Spiritual Portraits

ANTHONY DE MELLO

Anthony de Mello was a fascinating personality with remarkable breadth of spirituality and culture, a catholic priest, a psychotherapist, a spiritual teacher and guide, public speaker and writer widely acclaimed for his work. Contemporary with other spiritual masters who greatly influenced the past century such as Jiddu Krishnamurti, Satya Say Baba, Omraam Mikhael Aivanhov, Edgar Cayce or Frederico Candido  Xavier, de Mello acknowledged that  his work  was profoundly marked by famous masters like Krishnamurti, Mahatma Gandhi and the philosophy of Bertrand Russel.

His work seems extremely actual and new today, 30 years after his passing, as though he anticipated the spirit of our time, our problems, concerns and anxieties ... He had explained some of the inner conflicts that we deal with today as, for example, the opposition between happiness and selfishness making clear what the causes and the solutions are. He had the extraordinary ability to communicate complex ideas in a clear, simple and explanatory manner by using  parables inspired from all the religions of the world ... while everyone felt the love and carrying he spread all around.

In fact in the very center of his teaching is the idea of awakening.  “Spirituality means waking up. Most people, even though they don’t know it, are asleep. They’re born asleep, they live asleep, they marry in their sleep, they breed children in their sleep, they die in their sleep without ever waking up. They never understand the loveliness and the beauty of this thing that we call human existence”.

Anthony de Mello was born in September 4-th 1931 in a suburb of Bombay to a Portuguese Catholic family as the first-born child.  For 13 years he was the family’s only sun carrying the burden that, when the time will be coming, he will be replacing his father to take care of the family. This wasn’t the future that Tony was dreaming of, his greatest wish was to become a Jesuit priest so he intensely prayed to God asking for a little brother.  When Tony was 13  his beloved brother Bill de Mello was born.  

Although the two brothers were very different (rather opposite) personalities they had a close and warm relationship until the end … when sadly Tony  died, too early,  abruptly and, as many followers  observed, suspiciously.  After more than 20 years Bill would write a comprehensive and powerful biography titled "The Happy Wanderer: A Tribute To My Brother” where he  portrayed Tony with his heart, as nobody but him could have been done, trying to make him look exactly the way he was.

Tony de Mello studied philosophy, theology, Oriental traditions at the Vinayalaya Theological Seminary in Bombay and became a Jesuit priest. He never ceased studying and learning … graduated  philosophy in Barcelona later in 1952 where he also took his doctorate and in 1954 he took his PhD in pastoral counseling at Loyola University in Chicago.  

He was a special kind of Catholic priest who observed beyond the form of various sects, cults or religions and beyond all spiritual ways and traditions the same Truth, the same God, the same source which unites rather than separates, which in fact transcends any concept and definition ... This particular vision of the Catholic religion that brought so many followers around him with its integrative approach unfortunately provoked the irritation of the Vatican and the censorship of his work.

As his friend  Fr Joseph M Feliu said  “Tony was at the crossroads and frontiers of faith and had a unique vision of reality that many questioned because they did not share this vision. His spirituality was not constrained by creeds but all the same found both inspiration and expression very much within the Catholic Church."

Tony's perspective is deeply interconnected with the Indian soul and spirituality therefore understanding him requires understanding India … the tolerance, diversity, warmth and beauty of India. However, the tolerance comes first as India is home to almost all major religions of the world and seeing a Buddhist temple beside a Christian church, a Mosque, a Zoroastrian fire sanctuary is very common.

Anthony de Mello founded in 1972 the Institute of Pastoral Counseling, later renamed the Sadhana Institute of Pastoral Counseling, in Poona, India, which he led until his death. He held lectures and seminars all over the world centered on his teaching, helping  people to understand who they are and what awakening means … he wrote a lot, books and stories, of  which 5 books have been considered true best sellers.

In 1987 he held an outstanding seminar for a broad audience of 600 colleges from the US and Canada, which should have been just a beginning, as his audience was constantly growing. Unfortunately Tony's Earthly path ended there, but his teaching continues to attract, help and wake-up people around the world.

The Parable of the Eagle was told in de Mello's book "Awareness" in 1960 as an intuitive illustration of the awakening idea. Unfortunately it is used today by many authors and published on the Internet without proper citation of the rightful author, which may be confusing.  

 

A man found an eagle's egg and put it in a nest of a barnyard hen. The eaglet hatched with the brood of chicks and grew up with them. All his life the eagle did what the barnyard chicks did, thinking he was a barnyard chicken. He scratched the earth for worms and insects. He clucked and cackled. And he would thrash his wings and fly a few feet into the air. Years  passed and the eagle grew very old. One day he saw a magnificent bird above him in the cloudless sky. It glided in graceful majesty among the powerful wind currents, with scarcely a beat on his strong golden wings. The old eagle looked up in awe. "Who's that?" he asked. "That's the eagle, the king of the birds," said his neighbor. "He belongs to the sky. We belong to the earth - we're chickens." So the eagle lived and died a chicken, for that's what he thought he was.

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© 2019 by Mira Minerva