Awareness: Conversations with the Masters by Anthony de Mello

Reading Time: 5 minutes


Awareness is nourishment for the soul. In a humorous and digestible way, Anthony de Mello helps you understand yourself and the world in a way that will help you improve the quality of your life.

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Key Takeaways

Psychologists give you relief, not cures

“It’s only when you’re sick of your sickness that you’ll get out of it. Most people go to a psychiatrist or a psychologist to get relief. I repeat: to get relief. Not to get out of it.”

This is an interesting idea. Imagine you go to a psychologist to talk about your troubled marriage. If a psychologist helps you feel slightly better about the situation, but doesn’t fix the underlying problem, you may still be in a troubled marriage, but you’ll continue in it because you feel good enough to keep going. 

On the other hand, if you didn’t go to the psychologist, you may have become completely fed up with your troubled marriage. At this point, you might decide to leave it. You’ll go through some pain, but you might end up in a better place in the long run. 

This doesn’t negate the potential utility of seeing a psychologist, but you can imagine cases in which the temporary relief you get from a psychologist may make you content to stay in a situation that you should change.

What you resist will persist

“When you renounce or fight something, you become tied to it. In fighting it, you give it power. So instead of fighting, give in. You might find that what you’ve been resisting no longer holds the same power over you.”

Charity is different forms of self-interest

“Charity is really self-interest masquerading under the form of altruism.

There are two types of selfishness. The first type is the one where I give myself the pleasure of pleasing myself. That’s what we generally call self-centeredness. The second is when I give myself the pleasure of pleasing others. That would be a more refined kind of selfishness.

Then you’ve got the third type, which is the worst: when you do something good so that you won’t get a bad feeling. It doesn’t give you a good feeling to do it; it gives you a bad feeling to do it. You hate it.”

Wake up by letting your identity go

“The one thing you need most of all is the readiness to learn something new. The chances that you will wake up are in direct proportion to the amount of truth you can take without running away. How much are you ready to take? How much of everything you’ve held dear are you ready to have shattered, without running away? How ready are you to think of something unfamiliar?”

You can’t fix things you don’t understand

“The trouble with people is that they’re busy fixing things they don’t even understand. We’re always fixing things, aren’t we? It never strikes us that things don’t need to be fixed. They really don’t. This is a great illumination. They need to be understood. If you understood them, they’d change.”

How to change the world

“Do you want to change the world? How about beginning with yourself? How about being transformed yourself first? But how do you achieve that? Through observation. Through understanding. With no interference or judgment on your part. Because what you judge you cannot understand.”

Labels and ideologies

“When you say of someone, ‘He’s a communist,’ understanding has stopped at that moment. You slapped a label on him. ‘She’s a capitalist.’ Understanding has stopped at that moment. You slapped a label on her, and if the label carries undertones of approval or disapproval, so much the worse! How are you going to understand what you disapprove of, or what you approve of, for that matter? All of this sounds like a new world, doesn’t it? No judgment, no commentary, no attitude: one simply observes, one studies, one watches, without the desire to change what is. Because if you desire to change what is into what you think should be, you no longer understand.”

“All suffering is caused by my identifying myself with something, whether that something is within me or outside of me.”

“As soon as you look at the world through an ideology you are finished. No reality fits an ideology. Life is beyond that. That is why people are always searching for a meaning to life. But life has no meaning; it cannot have meaning because meaning is a formula; meaning is something that makes sense to the mind.”

Becoming immune to praise and blame

“How many people do you know who are unaffected by praise or blame? That isn’t human, we say. Human means that you have to be a little monkey, so everybody can twist your tail, and you do whatever you ought to be doing. But is that human? If you find me charming, it means that right now you’re in a good mood, nothing more. It also means that I fit your shopping list.”

“Let me tell you something: If you ever let yourself feel good when people tell you that you’re O.K., you are preparing yourself to feel bad when they tell you you’re not good. As long as you live to fulfill other people’s expectations, you better watch what you wear, how you comb your hair, whether your shoes are polished—in short, whether you live up to every damned expectation of theirs. Do you call that human?”


“One sign that you’re awakened is that you don’t give a damn about what’s going to happen in the next life. You’re not bothered about it; you don’t care. You are not interested, period.”

“When you go through life with preferences but don’t let your happiness depend on any one of them, then you’re awake.”

YOU need to change

“Anytime you have a negative feeling toward anyone, you’re living in an illusion. There’s something seriously wrong with you. You’re not seeing reality. Something inside of you has to change. But what do we generally do when we have a negative feeling? ‘He is to blame, she is to blame. She’s got to change.’ No! The world’s all right. The one who has to change is you.”

“We always want someone else to change so that we will feel good. But has it ever struck you that even if your wife changes or your husband changes, what does that do to you? You’re just as vulnerable as before; you’re just as idiotic as before; you’re just as asleep as before. You are the one who needs to change, who needs to take medicine.”

How to be your best self

“Get rid of your fear of failure, your tensions about succeeding, you will be yourself. Relaxed.”

“When you’re living for nothing, you’ve got all your skills, you’ve got all your energy, you’re relaxed, you don’t care, it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose.”

We see things as we are

“We see people and things not as they are, but as we are. That is why when two people look at something or someone, you get two different reactions. We see things and people not as they are, but as we are.”

Reality is not a formula

“The guru cannot give you the truth. Truth cannot be put into words, into a formula. That isn’t the truth. That isn’t reality.”

Words do not give you reality. They only indicate reality. Reality is experienced.

The limitations of concepts

“If you don’t look at things through your concepts, you’ll never be bored. Every single thing is unique. Every sparrow is unlike every other sparrow despite the similarities. It’s a great help to have similarities, so we can abstract, so that we can have a concept. It’s a great help, from the point of view of communication, education, science. But it’s also very misleading and a great hindrance to seeing this concrete individual. If all you experience is your concept, you’re not experiencing reality, because reality is concrete. The concept is a help, to lead you to reality, but when you get there, you’ve got to intuit or experience it directly.”

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