The first image of Tony de Mello that I cherish goes back thirty years—and precisely to Lonavala, to the very house that much later became the home of the Sadhana Institute.
Tony was then a Jesuit student, but engaged in teaching the young men who had just finished their noviciate. The whole group had come up to St Stanislaus’ Villa for a brief holiday. I remember Tony with a batch of juniors, as we called them, sitting under the trees outside the kitchen and cleaning vegetables for the day’s meals, whilst he regaled a very receptive audience with his inexhaustible fund of stories.
Much has happened to all of us since then; and Tony himself went through innumerable stages of growth and change, of fresh competence and new interests, and of effective service. But he was always an incomparable story-teller. Hardly any of his anecdotes were original, and some were not even exceptionally smart; but on his lips they came alive with meaning and relevance, or just plain fun. For that matter, any theme he touched came alive and captured attention.
And now his parting gift to us which will surely join the ranks of his other best-sellers, is The Prayer of the Frog. Though he spoke rather casually of his literary output, he was meticulous in editing his compositions. The last thing he did in India before taking the plane for the United States was to spend more than three hours with the publisher, going over the details of his manuscript. I have not seen the text, but I know of his final concern.
That was in the evening of May 30th, 1987. On June 2nd he was found dead on the floor of his room in New York, having succumbed to a massive heart attack. In between he had made time to write a long letter to a close friend, in which he said, speaking of earlier experiences: “All of that seems to belong to another era and to another world. I find the whole of my interest is now focussed on something else, on the ‘world of the spirit’, and I see everything else as so trifling and so irrelevant. The things that mattered so much in the past do not seem to matter any more. Things like those of Achaan Chah the Buddhist teacher, seem to absorb my whole interest and I am losing my taste for other things is this an illusion? I do not know. But never before in my life have I felt so happy, so free...”
That just about sums up Tony as he was—and indeed as others perceived him —in his last phase, before he left us so suddenly, three months before his fifty-sixth birthday. And now there is already a body of literature that is growing around him, a veritable golden legend, with testimonies from a variety of people scattered the world over. Quite a few have said they never met him but were profoundly affected by his books. Others had enjoyed the privilege of a deep relationship. Yet others only briefly experienced the magic of his spoken word.
Not many would go along with everything that he said or did, especially after he crossed the established boundaries of spiritual venture —nor did Tony expect a docile following, but rather the contrary. What attracted so many to his person and ideas was precisely that he challenged everyone to question, to explore, to get out of prefabricated patterns of thought and behaviour, away from stereotypes, and to dare be one’s true self—in fine, to seek an ever greater authenticity.
A relentless quest for authenticity—that is how Tony’s vision came across from any angle, at any range and this gave to his multifaceted personality integrity, a wholeness, that had a charm and a power all its own: it reconciled opposites, not in tension but as a harmonious blend. He was most ready to make friends, to share, yet one felt there was a dimension in him that was out of reach He could be boisterous in company, trotting out outrageous jokes, but no one could doubt his steadfast seriousness of purpose He changed so much and in so many ways along the years, and nevertheless there were constants in his character that stayed firmly in place.
A striking example of this was his commitment as a Jesuit. He had moved far beyond the enthusiastic promotion of the Spiritual Exercises according to the original design of Saint Ignatius—which was the thrust for which he first came to be internationally appreciated; in fact, at the end he was way out of what might be recognized as Ignatian spirituality. But he never surrendered his Jesuit identity. There was obviously no compulsion in this; probably not much reasoning either. It was just that he felt so much in tune with the mind and heart of Ignatius, as he knew and understood the Saint.
In a homily that he addressed to the Jesuit Provincials of India in 1983, before they and he himself participated in the last General Congregation, or Chapter of the Order, he shared .with them an insight into Ignatius which was even more a self-revelation of Tony:
“There is a tradition among our early Fathers that God gave to Ignatius the graces and charismas that He intended for the Society as a whole and for each individual Jesuit. If I were asked to choose for myself and for our Society today from among the many charismas that Ignatius had, I would quite unhesitatingly choose three: his contemplation, his creativity and his courage.”
Parmananda R. Diwarkar S.J. 4th September. 1987 WARNING
It is a great mystery that though the human heart longs for Truth in which alone it finds liberation and delight, the first reaction of human beings to Truth is one of hostility and fear. So the Spiritual Teachers of humanity, like Buddha and Jesus, created a device to circumvent the opposition of their listeners: the story. They knew that the most entrancing words a language holds are. “Once upon a time...”, that it is common to oppose a truth but impossible to resist a story. Vyasa, the author of the Mahabharata. says that if you listen carefully to a story you will never be the same again. That is because the story will worm its way into your heart and break down barriers to the divine. Even if you read the stories in this book only for the entertainment there is no guarantee that an occasional story will not slip through your defences arid explode when you least expect it to. So you have been warned!
If you are foolhardy enough to court enlightenment, this is what I suggest you do:
(A) Carry a story around in your mind so you can dwell on it in leisure moments. That will give it a chance to work on your subconscious and reveal its hidden meaning. You will then be surprised to see how it comes to you quite unexpectedly just when you need it to light up an event or situation and bring you insight and inner healing. That is when you will realize that, in exposing yourself to these stories, you were auditing a Course in Enlightenment for which no guru is needed other than yourself!
IB) Since each of these stories is a revelation of Truth and since Truth, when spelt with a capital T, means the truth about you, make sure that each time you read a story you single-mindedly search for a deeper understanding of yourself. The way one would read a Medical Book — wondering if one has any of the symptoms; and not a Psychology Book—thinking what typical specimens one’s friends are. If you succumb to the temptation of seeking insight into others, the stories will do you damage.
So passionate was Mulla Nasruddin’s love for truth that he travelled to distant places in search of Koranic scholars and he felt no inhibitions about drawing infidels at the bazaar into discussions about the truths of his faith.
One day his wife told him how unfairly he was treating her—and discovered that her husband had no interest whatsoever in that kind of Truth!
It’s the only kind that matters, of course. Ours would be a different world, indeed, if those of us who are scholars and ideologues, whether religious or secular, had the same passion for self-knowledge that we display for our theories and dogmas.
“Excellent sermon,” said the parishioner, as she pumped the hand of the preacher. “Everything you said applies to someone or other I know.”
The stories are best read in the order in which they are set out here. Read no more than one or two at a time—that is, if you wish to get anything more than entertainment from them.
The stories in this book come from a variety of countries, cultures and religions. They belong to the spiritual heritage—and popular humour—of the human race.
All that the author has done is string them together with a specific aim in mind. His task has been that of the weaver and the dyer. He takes no credit at all for the cotton and the thread.
The family settled down for dinner at the restaurant. The waitress first took the order of the adults, then, turned to the seven-year-old.
“What will you have?” she asked.
The boy looked around the table timidly and said, “I would like to have a hot dog.”
Before the waitress could write down the order the mother interrupted. “No hot dogs,” she said. “Get him a steak with mashed potatoes and carrots.”
The waitress ignored her, “Do you want ketchup or mustard on your hot dog?” she asked the boy.
“Coming up in a minute,” said the waitress as she started for the kitchen.
There was a stunned silence when she left. Finally the boy looked at everyone present and said. “Know what? She thinks I’m real!”
“How are your children?”
“Both of them are very well thanking you.”
“How old are they?”
The doctor is three and the lawyer is five.
Little Mary was on the beach with her mother.
‘Mummy, may I play in the sand?”
“No, darling. You’ll only soil your clean clothes.
“May I wade in the water?”
“No. You’ll get wet and catch a cold.
“May I play with the other children?”
“No. You’ll get lost in the crowd.”
‘Mummy, buy me an ice-cream.
“No. It’s bad for your throat.”
Little Mary began to cry.
Mother turned to a woman who was standing near by and said. “For heaven’s sake! Have you ever seen such a neurotic child?”
A man began to give large doses of cod-liver oil to his Doberman because he had been told that the stuff was good for dogs. Each day he would hold the head of the protesting dog between his knees force its jaws open and pour the liquid down its throat.
One day the dog broke loose and spilt the oil on the floor. Then, to the man’s great surprise, it returned to lick the spoon. That is when he discovered that what the dog had been fighting was not the oil but his method of administering it.
An ancient legend has it that when God was creating the world He was approached by four angels. The first one asked, “How are you doing it?” The second, “Why are you doing it?” the third, “Can I be of help?” The fourth, “What is it worth?”
The first was a scientist; the second, a philosopher; the third, an altruist; and the fourth, a real estate agent.
A fifth angel watched in wonder and applauded in sheer delight. This one was the mystic.
Little Johnny was being tried out for a part in the school play. His mother knew that he had set his heart on it but she feared he would not be chosen. On the day the parts were given out. Johnny, back from school, rushed into his mother’s arms, bursting with pride and excitement. “Mother.” he shouted, “guess what! I’ve been chosen to clap and cheer.”
From a child’s report card: “Samuel participates very nicely in the group singing by helpful listening.”
One of the few men to walk on the moon (ells how he had to suppress his artistic instincts when he got there.
Then he quickly shook the mood off and said to himself, “Stop wasting your lime and go collect rocks.”
There are two educations:
the one that teaches how to make a living
and the one that teaches how to live.
Andrew Carnegie, one of the richest men in the world was once asked: “You could have stopped any time, couldn’t you, because you always had much more than you needed?”
He replied: “Yes, that’s right. But I could not stop, I had forgotten how to.”
Many fear that if they stopped to think and wonder they might not be able to get started again.
The old man had lived most of his life on what was considered to be one of the loveliest islands in the world. Now that he had returned to spend his retirement years in the big city someone said to him, “It must have been wonderful lo live for so many years on an island that is considered one of the wonders of the world.”
The old man gave that some thought, then said, “Well, to tell you the truth, if I had known it was so famous, I’d have looked at it.”
People don’t need to be taught how to look.
They merely need to be saved from schools that blind them.
In the early 1850s American painter, James McNeill Whistler, spent a brief—and academically unsuccessful-period at West Point, the U.S. Military Academy. The story goes that when he was assigned to draw a bridge he drew a romantic stone one, complete with grassy banks and two small children fishing from it. “Get those children off that bridge!” said the instructor. “This is an engineering exercise.”
Whistler got the kids off the bridge, drew them fishing from the bank of the river and resubmitted the drawing. The angry instructor yelled, “I told you to remove those children. Get them completely out of the picture!”
But the creative urge was too strong .in Whistler. His next version had the children “completely out of the picture” indeed. They were buried under two small tombstones on the river bank.
Noticing that his father was growing old, the son of a burglar said. “Father, teach me your trade so that when you retire I may carry on the family tradition.”
The father did not reply but that night he took the boy along with him to break into a house. Once inside, he opened a closet and asked his son to find out what was inside. No sooner had the lad stepped in then the father slammed the door shut and bolted it making such a noise in the process that the whole house was awakened. Then he himself slipped quietly away.
Inside the closet the boy was terrified, angry and puzzled as to how he was going to make his escape. Then an idea came to him. He began to make a noise like a cat; whereupon a servant lit a candle and opened the closet to let the cat out. The boy jumped out as soon as the closet door opened and everyone gave chase. Observing a well beside the road he threw a large stone into it and hid in the shadows; then stole away while his pursuers peered into the depths hoping to see the burglar drown.
Back home again the boy forgot his anger in his eagerness to tell his story. But his father said. “Why tell me the tale? You are here. That is enough. You have learnt the trade.”
Education should not be a preparation for life; it should be life.
A group of college students begged novelist Sinclair Lewis to give them a lecture, explaining that all of them were to become writers themselves.
Lewis began with: “How many of you really intend to be writers?” All hands were raised.
“In that case, there is no point in my talking. My advice to you is: go home and write, write, write...”
With that, he returned his notes to his pocket and left the room.
With the help of a MANUAL OF INSTRUCTIONS a woman tried for hours to assemble a complicated new appliance she had recently bought. She finally gave up and left the pieces all over the kitchen table.
Imagine her surprise when she got back several hours later to find the machine put together by the housemaid and functioning perfectly.
“How on earth did you do that?” she exclaimed.
“Well, ma’am, when you don’t know how to read you’re forced to use your brains.” was the serene reply.
A man, who had just retired from forty-seven years of work as a reporter and editor phoned to the local Education Board and. after explaining his background in the newspaper business, said he would like to get involved in the local literacy programme.
There was a long pause. Then someone at the other end said. “That would be fine. But would you want to teach or to learn?”
Three boys accused of stealing watermelons were brought to court and faced the judge nervously, expecting the worst, for he was known to be a severe man.
He was also a wise educator. With a rap of his gavel he said. “Any man in here who never stole a single watermelon when he was a boy raise his hand.” He waited. The court officials, policeman, spectators—and the judge himself—kept their hands on the desks in front of them
When he was satisfied that not a single hand was raised in the court, the judge said. “Case dismissed.”
Religious-minded woman mourning the ways of the younger generation: “It’s because of the cars! Look how far they can go for a dance or a date nowadays. It wasn’t that way in your day, was it grandma?”
Eighty-seven year old lady: “Well, we certainly went as far as we could.”
Mother: “Did you know that God was present when you stole that cookie from the kitchen?”
“And he was looking at you all the time?”
“And what do you think he was saying to you?”
“He was saying. There’s no one here but the two of us—take two.’
When the young rabbi succeeded his father everyone began to tell him how completely unlike his father he
“On the contrary.” replied the young man. “I’m exactly like the old man. He imitated no one. I imitate no one.”
Beware of imitating the behaviour of the great if you do not have the inner disposition that inspired them to act.
When Handel’s MESSIAH was first performed in London, the King who was present, was so carried away by religious sentiment during the Alleluia chorus that, against all convention, he stood up in silent respect for the masterpiece he was hearing.
When they saw this, all the nobles present followed the example of the King and stood up too. That was the signal, of course, for everyone in the audience to stand up!
Since then it is considered de rigueur to stand up each time the Alleluia is sung regardless of one’s inner disposition or the quality of the performance.
An old sailor gave up smoking when his pet parrot developed a persistent cough. He was worried-that the pipe smoke that frequently filled the room had damaged the parrot’s health.
He had a vet examine the bird. After a thorough check-up the vet concluded that the parrot did not have psittacosis or pneumonia. It had merely been imitating the cough of its pipe-smoking master.
Uncle Joe had come for the weekend and little Jimmy was ecstatic that his great hero was going to share his room and bed.
Just after lights out Jimmy remembered something. “Oops!” he cried. “I nearly forgot!”
He jumped out of bed and knelt down beside it. Not wishing to set a bad example to the little fellow, Uncle Joe heaved himself out of bed and knelt down on the other side.
“Boy!” whispered Jimmy in awe. “When Mom finds out tomorrow, you’ll get it! The pot’s on this side.”
“I wish you would dress more in accordance with your position. Tm sorry you have allowed yourself to become so shabby.”
“But I am not shabby.”
‘Yes, you are. Take your grandfather. He was always so elegantly dressed. His clothes were expensive and well tailored.”
“Ha! I’ve got you there! These are my grandfather’s clothes I am wearing!”
A philosopher who had only one pair of shoes asked the cobbler to repair them for him while he waited.
“It’s closing time,” said the cobbler, “so it won’t be possible for me to repair them just now. Why don’t you come for them tomorrow?”
“I have only one pair of shoes and it won’t be possible for me to walk without shoes.”
“Very well. I shall lend you a used pair for the day.”
“What! Wear someone else’s shoes? What do you take me for?”
“Why should you object to having someone else’s shoes on your feet when you don’t mind carrying other people’s ideas in your head?”
“What did you have in school today?” a father asked his teenage son.
“Oh, we had lectures on sex,” was the reply.
“Lectures on sex? What did they tell you?”
“Well, first there was a priest who told us why we shouldn’t. Then a doctor told us how we shouldn’t. Finally the principal gave us a talk on where we shouldn’t.”
The Dean of Women was introducing the newcomers to the college and thought fit to touch on the subject of sex morality.
“In moments of temptation, ask yourselves just one question: Is an hour of pleasure worth a lifetime of shame?”
At the end of the lecture she asked if there were any questions. One of the girls timidly raised her hand and said. “Could you tell us how you make it last one hour?”
U.S. President William Howard Taft was at dinner one night when his youngest son made a disrespectful remark about his father.
Everyone was shocked at the audacity of the boy and a hush descended on the room.
“Well,” said Mrs. Taft, “aren’t you going to punish him?”
“If the remark was addressed to me as his father, he will certainly be punished.” said Taft, “But if he addressed it to the President of the United States, that is his constitutional privilege.”
Why should a father be exempt from criticism that’s good for a President?
A guru was holding class for a group of young disciples when they begged him to reveal to them the Sacred Mantra by which the dead are restored to life.
“What would you do with a dangerous thing like that?”
“Nothing. It would just serve to strengthen our faith.” they replied.
“Premature knowledge is a dangerous thing, my children.” the old man said.
“When is knowledge premature?” they demanded.
“When it gives power to someone who does not as yet have the wisdom that must go with its use.”
The disciples persisted, however, so the holy man, in spite of himself, whispered the Sacred Mantra into their ears imploring them repeatedly to use it with the greatest discretion.
Not long afterwards the young men were walking along a desert place where they saw a heap of bleached bones. In the spirit of frivolity that generally accompanies a crowd they decided to test the Mantra that should only have been used after prolonged meditation.
No sooner had they uttered the magic words than the bones gained flesh and were transformed into ravenous wolves that chased them and tore them to shreds.
At the age of sixty-one Master Soyen Shaku passed from this world, but not before he had fulfilled his appointed task—he left for posterity a more varied and more sublime teaching than that of most Zen Masters. It was said that his pupils would sometimes sleep after the midday meal, overcome with lassitude in the summer. Even though he himself never wasted a minute. Soyen never said a word about this failing in his disciples.
At the age of twelve he was already studying the philosophical tenets of the Tendai school. One summer day the heat was so oppressive that little Soyen observing that his teacher was away, stretched out and fell into a deep sleep that lasted three hours. He only woke up with a start, when he heard the Master enter: but it was too late; there he lay. sprawled across the doorway.
“Please excuse me, please excuse me,” his teacher whispered as he stepped reverently over Soyen’s prostrate body as if it were the body of some distinguished guest. After that Soyen never again slept, in the day time.
A little boy running down the street turned a corner suddenly and collided with a man. “My goodness!” said the man. “Where are you off to in such a hurry?”
“Home.” said the lad. “And I’m in a hurry because my mother is going to spank me.”
“Are you so eager to be spanked that you are running home for it?” asked the astonished stranger.
“No. But if father gets home before me he will do the spanking.”
When lone is absent they have nothing to give out.
Nasruddin handed a boy a pitcher and told him to go fetch water from the well. Before the kid set out, however, he clouted him on the ear and shouted. “Mind you don’t drop it!”
An onlooker said, “How can you strike a poor child before he has done anything wrong?”
Said Nasruddin, “I suppose you would prefer me to strike him AFTER he has broken the pitcher when both the pitcher and the water are lost? When I clout him he remembers and so the pot and the water are both saved.”
A despairing couple sent urgently for the child psychologist because they just did not know what to do with their little son who had installed himself on the rocking horse of a neighbouring kid and refused to get off. He had three rocking horses of his own at home, but he was adamant that the one he wanted to sit on was THIS one. Attempts to drag him away led to such howls and shrieks that he was put right back on the horse.
The psychologist first settled the matter of his fee, then walked up to the kid, tousled his hair affectionately, bent down and smilingly whispered something in his ear. Instantly the kid got off the horse and docilely followed his parent’s home.
“What kind of magic did you use on the child?” asked the wondering parents. The psychologist collected his fee before he said, “Simple. I just bent down and said, ‘If you don’t get off that horse this minute I’m going to beat you up so you won’t be able to sit down for another week. I’m being paid to do this, so I mean it.”’
Before you punish a child ask yourself if you are not the cause of the offence.
Parents: “Why is it that though Johnny is younger than you his marks at school are always better?”
Seven-year-old: “Because Johnny’s parents are clever.”
The modern child:
A man wanted to foster a love for music in his children so he bought them a piano.
When he got home he found them contemplating the piano in puzzlement. “How,” they asked, “do you plug it in?”
A little boy was in a village, away from the big city for the first time in his life. He was standing on the sidewalk when an old man drove up in a horse cart and went into a shop. The boy kept gazing in wonder at the horse, an animal he had never seen in his life. When the old man came out of the shop and was preparing to drive away, the kid said, “Hey, mister! Maybe I ought to warn you that he just lost his petrol?”
Little girl at fruit store with a banana peel in her hand: “What is it you want, darling?” said the vendor.
“A refill.” was the reply.
The Master at the school for archery was known to be a Master of Life just as much as of archery.
One day his brightest pupil scored three bull’s eyes in a row at a local contest. Everyone went wild with applause. Congratulations poured in for pupil—and Master
The Master, however, seemed unimpressed. Even critical.
When the pupil later asked him why. he said, “You have yet to learn that the target is not the target.”
“What IS the target?” the pupil demanded to know.
But the Master would not say. This was something the boy would have to learn on his own some day for it could not be communicated in words.
One day he discovered that what he was meant to aim at was not achievement but attitude; not bull’s eye but the disappearance of the ego.
A teacher learnt to become a wise and compassionate educator the hard way by making many mistakes. Here is one of them:
He was Principal of a school when a lad came to say he wanted to leave for another school.
“Why, son? What’s wrong? What makes you unhappy? Your marks are good.”
“Nothing’s wrong, sir. I just want to leave.”
“Is it the teachers? Is there any teacher you do not like?”
“No, sir. It isn’t the teachers.”
“Is it the other students? Have you had a fight with someone?”
“No. It’s nothing like that.”
“Is it the fees? Are those too high?”
“No, sir. It isn’t that either.”
The Principal then paused for a long while, confident that by his silence he would get the lad to speak. Suddenly the boy was wiping tears from his eyes. The Principal knew he had won. In his softest, most understanding tone he said, “You’re crying because something is bothering you, aren’t you?”
The boy nodded.
“Well, then, tell me why you are crying.”
The boy looked straight at the Principal and said. “Because you are asking me all these questions.”
There was a question of opening a reformatory for boys and a well-known educationist was called in for advice. He made a passionate plea for humane methods of education at the reformatory, urging the founders to spare no expense in getting the services of kind-hearted and competent educators.
He concluded by saying. “If only one boy is saved from moral depravity, it will justify all the cost and labour invested in an institution like this.”
Later a member of the board said to him. “Didn’t you get just a wee bit carried away there? Would all the cost and labour be justified if we could save only one boy?”