary thing. And I really run into everyone, believe me, I am serious, I mean every word I am saying. I run into all kinds of people. I run into people of all kinds of religions and I run into Catholics and non-religious people, you know people who are atheists or whatever, and I run into Catholics or lay people, priests and sisters and bishops, I rarely run into someone who knows what love is. They have got the wrong instructions.

So when I tell them, hey, how could love be attachment? They are arguing about that and then of course after 5 minutes they say, you are right. "You mean you have lived 55 years, you have written books on theology and you haven't seen this?" He says, "no". Well, I give you some comfort. Iived about as much as you did and I hadn't seen it either. If that is any comfort to you. But it is so obvious.

Attachment meaning without you I will not be happy, I have got to get you. Attachment means I have got to get you, if I don't get you I won't be happy. I cannot be happy without you. There you have got the formula for divorce. There you have got the formula for quarrels. There you have got the formula for friendships falling apart: "I cannot be happy without you". I need you for my happiness. By damn I'll do everything to manipulate you to get you.

Love means "I am perfectly happy without you, darling, it's all right and I wish you are good and I leave you free. And when I get you, I am delighted and when I don't I am not miserable." What do you know, I have learnt to be self-sufficient. I am standing up on my own two feet, not leaning on you. And you know, if I get money, that is wonderful and if I don't get money I am not depressed, I am happy.

And you know something else, when you go away I don't ... maybe it is too soon to say that here, but anyway I'll risk it ... I don't miss you. I don't feel pain. Where there is sorrow there is no love. Tell me, when you grieve, whom are you grieving for? Whose loss? (Pointing to himself). Self-pity? Oh, no don't call it that you are telling the truth now.

Here is the formula: If you were not actively engaged in making yourself miserable you would be happy. We were born happy. All life is shot through with happiness. Oh, there is pain. Of course there is pain. Who told you can't be happy with pain. Come and meet a friend of mine who is dying of cancer. But she is happy, in pain. So, we were born happy. We lost it. We were born with the gift of life, we lost it. We have got to rediscover it. Why did we lose it? Because we were working actively. They taught us to work actively to make ourselves miserable. How did they do that?

By teaching us to become attached. By teaching us to have desires so intense that we would refuse to be happy unless they were fulfilled. The tragedy is, my dears, the tragedy is ... well, all you need do is to sit down for two minutes and just watch how untrue it is that you would be unhappy without A, or B, or X, or Y, or whatever. You know something, you won't sit because if you sit you might see it. You won't sit and look at it. I know I wouldn't, I resisted it for years.

You mean if I don't get Mary-Jane, or I don't get John I won't be happy? Hey, wait a minute. That's false. Before I met him I was happy. And you know something, I once fell in love with somebody and then, well, I lost her. And I was heartbroken. But what happened? I am all right now. So she wasn't my happiness after all. Remember the time you were a child and you lost something and you thought I'll never be happy without this. What happened? If we gave it to you today you wouldn't look at it.

Why don't we learn? Oh, no, no, we have got to live in illusions. If feels good, it gives you a kick, doesn't it? It gives me a kick. We want kicks, we don't want happiness. We want thrills and whenever you get a thrill you have got an anxiety because you might lose it or you may not get it and you got a depression following, you got a hangover. It is so simple as I told you I can put it down for you in two minutes whether you hear it is another question. That depends on your own heart.

So here it is: The world is full of sorrow. The root of sorrow is attachment-desire. The uprooting of sorrow is the dropping of attachment.

How does one drop it? In that one looks and sees that it is based on a false belief. The belief that without this I cannot be happy. That is false. The moment you see it is false, you are free. Good luck to you. May take you one minute, may take you 25 years.

But the day you see it you are free. You are free as a bird. You mean, you will be coming up to give satellite retreats, you'll be talking to presidents, you'll be meeting popes, you won't be one bit afraid, you are free, you are completely free.

You'll be making an ass of yourself and you won't bother. You won't bother to impress anyone, you know what that means? That you are not bothered to impress anybody? You know what it means? That you don't give a ... is damn a swearword in the United States? ... maybe I shouldn't be using it... you don't give a tint as damn what they think about you and what they say about you. You know what that means? Oh boy, that is freedom.

You are not bothered whether they approve of you or they don't. It is all right, you are happy. You don't approve, too bad, that one failed, we move on, I am happy. But that is because you have discovered that your happiness does not lie in these things. You have got to see that for yourself. Useless reading a book, useless listening to me, you have got to see it. And of course you won't see it if you have got the wrong formula.

The story about a guy receiving a precious stone. (Pt4 1/5)

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Transcript (Starting at 5:03):

I am going to give you one of my favorite stories. You know, sometimes a story says more than a whole day's lecture because it sort of speaks to the depth within us. And this one certainly speaks to mine. This is a story of a guy who is moving out of the village in India, out of his village. And he sees what we in India call a Senjase. A Senjase is a wandering mendicant. The Senjase is the person who having attained enlightenment, understands that the whole is his home and the sky is his roof and god is his father and will look after him.

So he moves from place to place the way you and I would move from one room in our home to another. Well, here was this wandering Senjase and the villager when he meets him he says 'I cannot believe this' and the Senjase says 'What is it you cannot believe' and the villager says 'I had a dream about you last night. I dreamt that the lord Vishnu said to me 'tomorrow morning you'll leave the village around 11 o'clock and you'll run into this wandering Senjase' and here I have met you.'

'What else did the lord Vishnu say to you?' said the Senjase and the man said 'he said to me if the man gives you a precious stone he has you'll be the richest man in the whole world. Would you give me the stone?' So the Senjase says 'wait a minute' … he rummages in his little sack, a nap sack that he had and he said 'would this be the stone you are talking about?' And the man couldn't believe his eyes because it was a diamond, the largest diamond in the world.

He held it in his hands and he said 'could I have this?' and the Senjase said 'of course you can take it, I found it in the forest. You are welcome to it' and he went on and sat under a tree in the outskirts of the village. The man grasps this diamond, how great was his joy.

The way ours is, isn't it, the day we really get something we really want. Have you ever stopped to ask how long it lasts? You got the girl you wanted, right? You got the boy you wanted, right? You got that car, … , you got the degree, you were first in the university. How long did the joy last? Let's measure it, I mean that, how many seconds, how many minutes? You get tired of it, don't you? Then you are looking for something else, aren't you?

Why don't we study this? As valuable, more valuable than studying the scriptures because what good is it to you to study the scriptures and crucify the Messiah on the basis of them as Jesus was if you not understood this, if you not understood what it means to live and to be free and to be spiritual.

Well, so the guy has the diamond and then instead of going home he sits under a tree himself and all day he sits immersed in thought and towards evening he goes to the tree where the Senjase is sitting, gives him back the diamond and he says 'could you do me a favor?' 'What?' says the Senjase. He says 'could you give me the riches that make it possible for you to give this thing away so easily.'

Boy I love that story … that is what I have been talking about today. The root of sorrow is attachment. The uprooting of sorrow is the dropping of attachment. The understanding that the attachment is a false belief, the false belief that anything or person can make you happy. True happiness is caused by nothing. True happiness is uncaused.

Note: Happiness in the sense of being content, balanced, serene. It does not mean to be thrilled.

On happiness - to be continued ... (Pt4 2/5)

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Transcript (From the beginning till minute 5:00):

If you ask the mystic why he or she is happy the answer will be 'why not?' No block, no obstruction. Why not? Have you ever thought that if something causes your happiness, when you lose that something your happiness will be destroyed? Has it ever occurred to you that if something causes your happiness you will become possessive of that thing? You will become anxious lest you lose it.

Whatever that thing be, learning, reputation, good health, life itself. How interesting, the rediscovery of life: you will never live until you stop clinging to life. Let go. When you cling happiness dies. If your happiness depends on anyone or anything, that's not happiness my dears, that's anxiety, that's tension, that's pressure, that's fear.

The Japanese have a powerful tale for this, oh it's so powerful. There is this guy running away from a tiger, comes to a precipice and quite unwittingly he begins to slide down that precipice and as he is sliding he grabs hold of a branch of a tree that is growing there, a kind of a bush and then he looks down and there is no way of climbing up because there is the tiger waiting for him there and if he slides down he slides down to his death 15.000 feet. What does he do? He has a few minutes to live.

Well he looks at that bush he is holding on to and he finds it is a berry bush and he is holding on to it with one hand and he plucks the berry bush, a berry from the bush, puts it into his mouth and tastes it. And the story goes and it tasted so sweet. Isn't that marvelous? I know, friends of mine in the past, two of them with different intervals, who were dying. And they said to me 'I began to truly taste life and see how sweet it was when I let go and I realized that life is ending. It was then that it began to taste sweet. So paradoxically we are doing all the wrong things to be happy.

We have been programmed to be unhappy. Anything we are doing is going to make us more unhappy because anything you do to become happy is going to make you more unhappy because what are you going to do? You are going to change yourself, you are going to change others, you acquire something. You don't have to do anything, you have to understand. Drop the obstruction. Drop the false belief and the attachment will drop and then you'll know what happiness is. That is so easily said.

If you would meditate on that for days and you would experience some of its truth then you would not have to listen to me or to anyone else. You'll have it. You have learnt it. You have seen it.

You are attached only because you falsely believe that without this thing or person or situation or event you will not be happy. You falsely believe that. See its falseness and you will be free. How simple. And here we are scaring the earth, running everywhere in search of it. We have it right here at home and did not understand it.

And we listen to all kinds of sermons and studied all kinds of books, we went to all kinds of churches but we never heard it. We never recognized the Messiah. He was right there. It was right there staring at us, right under our nose. We didn't see it. All right, I trust that some of you will … some of you won't maybe but maybe some of you will … That much for happiness.

On being upset:
We have been programmed to upset ourselves. (P3 2/8)

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Transcript (beginning at 1:20 till 7:20):

Let's talk about upset. Remember we talked about upset this morning? You are upset because of your attachments. So let us begin concretely. If you remember nothing else from today except what I am going to say in the next 5 minutes that will be worthwhile.

You are upset. What is it that upset you? Somebody died, somebody betrayed you, someone rejected you, you lost something, your plans have gone wrong, something's gone astray, whatever. Can you think right now even as I am talking of something that has upset you in the recent past? Go on, do it, I am giving you 3 or 4 seconds to do that.

Think of something that has upset you in the recent past or is upsetting you right now. Then get yourself ready for the shock. Here it comes. I say it just like it is. I am going to throw the bomb right into your midst. Listen to this: nothing in reality, nothing in life, nothing in the world upsets you. Nothing has the power to upset you.

Did anyone tell you that? All upset exists in you, not in reality. You could underline the word 'all', all of it, all of it, all upset is in you not in life, not in reality, not in the world. It is in you. Just understanding this has changed the lives of people, I mean at 180 degrees round, just understanding this and no more. Reality is not upsetting. Reality is not problematic. If there were no human mind there would be no problems. All problems exist in the human mind. All problems are created by the mind.

Somebody said to me in Denver last summer. Wouldn't there be some problems that exist in reality and not in me? I said to him 'if we take you out of there where is the problem?' No problem. Now, to me, this is a truth, so simple a seven year old child could understand it. But I have met people, you know, who are doctors in all sorts of things but they never understood it.

They just took for granted that problems exist in the world. By problem I mean something that upsets you, ok. They think it exists in the world, they think it exists in other people. They think it exists in life. No, no, it is in them, as simple as that. Nothing has the power to upset you. Now, I work that out concretely: somebody broke their promise, ok, you are upset. What do you think upset you? Broken promise? No, because I could bring in another individual in your place and she or he is faced with a broken promise and is not upset. How come, you got upset?

Now, you chose to think, you were trained to think, that it was the broken promise that upset you but it wasn't the broken promise, it was your programming, it was your training. You have been trained to upset yourself every time you are faced with a broken promise.

You are planning a picnic on Sunday and the picnic gets rained out. Where do you think the upset is? In the rain or in you? In the rain or in your reaction to the rain? I repeat that. The upset feeling is not caused by the rain but your reaction to the rain. Someone else would react differently, no upset.

Of course you can see that I am building on this morning's statement: if you had not made your happiness depend on it is not raining you wouldn't react this way, right? But you have been trained, you and I have been trained to make our happiness depend on certain things and so when those things don't happen, thanks to our training, thanks to our programming, thanks to that false belief 'if this doesn't happen I am not going to be happy'. Well, what do you know, we upset ourselves.

continues with upset and
Spirituality means to no longer be at the mercy of anything (Pt3 3/8)

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Transcript (beginning at 1:06):

Something has upset you. Did you hear that expression: something has upset you? That is the way the English language is, that is the way all languages are: something upset me. Nothing upsets you. The accurate way to speak would be: I upset myself on the occasion of something, but who speaks like that? So, you upset me. No, no, your behavior occasioned my upsetting myself. But we hate it, don't we?

We love the world to be responsible, or people to be responsible, or life to be responsible, or god to be responsible. You did it! Not the upset. Are you getting some inkling of what it would mean if you really grasped this? You would be above it all. That is one nice definition of spirituality. Spirituality means to no longer be at the mercy of any event, or any person, or anything.

Hey, I didn't say not to love people, I said you are not at their mercy any more. You are no longer at the mercy of any event, or of any person, or of anything. In other words, no matter what happens, you no longer upset yourself. I was spending years, I mean, studying spirituality, writing about it, reading books on it, taking courses on it but hey, I want to see, are you still upset, do you still upset yourself on the occasion?

You do, so what is the use of all your studies. Life is passing you by while you are sitting in that concert hall unable to enjoy the music, unable to lock the car, caught in between.

All right, no let's see if we can work this out concretely … an example of upsetting situations … if someone died, ok, someone dies and I am upset. What upset me, the death of this person? No. If I am upset by it I have been programmed to be upset when someone dies. Well, take your time for that. That goes against everything your culture and mine has taught us. We have been taught to upset ourselves when we lose somebody. We have been trained to upset ourselves when someone rejects us, disapproves of us, leaves us, dies on us...

Here it goes, get ready for a scandalized sentence: we have been trained to depend emotionally on people, to not be able to live emotionally without people, I stress emotionally. So well, naturally I am upset because someone I was attached to has died. The death upset me? No. On the occasion of this I have been trained to upset myself. It sounds almost blasphemous, it is awful … think it over …

let's get a couple of examples more: 'seeing someone on the street who doesn't have enough to eat'. That is a great example because it seems like 'look, we ought to be upset'. Now, let me take that slowly, all right: I see someone on the street who doesn't have enough to eat. Is that an evil? What do you think? Yes, obviously.

Ought I to do something about it in as much as I can? Yes, great, so far you are getting all the right answers. Do I need to upset myself to swing into action and do something about it? No, great, you are getting A's everywhere… You know, there is an assumption that if you don't upset yourself, if you don't train people to upset themselves, they are not going to do anything.

But look, here is someone who doesn't have enough to eat and that is a calamity and now you are going to upset yourself and we are having two calamities. Could we deal with this calamity without having another one added? But you know lots of people cannot even conceive of their swinging into action without their first upsetting themselves.

It is something like this. You are standing in a line, somebody breaks the line. Now, look, you want to take action. That is fine, you want to say it is wrong, you are right. You want to do something about it? Do! You want to push him away? That is fine. But you know what you are doing? You are saying: you misbehaved so I am going to punish myself.

Look how logical this is, ok? I say to people why are you upset? They say 'it isn't human' but look what you are doing: he misbehaved, right? Good, so what are you going to do is raise your blood pressure, lose your peace of mind, miss your sleep tonight … see since you misbehaved I … well, why would you punish yourself? You are innocent!

But you think people would understand this? I mean educated people, so called reasonable people. Their culture is built on this, how could you not upset yourself? You mean you are not upset? No. But you are planning to do something? Evidently! Oh yes, very much so. You are not upset? No, why should I upset myself? Why should I punish myself because he misbehaved!

Plunge into the din of battle and keep your heart at peace at the lotus feed of the lord, get into the din of battle. [Note: I personally do not agree with finding beauty in people having lotus feed but it is what he said here].

But there is a fear, see. The people who trained us, the people who programmed us feared that if we didn't upset ourselves we wouldn't do anything. It never occurred to them to realize that when you upset yourself you have less energy to do something and you have less perception. You are not seeing things right anymore. You are overreacting.

I know nothing about boxing but they tell me that the last thing a boxer in the ring ought to do is to get upset or lose his temper because then he has lost the match. The first thing his opponent is trying to do is to get him to lose his temper so then he loses coordination and perception.

How often is it that people who get into social projects, great projects for the welfare of others. They get so involved emotionally and so upset that they destroy the very work they sat out to do. They lose perception, they overreact.

How to deal with being upset: Watch yourself and remember 'we are programmed to upset ourselves' and through realizing this it vanishes almost immediately. (Pt4 3/5)

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Transcript (from minute 3:00 till 4:00):

There is a great secret for human relations. How much it has helped me, how much it has helped me: anytime I am having trouble with anyone, if I am upset, to say, 'hey Tony there is something wrong with you, how about you and I sit down and take a good look at it, ok? Ok, but I am still dying to say this guy ... oh no, you are upset, right? This isn't coming from him, not coming from you, coming from your programming, oh, well, I see.'

All of a sudden, all of a sudden there is perspective, there is distance. There is understanding. There is love at last. I know that could be quite hard, you can be quite hard, love can be quite hard. But love is fair. Love is just, love sees, love is not prejudiced.


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