AWARENESS by Anthony De Mello

The Catholic priest, Anthony De Mello, wrote a book called Awareness (Fount, London, 1997) that became a runaway success. Many retreat centres for Catholics based on his ideas have sprung up. The book is basically about self-help and has some similarities with pop psychology. I will discuss the merits of the book first and then the shortcomings and then how it fails to square with Catholic doctrine. De Mello was a psychiatrist and no one can expect even a priest one to be a real Catholic. The book says that suffering is caused by stupid thinking or delusions and that all you have to do to be happy is to be aware or see through this stupidity for happiness is not caused by you but is intrinsic. You just have to learn how to let it activate. It is there inside you all you have to do is let it out.

De Mello says we hate anything new not because we fear the unknown for we cannot fear what we do not know (page 29) but because we fear the loss of what we are familiar with and are afraid the new will show that we are wrong (page 18). Of course we can fear the unknown for we don’t know what nasty surprises may be in store. His assertion contradicts itself because he says we can’t fear what is unknown and then he says we can for we feel secure with what we know. If we feel safe with things because we know them then it is because we know them and we don't want to risk opting for change.
De Mello says we like security when we should like taking reasonable risks. This draws him to the notion that you must be open-minded on everything and have faith and recognise that faith is insecurity while belief is security and all beliefs should be checked out and questioned. He claims that faith is open to contradicting Jesus and the Catholic Church who have made wilful doubt a sin. How can it be open for the real Catholic when such a person is not allowed to see if there is another side?
He maintains that the only difference between criminals and ourselves is that they have done evil actions but inside we are as bad as them. We are the same as what they are (page 30). And he says we should not expect others to be good to us and then we won’t be disappointed (page 31-32). The truth is that self-esteem comes not from doing good to earn a good self-image but from doing good to see how good you are. It cannot be done any other way. You need to need to do good works despite his claim that you should be detached from everything.
Suppose we are all as bad as each other. It follows then that instead of putting the murderer in prison for his crimes we should give him a medal for being so honest as to carry out what was in his heart. The rest of us who don't murder, would do it and don't because we are hypocrites. We hide what we really are while the murderer was honest. If we are as bad as each other, we cannot condemn anybody as worse than us. Also, it doesn't matter if somebody is falsely accused of a crime. It is not slander. To condemn somebody for committing a crime is more about condemning them for being of bad character than about them breaking rules. With that thought in mind, how can it be possible to slander anybody no matter what you say about them?

He stresses that we must not try to change other people but just observe their behaviour like a scientist would observe ants for the only person that needs to change is the one who wants others to change (page 32,51). He says you are more effective in helping others if you avoid negative feelings and just observe and don’t let the evil done by others affect your emotions and make you negative.

He makes a difference between the I and the me. The I is the part of me that is aware and which is intrinsically and naturally happy if it is allowed to be. The me is the part of me that has the thoughts and the maladjustments. He says I should never say I am depressed but it is depressed meaning the me part. Or it is sick not I am sick. Suffering exists in the me not the I so if I become aware of this though I will experience pain I will not experience suffering for suffering is unhappiness and pain together. The I is what is left when I forget about needing other people and things. That is why he is able to say you can be happy while being depressed (page 61). I don’t see any benefit pretending that when you feel pain that it is not you doing it but an it that is really you. it is unnatural and trying to do it will only add to your distress. It is enough just to reduce your emotional needs.
De Mello says happiness is within everybody's reach and my happiness is my own responsibility and nobody else's. It follows then that if you are kidnapped and kept in a dungeon for a decade and you spend it on the verge of going out of your mind with misery and loneliness then it is your own fault. That could be a consolation for the kidnapper. It denies he is to blame for the victim's misery. The Catholic Church has accepted De Mello's nasty thinking since the time of the incarcerated philosopher Boethius and his imaginary conversations with Lady Philosophy. No wonder priestly paedophiles are exceptional and astonishing in their lack of guilt.

When people praise me, they praise the me not the I and that praise is no good. He says to be happy you just have to waken up and see the illusions that attach you to things and people slip away (page 77). This distinction between I and me means that when people tell me off they are against the me not the I. Also when people praise us or call us geniuses it becomes evil for it forces us to try and live up to what they say and we get depressed and lose the sense of self-worth if we fail (page 113). People understandably will be sceptical of all this because the I has to feel bad because of the me. But what De Mello wants you to do is not make a division but a distinction. There is no division but there is a difference between the I and the me. The good thing about all that is that you see your defects as something the I can prevent from hurting the I for they are outside the I and the I is boss. I am not my feelings but my feelings are something that happen to me and they determine if I will be good to myself and others or if I will be bad.

He says happiness is not a thrill and thrills make you depressed because you want them all the time and can’t have them (page 60). He said this is not happiness for it requires work and is an addiction.

De Mello might seem never to have discussed the question: “If I am happy then is it the I or the me that is happy?” The answer is that the me can feel the good thrill but the I is what is happy and the I is intrinsically happy.

He urges us not to judge or praise ourselves but just to observe what we do without any element of these intruding (page 46).
He says that depending on others makes you make demands on them (page 54). The result is fear and fear destroys love. He says we must be detached from them and let them be free which cures loneliness. We should fear nobody because we are content to be nobody (page 58).
The system of De Mello is totally incompatible with Roman Catholic doctrine which is based on the perfection and godhead of Jesus Christ.

De Mello says that Jesus could not do wrong for he had the awareness that the book tries to inspire in us. It says that because of this Jesus was free and since we can do wrong we are not free (page 142).

But De Mello’s system forbids aggression and Jesus was aggressive towards the Jews so Jesus did not practice the philosophy in this book. Jesus taught everybody to say, “I am a sinner”. But De Mello says that since you should not say you are depressed but be careful to separate the illness from your personhood by saying something like, “It is depressed”, meaning your me part is depressed not the I which would imply that you should not call yourself a sinner but say “It is a sinner” or “My me part not my I part is a sinner”. Yet the word sinner means a person or I who sins against God. Jesus also got upset therefore he did not practice De Mello’s philosophy.
Aggression is accepted by all right thinking people as a duty when you are trying to get some stubborn person out of a burning house etc. Christianity and Jesus say there is a Hell of endless torment. Jesus says we must be prepared at all times for meeting the bridegroom, meaning himself, and no excuse will be accepted if the opportunity comes. He devised some parables to drive home that moral. So taking all this into consideration, real Christianity demands quite a lot of aggression for the fate of Hell which is everlasting torment is worse than a million deaths. You must yell your head off at a girl who is going to sleep with her boyfriend.

De Mello cannot answer people who say they enjoy being bad and having negative feelings. It is possible that people can enjoy hating another person and get more pleasure out of this than out of letting go which is what De Mello asks them to do. Everybody and everybody’s situation is different so some people could hate strongly and be okay.

Also Jesus taught the doctrine of eternal punishment while De Mello says that we should not worry about the afterlife at all or care about it (page 42). Only the insane could not care if they go to Hell if they die. He said the central question in philosophy or the question that should be most important for us is not is there a God or is there an afterlife but how to do what is best with this life. De Mello gives lip-service to God and belief in God emphasising that the more we learn about God the less we know for God is unknowable. But in reality there is no need for God at all. De Mello said that to need God is to fail to love God for needing God means you want to control him. We don’t need God to be happy (page 134). I like the way De Mello is full of the atheist spirit though it is a pity he has tried to hide it.
If we should not need God, then we must deny that God holds us in existence and that we cannot exist without him making us.
De Mello with this God we do not need is denying that God comes first. This contradicts the first great commandment as taught by Jesus and Moses which runs, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind”, in other words do everything for God and nothing for yourself or others and to love others and yourself is simply to love God because love is doing whatever is the right thing to do. Only God is loved in the sense of being valued. This life does come first in the sense that you have it now and are most sure you are alive now than that you will be later or after death. De Mello doesn’t give this reason for it though. He says that you need to strip away the illusions and become aware and that has to be done in this life so this life comes first.

Jesus had no business teaching that Hell exists when we are not supposed to care about the afterlife. The doctrine has caused so much upset that we must conclude that Jesus was an evil man if he lived.

Catholics pray to saints and say prayers like, "Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, Hail Our Life, Our Sweetness and our Hope. O Clement, O Loving, O Sweet Virgin Mary." If you don’t need God you need the saints even less and so it would be degrading to pray to the saints and more so than it would be to pray to God.

De Mello’s system seeks to deliver from fear. But some fear is natural. For example, how can you avoid fearing pain?

The Bible says that God rewards works of righteousness. But if awareness is all we need what use will they be for we will have all we need? They cannot be rewards unless they please us. De Mello’s system forbids you to think of rewards for that is destroying your inner happiness by making yourself need something.

If it is true that success of every kind has nothing to do with self-worth then it follows that the Bible teaching that you are a failure if you commit adultery or whatever is wrong for if you succeed in keeping the commandments it is nothing to be glad about.

The Bible says that grace, a supernatural miracle of God by which he helps you to be good and pleasing to him, is what changes your life. De Mello says it is not grace but just seeing through the things that you think offer you happiness that you need so that you will be free of burdens that stop your happiness. It’s all your own work so grace and therefore prayer are a waste of time.
The Bible blames original sin and not stupidity for the human condition. If there is no original sin there should be no infant baptism. De Mello says you do not need God but awareness which rules out the need for God’s forgiveness and the sacrament of confession and for Jesus to die for sins. To rule out Jesus’ atonement is to abolish the Mass as well. To abolish grace implies you don’t need belief in the miracle of God making bread and wine the body and blood of Christ. The ban on judging ourselves or praising ourselves rules out the Catholic system entirely.

De Mello’s system if correct proves that the sacraments are actually evils. They give false hope of becoming a good person. They do not make you develop awareness for you need De Mello for that. All they do is waste your time and make you complacent about the evil that is in you for you think they are curing it magically and they are not. They constitute false promises.

De Mello would agree with the Catholic Church that knowing God is admitting you don't know. Making God unknowable makes God scary for De Mello states that we like what we know best for we are familiar with it. De Mello says that there are only two emotions in us, love and fear and fear is bad and has to be destroyed by his system for us to be happy. Fear is what originates human evil and it results from looking for happiness in material things, God, other people and in love for these things are a distraction from the happiness that is programmed into us which cannot be taken away or depend on any conditions. By implication then belief in God is a bad thing. And it is worse when you believe in the Bible God who would let people go to Hell for all eternity for Hell makes you afraid for yourself and for others and the fact that Jesus taught the doctrine shows that De Mello’s system proves that Jesus was a fake who should be ignored.

If fear is the problem then you can be afraid of fear too. The longer you live the more experience you have of things going wrong and the more afraid you will get of fear. So it follows that the longer you live the more evil you have inside you that you disguise as good provided you are not practicing De Mello’s philosophy.

De Mello says that belief is security. This is because people treat their beliefs like facts. But he describes faith, personal trust, as insecurity. It is taking the risk of being wrong and getting on with it. The Bible denies that faith is insecure. The faith of the Bible is full of confidence that Jesus has saved the world and is coming back and that God loves all. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul stated that Jesus had risen not that Jesus might have risen. 1 Peter 9 tells us that we are sure that our souls will be saved. Faith is a mixture of belief and acting on the belief so if belief is secure like De Mello says then it follows that for him faith is just something you do and not necessarily something that you believe in.

De Mello states that if you believe that nobody loves you there will be moments when you forget this and during these moments you are happy (page 112). The doctrine that God comes first urges you to keep God in your mind as much as possible as if he were your one true love. If you remember that God loves you that will remind you that people don't so you will lose your happiness over God. It will only be a little better if it reminds you that there are some or many who do not.

If De Mello’s philosophy is right then the Bible is not inspired by God at all for it does not teach his philosophy at all. If it ever does then it is not clear and detailed enough. We would have something like De Mello’s book at the beginning of the Bible.

De Mello says that religion is not necessarily connected with spirituality (page 21). Spirituality is what he calls awareness. He says his book is spiritual. That is quite a matter of opinion! Since the book is just commonsense and demands that you use your own material resources, your brain primarily, it cannot have anything to do with spirituality because spirituality is getting emotional help from an unseen plane of existence, like a world of gods and angels, while this is shutting out the other world.

De Mello would say the greatest thing of all is awareness. But Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 says the greatest virtue is charity that expresses faith and the Church believes that God wrote this through him.

When happiness is just being content whatever happens as De Mello asserts then how can rewards be rewards? A reward is supposed to make you feel better but in De Mello’s system you have to be detached from thrills and stuff and therefore rewards. Yet the Bible promises rewards in Heaven. De Mello is accusing the Christian God of being evil and opposed to awareness.
Awareness takes effort in the sense that you have to avoid the bad thinking that destroys your inner peace. But in Heaven there is no need for the effort for God supplies the happiness. So the happiness of Heaven then depends on us being lazy and basking in the peace that comes from God. So much for laziness or sloth being a deadly sin! If you want to go to this Heaven you will end up in Hell if laziness is a sin!

De Mello says that becoming aware makes us have the right kind of selfishness. The person becomes aware, to be happy. When you please only yourself you end up with lots of enemies. When you serve others in case you will feel guilty you will feel enslaved. He rejects these as being of any value. In fact they are perversions of selfishness and not real selfishness for they cannot work and are self-defeating. Jesus said that the man who does good for praise merits no reward. We can say the same of the man who sees how to be selfish and how the other two forms of selfishness could only be adopted by ceasing to be selfish to some degree. He sees the thing that has the most of something in it for him. De Mello admits that his path is hard and blames it on the fact that we allegedly don’t want to be happy but just want relief for a while from our problems. He believes that faults come from the sensation of needing others and needing things for yourself so he is against you being imperfect. It has not occurred to him that some people might find it easier just to find their faults make them see themselves as lovable rogues.

The concept of deserving has to do with needing because rights are based on needs and deserving means you have a right to be made suffer or happy. If you do wrong of your own free will you need punishment for yourself and the Church says that punishment does not degrade human dignity but restores it. De Mello forbids needing so he forbids punishing or rewarding.

The Vatican has issued a warning about De Mello’s writings on the basis that he is too much into Eastern philosophy with the result that he fuses God and nature so that they are one and the same thing and has one religion as good as another and makes Jesus superfluous.