Frank Visser, CLIMBING THE STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN: Reflections on Ken Wilber's “The Religion of Tomorrow”
INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".
Jim Chamberlain is an artist and illustrator whose clients include Atlantic Monthly, Psychology Today, PC World, and many other publications. He has engaged spiritual, integral, transpersonal, transformational approaches since the early seventies. In the nineties Jim trained and earned a credential in Arnold Mindell's Process Work, and has worked in a therapeutic capacity with groups, couples, and individuals. Through most of the nineties, Jim was an instructor for the Integrative Medicine Center of sister hospitals, for whom he taught courses in mindfulness-based stress management. His current focus is on philosophy of mind (and early opera and sacred music).
BEWARE OF THE GOD
The Pitbull of Gurus
Choosing A Guru
When choosing a guru you should ask yourself the following questions:
Da is not only not a bodhisattva, he is a mere unenlightened god who dwells in the realm of the gods, a place of endless ecstacy, bliss, and pleasure.
The American born guru currently known as Adi Da has been widely recognized to be a uniquely brilliant religious genius by many who have studied his written teachings. But many of those familiar with his “crazy wisdom” teaching style and personal behavior have concluded that he is as dangerous as he is brilliant. He has proven that he is willing to stop at nothing to awaken those who turn to him as guru, and indeed he once warned: “Do not approach me unless you are willing to be undone.”
I was a student and devotee of Adi Da from the mid-seventies to the early eighties, and the process of assimilating his comprehensive teachings, integrating his powerful transmission of spiritual force, and differentiating between the guru, his teachings, and his “crazy wise” methods remains an ongoing part of my work on myself.
Adi Da continues to teach, publish, and lure devotees to him, and I feel strongly that part of the danger which Adi Da represents to seekers is not merely his deliberately disturbing teaching style, but the unintegrated shadow which surrounds he and his community. In addition, he and his community hide or distort a great deal of information about Adi Da’s behavior, information that, if it were known, might seriously inhibit his ability to draw new devotees and donations for his non-profit organization.
This paper is a subjective look at Adi Da, his teaching, and his teaching method, a look back at some of my memories of life in his community, and an account of some of the scandals which have earned him his bad boy guru reputation.
To the reader who is unfamiliar with Da’s teachings, the temptation to dismiss him as another phony guru may be great, but would be ill-informed. A partial list of those who have offered high praises of Da might serve to underline this point: Ken Wilber, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, Larry Dossey, M.D., Willis Harman, President of the Institute of Noetic Science, Sun Bear, Fred Alan Wolf, Joan Halifax, Judith Cornell, Georg Feuerstein, Alan Watts, Bonnie Greenwell, Malidoma Patrice Somé, Leroy Finch, Robert K. Hall, M.D., Irena Tweedie, Richard Grossinger, Charles T. Tart, Stanley Krippner, Peter Russell, Bill Gottlieb, Jeffrey Mishlove, etc.
I agree with Ken Wilber’s remark in his introduction to one of Adi Da’s books, “...that no one in the fields of psychology, religion, philosophy, or sociology can afford not to be at least a student of Da Free John.” [I no longer feel that way. JC, 2005] But I would no more recommend that anyone go further than studying his teachings by becoming his devotee than I would recommend skydiving without a parachute while on LSD.
One other note to the reader who is unfamiliar with Adi Da’s teachings; this paper was written primarily for those who are familiar with Adi Da and his work, and it is beyond the scope of this paper for me to present more than cursory and incomplete background material. For a more in-depth look at Adi Da and his work I refer you to the internet homepage maintained by Adi Da’s community at www.adidam.org, and to the second (1996) edition of an anthology of his talks and writings which presents an overview of his teachings entitled The Heart’s Shout.
How I Got Involved
I was raised Catholic, but dropped out of the church in my pre-teen years. I considered atheism, agnositicism, and existential philosophy, but I knew there had to be something more. I found it when in my junior year at high school I picked up Huston Smith’s book Religions of Man, now titled The World’s Religions). When I read the chapters on Hinduism and Buddhism, I became elated, because here for the first time I saw clear expressions of feelings I’d intuited all my life.
I graduated high school in 1969, and like many in my generation I went on to experiment with psychedelic drugs, especially LSD, drawn by the promise of mystical consciousness author Aldous Huxley and hippie guru Timothy Leary and others said was possible via mind-altering drugs. A friend turned me on to the writings of Alan Watts, and I consumed everything by Watts I could get my hands on. I experimented with Arthur Janov’s Primal Scream therapy in an attempt to unearth and clean out repressed memories from my brain core. Part of the Primal therapy process involved a type of breathing which led me to the spontaneous discovery of “circular breathing,” a Western version of a form of yogic pranayama which is the basis of Rebirthing, Holotropic Breathwork, and other similar techniques. I then experimented with breathwork almost daily for about six months. Initially this enabled me to get in touch with deep areas of repressed pain from my childhood and adolescence, and then with many repressed feelings which I associated with the collective suffering of the world throughout history; wars, the Holocaust, the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the full gamut of human cruelty, oppression, and violence. During these breathwork sessions I would cry and shake for up to two hours at a time while allowing my body and mind to be flooded with as much personal and collective pain that I could get in touch with. My hope was that this would free me of neurosis and the endless distorting effect of unconscious material within the psyche, so that I would finally be fully alive and present in the eternal now, enlightened, in a permanent state of mystical consciousness. But finally I realized that there was no end to the amount of suffering and repressed material that I could get in touch with, no end to the quantity of tears I could cry, and no end to the number of catharses it would take to make me free, and so I brought this period of experimentation to an end.
I put my energy into the practice of meditation and yoga, and learned as much as I could about Zen, tantra, kundalini yoga, mantra meditation and vipassana meditation. As I understood these approaches at the time, they all seemed oriented toward the same goal of being fully awake and alive in the present, and this seemed like a natural transition from my experiments with psychedlics and breathwork. I then entered into a period of learning and practicing meditation and hatha yoga with an Indian "Acharya" from the Ananda Marga Yoga organization.
During this time I came across a book called The Knee of Listening with an introduction written by Alan Watts. Because it had Alan Watts’ name on it I bought it. It was the autobiography of a man named Franklin Jones who had done every imaginable experiment conceivable with consciousness, and who had cleary arrived at the exalted state of awakening I’d only had glimpses of. And it was incredibly well written, so much so that I actually had profound experiences of mystical awareness and intuitions of the True Self while reading it.
Franklin Jones made it utterly clear that at the root of all seeking for happiness, whether through mundane, psychological, or spiritual pursuits, was the chronic activity of contraction, which he called by the mythical name Narcissus. Seeking therefore prevents realization of the very thing it seeks. It is only when the chronic activity of self-contraction and seeking come to an end, an end which cannot be brought about through seeking, that the true self stands out.
Intimations of this profound message appeared here and there in the literature of Zen, Mahayana Buddhism, the Advaita Vedanta of Hinduism, and was even implicit in the goal of Arthur Janov’s Primal Scream therapy. But Primal Scream therapy depended on endless catharses, and that and all of the fascinating Eastern paths were characteristacally approached by Westerners in a mood of seeking, and none of these disciplines addressed the activity of seeking as articulately as did Franklin Jones.
I continued to practice meditation, and usually meditated in the evening, and would occasionally enter into a state of deep samadhi. The following day I would often experience an unusual feeling of blissfulness, heightened awareness, and increased energy, but a few times I came down with a fever that would last a few hours, and which was always unaccompanied by any other symptoms. Then the fevers began to alternate with mysterious pains in my lower abdomen. I suspected then and still do that these were caused by the movement of kundalini energy through my body encountering an area of blocked energy. In any case there was no medical explanation.
At one point the pains were so intense that I had to go to a hospital emergency room. I was admitted for what my family doctor and a surgeon assumed was appendicitis. But when the surgeon made an incision over my appendix, he saw that my appendix was normal. Through exploratory surgery he discovered that my lower intenstines had become twisted in such a way that circulation was cut off and gangrene had set in. Several feet of my lower intestine was removed, and I woke up in the intensive care unit with tubes going into me every which way.
During the week I spent in the hospital following this operation I had a number of psychic experiences as well as a near death experience. I looked at the full moon from my bed in the intensive care unit and remarked about it to one of the interns, who pointed out that while there was a full moon that evening, there was no window in the room through which I could possibly have seen it. I floated over Hungtinton, Long Island, where I was hospitalized, and saw the town from a bird’s eye view in complete clarity and detail. I prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary and asked her to help me pee on my own after a catheter was removed. She appeared in the bathroom before me and I was able to pee.
One of the most special of all these experiences was seeing that behind the persona or social masks which everyone I encountered wore, doctors, nurses, aides, other patients, and visitors, were beings of infinite light and love. It was clear to me that everyone’s ego defenses could barely conceal the overwhelming light of the True Nature within, and that these defenses were absolutely necessary to protect each of us from being burned to a crisp by unadulterated Reality.
I felt as if the center of my being was at a point slightly above the crown of my head, and I became aware that my consciousness was connected to the body by a thin thread, and that I could let go at any time. Then I entered the classically described tunnel of light. It was the most beautiful experience I’d ever had, and I knew I was nearing my eternal home. I felt as if God were whispering to me that I could come home if I wanted, but that remaining in the body would be good too, because I had some work that I was supposed to do here. (My father had told me that my surgeon told him I had a 50/50 chance of living, because I’d lost so much blood, was anemic to begin with, my white blood cell count was dangerously low, and the risk of a life-threatening infection was high). I consciously decided to stay.
For several days after this I felt tacitly aware of immortality as am absolute fact of existence, what the Indian Sage Ramana Maharshi had called “the deathless spirit.” When I was sent home from the hospital a couple of days later, my surgeon and other doctors said that they had never seen anyone recover so quickly from the type of surgery I’d had. I had a sense that despite the certainty of my experience, it would eventually fade until I once again felt “normal,” and this is exactly what happened over the next couple of months.
About a week after I was released from the hospital I sat to meditate again, but felt such an overwhelming force of energy moving in my body that I stopped. I waited several months before meditating again.
I read Franklin Jones’ second book, The Method of the Siddhas, and discovered that not only was he completely conversant with the kinds of experiences I’d had, but he said that they were basically insignificant and besides the point of real spiritual life. In this collection of early talks to devotees Jones’ revealed the most comprehensive knowledge of spirituality I had ever seen in one book. For a seeker like myself who’d been looking for years for someone who had all the answers, this was it. Franklin Jones knew. And his awakened state could be felt through reading his words.
I began to apply the disciplines in the areas of “money, food, and sex,” which Jones outlined in The Method of the Siddhas, which was not difficult for me at the time because I’d already adapted to a routine of yoga, meditation, natural diet, and was involved in a committed relationship.
I began to correspond with Jones’ community, then known as The Dawn Horse Communion, becoming an at-a-distance student.
When I read Jones’ next book, Garbage and the Goddess, I was more eager than ever to move from New York to California to become as deeply involved in his community as I could. For as Garbage and the Goddess made apparent, Bubba Free John, as he had started to call himself, was no meek ascetic leading devotees to unearthly realms of higher consciousness and eternal peace, he was a wild party animal who was intent on uniting heaven and earth, (and hell, as it turned out), nirvana and samsara, yin and yang, and every other extreme possible. Garbage and the Goddess went out of print and circulation almost as quickly as it appeared, for it is an all too revealing look at some of Bubba’s early experiments with his community, which included orgiastic wild parties that included all of the spiritually taboo “accesories” of alcohol, junk food, tobacco, and desire-driven sex. It also included dramatic accounts of Bubba’s ability to initiate mystical experiences in his devotees, what in Hindu tradition is called shaktipat, the transmission of spiritual force from a guru.
I knew for certain at this point that I’d found what I’d been looking for: a community of like-minded peers presided over by an enlightened teacher who was not only unafraid of the shadow side of human nature, but who apparently did everything he possibly could to bring it out into the light where it could be worked on and transformed.
(Hereafter I will refer to the man whose name changes have included the names Bubba Free John, Da Free John, Da Love-Ananda, Da Kalki, Da Avabhasa and who currently calls himself Adi Da, simply as Da).
I made arrangements to visit the community, and an experience I had during that visit erased whatever shred of hesitation or doubt about joining remained in me. I got to visit what was at the time Da’s principle residence and the main sanctuary for the community in Lake County, today called The Mountain of Attention, about three hours north of San Francisco. During my stay I had an opportunity to sit in meditation with Da for the first time. Although I knew he was known for his ability to transmit powerful shaktipat, I didn’t have any expectations of what it would be like to sit with him, and I didn’t experience anything unusual.
Until the next day, that is. I was back in S.F. doing some volunteer work at the community’s Dawn Horse Bookstore/Center on Polk Street. I suddenly became totally disoriented, as if I had taken LSD, and I had to stop working. Someone gave me a ride back to the community household where I was staying. The house was only minutes away, but by the time I got there I had a full blown fever, was somewhat delirious, and my mind and body were on fire. I felt acutely sensitive to all the suffering, hatred, and pain which has scarred the human soul since life began, and I knew that my life would only have meaning if I did whatever I could do to make a difference. I intuited that someday I would father a childthis was years before I actually didand I knew I did not want this child to grow up in a world where there would be endless Vietnams, Holocausts, and all the rest of the misery our unconsciousness results in. I had been involved in the civil rights and antiwar movements, but by this time these were rapidly becoming less effective vehicles of change because the so-called revolutionaries in these movements had yet to learn that outer change cannot take place independent of inner change. All I saw was more polarization, more “us and them” thinking, which was at the root of all the problems we wanted to solve. It flashed through me with absolute certainty that the only hope for the world was a tremendous shift in consciousness, and I felt that Da and his community were on the front lines of this struggle. The prospect of being there with them was both frightening and exciting, but ultimately I felt that I had no choice.
While feeling all this, I also felt as if my bodymind were being purified on a cellular level. I had never experienced anything as powerful as this. After about four or five hours the fever subsided and I felt profoundly peaceful. When people who lived in the household began to arrive home from their jobs I told them about my experience. They smiled and said, “Oh. That’s just shakti fever.” A year later I moved from New York to San Francisco into the love and madness of Da’s community and personal company.
The basic argument of Da’s teaching is that God, Truth, or Happiness is “always already” the case, and that seeking for God, Truth, or Happiness, and the “felt dilemma” which motivates such seeking are symptoms of the “disease” of self-contraction. Everything that people do is a an effort to either undo or escape this chronic activity of contraction. The entire history of humankind is thus a pointless and endless adventure of seeking, doomed to fruitlessness, for as long as that which we seek is projected into the future it cannot be realized in the present.
Da likens the separate self sense to the sensation one feels at the center of a clenched fist. For this sensation to dissolve the hand must open, as must the spiritual practitioner who wishes to be free of the bounds of egoic consciousness. One may have glimpses or intuitions of the experience of absolute openness, but learning to live from this perspective is another matter altogether.
If you really consider this argument, especially after considering it through Da’s articulate language, it is difficult to not have a visceral experience of what he is talking about. There is this holding on or contraction going on in everyone all the time, bodily, emotionally, mentally, in relationships, etc. By deftly guiding the reader or listener to the direct experience of this primal or core closing off from infinity, Life, and God, Da has been able to help people get in touch with this chronic activity which prevents us from feeling truly free and alive. Other traditions rarely, if at all, talk about the self-contraction, and in those that do it is usually put into concepts which are difficult to follow and understand. For example, Buddhism has the idea of no-self and emptiness, which point to the same essential experience which Da points to when he talks about the self-contraction and what is prior to it, i.e. the emptiness or no-self that is prior to the activity of contraction. When we experience emptiness or no-self what remains is our direct interconnectedness with everything, also known as nirvana. But these ideas in Buddhism are often poorly translated, awkwardly explained, and grossly misunderstood. Often the worst misunderstanding occurs when people read a little and think they have gotten the point, skipping over the tremendous work which real transformation involves.
Da correctly points out that intellectual comprehension of this idea, while a preliminary step to the work of real understanding, and having rare, occasional, or even frequent peak experiences is not the same as truly feeling beyond the self-contraction to the point of understanding. He also points out that the illusory but persistent sense of egoity with which our identities are entirely wrapped up is so well defended that ego manages to make even the idea of going beyond ego into another program whereby ego is reinforced and defended. So basically we are stuck, for whichever way we turn, we are perpetuating the activity of the ego, of the self-contraction. To turn within is seeking, to turn without is seeking, to do nothing out of despair is seeking to be relieved of the whole dilemma, to live only for the moment is seeking, to become rigidly disciplined in order to control everything is seeking, to hold onto some religious belief system or grand philosophy is seeking, to meditate in order to become enlightened is seeking, etc.
This is the point where the existentialist philosophers stopped. Recognizing that there is “no exit,” they tried to make worldly peace with the felt sense of dilemma and limitation which most of us spend our lives trying to escape. But, as Da and the entire spiritual tradition of humankind or perennial philosophy indicates, there is something beyond this “dark night of the soul,” and that something is what is called awakening, enlightenment, nirvana, Self-realization, etc. But how does one get there from an impossible, “no exit” situation, especially since few of us even stop trying to avoid the “nausea of being” long enough to realize that we are in a no exit situation? If we think we have grasped the concept of the self-contraction and the free and awake condition that is prior to the self-contraction, we have simply trapped ourselves in thinking and philosophy. So what do we do?
This is where Da as guru comes in, according to Da, for Da transmits his awakened condition to those who bring themselves into his sphere of influence. Through this transmission, a “baptism of the spirit” takes place which literally changes the psychophysical condition of the devotee. The transmission which Da offers results in a profound awakening of the spiritual Heart, bringing an end to all seeking and marking the beginning of true spiritual life. In his early literature, Da referred to this Heart-awakening as “understanding.”
Because Da’s teaching in theory is not founded in seeking to overcome a felt sense of dilemma or separation of an illusory separate self from reality, the life of understanding is not oriented either towards nor away from the life of desire and the body. Thus, the extremes of libertinism and asceticism are neither necessary nor problematic to one who has understood. Such is the unbounded freedom of one who is awake.
The idea is that first one intellectually accepts or begins to intuit that there is an infinitely vast reality which we normally ignorant of.
“If the doors of perception were cleansed, man would see every thing as it is, infinite.”William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
Then one has more profound intuitions of the greater reality, or experiences deeper openings to what is. And then the real work of cleansing the doors of perception begins. The intuition of reality becomes the basis upon which life is lived. This is what all religions and the perennial philosophy are all about. But what has always been a problem for people who want to live on this basis of a relationship to God or the Divine or to reality, etc., is specifically how to do it. There are thousands of techniques, ways, paths, and methods, but most are rooted in traditions of which most of us have no backgrounds, most of them require far more discipline of attention and behavior than the average Westerner would even consider, and many of these approaches are incomplete.
Da offered it all, the direct transmission of truth, the wisdom of the ages, and practical advice on all aspects of life such as diet, sexuality, exercise, health, death and dying, money, work, relationships, politics, etc.
Life in a the community was a constant frenzy of activity. Everyone lived in households, and the community was divided into Phase I and Phase II students. Phase I students were those who were adapting to the regimen of disciplines required of devotees, and who were in the beginning stages of studying the teaching, and Phase II students were those who had adapted to the disciplines and who had at least a solid intellectual grasp of the teachings.
When I joined the community with the woman I was married to at the time, we were invited into Phase II right away.
I was offered a job at the Dawn Horse Bookstore/Center in San Francisco as receptionist and gopher, and I accepted. My duties included anwering phones and directing calls, greeting visitors, running errands, (which included hunting down many items Da personally requested, such as humane mousetraps, which were impossible to find in those days, a Cartier cigarette lighter, film and video equiptment, junk food, live lobsters from Fisherman’s Wharf, you name it), chauffering high ranking community members to and from the S. F. airport, and between S.F. and The Mountain of Attention, security at the Center, introducing and showing movies to the public for the Center’s weekly movie night when movies on a variety of spiritually oriented topics were presented: Jungian pyschology, Gurdjieff, Sufism, etc., and just about anything else I was asked to do.
Household life meant rising early each day to meditate, study, do aerobics, and get ready for work. After work everyone did yoga and studied, then we shared KP duties and ate communally while having lively discussions and sometimes conflicts. One of the ideas behind community living and household living according to Da was that it forced us to come up against our edges. Sometimes households were put together by higher ups in the community on the basis of which people would clash the most with one another. Having conflicts meant we had to work them out, which required us to work on those parts of ourselves which we most identified with and didn’t want to change.
We generally had study groups every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings, unless we were doing volunteer work on community projects. Then we would meditate and study again before going to bed.
Every Friday evening the community would head en masse up to the sanctuary. Four to five hundred of us would gather at this former hot springs resort for the weekend, which consisted of study and work, communal dining, celebrations, and usually at least one opportunity to sit in meditation with Da, listen to him talk, and have the opportunity to ask questions.
Sittings with Da were remarkable occasions. In meditation Da would sit with his eyes open and he would scan the communion hall, as the meditation hall was called, looking one at a time at each devotee, either into their eyes or above their heads. Sometimes people would cry out or have kriyas, spontaneous body movements, when Da looked at them.
After sitting for an hour or so, Da would ask for questions. His answers sometimes lasted hours, literally. The entire time he spoke he would sit still on his raised seat in the lotus position, never fidgeting, never shifting, looking completely relaxed and at ease. And his talks, which are what, transcribed and edited, make up many of his books, were so articulate and well constructed it was hard to believe he wasn’t reading from a TelePrompTer.
On Sunday evenings we’d head en masse back to San Francisco to begin another week of non-stop work, community service (which was called “guru-seva”), and practice.
One of the most profound experiences I have ever had was a time when I sat close to Da in the communion hall during meditation. Da looked directly at me and we stared into each other’s eyes for what felt like an eternity. I felt as if every cell in my body was opening like a flower. Suddenly my perspective shifted from the point of view of being someone named Jim Chamberlain who was 24 years old and had a body and a particular appearance, to the point of view of eternally flowing consciousness which happened to be recognizing itself through Jim Chamberlain and his body at this particular infinitesimal moment in eternity. And there was Da, and I knew he had always been there, for it was obvious that he was that same consciousness. I felt that I had known him since ancient times on earth, and that he had always been my teacher. And in the instant that I was experiencing all this, I felt that Da was somehow purifying lifetimes of my karma by taking them into himself and burning them up in his the fire that I saw that he was.
The next day I had shakti fever.
A commonly reported experience of Da in meditation which I often had was to see him as pure energy. It was as if it somehow became possible to see him without the filters that normally prevent us from perceiving that, as physicists tell us, everything is energy in constant motion. It was as if his body became light, a glowing, radiant, blazing fire of pure energy. And it seemed that proximity to Da, to this energy, had a purifying force that made everything hidden within me rise to the surface, the worst feelings, fears, and images, as well as the most beautiful and sublime. Da said that all of this content, no matter how terrifying or how wonderful, was “garbage,” to be thrown away. To hold onto any of it, he said, was to “miss the mark,” which was the process of opening and surrendering to the divine itself.
Bye Bye Money
When my wife and I arrived in San Francisco to join the community we had savings of over $10,000 in the bank. As far as we were concerned, we were joining this community for life, and we were happy to contribute everything we had to it. After all, we were doing this to change the world.
First we were asked to donate $4000 to pay for a giant video viewer, which was cutting edge technology then. Then a man named Bill Edwards [not his real name] called me on the phone at the Dawn Horse Bookstore/Center and told me that Da had directed him to raise money to put a down payment on a piece of property adjacent to the sanctuary, and that they needed about $4000 urgently. That was fine with me. But when I got off the phone with Bill, Leo Murphy [not his real name], the devotee in charge of the Center at the time, told me that Bill’s story about a piece of property was bullshit. Leo was part of Da’s inner circle, so he knew. He said that they must need the money because Da was about to do some serious partying. I didn’t care. They got the money.
The remainder of our savings went to the community soon after that, for what I don’t remember.
Phase I members of the community tithed, meaning they donated 10% of their incomes. Phase II members gave everything, getting housing, food, and $7.00 a month “walk-around money” in return.
Learning to Doubt Doubt
I tended not to question too much in my early days in the community. Da dictated that devotees were to keep journals, the subject of which was to be our spiritual practice. One specific topic was to report on whatever resistance’s we might be feeling towards the teaching, the guru, the community, or the disciplines. The idea was to acknowledge resistance’s so we could let go of them, because resistance is the chronic activity of Narcissus, the self-contraction. Thus, any feelings of doubt, any questioning, etc., were labeled as being resistance and were otherwise ignored.
Father Knows Best
During a visit back to New York about a year after being in California my father said to me, “This Bubba probably tells you guys to eat natural and meditate and exercise and all that while he’s in his house eating Twinkies and potato chips, drinking, and watching tv. Then his wife looks out the window and says, “Uh-oh Bubba, here come some devotees,” he quick turns off the tv and hides the food under the couch, then sits there and acts like he’s been meditating the whole time.”
I didn’t tell him that Bubba had nine wives to look out the window for him, but I defended Da’s apparent self-indulgence as one of many extreme things he did to help his students become enlightened.
“Enlightened,” my father said, “that and a token will get you on the subway!” My street educated father’s final words of caution during this visit were, “Just remember, he might be God in the sense that he knows we are all God, but he can still take a bullet! He’s still a human being! Just remember: nobody’s perfect.”
One day I got a call at the Center instructing me to meet another devotee at a nearby supermarket to do some shopping for Da, who was going to be staying for a few days at a house in Mill Valley just across the Golden Gate Bridge. The woman I met at the supermarket told me that we were going to shop for party food, and we proceeded to spend a couple of hundred dollars on candy, soda, potato chips, and all sorts of other junk food.
I drove with the groceries to the Mill Valley house, and while carrying bags of groceries in one of Da’s wives came up to me wearing nothing but panties and a vest and acting very friendly. She asked me my name, and then asked me if I’d like some pot to take with me. I did a double take. This was the first I’d heard that Da’s infamous parties included pot.
“We’ve got bags full of pot!” she said, confirming what Leo had told me about what that $4000 was earmarked for. “I’ll get some for you.”
She turned to go down a flight of stairs when another one of Da’s wives walked up to her and said, “That’s not a good idea.” She ushered the friendly wife away. A few weeks later I hear that she left Da to return to a former boyfriend in her home town somewhere in the Midwest. Someone who lived in my household had been at Da’s house and overheard him on the phone with her pleading with her for a half hour to come back to him. She didn’t.
A woman with whom I worked at the Center named Francine told me that once at one of Da’s parties he asked her to lift her dress, remove her panties, and sit on a table with her legs spread in full view of all the other partygoers. She did as he asked, at which point he told a man whom had earlier expressed a dislike of Francine, to, “Eat her out!,” which, she told me, he proceeded to do, however reluctantly, in front of the now cheering partygoers. An outgoing, exhibitionistic sort of gal, Francine seemed to have enjoyed the attention she got out as a result of this incident.
A woman in one of the households I lived in told my wife that during a party at Da’s house he took her into his bedroom and tried to make her perform oral sex on him. But she couldn’t, because she’d been sexually abused as a child and had a fear of taking a penis into her mouth. She told Da this and he set about to “cure” her right then and there. He asked several men to come into the room, line up, and drop their pants. Then he told this woman to take the penis of each man into her mouth. After she did this Da proceeded to have intercourse with her.
Don’t Squash the Vaginas!
One of Da’s nine wives was Annie Rogers, who frequently was exiled from the sanctuary by Da, at which times she often ended up staying in the household in which I was living.
She once told my wife at the time that, “Bubba doesn’t want other men looking at his wives bodies.” This was when walking around in the nude or only underwear in community households was commonplace.
And, “Bubba doesn’t want us to ride bicycles, because of the way the seat squashes your vagina.”
Once, for a period of a couple of weeks, I had to chauffeur Annie to and from the sanctuary so she could party with Da by night, and work as a mild mannered secretary in downtown San Francisco by day. The sanctuary was three hours from S.F., Da’s parties lasted from dusk till dawn, and God only knows what they were doing at those parties, and so by the time I picked Annie up in the mornings she looked like Kali on a bad hair day.
She said that she told her office co-workers that her husband had been in a car crash in Lake County, was in a hospital there, and that she went to visit him every night and was of course distraught, which explained why she looked like she’d been up partying all night with a psychotic guru.
Annie’s not one of Da’s wives anymore, (he seems to trade them in when they're in their 30’s), but she’s still in the community, blissful as ever, from what I hear.
Jack Garvy and East-West Journal
Jack Garvy, an editor at East West Journal moved from the East Coast to the West Coast to join the community at the same time I did. Jack was a bright affable Irishman from New England, and he rose quickly through the ranks, and soon was living at the sanctuary, was a regular at Da’s private gatherings, and even gave a few talks to the community as a whole. Then, he suddenly left, and shortly thereafter a long article about Da and company written by Jack was published in East West Journal.
The article was pretty much straight reporting, and was fairly unbiased. Jack reported that while Da, then Bubba, said that the way to him was through his devotees, in Jack’s experience the community obstructed access to Da, and he wrote, “the way to Bubba is not through his devotees, but past them.” Da’s response to this was, “The only thing Jack Garvy needs to get past is himself!”
Little was said about the article and Garvy’s quick rise and sudden disappearance, but the feeling in the air at the time was one of embarrassment. Jack Garvy made the whole affair we were involved in seem very unremarkable. The fact that he was able to get so close to Da so quickly, and even become a spokesperson for the teaching, and then left without getting all weird around leaving was kind of mind-blowing. It was as if Toto had pulled the curtain back for one split second and everyone caught a glimpse of the so called wizard, but then went right back to doing all we could to “ignoring “that man behind the curtain.”
In early August of 1976 Da initiated a period of partying in the community. Everyone in the Pacific Heights, San Francisco household I lived in went nuts. My house mates went out and bought junk food and alcohol, and I bought the newest issue of Playboy magazine, (the September issue, as most magazines typically date issues a month ahead). To be really outrageous I dared to tear out the centerfold and hang it on a wall. Everyone laughed, and no one seemed offended.
The next day I was at the reception station in the Dawn Horse Center on Polk Street, when a young man came in and introduced himself as Mark. He said that he and his girlfriend lived near Los Angeles, and that he had been studying “the teaching,” and had gotten his girlfriend interested in it, and that they drove up to San Francisco to see if they might be able to visit Da’s sanctuary over the coming weekend. I knew that it wasn’t that easy, but said I’d page Leo Murphy so he could talk to the young man.
Then Mark told me that his girlfriend was a model whose photographs had just been published in Playboy, and in fact, she was the centerfold.
“Miss September?” I said. “You’ve got to be kidding! I hung that centerfold on the wall in my household last night!”
We were both surprised at this synchronicity.
If Mark had kept his mouth shut about his girlfriend’s claim to fame they probably wouldn’t have been immediately invited to the sanctuary. But as soon as Leo heard about Miss September, Mark’s fate was sealed.
At the sanctuary the next evening I heard a rumor that Da had just sent someone to a local convenience store to pick up a copy of Playboy. An hour or so later the visitors arrived. They were brought right into Da’s house, where a wild party was underway. Sometime in the middle of the night Mark was seen being ushered out of the house looking dazed and confused, and without his girlfriend.
The next afternoon I saw Mark giving Da a tennis lesson. The sanctuary was already buzzing with the gossip that Da had asked Miss September at the party how it made her feel to think that millions of men fantasized about her when they masturbated, and then took her to his bedroom. The look on Mark’s face as he played tennis with Da was one I’ve seen before and since on other people who’d gotten a direct “lesson” from Da. It was kind the look people have when they’re in shock.
I rember thinking at the time that Da was trying to placate Mark by saying, in effect, “I just fucked your girlfriend because I’m more powerful than you are, but now I’m letting you hang out with me.”
Miss September became one of Da’s wives right after this incident. She was too thin for him though, so he put her on what he called the “horsegut” diet, and she filled out quickly.
I took Miss September on a shopping expedition once, to the Serramonte Shopping Center mall south of S.F. When we arrived at the mall Miss September asked me if I was going to shop. Having circumvented normal community life, she apparently had no idea that Phase II students like me were granted only $7.00 a month “walk around money.” When I told her I had no money with which to shop, she peeled a twenty off a small roll of bills and said, with an air of arrogance, “Buy something for your wife.” I accepted the bill and felt as if I had won the lottery!
When I repeated this story to Leo Murphy at the Center, he became incensed. I’d never heard him utter a word of disapproval for anything that went on in the community up to that point. Leo was part of Da’s inner circle, and got to go to Da’s house regularly. But he also lived in a household in S.F. and had a measly $7.00 a month “walk-around money” just like the rest of us Phase II students, and he worked tirelessly in his job as head of the Center.
The logic which Da used to explain incidents like the Miss September story is contained in his 1974 essay, “The Way That I Teach,” in which he wrote:
“The way that I teach is not the way I am, but the way I teach. What I speak is not a reflection of me, but of you. People do well to be offended or even outraged by me. this is my purpose. But their reaction must turn upon themselves, for I have not shown them myself by all of this. All that I do and speak only reveals men to themselves. Those who remain confounded by me, critical of me, have yet to see themselves.”
During one party period a woman in the household I lived in was invited to one of Da’s private parties, to return behaving as if she’d been coronated as Queen. She’d been intimate with Da, much to the chagrin of her husband, Bob. Brenda continued to be invited to private parties over the next several weeks during which time she became more and more inflated while Bob became increasingly depressed. The poor guy tried to be a good devotee though, keeping his chin up, trying to go with the punches. Until the day that he announced to the household that he’d been seriously contemplating suicide.
He received about as much sympathy from the rest of us as if he had said that he lost the cap to his Bic pen. This was typical of the mindset throughout the community then; we were always on the lookout for signs of contraction, for Narcissus, and as Da had told us, Narcissus’ games were not to be indulged in the community.
A few days after announcing he felt suicidal Bob told us that he had gone to the house that Da sometimes stayed at in Mill Valley to do some carpentry work, and came face to face with Da. He told Da that he loved him, but was really suffering because of what was going on. He said that Da hugged him and said, “Just cut through it.”
I thought that the next line was going to be how Bob then cut through Da with his Crafstman power saw, but instead he said that what Da said to him made him feel all better, and he no longer felt like killing himself. He did leave the community a few months later though, and Brenda went on to get pregnant by Da and to abort her pregnancy at his instructions, or at least that what I heard through the ever-buzzing community grapevine.
Alias Albert Smith
One day I was sent from the Center to a medical supply store to pick up an apparatus used to dispense oxygen and gas for an elderly gentleman named Albert Smith who lived on Buena Vista Drive in San Francisco. There was no Albert Smith at the address I gave, which was a house rented by the community in a ritzy neighborhood right next door to a house owned by rock musician David Crosby.
Albert Smith was an alias for Da, (Franklin Albert Jones), and the apparatus was for dispensing nitrous oxide aka laughing gas at Da’s parties at the sanctuary. The gas was supplied by a dentist who was in the community.
One of the women I sometimes worked with at the Center was named Julianna. Julianna was rumored to have been a heroin addict and prostitute in her pre-community days, and she’d had an affair with Da at one time. A couple of years after I worked at the Center I was running a community owned natural food store near the household where Julianna lived. She came in one day to buy some vitamin C, because she felt like she was coming down with the flu. The was the last time I saw her.
A few days later Julianna was dead. The official story was that she died of her flu or flu-like illness because she had a weak immune system to begin with. Da blamed the grieving members of her household for not giving her enough love when she was ill, adding guilt to their sorrow. The unofficial story, which Da supposedly knew all along, was that a community doctor who was not licensed to practice in the U.S. administered the wrong medicine to Julianna, either something she was allergic to or wrong because he’d misdiagnosed her illness.
A week later Da announced that one night within days of her death he was watching TV with some intimates when a channel they’d never gotten before came in. It was broadcast from the Southwestern town where Julianna was born, and Da said it was her attempt to make contact.
[Note: Because of the sensitive nature of this story, I've changed the name of the woman in this story to the fictitous name "Julianna." The version of the story of precisely how "Julianna" died which I recount here is based on the rumors I heard at the time of "Julianna's" death, and only on rumors. Recently (meaning within the past several years) I read a somewhat different account of the cause of her death on the Daism Forum which made me wonder if there was anything at all to the rumor I heard about "Julianna's" death being related to a mis-prescribed medication.]
Mary and Sam
Mary and Sam [not their real names] were an attractive young married couple who had an unusual relationship with Da. Mary was Da’s lover, and had a child who at that time many believed had been fathered by Da who lived with she and Sam, and Sam was a member of Da’s inner circle. Apparently Da, Sam, and Mary had some arrangement that enabled Mary to be shared by the two men. [I was recently told that "Sam," not Da, was the child's biological father.]
For some reason Mary and Sam were exiled from the sanctuary and came to live temporarily in my household. Within about a month they left the community for good. After they departed a woman in the household showed the rest of us a copy of a handwritten letter which Mary had received from Da, which he had apparently written to her after she told him she and Sam were leaving.
Da pleaded with her to stay. He indicated a willingness to make new arrangements about the way Mary was shared with Da and Sam. Da ended his letter by saying something to the effect, leave if you must; you’ll always have the teaching and the disciplines to guide you.
The Franklin Jonestown Massacre
I remember when the Jonestown Massacre took place, thinking that there were scary guys in Aid Da’s community who looked like Jonestown guys who followed the politicians to the airfield and mowed them down. Da loved the movie Rocky when it came out, and said something to the effect that the character in the movie displayed the kind of guts and determination required to move past the first three stages of life. There were Rocky like guys around Da, guys who didn’t seem too bright, but who had Marine-like capacities for discipline and blind obedience. One of these guys, who actually was pretty bright, was William Tsiknas, whom Da sometimes referred to as William Sickness, who rumor had it was a Green Beret before he became a devotee of the messiah/avatar/guru of the universe.
William was a little righteous. Someone in the community once admitted to eating a cheeseburger, and William made it a point to announce it to the entire community during a gathering, all the time sounding as if he were announcing that this guy had sold defense secrets to the Russians.
The scariest guys were the ones who weren’t bright enough to give talks, the guys who did most of the grunt work at The Mountain of Attention, and stood around looking lean, mean, and deadly serious, except when in Da’s company, when they would look gleeful or would break down and blubber about how much they loved him.
After the Jonestown Massacre the community was gathered together at the sanctuary and we were told that we’d be having an open house for the locals who lived near the sanctuary, to reassure them that there was nothing like Jonestown going on there. We were to dress conservatively, act real polite, avoid referring to “Bubba” as God or a guru or anything but a spiritual teacher. Then we were told that if Bubba ever did anything as ridiculous as asking us to commit suicide, of course we wouldn’t! We wouldn’t have to, I thought, the scary guys would do all the killing if necessary!
About two weeks before the open house Da had given a talk during which he laughed his maniacal laugh while announcing that he wanted us to be “fanatics!” And when devotees did not respond the way he wanted during the previous “guru day, a traditional Hindu celebration which Da wanted us to take very seriously, he threw a fit. I think this is the day he tore out some of his first wife Nina’s hair, (an incident referred to in the appendix). I remember seeing her shaking and crying that day, and I heard a rumor that Da had hit her and pulled a chunk of her hair out. This same day Da told some devotees that it was a shame he had to teach in a time and place where the laws of the land prevented him from killing devotees if that’s what it took to wake them up!
“And That’s the Way It Is”
Da has built up a teaching or dharma which consists of definitive statements contained in books called “standard editions” filled with bizarre capitalizations of text in an attempt to amplify the significance of the words, to which he claims “perpetual copyright.” He likes to emphasize that the way that he teaches is a “Perfect Practice.” But despite this abscence of humility, Da seems to hate it when anyone else dares to be as self-assured as he is.
A tape of a rambling, drunken talk by Da was played at the sanctuary in one weekend evening, in which he referred to his former teacher Rudrananda as a “faggot,” and said that he saw Walter Cronkite in an airport and wanted to punch him out because of the way Cronkite always ended his broadcasts by saying, “That’s the way it is.”
“How dare he say, ‘That’s the way it is,’” Da fumed, “Because that’s not the way it is!”
Another time he got pissed after seeing Transcendental Meditation’s Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on the Merv Griffin Show. He did a pretty good impersonation of the Maharishi and his high-pitched sing-song voice, talking about meditation as if it were a substitute for tranquilizers.
Ram Dass, Da said, was the “Johnny Carson of the spiritual movement.”
People who read Carlos Castanada books were not even ready to be beginners on the spiritual path.
After I left the community a devotee told me that Da's response to Dustin Hoffman's performance in the film "Tootsie" was to call Hoffman a “real devotee.” I was tempted to point out to this devotee that this meant that Da was acknowledging that someone could be a "real devotee" without being part of Da's cult, but by then I'd grown weary of trying to penetrate the cultic mindset that had begun to increasingly permeate the atmosphere of Da's community.
Da admired Chogyam Trungpa, referring to him “a master of the vital,” meaning that Trungpa could drink like a fish, smoke like a train, party his ass off, and still have a sharper, more lucid mind than any of his students, just like Da.
The Polk Street Fish Boil
One of my duties at the Dawn Horse Bookstore/Center was to feed amd care for the fish in the reception area aquarium. Among the colorful and unique tropical fish were a few Siamese fighting fish which Da had apparently purchased to amuse himself. What these fighting fish did besides fight with each other was kill the other fish. I was told that they killed so many of his other fish that they, like Annie Rogers, were exiled from his home, which is why they were at the Center. Every week or so I’d find pieces of other fish floating in the tank as the two fighters continued their reign of terror.
That Da had these fish in an aquarium in his home reminds me of so many effette movie villains, like the ones in James Bond movies who keep pirhanas in aquariums, sharks in swimming pools, or nasty cats on their laps.
When the Dawn Horse Bookstore/Center burned to the ground, (due to an unsuspicious fire which began in a restaurant on the ground floor below), I felt bad thinking about how the water must have boiled and killed all of the fish, although a fiery death seemed like a fitting end for Da’s fighting fish. (I also thought about how convenient it was that so many records kept at the Center were destroyed, at the very time when Da was establishing a new sanctuary in Hawaii and had recently indicated that he wanted to divest the community of it’s business interests in a chain of natural food stores in S.F. But I have no reason to suspect foul play, unless Da is capable of psychically willing such an event.)
Da initiated a community wide plasma drive to raise money so he could create a new sanctuary in Hawaii. This meant that everyone was to report once or twice a week to a blood center in one of the seediest neighborhoods in San Francisco, near Mission and Seventh Streets, where winos and junkies lived in run down hotels amidst porn shops and filth.
A likable and well respected community member named Vince Goddard, a successful businessman who contributed a lot of money to the community, addressed the gathering one Sunday to ask that a second thought be given to this particular location for the plasma drive, as the sanitary conditons were questionable.
Vince was exiled for several weeks for having the temerity to ask questions.
I was turned down the first time I went to give plasma because I was a little anemic, so I took iron supplements and ate beets according to community instructions and was accepted the next week.
Charles "Lucky" Luciano
As soon as Da got ahold of a copy of the movie The Godfather he watched it over and over with devotees over the course of two days at the end of which he announced, “Tomorrow we move on Muktananda!”
One of Da’s earliest devotees was Sal Lucania, who was written about a lot in the book Garbage and the Goddess. Sal was supposedly a nephew of the Mafia boss Lucky Luciano, and was rumored to be connected with the mob himself.
Sal met Da in New York, and followed him to L.A.where community legend had it that he was pursued by hit men whom he had to elude at the L.A. airport. Leaving spiritual communities is hard, but leaving the mob is harder.
Shortly before he was ousted from the community for misappropriating funds I heard that he smoked so much pot during a period of partying that his legs became temporarily paralyzed. Sal supposedly went on to train as a hairdresser so he could open a salon and pay back the money he’d pilfered. I’m sure.
Da once told us that he had a dream that he and a number of his devotees had lived together in another lifetime as gangsters during prohibition.
I heard that a high ranking member of the community make several trips to Saudi Arabia to stock up on guns and ammunition for Fiji, where Da bought an island and was building yet another tropical sanctuary. I remember that this community member did make a number of what he said were “business trips” to Saudi Arabia at that time. His ex-wife claimed that she was with him en-route to Fiji once when he carried a suitcase full of ammunition onto an airplane right before international terrorist incidents led to the ubiquitous metal detectors.
Da Ka Ka
Brian O’Mahoney’s wife Beverly, who ended up filing a major lawsuit against Da and the community and leaving Brian, during a visit to Fiji wound up cleaning Da’s private quarters, where she discovered that the floor of his closet was covered with empty Rush containers, Rush being a brand of amyl nitrate, a drug one inhales during sex in order to intensify orgasm.
Da supposedly encouraged devotees who visited Fiji to inhale amyl nitrate repeatedly during sex to the point of where they would get so relaxed that they would be capable of both defecating and urinating during orgasm.
I was told by a doctor and his assistant, both of whom had been involved with the community, that when discussing this with a community member who had been to Fiji during the time when Da was on this kick, that she became very defensive and insisted, “He didn’t say we should shit, just that we should be so relaxed during sex that we could!”
The plasma drive was pretty much the last straw for me. I voluntarily demoted myself from Phase II to Phase I so that I would have no longer be obligated to spend all my time outside of work doing "service" for the community, and every Friday evening to late Sunday evening up at the sanctuary digging ditches and hanging insulation, and could instead spend time with my wife and our new child.
When I announced to my study group that I was for all intent and purposes leaving the community, they looked at me as if I had confessed to killing JFK and kidnapping the Lindbergh baby.
I continued to go up to the sanctuary for talks and sittings for a couple more years, but by the time the lawsuits started flying, I was long gone.
Looking back over these stories, I have a mixed variety of reactions. First, I am aware that despite my conscious reasons for getting involved in Da’s community, unconsciously I had a need for a strong patriarchal authority figure in my life, and needed to be surrounded by a family who could love me. I also had, shall we say mildly, a few co-dependency type issues.
As Da apparently intended, questions and doubts were easily washed away in the minds of devotees, partly because all of the disturbing things that happened in the community were understood to be part of the practice. We knew that Da had said he was going to do everything possilbe to bring us face to face with our deepest fears, our strongest desires, our most bizarre fantasies, and everything else contained within the human psyche. So, for example, when Da did things that made Brenda’s husband Bob feel jealousy, anger, and suicidal, we knew that in theory, at least, it was supposed to be for his own good. In theory, the way to purify devotees of all the unconsciousness that otherwise works against them was to do whatever necessary to bring it out into the light where it could be seen, inspected, and thrown away.
Such is crazy wisdom. Part of its craziness is the lack of compassion, empathy, and regard for what people actually experience from moment to moment. And part of its craziness it the huge blind spot which comes from staring directly into the light for too long.
Myths About Enlightenment
There are a number of myths and beliefs about enlightenment which helped set the stage for the appearance of the man who is often referred to as the first person born in the West to become fully enlightened.
The first myth is that that it is possilbe to be “fully enlightened.” As Ken Wilber has said, to say that someone is fully enlightened makes no more sense than saying that someone is “fully educated.”
There is a myth that enlightenment is a once and for all state. Nothing is “once and for all,” nor can enlightenment be called a “state,” for all things are always in process.
There is a belief that siddhis or psychic and other supernormal powers and abilities are proof of enlightenment. As reported in his popular book Be Here Now, when Ram Dass’ guru Neem Karoli Baba told the then Richard Alpert that Alpert’s mother had died of a spleen infection, an incident which Alpert was convinced was a demonstration of an incredible psychic ability, he broke down and wept and felt like he had finally arrived “home.” When later he gave Neem Karoli Baba a few hits of LSD, watched Baba down them, with no apparent effects, this convinced Alpert that the reason was because Baba was already in a much higher state of consciousness than even LSD could put him in.
Ram Dass helped popularize a number of other beliefs about enlightenment: that everyone needed a guru, who would appear when the disciple-to-be was ready, that enlightened gurus were trustworthy, and that being enlightened was something like having a perpetual orgasm in every cell of the body.
Perhaps one of the most damaging myths about enlightenment comes from the collective unconscious peculiar to the Westerner whose archetypal image of God is informed by millenia of the Biblical Yahweh, an ancient stern and wrathful but just king who sits upon a throne in the heavens. Because this archetype is part of our collective unconscious, it effects our feelings despite our conscious ideas about what God may or may not be. And we then unconsciously project this image onto gurus.
This leads to the belief that gurus must be always just as well as omnipotent, omnipresent, and omiscient. If the guru is a just being and is this powerful, then it follows that whatever the guru does is for the devotees own good, which is exactly what some gurus claim.
Jack Kornfield speaks about "the halo effect...the unexamined assumption that if a meditation master or spiritual teacher is good in one area, they must be good in all areas." Add “the halo effect" to boomer idealism, the unconscious monotheistic God image, the belief that "Guru knows best," throw in some denial and rationalization, and the result is a toxic brew.
Here is an explanation "enlightenment" that I like. Instead of fascinating the reader with wonderful sounding descriptions of some eternal sublime altered state, Arnold Mindell, founder of a cutting edge practice he calls process work, brings it down to earth and tells it like it is:
“Enlightenment is a word I try not to use much because it is a state. I prefer to speak of waking up. For me, ‘awakeness’ is a relative term. An awake person has rapid access to and ability in working with altered states in many channels. She can propriocept, hear, see, feel, relate to the earth or to others, and know who is meditating.
“An awake person can get into altered states and still metacommunicate. She can therefore process intense affects, like anger, in many different channels. She would be able to use occupied channels as tools for working with altered states and unoccupied channels. Being wide awake means that when you are in a state of peace you can recall difficulties which face you and work on them even though they may only be present weakly at that moment. When you are drunk you have access to sobriety. You can get deeply involved in body work and still retain your intellect.
“If you are awake, you change according to the world within and around you. This means that you can vary your behavior and perception of the world according to the signals it sends you; you change according to the feedback you get.
“An enlightened individual could have a great deal of feeling and compassion for other human beings but would also be very detached and tough when this is called for. For me a highly awake person is capable of bringing out reactions to others in such a way that everyone benefits from them.” - Working On Yourself Alone: Inner Dreambody Work.
Who is Franklin Albert Jones?
Throughout the years of Da’s teaching work, which formally in 1972, he has proven himself to be as consistently inconsistent as he describes himself in the epilogue to his autobiography, The Knee of Listening, “He (“the man of understanding”) is a seducer, a madman, a hoax, a trickster, a libertine, a rascal, a fool, a moralist, a sayer of truths, a bearer of all experience, a righteous knave, a prince, a king, a child, an old one, an ascetic, a saint, a god.” (I’ve combined words in this line from the 1972 and the 1995 editions of Knee. The former does not contain the word “trickster,” “rascal,” “king,” and “saint,” while the latter leaves out “hoax,” and “righteous knave.”)
According to his autobiography, Da grew up virtually as an only child. He mentions a sister who was born when he was eight, but says, “she and I grew up at separate times and not together.” He says that he was brought into the Lutheran church “early,” and that he became enamored with the mythical stories about Jesus.
In a particularly revealing passage in Knee, Da says that his parents argued “frequently.” “The conflict between my parents was a constant field of experience for me as a boy.” Da recalls experiencing their arguments as a “destruction” of what he claims he even then experienced as “the Energy of Love-Bliss.”
He writes that during one such argument between his parents, which occurred when he was six or seven years old, “I remember silently expanding the “Bright” Love-Bliss-Energy from my heart, while, at the same time, trying to distract my parents by pointing out the moon, and by asking them questions about God and life, so they would be calmed, and enabled them to feel the Love-Bliss-Energy of the “Bright” I was transmitting to them.”
I think the seeds of Da’s shadow are evident in what little he tells us of his childhood: An incredibly sensitive little boy who is interested in the myth of the Christian messiah feels his heartfelt happiness being destroyed by his parents’ frequent displays of anger and negativity. In an effort to protect himself he attempts to control their behavior in indirect ways, psychically and through verbal distraction. He grows up to become a brilliant, megalomaniacal, secretive, controlling, authoritarian, messianic guru who abuses himself and others, is closed to feedback and criticism, and whose occupation in life is to awaken others to the reality of everpresent Happiness. And who isolates himself from the general public and has no toleration for what he calls “the usual man or woman.”
Despite his background as a psychologically wounded child, Da has never shown any signs of low self-esteem, or any lack of self-confidence and self-assurance. Criticism does not lead him to reconsider his position or reevaluate his behaviors. I seriously doubt if the word “sorry” has ever passed his lips, unless he had occasion to utter it in a sarcastic manner.
Da’s self-confidence is so great that when in Knee he mentions being accused by Muktananda of trying to steal one of Baba’s disciples, of having a reputation for stealing the disciples of others, of needing help, and of needing to recognize that he did not stand alone but is part of the lineage of Muktananda and Nityananda, Da’s response was to “assume that Baba could not require weakness in a disciple,” i.e., to show humility would be to show weakness, and Da then retorted with “a long and forceful letter of complaint and justification.”
At the end of Da’s third trip to India, of his final visit departure from Muktananda he wrote, “Baba did not look at me. He seemed displeased, but I felt there was nothing I could say to justify our leave. I could only assume that all of my adventure was also blessed by him.”
Few of us would be capable of handling such obvious rejection without being plagued by some degree of self-doubt. That this has never seemed to be a problem for Da perhaps explains his lack of empathy with those who do suffer from low self-esteem, etc.
Da is a Zeus type man as described by Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D., in her book, Gods In Everyman. Like Zeus on Mount Olympus, (whose name is derived from the Indo-European word dyu, which means “to shine,” reminiscent of Da’s nickname, “the Bright,”) he toys with the lives of mere mortals, demanding blind loyalty, obedience, and that he be worshipped as a god, and disguising himself so that he can take women as he pleases.
Bolen likens the Zeus type man to the king in the Grail legend who has a wound that will not heal.
“Whenever a wounded Zeus rules, there is an oppressive need to maintain control that stifles growth and expressiveness. Emotional aridness, lack of creativity, and depression results. The kingdomwhich may be the culture, a family, or a man’s psychethen becomes like a desert wasteland where nothing grows or thrives.”
The Scientology Connection
In the original, abridged version of The Knee of Listening, Da makes a couple of references to a year he spent involved with Scientology while living in New York. He also mentions that it was in Scientology where he met Patricia Morley, who came to live with he and Nina, (and was his devotee for many years).
In the second and third supposedly “complete” editions of The Knee of Listening all references to Scientology have been omitted.
Scientology similarly attempted to distance itself from Charles Manson who reportedly studied Scientology while in prison and reached a high level of awareness called “clear” before he became a hippie cult leader. One may surmise that whatever skills Manson learned from Scientology were of use to him in gaining and maintaining power over others, and I assume the same is true to some degree of Da.
L. Ron Hubbard, the infamous founder of Scientology who was posthumously accused of being a brutalizing, manipulator by his son, has a few similarities to Da. Hubbard, like Da, was a prolific writer. Like Da he was accused of abusing followers. Like Da he built an empire with himself at its head, basically by creating a money making tax exempt church. Years before he founded Scientology Hubbard was quoted as saying, “If you want to get rich, start a religion.” Like Da, Hubbard was accountable to no one.
What’s missing in Da’s teachings and in Da himself? Not knowledge, or intellectual ability, not confidence and charisma and an ability to articulate profound matters. But something is missing, something that can only be detected by trusting one’s feelings, and that is.EQ. Emotional intelligence.
As the bestselling book Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, (a psychologist and long time meditator whose guruNeem Karoli Babawas the same as Ram Dass’), makes clear, IQ and EQ are two completely different things, and having a high IQ does not mean that one has a high EQ by any means. Consider the Unabomber.
Da is a brilliant genius, and although he is uninhibited, spontaneous, free of conventional restraints and taboos, capable of ecstatic speech and of having profound psychic and emotional effects on others, he has no ordinary human sensitivity to how much he has hurt many people. And he has intellectual arguments to prove that such hurts don’t really matter because it’s all the activity of self-contraction, etc., etc.!
Compensating for this lack of EQ in and around Da is his personal passion and the bhakti or devotional fervor he demands in devotees.
Hand in hand with this low EQ is the lack of a feedback loop around Da. He does not invite or receive criticism. Negativity around him is an absolute taboo. When people leave him he never asks why, because he knows why; it’s their problem. When people share some emotional pain with him to seek his guidance and nurturance, he usually talks and talks and talks about it, and only rarely offers a hug and some non-intellectual words of condolence.
Take a second look at the list of those who have at one time or another praised Da’s written teachings; many on the list are intellectuals who naturally are very impressed with intellectual intelligence. If people with high IQ’s tend to be in any way one-sided, as the vast majority of us are, it is the EQ that is undeveloped.
Arrogant or Shy?
Da seems to have avoided every opportunity he ever had to have face to face meetings with non-devotees who could possibly represent a challenge to him. Paavo Airola, Sun Bear, and Don Juan Matus visited his Northern California sanctuary, and spoke to devotees, but were not granted an audience with Da. Alan Watts, former California Governor Jerry Brown, and Werner Erhard wanted to meet him but were turned down because they “weren’t ready.” Da’s message to Alan Watts was, live the disciplines and approach me as any other student does. This, despite the fact Alan Watts wrote an introduction to The Knee of Listening that gave Da a legitamacy and visibility he otherwise would not have had.
The Broken Feedback Loop
The first moments of a relationship contain the seeds of what’s to come. The first moments of Da’s relationship to devotees reveals what has become his characteristic teaching style. The first moments I refer to are recorded in Da’s second book, The Method of the Siddhas, in the first chapter, Understanding. It was his first public talk. After sitting for an hour in meditation with those who came to see him at The Ashram Books which he’d just opened in Hollywood, he asked if there were any questions. When no questions were forthcoming he said, “Everyone has understood?”
A young man, described in a footnote in the third edition of Method as being ignorant of the need to approach Da in a mood of respect, said, “I haven’t understood. Explain it to me.”
Da, who after all, initiated this discussion with his vague reference to understanding, plays several rounds of semantics with the questioner until the questioner understandably becomes exasperated and reacts. Da immediately points out that the young man is reacting, which of course, in the terminology of Transactional Analysis, means that Da has won the game and is now “one up.”
Then Da talks at length about what he in fact means by understanding. During this discourse he makes it a point to refer to what, out of the thousands of spiritual stories in circulation, is one of the most shocking. A spiritual seeker goes to see Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen so he can ask Bodhidharma how he can become liberated from his mind, but Bodhidharma ignores him. In desparation the seeker hacks off one of his arms, then holds the bloody stump before Bodhidharma, who says, okay, what’s your question.
Da made a few things clear in this first public appearance, that he was to be approached with the respect afforded Mafia Dons, that he could and would undermine and embarass anyone who tried to challenge him, and that like Bodhidharma in the story he was a real tough guy. He also gave a hint about his understanding of human psychology. Someone who is so desparate for enlightenment that they would do something self destructive in order to get a teacher’s attention does not need a guru, they need psychological help, fast! But Da has always assumed that people who come to him are emotionally and psychologically ready for his nuclear bomb style of therapy, which he calls “crazy wisdom.”
Crazy Wisdom and Neurosis
That other “crazy wisdom” master Chogyam Trungpa, who was an incredibly energetic and brilliant teacher who nonetheless died of acute alcohoism at age 47, seemed to take an attitude similar to Da’s vis a vis neurosis. Trungpa once said that the ego wears itself out like a shoe, and I believe that this is the “crazy wisdom” position towards neurosis. Our behaviors are the product of conditioning, and while we can work on reconditioning ourselves, if our goal is to be enlightened and not in conflict with ourselves or with any part of ourselves, then we must accept those patterns which diagnostically may be called neurotic. Such deep acceptance of oneself results in a congruent personality, but one that is still neurotic. Greater mental health, if one believes in such a concept, as some “crazy wisdom” types apparently do not, can only be gained by continuous processing of whatever the unconscious offers to be processed.
Anyone who has the idea that there is such a thing as a final state of enlightenment is not likely to be interested in this, for it means ongoing, endless work! Of course, what is really meant by enlightenment is being in relationship to all parts of one’s wholeness, including the Self, the shadow, and the rest of the unconscious, as well as with the conventional personality and personal or social mask, and not being stuck around any of these disparate parts.
Da seems pretty stuck to me. He changes his name, his weight, his hairdo, his wives, his writing style, his mind, and all sorts of other superficial things, but he never changes his authoritarian manner nor does he ever give up one bit of his power.
As a body Da has a particular appearance, and as a personality he has particular qualities. Who he is in the absolute sense certainly transcends all appearances just as the true nature of each of us transcends appearances, but who we are as personalities has a tremendous affect on those around us here in the relative world.
Ishta Guru Bhakti Yoga
In the second and third editions of The Knee of Listening Da includes a description of the basic method of guru devotion, the method he most highly recommends to his devotees now as Ishta Guru Bhakti Yoga. The description he gives in Knee is a simple formula which involves what in the terminology of analytical psychology can be described as a combination of projection and transference and the Jungian style of meditation called active imagination. Here is the process as Da describes it, (from the third edition of Knee).
“His (Muktananda’s) method was to meditate on his Guru after he had installed his Guru in his own body-mind, in all his parts, and identified with him. From the various indications in his book (Play of Consciousness), I described the following principles of his method:
Becoming tranquil and overcoming thought fluctuations, free the mind from external clinging. Eradicate mentation. Sit down, feeling that the Guru is confronting you. Make obeisance, realizing that the Guru-Principle envelops you from each direction. See the Guru and yourself as One. Then install him in your body, top to bottom, and then bottom to top, chanting “Guru-Om” mentally. Meditating thus, the Guru in you and you in the Guru, let go of the awareness of the conditional self.
This epitomized the foundation of even my own spontaneous method in the company of each and all of my teachers. Whether with Rudi, or with Baba, or at Swami Nityananda’s shrine, I always concentrated on the Guru as the Source of all conditions, things, and beings, and as the Ultimate Identity and Conditon of my own person. I was always doing this, even where I performed other kinds of special meditative exercise. Therefore, Guru-Bhakti, in one or another form, was always fundamental to my practice (and original, personal revelation) of the way of radical understanding (or the Way of the Heart). And it must likewise and always be fundamental to the only-by-me revealed and given way of radical understanding (or the only-by-me revealed and given Way of the Heart) as it is practiced by each and all of those who come to me in order to Realize God, Truth, and Reality.”
We often transfer or project unconscious parts of ourselves onto others to whom we then react positively or negatively depending upon how we feel about the unintegrated parts. Arnold Mindell describes this process of guru devotion succinctly:
“This relationship meditation is also an integration because it expands one’s experience of life though assimilating qualities which have been transferred on to a teacher. Alteration in consciousness occurs through a switch of identities. Whereas before meditation one experienced oneself as an ordinary person, during meditation one sacrifices oneself to become a very powerful secondary figure, a god.” - Working On Yourself Alone: Inner Dreambody Work.
Guru yoga thus involves the integration of the positive qualities that have been projected onto a guru. The process by which this integration takes place is a form of the Jungian style meditation called active imagination. In active imagination one interacts with autonomous or archetypal figures arising from the unconscious, until the resultant relationship gives birth to a transcendent quality or an expansive shift in consciousness.
What Da describes as Guru-Bhakti involves first and foremost the finding of a guru figure upon whom one can project one’s wisest, most god-like, radiant, present, and beautiful self, the Self archetype. Then one either imagines, remembers, or contemplates an image or the literal person of this figure. And one then begins to allow this process of projection and identification to be felt throughout the body, inside and out, in every part and even down to the cellular level. The method involves bringing all of one’s sensory apparatus to a state of receptive focus on this singular symbol for the Self, the guru, through seeing, hearing, feeling, intuiting, and being in relationship. To practice this technology of the body, mind, life force, and emotional being is to directly experience oneself as an interconnected part of everything instead of as Alan Watt’s “skin-encapsulated ego,” or Da’s self-contraction or ego“I.” As a whole, human beings are only beginning to have access to this boudaryless experience of self, which makes it all the more mysterious, thrilling, and alluring.
Who is the guru, anyway? Are gurus only projections of our own powerful and godlike Selves, or are gurus truly those who have fulfilled the highest potential of which human beings are capable, and who out of compassion teach others? Let’s turn to Sri Aurobindo for some answers:
“The spiritual progress of most human beings demands an extraneous support. It needs an external image of God; or it needs a human representative,Incarnation, Prophet or Guru; or it demands both and receives them.”
“The Hindu discipline of spirituality provides for this need of the soul by the conceptions of the Ishta Devata, the Avatar and the Guru.”
“It is necessary for (man) to conceive God in his own image or in some form that is beyond himself but consonant with his highest tendencies and seizable by his feelings or ihs intelligence. Otherwise it would be difficult for him to come into contact and communion with the Divine”
“Even then his nature calls for a human intermediary so that he may feel the Divine in something entirely close to his own humanity and sensible in a human influence and example. This call is satisfied by the divine manifest in a human appearance, the Incarnation, the AvartarKrisha, Christ, Buddha.”
“The spiritual practicioner should not “forget the aim of these external aids which is to awaken his soul to the Divine within him. Nothing has been finally accomplished if that has not been accomplished. It is not sufficient to worship Krishna, Christ or Buddha without, if there is not the revealing and the formation of the Buddha, the Christ or Krishna in ourselves.”
“...the greatest Master is much less a Teacher than a Presence pouring the divine consciousness and its constituting light and power and purity and bliss in to all who are receptive around him.”
“And it shall also be a sign of the teahcer of the intergral Yoga that he does not arrogate to himself Guruhood in a humanly vain and self-exalting spirit. His work, if he has one, is a trust from above, he himself a channel, a vessel or a representative. He is a man helping his brothers, a child leading children, a Light kindling other lights, an awakened Soul awakening souls, at highest a Power or Presence of the Divine calling to him other powers of the Divine.” - The Synthesis of Yoga
In other words, many of us must first come into contact with the divine through a human intermediary, but the intermediary is not the point, the recognition and openness to the divine is the point. If such a human intermediary becomes inflated, he has broken his “trust from above.”
Is Da Inflated?
In the second and third editions of The Knee of Listening, Da reports that in the course of his years of seeking he visited the Jungian analyst M. Esther Harding, whom he quotes as telling him that “any Westerner who devoted himself to the Spiritual exercises peculiar to the Orient...would become clinically insane.”
“I told her that such “Eastern” practice was exactly what I was doing and intended to continue doing.”
“She urgently suggested that I abandon this approach and volunteer myself to Jungian analysis.”
By the time Da met Harding, she had written her still popular introduction to Jungian psychology, The “I” and the “Not-I”: A Study in the Development of Consciousness. I can only imagine what Harding must have observed about the passionate young man who presented himself to her that would have led her to issue such an “urgent” warning. Perhaps a clue may be found in a passage from The “I” and the “Not-I”.
“...identification of the “I,” the ego, with these strange and powerful contents of the unknown psychic world produces a most serious inflation, an inflation that can lead to insanity.”
Inflation! Can you think of any gurus who might sound as if they are inflated? Have you heard of any gurus who claim to be the Avatar and Messiah all sacred traditions have been awaiting, the Divine World Teacher, the most Absolute manifestation of God in human form for all time, the founder of the one true World-Religion called Free Daism, (just changed to Adidam)?
Carl Jung had a controversial perspective on Western interest in Eastern thought, and I agree with some of Jung’s critics that Jung had some misunderstandings of Eastern philosophy. But much of what Jung had to say about growing Western interest in Eastern ideas makes complete sense even today. That Da so easily dismisses Jung’s insights into this area only indicates his arrogance. Da relates the story of his meeting with Harding as if they simply had a brief intellectual discussion, but I’m sure that Harding was very sensitive to and aware of the entire affect of her proud and intense visitor.
Carl Jung discusses the type of inflation which apparently has possessed Franklin Jones in two chapters of Volume XI of The Collected Works, Two Essays on Analytical Pyschology. In Chapter IV, Negative Attempts to Free the Individuality, Jung writes,
“...identification with the collective psyche...amount(s) to an acceptance of inflation, but now exalted into a system. That is to say, one would be the fortunate possessor of the great truth which was only waiting to be discovered, of the eschatalogical knowledge which spells the healing of the nations.”
“Probably no one who was conscious of the absurdity of this identification would have the courage to make a principle of it. But the danger is that very many people lack the necessary humour, or else it fails them at this particular juncture: they are seized by a sort of pahtos, everything seems pregnant with meaning, and all effective self-criticism is checked. I would not deny in general the exisitence of genuine prophets, but in the name of caution I would begin by doubting each individual case; for it is far too serious a matter for us lightly to accept a man as a genuine prophet. Every respectable prophet strives manfully against the unconscious pretensions of his role. When therefore a prophet appears at a moment’s notice, we would be better advised to contemplate a possible psychic disequilibrium.”
I will quote at length from the rest of Chapter IV, as it it the most accurate explanation I have seen of exactly what seems to occur among those who fall for Da:
“But besides the possibility of becoming a prophet, there is another alluring joy, subtler and apparently more legitimate: the joy of becoming a prophet’s disciple. This, for the vast majority of people, is an altogether ideal technique. Its advantages are: the odium dignitatis, the superhuman responsibility of the prophet, turns into the so much sweeter otium indignatis. The disciple is unworthy; modestly he sits at the Master’s feet and guards against having ideas of his won. Mental laziness becomes a virtue; one can at least bask in the sun of a semidivine being. He can enjoy the archaism and infantilism of his unconscious fantasies without loss to himself, for all responsibility is laid at the Master’s door. Through his deification of the Master, the disciple, apparently without noticing it, waxes in stature; more over, does he not possess the great truthnot from his own discovery, of course, but received straight from the Master’s hands? Naturally the disciples always stick together, not out of love, but for the very understandable purpose of effortlessly confirming their own convictions by engendering an air of collective agreement.
“Now this is an identification with the collective psyche that seems altogether more commendable: somebody else has the honour of being a prophet, but also the dangerous responsibility. For one’s own part, one is a mere disciple, but nonetheless a joint guardian of the great treasure which the Master has found. One feels the full dignity and burden of such a position, deeming it a solemn duty and a moral necessity to revile others not of a like mind, to enrol proselytes and to hold up a light to the Gentiles, exactly as though one were the prophet himself. And these people, who creep about behind an apparently modest persona, are the very ones who, when inflated with identification with the collective psyche, suddenly burst upon the world scene. For, just as the prophet is a primordial image from the collective psyche, so also is the disciple of the prophet.
“In both cases inflation is brought about by the collective unconscious, and the independence of the individuality suffers injury. But since by no means all individualities have the strength to be independent, the disciple-fantasy is perhaps the best they can accomplish. The gratifications of the accompanying inflation at least do something to make up for the loss of spiritual freedom. Nor should we underestimate the fact that the life of a real or imagined prophet is full of sorrows, disappointments, and privations, so that the hosanna-shouting band of disciples has the value of a compensation. All this is so humanly understandable that it would be a matter for astonishment if it led to any further destination whatever.”
Elsewhere Jung defines the Self archetype as a transcendental concept which encompasses wholeness and the union of opposites. Jung wrote, “If the ego is dissolved in identification with the self, it gives rise to a sort of nebulous superman with a puffed up ego.”
A New Literary Genre
Da might be a puffed up inflated superman, but he is one hell of a writer. In the second and third editions of The Knee of Listening he mentions that he went from majoring in philosphy at Columbia University to enrolling in a master’s program at the Department of Creative Writing at Stanford University. He mentions the writers Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Marcel Proust, and Samuel Beckett as important influences. Da’s master’s thesis was “a long study on the aesthetic theories of Gertrude Stein,” whom Da considered a “primary example” of those writers who were doing something revolutionary in the history of Western literature, by using writing to effect consciousness itself. Indeed, Da’s studies paid off, because he has developed a style of writing unique in the West that does effect the consciousness of most readers.
By writing from the “enlightened perspective,” Da has practically created a new literary genre. Richard Grossinger, author of Planet Medicine, writes that a book publisher told a representative of Da’s that Da’s books might sell better if they were presented as channeled material! This makes sense, because what channeled material gives writers an opportunity to do is make definitive, profound statements about any area of life they please without having to feel obligated to live up to the teachings. (I’m not suggesting that all so-called channelers do this deliberately, but at the least I think that channeling is simply what happens when someone has seemingly profound thougths and intuitions which emanate from some part of themselves which they are unable to integrate. They split off from their own internal source, then project it as far outwards as it must seem to be within, to distant beings in outer space or in the ancient past or distant future, like the Pleiadians, Ramtha the 10,000 year old man, Michael, Lazarus, etc.).
Da, on the other hand, can not only make definitive profound statements about virtually any and every subject imaginable, but he can congruently behave as the source of what he says, or can congruently explain any of his behavior that seems to contradict what he teaches.
Rather than writing in the first person singular voice, Da writes in what could be called the first person Witness voice, the voice of sacred literature like The Upanishads, and of Jesus Christ in The New Testament.
The only way Ken Wilbers’ calling Da’s Dawn Horse Testament the “most ecstatic, most profound, most complete, most radical, most comprehensive single spiritual text ever to be penned and confessed by the Human Transcendental Spirit,” is if when reading it you substitue a word like “God,” “Tao,” or “All,” for every “Me.” What Ken Wilber unfortunately ignored when he elected to allow his influential voice to be used to endorse Da’s megalomania is that Da readily mixes the language of the absolute with the language of the relative. This is one of Da’s unique literary devices. When he says “Me,” he is referring in the same breath to the Me that is the Self of everyone and everything, and to the me who can say, “Come into the bedroom with Me, Miss September.”
The “Me,” to whom he refers is the exact same “Me,” who has a distinct, unique human personality, and yet the implicit message in Da’s use of language is that this doesn’t matter, because he says that everything he says, does, and is, is a sign to his devotees of Absolute Truth. Da, and no one, can have it both ways when it comes to the use of symbols or language. Either “Me” means what in Zen is called “Big Mind,” or it means “Small mind.” If it means both, as Da tries to force it to mean, then it means neither, because the distinction between the absolute and the relative is part of the absolute, and to blur the distinction is to embrace a relativist position while claiming that you are one with the absolute. (I think I’ve been reading too much Ken Wilber lately, sorry!)
Most of Da’s “ecstatic” speech and writing has the effect of putting those of us who do not feel congruently identified with the “Witness-position” into an altered state. He exhorts his listeners and readers to let go, to surrender, to feel to infinity. to feel “Me.” On some audio tapes recorded during live talks in recent years, devotees can be heard in the background moaning and groaning and making other such orgasmic exclamations at exactly those moments when Da’s speech becomes most, “ecstatic,” i.e., when he verbally violates the taboo of expressing one’s divinity or identification with the Absolute. When Da speaks ecstatically his listeners and readers are in a position to vicariously enjoy the same ecstasy he is supposedly enjoying just as listening to music and watching movies allows us to vicariously enjoy a broad range of emotions. Da is a great artist and showman. When he refers to his self-indulgent play with devotees as “theater,” he means it! What he has never been open about is how much he personally needs and wants to have the power, control, and other benefits which being a good showman reaps for him. The audience may need the actor, but the actor also needs the audience. The dynamic between devotee and guru depends upon both to exist, and if either side has a vested interest in the endless continuation of the game, that side will do nothing to allow this dynamic to lose its tension.
Besides writing in a unique literary voice, Da has experimented with a new way of using words and letters as signs in his bizarre and annoying use of capitalization. (If you haven’t actually seen this, here’s a brief example: “When what Is Un-Necessarily Superimposed On Reality Is Released, What Stands (or Remains) As The Obvious Is, Necessarily, Reality, or The Real Condition Itself.” We’re talking thousands of pages of this stuff folks!) But Da has an explanation, as he has an explanation for every weird thing he does: Egoic words are normally capitalized or begin with capital letters, such as “I” and proper names. This includes words with “big meanings.” All words which are not egoically based are written in lower case. But Da wants us to know that he is not an ego or identified with an ego, and so he turns this around by giving special significance to those words which the ego normally underemphasizes, and by underemphasizing the importance of those words which the ego generally gives special significance to. (What was wrong with e e cummings’ humble approach to the same problem?)
Da also says, “The big and small letters interrupt the common flow of mind and Signal your Heart that it is time to Awaken, As You Are.” In other words it is another little literary device designed to put readers into an altered state and make them feel that the source of what they are reading is the source of whatever they may experience as their consciousness shifts into some greater awareness. Sadly, Da’s use of capitalization detracts from his writings, and certainly contributes to his inability to reach a broader audience, but perhaps this is just as well.
Da has never encouraged anyone to trust themselves or their own perceptions. “Who is your guru?” he asks those who look within themselves for answers. “Is it your bodymind, your ego?” In other words, trust him, not yourself, not even that in yourself which is intelligent enough to recognize Da’s authority.
Never has Da said anything remotely like the Buddha’s comments to “be a lamp unto yourselves,” or “Do not believe because I have said something to be so or because it is said in scripture or tradition; believe only on the basis of your own experience.” But that’s the difference between crazy wisdom and sane wisdom.
Amplification: The Method Behind the Madness
One of Da’s primary teaching methods is what in some schools of psychology is called amplification. Jungians, Gestalt therapists, process workers and others amplify dream images, feelings, movements, etc., in order to help release the psychic energy and psychological meaning inherent in these signals from the unconscious. This is also basically what psychedelic drugs do as well, they do not create the content or experiences people have while under their influence, they magnify, intensify, and amplify what is already happening in such a way that what is normally ignored or unnoticed comes to the fore.
There are a number of ways to amplify the conscious and unconscious signal which clients’ present to the therapist, or which devotees present to the trickster or crazy wisdom guru. One is to instensify whatever is happening, and another is to bring out or amplify whatever is being disowned, disregarded, or disliked. For example, when devotees tended to become so austere and ascetic in their practices that they started to act dry and humorless, Da would initiate wild parties. When devotees wanted to be free of restraints and continue partying forever, Da would bring the parties to a cold turkey close. When devotees became interested in exploring sexuality Da initiated orgies and the filming of community homemade pornographic movies. When devotees showed signs of dependence upon him and adoration for him, Da encouraged them to regard him as the greatest being who ever has and ever will exist, a strategy he continues to use to this day and which he may actually have come to believe.
Da once wrote, “He (the man of understaning) always appears to be the opposite of what you are. He always seems to sympathize with what you deny. At times he denies. At times he asserts. At times he asserts what he has already denied. At times he denies what he has already asserted.” And by all of this, “He makes understanding the only possibility.” (The Knee of Listening)
It’s a classic technique. What distinguishes between how one teacher, guru, or therapist uses this technique and how another uses it has to do with their personal edges, values, and how coarse or subtle they are inclined to be.
Da’s approach is generally quite coarse and extreme. Where subtlety might suffice Da uses nuclear bombs.
In Psychotherapy East & West, Alan Watts describes the primary method of Eastern gurus and masters as a “counter-game” to the conventional social game we all play, and Watts says that the ultimate “trick” employed by such teachers is to get the seeker to put himself into “an extreme double-bind.” While the following comments by Watts refer specifically to the traditional Zen koan interview, I feel they apply equally to Da’s modus operandi.
“In the first place, he (the student) is asked to show his naked and genuine self in the presence of one who represents the full authority of the culture, and is felt to be the most acute judge of character. In the second place, he is asked to be spontaneous in circumstances where he can hardly be anything but deliberate.”
“In a wonderfully concealed way, the master has asked the student to commit himself to a self-contradictory problem.” “The student is made to feel that he must find the answer, but is at the same time made to realize that there is no way of finding it-because everything he does, acting as he thinks, as an ego is rejected as wrong. The koan must be answered, but you-the-ego must not answer it. You-the-ego must first meditate to get rid of the ego.” “But let us remember that the self-contradictory problem to which all the student’s energies are directed is the same problem which he originally brought to the master, which he went out of his way to insist upon and raise: How can my ego liberate itself? By asking this question the student engages himself in a game with the master in which the student can never win; he can never get one-up on the master because he can never get one-up on himself.”
“The individual has therefore been engaged in an intense struggle in which all his energy-misconceived as his ego strength-has been defeated. It seems that absolutely nothing that he can do is right, spontantious, or genuine; he can act neither independently (self-fully) nor unselfishly. But in the moment of defeat he sees what this means: that he, the agent, cannot act, does not act, and never did act. There is just action-Tao. It is happening, but neither to anyone nor from anyone. At once, therefore, he ceases to block action by trying to make it (for there is no ego) do itself, force itself to be spontaneous, or right, or unselfish. Because, now, he has nothing to prove and nothing to lose, he can go back to the master and call his bluff.
“Yet the ego is a very deeply ingrained habit of feeling and such insights (satori), intense and convincing as they may be at the moment, have a way of wearing off. Knowing this, the master has many more tricks up his sleeve, and says, “Now you have reached a most important understanding, but as yet you have only entered the gate. To get the real understanding, you must practice still more diligently.” This is, of course, a “come on” to test the student and see if he will fall for it, as, indeed, he will if there is still even the ghost of a notion that there is something in Zen to get. On the other hand, the student may go away, feeling no need for further study. But because the master has sown a seed of doubt in his mind, it may not be long before he most apologetically returns, for so long as any doubt remains to be played upon the job is not finished. In this way the game proceeds, ploy by ploy, until at last the student reaches the same unassailable position as the master. For the master cannot lose the game because he does not care in the least whether he wins or loses. He has nothing to prove and nothing to defend.”
Da plays this game to the ultimate extremes. He often used to say, “I give devotees what they want, so that they will come to want what I have to give.” Many in my generation who came to Da did want the extremes of self indulgence which he amplified with us. We did want to explore perverse fantasies and experience the full range of our emotions and feelings. Many of us had no idea going in how intense this could become.
Da said, “I appear to be the opposite of what you are.” Da’s recent insistence that he is the long-awaited World Teacher and Avatar might be seen as more of his amplification. Rather than signal that anyone who is interested in him may have learned enough and is ready to graduate, he has upped the ante to the Nth degree, creating an impossible situation for his devotees and students. Either they wake up or remain in the ever-narrowing trap.
Arjuna’s Great Vision
In the Bhagavad Gita Arjuna begs to see Krishna in his Divine form, and when Krishna thus reveals himself to Arjuna, Arjuna trembles with fear and begs Krishna to return to his two-armed human form. The spriritual problem of humankind seems to be how to get from a condition of apparent boundedness or separateness to a condition of boundarylessness or cognition of unbridled infinite reality. But, unbrideled infinite reality being, as Da puts it, “always already the case,” why the need to even recognize that we are perpetually “seeking,” when in fact we only need to appreciate that the vast majority of us are blessed with easy access to the vision which Arjuna finally begs for, that of being able to recognize the divine in the ordinary. And here’s where I see the missing brick, the missing piece in the puzzle that is Da: he doesn’t get that Arjuna is no more served by the vision of Krishna unbounded than he is by having no vision at all or by remaining ignorant.
In a commentary Da once made on this chapter from the Gita, he likens Arjuna to Narcissus contracting from reality, the inference being that when Arjuna finally transcends himself he will be capable not only of directly facing Krishna in his true mind-blowing form, but of actually becoming Krishna. This is the vision which Da offers in meditation with him, and this is the promise implicit in his work with devotees. Yet the author of the Bhagavad Gita was wiser and knew that Arjuna never becomes Krishna or dwells in an extended vision of Krishna in his true form, because that would be one sided. Arjuna must develop the right relationship to Krishna, which includes the understanding that Arjuna’s apparent limitations do not separate him from Krishna at all.
I don’t want to suggest that Da’s work is not also about learning how to relate to the divine, but I do want to point out that his emphasis is and always has been on the extremes of the continuum, on the self-contracted, ego“I” Narcissus on one end, and the infinite, radiant, transcendental divine being on the other. He consistently refers to everything less than the transcendent as “mediocre,” by which Da seems to mean every experiential possibility between Narcissus and the Absolute. Websters dictionary defines mediocre as meaning “halfway up a mountain,” and “ordinary.” Da has great disdain for the ordinary, and is only content to emphasize “peak” experiences, i.e., the vantage from the mountaintop. What the Buddha called “the middle way,” is, from Da’s point of view, mediocrity.
Da considers himself to be in what he calls the seventh stage of live, but where does the Mahayana Buddhist concept of the bodhisattva come into play in Da’s life and teaching? The few references I’ve seen to bodhisattvahood in Da’s writings indicate that he considers the words bodhisattva and saint synonomous. He’s wrong. A saint is someone who lives an exemplary spiritual life and serves others either as an example or by actions or both. A bodhisattva is an enlightened being who returns to the unenlightened world in order to serve the unenlightened. In so doing, the bodhisattva not only sacrifices her time and energy for the sake of others, but sacrifices her enlightenment.
Chogyam Trungpa tells a story about bodhisattvahood which Arnold Mindell relates even better, in my opinion, so I will quote from Mindell’s version:
“A wise and enlightened Indian king once dreamed that his people would be poisioned and driven mad by evil rains. He warned his people about the coming catastrophe, but to no avail. When the rains came, everyone drank and went crazy, as predicted in his dream. So what did he do? He drank the water as well in order to be with them, and he went crazy too.”
“The king’s decision to drink the poison is the decision to enter samsara, the whirlpool of this world. It is frightening and important to realize that the kind’s enlightenment does not free him from worldly insanity. Real enlightenment means entering this world and becoming as crazy as the rest of us! Many spiritual leaders cannot help us with worldly problems because they have not sufficiently experienced their own worldly madness. Hurrah for the Indian king!” - Working On Yourself Alone: Inner Dreambody Work.
Da’s craziness has never included the real craziness of taking on the feelings and limitations that the vast majority of people experience. Da has no clue what it’s like to feel depressed, alienated, sad, weak, powerless, or confused. Looked at from a Tibetan Buddhist perspective, Da is not only not a bodhisattva, he is a mere unenlightened god who dwells in the realm of the gods, a place of endless ecstacy, bliss, and pleasure, surrounded and supported by loving, adoring devotees living in peace and safety on his private tropical island.
The usually wise-cracking and tough talking authoritarian Da appears most vulnerable when he goes into meditation. His open eyes soften, his face often trembles, and at times tears roll down his cheeks. He radiates a palpable force or energy as he scans the room of devotees who are meditating with him.
Despite Da’s apparent openness and vulnerability in such moments, the dynamic between he and his devotees remains intact, with Da being yang, masculine, and penetrating, and the devotee being yin, feminine, and receptive. He likens the relationship between guru and devotees to the relationship between the sun and the moon, because the sun radiates while the moon only reflects the sun’s light. In mythology and symbolism Solar energy has always been associated with the masculine and lunar energy with the feminine.
When asked about the tearing that sometimes occurs when he is in meditation, in The Method of the Siddhas, and once when I heard him giving a talk, he made it a point to say that it is a physiological response to being in a meditative state, and that it has nothing to do with emotion. I can understand why he might have wished to differentiate between the type of primarily reactive emotions typical of devotees, and the kind of non-reactive emotion of compassionate blissfulness or agape which arises when the limited self-sense is transcended in meditation, but otherwise his explanation strikes me as being almost defensive:
“Me? Crying? Oh, no, I got something in my eye, or I was chopping onions!”
My guess is that Da’s mysogony, which may have childhood origins in his relationship with his parents, and perhaps specifically with his relationship to his mother, (who one unsubstantiated rumor suggested was an alcoholic), extends not only to all outer women, but to his inner femininity, his anima. His feminine side gets expressed in the way he dresses or walks around almost nude, in the pomp and circumstance which he insists he be surrounded with, and even in his choice of manservant and cook, a gay male couple who have been members of his household for nearly two decades. But as teacher and guru he is all masculine forcefulness, aggressively demanding obeisance, ruling like a kingly drill sergeant, unyielding and absolutely closed to criticism and ordinary rapport with his followers. He’d be perfect on the cover of one of those new magazines aimed at cigar afficianados!
Alan Watts and Da
I’m sure Alan Watts had no idea how prophetic his reference to Da’s realization as “dangerous wisdom” in Watts’ introduction to The Knee of Listening was. What is truly dangerous about Da’s wisdom is that it is so attractive, so undeniable, so palpable, so real, and so brilliant that it blinds those who are drawn to it to the deep shadows it casts.
Watts also wrote in his introduction to Knee, that one of the reasons so many seekers have a “persistent attachment to spiritual methods...is that, being ignorant of what we have and are now, we look for it in the future, and therefore can be beguiled by all those gurus who pick our pockets and sell us our own wallets.” No wonder his introduction was not used for the second and third editions of Knee.
Ken Wilber and Da
But Da still uses the next best thing to the deceased Alan Watts to market himself, the very alive and influential writer Ken Wilber, author of A Brief History of Everything, Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, No Boundary, The Spectrum of Consciousness, etc.
I wrote to Ken Wilber asking what his current take on Da is, but never received a reply. Knowing that Wilber is a practicioner of Zen, perhaps his non-reply is his reply. Unless Shambhala Publishing misplaced the letter I asked them to forward to him.
In any case, Ken Wilber has admittedly been profoundly influenced by Da, and has referred to Da’s written teachings in every book Wilber has written. Da has long used and continues to use Ken Wilber’s enthusiastic exclamations about the greatness of Da and his teachings as endorsements for his books. The new, 1996 edition of The Heart’s Shout has a Ken Wilber endorsement right on the front cover; this at a time when Ken Wilber’s star is on the rise with ads for A Brief History of Everything appearing nationally in many publications.
I am aware of only one reference to Ken Wilber having any reservations about Da’s method of teaching, and that is a mention made by Georg Feuerstein in Holy Madness where he says, “Like myself, (Wilber) has also expressed his concern about the cultic developmnents around this teacher...” Ken Wilber has expressed these reservations rather quietly, because his apparent endoresment of Da continues.
Ken Wilber may be intelligent and mature enough to make use of Da’s teachings without getting sucked into Da’s cult machine, but not everyone is that smart, which is why people turn to someone like a Ken Wilber or a Da when they want answers to life’s big questions. Many people are prone to falling into the trap of what David Lane calls “the fallacious equation of the medium with the message” in his essay The Paradox of Da Free John in the book he co-authored, Da: The Strange Case of Franklin Jones. Being able to talk the talk doesn’t necessarily mean that you walk the walk.
Ken Wilber may not consider Da much of a danger to naive and innocent seekers, and he may not even be aware that Da is actively continuing to publish and is using Wilber’s name as much as possible.
What Is Not Used...Eventually Returns
One of Da’s oft-repeated axioms at one time in the late seventies was, “What is not used becomes obsolete.” This was his basic advice to devotees on how to deal with neurotic habits and tendencies; don’t indulge them, don’t use them, and through disuse they will eventually die out. It’s a nice idea; too bad that the psyche doesn’t work that way.
Chogyam Trungpa expressed the idea differently, calling our neurotic habits, patterns and content potential manure for our growth. Arnold Mindell brings even more clarity to this subject when he says that everything needs to be recycled, even psychic wastes. Without “an exact, differenciated processing” of that which disturbs us, it may seem to disappear from awareness but does not really go away. Disowned psychic garbage becomes somaticized or goes into the collective information float. Unprocessed problems, disturbances and difficulties reappear as relationship, group, or health problems. But Da has always talked about throwing things away, thus the garbage in the title Garbage and the Goddess.
As Carl Jung rediscovered, the alchemists knew that our psychic and psychological “garbage” is the prima materia (Trungpa’s manure) which when properly “cooked,” may be transformed into the gold of enlightenment. The analogy the alchemists used for the final integration and awakening is identical to Da’s experience of union with the divine as goddess when he awakened in the Hollywood Vedanta SocietyTemple; it is the hieros gamos, or sacred marriage or opposites, of the king and the queen. How unfortunate that Da leapt forward to this stage in the alchemical process without thoroughly cooking all of his prima materia, his personal shit, which has since returned to poison his work and community.
First evidence of this error of Da’s is the way he interpreted his experience of the inner union of opposites. Not only did he see it at the time it occurred as an event of cosmic significance rather than as a personally significant event which could be used in a collectively significant way, but more recently he has told his devotees that it “is an historical event...which has transformed the cosmos.” That this “great event” took place in Hollywood makes complete sense!
The Unaccountable Franklin Jones
Da claims that Franklin Jones died a long time ago, that the egoic personality that identified itself in any limited way died when Da awakened as the Self of everything. What I think really happened is that the link between the Self archetype of Absolute Reality and the ordinary, boundaried, human personality broke so that Da effectively dissociated from his “lower” self. By transcending the limited egoic self, Da gains a perspective that is infinite except that to be truly infinite the infinite must include the finite. Which brings us back to where all spiritual seeking begins, as in the Zen saying, “Before Zen mountains are mountains, and after Zen mountains are mountains.” In other words, before enlightenment everything appears to be separate and non-miraculous. Enlightenment reveals the absolute, infinite, “empty,” and always miraculous nature of reality. Then, realizing that there is no difference between the subject and the object, the perceiver and the perceived, the apparent separation between the divine and the mundane, between the miraculous and the ordinary, disappears, because it never existed. But if Da can find any way to keep his devotees convinced that they are not yet really enlightened or enlightened enough, he will do so, for he can only stay in business if there is a need for what he sells.
The only person Da has ever been accountable to was Swami Rudrananda. Rudi demanded that he get a job instead of depending on Nina while staying home working on himself through writing. Later Rudi strongly encouraged Da to enter a seminary to pursue a path Rudi may have felt was the only chance this young man had of escaping the huge inflation he was heading towards. Rudi recommended that Da serve truth within the context of Christianity, perhaps seeing that Da had a strong inner need to bring the Christ archetype to life, and that Da was either going to teach Christ or become Christ. That Da went as far as he did in following Rudi’s guidance seems remarkable, as before and since he seems to have only followed his own guidance.
Today Da is accountable to no one, and to no lineage and least of all to his devotees.
Part of my research for this paper included viewing a number of videos of Da giving talks during the early nineties. I noticed throughout that whenever anyone says anything nice to him, praises him, or professes their love and devotion to him, he looks down as if suddenly shy, and makes this noise which his devotees transcribe as “Tcha.” In the glossary in the new, 1996 edition The Heart’s Shout, there is actually a definition given for “Tcha”: “Avatara Adi Da’s special sound of Blessing.”
How utterly natural it is to respond to expressions of love with something like, “Wow, thankyou! I love you too!” But not Da. Da either gets shy or just can’t stand to be that nice, so he mutters, and his devotees have become so cultic that they put the stupid noise he makes on the same pedestal they put him on.
“I Fucked Her Brains Loose!”
Da wouldn’t get far in today’s politically correct climate with this one. During a talk he made in the early 70’s, when referring to his experience of union with the Goddess in the Hollywood Vedanta Society Temple, he proudly announced, “I fucked her brains loose!” Hey, what a stud! Kind of revealing about how he really feels towards women and the feminine.
Da Oedipus Rex
Oddly, the only reference Da makes to psychology which he apparently feels is worth considering is Freud’s theory of the Oedipus complex. I am unaware of any other references to psychology he has made, other than to condemn it. (There’s a section in the book Incarnation of Love where Da tells devotees that he’s heard that a female devotee is planning to see a psychotherapist. He indicates that this is a waste of time, and that if she would only turn to him...)
Da’s focus on the Oedipal complex is interesting when considered this way: Oedipus fucked his mother, killed his father, and then blinded himself. Da fucks as many women as he can, bragged about “fucking the Goddess’ brains loose,” symbolically kills all male authority figures in his wholesale demotion of all other teachers to a status below his, and in his alpha-dog relationship to all of the men in his community, and he has effectively blinded himself by isolating himself from feedback and perception of all that he chooses not to perceive.
The Trap of Enlightenment
I get the impression from things Da has said and from his devolving behavior over time that when he wrote The Knee of Listening he believed that readers would be able to “understand,” fairly quickly, and would readily be able to adapt to “the life of understanding.” As more and more people began to approach him, he began to realize that not only were they incapable of truly “understanding,” but that they didn’t even know how to floss their teeth! (That Da taught his early devotees to floss is a story that has been around for a long time and which is even repeated in introductory chapters to some of his most recent publications).
He forgot about his hopes and dreams of what others were capable of, and began to deal directly with what was actually being presented to him, never recognizing that the kinds of people who were drawn to him were reflections of his own shadow side. Over time his shadow and his devotees shadows mutually reinforced each other, until these shadows merged and went deeper and deeper below the level of consciousness.
Some of the qualities which come across in Da’s style of communicating are: confidence, self-assurance, righteousness, condescension, critical thinking, a generally negative attitude towards the entire historical/psychological/religious adventure of humankind, a tendency to avoid the society of those whom he feels are unenlightened, pride, an absence of shame and humility, forthrightness, rebelliousness, irreverence, etc. And, until recent years, after one of the founders of America Online who is a “friend” of Da’s community convinced Da’s editors to change every reference in Da’s books to “he” to “he and she,” a mysoginistic quality came across in his writings, and a patriarchal, authoritarian attitude continues to come across. These qualities are secondary to the primary message which Da communicates in his speaking and writing. People who identify with or need more of or unconsciously resonate with these secondarily or almost subliminally communicated qualities are therefore naturally attracted to Da. But what consciously attracts people to Da is the brilliance of his arguments, his charisma and his powerful presence. He, like those who approach him with a sincere desire to grow spiritually, may have every intention that the conscious connection between guru and devotee will produce auspicious results. What has been overlooked or misunderstood by Da and a number of other gurus of our time and their devotees is that the unconscious connection between guru and devotee is as real and potent as the conscious and superconscious connection, and that this unconscious connection or meeting and merging of shadows inevitably leads to greater unconsciousness.
Da is a master of the fallacy known as arguing in a circle. By explicity or implicitly asserting in the premise of an argument what is asserted in the conclusion, (A is true because A is true), Da takes advantage of the enormous length of his arguments and the relatively limited memories of his devotees. Arguing in a circle is effective when the premise and the conclusion are spaced so far apart that unless one is very aware and has a sharp memory, detecting the sameness of the premise and conclusion may go unnoticed.
Da’s basic premise is that the separate self sense, (Narcissus, the ego-I, etc.) is unreal, yet leads to seeking for that which it is apparently separate from. Such seeking is rooted in error and therefore the way to be free from the bondage of the separate self sense is to stop seeking.
So far so good. This is a good argument, a clear and articulate way of stating the same ideas which appear as the first and second noble truths of Buddhism: Life involves disatisfaction, and the cause of disatisfaction is the constant movement of desire for objects and experiences outside of the present.
But Da adds a number of other premises to this basic argument: that he is enlightened, that his enlightenment is unique, that this makes him a guru, that one can only be awakened spiritually by being in relationship to an enlightened guru, that the only fruitful way to be involved with a guru is to do absolutely everything the guru says, that this entire matter is not something which can be understood by the rational mind, that the process of awakening spiritually in relationship to a guru is an ordeal and therefore necessarily involves going beyond conventional taboos, personal edges, and all ordinarily desirable levels of comfort, safety, and sanity, that doubt is a sign of resistance to the spiritual process, that doubting the guru is a sign of resistance to the spiritual process, that doubting the guru when the guru behaves in ways that makes one extremely doubtful is a sign of extreme resistance, that the egoic, Narcissistic, limited self-sense or ego“I” will do absolutely anything possible to resist the ego’s death, which is necessary if spiritual growth is to occur, and therefore, if you doubt Da in any way, shape, or form, it is because you are resisting the process of your own growth and ego-death.
And that’s not all! Everything the guru does is for your own good, when the guru acts weird it is a reflection of you, the extremes the guru pushes you to are for the purpose of purifying your karmas and have nothing to do with his neurosis or shadow, and so on.
These premises and many many more are woven into volumes and volumes of Da’s writings and transcribed talks, making his arguments virtually impossible to deconstruct. If enlightenment is what he defines it as being, and if he is enlightened, and if one really must trust the true guru absolutely and unconditionally, and if doubt really is a sign of the ego defending itself against the one thing that will make the difference between spiritual awakening and lifetimes of ignorance and confusion, then Da has caught you in his big, sticky spider’s web.
It’s also one big fat koan, but Da doesn’t intend it to be. Traditional koans are concise and are not designed to draw the Zen student into a lifelong codependent relationship with the Zen master. Da’s paradoxical arguments are designed to keep enough people tied in enough knots for enough time so that they will stay around and support Da and enable him to get through this vale of tears living like a cross between Hugh Hefner, Donald Trump, Bill Gates and the Pope! It started with Nina supporting him through the early days of his sadhana, then he drew Pat Morley in, then he built the community, and he’s still going strong. Between Microsoft and Adidam, Da’s newest name for his “one, true, world religion,” we might be closer to a Robert Heinlein technotheocracy than we imagine! Da’s community is already offering dashan on the World Wide Web!
You Might Be Enlightened, But Kanya Type?
Da used to use a traditional Hindu story about the god Krishna and the women who worshipped him who were called gopis to explain why he had nine wives. In the mid-eighties he cut back to four, and he now calls them Kanyas, and they are supposed to be in a higher stage of consciousness than anyone else in Da’s community.
They are said to be in what Da calls the sixth stage of consciousness, only one level below the seventh, where he is. This puts these gals at the same level at which Da places Jesus, the Buddha and Ramana Maharshi.
All I can say is, I hope they can type, because when they outlast their usefulness to Da they’re gonna need some job skills out here in the real world.
The Wrong Side of the Heart
Da not only wants to impress upon the world that his peak experiences indicate that he is enlightened, but he wants it to be known that his enlightenment is of the highest possible calliber. Since there is no one higher than him who can validate these claims, and since he must know that occasionally even his supremely confident self-authorized claim of enlightenment needs a little support, he has compared his realization to that of Ramana Maharshi’s.
In The Knee of Listening, Da mentions several times that one of the characteristics of his enlightenment was that he found himself resting in the locus on the right side of the heart.
“...I realized that I communicated myself in reality through a specific center, analogous to the body. I resided in the heart, but to the right side of the chest. I seemed to press upon a point approximateley an inch and one half to the right of the center of the chest. This is the seat of Reality and real consciousness.”
Da makes several references to this “seat of Reality” several times before letting the reader know that Ramana Maharshi had, “given special prominence in his teaching to the experience of the “Self” in the heart, in the right side of the chest.”
H.W.L. Poonja, aka Poojaji is a spiritual master living and teaching in Lucknow, India. Born in 1910, he was a disciple of Ramana Maharshi.
In a book of interviews with him titled Papaji: Interviews, edited by David Godman, Poonjaji recalls the time he asked Ramana about Maharshi’s references to the right side of the chest as the seat of reality.
“On one occasion I heard the Maharshi tell a visitor that the spiritual Heart-centre was located on the right side of the chest, and that the “I”-thought arose from that place and subsided there. This did not tally with my own experience of the Heart. On my first visit to the Maharshi, when my Heart opened and flowered, I knew that it was neither inside nor outside the body. And when the experience of the Self became permanent during my second visit, I knew that it was not possible to say that the Heart could be limited to or located in the body.
So I joined in the conversation and asked, ‘Why do you place the spiritual Heart on the right side of the chest and limit it to that location? There can be no left or right for the Heart because it does not abide inside or outside the body. Why not say it is everywhere? How can you limit the truth to a location inside the body? Would it not be more correct to say that the body is situated in the Heart, rather than the Heart in the body?’ I was quite vigorous and fearless in my questioning because that was the method I had been taught in the army.
The Maharshi gave me an answer which fully satisfied me. Turning to me, he explained that he only spoke in this way to people who still identified themselves with their bodies. ‘When I speak of the “I” rising from a location on the right side of the body, from a location on the right side of the chest, the information is for those people who still think that they are the body. To these people I say the Heart is located there. But it is not really quite correct to say that the “I” rises from and merges in the Heart on the right side of the chest. The Heart is another name for the Reality and it is neither inside nor outside the body; there can be no in or out for it, since it alone is. I do not mean by “Heart” any physiological organ or any plexus or anything like that, but as long as one identifies oneself with the body and thinks that one is the body, one is advised to see where in the body the “I”-thought rises and merges again. It must be the Heart at the right side of the chest since every man, of whatever race and religion, and in whatever language he may be saying “I”, points to the right side of the chest to indicate himself. This is so all over the world, so that must be the place. And by keenly watching the daily emergence of the “I”-thought on waking, and its subsiding in sleep, one can see that it is in this Heart on the right side.”
A footnote to this passage says, “Part of this answer was recorded in Day by Day with Bhagavan, 25.3.46. The compiler, Devaraja Mudaliar, came into the hall as the answer was being given. He therefore missed the original question, its context, and the first part of the answer.”
Da also missed the original question and the first part of the answer when he studied Ramana Maharshi’s talks in the late sixties, because this detail had not been recorded. Da then took what appeared to be a proprioceptive sign of a unique enlightenment as something he could use as further proof of the uniqueness of his own enlightenment. It is interesting that Da later made a big deal of disagreeing with Muktananda that perceiving the “blue pearl” or any other sensory-grounded experience could possibly be an ultimate sign and proof of enlightenment. I guess it’s the “We’re all God, but some of us are more God than others” school of thought.
Feel Me In All Your Parts
A large part of Da’s appeal is an appeal to sensuality. “Feel me in all your parts,” he says, a theme he has repeated in various forms throughout his teaching career. The three great taboos, he says, are “sex, laughter, and god-realization.” People are afraid of “ragged pleasure.” He therefore seems to hold a great appeal for intellectually inclined folks who unconsciously crave to be free of superego, who crave a more sensual relationship with the world and with themselves, who crave to feel absolutely alive and free! He uses intellect to hold followers in place and to continually reorient them, while playing freely with their minds, bodies, and life energy. He uses circular reasoning to entrap followers, by effectively telling them over and over that all resistance is contraction, that all unlove is contraction, that all avoidance is contraction, etc., overwhelming them into perpetually believing that every doubt, every non-Da oriented thought, every desire for individuation and independence is “Narcissus.” And in the religion of Adidam, Narcissus is the equivalent of Satan; the same contradiction which occurs in Christian thought becomes effective, that God is everything but the Devil is separate from God.
Da Kitty Kat
In the supposedly “complete” reprintings of The Knee of Listening it is noteworthy that Da speaks more affectionately about Robert the cat than about any person mentioned in the book, including his wife Nina. This absence of energy in the area of relationship seems significant in light of the way he has related to people since: never their equal, always above them, and like Bodhidharma (in Da’s retelling of the story about the bloody arm) dispassionate and aloof in the face of others’ suffering.
I recall when Da’s parents visited The Mountain of Attention and the gossip that followed was that his mother was an alcoholic, imbibing even during her visit with her enlightened son, (during a period when we as a community were not partying). To me, if this is true, this is a another clue to Da’s misanthropy, his intolerance of weakness, his perfectionism, his codependent relationship to his devotees, and his frequent incredibly excessive use of alcohol. (When I was in the community Da would have Jack Daniels parties that would go non-stop for several days at a time with no sleeping breaks. Straight Jack Daniels, chased by Coca Cola, shot after shot after shot.)
During a community gathering one Sunday a devotee played a tape of Da that had been recorded during a drunken party the night before. Da ranted about how he makes pornographic movies in his basement, and about how he could never do what he demands that his devotees do. Then Da walked into the Communion Hall where the tape was being played looking furious. The tape was stopped. Da said, “Very amusing,” and only stayed for an unusually short Q & A session, during which no one referred to the tape.
The rest of the day was spent listening to members of his inner circle trying to do damage control, trying to convince newer members of the community who’d heard the tape that it was not to be taken seriously, that it was only “theater,” “crazy wisdom,” etc.
Devotees who are invited to retreats on Da’s Fiji island, which was either sold or donated to the community by Raymond Burr, who supposedly admired Da’s writings, they are required to have their blood tested for the AIDS virus before qualifying to visit. In case of an emergency plasma drive, I guess.
You Can Suffer In Silence or You Can Shut Up
I recently heard an audiotape of Da speaking which was recorded on New Year’s Eve, 1994. It is the first time I have heard him slipping! My reaction to this tape is admittedly subjective, but what I hear is an aging, degenerating guru talking nonsense in order to impress young women and keep them infatuated with him. With loud rock music playing in the background, “You Can Suffer or You Can Love” begins with Da bragging that while everyone present experiences reality from a limited, egoic point of view, he alone perceives from an infinite and unlimited point of view that is outside the body. A woman asks why she should believe what he is saying, saying that she generally accepts such statements only on the basis of empirical evidence. He basically tells her that she can test his teaching by doing the practice he teaches, which of course means making a virtual lifetime commitment of time, energy and money! The point is that he never really answers her, but instead falls back on what we already know, that if you really work on yourself it is indeed possible to realize something greater. His evasiveness is very obvious on this tape in the ways he responds to her. After a long, winding answer to this first question, this same woman remarks that the community had given her the impression that everyone out in “the world,” was dismally unhappy, virtually living in hell. Da makes no response whatsoever to what she has just told him about the cultic sectarian blindness of his community, but instead admits that some people in “the world” are indeed able to reach some degree of equanimity, but that this is rare. He cites his “Aunt Millie” as one such rare example of someone who was relatively contented with her life. And he goes on and on, finally talking about how important it is to be totally committed to God realization in this lifetime to avoid endless lifetimes of suffering. He starts to sound like a damn car salesman! The woman asks what is the problem with going through life, learning valuable lessons, and being reborn, if that is in fact what happens, as opposed to rushing madly through this life trying to get enlightened.
“My having doubts (about what you are saying) does not make me off the wall,” she says.
“I’m not saying that you’re ‘off the wall,’ but that when a person gets straight, they no longer have doubts,” Da responds.
“Are you saying that I am off the wall?” she asks.
“No, but you are reacting, and your reaction is your own.”
“But there’re things that I’m reacting to!” she says.
Da talks right over her, repeating that her reaction is hers, that reactivity is unlove, that one “can suffer or one can love,” etc. Between the lines of his rhetoric, one can hear an aging, bloated, guru using his oldest trick of turning a questioner’s doubts back onto the questioner. Only this time it doesn’t quite come off.
Saniel Bonder was Da’s official biographer for nearly two decades, a frequent speaker at community gatherings, a member of Da’s inner circle, and author of many articles for the various magazines Da’s community published over the years. Years ago Saniel struck me as being intelligent and level headed, less inclined to get emotionally carried away by all of Da’s theater than some of the other people who were close to Da. He seemed truly serious about spiritual life, not a mere fan or dabbler, and I had often wondered what he was up to in the years since I left the community.
Then I saw a full page advertisement in a Bay Area directory called the Common Ground, which began, “SANIEL BONDER offers the “HEALING THE CORE WOUND” Workshop and the “BECOMING ALL OF WHO YOU ARE” Intensive. This huge ad went on to say a little about him, “a grateful recipient of the divine blessings of the Masters I regard as the breakthrough Heart-realizers and teachers for our time: Sri Ramana Mahanshi, and, most epsecially, Sri Da Avabhasa. But I awakened autonomously, in communion with the Divine, as Goddess.” There are descriptions of the workshops he offers, one four hour workshop for a “requested fee” of $55.00, and another described as “A one-on-one intensive initiation into your own unique, direct, and most complete path of Self-realization. Requested fees: half day (4 hours) $300; whole day (7-8 hours) $450.”
The remainder of the ad consisted of testimonials about Saniel’s ability to awaken others by people who’d attended his workshops.
This was a few years ago. At the time it struck me as normal for Marin County, California, where the cost of living and the cost of enlightenment is high. When I began to take a new look at Da recently, I decided to get in touch with Saniel.
I wrote him, he called me back, and we set up a couple of appointments to talk on the phone.
He was gracious and didn’t sound inflated or crazy as I half expected he might.
Saniel left Da after getting fed up with the cultishness which has kept growing around Da. He told me that initially Da’s teaching was about “radical understanding,” but that it changed into straight out guru devotion, which has as its basic assumption the idea that the devotee will eventually awaken through the process of devotion and alignment to the guru, the key word being eventually. Saniel also said that another reason he left was the duplicity he found himself involved in when trying to deal with communications to and from Da.
Saniel agreed with me that Da has no feedback loop around him, that he is archaically authoritarian, and he surprised me by telling me that Da dictates exactly how his books will look when published. I had thought surely that Da had no idea that his books were being put out in the most self defeating manner imaginable. Saniel also agreed that Da most definitely has a shadow, and when I said that Da seemed to compensate for a lack of human feeling by going to the extremes of behaviors and by pushing devotees to the extremes of devotion, Saniel said that Da overrides a lot of feelings.
He scoffed when I asked him if Da is an alcoholic, stating what I already knew about Da, that he can drink anyone under the table and can go cold turkey for as long as he wants whenever he wants. To me that still sounds like an alcoholic, albeit an iron willed one. What else but alcohol would cause Da to gain so much weight so rapidly?
Saniel also scoffed when I mentioned that I’d heard that a high ranking community member had purchased arms and ammunition in Saudi Arabia and smuggled them onto Da’s Fijian island. He finally said that if there were weapons on Fiji, he knew nothing about it.
Saniel likened himself to Jung breaking from Freud and expanding on his teacher’s work. (Not exactly what happened with Jung and Freud.) I understand what he meant, but thought it sounded just a little inflated. He expressed what sounded to me like a sincere interest in working with students in a way that is open ended, democratic, and mutual, and that does not repeat the mistakes Da has made.
He alluded to an unpublished manuscript he’d written which he was “privately circulating.” I expressed interest. He doesn’t pass it on to everyone, he said, and usually only after meeting personally with them. But our phone conversations were sufficient, he said. “I ask for a considerable donation for it,” he said. “How much is considerable?” I asked. $120. No thankyou.
At one point in our conversation I challenged Saniel to tell me what differences he feels distinguish Da’s teachings from some traditional spiritual teachings other than the semantics. Dzogchen and Mahayana Buddhism for example. He said that the difference was in the practice, the yoga. No one else has ever done what Da has done, he said, which was to bring the enlightened state fully into the body. He started shouting, “Jim! No one has ever done it! No one! Not the Dalai Lama, beautiful man that he is, not no one! The Buddhists and the whole rest of them are out of the body!”
Then he apologized for yelling and said not to take it personally, that he feels passionate about the subject.
I spent several hours on the phone with Saniel in total, and while I enjoyed talking with him and look forward to meeting him in person, at one of the free meditation sittings he offers, my sense was that like Da, he is more interested in having perfect answers than in being vulnerable in relationship. He did say that he is open to the need for enlightenment to include “all the messiness” of life, and that he felt our conversation was like a rehearsal for a face to face meeting, instead of the “disembodied” meeting over the phone we’d been having.
Saniel also told me that not only did he never get to say farewell to Da, but that getting any kind of a letter through to Da would be impossible, because Da simply does not receive bad news.
Da: The Strange Case of Franklin Jones by Scott Lowe and David Lane, The MSAC Philosophy Group, 1996. Available from: The MSAC Philosophy Group, Mount San Antonio College, 1100 North Grand Avenue, Walnut, California 91789
Holy Madness: The Shock Tactics and Radical Teachings of Crazy-Wise Adepts, Holy Fools, and Rascal Gurus by Georg Feuerstein, Integral Publishing, 1990. Available from Integral Publishing, P.O. Box 1030, Lower Lake, California 95457
The Heart’s Shout: Perfect and Urgent Wisdom From the Heart of Reality, The Incarnate Divine Person, Adi Da (The Da Avatar), The Dawn Horse Press, 1996
Life 102: What To Do When Your Guru Sues You by Peter McWilliams, Prelude Press, 1994
A Path With Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life, Chapter 18, The Emperor’s New Clothes: Problems With Teachers by Jack Kornfield, Bantam Books, 1993
“Encountering the Shadow in Buddhist America” and “Why Spiritual Groups Go Awry” aritcles in Common Boundary magazine May/June 1990 issue.
“Is the Guru Dead?” issue of What is Enlightenment magazine, Spring/Summer 1996, Volume 5, Number 1
Following are two letters originally written in 1985 which I obtained in the course of my research. [These letters are not included in this e-text, but there are links to them below.JC, 2005]
Several former members of Da’s community filed a lawsuit against Da and the community. A number of newspaper articles appeared in San Francisco newspapers about the lawsuits, and several of the disgruntled ex-members appeared on a local talk show in S.F. Right before this show was aired, a letter was sent to all existing members of Da’s community. I was no longer a member, but a friend of mine had received a copy of the letter and shared its contents with me.
Someone who was friendly with the community wrote to the person who sent the letter, asking for more details on the allegations made in that letter. The following copies of both letters begins with the response which was sent to the person who requested details on the allegations.
I have personal knowledge of a number of the allegations contained in these letters, hearsay knowledge of others, and no reason to doubt the veracity of everything contained in them.
Following these letters is a copy [not in this e-text, JC, 2005] of the testimony referred to in item 15 in the first letter to appear below, where a woman was allegedly burned by cigarettes on her back by Da while he was having sexual intercourse with her. The copy of her testimony and a photo of her back are from Da’s book The Dreaded Gom-Boo.
Links to the aforementioned letters [still available on web.archive.org, FV]: