I don't think I have ever posted much on Adi Da, another one of these self-proclaimed god-men, saviors of the world, the most enlightened guru ever, etc. I counseled many former members of this cultic organization over the years. He died suddenly a few years ago, which screwed up his big story. Gurus like him don't suddenly drop dead of a heart attack. According to the great myth, they know when they will die well in advance and slowly and perfectly meditate into their ascension. Didn't happen that way. He just keeled over, screwing up the whole story. Darn.
Adi Da / Da Free John / Franklin Jones / he later renamed himself the Ruchira Buddha - was the personification of grandiosity. He was quite brilliant and charismatic, but also consumed with his own magnificence. He believed that he was the most enlightened person EVER and that he should have had tens of hundreds of millions of followers. He was very upset to only attract thousands of devotees, but he did end up owning his own island in Fiji and did get many people to give him all their money. He had lots of women devotees and wives, many former playboy centerfolds.
Adi Da and His Voracious, Abusive Personality Cult
(c) Copyright by Timothy Conway, 2007
"The true guru will never humiliate you, nor will he estrange you from yourself. He will constantly bring you back to the fact of your inherent perfection and encourage you to seek within. He knows you need nothing, not even him, and is never tired of reminding you. But the self-appointed guru is more concerned with himself than with his disciples."--Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj (1897-1981), I Am That, Dialogue 83, Dec. 18, 1971
Over the years I have often been asked my opinion of the ferociously flamboyant, voraciously addictive, and alarmingly abusive spiritual teacher grandiosely calling himself “Adi Da” (Primordial Divine Giver). Born Franklin Jones, he later re-named himself Bubba (Brother) Free John, then Da Free John, then Da Avabhasa, then Adi Da, and so on, with other self-given, self-exalting titles such as “Heart-Master,” “Kalki” (a Hindu name for the prophesied Tenth Divine Incarnation of Hinduism's Lord Vishnu), etc., and, most recently, “Ruchira Avatar Adi Da Samraj.”
[--UPDATE ON ADI DA'S PASSING: At approximately 5:10 PM on Thursday, November 27th, 2008, without any prior warning, Adi Da suddenly fell over and within 1-2 minutes died of a heart attack while sitting in the presence of devotees at his private ashram on Naitauba Island in Fiji. He was 69 years old. An avid drug-user over many years, in the last decade or more he was evidently often using Viagra—a known danger to cardiac health—to fuel his chronic sex addiction.]
Numerous former Da students and devotees from his "Daist" church—in more recent years known as the Adidam community— have gone on record to describe their experiences with Da, reporting both their positive experiences and, more importantly, their negative experiences, which give one great pause before calling Da the only true “God-man” or Avatar (Divine Incarnation) for our era or any era, the claim made by Da himself and by his devotees. Some ex-devotees have written spiritually cogent and psychologically insightful essays on what might simply be called Da’s “shadow side.” Much in their critical analysis can be usefully applied to other dysfunctional cult leaders, too.
The sagely tradition warns us not to "mix up levels," namely the Absolute Truth level (Paramarthika Satyam) and the conventional, pragmatic truth-level within the life-dream (the Vyavaharika Satyam). In other words, while clearly intuitively knowing WHO WE ARE as Absolute, infinite, boundless, birthless Open Awareness, in the every-day, experiential or phenomenal life of relativity and multiplicity, there are certain necessary and healthy distinctions to be made between, say, "appropriately helpful" and "inappropriately harmful," in how we are behaving. To put it another way, while all phenomena are ultimately (seen from Eternity) the "perfectly" manifesting, unfolding play of the Formless Divine (wherein all souls will eventually awaken to God), there are, meanwhile, matters of right and wrong, justice and injustice. The evidence is clear that over the years there was some VERY problematic behavior on Da's part, and this merits critique as a "public service" for those who have little training to discern functional from dysfunctional forms of leadership. Furthermore, for over three decades Da tried to posit a sophisticated but spiritually subversive and monstrously egoecentric model of himself and his work as being uniquely far superior to all the sages of our sacred traditions--and this authoritarian claim, patently false, simply cannot be allowed to stand.
The tale of Franklin Jones (b. Nov. 3, 1939, Jamaica, New York) is a tragic-comic one. After a few years studying with the American renunciate Swami Rudrananda in NY beginning in 1965, Franklin made a few trips to see Rudi's guru Baba Muktananda in India (1968-9) and to experience the potent Shaktipat Divine energy that Muktananda channeled from his guru, Bhagavan Nityananda. Franklin then underwent some Christian seminary training and assorted inner experiences, as well as a year of studying and working for the dysfunctional, exploitative cult group, Scientology (1968-9). He claims to have then enjoyed in 1970 a "final awakening" to the Goddess and infinite Beyond in the Los Angeles Vedanta Temple. He began publicly teaching out of a bookstore in Los Angeles in 1972 and gathering students, before moving within a couple of years to Northern California with his growing entourage of close associates and devotees.
Showing promise of becoming a great spiritual adept and brilliant teacher of self-inquiry and Self-realization (with a strong emphasis on grounding this realization in heartfelt relationship and “enlightenment of the whole body”), very quickly, within less than two years of public work, all evidence indicates that Franklin Jones / Da Free John fell deeply and dangerously into monstrous ego-inflation, abusively toxic relationships towards his disciples and wife/wives, and heavy addictions to personal power, sexual debauchery, drugs, and extravagant material possessions. We have here the sad story of a gifted and highly educated young man endeavoring for spiritual mastery who became, instead, an unknowing egocentric slave to aspects of a very needy or sick “shadow” part of the psyche. He then exploited his trusting disciples and turned them into his own serfs in a slavish cult--often descending into a nightmare--that pretended to create a heavenly scene around the “Incarnate God,” Adi Da.
Many of us longtime spiritual teachers and aspirants enjoyed Da’s books of often quite brilliant talks and writings from his earlier years— e.g., his spiritual autobiography The Knee of Listening (which was later strategically re-written to delete certain things, amplify other things, and add lots of self-serving mythology), Method of the Siddhas, The Paradox of Instruction, The Enlightenment of the Whole Body, Nirvanasara, his book on death and dying, Easy Death (lauded by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross), and his book on sexuality, Love of the Two-Armed Form which argues (against anything that Da himself ever practiced!) for a sexuality rooted in and permeated by Divine Love, thereby cutting a middle path between indulgence and suppression of sexual drives. Much of Da's language and schemas have greatly influenced pundit Ken Wilber, as Wilber himself has acknowledged. It is bizarre that Wilber still remains a big fan of Adi Da, along with another abusive "bad-boy" teacher, Andrew Cohen (who has been exposed by several former close disciples for repeatedly abusive behavior).
But this webpage will indicate why many of us do not find Da a commendable figure. Read his early books, if you wish; much (not all) of the material in them is quite excellent. But be here forewarned about becoming personally involved with Da's seductive cult. As stated in 1996 by Jim Chamberlain (a devotee of Da for eight years from the mid-1970s to early 1980s): "Many of those familiar with his 'crazy wisdom' teaching style and personal behavior have concluded that he is as dangerous as he is brilliant.... 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." (bewareofthegod.blogspot.com).
Author Robert Augustus Masters has written a cogent, critical yet sympathetic eulogy for Adi Da:
THE DEATH OF ADI DA
by Robert Augustus Masters
Adi Da died last week. It did not appear to be an extraordinary death, a graceful exit, a death consciously entered into and clearly foreseen — as has been the case with many great spiritual realizers — even though his devotees of course referred to it not as his death, but rather as his mahasamadhi, meaning the passageless passage that a fully Enlightened being makes at death. Many of them apparently did not even see it as including physical death, hoping and praying en masse that he would somehow “reassociate” with his body, thereby once again conferring upon him the superhuman status in which he had been held by them — and by himself — since the early 1970s. In any case, he has died, felled by a heart attack. Those who adulate him will likely continue to do so, and those who vilify him will just as likely continue to do so, with very little overlap between the two camps. For one [the devotees], he was the greatest spiritual realizer of all time, and for the other [the vilifiers], he was spiritualized narcissism and megalomania rolled into one exploitive package. Both are, however, missing the essence of the man, either excusing his excesses or overrelying on them in evaluating him. There is much that bothered me about Adi Da and his terminally enthused cult, but at the same time I am grateful for what I got from him, however long ago that was.
I came across his autobiography, The Knee of Listening, in 1974, and was struck by it. At that point, he was going by his birth name, Franklin Jones, looking very young and soft, which only made his eyes stand out more. And what eyes! Clear, balanced, full of energy and presence, unusually steady. I was, however, not drawn enough to go seek him out, but he had definitely entered my psyche, and more.
His third book, Garbage and the Goddess, really got my attention. The year was, I believe, 1976. Much of the book chronicled his interactions with his community, featuring obviously spontaneous talks by him that I found not just invigorating, but dynamically alerting. There was a sense of powerfully embodied wisdom, however roughly articulated, mixed with a not-so-subtle arrogance and a wildness with which I resonated. He was clearly a star in his world, surrounded by an audience that hung on his every word.
Everything he did was presented as though it only arose in the context of spiritual awakening; if he, for example, took another man’s wife to have sex with him, that was, of course, for that man’s benefit, giving him the gift of an in-your-face lesson about attachment. Etcetera, etcetera. I didn’t know about such activities at the time, but nonetheless intuited that they were happening. Still, this did not stop me from reading everything that he — now calling himself Bubba Free John — wrote. His presence grew stronger, and his capacity to transmit a very forceful awakening energy continued unabated, as did his remarkably eloquence. But as much as he shone, I still did not feel much of a pull to meet him, which would have required of me that I become his devotee.
A few years later he, with characteristic drama, changed his name to Da Free John — and would continue changing his name and stretching it out up until the last decade or so. Not surprisingly, things got more and more cultic around him, even as he waxed eloquently against cultism. And he grew increasingly isolated, eventually making his home base on a relatively remote Fijian island. Along the way, he gathered some heady praise, especially from Ken Wilber, and seemed to be taking his place among many as a legitimate, even exemplary, spiritual realizer, a great adept. This was in no small way helped by having over a thousand people who were totally focused on — and arguably obsessed by — every move he made, every word he said, every wish he expressed.
Da did not handle this very well. There was a cult of, yes, personality, forming around him, and he didn’t address it nearly strongly enough to blast through it. Over-the-top grandiosity set in. When he began capitalizing the majority of his words, as well as repeating his teachings over and over and over, I lost interest in him. He had lost his freshness. He kept complaining about how his devotees were falling short, without ever, ever holding himself at all responsible — after all, he was the Godman! And not just the Godman, but THE Godman.
I lost touch at this point with his teachings, aided by the change I saw in him, both in his photos and in his videos. Gone was much of the spark, the clarity, the vitality in his face, especially his eyes, replaced by a dullness, a flatness, with more than a trace of sourness. He had, it seemed, stopped evolving. He was still playing the feudal lord, attracting only those for whom gurucentrism was immensely appealing. When he began stating that he was not only fully Enlightened, but that he was more Enlightened than anyone else who had ever lived — at best, they were what he termed “Sixth Stage Realizers” and he was the only “Seventh Stage Realizer” ever — I completely lost interest in what he was doing. Delusion, it seemed, could manifest at any stage of development.
Still, I appreciated, deeply appreciated, his earlier work, however much it was tainted by his arrogance. When I was invited to sit in darshan with him several years ago near Los Angeles, I agreed to go, but when I arrived at the L.A. airport, Diane and I got a message that her daughter was about to give birth, and so we went in that direction with not much fuss. [...] My link with him had weakened that much. And all the mythology with which he surrounded himself did not help.
Earlier today I was looking at some YouTube videos of Adi Da, including some that showed him simply gazing at those sitting in darshan with him. In places his love was obvious, his presence compelling, his gaze far from ordinary, reminding me of how he was at his peak. At that time, I was admittedly much younger — and not just in years — but his impact on me was considerable, spurring me into deeper spiritual practice, both in waking and dreaming states. He also mirrored my own arrogance, legitimizing it as something other than arrogance, something of course spiritual! So I look back and see him shining bright, and I see myself there too, also shining, hiding my weaknesses behind my strengths, assuming that I had attained something that I, in fact, had not, namely a truly integral maturity of being. Just like him.
So thank you, Franklin, Bubba, Da, Adi Da. May you dethrone your unacknowledged egoity. May you complete what you left incomplete. May you openly face whatever harm you did in the name of Crazy Wisdom. May you reclaim and fully heal your humanity. May you awaken beyond what you took to be Full Awakening. May you get on your knees before Ramana [Maharshi, 1879-1950, India's renowned saintly sage, whose teachings were a big influence on the early Franklin Jones]. You once said, “While we’re alive, we make mind. After we die, mind makes us.” I wonder how this is for you, as you attempt to navigate the Kosmic Mandala’s more challenging zones. Easy Death — or so it seems.
[End of Robert Augustus Masters' eulogy for Da.]