Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Actual Reports of Speaking One's Mind in Adidam

After my last post slamming the Basket of Tolerance Quote of the Day website for not being straight up about either the Basket of Tolerance or its relationship to Adi Da, I did a little searching among Adidam-related blogs and found Adi Da Acausal, which is at least an honest and straightforward one in which the writer "says what's on his mind". It's written by a devotee who unfortunately won't give out his real name. Not sure why that seems to be the case with these devotees.

In any case, at least the author of this site puts his devotion to Adi Da up front and doesn't try to hide it behind some facade of calculated objectivity. He's a true believer, and makes no bones about it, and tries to explain himself and his relationship to Adi Da as best he can. One can argue with the content and its rationale, but at least both reader and blogger know what they are talking about. There's something refreshing about that, coming from Adidam, and perhaps its a sign that following Adi Da's death there's going to be some loosening of the stranglehold the institutional people have had on ordinary devotee's ability to speak their minds in public.

Of course, perhaps even this author is very reluctant to talk about some of the more controversial, personal aspects of Adi Da's teaching, relationship to devotees, abusive behavior, sex, money, exploitation, etc. And perhaps the anonymity of the blog is in part designed to shield his identity not just from the public, but from internal Adidam watchdogs as well. Or maybe he's just shy. But one does find some refreshing candor in his posts, including Adidam as a Mountain-Yet To Be Climbed, in which he makes the following observation:

Often I feel this about Adidam–meaning the practice and its ultimate outcome–It stands like an unclimbed peak, unchartered, unknown and pathless. It can be talked about, speculated on but no one has managed by Grace or effort to get passed the lower slopes
Adi Da Samraj particulary in His later years, closed all loop holes that may have allowed an egoic foothold here or there, so on first inspection it looks like a sheer climb, an ice chasm, with nowhere to start and no summit visible from the ground, a conundrum of sorts
I have looked at it from many angles and speculated on a possible approach that would allow a means to make a start, to get a foot hold, even a cleft of rock to pivot upon, each time I thought I may be on to something, the grip has given way upon testing and shown itself not to be workable.
Even now I think it may be possible, a new approach that will meet all the criteria and yet allow a passage… harder than passing through the eye of a needle, perhaps. One thing is for sure no “ego” can get even a foothold here.

A couple of things here. Although it's true that no one in Adidam has gotten past the base of this mountain, it's not as if there is no detailed “map” of how one is supposed to climb the mountain. The whole detailed teaching of Adi Da, written in thousands and thousands of pages, with all its instructions, stages, and so forth, is the map. The “path” is not pathless. It's just untraveled beyond the base. For that reason, however, we can't tell if the map is a good one, an accurate one, or just an error-filled mock-up that is not as useful as advertised. For that matter, it's hard to say that even his “base” instructions are good ones, or that they are a good preparation for climbing the mountain. It's certainly possible that no one has climbed this mountain because the preparation one gets at the base is inadequate or points people in wrong directions. I'd say that's the conclusion I came to, and why I left. But others obviously think differently, and its good to hear someone in Adidam at least describing his process of figuring these matters out.

For that reason I'd like to give at least qualified praise to this fellow. He's at least trying to be relatively transparent about his own experience with the Adidam teachings. Not everything he says makes sense or adds up, but at least he's putting it out there for others to examine. And that helps people grow, so it's important to encourage that. He even tries to grapple with some of the contradictions in Adi Da's teachings, such as the problem of “exclusivity”. In his post Q:Is Adi Da Teaching Exclusivity-One Way or Path to God, he at first tries to describe Adidam as a non-exclusive path because:

Adidam (which can mean the institution itself, and the practice of Adidam) is based on a most radical assumption- that all beings already are even now completely one with Real God, clearly then no one is ever separated from Real God or can ever be damned or denied that same condition so in that sense there can be no exclusive means or path to the Divine including any religious means because none are necessary, since the condition sought can never be attained or to put it another way “can never be lost or found ” or to put it even more realistically, all traditional paths and religious means are doomed to fail in there quest for Ultimate Realization, that is not to dispute all the traditional states of realization, samadhi or enlightenment, they certainly are attainable, that is not doubted and there have always been and will always remain great and lesser Realizers of these most honorable traditions (Including Christianity, Judaism, Sufism, Hinduism, Buddhism and all the other major and minor genuine traditions)

Quite a run-on sentence, but the sentiment is clear. And yet, it sounds pretty exclusive still, even if trying to be tolerant and appreciative of those outside the club, so to speak. But even he seems to sense this – one of the results of honestly speaking your mind is that you can't help reflecting on some of the crap that comes out - so at one point he just gives up trying to defend Adidam's non-exclusive status and reverses himself:

...having said all of that, there is only One means to the Divine Realization and the Absolute Freedom that is the Seventh Stage Realization of Reality Itself or Real God and that is through the means of Avatar Adi Da Samraj and His Agency: Adidam. So yes it is “exclusive” in that sense and there is no use saying it is otherwise. Adi Da Samraj makes it abundantly clear, overwhelmingly clear that this is exactly the case. An example is the constant use of the “Only-By-Me-Given”. It is constant and the devotee or regular reader of Adi Da’s Work may get a little immune to it, but it remains a blunt reminder for anyone who starts getting too universalistic, egalitarian and idealistic about the process (as is my own tendency).
As with many others my own tendency is to dilute that aspect of Adidam, in my own case because it smacks so much of the hideous “One Way” messages of Christianity and many other (if not all) exoteric religions. To date I have tended to deny this reality of Adidam and be almost an apologist for its possibility, but I clearly note this is an internal conflict of mine, and many others have no problem with it all, and are very clear on the matter as is Avatar Adi Da.

I have to agree that this is what Adi Da taught, and even the writer's self-aware reluctance to fully accept it can't change that. At least the fellow is self-aware of the contradiction between his own sense for spiritual reality, and the claims of Adi Da to this kind of exclusive “all must go through me” sovereign superiority to all other paths. There's at least a hint of a real conscience here, not yet drummed into line by the demands for full belief. The question remains, however: if this fellow has only stayed at the base of the mountain, how does he know that this is true at the higher and ultimate levels of the mountain? Yes, Da says it's true, but how can it be anything but sheer belief if one hasn't actually been there and done it? Elsewhere he tries to describe Adidam as a path that eschews belief, but he doesn't say how his faith in Adidam as the One true path to Divine Realization is anything but that. Well, at least he's struggling with such issues, which is a good thing.

The blogger behind this site doesn't appear to be a newbie to Adidam – he says he came across the teachings in the 1970s – but it's not clear how long he's been a practicing student. He seems fairly happy being a devotee, and not embarrassed by it, or hiding it, which is good all the way around. If I was harsh on the previous BoT website, it was because it had none of these virtues, not because it was championing Adi Da. In fact, I was harsh on it precisely because it didn't champion Adi Da, but tried to create some devious little entrapment route that not minimized it's author's involvement with Adidam, but even minimized any reference to Da's work with the BoT and what it means. At a certain level I could care less whether someone is a devotee of Da's or not, as long as they are earnest in their practice and don't willfully deceive others. People can practice some form of genuine spirituality in almost any form or tradition or path, as long as their intentions (and actions) are honest and straight. It's possible to do this in Adidam, of course. It may be even easier now that Adi Da isn't around anymore to get in the way of the honest man's path. At least I reserve some small hope there for people like this blogger.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Speaking One's Mind In Adidam - Not!

A comment on a previous post asks if I've seen the fairly recently created blog Basket of Tolerance Quote of the Day, an Adidam semi-stealth site, and what I think of it.

After perusing the site superficially, I can only say that content-wise, it's pretty superficial and inoffensive. The author of the site, who doesn't give his name other than the handle "BOTstudent", seems not to have any real love for Adi Da's Basket of Tolerance list, or if he does, he hides it very well. Nor does he show much insight into it. The entries are bland and boring, even deliberately so. There's  no obvious effort to introduce Adi Da's teachings into discussion, or to explain his point of view about the books discussed. In fact, he's hardly mentioned at all. Nor is the Basket of Tolerance even explained as a concept or a spiritual philosophy.

This is might seem puzzling, in that it appears obvious that BOTstudent is clearly an active member of Adidam. All the links on the site are to other Adidam-related sites. Most of the commentators on the site are people I recognize as long-term Adidam students. The whole point of the site would appear to be a missionary effort of “public outreach”. So while the content of the site isn't much worth commenting on, what is says about Adidam is.

The site appears to follow the lines of several other stealth sites Adidam devotees have created over the years, such as Chris Tong's “Practical Spirituality” sites, which included some of the most gawdawful pseudo-Adidam pablum I've ever come across. Chris has created a number of stealth and pseudo-stealth sites, and a few outright promotional sites which clearly present themselves as Adidam-oriented, such as Adidam Up Close And Personal, which at least has the courage to put forward some of Adi Da's actual teachings. This site, on the other hand, is trying to establish credibility as in some way impartial or not missionary oriented, while in fact being completely partisan and missionary oriented.

It reminds me of the old joke about the Hollywood agent who said he'd almost gotten his act together, all he had to do now was get that whole “sincerity thing” down. So this is Adidam trying to get its “sincerity” thing down, while yet being utterly insincere. The idea, I guess, is to promote the Basket of Tolerance as some kind of impartial book collection of nifty spiritual titles, and leave out everything about it that Adi Da actually said or did with it in order to not offend anyone. The attempt here is to eliminate any whiffs of “cultism” from the Basket of Tolerance, while not actually doing anything to stop being a cult. The hope is that people will like the neutered Basket of Tolerance and be drawn closer and closer to the Adidam teachings through it, and eventually get religion and join up and Adidam will finally start growing again rather than dying out. So the BoT is supposed to serve as a bridge to Adidam. Or, one might less kindly call it a classic cult bait-and-switch technique. Boil the frog slowly, is the idea.

The problem is that boiling frogs slowly doesn't actually work, despite the popularity of the metaphor, and this kind of site won't work either. In fact, my negative reactions to the site don't stem from my overall criticisms of Adi Da and his teachings, but from my own personal appreciation for the Basket of Tolerance and Da's work with it, regardless of how flawed that work might have been. I was one of Adi Da's “scholars” so to speak, and I put a fair amount of energy into working with the Basket of Tolerance over my years there. I was the first person to actually write up a lengthy structural outline of the books on the list and make it possible for people to see the internal logic and intelligence behind it. And to this day I'd say that for better or worse it's one of Adi Da's most meaningful accomplishments.

It's certainly the only truly consistent project he ever worked on throughout his whole teaching career. In fact, one could say that it's how he began his teaching career, in that the first public, missionary type work he did was to create a public bookstore in Los Angeles in 1972. In creating that bookstore, Da went through a considerable amount of spiritual literature to sort the wheat from the chaff, and I think he did an excellent job. In fact, when I first came across Adidam three years later, it was at the San Francisco bookstore, and I was very much impressed with the quality of the books on the shelves, which were several cuts above the usual new-age spiritual bookstores I'd seen previously. From those intitial selections, Da began to review and compile a list that over the years grew into the tens of thousands, and created a structure to them that had all kinds of philosophical and spiritual implications to it. He kept doing this throughout his life, all the way up to his death. So you could say in some respects that this is a huge part of his life's work.

And what are these pseudo-stealth devotees doing with that? Apparently they are too embarrassed by Da's actual work on the Basket of Tolerance to even mention him, other than to credit him with creating the list in the first place. They certainly aren't writing about these books in a manner that points to Da's teachings or point of view or his writings about them. They aren't creating any forum for discussion of those views, or even acknowledging that they are his devotees. And it does seem questionable whether these people really are Da's devotees, even if they seem to be so. Would real devotees of any Guru present themselves or their Guru in this manner? I hardly think so. They are doing a serious disservice to Adi Da in hiding their own involvement with him, and Adi Da's own work with the BoT from readers.

What exactly are they afraid of? That someone, somewhere, will find out that they are a cult? Well, that horse is out of the barn. Best to just live with it and be upfront and honest about who you are and what you think is true, and let others react or be attracted as they will. This kind of stealth promotional work just makes Adi Da's devotees look like cowards who are ashamed of themselves and their religion. But this kind of dishonesty is so endemic to Adidam they probably don't know any other way to do it. The idea of just being yourself and speaking your mind isn't something they think can be done, not in Adidam at least. No one is allowed to do that. And yet, even this goes against Adi Da's teachings.

When I was in Adi Da's inner world for a while, serving as his “court astrologer”, I was sometimes given the opportunity to present to him in person a whole series of things I'd been working on regarding his astrology and his possible past lives. The morning of one particular presentation scheduled for that evening that was going to have an audience of some 30 or so inner circle people, he gave me notes that explicitly instructed me to “say whatever is on your mind”. A part of me rebelled against that, because that's pretty much precisely the opposite of what most devotees did when they were around Adi Da. Everyone was so afraid of offending him or saying the wrong thing that they suppressed themselves and turned every conversation with him into a tactical affair of measured nuances and cultic praise. But certainly a part of me felt quite at home with being straightforward and honest. So in the afternoon, after a planning session for the presentation, I got another set of notes which also said, “Say whatever is on your mind”. And then, as we were all seated in his living room awaiting his arrival, as he came into the room followed by his two kanyas, just to make sure I got the point, one of them leaned over to me and handed me a piece of paper that said “Beloved wants to make sure you say whatever is on your mind”. And so began one of the more hilarious evenings of my time in Adidam, a wide-ranging conversation that went on for many hours, in which I tried to speak as much of my mind as I could.

That evening was a very important one for me, in that it helped push me further and further in the direction of openly speaking my mind, inside Adidam and outside. I thought it made me a better devotee, and also a better writer and astrologer. Unfortunately, it was not the sort of thing much appreciated or supported within Adidam, by virtually anyone. Except, at least in my own case, Adi Da himself. For a good time there, I had total communications access to Adi Da. Every one of my reports would be given to him unfiltered and unedited. He seemed to at least appreciate the fact that I was willing to speak my mind – up to a point I guess. When I began to speak critically of him, and even wrote some of those things to him, his response to even a fairly mild level of criticism was to tell me that he was “personally offended” by the implications of what I had to say. And that was used as a signal by the inner circle to shut me down and exclude me from both report-writing and darshan. Which I took as a sign that Adidam really just wasn't the place for me. But I will say that to his credit Adi Da finally got over his offense and invited me to come back and resume my previous position as court astrologer with all the same access. But by then I was simply done with the whole scene and couldn't go back.

That doesn't mean the principle of “speaking one's mind” goes against the grain of Adi Da's actual teachings, and how they ought to be presented to the public. Of course, maybe I'm the exception to the rule, but I don't think that's how it ought to be. All of Adi Da's devotees should speak their minds, regardless of how wrong the content of their minds might be. And they should do so publicly, as best they can, when talking about Adi Da's teachings and things he worked on like the Basket of Tolerance. What possible purpose is served by putting out this kind of dreckish, pre-digested bird-vomit? Even as a purely tactical effort, it's hopelessly pointless. People are attracted or repelled by strong views and opinions, which accounts in part for the reaction to Da, but they simply ignore milquetoast presentations of any kind. And why shouldn't they? If someone has no actual guts to stand up for what they believe in, why should anyone else care? If the writer of this site can't stand up and tell us about Adi Da and his work on the BoT, why should we think it's worth anything? Well, we won't.

To ring my own bell a little further, I recall a friend in the upper echelons of the Adidam missionary and publishing world telling me about a meeting they had about a book they planned to produce on Adi Da's art. The kanyas wanted me to write the book, but the editorial staff was a bit reluctant because I was something of a “loose cannon”. Some people at the meeting said, yes, but he's also the best writer in Adidam. And my friend spoke up and said, “No, he's the only writer in Adidam.” By which he meant that I was the only guy in Adidam who actually wrote in a real way, rather than in some weasily cultic manner. I appreciated his praise, but I don't actually think it was hyperbole. It's not that I was smarter or more skilled than anyone else, but it was true that I came from a place where genuine writing could at least be done, whereas most of the editorial department that wrote for the public was simply incapable of honest, up-front writing, and it degraded most everything they produced. Of course, it was another reason I found Adidam an intolerable place to live and even serve in.

That doesn't mean it always has to be that way. And yet, it probably will. Once again, I'm probably just tilting at windmills. As criticial of Adidam as I've been over the years, I've always hoped it would one day grow up and become capable of adult conversation about itself at the very least. So far, unfortunately, there's no indication that this will ever happen. This website certainly represents a futher move in the opposite direction entirely. These are not courageous early Christians willing to speak the truth as they see it and be martyred for their cause if necessary. These are people trying to devise a clever marketing plan that can arouse the least possible offense, and thus also the least possible interest, and somehow sneak people in through a back door.

I can understand it, I guess. Who really wants to be eaten by lions? Which, metaphorically speaking, is what would happen if they put themselves out there as they really see themselves and their world. Certainly there would be some serious confrontations with reality and with others who disagree with their views which might cause them to question the assumptions they've made about themselves and Adi Da. My “open mind” ended up leading me right out the door, after all. So there's risks involved. But it's all just on the level of “consideration”. Nobody is going to send actual lions their way. It's pretty cowardly to treat this as some kind of dangerous, armed struggle. It's just the usual set of religious and spiritual ideas and disputes in society where speaking one's mind is often actually appreciated. If you don't engage that, you don't get much of anything out of it. No guts, no glory.

Adi Da used to ask, “Where are my Vivekanandas”. Well, instead of Vivekananda's, he's got a battalion of Mr. Rogers'. I guess this is a fitting finale to the minor spiritual fiasco that was Adi Da's entire life and teaching, but even I would have hoped for something more interesting or dramatic or at least amusing. I suppose this is just an example of the banality of banality, and leave it at that.