Anthony de Mello (1931-1987) was a Jesuit priest and spiritual director whose writings drew from both Eastern and Western mystic traditions. Some of his most beloved parables are short sayings of "the Master," whom de Mello described as a composite of rabbi, guru, monk, roshi and sage. Excerpted from Awakening: Conversations with the Masters with permission of Random House.

"You listen," said the Master, "not to discover, but to find something that confirms your own thoughts. You argue, not to find the truth, but to vindicate your thinking."

And he told of a king who, passing through a small town, saw indications of amazing marksmanship everywhere. Trees and barns and fences had circles painted on them with a bullet hole in the exact center. He asked to see this unusual marksman. It turned out to be a ten-year-old child.

"This is incredible," said the king in wonder. "How in the world do you do it?" "Easy as pie," was the answer. "I shoot first and draw the circles later." "So you get your conclusions first and build your premises around them later," said the Master. "Isn't that the way you manage to hold on to your religion and to your ideology?"

"All human beings are about equally good or bad," said the Master, who hated to use those labels. "How can you put a saint on an equal footing with a sinner?" protested a disciple. "Because everyone is the same distance from the sun. Does it really lessen the distance if you live on top of a skyscraper?"

To a social worker the Master said,

"I fear you are doing more harm than good."


"Because you stress only one of the two imperatives of justice."


"The poor have a right to bread."

"What's the other one?"

"The poor have a right to beauty."

One night the Master led his disciples into the open fields below a star-studded sky. Then, pointing toward the stars, he looked at the disciples and said, "now concentrate on my finger, everyone."

They got the point.

The Master once saw a large crowd assembled at the monastery gate singing hymns at him and holding up a banner that read "Christ Is the Answer."

After walking over to the dour-looking man who held the sign, the Master asked, "Yes, but what is the question?" The man was momentarily taken aback but recovered quickly enough to say, "Christ is not the answer to a question, but the answer to our problems." "In that case, what is the problem?" Later he said to his disciples, "If Christ is, indeed, the answer, then this is what Christ means: the clear understanding of who is creating the problem, and how."

"What can I do to attain Enlightenment?" asked the eager disciple. "See Reality as it is," said the Master. "Well what can I do to see Reality as it is?" The Master smiled and said, "I have good news and bad news for you, my friend." "What's the bad news?" "There's nothing you can do to see-it's a gift." "And what's the good news?" "There's nothing you can do to see-it's a gift."

The preacher was determined to extract from the Master a clear declaration of belief in God. "Do you believe there is a God?" "Of course I do," said the Master. "And God made everything. Do you believe that?" "Yes, yes," said the Master. "I certainly do." "And who made God?" "You," said the Master. The preacher was aghast. "Do you seriously mean to tell me that ditch." that it is I who made God?"

"The one you are forever thinking

about and talking

about--yes," said the Master placidly.

The Master maintained that what the whole world held to be true is false, so the pioneer is always in a minority of one.

He said, "You think of truth as if it were a formula that you can pick up from a book. Truth is purchased at the price of loneliness. If you wish to follow truth, you must learn to walk alone."

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