Sadhana by Miguel LA FONT SJ
1.    Biographical details of Fr. De Mello
2.    Development of the Spirituality of Fr. De Mello
3.    The Influence of St. Ignatius on the spirituality of Fr. De
  • 4.   Sadhana
  • 5.The death of Fr. De Mello in 1987
1.    Biographical details of Fr. De Mello

    Fr. Anthony De Mello was born in 1931 in the city of Bombay (now Mumbai) in India. On entering the Society of Jesus in 1948 he studied philosophy at Barcelona in Spain and psychology at Loyola University in Chicago, and then proceeded to Rome to study theology and spirituality at the Gregorian University. In 1968, on the conclusion of his training as a priest and religious he was sent to the city of Pune in India as Rector of the Jesuit school of theology, and here he also served as spiritual director to the Jesuit scholastics. By the time he ended his term as Rector he had attained considerable competence as a spiritual director, and since in the initial stages of development he tended to stress the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, he actively set about directing month-long Ignatian retreats. These retreats were not merely for Jesuit scholastics but also for priests, and hence many Jesuits participated in them and benefited greatly from his guidance. These month-long retreats continued for a considerable period of time. The influence he exerted on the younger members of the Society of Jesus was great, and consequently it did not take long for him to attain the ranks of a proficient spiritual director. During 1974-75 he was chosen to attend the 32nd General Congregation of the Jesuits in Rome as a delegate of the Bombay Province, and here too he conducted daily prayer sessions for some of the participants and served as spiritual director, all of which activities enhanced his reputation even more.
2.    Development of the Spirituality of Fr. De Mello
     Fr. De Mello who was usually referred to as ‘Tony,’ often insisted that his own spiritual director was Fr. Calveras, a well known Jesuit who served as spiritual director at the theologate of St. Cugat in Barcelona in 1950. Fr. Calveras was without doubt an expert on the spirituality of St. Ignatius and the Spiritual Exercises, and Tony related with feeling the following episode about him. On a certain occasion in the course of their meeting Calveras said to Tony, “Tell me how you pray.”  Tony was perplexed. However after pondering deeply he gave him the desired answer, whereupon Calveras after listening carefully responded, “You have still not had an experience of prayer.” Thereafter he taught Tony the third of St. Ignatius’s three methods of prayer, and suggested he do as follows, “take a deep breath and recite the Lord’s Prayer (per anhelitos). Tony did so, and later recalled that it was only then that he had his first experience of prayer.
    In the book Tony De Mello Companero de Camino by Jose Vincent Bonet, it is stated as follows, “Tony was influenced in diverse ways by the spiritual direction and insight of Fr. Calveras, whose modus operandi resembled the present approach of staying beside the other. Later while in India he conducted thirty-day retreats for several years, and by this means influenced many Jesuits and initiated a movement of spirituality among the younger members of the Society. He realized that unless the scholastics had an experience of the spirituality of India and Asia, it would be hard for them to exert any substantial influence upon the Indian people. He was also convinced of the need for them to acquire skills in modern psychology, and hence he began various programs, not only with the desire that they attain expertise in Christian spirituality, but also that they gradually get a grasp of oriental mysticism. For example he invited the world-renowned authority S. N. Goenka and arranged for him to conduct the Vipassana meditation for ten days, and he also organized weeklong group therapy sessions by a Jesuit expert.
    Tony acquired his basic inspiration from three different sources, but passed them on to others by uniting them into one. These three sources were Christian and Ignatian spirituality, oriental spirituality, and present-day psychology. On completing his term as spiritual director for Jesuit scholastics a new era dawned for him with his mission at Sadhana, and here his work consisted in educating men and women involved in religious formation and in the training of novices. The Sadhana Institute was initially located in the city of Pune, but in course of time it was shifted to the city of Lonavla, located about 40 kilometers away in the outskirts of Pune. Lonavla is a hill station and a shelter for those wishing to flee the summer heat. Since the Bombay Jesuits had a villa in Lonavla that was virtually unoccupied from October to March, it was decided that the Sadhana sessions would be conducted there on a temporary basis.
3.    The Influence of St. Ignatius on the Spiritual evolution of Fr. De Mello
   Fr. Parmananda Diwakar SJ in his preface to a book by De Mello entitled Contact with God, states as follows:
“Those who were familiar with Tony De Mello in his lifetime, know and still remember that his ministry went through several distinct stages, corresponding partly to the needs of the people he served but also to the demands of an inner development. Externally, one could perceive successively the spiritual director, the therapist, the guru; internally, a close friend has spoken of the progression of values from holiness through love to freedom.” (Cfr. Contact with God, p. vii).”
    According to Bonet Tony could never forget St. Ignatius, his first spiritual director (Cfr. Toni jamas adjuro de sus comienzos, p. 116). Ignatius’s influence on Tony was great, and this is a fact attested to in all his books, starting with his first book Sadhana. For instance, the concept of ‘Indifference’ that appears in the Spiritual Exercises in the section dealing with the Principle and Foundation, and the concept of ‘finding God in all things’ that appears in the Contemplation to obtain Love, appear repeatedly in the works of Tony. Bonet states that in the course of his direction Tony increasingly came to use oriental expressions, thereby endowing the spirituality of St. Ignatius with an oriental form. To him the enlightenment spoken of by the Buddha was close to the Indifference of St. Ignatius, and it was for this reason that even the meditation expert Goenka used the term ‘Holy Indifference.’
    In his book entitled Call to Love he states that to gain happiness we need to be detached from the things of this world, for without this attitude of detachment we can never be happy. In his book Wellsprings, in the chapter entitled The Bible, Tony presents in oriental form the attitude of finding God in all things. As Bonet notes, his words and writings imbued the Christianity of India with an Indian spirit, and attempted to bring about a dialogue between the spiritualities of the East and West. Tagore believed that East and West arose from the throbbing of the same human heart, and Tony who was so to say a cultural bridge between the East and West never desisted when his efforts were needed, for the work he undertook was crucial and obligatory. Five years before his death, on July 31, 1983, which was the feast of St. Ignatius, he spoke to a group of Jesuits and gave them the following message:

“If we wish to be in harmony with the Creative Spirit, we need to love our Catholic Church, regardless of the fact that at times we may clash with it or find it hard to understand. If we wish to show our loyalty to the Church we need to immerse ourselves in God. This is possible first of all by way of meditation. Only those that follow the path of meditation will reach the city where obedience and loyalty are integrated, despite living in this world of creation and discord. I would like to pray in this anniversary Mass that God’s History may not find us undeserving, and that St. Ignatius may be proud of us.”

4.    Sadhana
    Sadhana is a Sanskrit word which in Hindi means to aim at or aspire to. It is a way and means to attain God. Concretely it would mean to inquire within oneself, to follow a path, or to seek guidance. As stated earlier the methodology of Sadhana has certain basic origins, and these are the spirituality of Christianity and that of St. Ignatius, oriental spirituality, and modern psychology. Tony established the institute in 1973 in Pune, but in 1978 it was shifted to a hill station located 40 kilometers away from Pune along the Bombay-Pune railway line. Sadhana is a training institute based on the Spiritual Exercises and Ignatian Spirituality for those involved in formation, and its aim is to seek the inner freedom of the individual; to attain a union of the mind, body, and spirit; to see God in all things; and to experience all things in God. From a psychological standpoint we see that the techniques Tony used were Neuro linguistic programs, Focusing, and Group Therapy sessions. He made free use of gestalt and other forms of psychology, and the Progoff Intensive Journal was included. His direction was both mild and stern, but those who participated in the programs did so with great enthusiasm.
    The 1979 Sadhana program was divided into the following three stages.
    The Mini-Sadhana, which was a month-long course
    The Midi-Sadhana, which was for ten weeks
    The Maxi-Sadhana, which extended for half a year.
    Here some sections involved an experience of prayer, such as the prayer of Benedict, the Jesus Prayer, St. Ignatius’s contemplation to obtain love, and so on, and here I myself encountered Tony’s inspiring guidance. Apart from Christian prayers oriental forms of prayer such as the Vipassana meditation were also included, and I personally found this to be a good example of Christian prayer with oriental influence. Viewed from a psychological perspective it was as though he enabled us to penetrate the realm of our unconscious, and by the use of games and exercises freed us from the control of past wounds. In March 1976 Tony conducted a week’s Sadhana retreat for 40 Jesuits of the Japan province at the Retreat House at Kamishakujii, and with this began the history of Sadhana in Japan.
    Here the participants consisted mainly of spiritual directors of Priests and Religious, those in charge of religious formation, novice masters and mistresses, and Provincials of religious congregations. The participants totaled 24 men and women, and the course aimed at the overall development of the person. It was a place to experience and know oneself, and results showed that the participants on gaining experience were able to help others. The course began with community building, followed by three weeks of Group Therapy, Neuro Linguistic Programs, Focusing, and other training sessions. Besides this the participants were led through five days of Progrof’s Intensive Journal, where reflecting back on their past they experienced the stillness in their hearts as well as their feelings and inner movements. By these means they attained among others an awareness of their unconscious leanings and release from the influence of past wounds, and their relationship to others showed a marked enrichment.
    Here the male and female participants together did not exceed 12 persons, and to be accepted into the Maxi-Sadhana it was necessary that the Midi-Sadhana course be completed. During the first month the members reviewed the methods used in the Midi-Sadhana, and received training in the more effective use of these techniques. While the Maxi-Sadhana course was in progress the new Midi-Sadhana would begin, and so as part of their training the Maxi-Sadhana members would guide and direct the members of the Midi-Sadhana. They would for instance employ techniques of Neuro Linguistic Programs and so on in their guidance. The purpose here was to build up further the experiences they underwent during their Midi-Sadhana, and prepare them for their future role as guides. In the Maxi-Sadhana, what stimulated me the most was to listen to the talks of Tony and discuss their subject matter with him, and in fact on my completion of the course what remained ingrained in my memory was the content of his talks. These talks, the content of which had to do with oriental spirituality and inner liberation are dispersed among the topics dealt with in his books, and in getting to know Tony thus I was afforded a glimpse his charisma. Under his guidance we realized that in all matters of importance it was essential that we take our own decisions, in an ambiance of freedom. He led the members towards a realization of their innermost inclinations and to a grasp of the feelings lying within them, of whose existence they were unaware. Since he himself was alert to the feelings of others he never pressurized another if he felt that the person was as yet inwardly unprepared, but once he was convinced that the participant was ready, he subjected him or her to the full force of his guidance and direction.
    During the years 1979, 1981, and 1986, when I participated in the Midi and Maxi-Sadhanas the sessions were conducted by a team of three directors, and these were Joseph Aizpun, Dick McHugh, and Tony De Mello.
The Death of Fr. De Mello SJ in 1987
    In 1987, Tony flew to the USA with the purpose of conducting a two-month Sadhana session, but on the day following his arrival he passed away due to a heart attack. The Sadhana Institute we see today at Lonavla is a new edifice, with programs covering a wide spectrum. More than blending spirituality and psychology the current directors seek to train leaders through experience, but in doing so they keep in mind the charisma of Tony. Thirty-five years have elapsed since the Institute was founded, but from the start emphasis was laid on integrating not only human feelings and spirituality, but also Christian spirituality and the spirituality of India. Today the Sadhana directors believe that unless a person is psychologically integrated, it would be hard for him to serve as a guide to counselors or to those in charge of formation. Hence, the institute continues to promote the charisma of Fr. Tony De Mello.