Friday, November 19, 2010

Adi Da and Non-Dual Errors

A devotee of Adi Da from Melbourne left the following comment on my last post, The Sacred Beyond: Setting Non-Dualism Apart:

Hi Conrad, I am from Melbourne. I am a devotee of Adi Da Samraj.

It is obvious that you obtained the concepts and ideas for this posting from Adi Da. Otherwise, or so it seems to me you could not have written it.

By a mysterious pattern of conjunctions last weekend I happened to listen to your very inspired, inspiring and humorous talk The Universal Pattern of the Mummery.

What happened in between?

Here's my reply:


I'm surprised to hear that Adidam is still using my old talk on the Mummery. I'd have thought it would be long since “retired” given my status as a dissident. Well, bravo to them for keeping it around. Or maybe those back in the states aren't aware you guys are still using it. Rather funny, really, when you think about it.

Now, as for obtaining the concepts in this post from Adi Da, I think you have it a bit backwards. Most of what I say here comes from the concepts and teachings of Advaita Vedanta, some from Buddhism, and it is what I am criticizing that comes in a roundabout way from Adi Da. Devotees of Da might think that what he taught was original, but most of the concepts and ideas he uses come from Advaita and Buddhism. That's why they might seem so familiar to you, and why you think I must have gotten them from Adi Da. It's a common mistake in Adidam devotees who are unfamiliar with the Advaitic tradition that Da draws upon for most of his esoteric teachings.

I was familiar with Advaita before I even came to Adi Da, which in part was why I was able to understand his teachings fairly well. But even I tended to make the mistake of thinking that he had an original interpretation or point of view, and in most cases this is simply not true. Since leaving Adi Da and studying Advaita and Ramana in greater depth, I've learned just how much of Adi Da's teachings are taken from other sources without attribution. In fact, in the areas where he does depart from Advaita and tries to create his own version of things, I think he begins to fall into error. But since much of his teaching remains standard Advaita, there's still much truth in it, and it's possible to benefit from it if one discriminates that truth from the errors which Da has added onto it. Of course that can prove very difficult, and often one ends up with a lot of delusional icing on an Advaitic cake that has to be scraped off to enjoy the genuine article lying beneath it.

The error in Ken Wilber's point of view that I'm addressing in this post is in large part derived from the same error that Da makes, due to Wilber's own long association with Da and his teachings. And likewise, a fair number of ex-devotees who have become teachers, such as Saniel Bonder, David Deida, Andrew Cohen, Terry Patten, etc., have also made this same error at some level. If they were more familiar with the genuine teachings of Advaita they might have avoided this, but Da's teachings contain a serious temptation to believe that he has “advanced” beyond traditional non-dualism into some new, superior “seventh stage” teaching and viewpoint. The primary error in all that is the assumption that non-dual realization involves some kind of “merger” of the dual and the non-dual, which then justifies all sorts of self-indulgent attitudes and behavior among those who believe themselves enlightened as they engage in clearly dualistic seeking which in turn is considered “non-dual” and even superior to traditional non-dualism because of their claims to be enlightened, or of a more “evolved” understanding. Unfortunately, I came to feel that Da himself was simply another one of these people, mistaken in his own claims of complete realization, and that this accounted for his erratic views and behavior.

So while some of my language is influenced by my long involvement with Adi Da and his teachings, the concepts and ideas are mostly Advaitic in origin, because that is the origin of most of Da's teachings as well. Although perhaps you are referring to my use of the term “set apart”, a phrase Da often used? I think if you examine how I use that phrase (which, as Da himself would admit, is merely the basic definition of the word “sacred”), you will see that it's quite different from, and even opposite to how Da uses it.

Da refers to himself as a non-dual realizer who must be “set apart” from not only the public sphere, but from all but his most inner-circle devotees, in order to preserve his personal status as Sat-Guru as something “apart” from the mundane world. I use the phrase only to refer to the conceptual teachings of non-dualism, which requires that the concept of non-dualism not be mixed with the concept of dualism, and that “complete and true” non-dualism not be mistakenly conceived of as some kind of merger of the dual and the non-dual, form with formlessness, etc. To the genuine non-dual realizer, there is no dualism, no dualistic world, no form, and thus no formlessness, and no possibility of merging these or uniting them or anything of the sort. 

For this reason, the non-dual realizer has no need to set himself apart from anyone. He does not see himself in a world full of unenlightened beings, or even a world of enlightened beings, who he could possibly set himself apart from. He lives naturally and at ease with all apparent form, because he knows there is no form – there is only Brahman. That phrase that Sankara used to complete his three-part teaching - “The world is Brahman” - and that Adi Da often quoted to justify his attitudes and indulgences – does not mean what Da or most others think it does. It does not mean that there is an objective or subjective world that is really, if you see it in truth, God in form. The word “Brahman” is not the nature or quality of form. Brahman has neither form nor formlessness, which is merely a concept derived from the idea of form. Emptiness is derived from the concept of fullness, but "Brahman" is beyond all concepts, it is simply reality itself. So the phrase means that the world of form actually has neither form nor formless, is neither full nor empty – it is not here at all, and not describable in any respect. "Brahman" means, if anything "incomprehensible". It refers to the indescribable reality that has neither form nor formlessness, and which is not a merger of the two, but is "set apart" from all concepts. Like a dream, what we see as having form is merely our own concept of form, from which comes the concept of formlessness. But none of that is real, it is only the mind playing tricks upon itself, as in a hall of mirrors. What is truly "there" is Brahman and only Brahman.

This is why genuine realizers like Ramana and Nisargadatta did not set themselves apart in any sense of the word. They know there is no world at all, only Brahman. So why live apart in any way? They are already living without concepts, in reality itself. So they lived a natural life among their devotees and made themselves available to anyone at any time. Ramana's door was always open day or night to anyone who needed to speak with him. This is the opposite of Da's attitude and practice, where “availability” was always dependent on all kinds of conditions and where Da had himself “sat apart” from most devotees most of the time. This is a reversal of the real way that genuine non-dual realizers do things, or understand the principle of "set apart", and I think it demonstrates a lack of full realization. And this was in part the reason I came to see that Da's realization and teachings were flawed, incomplete, and in the end, riddled with serious errors. At first I simply sensed that something was wrong in Adidam, that it was "off". As I looked into this more deeply, I came to see that the problem was not just in Da's devotees, but in Da himself, and that pointing to devotees as the source of the problem in Adidam was just trying to put people off his scent.

I did always love the Mummery, but I came to see that the role Da was playing in that parable was not so much Raymond Darling the innocent but victimized realizer, but Evelyn Disc, the exploitive but highly experienced and knowledgable cult leader and religion-business charlatan. My basic take on the Mummery is that it's an excellent representation of the various conflicts and personalities within Da's own psyche, and that within Da there has long been a battle ranging between his Raymond Darling side and his Evelyn Disc side. If you ask me what changed for me, it's that I saw Da more and more becoming a fundamentalist cult leader like Evelyn Disc rather than a free and open innocent like Raymond, and that the one aspect of Raymond that Da retained was the whole “victimization” role that makes Raymond a relatively tedious character in the Mummery. Rather than “dropping the egg”, Da seemed to hold onto it tighter and tighter, playing the victim game to the hilt, until most of the real life and freedom had been squeezed out of Adidam.

At least that was my impression of things in the last decade and a half of Da's life. As much as I had been devoted to Da, I realized that I was more devoted to truth, and that I had severely compromised my relationship to truth by conflating it so deeply with Da and his teachings and the culture of Adidam. As I tried to renounce those false and cultically fundamentalist views, which at first I presumed would only deepen my relationship to Da on a spiritual level, I found myself feeling increasingly isolated within Adidam and unable to find anything there for me to do. Eventually, despite Da's offers to me, I felt I simply had to let go of Adidam and face up to the reality of what had been going on there, and within myself as well, if I ever wanted any real freedom. So I let go of that egg, and the whole thing came crashing down. Quite devastating, and yet also liberating.

So you could say I was left with a lot of egg on my face. Which is only as it should be. Broken Yogi = broken egg. I didn't chose the name for that reason, it just felt right, but it also makes sense in context. I think aspects of the Mummery were truly inspired, and if Da had really been able to fulfill its promise, he would have been a truly great teacher. But like all the other “promises”, the promise of Adidam was a broken one. Da couldn't let go and simply let the Shakti be free. He had to keep her contained in books and organizational hierarchies and so on, until she wound up dead on the altar. And so in many respects this ended up destroying him and the whole movement. His own inner “free bird” kept wrecking the room of his own body-mind and of Adidam as a community out of frustration. If he'd really achieved true realization, he'd have let the bird go and taught in a natural manner, rather than the affected and “set apart” way he did. But at least he's become an almost archetypal warning of what can befall those who only go part way, who try to have their cake and eat it, who want realization very badly but won't sacrifice the separate self for it, and instead elevate it to the status of a God to be set apart. That's an incredible lesson and I value Da for giving that lesson, even if his devotees don't really see his life that way.

Funny, one of my few regrets in leaving Adidam is that I'd never get the chance to play Moode Thom in the Mummery and deliver that great speech of his on broken promises and broken men. There's a kind of beauty in it I still admire. Adidam is essentially a spiritual tragedy, and I hope Adi Da has learned from his mistakes. I hope we all have.