Our Illusion About Others
The following is the 11th chapter in AWARENESS: A de Mellow Spirituality Conference in His Own Words
by Fr. Anthony de Mello, S.J. edited by J. Francis Stroud, S.J., Copyright © 1990 by the Center for Spiritual Exchange
“So if you stop to think, you would see that there’s nothing to be very proud of after all. What does this do to your relationship with people? What are you complaining about? A young man came to complain that his girlfriend had let him down, that she had played false. What are you complaining about? Did you expect any better? Expect the worst, you’re dealing with selfish people. You’re the idiot—you glorified her, didn’t you? You thought she was a princess, you thought people were nice. They’re not! They’re not nice. They’re as bad as you are—bad, you understand? They’re asleep like you. And what do you think they are going to seek? Their own self-interest, exactly like you. No difference.
Can you imagine how liberating it is that you’ll never be disillusioned again, never be disappointed again? You’ll never feel let down again. Never feel rejected. Want to wake up? You want happiness? You want freedom? Here it is: Drop your false ideas. See through people. If you see through yourself, you will see through everyone. Then you will love them. Otherwise you spend the whole time grappling with your wrong notions of them, with your illusions that are constantly crashing against reality.
It’s probably too startling for many of you to understand that everyone except the very rare awakened person can be expected to be selfish and to seek his or her own self-interest whether in coarse or in refined ways. This leads you to see that there’s nothing to be disappointed about, nothing to be disillusioned about. If you had been in touch with reality all along, you would never have been disappointed. But you chose to paint people in glowing colors; you chose not to see through human beings because you chose not to see through yourself. So you’re paying the price now.
Before we discuss this, let me tell you a story. Somebody once asked, ‘What is enlightenment like? What is awakening like?’ It’s like the tramp in London who was settling in for the night. He’d hardly been able to get a crust of bread to eat. Then he reaches this embankment on the river Thames. There was a slight drizzle, so he huddled in his old tattered cloak. He was about to go to sleep when suddenly a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce pulls up. Out of the car steps a beautiful young lady who says to him, ‘My poor man, are you planning on spending the night here on this embankment?’ And the tramp says, ‘Yes.’ She says, ‘I won’t have it. You’re coming to my house and you’re going to spend a comfortable night and you’re going to get a good dinner.’ She insists on his getting into the car. Well, they ride out of London and get to a place where she has a sprawling mansion with large grounds. They are ushered in by the butler, to whom she says, ‘James, please make sure he’s put in the servants’ quarters and treated well.’ Which is what James does. The young lady had undressed and was about to go to bed when she suddenly remembers her guest for the night. So she slips something on and pads along the corridor to the servants’ quarters. She sees a little chink of light from the room where the tramp was put up. She taps lightly at the door, opens it, and finds the man awake. She says, ‘What’s the trouble, my good man, didn’t you get a good meal?’ He said, ‘Never had a better meal in my life, lady.’ ‘Are you warm enough?’ He says, ‘Yes, lovely warm bed.’ Then she says, ‘Maybe you need a little company. Why don’t you move over a, bit.’ And she comes closer to him and he moves over and falls right into the Thames.
Ha! You didn’t expect that one! Enlightenment! Enlightenment! Wake up. When you’re ready to exchange your illusions for reality, when you’re ready to exchange your dreams for facts, that’s the way you find it all. That’s where life finally becomes meaningful. Life becomes beautiful.
There’s a story about Ramirez. He is old and living up there in his castle on a hill. He looks out the window (he’s in bed and paralyzed) and he sees his enemy. Old as he is, leaning on a cane, his enemy is climbing up the hill—slowly, painfully. It takes him about two and a half hours to get up the hill. There’s nothing Ramirez can do because the servants have the day off. So his enemy opens the door, comes straight to the bedroom, puts his hand inside his cloak, and pulls out a gun. He says, ‘At last, Ramirez, we’re going to settle scores!’ Ramirez tries his level best to talk him out of it. He says, ‘Come on, Borgia, you can’t do that. You know I’m no longer the man who ill-treated you as that youngster years ago, and you’re no longer that youngster. Come off it!’ ‘Oh no,’says his enemy, ‘your sweet words aren’t going to deter me from this divine mission of mine. It’s revenge I want and there’s nothing you can do about it.’ And Ramirez says, ‘But there is!’ ‘What?’ asks his enemy. ‘I can wake up,’ says Ramirez. And he did; he woke up! That’s what enlightenment is like. When someone tells you, ‘There is nothing you can do about it,’ you say, ‘There is, I can wake up!’ All of a sudden, life is no longer the nightmare that it has seemed. Wake up!
Somebody came up to me with a question. What do you think the question was? He asked me, ‘Are you enlightened?’ What do you think my answer was? What does it matter!
You want a better answer? My answer would be: ‘How would I know? How would you know? What does it matter?’ You know something? If you want anything too badly, you’re in big trouble. You know something else? If I were enlightened and you listened to me because I was enlightened, then you’re in big trouble. Are you ready to be brainwashed by someone who’s enlightened? You can be brainwashed by anybody, you know. What does it matter whether someone’s enlightened or not? But see, we want to lean on someone, don’t we? We want to lean on anybody we think has arrived. We love to hear that people have arrived. It gives us hope, doesn’t it? What do you want to hope for? Isn’t that another form of desire?
You want to hope for something better than what you have right now, don’t you? Otherwise you wouldn’t be hoping. But then, you forget that you have it all right now anyway, and you don’t know it. Why not concentrate on the now instead of hoping for better times in the future? Why not understand the now instead of forgetting it and hoping for the future? Isn’t the future just another trap?”
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