The Case of Adi Da
The last positive statement I made about Da's work was in 1985, when I wrote a very strong endorsement for his major book, The Dawn Horse Testament. This is one of the very greatest spiritual treatises, comparable in scope and depth to any of the truly classic religious texts. I still believe that, and I challenge anybody to argue that specific assessment.
The teaching is one thing, the teacher, quite another. By this time (around 1985), things were starting to become very problematic for Da, his personal life, his community, and his teaching in the world. In ways that we are just beginning to understand, some types of spiritual development can run way ahead of moral, social, interpersonal, and wisdom development in general. Da is capable of some truly exquisite insights, but in other areas, he has fared less well, and this has increasingly verged on the catastrophic.
It is always sad to see such promise run aground on the rocks of personality problems. As this was becoming increasingly obvious to even his most appreciative students, including me, I did an interview with Yoga Journal (September/Octobers 1987). In that interview, I made my very last public statement about Da. For the next decade, I would publicly say nothing about him whatsoever (until now). Thus, for the last ten years, here has been my official stance these are the last sentences of that statement:
“[Da] makes a lot of mistakes. These are immediately reinterpreted as great teaching events, which is silly. And then he gets mad and frustrated and goes into sort of a divine pout ...…. Because of these and other difficulties, he has holed up in Fiji, become very isolated and cut off, which I think could be disastrous, for him and for the community. The entire situation has become very problematic. It's real hard to get happy about what's going on.”
“Problematic” was the euphemism that sociologists at that time were using for Jonestown. Although few think Da will slide that far, nonetheless, his entire teaching work has indeed become problematic. The great difficulty is that, no matter how "enlightened" you might be, it take s a certain amount of practical wisdom to gauge the effects of your teaching work on the world at large. Crazy wisdom might (or might not) be fine for a few very close and longtime devotees. But it is disastrous when done as a large scale social experiment, which Da did, especially during the “Garbage and the Goddess” period. Anybody who could not see how that experiment would be perceived by the world is simply a damn fool. And an enlightened damn fool is even more culpable.
Those events sealed Da's fate in today's world. His teaching work is effectively ended for all but a small handful. And he will never be able to teach in this country, or virtually anywhere else, either, because his past will follow him. It is altogether sad, then, to see him continue to announce that he is the World Teacher. He won't even venture out in to the world! He hides in Fiji, away from the glare, away from the world, away from the truth at large. And he calls us to his little island kingdom, there to save the world. This verges on the grotesque.
Is there any chance that Da can rehabilitate himself? His claim, of course, is that he is the most enlightened person in the history of the planet. Just for argument, let us agree. But then what would the most enlightened World Teacher in history actually do in the world? Hide? Avoid? Run? Or would that teacher engage the world, step into the arena of dialogue, meet with other religious teachers and adepts, attempt to start a universal dialogue that would test his truths in the fire of the circle of those who could usefully challenge him. At the very least, a person who claims to be the World Teacher needs to get out in the world, no?
This doesn't mean Da would have to attend every conference, give hundreds of lectures, hit the talk-show circuit, etc. It simply means he would at the very least find ways to directly engage or at least meet!--some of the prominent leaders in the fields of religion, politics, science, and administration. As it is, he won't even meet with other leaders, such as the Dalai Lama, unless they become practicing members of his church! Hello?
To step out in that fashion requires moral courage. It requires a willingness to engage and respond. It demands a brave heart to stand forth and shine, not just to a few hundred in Fiji, but to an unbelieving world.
Until this happens, I can recommend to no one that they take up the isolationist practices of the Daist community.
At the same time, this should not prevent us from taking advantage of that part of Da which isn't broken, namely, his clear (if isolated) spiritual writings and insights. If nothing else, his written texts are still an extraordinary source of material. Even if you do nothing but disagree with them, you will at least see a stunning number of ideas and insights and methods, which you can check for yourself and see if they actually work or not. Nor should his personal problems negate these insights. Even if Einstein was a complete psychotic, E still equals mc2. Let us not deny the latter because of the former.
We await, then, the day that the World Teacher consents to enter the World. Until that time, it is perhaps best to watch from a safe distance, while availing yourself of those written texts that still manage to shine with a light of their own.
Oct. 11, 1996