Anthony de Mello
One Minute Wisdom


Acceptance Adulthood Aggression Awareness Belief Blindness Change Daring Discipleship Discovery Doctrine Expansion Fearlessness Happiness Healing Humanity Humility Identity Ignorance Imitation Incompetence Insight Irrelevance Lightheartedness Love Meaning Miracles Myths Prayer Projection Prophecy Realism Recognition Restriction Revolution Self-righteousness Sleepwalking Speech Survival Totalitarianism Transformation Universality Vanity Violence

A man traversed land and sea to check for himself the Master's extraordinary fame.

"What miracles has your Master worked?" he said to a disciple.

"Well, there are miracles and miracles. In your land it is regarded as a miracle if God does someone's will. In our country it is regarded as a miracle if someone does the will of God."

© Anthony de Mello, SJ

The Master would insist that the final barrier to our attaining God was the word and concept "God."

This so infuriated the local priest that he came in a huff to argue the matter out with the Master.

"But surely the word 'God' can lead us to God?" said the priest.

"It can," said the Master calmly.

"How can something help and be a barrier?"

Said the Master, "The donkey that brings you to the door is not the means by which you enter the house."

© Anthony de Mello, SJ

There were rules in the monastery, but the Master always warned against the tyranny of the law.

"Obedience keeps the rules," he would say. "Love knows when to break them."

© Anthony de Mello, SJ


The Master was always teaching that guilt is an evil emotion to be avoided like the very devil — all guilt.

"But are we not to hate our sins?" a disciple said one day.

"When you are guilty, it is not your sins you hate but yourself."

© Anthony de Mello, SJ


In keeping with his doctrine that nothing be taken too seriously, not even his own teachings, the Master loved to tell this story on himself:

"My very first disciple was so weak that the exercises killed him. My second disciple drove himself crazy from his earnest practice of the exercises I gave him. My third disciple dulled his intellect through too much contemplation. But the fourth managed to keep his sanity."

"Why was that?" someone would invariably ask.

"Possibly because he was the only one who refused to do the exercises." The Master's words would be drowned in howls of laughter.

© Anthony de Mello, SJ


"How can I be a great man - like you?"

"Why be a great man?" said the Master. "Being a man is a great enough achievement."

© Anthony de Mello, SJ


"May I become your disciple?"

"You are only a disciple because your eyes are closed. The day you open them you will see there is nothing you can learn from me or anyone."

"What then is a Master for?"

"To make you see the uselessness of having one."

© Anthony de Mello, SJ


The visiting historian was disposed to be argumentative.

"Do not our efforts change the course of human history?" he demanded.

"Oh yes, they do," said the Master.

"And have not our human labours changed the earth?"

"They certainly have," said the Master.

"Then why do you teach that human effort is of little consequence?"

Said the Master, "Because when the wind subsides, the leaves still fall."

© Anthony de Mello, SJ


To a disciple who was always at his prayers the Master said, "When will you stop leaning on God and stand on your own two feet?"

The disciple was astonished. "But you are the one who taught us to look on God as Father!"

"When will you learn that a father isn't someone you can lean on but someone who rids you of your tendency to lean?"

© Anthony de Mello, SJ


The Master never ceased to attack the notions about God that people entertain.

"If your God comes to your rescue and gets you out of trouble," he would say, "it is time you started searching for the true God."

When asked to elaborate, this is the story he told:

"A man left a brand-new bicycle unattended at the marketplace while he went about his shopping.

He only remembered the bicycle the following day - and rushed to the marketplace, expecting it would have been stolen. The bicycle was exactly where he had left it.

Overwhelmed with joy, he rushed to a nearby temple to thank God for having kept his bicycle safe only to find, when he got out of the temple, that the bicycle was gone."

© Anthony de Mello, SJ


Said a traveler to one of the disciples, "I have traveled a great distance to listen to the Master, but I find his words quite ordinary."

"Don't listen to his words. Listen to his message."

"How does one do that?"

"Take hold of a sentence that he says. Shake it well till all the words drop off. What is left will set your heart on fire."

© Anthony de Mello, SJ


"What is love?"

"The total absence of fear," said the Master.

"What is it we fear?"

"Love," said the Master.

© Anthony de Mello, SJ


A newly married couple said, "What shall we do to make our love endure?"

Said the Master, "Love other things together."

© Anthony de Mello, SJ


All questions at the public meeting that day were about life beyond the grave.

The Master only laughed and did not give a single answer.

To his disciples, who demanded to know the reason for his evasiveness, he later said, "Have you observed that it is precisely those who do not know what to do with this life who want another that will last forever?"

"But is there life after death or is there not?" persisted a disciple.

"Is there life before death? - that is the question!" said the Master enigmatically.

© Anthony de Mello, SJ


To the disciples' embarrassment the Master once told a bishop that religious people have a natural bent for cruelty.

"Why?" demanded the disciples after the bishop had gone.

"Because they all too easily sacrifice persons for the advancement of a purpose," said the Master.

© Anthony de Mello, SJ


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God is a comic playing to an audience that's afraid to laugh.
—Voltaire (1694-1778)

The Master's expansive mood emboldened his disciples to say, "Tell us what you got from Enlightenment. Did you become divine?"


"Did you become a saint?"


"Then what did you become?"


© Anthony de Mello, SJ


The disciple couldn't wait to tell the Master the rumour he had heard in the marketplace.

"Wait a minute," said the Master. "What you plan to tell us, is it true?"

"I don't think it is."

"Is it useful?"

"No, it isn't."

"Is it funny?"


"Then why should we be hearing it?"

© Anthony de Mello, SJ


A zealous disciple expressed a desire to teach others the Truth and asked the Master what he thought about this. The Master said, "Wait."

Each year the disciple would return with the same request and each time the Master would give him the same reply: "Wait."

One day he said to the Master, "When will I be ready to teach?"

Said the Master, "When your excessive eagerness to teach has left you."

© Anthony de Mello, SJ


To a distressed person who came to him for help the Master said, "Do you really want a cure"

"If I did not, would I bother to come to you?"

"Oh yes Most people do."

"What for?"

"Not for a cure. That's painful. For relief."

To his disciples the Master said, "People who want a cure, provided they can have it without pain, are like those who favour progress, provided they can have it without change."

© Anthony de Mello, SJ


"Is salvation obtained through action or through meditation?"

"Through neither. Salvation comes from seeing."

"Seeing what?"

"That the gold necklace you wish to acquire is hanging round your neck. That the snake you are so frightened of is only a rope on the ground."

© Anthony de Mello, SJ


The Master had quoted Aristotle: "In the quest of truth, it would seem better and indeed necessary to give up what is dearest to us." And he substituted the word "God" for "truth."

Later a disciple said to him, "I am ready, in the quest for God, to give up anything: wealth, friends, family, country, life itself. What else can a person give up?"

The Master calmly replied, "One's beliefs about God."

The disciple went away sad, for he clung to his convictions. He feared "ignorance" more than death.

© Anthony de Mello, SJ


"How does one seek union with God?"

"The harder you seek, the more distance you create between Him and you."

"So what does one do about the distance?"

"Understand that it isn't there."

"Does that mean that God and I are one?"

"Not one. Not two."

"How is that possible?"

"The sun and its light, the ocean and the wave, the singer and his song — not one. Not two."

© Anthony de Mello, SJ


To a disciple who was forever complaining about others the Master said, "If it is peace you want, seek to change yourself, not other people. It is easier to protect your feet with slippers than to carpet the whole of the earth."

© Anthony de Mello, SJ


The Master was exceedingly gracious to university dons who visited him, but he would never reply to their questions or be drawn into their theological speculations.

To his disciples, who marveled at this, he said, "Can one talk about the ocean to a frog in a well — or about the divine to people who are restricted by their concepts?"

© Anthony de Mello, SJ


Said a disappointed visitor, "Why has my stay here yielded no fruit?"

"Could it be because you lacked the courage to shake the tree?" said the Master benignly.

© Anthony de Mello, SJ


The Master sat in rapt attention as the renowned economist explained his blueprint for development.

"Should growth be the only consideration in an economic theory?" he asked.

"Yes. All growth is good in itself."

"Isn't that the thinking of the cancer cell?" said the Master.

© Anthony de Mello, SJ


"I am in desperate need of help — or I'll go crazy. We're living in a single room — my wife, my children and my in-laws. So our nerves are on edge, we yell and scream at one another. The room is a hell."

"Do you promise to do whatever I tell you?" said the Master gravely.

"I swear I shall do anything."

"Very well. How many animals do you have?"

"A cow, a goat and six chickens."

"Take them all into the room with you. Then come back after a week."

The disciple was appalled. But he had promised to obey! So he took the animals in. A week later he came back, a pitiable figure, moaning, "I'm a nervous wreck. The dirt! The stench! The noise! We're all on the verge of madness!"

"Go back," said the Master, "and put the animals out."

The man ran all the way home. And came back the following day, his eyes sparkling with joy. "How sweet life is! The animals are out. The home is a Paradise, so quiet and clean and roomy!"

© Anthony de Mello, SJ


To a visitor who asked to become his disciple the Master said, "You may live with me, but don't become my follower."

"Whom, then, shall I follow?"

"No one. The day you follow someone you cease to follow Truth."

© Anthony de Mello, SJ


"Help us to find God."

"No one can help you there."

"Why not?"

"For the same reason that no one can help the fish to find the ocean."

© Anthony de Mello, SJ


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We know accurately only when we know little, with knowledge doubt increases.
— Goethe (1749-1832)

The Master ordinarily dissuaded people from living in a monastery.

"To profit from books you don't have to live in a library," he would say.

Or, even more forcefully, "You can read books without ever stepping into a library; and practice spirituality without ever going to a temple."

© Anthony de Mello, SJ


"I wish to become a teacher of the Truth."

"Are you prepared to be ridiculed, ignored and starving till you are forty-five?"

"I am. But tell me: What will happen after I am forty-five?"

"You will have grown accustomed to it."

© Anthony de Mello, SJ


The Master gave his teaching in parables and stories, which his disciples listened to with pleasure — and occasional frustration, for they longed for something deeper.

The Master was unmoved. To all their objections he would say, "You have yet to understand, my dears, that the shortest distance between a human being and Truth is a story."

Another time he said, "Do not despise the story. A lost gold coin is found by means of a penny candle; the deepest truth is found by means of a simple story."

© Anthony de Mello, SJ


To a visitor who claimed he had no need to search for Truth because he found it in the beliefs of his religion the Master said:

"There was once a student who never became a mathematician because he blindly believed the answers he found at the back of his math textbook - and, ironically, the answers were correct."

© Anthony de Mello, SJ


To a visitor who described himself as a seeker after Truth the Master said, "If what you seek is Truth, there is one thing you must have above all else."

"I know. An overwhelming passion for it."

"No. An unremitting readiness to admit you may be wrong."

© Anthony de Mello, SJ


The young disciple was such a prodigy that scholars from everywhere sought his advice and marveled at his learning.

When the governor was looking for an adviser, he came to the Master and said, "Tell me, is it true that the young man knows as much as they say he does?"

"Truth to tell," said the Master wryly, "the fellow reads so much I don't see how he could ever find the time to know anything."

© Anthony de Mello, SJ


Much advance publicity was made for the address the Master would deliver on "The Destruction of the World" and a large crowd gathered at the monastery grounds to hear him.

The address was over in less than a minute. All he said was:

"These things will destroy the human race:

  • politics without principle,
  • progress without compassion,
  • wealth without work,
  • learning without silence,
  • religion without fearlessness
  • and worship without awareness."
  • © Anthony de Mello, SJ


    A gambler once said to the Master, "I was caught cheating at cards yesterday, so my partners beat me up and threw me out of the window. What would you advise me to do?"

    The Master looked straight through the man and said, "If I were you, from now on I would play on the ground floor."

    This startled the disciples. "Why didn't you tell him to stop gambling?" they demanded.

    "Because I knew he wouldn't," was the Master's simple and sagacious explanation.

    © Anthony de Mello, SJ


    The Master loved ordinary people and was suspicious of those who stood out for their holiness.

    To a disciple who consulted him on marriage he said, "Be sure you don't marry a saint."

    "Why ever not?"

    "Because it is the surest way to make yourself a martyr," was the Master's merry reply.

    © Anthony de Mello, SJ


    As the Master grew old and infirm, the disciples begged him not to die. Said the Master, "If I did not go, how would you ever see?"

    "What is it we fail to see when you are with us?" they asked.

    But the Master would not say.

    When the moment of his death was near, they said, "What is it we will see when you are gone?"

    With a twinkle in his eye, the Master said, "All I did was sit on the riverbank handing out river water. After I'm gone, I trust you will notice the river."

    © Anthony de Mello, SJ


    The Master frequently reminded his disciples that holiness, like beauty, is only genuine when unselfconscious. He loved to quote the verse:

    "She blooms because she blooms,
    the Rose:
    Does not ask why,
    nor does she preen herself
    to catch my eye."

    And the saying: "A saint is a saint until he knows that he is one."

    © Anthony de Mello, SJ


    After the Master attained Enlightenment, he took to living simply — because he found simple living to his taste.

    He laughed at his disciples when they took to simple living in imitation of him.

    "Of what use is it to copy my behaviour," he would say, "without my motivation. Or to adopt my motivation without the vision that produced it?"

    They understood him better when he said, "Does a goat become a rabbi because he grows a beard?"

    © Anthony de Mello, SJ


    The disciples were involved in a heated discussion on the cause of human suffering.

    Some said it came from selfishness. Others, from delusion. Yet others, from the inability to distinguish the real from the unreal.

    When the Master was consulted, he said, "All suffering comes from a person's inability to sit still and be alone."

    © Anthony de Mello, SJ


    "Why is everyone here so happy except me?"

    "Because they have learned to see goodness and beauty everywhere," said the Master.

    "Why don't I see goodness and beauty everywhere?"

    "Because you cannot see outside of you what you fail to see inside."

    © Anthony de Mello, SJ


    Each day the disciple would ask the same question: "How shall I find God?"

    And each day he would get the same mysterious answer: "Through desire."

    "But I desire God with all my heart, don't I? Then why have I not found him?"

    One day the Master happened to be bathing in the river with the disciple. He pushed the man's head underwater and held it there while the poor fellow struggled desperately to break loose.

    Next day it was the Master who began the conversation. "Why did you struggle so when I held your head under water?"

    "Because I was gasping for air."

    "When you are given the grace to gasp for God the way you gasped for air, you will have found him.'

    © Anthony de Mello, SJ

    Never complain about what you permit.

    These pieces are some of my favorites from the "One Minute Wisdom" of Anthony de Mello, SJ. - D. Lynes, Lazarus Foundation