When I began exploring the boundaries of my Christian belief system, I discovered the writings of Anthony “Tony” de Mello. He was an Indian Jesuit priest who was also a well-known author and lecturer. Although he was a priest, his views on spirituality were so different and non-traditional that it prompted a committee headed by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (who later became Pope Benedict XVI) to declare some of his writings as “incompatible with the Catholic Faith and can cause grave harm.”
Most of his books are simply a collection of short parables and stories (no more than a page or two per story) featuring “the Master” who Tony describes as being “not a single person. He is a Hindu guru, a Zen roshi, a Taoist sage, a Jewish rabbi, a Christian monk, a Sufi mystic. He is Lao Tzu and Socrates, Buddha and Jesus, Zarathusthra and Muhammad…You will probably find the Master’s language baffling, exasperating, even downright meaningless. This, alas, is not an easy book. It was written, not to instruct, but to Awaken.” (from Awakening: Conversations with the Masters).
He borrows from many traditions and incorporates them into his own style, which is non-invasive and non-threatening. He makes no attempt to persuade you to believe as he does but instead encourages you to develop your own conclusions and insights from the stories.
The very first story of another book, The Song of the Bird, illustrates this beautifully. A disciple asks the Master, “Why do you keep telling us stories but never reveal their meaning?” The Master replies, “How would you like it if I offered you some fruit but chewed it before giving it to you?”
I realized then that almost all the beliefs I had were built on someone else’s foundation — were chewed by other people, then fed to me. If that sounds pretty gross to you, that’s because it is. I was disgusted by it and that prompted me to re-examine my beliefs, to discard them one by one and begin my own search.
But did I really need to discard those beliefs? Could I not have searched within that framework? Tony has another story for that featuring the Mullah Nasruddin. One night, a neighbor finds Nasruddin on the street, on his hands and knees.
“What are you doing there, Mullah?” asks the neighbor.
“I am searching for my key,” says Nasruddin.
The neighbor then drops to his hands and knees and helps in the search. After a few minutes of fruitless labor, the neighbor asks, “Are you sure this is where you lost it?”
“No, I lost it at home,” replies Nasruddin.
“What? Then why are you searching for it here?” asks the neighbor.
“Because it’s brighter here,” replies Nasruddin.
This is why I found it ridiculous to search for Truth in the comfort of my belief. However, as I’ve written elsewhere before, it was not an easy thing to let go. I was like the disciple in another story, who complained to the Master, who seemed hell-bent to destroy every statement of belief in God, “I’m left with nothing to hold on to!”
At which the Master replied, “That’s what the fledgling says when pushed out of its nest. Do you expect to fly when you are securely settled in the nest of your beliefs? That isn’t flying. That’s flapping your wings!”
Thank you, Tony, for teaching me to fly.
Originally published in Sunstar Davao.
Andy Uyboco is a businessman, trainer and speaker. If you gaze into the sky, you may perchance see him doing aerial summersaults. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for his flight schedule.