Changing out of greed
Anthony de Mello

Anthony de Mello (1931-1987) was a Jesuit priest who was known over the whole world because of his many books and spiritual conferences.

In the book 'Awareness' (published by Doubleday) he blends Christian spirituality with Buddhist wisdom and psychological insight and creates a beautiful synthesis by this means.

In short chapters he explains that it is time for us to become conscious of the silence within us instead of living a busy and hurried life. He asserts that this can only happen if we become aware of our darkest and most repressed thoughts. We have to recognize these and accept them, but not let ourselves be influenced by them. Then there comes room for consciousness (silence) that enables us to change.

Seeing that this consciousness is present in all of us is the key to a more alive, challenging, and fuller life.

Then we can be more open to our fellow human beings and see their needs and potential. A chapter out of this book follows below.


That still leaves a big question unanswered: do I have to do something to change myself? I have a big surprise for you, and a lot of good news. You don't have to do anything. The more you do, the worse it becomes. The only thing that you need to do is understand.

Think of someone in your surroundings, or at work who you don't like, who feeds your negative feelings. I want to help you understand what is going on. The first thing you need to understand is that the negative feeling is in you. You are responsible for the negative feeling, not the other person. Someone else in your place might be completely calm and comfortable in the presence of the person in question; he would not be offended as you are. Now you need to understand something else, namely that you are making a demand. You have an expectation from this person. Can you feel that? After that, say to this person: 'I have no right to make any demands on you.' If you can say that you can let go of the expectation. 'I have no right to make any demands on you. Oh, I will protect myself from the consequences of your actions, moods, or whatever, but go your way and be whatever you like. I have no right to make any demands on you.' Take a look at what happens to you if you do that. If there comes resistance to saying that, well then, you can discover all kinds of things to discover about 'me'. Allow the dictator to come out, let the tyrant be seen. You thought you were such a little lamb didn't you? But I am a tyrant and you are a tyrant. A small variation on 'I am a donkey, you are a donkey.' I am a dictator you are a dictator. I want to live your life, I want to tell you exactly what is expected of you and how you should behave, and you better behave as I want you to or I will punish you with negative feelings. Don't forget what I said, everybody is crazy.

A woman once told me that her son had won a prize in high school. He excelled in sports and studies. She was happy for him but she was tempted to say to him: 'don't get too big for your britches, because the prize will become a pitfall in the future if you don't do as well. She was in a dilemma; how could she protect him against disillusionment in the future, without putting a damper on the happiness of the moment?

Hopefully she will learn it as her own wisdom grows. It is not about what she says to him. It is something that she will finally become. The she will understand it. Then she will know what she ought not to say. The prize was a result of rivalry, and that can be cruel if it is based on self-hate and hate towards others. People get a good feeling if someone else has a bad feeling. You win at the cost of the other. Isn't that terrible?
And in this crazy-house it is taken for granted!

There is an American doctor who has written about the consequences of rivalry on his life. He studied at a medical faculty in Switzerland and there was a big contingent of Americans at the university. He told that some students were shocked when they discovered that no grades were given, no prizes were awarded, no list of outstanding students, and no best and second best in the class. You either succeeded or you failed. He said; 'There were some students among us who just couldn't swallow that. We almost became paranoid. We thought there must be a snake in the grass.' Thus, a number of students transferred to another university. Two who survived discovered something remarkable at a certain point, something that they had never seen at an American university: brilliant students who helped others to succeed and exchanged notes. His son who is studying medicine in the United States told him that students in the labs often tamper with microscopes so that the next student using them will have to lose three or four minutes getting them right again. Rivalry. They have to succeed; they have to be the best. And he told him a delicious story that according to him is based on reality, but could be a parable. Once upon a time there was a place in America where people used to gather in the evenings to make music. Among them were a saxophonist, a drummer and a violinist, and it was mostly older people. They came together for the company and purely for the pleasure of making music even though they were not stars. Thus, they enjoyed it and had a wonderful time until one time they decided to have a new conductor who had a lot of ambition and energy. The new conductor said: 'Listen people, we have to give a concert. We are going to prepare to appear before the public.' Following that he got rid of a few people who did not play so well, hired professional musicians, took care that the orchestra shaped up and they appeared in the newspaper. Wasn't that beautiful? So, they decided to move to the big city and give concerts there. But a number of the older ones had tears in their eyes and said: 'It used to be so nice in the past, when we played rotten and enjoyed it.' Thus, cruelty had entered into their lives, but was not recognized as such. Do you see how crazy people have become?

Some of you have asked me what I meant when I said: Go your own way and just become yourself, there is no objection to that, but I will protect myself. I will be myself. In other words, I will not allow myself to be manipulated. I live my own life I go my own way. I reserve the right for myself to think my thoughts and to follow my inclinations and preferences. And I will say no to you. If I do not feel like company it will not be because of any negative feelings that you call up in me. Namely, you don't do that anymore. You have no power over me. Maybe I give the preference to company with others. Thus, if you ask me: 'do you want to go to a film tonight? I say: 'Sorry, I want to go with someone else, I enjoy his company more than yours.' There is nothing against that. Saying no to people is beautiful. That belongs to waking up. Part of waking up is that you live your life the way you think is good. And you have to understand that it is not egoistic. Being egoistic is wishing that someone else should arrange his or her life according to your preferences, or your pride, or your interest, or your pleasure. That is egoistic. That is egoism pure and simple. Thus, I will protect myself. I will not feel obligated to spend time with you; I do not feel duty bound to say yes to you. If I enjoy your company I will enjoy it without becoming attached to it. But I will not avoid you anymore because of the negative feelings that you call up in me. You don't have that power anymore.

Becoming awake must be a surprise. If you don't expect anything and it nevertheless happens you feel surprised. When Webster's wife caught him kissing the maid she told him that she was very surprised. Now, Webster was a purist as far as language usage is concerned - after all he had written a dictionary – thus he answered: 'No darling, I am surprised. You are bewildered!'

There are people who make a goal out of waking up. They are determined to arrive there. They say; 'I refuse to be happy until I am awake.' In that case it is better to be just as you are, to be simply aware of how you are. Simple consciousness is happiness in comparison to always trying to react. People react so quickly because they are not conscious. You will come to see that there are moments at which you will react immediately even if you are conscious. But as consciousness grows, you will react less and do more. It doesn't really matter.

There is a story about a disciple who told his guru that he was going to a far away place to meditate so that he could become enlightened. He sent a letter every six months to his guru telling him about the progress he had made. The first letter said: 'now I understand what it means to lose the self.' The guru tore up the letter and threw it in the wastebasket. A half a year later came another report that said: 'now I have become open to all creatures.' He tore it up. Then a third letter arrived in which stood: 'Now I understand the secret of the One and the Many.' That was also cut up into little pieces. And so it went for years until finally no more reports came. After a while the guru became curious and as a traveler was going to that far place. The guru asked: 'Will you take a look at what has happened to that clever fellow?' Finally he received a letter from his disciple that said: 'what does it matter? When the guru read that he said: 'He's there! He's there!' He finally understood it! He got it!

And then there is the story of the soldier at the battlefield who just let his rifle drop, picked up a piece of paper and looked at it. After that he just dropped it and let it whirl away. Later he walked someplace else to do the same thing. His fellow soldiers said: 'this man is exposing himself nakedly to death. He needs help.' So he was admitted to hospital and got the best psychiatrists to take his case. But nothing helped. He wandered all over the unit picking up pieces of paper and looking at them purposelessly and then letting them fall again to whirl around. Finally they said: 'we have to discharge this man from the army'. They called him, and gave him the discharge letter. He carelessly picked it up and then called out: Is this is? This is it!' He finally got it.

That is how you begin to become aware of your current situation, whatever it may be. Stop acting like a dictator. Stop pushing yourself in a certain direction. So you will understand one day you have reached wherever you wanted to push yourself to with simple consciousness.

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