Quotations from Awareness by Anthony de Mello

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.

If you want a royal road to mysticism, sit down quietly and listen to all the sounds around you.

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.

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.

There is no explanation you can give that would explain away all the sufferings and evil and torture and destruction and hunger in the world! You’ll never explain it. You can try gamely with your formulas, religious and otherwise, but you’ll never explain it. Because life is a mystery, which means your thinking mind cannot make sense out of it. For that you’ve got to wake up and then you’ll suddenly realize that reality is not problematic, you are the problem.

A great German philosopher and theologian wrote a whole book specifically on the silence of St. Thomas. He simply went silent. Wouldn’t talk. In the prologue of his Summa Theologica, which was the summary of all his theology, he says, “About God, we cannot say what He is but rather what He is not. And so we cannot speak about how He is but rather how He is not.”

Put this program into action, a thousand times: (a) identify the negative feelings in you; (b) understand that they are in you, not in the world, not in external reality; (c) do not see them as an essential part of “I”; these things come and go; (d) understand that when you change, everything changes.

When you cling, life is destroyed; when you hold on to anything, you cease to live.

To lose the self is to suddenly realize that you are something other than what you thought you were. You thought you were at the center; now you experience yourself as satellite. You thought you were the dancer; you now experience yourself as the dance.

Can you imagine the relief when you don’t have to impress anybody anymore? Oh, what a relief. Happiness at last! You no longer feel the need or the compulsion to explain things anymore. It’s all right. What is there to be explained? And you don’t feel the need or compulsion to apologize anymore.

You know, sometimes people want to imitate Christ, but when a monkey plays a saxophone, that doesn’t make him a musician. You can’t imitate Christ by imitating his external behavior. You’ve got to be Christ. Then you’ll know exactly what to do in a particular situation, given your temperament, your character, and the character and temperament of the person you’re dealing with. No one has to tell you. But to do that, you must be what Christ was.

There’s a guru in India who says, “Every time a prostitute comes to me, she’s talking about nothing but God. She says I’m sick of this life that I’m living. I want God. But every time a priest comes to me he’s talking about nothing but sex.”

The first reaction is one of fear. It’s not that we fear the unknown. You cannot fear something that you do not know. Nobody is afraid of the unknown. What you really fear is the loss of the known. That’s what you fear.

It didn’t make sense to me for many years until I suddenly discovered that people have to suffer enough in a relationship so that they get disillusioned with all relationships. Isn’t that a terrible thing to think? They’ve got to suffer enough in a relationship before they wake up and say, “I’m sick of it! There must be a better way of living than depending on another human being.”

The one thing you need most of all is the readiness to learn something new. The chances that you will wake up are in direct proportion to the amount of truth you can take without running away.

The first thing I want you to understand, if you really want to wake up, is that you don’t want to wake up. The first step to waking up is to be honest enough to admit to yourself that you don’t like it. You don’t want to be happy.

The most difficult thing in the world is to listen, to see.

Even the best psychologist will tell you that, that people don’t really want to be cured. What they want is relief; a cure is painful.

I cannot describe the truth. No one can. All I can do is give you a description of your falsehoods, so that you can drop them. All I can do for you is challenge your beliefs and the belief system that makes you unhappy. All I can do for you is help you to unlearn. That’s what learning is all about where spirituality is concerned: unlearning, unlearning almost everything you’ve been taught. A willingness to unlearn, to listen.

Spirituality means waking up. Most people, even though they don’t know it, are asleep.

We don’t want to be unconditionally happy. I’m ready to be happy provided I have this and that and the other thing. But this is really to say to our friend or to our God or to anyone, “You are my happiness. If I don’t get you, I refuse to be happy.”

I’m saying that ordinarily everything we do is in our self-interest. Everything. When you do something for the love of Christ, is that selfishness? Yes. When you’re doing something for the love of anybody, it is in your self-interest.

There are two types of selfishness. The first type is the one where I give myself the pleasure of pleasing myself. That’s what we generally call self-centeredness. The second is when I give myself the pleasure of pleasing others. That would be a more refined kind of selfishness.

The first one is very obvious, but the second one is hidden, very hidden, and for that reason more dangerous, because we get to feel that we’re really great.

People don’t really want to grow up, people don’t really want to change, people don’t really want to be happy. As someone so wisely said to me, “Don’t try to make them happy, you’ll only get in trouble. Don’t try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and it irritates the pig.”

The first step, as I said, was a readiness to admit that you don’t want to wake up, that you don’t want to be happy. There are all kinds of resistances to that within you. The second step is a readiness to understand, to listen, to challenge your whole belief system.

Don’t think you’re a great person. You’re a very ordinary person, but you’ve got refined tastes. Your taste is good, not the quality of your spirituality.

You are never in love with anyone, you’re in love with your prejudiced idea of that person.

Get rid of your fear of failure, your tensions about succeeding, you will be yourself.

Do you want to enjoy a melody? Do you want to enjoy a symphony? Don’t hold on to a few bars of the music. Don’t hold on to a couple of notes. Let them pass, let them flow. The whole enjoyment of a symphony lies in your readiness to allow the notes to pass.

And love is generated through awareness and through no other way, no other way. Understand the obstructions you are putting in the way of love, freedom, and happiness and they will drop. Turn on the light of awareness and the darkness will disappear. Happiness is not something you acquire; love is not something you produce; love is not something that you have; love is something that has you.

Remember that quip of George Bernard Shaw. He was at one of those awful cocktail parties, where nothing gets said. Someone asked him if he was enjoying himself. He answered, “It’s the only thing I am enjoying here.”

We differ from others—from criminals, for example—only in what we do or don’t do, not in what we are.

Ignorance and fear, ignorance caused by fear, that’s where all the evil comes from, that’s where your violence comes from. The person who is truly nonviolent, who is incapable of violence, is the person who is fearless. It’s only when you’re afraid that you become angry.

The only way to change is by changing your understanding. But what does it mean to understand? How do we go about it? Consider how we’re enslaved by various attachments; we’re striving to rearrange the world so that we can keep these attachments, because the world is a constant threat to them.

But you chose to paint people in glowing colors; you chose not to see through human beings because you chose not to see through yourself.

The highest knowledge of God is to know God as unknowable. There is far too much God talk; the world is sick of it. There is too little awareness, too little love, too little happiness, but let’s not use those words either. There’s too little dropping of illusions, dropping of errors, dropping of attachments and cruelty, too little awareness. That’s what the world is suffering from, not from a lack of religion. Religion is supposed to be about a lack of awareness, of waking up.

We never feel grief when we lose something that we have allowed to be free, that we have never attempted to possess.

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!

When you go through life with preferences but don’t let your happiness depend on any one of them, then you’re awake.

Most people don’t live aware lives. They live mechanical lives, mechanical thoughts—generally somebody else’s—mechanical emotions, mechanical actions, mechanical reactions. Do you want to see how mechanical you really are? “My, that’s a lovely shirt you’re wearing.” You feel good hearing that. For a shirt, for heaven’s sake! You feel proud of yourself when you hear that. #365

Cut out all the O.K. stuff and the not-O.K. stuff; cut out all the judgments and simply observe, watch. You’ll make great discoveries. These discoveries will change you. You won’t have to make the slightest effort, believe me.

I enjoy it on a nonclinging basis. What I really enjoy is not you; it’s something that’s greater than both you and me. It is something that I discovered, a kind of symphony, a kind of orchestra that plays one melody in your presence, but when you depart, the orchestra doesn’t stop. When I meet someone else, it plays another melody, which is also very delightful. And when I’m alone, it continues to play. There’s a great repertoire and it never ceases to play.

The world’s all right. The one who has to change is you.

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.

What I’m advocating here is not concentration. That’s not important. Many meditative techniques inculcate concentration, but I’m leery of that. They involve violence and frequently they involve further programming and conditioning. What I would advocate is awareness, which is not the same as concentration at all. Concentration is a spotlight, a floodlight. You’re open to anything that comes within the scope of your consciousness. You can be distracted from that, but when you’re practicing awareness, you’re never distracted. When awareness is turned on, there’s never any distraction, because you’re always aware of whatever happens to be.

I’m going to write a book someday and the title will be I’m an Ass, You’re an Ass. That’s the most liberating, wonderful thing in the world, when you openly admit you’re an ass. It’s wonderful. When people tell me, “You’re wrong.” I say, “What can you expect of an ass?”

I’m going to quote a great man here, a man named A. S. Neill. He is the author of Summerhill. Neill says that the sign of a sick child is that he is always hovering around his parents; he is interested in persons. The healthy child has no interest in persons, he is interested in things. When a child is sure of his mother’s love, he forgets his mother; he goes out to explore the world; he is curious. He looks for a frog to put in his mouth—that kind of thing. When a child is hovering around his mother, it’s a bad sign; he’s insecure. Maybe his mother has been trying to suck love out of him, not give him all the freedom and assurance he wants. His mother’s always been threatening in many subtle ways to abandon him.

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.

You will never understand yourself if you seek to change yourself. The harder you try to change yourself, the worse it gets.

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.

Do you know one sign that you’ve woken up? It’s when you are asking yourself, “Am I crazy, or are all of them crazy?” It really is. Because we are crazy. The whole world is crazy. Certifiable lunatics!

Where there is love there are no demands, no expectations, no dependency.

Generally, we seek to cure our loneliness through emotional dependence on people, through gregariousness and noise. That is no cure. Get back to things, get back to nature, go up in the mountains. Then you will know that your heart has brought you to the vast desert of solitude, there is no one there at your side, absolutely no one.

I’ve often said to people that the way to really live is to die. The passport to living is to imagine yourself in your grave.

Don’t seek to fulfill desire so much as to understand desire.

Many say we have a natural urge to be loved and appreciated, to belong. That’s false. Drop this illusion and you will find happiness. We have a natural urge to be free, a natural urge to love, but not to be loved

Nobody seems to be grappling with the problem of: Is there a life before death? Yet my experience is that it’s precisely the ones who don’t know what to do with this life who are all hot and bothered about what they are going to do with another life. One sign that you’re awakened is that you don’t give a damn about what’s going to happen in the next life. You’re not bothered about it; you don’t care. You are not interested, period.

All suffering is caused by my identifying myself with something, whether that something is within me or outside of me.

Why not concentrate on the now instead of hoping for better times in the future? Why not understand the now instead of forgetting it and hoping for the future? Isn’t the future just another trap?

There is a difference between knowledge and awareness, between information and awareness.

Every time you are unhappy, you have added something to reality. It is that addition that makes you unhappy.

Flags are in the heads of people. In any case, there are thousands of words in our vocabulary that do not correspond to reality at all. But do they trigger emotions in us!

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?”

There’s a story of a disciple who told his guru that he was going to a far place to meditate and hopefully attain enlightenment. So he sent the guru a note every six months to report the progress he was making. The first report said, “Now I understand what it means to lose the self.” The guru tore up the note and threw it in the wastepaper basket. After six months he got another report, which said, “Now I have attained sensitivity to all beings.” He tore it up. Then a third report said, “Now I understand the secret of the one and the many.” It too was torn up. And so it went on for years, until finally no reports came in. After a time the guru became curious and one day there was a traveler going to that far place. The guru said, “Why don’t you find out what happened to that fellow.” Finally, he got a note from his disciple. It said, “What does it matter?” And when the guru read that, he said, “He made it! He made it! He finally got it! He got it!”

That’s what spirituality is all about, you know: unlearning. unlearning all the rubbish they taught you.

If you get yourself a new job or a new spouse or a new home or a new guru or a new spirituality, that does not change you.

Charity is never so lovely as when one has lost consciousness that one is practicing charity. “You mean I helped you? I was enjoying myself. I was just doing my dance. It helped you, that’s wonderful. Congratulations to you. No credit to me.”

Are you ready to be brainwashed by someone who’s enlightened? You can be brainwashed by anybody, you know. What does it matter whether someone’s enlightened or not? But see, we want to lean on someone, don’t we? We want to lean on anybody we think has arrived. We love to hear that people have arrived. It gives us hope, doesn’t it? What do you want to hope for? Isn’t that another form of desire?

Perception has devastating consequences in the matter of love and human relationships.

But to depend on another psychologically—to depend on another emotionally—what does that imply? It means to depend on another human being for my happiness.

Think about that. Because if you do, the next thing you will be doing, whether you’re aware of it or not, is demanding that other people contribute to your happiness.

self-observation. What’s that? It means to watch everything in you and around you as far as possible and watch it as if it were happening to someone else. What does that last sentence mean? It means that you do not personalize what is happening to you. It means that you look at things as if you have no connection with them whatsoever.

Words cannot give you reality. They only point, they only indicate. You use them as pointers to get to reality.

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.

As soon as you look at the world through an ideology you are finished. No reality fits an ideology. Life is beyond that. That is why people are always searching for a meaning to life. But life has no meaning; it cannot have meaning because meaning is a formula; meaning is something that makes sense to the mind. Every time you make sense out of reality, you bump into something that destroys the sense you made.

But as awareness grows, you react less and act more.

You know, all mystics—Catholic, Christian, non-Christian, no matter what their theology, no matter what their religion—are unanimous on one thing: that all is well, all is well. Though everything is a mess, all is well.

The guru can only point out your errors. When you drop your errors, you will know the truth. And even then you cannot say. This is common teaching among the great Catholic mystics. The great Thomas Aquinas, toward the end of his life, wouldn’t write and wouldn’t talk; he had seen.

As we say in the East, “When the sage points to the moon, all the idiot sees is the finger.”

Do not suppress desire, because then you would become lifeless. You’d be without energy and that would be terrible.

Wisdom is to be sensitive to this situation, to this person, uninfluenced by any carryover from the past, without residue from the experience of the past.

The trouble with people is that they’re busy fixing things they don’t even understand. We’re always fixing things, aren’t we? It never strikes us that things don’t need to be fixed. They really don’t. This is a great illumination. They need to be understood. If you understood them, they’d change.

Until somebody told you you wouldn’t be happy unless you were loved, you were perfectly happy.

Learn what it means to experience something fully, then drop it and move on to the next moment, uninfluenced by the previous one. You’d be traveling with such little baggage that you could pass through the eye of a needle.

The Japanese have a nice way of putting it: “The day you cease to travel, you will have arrived.”

To me, selfishness seems to come out of an instinct for self-preservation, which is our deepest and first instinct. How can we opt for selflessness? It would be almost like opting for nonbeing.

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.

First, cope with your negative feelings so that when you move out to change others, you’re not coming from hate or negativity but from love.

As the Japanese Zen masters say, “Don’t seek the truth; just drop your opinions.” Drop your theories; don’t seek the truth. Truth isn’t something you search for. If you stop being opinionated, you would know.

Why bother about tomorrow? Get into today.

I have already mentioned Thomas’ commentary on Boethius’ De Sancta Trinitate, where he says that the loftiest degree of the knowledge of God is to know God as the unknown, tamquam ignotum. And in his Questio Disputata de Potentia Dei, Thomas says, “This is what is ultimate in the human knowledge of God—to know that we do not know God.”

Seeing is the most arduous thing that a human can undertake, for it calls for a disciplined, alert mind. But most people would much rather lapse into mental laziness than take the trouble to see each person, each thing in its present moment of freshness.

Now this is exactly what your society did to you when you were born. You were not allowed to enjoy the solid, nutritious food of life—namely, work, play, fun, laughter, the company of people, the pleasures of the senses and the mind. You were given a taste for the drug called approval, appreciation, attention.

You want happiness? You want freedom? Here it is: Drop your false ideas. See through people. If you see through yourself, you will see through everyone. Then you will love them. Otherwise you spend the whole time grappling with your wrong notions of them, with your illusions that are constantly crashing against reality.

Stop feeling bad about being selfish; we’re all the same.

I have run into individuals, here and there, who suddenly stumble upon this truth: The root of evil is within you. As you begin to understand this, you stop making demands on yourself, you stop having expectations of yourself, you stop pushing yourself and you understand. Nourish yourself on wholesome food, good wholesome food. I’m not talking about actual food, I’m talking about sunsets, about nature, about a good movie, about a good book, about enjoyable work, about good company, and hopefully you will break your addictions to those other feelings.

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.

Simple awareness is happiness compared with trying to react all the time.

People come over to my center in India and they say, “What a lovely place, these lovely trees” (for which I’m not responsible at all), “this lovely climate.” And already I’m feeling good, until I catch myself feeling good, and I say, “Hey, can you imagine anything as stupid as that?” I’m not responsible for those trees; I wasn’t responsible for choosing the location. I didn’t order the weather; it just happened. But “me” got in there, so I’m feeling good. I’m feeling good about “my” culture and “my” nation. How stupid can you get?

Suppose somebody showed us a way whereby we would truly love one another, and be at peace, be at love. Can you think of anything more practical than that? But, instead, you have people thinking that big business is more practical, that politics is more practical, that science is more practical. What’s the earthly use of putting a man on the moon when we cannot live on the earth?

I repeat what Neill said: “Every child has a god in him. Our attempts to mold the child will turn the god into a devil. Children come to my school, little devils, hating the world, destructive, unmannerly, lying, thieving, bad-tempered. In six months they are happy, healthy children who do no evil. And I am no genius, I am merely a man who refuses to guide the steps of children. I let them form their own values and the values are invariably good and social. The religion that makes people good makes people bad, but the religion known as freedom makes all people good, for it destroys the inner conflict [I’ve added the word “inner”] that makes people devils.”

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