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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
David Christopher Lane
Professor of Philosophy, Mt. San Antonio College Lecturer in Religious Studies, California State University, Long Beach Author of Exposing Cults: When the Skeptical Mind Confronts the Mystical
(New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1994) and The Radhasoami Tradition: A Critical History of Guru Succession
(New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1992).
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Adi Da and the
The Art of Deflecting Criticism
No, Elliot and I don't hate gurus. We just happen to think it is wise to call a spade a spade... without resorting to mind-numbing rationalizations.
I enjoyed reading Brad Reynolds' recent essay [Defending Adi Da Samraj] praising the spiritual status of Adi Da Samraj. It is a spirited and devotion-laden defense of the controversial guru and, as such, provides a valuable insight into the heart and mind of an Adi Da follower.
However, I don't think it will have much impact on stemming the growing criticism of the late Adi Da and his ministry. This is primarily because bhakti-infused devotees tend to ideologically explain away any criticism that usurps the authority of their chosen leader and argue that critics aren't spiritually enlightened (or gifted) enough to properly appraise their Satguru's exalted status.
This is a very common (and a bit tired) ploy used by almost all religious apologists when confronted with information that is contrary to their belief systems. In this regard, Brad Reynolds is no different than a Scientologist who cannot appreciate that others may not share his views or his same enthusiasm, since they experienced something quite different in their interactions within the movement.
I can sympathize with Brad Reynolds since he is clearly smitten with Adi Da Samraj and has been mesmerized by his teachings and his example. But instead of simply providing us with his own autobiographical testimonial, Brad Reynolds wishes to criticize other ex-Da devotees and other outside critics who don't share his perspective and it is here where his rationalizations fall short of the mark.
I thought it would be helpful if I numbered precisely where Brad Reynold's narrative is either misleading or mistaken.
1. Reynolds writes, “I also have identified Adi Da as being a contemporary example, for the first time in the West, demonstrating a continuation of the Guru-devotee relationship that's so highly valued in human history among the world's wisest mystics.” Yet, Adi Da is not the “first” guru to appear in the West. While I realize that the hype around Da is such that some claim he is the first-born “Western” adept or avatar, it remains just that: hype. Why? There are a plethora of Western born gurus and teachers that have preceded Da, each with their own coterie of disciples claiming their unique spiritual status replete with a host of honorifics such as “Satguru” or “Mahanta” or “Mystical Traveler” or “Spiritual Adept” or “Divine Incarnation,&rdquo etc.
2. Reynolds doesn't point by point explain where and how ex-Da devotees are mistaken about their recollections, but instead smears the entire group with generalities opining that he bases his conclusions on his own experiences (which apparently we should take as authentic) but “not the misinformation of others” (which apparently because they are not his are thereby rendered “inauthentic”).
Why is it that religious devotees must discount the experiences of others when they don't dovetail with their own? Why is their experience, simply because it is “their” experience, automatically superior to those who differ? This is a common narcissistic tendency among the faithful when dealing with apostates and Reynolds' defense is not much different than a Christian fundamentalist defending the Bible or Jesus against non-believers.
3. Reynolds also share much with evangelicals when he preaches, “Indeed, I'm so bold as to claim: if you give him your attention then over time he will serve your own realization of your inherent divine nature. It's already happened for thousands of people; it could happen for you too.” As a rhetorical device, this is no different than what one hears from a street proselytizer espousing the greatness of accepting Jesus as one's personal Lord and Savior. While I can understand that Reynolds feels this way, it doesn't follow that this is some objective truth he is proclaiming, since there are literally thousands of other cult adherents exclaiming the same thing, albeit with different affiliations and different dogmas. Similar to other advertising gimmicks (used for pitching productsspiritual or otherwise), Reynolds even invokes endorsements from artistic celebrities when he writes, “For example, check out this list of fine musicians, artists, and contributors who have been deeply influenced by Adi Da, even if some are not formal devotees . . . .” Again, quite understandable, but not especially original or persuasive.
4. Reynolds continues in his preaching by alleging “that Adi Da's influence, including his siddhi-transmission, is still strong even though his physical body is no longer present (his Mahasamadhi or physical death was on November 27, 2008, Thanksgiving Day in the United States). His spiritual body and transmission, which is all-pervading, but especially evident at his sanctuaries and holy sites, or Siddha Peethas, will be here on Earth for a long time to come for future devotees to access. His function as Sat-Guru, in other words, has not diminished since his death (some even claim it's been strengthened), thus it's perpetually available for everyone and all. Granting access to these sites and Adi Da's Teaching and Transmission is the principal mission of his formal institution and church known as Adidam.”
But such homages are in their import almost indistinguishable from from other devotees' homages from other faiths. One can easily take the name “Adi Da” out and substitute it with any host of guru names and it will have the same impactthat of a preacher trying to convince others of the unique status of their chosen one. All well and good, but not very convincing to outsiders.
5. Reynolds invokes Ken Wilber's writings to buttress his praise of Adi Da, but neglects to quote what may be Wilber's most revealing comment, which is that “Da is a fuck-up.” I guess that two-word endorsement by Wilber is too pithy to be carried on the back of the latest edition of the Dawn Horse Testament.
6. Reynolds like others of his ilk is prone to extreme hyperbole which seems to be the hallmark of devotees who tend to think of their respective gurus as superior to all others when he writes (without any caveats) the following,
“Consequently, I believe both men are geniuses beyond compare amongst their contemporaries, and thus they are indispensable to our future evolution in the integration of East and West, of North and South, of creating a cooperative global society based in the true love of God as Spirit.”
I also appreciate some of Adi Da's writings, as I do Wilber's, but I don't think that they are “beyond compare” nor “indispensable for our future evolution.” No, I think our evolution will do just fine with or without them writing books.
7. Reynolds also makes an elemental mistake and one that will boomerang back on him when closely inspected when he calls critics of his essays on Adi Da “guru haters.” Seriously, guru haters? Having read Elliot Benjamin extensively I have never found him to hate gurus in the least, nor do I hate gurus. I happen to have a guru myself (now some 25 years dead) and don't hate spiritual teachers. No, I just happen to think that we should use some common sense and our seasoned critical faculties when appraising their respective merits and demerits. We tend to use more discriminating intelligence when buying a used car than when sizing up new gurus down the block. No, Elliot and I don't hate gurus. We just happen to think it is wise to call a spade a spade or bullshit bullshit without resorting to mind-numbing rationalizations.
8. Reynolds like long-time defenders of John-Roger Hinkins, Sathya Sai Baba, Paul Twitchell, Thakar Singh (and the list goes on) claims that he has investigated the allegations against Adi Da and is not convinced. Reynolds argues, “Yes, I have heard some stories too, for my Sat-Guru lived life to the fullest, which means he had sex with women who loved him, drank alcohol and used drugs (and smoked pot) in moderation (at times), all activities that I myself have done, and even consider to be the natural expression of a happy human life. In no way, however, was he ever addicted (as claimed by critics), evidence from his photos and videos alone make abundantly clear. He was also celibate for long periods of time, and could fast like only a yogi could. Even then, such activities seemed to be more a response to our desires than his. The man's psycho-physical equanimity and grace have been clearly evident in whatever setting he was seen in. His capacity to sit still for hours at a time giving intelligent heart-felt discourses is evidence of a yogic discipline beyond any person I have known or seen give a lecture. Let alone the fact that such powerful siddhi-transmission can never be used or developed by anyone other than a master yogi and Siddha-Master. All allegations of abuse, whether mental or physical, I have never found verifiable evidence for.”
One wonders if any testimony or allegation against Adi Da would be sufficient to sway Reynolds' bhakti mind.
One wonders if any testimony or allegation against Adi Da would be sufficient to sway Reynolds' bhakti mind. I suspect not, since as he so boldly alleges, “ultimately he's the Enlightened Adept, so maybe he knows best in the long run. It's his life; so maybe I should transcend my expectations and accept him for who he is.”
Well, a number of women and men who were closely associated with Adi Da don't accept or condone his behavior and had the courage to come out publicly to explain why and they did so without resorting to justifying or legitimizing his actions as “crazy wisdom.” Even someone as well vested in Adi Da as George Feuerstein finally had to admit that Adi Da's behavior was reprehensible.
In this regard, I remember many years ago when I was teaching at Mt. San Antonio College when an ex-follower of Adi Da personally unknown to me came on campus in order to discuss his experiences with the guru during the 1970s. He also provided me with a plethora of documents concerning Adi Da's past. This particular gentleman, well connected to the group, painted a much different picture of Adi Da, and one which has been backed up by a slew of ex-devotees. He told of how his guru seduced other men's wives (with drugs and alcohol) by using his “spiritual” authority and in the process causing irreparable harm to those involved.
His experiences are just as important as Brad Reynolds' if one truly wishes to have a “whole” picture of Adi Da's life and work. I find it reprehensible that these ex-students are dismissed under such lame excuses as Adi Da is doing “crazy wisdom” or that they were not spiritually advanced enough to understand his “radical” understanding.
Why is it always the disciple that gets the blame but the guru in question gets a hall pass? We don't let elementary or high school teachers off this easily and I see no reason why the Supreme One should have lesser standards. In other words, we need to really listen to what these ex-devotees experienced versus ad hoc dismissing them as merely disgruntled neophytes.
Reynolds by his own admission was never in Adi Da's inner circle and thus was never privy to the private happenings that occurred in more intimate circumstances. As Reynolds readily admits, “My experience of Adi Da has been a spiritual one, for I never spent time in his personal company outside of meditative darshans (or “sightings” in Sanskrit).”
In my some forty years of investigating cults and their leaders, I have noticed that those on the outer perimeter to the teacher (and not privy to his private interactions) tend to remain oblivious to the kind of abuses that can happen within the inner circle and oftentimes believe (usually erroneously) that their own experience is the only correct one or the only rightful interpretation. Get closer and the observations change, as we have already discovered with the recent expose' of L. Ron Hubbard and David Miscavige of Scientology in the searing book, Going Clear.
9. Reynolds goes to great length to tell us of his guru “dripping with love” even when he yelled or was “very critical” of his devotees, apparently all in the cause of getting them to transcend their egos. Of course, all of this divine theater is accepted by those who “get it” but somehow lost on those who “don't get it” (to paraphrase Reynold's explanation). Yet, this is precisely why devotional appreciations by invested disciples (particularly those not within the inner sanctum) must be taken with large doses of skepticism. Such disciples tend not to want to see anything as negative, especially when as Reynolds confesses, “For me, they felt more like breaking bread with Jesus or having Buddha grace his gatherings with visions of Nirvana; totally full of God-Light. Ecstatic but sober and calm; true beauty incarnated. That was my (and others) experiences around Adi Da, so I can never turn my back on that form of evidence nor betray what I witnessed.”
So when a respected scholar (and a very sympathetic one to boot) such as Elliot Benjamin points to the darker side of Adi Da, Reynolds doesn't really listen to what he says but rather dismisses him with an all encompassing sully such as “Some people just hate gurus and will continue to mock one of the greatest Spiritual Teachers and Transmission Masters of all time.” No, Elliot Benjamin doesn't hate gurus and is the last person to mock someone just for the fun of it. Rather, he has “listened” to the reports of Adi Da devotees who tell a different story about their former guru.
This is a telling point since it is Adi Da's own disciples who have given him so much bad press. Nobody went digging around to find dirt on him, since it was Adi Da's own followers who went public and who went on television and who gave newspaper interviews.
Let us put the blame where it belongs. . . . on Adi Da and stop projecting on his ex-disciples because their guru used his authority to manipulate them into doing things that they would (in a different context) otherwise not do. It is obvious that his method has shortcomings if the very people he is trying to help come away scarred in the process.
10. Reynolds then proceeds to provide us with a misleading caricature (typical in its in-out cult speak), “Maybe I'm wrong; maybe they're right; but maybe I'm not wrong and the guru-haters are wrong.” Sorry, but this is a classic straw man argument since the people he claims are “guru haters” is a creation of Brad Reynolds' own mind and as such betrays the objectivity he wishes to project.
As I said before and I think it bears repeating, I don't hate gurus. Just go read my book, The Enchanted Land: A Journey with the Mystics of India. And it is completely misleading to dismiss criticism under the false pretext that ex-devotees are merely acting out of their own egoic reactivity (a typical tactic, I should add, that is used by cult members so as not to take any criticism of their leader seriously) as Reynolds tries to do when he writes, “This is why I did not bring up those negative reports: they do not seem true but rather are a reflection of reactivity egoity, not of the truth.” It is a truth to them and that is why they are willing to suffer personal and public humiliation by coming out against Adi Da. I can name names of ex-devotees, but what is sad is that invariably they get attacked in the process and labeled with all sorts of invectives so that no one takes their reports seriously.
Brad Reynolds doesn't take the time to really analyze what the critics have to say about Adi Da (except by praising his guru and inviting others to invite Adi Da into their lives) and instead resorts to sloganeering when he repeats yet again that “I can only conclude these distorted assertions and negative projections are themselves part of the cult of guru-haters.”
There isn't a “cult of guru haters” responding to Brad Reynolds essays. No, it simply individuals who think that the guru hype of Adi Da should be counter balanced with other critical voices.
Having been familiar with Adi Da since the early 1970s and having even written for his magazine, The Laughing Man Magazine, a few times (see “The Reluctant Guru” and “Transcendental Sociology” for examples), I quite disagree with Brad Reynolds over the book, The Dawn Horse Testament. Having read almost everything Adi Da has written (including his many versions of the Knee of Listening, which seems to have become more hagiographical in each subsequent edition. Why is Adi Da's association with Scientology no longer mentioned, given that he was with the group for a year?), I concur with Elliot Benjamin about the shortcomings of the book and I don't think it has anything to do with how “esoteric” it is.
As I mentioned in a previous essay [Ken Wilber's Confused Hype of Da Free John], I think the Paradox of Instruction is a much more insightful book, but then again we are not talking about objective facts here (sorry Wilber but there is no “obvious fact” about Adi Da's writings) but rather what we ourselves draw from certain books. Better for us to admit to that subjective and relative nature than falsely pontificate otherwise.
Let me end this little essay on a positive note. I think it is perfectly fine for Brad Reynolds to express his love and appreciation for Adi Da and I can readily acknowledge that he feels that his association with the guru has been an altogether positive one. That's fine as far as it goes, but it remains just that: a devotee's heartfelt testimonial. But it doesn't then mean that the critics of Adi Da are mistaken or wrong in their appraisements simply because one devotee (admittedly on the outer circle of the group) has felt benefitted by his teacher. There is no dearth of such testimonials on all sorts of cult leaders, whether they come from Catholics praising the Pope or Eckists praising their Eckankar leader, Sri Harold Klemp.
So as a paean to his guru, Adi Da, I find Brad Reynolds' essay insightful. But as a rebuttal to Elliot Benjamin and other critics, I find it sorely lacking in key details.
Of course, why should I expect otherwise when Brad Reynolds himself admits that
“Ultimately, of course, I can only speak for myself. And for me, the American-born Adept Avatar Adi Da Samraj (born as Franklin Albert Jones on Long Island, New York) has taught me more about God, more about the truth of God as Consciousness and “Conscious Light” (in his words), more about my capacity to love and be at peace with where I am, than any other Adept in the history of the world.”
In a nice coincidence, I found out while reading Brad Reynolds' article that the book I wrote with Professor Scott Lowe (University of Wisconsin), who was a former devotee of Da in the early 1970s, has finally come out in an audio format on Amazon's audible format as well as Apple's iTunes store. It may serve as a sort of counter-ballast to Reynold's effusive praise of all things Adi Da.
DA: THE STRANGE CASE OF FRANKLIN JONES
Scott Lowe, "The Strange Case of Franklin Jones", www.integralworld.net