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Jiddu Krishnamurti and Anthony de Mello, S.J.: Two Spiritual Guides from India to Enlighten Us

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But why are there no women religious in the religious order founded by Ignatius Loyola, as there women Benedictines, women Dominicans, and women Franciscans? Talk about institutionalized male chauvinism! There should be women Ignatians in the religious order founded by Ignatius Loyola, just as there should be properly ordained women priestsin the Roman Catholic Church.

Now, even though the followers of Jesus may consider him to be their messiah, the term "messiah" is not a person's name but a title; the term "Christian(s)," derived from the Greek term for messiah, means "Messiahite(s)," a follower of the supposed messiah. Nevertheless, in the present essay, I will bow to historical usage.

Now, momentary experiences of nature mysticism are not uncommon. But practicing mystics practice certain forms of meditation and contemplation regularly in their efforts to open themselves to mystic experience. I myself am not today a practicing mystic. However, when I was in the Jesuits, I was a practicing mystic, or at least I tried to be, as all Jesuits try to be and as all members in religious orders in the Roman Catholic Church are. The term "practicing mystics" would also include Buddhist monks and other people who regularly practice silent meditation and contemplation in their effort to open themselves to mystic experience. (I say a bit more about my experiences in the Jesuits below, and I also further discuss below two broad traditions of prayer that are related to opening oneself to mystic experience.)

Through books, conferences, audiotapes, translations, and the like, Jiddu Krishnamurti and Anthony de Mello, S.J., became widely known beyond India in the English-speaking world and elsewhere. Thanks to earlier colonizing ventures of the British, many people in India and the United States and elsewhere around the world learn to speak, read, and write English, as both Jiddu Krishnamurti and Anthony de Mello did.

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However, centuries before the British colonized India , Jesuit missionaries had visited India and had won over some converts there to Roman Catholicism. Other Catholic missionaries also accompanied Portuguese colonizers to certain parts of India . According to his younger brother Bill deMello (sic), Anthony de Mello's family name comes from a Portuguese family name. But Bill deMello does not mean that his family is biologically descended from any Portuguese colonizers. According to him, whole groups of local people in India at times took on Portuguese surnames, including his family. (For the sake of brevity, I will at times refer below to Jiddu Krishnamurti as Krishna and to Anthony de Mello, S.J., as Tony.)

What did each of these two twentieth-century spiritual giants from India, giants of mystic spirituality, teach that is important for us to understand today as we struggle to work out viable approaches to spirituality in the twenty-first century? Because Tony's thought was deeply influenced by Krishna 's thought, I will start with Krishna but then weave in Tony's thought as I proceed. In addition, I will weave in certain information about myself so that the reader will be able to understand where I am coming from, and I will also weave in certain points from Walter J. Ong's thought.

Who Were Jiddu Krishnamurti and Anthony de Mello, S.J.?

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Around 1985, some of Roland Vernon's friends in Athens gave him a copy of Jiddu   Krishnamurti's book THE FLIGHT OF THE EAGLE (1971). As a result of reading that challenging book, Roland Vernon (born 1961) subsequently undertook to research and write STAR IN THE EAST: KRISHNAMURTI: THE INVENTION OF A MESSIAH (Boulder, Colorado (USA): Sentient Publications, 2002; orig. 2000), the most up to date biography of Krishna now available. (The various photographs of Jiddu Krishnamurti at different ages in this book show that he was physically beautiful and photogenic as a young boy and a man. He looked like a Hollywood movie star. His life would make a great Hollywood movie. As a matter of fact, his life sounds like something out of a Hollywood movie starring this beautiful boy/man.)

From Roland Vernon's account of Krishna 's mature thought, I would say that he was indeed a star in the East comparable in stature to the historical Jesus, whose followers today consider him to have been their messiah. As Roland Vernon shows, many of Krishna 's followers considered him to be their messiah. Krishna 's mature thought holds a saving message for humankind today about the altogether different consciousness of mystic awareness. Moreover, experiencing mystic awareness is probably connected to experiencing the kingdom or reign of God that the historical Jesus proclaimed as being here.

On page 261, Roland Vernon mentions the gospel imagery about Jesus being the good shepherd, a comfort to the needy. But he says that Krishna "was not another Jesus [because] he had not come to be the good shepherd, a comfort to the needy." Evidently, this did not stop needy spiritual flounderers from flocking to him, perhaps because of his resoluteness. Roland Vernon emphasizes that "[i]f there was a prerequisite for anyone prepared to open themselves to his ideas it was that they equip themselves with inner strength and banish the notion of dependency."

As to spiritual flounderers flocking to the Jesuits and to other religious orders in the Roman Catholic Church, I suspect that the spiritual flounderers do not persist in the Jesuits or the other Catholic religious orders for very long. Or if they do persist, they are probably very unhappy. In short, being in the Jesuits or another Catholic religious order is not a way of life that would appeal to spiritual flounderers.

Even though I have not read Krishna's books, I decided to read Roland Vernon's biography of Jiddu Krishnamurti as a way to deepen my understanding of the thought of Anthony de Mello, S.J., another spiritual writer and speaker from India, author of SADHANA: A WAY TO GOD (1978), AWARENESS (1992), REDISCOVERING LIFE: AWAKEN TO REALITY (2012), and SEEK GOD EVERYWHERE: REFLECTIONS ON THE SPIRITUAL EXERCISES OF ST. IGNATIUS (2010).

Disclosure: When I was in the Jesuits, I made the customary 30-day directed retreat in silence (except for the daily conferences with the retreat director) following the SPIRITUAL EXERCISES of Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit religious order in the Roman Catholic Church (known formally as the Society of Jesus). To this day, I would describe my 30-day retreat as one of the most memorable events in my life.

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Then in July 1980, I attended a preached retreat that Anthony de Mello, S.J., from India gave in Denver for approximately 85 Jesuits. During each session when he spoke, I sat in the back of the room and took careful notes. Over the years since I left the Jesuits early in 1987, I have taken out my notes from that retreat and reread them numerous times. I treasure those notes. In addition, I followed his thought further by reading some of his posthumously published books and listening to audiotapes of spiritual workshops he had presented at different times at Fordham University , the Jesuit university in the part of New York City knowns as the Bronx , New York ( USA ).

In my book WALTER ONG'S CONTRIBUTIONS TO CULTURAL STUDIES: THE PHENOMENOLOGY OF THE WORD AND I-THOU COMMUNICATION ( Cresskill , New Jersey ( USA ): Hampton Press, 2000), I discuss Tony's thought in various places (see the index for page references). As I was careful to note, Walter J. Ong, S.J. (1912-2003) of Saint Louis University , the Jesuit university in St. Louis , Missouri ( USA ), discusses Tony's thought. ( Saint Louis University is an apostolate of the Missouri Province of the Society of Jesus. The Missouri Provine includes more states than just Missouri , but its headquarters are in Missouri -- in St. Louis . Walter J. Ong, S.J., was a Missouri Province Jesuit. Anthony de Mello's book SADHANA: A WAY TO GOD was published in 1978 by the Institute of Jesuit Sources in St. Louis , an apostolate of the Missouri Province . Tony's July 1980 preached retreat in Denver , Colorado ( USA ), for Jesuits was sponsored by Ministry Training Services in Denver , another apostolate of the Missouri Province .)

In my notes from Tony's July 1980 retreat in Denver , I had made a record of his enthusiastic recommendation of Krishnamurti's thought. So I recently decided to read Roland Vernon's biography of Krishna as a way to become familiar with his life and thought, and as a way to further deepening my understanding of Tony's thought. End of disclosure.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; Ph.D.in higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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