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.


Anonymous said...

Boy, you really are quite good at patting yourself on the back, and dissing everyone else! That definitely displays courage.

Broken Yogi said...

Thanks. At least I've got that part down.

But really, I do wish it weren't made so easy. Couldn't these fellows make it tougher for me to do either?

Btw, if you want to diss me, please do. I really don't mind at all, as long as you use substance and intelligence in the process. That would require courage on your part, though, wouldn't it?

Anonymous said...

Some of us actually can make well-grounded, substantive points in one line, not mistaking "volume of writing" for "intelligence".

Broken Yogi said...

I invite you to give it a try.

BoT Student said...

Many people who have heard about the Basket of Tolerance think it is about getting knowledge and control over various ideas and mind-forms.

But I think a better use of it might be to let it undermine our false presumptions about life, and to hold up a mirror to us and show us that we might be addicts and cultists and scape-goat artists. Unless we're insane, we won't tend to like this, or we will tend to defend ourselves against it.

Some of us may feel that we've joined some special group, and now we've got God on our side, and now we're immune to criticism. We're no longer addicts or scapegoat artists because of this group we belong to. Other people may say no, your group is no good, but I'm OK because of this other group that *I* belong to, of people who have left your group. Etc.

All of that is just normal, ordinary self-defensive posturing. No big deal.

Anyway, if people don't like Basket of Tolerance quotes, there's no need for them to spend a lot of time surfing a website called "Basket of Tolerance Quotes". Others who do enjoy such passages are welcome to read further.

And everyone who is feeling "I'm OK!!" is welcome to keep that up as well. Paranoid interpretations are welcome too. Quite possibly I have evil intentions by sharing these quotes, so watch out!

Good luck to everyone. We're not all as different as we may like to think.

Broken Yogi said...


Glad you chimed in here. Look, I'm not here to get on your case or be unfriendly. It's just that Basket of Tolerance isn't just a book list, it's a whole theological project with a gigantic structure and purpose, and it's clearly one of Adi Da's major works. So why are you basically hiding all of that from your readers?

If all you want to do is talk about some great books, fine. But why then refer to the BoT at all? I don't see how you can bring in the BoT as your title and guiding structure, and not talk very explicitly about Adi Da and his point of view about these books and the traditions they represent. Stages of life, various yogas, etc. That would at least be an honest representation of the BoT.

As it stands now, your site really does look like some tricky, stealthy maneuver to try to sneak Adi Da into a conversation about spirituality through some back door. The BoT is not a back door. It ought to be a front door. It certainly was for me when I first came to Adidam, in the sense that I came through the bookstore centers which were the first representation of Da's sympathies with the best of the spiritual traditions. That was literally the front door. And these bookstores were very clearly Adidam operations, all that was very explicit. So it really does kind of gall me that you would put this website together using the BoT without making it clear that the BoT is Adi Da's point of view about the traditions, and not just some book list of his.

Let me put it this way: I don't think Adi Da would approve of what you are doing with his BoT. I don't think he'd mind your discussing the books on the internet, but he would mind not being explicit about what the whole list represents in terms of his own teaching, and his own point of view about the traditions, and how he would tend to view these books.

Now, maybe I'm wrong and this isn't some stealth PR campaign. But it definitely shows some kind of embarrassment about your own Guru and a reluctance to be honest and straightforward about your relationship to him and your desire to promote his teachings.

I have no real problem with your wanting to promote Adi Da or the BoT. I just have a problem with your not being honest and forthright about it.

And of course no one has to read your site. I only went there because someone asked me to and comment on it. I probably won't be going again, except just to check up on you now that I've said something about it.

And yes, if you want to use the BoT to undermine false assumptions about life, please do. Just begin with yourself, and the false assumptions you seem to have about the BoT itself and how it can be honestly represented, and how it can be dishonestly represented. Use Adi Da's own teachings to guide you in that if you must, since he created it in the first place. And make it clear to your readers what your actual relationship with is to Adi Da and what your real intentions are here. Because honestly, this doesn't fly.

Anonymous said...

Wow! It looks like something historical (if not histerical) is going on here! Somebody is DARING to take on Broken Yogi on the subject of Adi Da! (Remember the tale about the mice who dared to hang a bell on the neck of the sleeping cat??)

Zensun, is that you? :-)

Anonymous said...

As 1 of the l creators Of the the
Adidam.org site I am happy to tell you that The plans for the Basket of Tolerance is an interactive database website Which would make it totally searchable and much more comprehensible to researchers. If you wanna get involved or at least comment on the idea feel free to email me at. rohlsen@adidam.org