Anthony de Mello was an Indian Jesuit priest, spiritual guide and psychotherapist who achieved notable fame for his books, lectures and unique personality. He was an uncomfortable figure for many and an inspiring one for others. He approached all religions to praise the most beautiful and interesting of each, giving us, in turn, valuable advice on personal growth.
His approach was always vital, unique and effective. In books like Rediscovering his life, what would be his last work, he tells us that all people come to the world being happy. However, little by little we derive in those personal jails of suffering where we stop being aware of our potential. Our own thoughts, he points out, are always our worst enemies.
On the other hand, something De Mello invoked was the need to accept our spiritual nature. He accepted absolutely all religious beliefs, in all he felt comfortable and considered them his home. His approach, often pantheistic, was something that the Catholic Church did not like too much. In fact, his teachings were banned during the period of Pope Ratsinger. However, this prohibition would be lifted later.
Father Anthony de Mello is undoubtedly one of the writers who has sold the most books of spirituality. Their texts and messages are an invitation to personal growth, but also a very inspiring revolutionary exercise. In phrases such as “take a prayer and shake it until all the words fall and only that which makes your heart fire” shows us the essence of its character.
His main influences were the Buddhist master Theravada Chah Subhato and the philosopher J. Krishnamurti. Thus and although more than thirty years have passed since his death, his books continue to sell and inspire new generations. Few figures taught us so illustratively to resolve conflicts, to work on our freedom and happiness.
“Perfect love casts out fear. Where there is love there are no demands, nor expectations, nor dependency. I do not demand that you make me happy; My happiness is not in you. If you left me, I will not feel sorry for myself; I enjoy immensely with your company, but I do not cling.”
-Anthony de Mello-
Biography of Anthony de Mello
Anthony de Mello was born on September 4, 1931 in Bombay, India. He belonged to a middle class Catholic family. His father Frank and his mother Louisa, both natives of a Portuguese territory called Goa, expected their eldest son to prosper in the railway business or better still, to be educated at the University.
Now, Anthony de Mello evidenced a clear vocation early on: he wanted to become a Jesuit priest. It was in July 1947 that he finally decided to join the Society of Jesus in the seminary of Vinalaya, on the outskirts of Bombay. Later, and from 1952, he began his academic training. First he spent three years in Barcelona, Spain, studying philosophy.
Later, he would travel to Loyola University in Chicago to train as a psychologist. Here he had the influence and inspiration of Carl Rogers, famous American psychologist, initiator with Abraham Maslow of the humanistic approach in psychology. Thus, and throughout that student trajectory, De Mello was able to learn from different cultures, and studied Spanish, French, Portuguese and Marathi.
Antony de Mello and the search for spirituality in all religions
It was during the 70’s when Anthony de Mello opened his mind and heart to the practice of vipassana meditation. At this moment, he began to show a closeness to Buddhist spirituality, finding in it benefits that came to further enrich everything that the Jesuits had taught him.
In his opinion, all religions could offer healing perspectives for the human being. Therefore, he accepted them all and in all he was inspired. Because in his view, the spiritual response of Jesus Christ was just as valid as that given by Confucius, Lao Tzu or Buddha. Thus, in books such as The Song of the Bird, published in 1982, Anthony de Mello defines spirituality as follows:
Spirituality is what brings a person to inner transformation. Therefore, each one must find it his way. Some will do it through the traditional way. Others will do it in other perspectives. After all, it is not spiritual if it does not work for you. A blanket is no longer a blanket if it does not keep you warm.
Likewise, another well-known facet of this Indian Jesuit and psychotherapist was his great ability to carry out spiritual retreats in which to guide and inspire others. He had a lot of charisma and a personality that many defined as overwhelming. Now, for some he was little more than a heretic.
He dared to formulate ideas and defend positions that more traditional Catholics could not understand. He was that interreligious teacher who equally appreciated and defended Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism or Catholicism, because all religious formulas were valid and inspiring. His charisma always made him always convincing and he dragged thousands of followers with him.
A spiritual master in the United States
In the 70s he founded the Sadhana Pastoral Counseling in India. Later, he would devote his whole life to introducing Eastern spirituality through stories and exercises in the United States. It was that spiritual healer and psychologist who traveled from east to west, teaching people a type of prayer based on vipassana meditation.
His lectures were a success. Like those talks from which to help people focus on the present, to be more aware of their emotions, thoughts and needs. The University of St. Louis, for example, received it every summer waiting for its courses, as well as the presentation of its books. He wrote 18 in total, an absolute sales success to inspire millions of people around the world.