Anthony De Mello's "Awareness"

I recently read the book Awareness by one Anthony De Mello SJ. I brought it up with a friend who showed me an article by the Vatican concerning his readings: NOTIFICATION CONCERNING THE WRITINGS OF FR. ANTHONY DE MELLO, SJ ( In it, former Cardinal Ratzinger explains how some of De Mello’s ideas and theology would be considered incompatible with the Catholic faith.

Admittedly, I find some of De Mello’s ideas particularly fascinating and rather true. However, I am very concerned with remaining within the Catholic Church and sticking to orthodoxy. I want to accept some of De Mello’s points but not at the cost of my Catholic faith and trust in the Church.

Is it worth it to consider some of De Mello’s ideas for the sake of spiritual growth, or is the danger of falling out of line too great?

I feel as if a significant amount of his ideas are worth salvaging, but De Mello’s seems to have such a bad name to him in the West that I’m afraid to bother with it.

Any thoughts or recommendations?

As is the case with Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, his writings may have begun entirely orthodox, but slowly, almost imperceptibly, crept into eastern mysticism that lead away from the Catholic faith. Some of Fr. DeMello’s books now contain an insert which states: “The books of Father Anthony de Mello were written in a multi-religious context to help the followers of other religions, agnostics and atheists in their spiritual search, and they were not intended by the author as manuals of instruction of the Catholic faithful in Christian doctrine or dogma.”

You would need absolutely superior spiritual direction along with Fr. DeMello’s ideas, to separate out the harmful concepts so as to ensure that you did not drift away from your faith. To me, it is like learning to walk a tightrope when there is a stone bridge beside it - why take the risk? If you cannot find your spirituality within the unsearchable depths of the Catholic faith, then it just may not exist.

The evil one does not lead us astray with gross errors - rather, he uses tantalizing twists on age-old teachings. Once he lures you to take a step off the path, the rest naturally follows.

What has struck me recently is how much there is in common between what Anthony de Mello teaches and the methods of contemplation prayer of the Carmelites and other contemplative orders.

Look at the “Jesus Prayer”. I was recommended “School of Prayer” by Metropolitan Anthony Bloom by my spiritual director. It’s a short easy to read book that introduces a traditional orthodox exploration of these prayer techniques. (Author was head of the Russian Orthodox Church in England).

Look to instruction in their prayer methods… you could start with St Theresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross or some more modern authors who are trying to teach contemplation prayer methods to the laity.

Fr. Anthony de Mello had good intentions… but he allowed himself to become poluted… it’s best to leave his writings alone until you have grounded yourself in a more Orthodox understanding of Meditation, Contemplation, and Mystical experience…

Sorry that book was:

School For Prayer.

Oops… looks like (according to Google) some publishers have re-named this book “Beginning to pray”

Thanks for the responses.

I’ve brought this to the attention of two priests I am in contact with. Both happen to be from India and familiar with De Mello. I gave one the book Awareness for him to review and get back to me. The other I contacted via email; he was the one who recommended it to me in the first place. He recommended I put the book away for the moment and… I guess consolidate my resources, if you will? I’ll be approaching my spiritual director about this soon.

Both po18guy and anruari, thanks again for the response. May I ask if you’ve read De Mello before, particularly Awareness? It’s really the only book of his that I’ve fully gone through and absorbed anything from. I was as circumspect as I could be, but the worry about possible unorthodoxy remains. I think I’ve been careful enough to receive only ideas that are A) helpful, b) remain on the human level, and c) that could be cross-checked with either the writings or examples of other safer Christian ways.

Just to throw this out there, here’s a list of some of the ideas that I have either integrated or am inclined to integrate:

-Life is hard. Life isn’t always fair.
-Work on changing yourself before you try to change others.
-Judge not. Observe others, but judge not.
-Do not identify with negative feelings. They are in you, but they are not substantial to you. As badly as you might feel, you don’t have to let negative impede nor influence you.
-Walk free.
-People have problems. Their problems are not your problems. Let them work their problems out. Meanwhile, be happy.
-Let go. Of what? The past and the future for starters. Live the moment.
-Let go. Of what? Things. Other people. Be detached from the world.
-Compassion/love (?) can be painful. Painful like a surgeon or a medicine. Good for you, but painful.
-Wake up to your inner potential. Wake up and fly!

I’m open to any comments, opinions or recommendations. Please, your thoughts.

Fr. De Mello was big on us going through life asleep. He did advise us to wake up, but…

I see some overlap between what he teaches and Christianity. The detachment from material things is fine. Yet, the emptying of self, via detachment from the world, the lack of concern about others and their problems is contrary to the teachings of Christ. He taught that we are to love our neighbor, and chastise/correct the sinner without judgment. His concept tends toward actualization from within, rather than by God’s grace, which comes from without. Christ teaches the denial of self, not the detachment or emptying of self There is a lot of Buddhist influence in this emptying/detaching.

To be blunt, I would avoid him like the spiritual plague that some of his ideas are. They lead toward the self and not toward our Creator. They remove God from being in charge and place us in charge. Notice that the emphasis seems to be on the light within us and not the light of Christ. The new age movement has adopted some of these beliefs. Knowing the tendency toward excess that is inherent in the human ego, this is not good.

How deep are you into this?

Deep enough to be concerned. Read the book twice. It’s hard to say how deeply it affected me. I’m reading other books closer to Western tradition now. *Toward God *by Michael Casey, Adam’s Return by Richard Rohr. Saints for Now by Clare Booth Luce. And of course hitting up the Gospels again.

I appreciate the honesty, po18guy. And I agree with the human light vs. light of Christ idea you put forth. I did get that sense initially.

What is your opinion with these though? These are probably the more significant lessons I garnered.

–Life is hard. Life isn’t always fair.
-Work on changing yourself before you try to change others.
-Do not identify with negative feelings. They are in you, but they are not substantial to you. As badly as you might feel, you don’t have to let bad feelings impede nor influence you.

I have no experience with any of those authors, but a certain amount can be determined by examining the identities of the writers of the forwards or jacket comments. Have you thought about Fr. Jacques Philippe, a French Priest and retreat master? I have his book “Searching for and Maintaining Peace”, which is considered a modern classic. Many Priests have this book and recommend it. They are brief, and very practical books whose wisdom you can apply even as you read them. I think his writings will be a good match for you.

–Life is hard. Life isn’t always fair.

Agrees with Augustine. He taught that we are not at home on this earth - rather, that we are treading along a dusty path. Yet, Christ taught that He came that we might have life - and life in abundance (John 10:10).

-Work on changing yourself before you try to change others.

Take the log out of your own eye before you remove the splinter from your brother’s eye. But, a brother or sister in physical or spiritual danger must be addressed.

-Do not identify with negative feelings. They are in you, but they are not substantial to you. As badly as you might feel, you don’t have to let bad feelings impede nor influence you.

If the bad feelings come from confronting evil, you are given the passion of anger to act in opposing evil, not just blowing it off. This has a lot of that Eastern influcence in it - the empty yourself, expect nothing and you will not be disappointed type of thought. Not Christian in its entirety. At the same time, we must not let negativity define us. All of our passions have a God-given use. The catechism is very instructive here under “passions”

Spirituality, you say? Read some Saint Teresa of Avila or Saint John of the Cross. Modern day mystics are pikers compared to these two.

Hi again guys. I talked to God today.

I suppose one of the scarier things about reading De Mello was wondering to what extent I’d been… infected, if you will? How much he influenced me. Now, one of the things I read in his book was that you could drop negative feelings as easily as you’d drop a pencil in your hand. They’re not a part of you, he would say.

Well, today I had the great insight that I might as well just drop his ideas in just the same way. Just drop it, altogether. I figured, you guys are on the right track. De Mello’s got good stuff, but he’d be difficult to read safely. Might as well drop it and start all over. I thought I was ready, but clearly I’m not.

Thanks for everything fellas.

If you would, please pray for me. Know that I will pray every night in kind.

po18guy, sorry! I didn’t even see that you responded.

Thanks for the insights! I shall be taking a look at your recommendation, Fr. Jacques Philippe. He’ll be on my book-list. Thanks for the comments on the maxims, too.

You’ve been most helpful! Thank you so much. Please pray for me; I’ll be recommending you to our Blessed Mother each night. :slight_smile:

This is probably the most Christ-like that I have ever been. I gratefully accept any and all prayer, as prayer sustains me. I return the favor, as well.

As to Fr. Philippe, read the interview on his website, and have a look at the themes from his books. He is very impressive.

And, as to Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint John of the Cross, we will never reach the depths of their writings in our lifetimes.

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