Song of the Bird

Book Notes

The Song of the Bird
By Anthony De Mello © 1982

Quotes and excerpts from the book interspersed with commentary by Dan Kral

Dan Kral
Anthony De Mello has written many story books – books of very short stories with deeper meanings to them.  This is one of those books.  It is a book that I took quite a bit of time to ponder.  I did follow the instructions that are listed below in reading this book.  There were some stories that seemed to have a lesson that came fairly quickly and there were some that I agonized over – trying to figure out what significance the story had – but in the end – I wrote something about every story in the book.  Sometimes it was necessary to chew on the story for days – keeping it on the back burner – before insights came – but when they came in those situations it was always an “Aha” moment.  In this brief write up I am sharing two stories from the book along with my comments – followed by some quotes from the book.

From the introduction to the book there is a small section on how to read the stories…

There are three ways:

  1. Read a story once.  Then move on to another story.  This manner of reading will give you only entertainment.
  2. Read a story twice.  Reflect on it.  Apply it to your life.  This will give you a taste of theology.  This sort of things can be fruitfully done in a group where all members share their reflections on the story.  You then have a theological circle.
  3. Read the story again, after you have reflected on it.  Create a silence within you and let the story reveal to you its inner depth and meaning: Something beyond words and reflections.  This will give you a feel for the mystical.  Or carry the story around all day and allow its fragrance, its melody to haunt you.  Let it speak to your heart, not to your brain.  This too could make something of a mystic out of you.  It is with this mystical end in view that most of these stories were originally told.

Dan Kral
In writing some of the stories from this book I will share also the thoughts that I had after contemplation of the story – when words were available to me…


The commander of the occupation troops said to the mayor of the mountain village, “We know you are hiding a traitor.  Unless you give him up to us, we shall harass you and your people by every means in our power.”
The village was, indeed, hiding a man who seemed good and innocent and was loved by all.  But what could the mayor do now that the welfare of the village was at stake?  Days of discussions in the Village Council led to no conclusion.  So they mayor finally took the matter up with the priest.  Priest and mayor spent a whole night searching the scriptures and finally came up with a text that said, “It is better than one man die to save the nation.”
So the mayor handed over the innocent man, whose screams echoed through the village as he was tortured and put to death.
Twenty years later a prophet came to that village, went right up to the mayor and said “How could you have done this?  That man was sent by God to be the savior of this country.  And you handed him over to be tortured and killed.”
“But where did I go wrong?” pleaded the mayor.  “The priest and I looked at the scriptures and did what they commanded.”
“That’s where you went wrong,” said the prophet.  “You looked at the scriptures.  You should have also looked into his eyes.”

Dan Kral
How dangerous we are when we think we know and we think we understand.  How many people have been murdered by people that thought they knew?  We have to look with soft eyes – we have to hold all things lightly – and anything we think we know – needs to be questioned immediately.  Wake me up Lord – keep me aware – aware – awake – aware of you – aware of how you surround me with your love.


A girl in the fishing village became an unwed mother and after several beatings finally revealed who the father of the child was: the Zen master living on the outskirts of the village.
The villagers trooped into the master’s house, rudely disturbed his meditation, denounced him as a hypocrite, and told him to keep the baby.  All the master said was, “Very well.  Very well.”
He picked the baby up and made arrangements for a woman from the village to feed and clothe and look after it at his expense.
The master’s name was ruined and his disciples all abandoned him.
When this had gone on for a year, the girl who had borne the child could stand it no longer and finally confessed that she had lied.  The father of the child was the boy next door.
The villagers were most contrite.  They prostrated themselves at the feet of the master to beg his pardon and to ask for the child back.  The master returned the child.  And all he said was, “Very well.  Very well.”

Dan Kral
Am I quick to defend myself or can I let God work in my life?  Do I answer my accusers or do I let my actions speak louder than words ever could?  Does it matter what people think – or what I KNOW in my heart?  I need to go like a lamb to the slaughter.  I can only do that if I abandon all to God and lay it at his feet.  God is good – what more can be said…

Quotations from the book

The words of the scholar are to be understood.  The words of the master are not to be understood.  They are to be listened to as one listens to the wind in the trees and the sound of the river and the song of the bird.  They will awaken something within the heart that is beyond all knowledge.
–Anthony De Mello in The Song of the Bird

Here is a formula for contemplation, as good as any I know:  Be totally in the present.  Drop every thought of the future, drop every thought of the past, drop every image and abstraction, and come into the present.  Contemplation will arise!
–Anthony De Mello in The Song of the Bird

The person who is ceaselessly aware; the person who is totally present at each moment: behold the master.
–Anthony De Mello in The Song of the Bird

Tomorrow is not real.  The only reality is now.
–Anthony De Mello in The Song of the Bird

Not teach ripe person: waste of person.  Teach not ripe person: waste of words.

Brother Reginald, some months ago I experienced something of the Absolute, so all I have ever written about God seems to me now to be like straw.
–Thomas Aquinas

Faith is the fearless search for TRUTH.  So it is not lost when one questions one’s beliefs.
–Anthony De Mello in The Song of the Bird

The act of sinning is much less harmful than the desire and thought of it.  It is one thing for the body to indulge in a pleasurable act for a moment, and an entirely different thing for the mind and heart to chew on it endlessly.
–Abu Hassan Bushanja

A society that domesticates its rebels has gained peace but it has lost its future.
–Anthony De Mello in The Song of the Bird

For all that has been, thanks.
For all that shall be, yes.
–Dag Hammerskjold