The following is a fictional interview between the author and Anthony de Mello, inspired by A Course in Miracles, and is intended for informational or communicative purposes only. All references to Anthony de Mello, other than direct quotations, are purely fictional and the creation of the author.
Anthony de Mello was a Jesuit priest from India who gained international acclaim in the 1980’s for his teachings on spirituality. His lectures and writings continue to be an inspiration to many people around the globe.
Q: Is there anything you would like to say to the world?
A: Yes, quite a bit in fact! It delights me to see people all over the world studying my teachings and also to see the Sadhana Institute still operating in India. My life on earth was dedicated to spiritual awakening and, really, it was the face-to-face contact that I enjoyed the most. I liked to speak to people; to see them question and ponder—that’s the way human beings learn best. You have to get your hands dirty while building your life on earth. You see, most people are trained not to think about why they have so many problems in their lives and why they cannot escape the same old thinking that put them in that position. I liked to challenge that paradigm because this is the true meaning of the Gospels. Jesus did not do all the work for mankind once and for all; he was a way-shower. He gave us a diagram of how to think about the world and our place in it—all we have to do is read what he said! This is why human beings have free will and self-determination. I found that most people need a wake-up call before they can appreciate any spiritual teaching. This usually comes in the form of sickness or despair, but it could simply be the experience of unhappiness or irritation about life in general. It’s rare to find a person who doesn’t get to this place at some point. Some people hide it well and you would never know, but it always comes out.
Q: Most of your writings and lectures were very practical—how to deal with the “here and now”—and didn’t focus much on the soul. Why was that?
A: Well, I would have to disagree with you on that point. The concept of the soul is usually understood in the Catholic Church as the innermost and spiritual principle in man which is created immediately by God. The physical body is then animated by the activities of the “mind,” which is responsible for the conscious state, and the “soul” which is responsible for both the conscious and unconscious states. The belief in an animating principle in some sense distinct from the body is an almost inevitable inference from the observed facts of life.If the soul is the spiritual principle in man then the most important question you need to ask yourself is this: what is spirit? People say that they are “spiritual,” but what does this really mean? Many people believe that spirit is some force in the universe that has no interaction with the physical world. In essence, it is some sense of “other-worldliness” that guides them but is not a part of them. This is not the understanding of spirit in the teachings of Jesus. As I said before, Jesus was a way-shower, much like the Buddha. He showed us a path to enlightenment based upon how we think about our purpose in this world and them by living it. Most people forget about the second part. Theories and platitudes are easy to come by, but action is much more difficult to find in the world. Jesus was a man of action. If spirit is anything then it is a force in your mind that can guide you in the right direction—spirit is your true identity. The impulse that keeps you stuck in this world with a sense of despair and fear is your “programming.” I used the word “programming” in the 1980’s to describe this phenomenon because it was the early days of computers and everyone was new to the idea of “programmed” language. The more precise scientific term would be the Freudian concept of the “ego,” but Freud’s idea of the ego was so filled with pejoratives that it was impractical to use, but this is the impulse I was referring to in my work. It’s a harbinger of fear and anger and resentment.It is true that I didn’t focus my teachings much on the concept of evil because the concept puts the emphasis on forces outside of your control. Your programming or ego, whichever you prefer, is outside of your control whenever you are not conscious of its influence on your thinking. However, once you become conscious that your programming is the source of your fear then you have power over it. Isn’t it amazing how it works! Life then becomes a conscious choice between fear and love. The true nature of the human mind is love. Love is what brings you the greatest experience of joy in the world. This is the experience of God in the physical world—it’s heaven. When you are fearful and don’t know how to get out of this feeling, then your only choice is to turn to the Holy Spirit who guides you towards God’s love. Now, the difficult part for most people is that your ego has its own definition of love that competes with God’s love. The ego’s interpretation of love is attachment and dependence. It’s a watered-down concept of love based upon worldly desires. It’s just another one of the ego’s tools. True love has no attachment and is applied universally to everyone and everything. And it must be applied this way. The only way to reach God in this world is through your interactions with your brothers and sisters. As long as you are fearful of another person, as long as you judge him or condemn her, you are separating yourself from God. “He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?”
Q: You mentioned both Jesus and Buddha as if they were equals. Did you believe in the exclusivity of Christian doctrine?
A: The teachings of Jesus are universal teachings; they don’t have special significance to any one church or group. There are many ways to reach the peace and love of God. The Christian teachings were the ones that I grew up with but others cultures have their own teachings. If you look only at the words spoken by Jesus in his lifetime, then you will have no problem finding support for this view. The Sermon on the Mount is the Christian manifesto and it’s all right there in that one sermon. For years I studied the bible and preached the Gospels as if they were exclusive teachings, but the words did not penetrate me. It’s as if I was sleeping my whole life and then suddenly I woke up! And I did. At its core, Christianity is a religion of love and peace. Jesus showed us the way to experience this love here and now by practicing forgiveness. Forgiveness is the understanding that everyone is suffering from the same programming that blinds them from accepting the peace and love of God which is the natural state of being.
Q: How is it you became aware of your own ignorance of the Christian message?
A: In 1961, I was ordained a Catholic priest in India. I had joined the seminary in Bombay in 1947 when I was 16 years old. This was a time of great turbulence in Indian society due to the end of the Second World War and the dissolution of the British Raj. My father was a railway worker and I was the older of two sons. It would have been a great help to my family if I would have taken a job with the railway, after I completing my studies, and earned an income for the family. This was not my calling. I had a spiritual yearning that led me to the seminary and I was very headstrong about it—a trait that did not always endear me to my elders throughout my life, but this was my constitution. I studied in Bombay then went to Spain and then came back to Poona, India. Thereafter, I became a parish priest in Bombay and taught the Gospels as I understood them. Then, one day I was having lunch with a friend of mine who was a Sufi scholar. Sufism is still practiced in India, as it is in the Middle East. My Sufi friend asked me why the Catholic Church seemed so controlling of the minds of its followers and made such great claims of exclusivity. I had to think about it for a minute and I could not come up with a legitimate answer. He then asked me if the teachings of the Catholic Church were construed to perpetuate this control. I had never thought about this before. He rightly pointed out that salvation in the Church could only be found in the teachings of the Church and not in the mind of man. This seemed so contrary to Jesus’s teachings and it really woke me up! So I started to read the Gospels again, and, there it was right there on the pages! It was hidden behind all the dogma! It was a great liberation for me. St. Paul said, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
Q: Then what is the relationship between the spirit and the physical body?
A: There is none, in the sense that the spirit exists independent of the body. Spirit is the part of your mind that accepts only peace and love; it transcends the body and is the eternal aspect of every person. This is what makes the spirit so strong compared to the weakness of the body. Jesus said, “If the flesh exists because of the spirit, it is a miracle but if the spirit exists because of the body it is a miracle of miracles. I marvel at how such great wealth established itself amid this poverty.” It’s so true! The only trick the body has is to convince the mind that it is subservient to the body and not the other way around. This is the result of programming by society. The world of bodies will program your ego to accept that your body and other bodies are the only things that matters. This is the trick. Once you buy into this view of life, then all of the spiritual teachings in the world will not help you escape unless you are willing to look at the spirit. You need to be woken up to the spirit. This is what Jesus did. Isn’t it amazing?
Q: Then how do you find peace in a world of chaos and disorder?
A: By just accepting it! Peace is always with you every moment of every day, and all you have to do is accept it. Most people spend their days finding ways to reject peace through judgment and through fear. By not judging other people, by not condemning them, you can see things for what they are. We don’t have to accept injustice but we don’t have to give up our own peace to get there. Why should you sacrifice your own peace and happiness because of the actions of other people or because of circumstances in the world? You can change the world or deal with injustice as long as you don’t disturb your own peace. What good is there in getting angry? Has it ever helped anyone in any situation? Does it make your actions more justified or even more effective by displaying anger or irritation? I can assure you it does not. You never have to accept injustice but you should never let it disturb your peace either.
Q: But, doesn’t that just make us happy victims?
A: No, it does not. You are not a victim unless you think of yourself that way. In reality, you should never “do” anything in the world because you feel the need to justify or validate your fear or anger. If you are peaceful and loving, then it does not matter whether you take action or not—most of the time you will probably not take any action. For example, if somebody speaks badly about you behind your back, then you can choose to confront the person or not. But, if you are a peaceful person, and you don’t find the need to confront the person, then how does it matter if you do or do not? It simply becomes a choice, but nothing compels you other than your own reason.
Q: Then what is the world? Why would God create a world when we have to struggle against injustice and cruelty?
A: There are too many assumptions in your question to even offer a useful answer. First, start by realizing that nobody knows what God is. Hence, you cannot decide to take any action in the world because you believe it is what God desires. The only meaningful experience you can have in the world is what is experienced in your own mind. The mind is the repository of your experiences; of love or fear, of peace or uneasiness, of heaven or hell. Heaven and hell are a state of mind. Heaven is the experience of complete peacefulness and is the natural state of the mind. Hell is the relinquishment of this peace which is the result of conditioning by society; it’s the obstacle that stands in the way of experiencing the peace and love of God. In the world, you experience these obstacles as distractions—the “I have to” experiences, such as “I have to get a job,” “I have to make a lot of money,” or “I have to get married.” This is all rubbish. The only thing you have to do in the world is to realize your true nature—this is heaven. Everything else is a choice, but don’t let those choices distract you from reality. The shift from the unconscious desires of the world to the conscious desire for truth is the resurrection of the sprit. “When will the kingdom come?” they asked Jesus. He replied, “It will not come when it is expected. They will say, ‘Look here,’ or ‘Look there.’ Rather the kingdom of the father is spread out on the earth and people do not see it.”You must do things that bring peace and love into your life. Peace and love give you the most happiness in your life and also bring you greater clarity of thought. Did you ever notice that peaceful and happy people don’t hurt each other or create problems in the world? Peace and love just work in the world because they give you the greatest experience of the world around you. So, why would anyone choose anything else? Only because you are programmed to think that choosing fear and anger are in your best interests. It’s insane, isn’t it? But this is what you are taught by the world. It’s your conditioning by society, by your parents, by your teachers. And it not their fault because this is what the world taught them. It takes a miracle to break this cycle, but that’s just the miracle that Jesus is offering you.
Q: Do you think that the world of pain and suffering is real? Some people would say that the physical world is an illusion.
A: I don’t think it is necessary to go that far. Nobody knows what the physical world is and why it is the way it is. Could it be an illusion? Sure. Is it necessary to look at the world in this way? No. You can get along fine in the world by choosing peace and love even if you think what the world is offering is real. Regardless of what the world is, your only choice is how to react to it. This you can control, and must control. Otherwise, your conditioned mind will control you. It’s the choice between heaven and hell. Heaven is the choice for peace and love; hell is the choice for fear and anger. That’s all there is! It’s quite simple.
Q: What is the biggest obstacle to dropping our belief in fear and anger?
A: Unfortunately, religion itself is the biggest obstacle for most people because religion becomes part of the social programming that keeps you rooted in the world. When religion loses its mystical quality then watch out! Remember, it’s always the religious and pious people in any society who commit the gravest acts of hatred. How do you know when religion has gone bad? The answer is when it cares more about institutions than the spiritual message. The teachings of Jesus are about the individual experience of the peace and love of God here and now! Not sometime in the future or in the next life. Salvation is no longer attainable through a religion when the institutions become more important than the souls of the people. Jesus said, “He who knows all but fails to know himself lacks everything.” Education, worldliness, prestige, and honor are all meaningless. An uneducated peasant with a little bit of common sense and some intelligence knows more than the wisest scholar about happiness. You must know yourself. This means you must know what controls the thoughts in your mind. Is it your ego? Then your life will be a mess. Is it your spirit? Well, then you will do very well indeed. Forget about your attachments to the world. “Become passersby.”