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Anthony De Mello and Osho

In memory of Anthony De Mello

By Carlos G. Vallés SJ


Anthony De Mello was greatly influenced by Gestalt (Fritz Perls), AS Neill (Summerhill School),
Krishnamurti, Carl Rogers, and Osho (Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh).

A TV team from Poland has come to shoot an interview with me about Anthony DeMello. They
began by asking me whether I knew Tony as a Christian, as they had carried out several
interviews about him in India and they had been told all sort of things. I told them Tony was a
good Christian but not a good Catholic. His love for Jesus and for the gospels was evident, but
he did not feel the same affection and fidelity for the Church and the Vatican. I told him once, in
view of his repeated criticisms of the Church: “Tony, if that is what you feel, you should leave
the Church.” He answered me: “Leaving the Church, Carlos? She does not deserve that
compliment.” This was not very appreciative. His repeated expression was, “Let the Church sit
lightly on you”, that is, don’t take it too seriously – not even to make you protest against her.
Tony was a great person who did and keeps on doing much good to many people, and precisely
for that we have to maintain his greatness and not his failures. History has a right to know.

When I arrived in India, Anthoy DeMello was a novice in Mumbai and I first met him there. Later
on we coincided for two years in the Pune theologate. When I was in Ahmedabad I came to
know that Tony had announced a Month Retreat for any takers. I signed up at once. Shorly after
that, the provincial, Fr José Javier Aizpún, told me: “You are a professor of mathematics at the
university, and many young Jesuits have you as their spiritual director. You do mathematics, but
you don’t know psychology or counselling, and you would profit by learning something like that
at the Sadhana courses Tony de Mello is giving in Lonawla. He has the Maxi-Sadhana of nine
months, and the Mini-Sadhana of one month. You could go to the Mini.” I answered him: “You
don’t know me, Aizipún. There are no minis for me. If I go to Sádhana, it will be Maxi Sádhana.”
And I went. Thanks to a good provincial.

Tony was eminently personal and original, but there were also deep influences in his formation.
The first influence on him came from Fr Calveras SJ, a great authority and great director of St
Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises which Tony learned from him. Later he was greatly influenced by
America where he studied and where he returned again and again. In Sadhana we used to say
that were always at the mercy of Tony’s last journey to the United States. The two great
influences on him were the Gestalt psychology of Fritz Perls and Barry Stevens, and the
non-directive counselling of Carl Rogers.

The “Gestalt prayer” was the Sadhana code of conduct, and we repeated it at every occasion to
remind ourselves of its content which was always the norm for us:

“I do my thing, and you do your thing.

I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,
and you are not in this world to live up to mine.
You are you, and I am I.
And if by chance we meet each other, it is wonderful.
If not, it cannot be helped.”

Barry Stevens wrote the book “Don’t push the river, it flows by itself”, whose titly contains the
whole book. Another of her quotes I also remember: si had been listening to a public talk by
Fritz Perls, and when coming out she said: “I’ve been listening to Fritz for over an hour; I don’t
remember a single thing of all he has said and I have taken no notes, but it is all inside me and
my body, and it’ll come up whenever I need it.” Gestalt.

Carls Rogers’ “non-directive counselling” is something like putting a mirror before the person so
that they can see themselves in it while talking to the therapist who goes on echoing whatever
they say. This was Tony’s favourite illustration:

Client: - Sometimes I feel a desire to commit suicide.

Therapist: - I understand you sometimes feel a desire to commit suicide.
- Just now I feel like putting an end to my life.
- I hear you say that just now you feel like putting an end to your life.
- I'm going to get up from my chair.
- You are going to get up from your chair.
- I'm going to the window and I open it.
- You are going to the window and opening it.
- I throw myself out of the window.
- You throw yourself out of the window.
- (The client throws himself out of the window and the sound was heard:) Plop!
- (The therapist looks out of the window, looks down and says:) Plop!
End of the interview. And of the client.

Even so, I believe the greatest influence on Tony was Osho. Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, as he
was first called, was a Jain, philosophy professor who became famous throughout India as a
public speaker. I coincided with him every year during the Paryushan in Bombay and
Ahmedabad where we both gave lectures, so that I came to know him as a fellow speaker, and
he even invited me to present a book of his, though I gently declined as the title of the book was
“From Sex to Superconsciousness”, which is not my speciality. Osho established his own school
in Pune (where Tony was at the time), attracted wide audiences, followers and disciples, started
another school in Oregon, United States, where he was accused of violating the immigration
laws and spent some days in jail. He came back to India and, although he never wrote anything
himself, his talks were transcribed and published in many books (182 in the present editor’s list)
which became very popular not only in India but in versions all over the world, and they remain
so to this day.

Anthony De Mello kept in his room a large cupboard which was always locked and nobody knew
what was in it. When DeMello died they opened it and it was found to be full of Osho’s books
from top to bottom. Many of the stories Tony told in his talks and his books come from there. But
he never quoted Osho or mentioned him in any way, much less acknowledged his debt to him.
As I had know him personally, Tony asked me about Osho every time we met in order to get his
last news and ideas. Tony was not in any way proud or vain, but he was ambitious as he had
great qualities and he knew it, and his aim was to become the “Christian Osho”, as he himself
told me, and he certainly was well on the way. He spoke Spanish as well as English, which gave
him access to the whole world, and he travelled throughout the world giving courses and talks.
He truly practiced inner detachment and holy indifference, and he showed and possessed a
great peace of mind, but his organism couldn’t stand the pressure, and he died of a heart attack.
I grow thoughtful when I think he was six years younger to me, and I’m 86. After “The Song of
the Bird” and “The Prayer of the Frog” he was preparing another book with the title “The Roar of
the Lion”. The roar did not come.

I reminded my Polish friends that in his very books there were already some objectionable
points. One of his stories in “The Song of the Bird” is “The Fair of Religions” in which Christians,
Jews, Muslims have each their stall… without God eventually choosing any. Another story
(broadcast as a sketch on the BBC) is the one of the football game between Catholics and
Protestants. Jesus, who is among the spectators, cheers equally at the goals of either team.
Both are the same, it would seem. I read the first draft of “The Song of the Bird” and Tony
laughed with me commenting on some of the more “risky” stories which he suppressed before
publication. And I told my Polish audience what the General of the Jesuits, Peter Hans
Kolvenbach, is supposed to have said at Tony’s death: “Tony died in time. If he had lived a little
longer he would have got into trouble with Rome. I also told them that that fear became reality,
and eleven years ofter Tony’s death, the then Cardinal Ratzinger published from the
Congregation for the Defence of the Faith a “notification” in which he gave some quotations
from Tony’s books with the remark: “The above mentioned assertions are not compatible with
the Catholic faith.” My Polish friends did not seem to mind.

I left them with the final summary of all Anthony DeMello taught: “Choiceless, effortless,
purposeless awareness.” Every word hides a treasure. Full of meaning ond of feeling. That was
Sádhana, and so I told my friends.
At the end I sung to them, a little out of tune, the Sádhana hymn we enjoyed singing together,
and I wonder if it is still in use. The words was typically Tony’s, and the music I proposed for it
was the one of the German song “Ein Scheider hat’ne Maus”. Some of them knew the song,
and we all sung together in farewell. These were the words:

“We’re sorry to let you go,

We’re sorry to let you go;
But what the hell are you doing here?
We’re sorry to let you go.

At least this must have mystified you a little.

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