Frank Visser, CLIMBING THE STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN: Reflections on Ken Wilber's “The Religion of Tomorrow”
INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".
David Christopher Lane, Ph.D. Professor of Philosophy, Mt. San Antonio College Lecturer in Religious Studies, California State University, Long Beach Author of Exposing Cults: When the Skeptical Mind Confronts the Mystical (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1994) and The Radhasoami Tradition: A Critical History of Guru Succession (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1992).
The Myth of Adi Da Haters and Other Cultic Fables
The very point of my essay is not to categorically dismiss the experiences of others nor falsely label their experiences simply because they differ from yours.
I enjoyed reading Brad Reynolds' latest defense of Adi Da ["Standing Up for Adi Da"], though I suspect he wouldn't categorize his essay as such. It is a curious piece on many levels, and like his earlier article I think it is an important contribution for outsiders to better understand how a follower of Adi Da feels and responds to criticism of their Satguru (I was going to say leader, but apparently that word is a no no).
However, Brad Reynolds has a persistent tendency to reframe criticism of Adi Da as a personal attack on him, even though my essay and Elliot Benjamin's was more properly focused on giving voice to critics of the Fijian guru. I can well appreciate and acknowledge that Brad Reynolds has a very positive relationship with his now deceased Satguru. I can even sympathize how upsetting it may be to hear harsh criticism of someone one holds in such high esteem. But this doesn't then give one license to start making erroneous caricatures in order to counterattack perceived disagreements or slights.
I have already pointed out very clearly that Elliot and I don't “hate” gurus. Yet, Brad Reynolds in his rush to address his own concerns merely skips over this important point and, instead, adds insult to injury by then claiming (wrongly again) that Elliot and I “are certainly Adi Da 'haters.'”
Huh? I don't hate Adi Da, nor have I ever said anything of the kind. There are many things in Adi Da's writings that have deeply resonated with me and I have long confessed an abiding admiration for several of his books, some of which I have approvingly quoted from in a variety of essays and books. Yet, just because I am harsh critic of many of his actions (and some of his works) it doesn't then translate into “hate.” That Brad pigeonholes others and me with such fallacious derisions says volumes about his own sensitivity and precious little about the real intention behind my essay and Elliot Benjamin's.
I am not condemning Brad Reynolds for his relationship with Adi Da. That is his personal business. However, I do take him to task for casting aspersions on other students of Adi Da who differ from his appraisements, implying not so subtly that he knows better.
It is one thing for Brad to speak exclusively about his own experience with Adi Da, but it is quite another when he tries to pontificate and explain away the experiences of others. These “disgruntled” students also have a right to air their experiences with Adi Da and not have them swept away by ardent devotees who believe that they alone have seen the light and truth about their Satguru. Any reader of Adi Da also has the right to offer his or her opinion about what they think of his writing and to ad hoc dismiss their observations as “haters [who] distort and misinform the public about Adi Da or rather, perhaps more accurately, [they] have not developed the ability to appreciate Adi Da's divine gifts,” simply echoes cultic sloganeering. Yes, one can indulge in such in/out “only I understand the guru” rhetoric but it sidesteps the very points Elliot and myself were making which is that Adi Da's own students were the ones who came out criticizing him for his abusive behavior. This is an instructive point and instead of laying blame (as is typical in religion) on those very students, it might be wiser to let them air out their grievances and not try to spin them away under “crazy wisdom” justifications. Their stories too are, as Ram Das was prone to advise, “more grist for the mill.”
Indeed, I find Brad Reynolds' reaction to criticism of Adi Da quite revealing in itself since instead of taking a seasoned Jainist approach to the subject, as outlined by the doctrine of anekantavada (multiple points of view), he falsely believe that his intellectual reputation is being impugned. No, I just happen to think that Adi Da and his ministry deserve to be critiqued (both positively and negatively). For instance, my original article on Adi Da, "The Paradox of Da Free John", was directly vetted for months to the Adi Da community and each and every rejoinder by Georg Feuerstein (who was officially representing his group's interests at the time) were published within the article itself. Only later did Feuerstein come clean about his own misgivings about his guru's life and work.
Should we now dismiss Georg Feuestein's critique of Adi Da? No, nor should we ignore those ex-students of Adi Da who have a contrarian view of their ex-guru.
We already have a massive overflow of books and essays and videos praising Adi Da as the greatest avatar of all time (or whatever the latest adjective the community uses for him), so perhaps a little counter ballast is useful for a more “integral” comprehension of his life and work.
At this point it might be informative for me to list where Brad Reynolds not only misreads me but also mistakenly rewords what I actually said versus what he believes I am saying. I have numbered them below for accuracy.
1. Reynolds claims, “You simply dismiss my perspective by calling me an apologist for a cult.” No, I haven't categorically dismissed you or your observations. Rather, I read your essay closely and even wrote the following prefatory remarks (which you neglected to include) where I said that it “provides a valuable insight into the heart and mind of an Adi Da follower” and “so as a paean to his guru, Adi Da, I find Brad Reynolds' essay insightful.”
2. Reynolds plaintively writes, “Although your words mock my intelligence, I will accept them as a wound to my heart so I may continue loving you.” No, Brad, I don't mock your intelligence. I question why you feel the need to impugn the experiences of other ex-devotees who differ from you in their remembrances. My essay was not targeting your devotion to Adi Da, but rather was written as a defense of Elliot Benjamin (since you were wrong to call him a “guru hater”) and for those of us who have a more critical perspective on Adi Da and his ministry.
3. Reynolds suggests, “Your essay presents me as if I have been duped by Adi Da.” Wrong again, since that was not my focus at all. I can appreciate your devotion and realize the individualistic nature of such an interaction. No, I was rather stressing the need to be more accurate in your critique of skeptics (smearing Elliot Benjamin as a “guru hater” exemplifies this) and not merely whitewash the experiences of other ex-students of Adi Da. Their experiences are just as real to them as yours are. That is why I found your defense of Adi Da on par with what I have seen in other religious disciples, whether they are Scientologists, Satsangis, Eckists, or Moonies.
4. Reynolds mistakenly quotes me when he writes, “Well, Adi Da is not a spade or bullshit (to use your words).” If you go back and closely read what I wrote in context, you will see that I never called Adi Da a “spade” or “bullshit.” Rather, I was arguing about appraising the relative merits or demerits of a guru (his actions, his words), and not about him in some ontological sense. I think there is much to admire in Adi Da's writings and I don't think those parts are “bullshit” in the least. Rather, I think some of is quite illuminating and quite helpful. I love my own guru, for example, very much but that doesn't mean that I have to agree with everything he has said or done. Sometimes I think it is good to call a spade a spade or bullshit bullshit even with the ones we love the most.
5. Reynolds wrongly asserts, “You simply dismiss the evidence I provided, including the web sites I point people towards.” No, I haven't dismissed your web site links and/or your anecdotes (calling them “evidence” is arguable), but have rather explored all sorts of pro Adi Da links, including the ones you provided concerning the lawsuits and such. Lest you forget, I used to write for Laughing Man Magazine and have been an avid reader of Adi Da since his Melrose days. I just think he deserves as good as he gives out. Adi Da wasn't in the least shy in criticizing his own students for their shortcomings nor was he shy in pointing out the weaknesses in other teachers and their methods. Therefore, I see no reason why he should be shielded from the same return volleys from those who see chinks in his personal and public armor.
6. Reynolds proclaims, “You have, apparently, not received his divine gifts, so no wonder you are biased in assessing who he is.” This very line is precisely why I have called you an apologist since such a statement is no different than what a fundamentalist Christian would say to a non-believer about Jesus. That is fine but don't think for a second that it is a persuasive form of reasoning since structurally it is exactly what every devout guru follower (from time immemorial) says about his or her respective teacher. In other words, it merely a profession of your faith, not a convincing argument to win over skeptics.
7. Reynolds writes, “Even ending your essay on a 'positive note' you imply it's just “a devotee's heartfelt testimonial' no different than the testimonial given for other certified cult leaders. That doesn't sound too positive to me.” But that is precisely what your defense is, and as I have repeatedly pointed out it is no different in terms of rhetoric than what we have heard before from countless religionists. I get that Adi Da is your beloved Satguru. I get that he has been elemental in your life. Yet, your experience doesn't then mean that it has to be that way for others who see a different angle and a different side to Adi Da. Just as I don't believe that my viewpoint is the only right one (I don't, since if that were the case I wouldn't read anything that contravened what I thought), I believe it is naïve to think that your viewpoint somehow captures the whole truth and nothing but the truth about Adi Da. No, we have multiple viewpoints here and that is why Frank Visser's site is a welcome oasis for airing the pros and cons on a variety of subjects.
8. Reynolds mistakenly argues, “Adi Da did not 'seduce other men's wives with drugs and alcohol' or used his 'spiritual authority' to cause 'irreparable harm.' If he did, he would have been arrested, or lawsuits would have been successful.” Just because a specific lawsuit didn't win or was settled out of court doesn't then mean that the person in question is completely innocent, as anyone conversant with the law (and O.J. Simpson, to give just one graphic example) knows too well. Sorry, but Adi Da certainly did use his spiritual authority in bedding certain women, since some of these women have readily confessed that they slept with their guru precisely because he was in such a “high” place. Now you may want to impugn their testimony as “disgruntled” or “egoic” or whatever invectives may come to your mind, but the fact remains that according to some women (I am not saying all) felt manipulated by Adi Da because of his exalted status. They even had the temerity of going public with their respective charges. And, yes, some of these ex-disciples do feel that they suffered “irreparable harm.” Perhaps you should reach out to them and listen to their stories with an open heart and mind instead of ad hoc dismissing their narratives under the pretext that Adi Da knows best. You claim you want the “whole” picture but any time a negative perspective is given you dismiss it under all sorts of excuses that somehow the disciple didn't “understand” the guru's mysterious ways. That is what I call “mind-numbing rationalizations.”
9. Reynolds writes, “But please do not condemn me (or others) to unintelligence or mediocrity, or worse, cultic stupidity, just because my conclusions are very different than yours.” No, I have never condemned you (watch your wording and your interpretations since it will save you a lot of confusion and miscommunication in the future). I presented you with where I thought you were mistaken (particularly this idea of “guru” haters and now with this “Adi Da haters”) and provided you with an alternative perspective. I don't see criticism as condemnation nor should it be construed as believing someone is unintelligent (your own words, not mine).
I think the wisest line in your entire essay is this and I quote you directly, “We need to agree to disagree. People can decide for themselves.” Yes, and in that process we can learn more not less by such courtesy. Perhaps also you can heed your own advice and not take things that I have written so personally, since they were never about your relationship with Adi Da (that is, as I have suggested, your own personal affair) but with how you respond to those who criticize your guru.
Again, I enjoyed your essay and I thank you for taking the time to go through my own article and posit your reaction to it. Don't worry, I don't hate Adi Da nor do I hate gurus. I just think that we can love our ideals and still be critical of them at the same time. Being devoted and being skeptical don't have to be mutually exclusive categories.
10. Brad writes, “Maybe you will write another essay trying to 'prove' how wrong and deluded I am… or that my Guru is a 'fuck-up' (to use your unkind quoted words)…” That very quote (which you consider “unkind”) didn't come from me. It came directly (indeed, in a handwritten note) from Ken Wilber. Why would such a “fan” of Adi Da end up saying such a thing? Instead of laying blame on me for it, perhaps it would be wiser to probe deeper into why such an erstwhile fan of Adi Da could end up have such reservations? The very point of my essay is not to categorically dismiss the experiences of others nor falsely label their experiences simply because they differ from yours. Yet, you continually protest about being “condemned.”
No, Elliot or I did not condemn you. We were instead giving time and energy to others whose voice is seldom heard and often drowned out by avid Adi Da followers who simply cannot countenance those alternative perspectives on him and his ministry.
Brad, you complain somewhat self-righteously about “ill will” and “ad hominem” attacks, seemly oblivious to invoking the very same when you accuse Elliot Benjamin and myself of being “Adi Da haters” and “guru haters”. Before projecting onto others, perhaps it would be wiser to take stock of your inaccuracies and then realize why your essays have been critiqued.
You continue with your inaccuracies when you write, “you admit in your essay, you can't comprehend or appreciate the Sat-Guru's brilliant writings, so perhaps he's just not for you.” Why are you making things up? I never said, “I can't comprehend or appreciate” Adi Da's writings. Indeed, I said the opposite and argued that there is much in Adi Da's writings that are instructive and effective and I have long enjoyed reading some of his work. The very fact that you would so consciously misattribute me speaks volumes about the integrity of your critique. Why not be accurate to what I say versus creating false and misleading caricatures?
11. Brad, you seem unwilling to accept (and acknowledge) that others can come away from Adi Da and his teachings with a viewpoint that differs from yours, particularly when you write somewhat dogmatically (if not with a tinge of arrogance) the following, “your approach seems more like a curiosity seeker who missed the spiritual depth that was actually occurring. It seems you don't appreciate what Radical Understanding is about, which explains that everyone is involved in an egoic contraction of self-reflection (like Narcissus), to one degree or another, thus preventing us from being a fully enlightened person until that egoic activity is transcended. It also appears that the Spiritual Transmission quality of Adi Da has gone right over your head, from what I've read.”
Again, these very last lines betray your admonition that “People can decide for themselves” when it comes to Adi Da. But anytime someone differs from your viewpoint, you then see it as an attack or an insult or a condemnation or a mock, ad infinitum. No, Brad, if you wish to respect the intelligence of others, then do that most radical of things: accept that they don't share your purview and let them voice their perspective without resorting to careless diminutions that such critics are “haters” when, in point of fact, they are not.
Finally, Brad, you are mistaken to believe that Elliot and I are “not open to any other consideration.” No, otherwise I wouldn't have spent large chunks of my time reading so many pro Adi Da books or articles or movies concerning him and his mission. I suspect that you will have a more difficult time budging in your perspective, particularly when you can claim, “So I knew I was not deluded about Adi Da, for God made that clear to me.”
Whenever a devotee (of whatever stripeMuslim, Christian, Radhasoamist, Eckist, Scientologist, fill in the blank) with a straight face says “God made” something “clear” to him or her, I realize that we are not (to cite Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz) in Kansas anymore and that any reasonable discussion has most likely slid off the rational table of ideas.
In any case, I enjoy the to and fro of exchanging viewpoints on Adi Da and other related subjects since I find such back and forth correspondence to be informative and educational. I realize that you will most likely “not return the volley” to my current essay, but I want to thank you for taking the time to think through what I have written. I wish you well in endeavors.