Saturday, March 19, 2011
Transcending Language and Concepts in the Adidam Teachings
I recently came across an interesting Facebook exchange between Elias Oz and several Daists that peeked my interest for a number of reasons. I'm not sure if this posting is the whole of their interaction or just an exert, but it's rather revealing about the current state of mind in Adidam. The conversation doesn't end well, in that the primary devotee involved, Greg Wells, decides that unless Elias wants to make use of the conversation "to be reconciled in your relationship with Adi Da Samraj", and to relate to Greg as "your friend and bridge to your True Heart", then Wells is going to end the conversation and de-friend Elias. To top it off, he then accuses Elias of "projecting".
This is all a little sad, especially in that Greg says he's been living on Naitauba for many years, and thus represents the dedicated core of Adidam devotees, and not some peripheral newcomer. It just goes to show how few people in Adidam can actually relate to outsiders in an ordinary human way, without an agenda. One can't fault Greg his devotion to Adi Da, but rather than letting it be free, he seems to tie it to an agenda, a missionary agenda it seems, and can't simply relate to Elias without that agenda guiding him. This is part of the problem with missionaries – like multi-level marketing salesmen, they only value their human exchanges to the degree that it fits their sales agenda, and people get cut off and discarded for the “crime” of not buying into that purpose. So once Greg realizes that Elias isn't conversing with him for the purpose of fulfilling this missionary agenda, he cuts him off and discards him, trashing him along the way as closed and adolescent. But what is more adolescent than seeing people only as objects of one's missionary agenda, and cutting off any relationship with outsiders that doesn't serve that agenda? The logic here is rather deadly and even sub-adolescent. It's a childish approach that ignores anyone who isn't there to feed them.
Elias for his part comes off quite well, all things considered. And I say this as someone who's had more than his share of conflicted run-ins with Elias, and knows his various debating games quite well. Not much of that seems in evidence here. Now, maybe there's something missing from the exert, but from what is visible it seems Elias is just having a polite disagreement or debate about some simple issues regarding Adidam teachings and his own point of view about all that. He doesn't seem to be creating any personal conflict over this, and he deals quite well with someone who is getting offended by the slightest issues. For example, Elias says that sometimes Da was sloppy in his use of the term “heart”, and this is regarded as an almost capital offense by Greg and other Daists, who not only mount a defense of Da, but quickly turn it into a direct personal attack on Elias. Whether Da was sloppy or not in this regard, it's hardly the most critical thing one could say about him, and there's really no need to be concerned about protecting some imaginary threat to Da's reputation here. Elias starts to run into the problem that so many Daists seem to have – it's simply inconceivable to them that anyone could ever criticize anything Da ever said or did, and when someone does, they get very defensive and then heavily offensive in rapid succession. Demands are made that Elias retract his statement, and soon there's a total collapse on the Daist end of the discussion.
Now, it is true that Elias makes some critical comments about the Daists in the discussion, their making an idol of Adi Da, their questioning of whether Elias even has the right to make criticisms of Adi Da, but these all seem very reasonable comments and not condemnations. From what I can see, Elias is genuinely trying to engage these folks in a conversation about Da without any particular agenda in mind, and he's basically just addressing the issues that get in the way of having an open conversation. Elias has his own point of view about Da to be sure, one that I don't always agree with, but all he seems to want to do is to have an exchange of views, whereas the Daists are really just wanting to impose their views on the conversation, and see no other point in having a conversation except to get Elias to see things their way and thus be “healed” of his disturbed relationship with Da. Elias, however, doesn't see a disturbance in his relationship with Da, and doesn't see any need to heal it therefore.
It's a case of the Daists playing the old “gom-boo” game on Elias, trying to convince him that he has a disease that needs to be healed, and then selling him the method to heal that disease so as to lock him into their fold once again. And if Elias doesn't buy that method, he's only making his disease worse, rejecting the help he needs and thus siding with darkness and evil. Da used to be quite adamant about how insidiously destructive this kind of religious message is, and how the teachings of Adidam should not be understood or communicated that way. The strange thing here of course is that the only person in this conversation who seems aware of this and is able to apply its intelligence is the critical ex-Daist, Elias, and not the devoted members of Adidam. Talk about irony.
The whole conversation reminds me of how problematic the language and concepts of spiritual teaching are. What we have here is a classic example of the failure to communicate due to incompatible concepts and language. It's interesting that the turning point of the conversation hinges on the topic of language itself, and Da's use of it. This issue of what is meant by the term “heart”, capitalized or not, only confirms that despite Da's intense scrutiny of the language he used in his teachings, a great many ambiguities remain. The Daists here make some good points about the difference between “heart” and “Heart”, but this only ends up confirming Elias' notion that Da's use of language is problematic, even in regards to this central aspect of his teaching. In fact, their inability to admit that such ambiguities remain in Da's teaching, and that they themselves have stumbled into a number of those problems, is what leads them to cut Elias off and refuse to converse further with them. An honest Daist would have to admit that even Da's teaching is not perfectly free of such conceptual difficulties and misunderstandings, but these are not honest people, and so their arguments degenerate from logical points to mere assertions of Da's ultimate status as the Perfect Realizer. The idea here is that Da is the ultimate spiritual source and authority, and thus there is no room for any discussion that is not resolved by accepting Da's Person as God and his Word as Truth, regardless of whether we actually understand what is being said or how to apply it, much less whether it's even true or in what sense it's true.
I'm reminded of a great Danny Devito-Kevin Spacey movie called “The Big Kahuna”, in which those actors play salesmen at a convention who are trying to land a big account. They bring along a young gung-ho salesman to help show him the ropes. They find out that he's a fundamentalist Christian, righteously pure and certain of his own honesty and goodness, who ends up totally undermining their efforts by finally gaining access to the “Big Kahuna” fellow, but spending the whole conversation evangelizing him about Christianity rather than just doing his job. There's a great speech at the end of the movie where Danny Devito explains to the kid that despite his ideas of himself as being a servant of God, he's a deeply dishonest and inhuman fellow, who really needs to change if he ever wants to become even a decent human being. And this is the same problem with many of these Daists, because in this sense Adidam is no different from many other forms of fundamentalist religion. Rather than just engaging in an honest conversation about ordinary “business” - in this case, a discussion of dharma – these folks somehow feel the need to evangelize and convert anyone they engage in a discussion of dharma.
In the Facebook discussion, a number of Daists talk about what an honest and good person Greg is, and this is precisely why I think the reference to “The Big Kahuna” applies. Many people in fundamentalist religions think that honesty and goodness is actually about trying to convert people to their point of view. I'm sure that Greg does seem like a good and honest fellow, but in this discussion he isn't. He's actually being dishonest and driven by an agenda, rather than merely having an honest exchange of views. He's not even listening to Elias. He's not considering the possibility that Elias is saying some things that are true, and honestly trying to understand what those are and how to take that into account. Instead, he just abandons any pretense of listening to Elias in any human way, and proceeds to preach the gospel of Adidam, and assert the perfect Divinity of Adi Da. Literally. This is not cultivating a relationship, it isn't being a friend to Elias, it isn't being honest, and it isn't even providing a bridge by which to heal Elias of any problems he might have with Adi Da, if he actually has any - if that is even Greg's purpose. Which it is not, really, because Greg doesn't seem to have any real idea of how to actually do that. Because he's not even learned the basic lessons of the gom-boo trap, how could he have any facility in the rest of the dharma, much less in anything resembling a living relationship to Adi Da?
What is Greg's real agenda? It would seem from this conversation that it is to create a cult around Adi Da and to justify that cult using all the concepts and language of Adidam. This is how religions operate, to be sure. We see Christians using the concepts and language of Jesus to create a cult around him as well. The result is that the concepts and language of a religion become the barriers to the actual realization of that very religion. Cultic Christians become loveless and righteous persecutors of heretics and those who disagree with them, and use Christian language and concepts to justify themselves. And Daists do something similar here, even raising the very concept of heresy in the process. They have lots and lots of Daist language to throw around, but none of it is actually used to further anyone's understanding or spiritual realization, it is used instead as protective armor to keep the religious ego intact. The more threatened they feel, the more this language comes out, until the whole conversation is smothered in it, and the life-blood of “consideration” is clogged with capitalizations. What becomes of the heart then? Is it not closed off and deadened by all these religious concepts?
The tragic fact of life in all spiritual teachings is that the very concepts and language that are used to communicate its truths are also the very means by which those same truths can be destroyed and covered over. I'm best known as a critic of Adidam, but even I will acknowledge that there are some good and valuable truths in the Adidam teachings. So it is a shame I think to see even those worthy truths destroyed by those wielding its teachings as a cultic club against heretics. Perhaps I am particularly sensitive to this given my personal history, but I don't think almost anyone outside of the Adidam cult, and even many inside it of more open minds, would disagree here. At least I hope they would not. And I say that in the sincere hope that Adidam will someday emerge from its internal cultic mentality and be able to actually engage the world, and even critics like Elias, in honest conversation. I'm not holding my breath, and I don't have any personal stake in it anymore one way or the other, but it would be a good sign at least that the world isn't going totally to shit.
If we examine the content of many of the Daist arguments in this discussion, we can see how deeply embedded in Adidam culture many of these misunderstandings are. In particular, we see this obsession with the ego as the defining reality of an individual's life. This is precisely the “gom-boo” problem that Da once addressed, but which doesn't seem to have been absorbed very deeply into Adidam culture. Perhaps because Da himself had only observed it, but not fully realized it himself in his own life and his subsequent teachings reflect that. So his devotees are likewise reflecting that inability to absorb this insight into the religious life. It's certainly common enough that many of us have brilliants insights into spirituality and realization, but are not able to fully incorporate that into are life and fully realize it. Da would not be the first to suffer that kind of incompleteness. We can all become guilty of our own forms of hypocrisy in the course of our human relationships without being much aware of it, so there's nothing special there. Even accomplished spiritual figures make these kinds of errors. So it's hardly unexpected that Da's devotees would also demonstrate a certain lack here. No harm in pointing it out, but if they won't even engage in a conversation about it, it's not likely to be remedied any time soon.
Elias' basic point about the heart remains. He says, “What I am saying is that the heart is always open. You don't have to open it. All you can do is realize it.” This is the real deal, the real “fundamental truth” that all good fundamentalists ought to know and affirm. Instead, however, the Daists get very reactive to this statement, and try to put it down, and put Elias down for making it. Some try to clarify the issue by pointing out that Da uses “heart” to refer to the “emotional heart”, and “Heart” to refer to the transcendental Being prior to the body-mind. However, this actually confuses the issue even further, as if there are really two hearts, one merely emotional, or conditional, and the other transcendental and unconditional.
These teachings on the “closed heart” refer, if I am not mistaken, to the notion of the “knots”, and particularly the “granthi bedha” knot in the right side of the heart. This causal center was pointed to by Ramana Maharshi as a reflection from the point of view of the body-mind of the ignorance at the core of all suffering. He spoke of how this knot opens in true Self-Realization, and how otherwise it appears to be closed, or only partially active, creating by reflection the “I”-thought that rises to the Sahasrar and then descends through the body, animating the mind and life with all the qualities of the separate “I”.
However, in Ramana's teaching this “heart knot” is actually an illusory appearance, born of ignorance. In reality, as Elias says, the heart is always open, always awake, always self-aware. In fact, one of Ramana's most famous teachings was that the only thing preventing realization was the thought that we are not realized. If that is done away with, then realization is obviously already the case for us and all beings. However, he also makes it clear that the thought he is speaking of is the “I”-thought, and not merely the superficial thoughts we have about whether we are realized or not. That is why the primary practice he recommended was to inspect this “I”-thought and to see that there was no “there” there, that it was essentially empty and non-existent, and that the actual truth was that we are, in reality, the very Truth that we are seeking. Seeing this truth demolishes the illusion that the ego is our true identity, and thus destroys this “I”-thought at its root. When that illusion is cut off at the heart, then the heart is said to “open”. But Ramana makes it clear that this is only a matter of speech based on the perspective of an outsider. The realizer himself sees that there was never any obstruction at all, no closed heart, and thus no opening of the heart. In reality, even the appearance of a closed heart was an illusion all along, and when that illusion is seen through, there is no need to open the heart because it is already open. So the heart never actually opens, only the illusion that it was ever closed is dissolved.
From the perspective of those still believing in illusions, however, it looks as if the realizer's heart is opened. And much effort is perhaps mistakenly made trying to emulate that and open one's own heart. But all such efforts are in vain, because the problem to be addressed is not the closed heart, but the illusion that the heart is closed. Elias seems at least sensitive to this issue, and remains adamant in affirming the nature of the heart as opened. He wisely does not accede to the point of view that the heart is closed and must be opened, but rather to the point of view that the heart is opened, and only the illusion that it is closed must be done away with.
Unfortunately, the Daists he is arguing with seem unaware of this flaw in the teachings that they follow. (Whether that flaw exists in Da's teaching, or is only inserted into it by ignorant devotees, is hard to say. What is clear is that they are following flawed teachings, and are not aware of it). There are severe consequences to following teachings like this, which assert the reality of the closed heart, and thus of the ego, and all its immensely complicated implications. For one, once the heart is assumed to be closed in us, the goal must be to open it, and spiritual practices are then conceived of as aimed at opening the heart, and actually engaged for that purpose, and in a manner that will somehow practically achieve this goal. However, all such practices are doomed to fail because they are not based in the understanding that the heart is already open, and the illusion that it is closed is just that. So such practices never work. They are always aiming at curing an imaginary disease. They do not realize that such efforts only perpetuate the imaginary disease, rather than relieve us of it. They in turn become very attached to their imaginary disease, and make much of it, and tell themselves over and over again that the most serious spiritual practitioners are those who take this disease very seriously, and make the most dedicated efforts to cure it, heal it, and open the heart to God. Even worse, they tell themselves and others that those who point out that the heart is open are not serious spiritual practitioners, are stuck in mental delusions, are not transcending the ego, and are not qualified to criticize them even.
So Elias gets accused of being an adolescent mind-case stuck in illusions, when that is clearly a projection from their own diseased imaginations. Not that Elias isn't adolescent or a mind case, like the rest of us, or not fully realized himself, but that's hardly the relevant point in this discussion. The relevant point is that he's perfectly right about the nature of the heart, and that has to be acknowledged, regardless of what one might think of him as a critic of Adidam. We all have our problems, but it's important to realize what our problems are. They are not the having of closed hearts, they are the complex belief in an imaginary disease called “closed-heartitis”. It is this imaginary belief system that has to be dealt with, not any kind of closed heart phenomena we need to take seriously. And that imaginary belief system is not something we should take seriously. It's a joke, literally. Taking it seriously merely feeds it. It needs to be laughed at and derided, not made the basis for a religion. Laughing at it might make us seem to “open the heart”, but this is never actually be the case. We are merely getting a glimpse of the open heart, by abandoning to some degree the stupid belief we have in the closed heart. It's an important distinction that can save much time and grief on everyone's part.
It's a shame the Daists Elias engaged don't even seem to have an intellectual understanding of this issue, much less a practicing grasp of it. It's a point of criticism for the whole of Da's teachings that this simple matter has not been properly addressed, as it has been in Ramana Maharshi's teachings, say. I suppose by reading this some Daists might see the value in this perspective, and even point to aspects of Da's teaching that make this same point, but it would appear that it's not been strongly emphasized enough either by Da himself or the community, otherwise we would not see these kinds of conversations break down over issues like this that ought to be well understood by everyone in Adidam, especially people as deeply involved as Greg.
And that is part of the problem with framing one's teaching in the way that Adi Da has done. A spiritual teacher must choose certain concepts and forms of language and arguments to frame his teachings and his realization, based on what will actually work to help devotees get beyond their limitations, even of mind and language. Ramana did a pretty good job of that, in that those who study his teachings acquire a fairly good grasp of this radical approach to the heart. In Adidam, however, this radical approach seems not terribly well understood, and part of the reason for that is the way in which Adi Da framed his arguments, what language and concepts he used, what he emphasized and what he did not emphasize.
For example, Adi Da famously centered his arguments on the criticism of all beings as narcissus, and pointed to the “self-contraction” as an activity we are all engaged in that was responsible for our closed hearts. The problem with this framing of the argument is that it reinforces a widespread sense of shame, guilt and responsibility for our suffering, as if we actually have committed a real crime of some sort against the heart, rather than merely mistakenly come to believe that we have committed a real crime. The result of that belief is a very complicated religion that is always trying to undo something we think we've actually done to ourselves, this “self-contraction”, rather than understanding that the very notion is an illusion, and not something that has ever actually been done by us. And not surprisingly, it's a religion which hardly ever seems to get anywhere, because it only ends up affirming the reality of the ego and the disease of “closed-heartitis”.
I can of course relate to that personally, in that the kinds of knee-jerk reactions we see in this conversation are something I myself experienced and personally enacted myself while in Adidam due to my long study and practice of the Adidam teachings. One could say I was responsible for that myself, and that's true enough, but it also reflects the simple fact that people with a certain kind of self-suppressed and shameful sense of ego and the consequent illusions about realization that it fosters are both attracted to Adidam and kept in those illusions by the teachings of Adidam, which subtly reinforce them by the very kinds of arguments we see in this Facebook conversation. Getting beyond those illusions is not terribly easy within the framework of the Adidam teachings and community, and many of those who try end up having to leave. That is a serious flaw in both those teachings and the way in which they have been put into practice.
Leaving Adidam was very helpful for me, in that it enabled me to more directly inspect and be done with all kinds of illusions about spiritual practice and realization that are reinforced within Adidam, particularly this matter of the “closed heart”. It's hard not to bring these issues up, like Elias has done here, when talking with Daists in any depth about the reasons why people like us left. However, instead of actually dealing with these issues directly, Daists tend to begin making personal attacks on people like Elias, and accuse them of various crimes against Adi Da and Truth and God, and shirking responsibility for the ego, which they continue to believe in contrary to all testimony from realizers. This ends up going nowhere, which is a shame, because some of these folks could really learn something important in the process, if they weren't so attached to a certain iconic belief not just in Da himself, but in their own grasp of what he was about.
Instead, they ramble on about contemplation of Da or satsang with the Guru being the means to realization. But they don't seem to understand what that even means. What is the whole point of contemplation of the Guru or the practice of satsang? It's to see that the heart is always open, and that we are never at any moment in the position we fear ourselves to be. We are afraid that our hearts are closed, that we are cut off from God, and that fear creates our world – a world of egos with closed hearts. The truth, however, demolishes that world, because it reveals that our heart has never been closed at all. And these Daists, instead of embracing that truth, are rejecting it and clinging to the notion that their hearts are closed and need to be opened first, before they can enjoy realization. And that is why they are stuck and in a self-perpetuating logic that descends into cultism whenever this is pointed out.
It would sure be nice if even at a superficial level this problem could be acknowledged and accepted within Adidam, and steps taken to correct it. You cannot get deep without starting at the surface. That's why the concepts and language of spiritual teaching are important and have to be addressed when they create errors of circular logic like this. We have to be very of what we actually think about these matters, because how we think about them determines our approach and our practice. Not that merely addressing these matters at the level of language and concept is enough, but it's a necessary start. One has to become relatively clear about these basic matters if one is going to make any real progress or achieve any meaningful maturity. It's possible to become so stuck in various self-destructive teaching memes that one can't ever get free of them, until one actually stops, looks at them, and has the courage to throw them away, even the ones we were most attached to. Especially those ones.
The whole “message” of the realizers is that all of us are exactly the same. As Ramana said, we are all jnanis, the only difference is that not all of us are aware of that. So the whole point of satsang with the realizer is to be in the company of someone who knows who we are in reality, that we are all the Divine Person. The genuine realizer helps you feel the reality of who you are merely by being with them. They are not there to emphasize some imaginary difference between themselves and their devotees, as if prior to realization you are not the Divine, only afterwards. No, they are they to show us and help us to understand that even now, however fucked up we may seem to be, we are the same Divine Being that the realizer knows himself to be. When we feel that Divinity in their company, we are not feeling them, we are feeling ourselves. We are relaxing enough to enjoy the bliss of our own real nature. Calling that “transmission” is very misleading, if one takes it literally. The realizer does not transmit anything, because we are not lacking anything that need to be given us. The only “gift” the realizer gives is the gift of direct knowledge into ourselves. To see the realizer and only proclaim his greatness, and to think of ourselves as little egos in his infinite Presence, is to miss the whole point the realizer is trying to make.
And that of course is the problem with Adidam in a nutshell. Adi Da emphasized to an extreme degree that egos are egos, realizers are realizers, and that until realization devotees are egos and he is the realizer, and that the only way to become a realizer is through him, and never you forget it. This is contrary to all the great and ancient teachings of the Gurus about realization. Their message is that right now, you are That. Right now. Not in the future, not only after realization, but right now. And by endlessly repeating that message, not just in language but in the silence of deepest feeling, we begin to awaken to this truth and know it. The whole point of satsang is to “listen” to that endless teaching of the Guru about the truth of the devotee, in this very moment, until we fully accept it and surrender to it. The heart is always open and present here, as our very Being. The ego is nothing more than the false belief that this is not so.