Short Wisdom Stories by Anthony de Mello

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181 - 200


"Of what use is your learning and your devotions? Does a donkey become wise through living in a library or a mouse acquire holiness from living in a church"?

"What is it, then, we need"?

"A heart".

"How does one get that"?

The Master would not say. What could he say that they wouldn't turn into a subject to be learned or an object of devotion?

There is in each of us a God-shaped vacuum that only God can fill. -- Blaise Pascal

To a disciple who depended overmuch on books the Master said:

"A man came to the market with a shopping list and lost it. When to his great joy he found it again, he read it eagerly, held on to it till he had done his shopping -- then threw it away as a useless scrap of paper".

Wisdom is not in words.
Wisdom is meaning within words. -- Khalil Gibran

He was a religious writer and interested in the Master's views. "How does one discover God"?

Said the Master sharply, "Through making the heart white with silent meditation, not making paper black with religious composition".

And, turning to his scholarly disciples, he teasingly added, "Or making the air thick with learned conversation".

The sage wears clothes of coarse cloth but carries jewels in his bosom; He knows himself but does not display himself; He loves himself but does not hold himself in high esteem. -- Lao-Tzu (fl. B.C. 600)

The Master was never impressed by diplomas or degrees. He scrutinized the person, not the certificate.

He was once heard to say,
"When you have ears to hear a bird in song, you don't need to look at its credentials".

Far too many people spend their lives reading the menu instead of enjoying the banquet.


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.' When the pond dries up and the fish are lying on the parched earth, to moisten them with one's breath or damp them with spittle is no substitute for flinging them back into the lake. Don't enliven people with doctrines; throw them back into Reality. For the secret of life is to be found in life itself - not in doctrines about it.
-- Anthony de Mello, S.J. [from Song Of The Bird]

A lecturer explained how a fraction of the enormous sums spent on arms in the modern world would solve all the material problems of every member of the human race.

The inevitable reaction of the disciples after the lecture was: "But why are human beings so stupid"?

"Because", said the Master solemnly, "people have learned to read printed books. They have forgotten the art of reading unprinted ones".

"Give us an example of an unprinted book".

But the Master wouldn't give one.

One day, in response to their persistence, he said: "The songs of birds, the sounds of insects are all trumpeting forth the Truth. The grasses and the flowers are all pointing out the Way. Listen! Look! That is the way to read"!

We see but dimly through the mists and vapors;
Amid these earthly damps
What seem to us but sad, funeral tapers
May be heaven's distant lamps.
-- Longfellow (1819-1892)

To a man who hesitated to embark on the spiritual quest for fear of the effort and renunciation the Master said: "How much effort and renunciation does it take to open one's eyes and see"?

There is not enough darkness in all the world to put out the light of even one small candle. -- Robert Alden

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".

God is at home,
We are in the far country. -- Meister Eckhart


"What must I do for Enlightenment? "
"Why not"?
"Enlightenment doesn't come from doing - it happens".
"Then can it never be attained"?
"Oh yes it can".
"Through non doing".
"And what does one do to attain non doing"?
"What does one do to go to sleep or to wake up"?

It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.
-- Sir Edmund Hillary

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"?

Wisdom is perishable. Unlike information or knowledge, it cannot be stored in a computer or recorded in a book. It expires with each passing generation. -- Sid Taylor

An easygoing disciple complained that he had never experienced the Silence that the Master frequently commended.

Said the Master, "Silence only comes to active people".

Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. . . Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: "You are accepted". -- Paul Tillich
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A grocer came to the Master in great distress to say that across the way from his shop they had opened a large chain store that would drive him out of business. His family had owned his shop for a century - and to lose it now would be his undoing, for there was nothing else he was skilled at.

Said the Master, "If you fear the owner of the chain store, you will hate him. And hatred will be your undoing".
"What shall I do"? said the distraught grocer.
"Each morning walk out of your shop onto the sidewalk and bless your shop, wishing it prosperity. Then turn to face the chain store and bless it too".
"What? Bless my competitor and destroyer"?
"Any blessing you give him will rebound to your good. Any evil you wish him will destroy you".
After six months the grocer returned to report that he had had to close down his shop as he had feared, but he was now in charge of the chain store and his affairs were in better shape than ever before.

A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.
-- Basil (329-379 A.D.)

The disciples would frequently be absorbed in questions of right and wrong. Sometimes the answer would be evident enough. Sometimes it was elusive.

The Master, if he happened to be present at such discussions, would take no part in them.

Once he was confronted with this question: "Is it right to kill someone who seeks to kill me? Or is it wrong"?

He said, "How should I know"?

The shocked disciples answered, "Then how would we tell right from wrong"?

The Master said, "While alive, be dead to yourself, be totally dead. Then act as you will and your action will be right".

If a man will begin in certainties he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin in doubts he shall end in certainties. -- Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
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