Short Wisdom Stories by Anthony de Mello

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161 - 180


A disciple confessed his bad habit of repeating gossip.

Said the Master wickedly, "Repeating it wouldn't be so bad if you did not improve on it".

To attain Knowledge, add things every day.
To attain Wisdom, remove things every day. -- Lao Tzu

The Master would laugh at those of his disciples who deliberated endlessly before making up their mind.

The way he put it was:
"People who deliberate FULLY before they take a step will spend their lives on one leg".

Where fear is present, wisdom cannot be.
-- Lactantius (260-340 A.D.)

When it became clear that the Master was going to die, the disciples were depressed.

Said the Master smilingly,
"Don't you see that death gives loveliness to life"?

"No. We'd much rather you never died".

"Whatever is truly alive must die.
Look at the flowers; only plastic flowers never die".

For certain is death for the born,
And certain is birth for the dead;
Therefore over the inevitable
Thou shouldst not grieve. -- The Bhagavad Gita

"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".

Nothing hath separated us from God but our own will, or rather our own will is our separation from God.
-- William Law


To a group of his disciples whose hearts were set on a pilgrimage the Master said: "Take this bitter gourd along. Make sure you dip it into all the holy rivers and bring it into all the holy shrines".

When the disciples returned, the bitter gourd was cooked and served as sacramental food.

"Strange", said the Master slyly after he had tasted it.
"The holy water and the shrines have failed to sweeten it"!

God is not found in the soul by adding anything, but by a process of subtraction. -- Meister Eckhart

Said the jilted lover, "I have burned my fingers once. I shall never fall in love again".

Said the Master,

"You are like the cat who, having burned itself from sitting on a stove, refused to sit again".

The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend. -- Henri L. Bergson

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 life 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.

Rest not! Life is sweeping by; go and dare before you die. Something mighty and sublime, leave behind to conquer time. -- Goethe (1749-1832)

To a disciple who was always seeking answers from him the Master said, "You have within yourself the answer to every question you propose -- if you only knew how to look for it".

And another day he said, "In the Land of the spirit, you cannot walk by the light of someone else's lamp. You want to borrow mine. I'd rather teach you how to make your own".

The Way isn't something that can be put into words.
You have to practice before you can understand.
You can't force things, including practice.
Understanding is something that happens naturally.
It's different for everyone.
The main thing is to reduce your desires and quiet your mind. -- Master Hsueh


The Master was strolling with some of his disciples along the bank of a river. He said, "See how the fish keep darting about wherever they please. That's what they really enjoy".

A stranger overhearing that remark said, "How do you know what fish enjoy? You're not a fish".

The disciples gasped at what they took for impudence. The Master smiled at what he recognized as a fearless spirit of inquiry. He replied affably, "And you, my friend, how do you know I am not a fish? You are not I".

The disciples laughed, taking this to be a well-deserved rebuff. Only the stranger was struck by its depth. All day he pondered it, then came to the monastery to say, "Maybe you are not as different from the fish as I thought. Or I from you".

No man desires anything so eagerly as God desires to bring men to the knowledge of Himself. God is always ready, but we are very unready. God is near us, but we are far from Him. God is within, and we are without. God is friendly - we are estranged.
-- Meister Eckhart (1260?-1327?)

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".

Teachers open the door . . . You enter by yourself.
-- Chinese Proverb

The Master once asked his disciples which was more important: wisdom or action.

The disciples were unanimous: "Action, of course. Of what use is wisdom that does not show itself in action"?

Said the Master, "And of what use is action that proceeds from an unenlightened heart"?

The heart is wiser than the intellect. -- Josiah Holland (1819-1881)

The Master was asked by what criterion he selected his disciples.

He said, "I act in a submissive and humble manner. Those who become haughty in response to my humility I immediately reject. Those who revere me because of my humble demeanor I reject with equal speed".

I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet. -- Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948)


"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".

The wisdom of Enlightenment is inherent in every one of us. It is because of the delusion under which our mind works that we fail to realize it ourselves, and we seek the advice and the guidance of enlightened ones. -- Hui-neng

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.

All change is not growth, as all movement is not forward.
-- Ellen Glasgow

Before the visitor embarked upon discipleship, he wanted assurance from the Master.
"Can you teach me the goal of human life"?
"I cannot".
"Or at least its meaning"?
"I cannot".
"Can you indicate to me the nature of death and of life beyond the grave"?
"I cannot".

The visitor walked away in scorn. The disciples were dismayed that their Master had been shown up in a poor light. Said the Master soothingly, "Of what is it to comprehend life's nature and life's meaning if you have never tasted it? I'd rather you ate your pudding than speculated on it".

Life is a romantic business. It is painting a picture, not doing a sum -- but you have to make the romance, and it will come to the question how much fire you have in your belly. -- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

"Why are you so wary of thought"? said the philosopher. Thought is the one tool we have for organizing the world".

"True. But thought can organize the world so well that you are no longer able to see it".

To his disciples he later said, "A thought is a screen, not a mirror; that is why you live in a thought envelope, untouched by Reality".

We understand why children are afraid of darkness, but why are men afraid of light? -- Plato


"If you make me your authority", said the Master to a starry-eyed disciple, "you harm yourself because you refuse to see things for yourself".

And, after a pause, he added gently, "You harm me too, because you refuse to see me as I am".

Self-trust is the first secret to success.
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 - 1882)

"Why do you need a Master"? asked a visitor of one of the disciples. "If water must be heated, it needs a vessel as an intermediary between the fire and itself", was the answer.

Fire transforms all things it touches into its own nature. The wood does not change the fire into itself; but the fire changes the wood into itself. In the same way, we are transformed into God, so that we may know him as he is. Acting and becoming are one. God and I are one in this work; he acts, and I become. -- Meister Eckhart, 1260-1327

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".

Your vision will become clear
only when you look into your heart ...
Who looks outside, dreams.
Who looks inside, awakens. -- Carl Jung

To a shy disciple who wanted to become self-confident the Master said, "You look for certainty in the eyes of others and you think that is self-confidence".
"Shall I give no weight to the opinion of others, then"?
"On the contrary. Weigh everything they say, but do not be controlled by it".
"How does one break the control"?
"How does one break a delusion"?

The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend. -- Henri L. Bergson

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