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Ken Wilber and Adi Da Check out this overview of what Ken Wilber has written about Adi Da (with a response from the Adidam community) at

David Christopher LaneDavid 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).


This essay was originally written in 1985 and was included in Da: The Strange Case of Franklin Jones (1996). Reposted with the permission of the author.

The Paradox
of Da Free John

David Lane

Prefatory Note | May 2015

Wilber did himself no favors (either to his reputation or to his intellectual integrity) by fawning so exaggeratedly over Da's mastership.

It has been 30 years since this essay was first published in the journal Understanding Cults and Spiritual Movements. I wrote my analysis of Da Free John shortly after my house had been robbed and ransacked by John-Roger Hinkins, founder and spiritual director of MSIA [Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness], in retaliation to a critical expose' I had penned about him in the very first issue of UCSM. John-Roger had also threatened to kill my wife and several of my informants through a worldwide smear campaign he had orchestrated from a front organization he created entitled The Coalition for Civil and Spiritual Freedom based (not surprisingly) out of a P.O. box he had (not very smartly) registered under his own name in Santa Monica, California.

Therefore, I was not too eager to have a nasty episode with another cult leader, so I decided that I would take a more distanced and academic approach when writing about Da Free John (now known more widely as Adi Da), who was then reaching the zenith of his fame. Yet, even then, I suspected that Da was hiding much about his private life and interactions with his inner circle. Ironically, just days after my long essay on Da was published, a disaffected woman devotee, who alleged that her guru had systematically abused her and others in his fold, filed a lawsuit against him and his group. It generated a media flurry since reports surfaced that Da had several wives and had indulged in all sorts of demeaning and damaging behavior.

The Paradox of Da Free John
New edition, 2015

I had been in regular contact for months prior to publication with Georg Feuerstein who, given his academic reputation in yoga circles, was serving as an intellectual spokesperson for Adi Da at that time. While Feuerstein was very responsive in providing feedback to various points of contention in my essay, he was disingenuous when discussing Adi Da's drug and sexual experimentation. Later, Feuerstein broke with Adi Da and wrote a book called Holy Madness, criticizing his former teacher. Frankly, I felt Georg Feuerstein should have been much more upfront earlier on, given that his confessional book tends to obviate his own responsibility in legitimizing Da's manifold transgressions.

As I mention in the postscript to this essay (which was incorporated in the 1994 book, Exposing Cults: When the Skeptical Mind Confronts the Mystical), I think I was much too easy on Adi Da and his undiluted narcissism. Yes, Da could on occasion write and say some very insightful, even brilliant, things, but much too often he was sprouting off complete nonsense which only magnified (at least to me and other skeptics) his tireless megalomania.

Although I didn't mention him by name, the real target for my essay was Ken Wilber since I felt he had succumbed to a fundamental delusion in his hyperbolic praise of Da Free John by conflating an underlying spiritual message with the medium in which it was housed. Simply put, Wilber was wrong to think that Da was the supreme avatar of his time simply because he wrote some brilliant essays and gave thoughtful off the cuff satsangs. Writing wise notes doesn't make one wise, even if we may believe (watch the pun) otherwise.

Wilber did himself no favors (either to his reputation or to his intellectual integrity) by fawning so exaggeratedly over Da's mastership and penmanship, particularly when he criticized his readers for not following his praising of all things “Da.” Ken Wilber's track record in endorsing so-called spiritual masters is so bad that one would be well advised to avoid any guru he recommends. The very fact that Ken Wilber could, after his fiasco with Adi Da, promote Andrew Cohen speaks volumes about his “integral” philosophy and its alleged merits for progressive thinking.

Reflecting back on Adi Da's life and work (he died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 2008 at his Fiji compound), I am convinced that Scott Lowe diagnosed his former teacher perfectly as suffering from the very narcissism he claimed engulfed his followers. Indeed, it may well be that much of Da's deep psychological insight into the human condition didn't stem from his self-proclaimed “enlightenment” but from observing day to day his own neurotic behavior and his own self-centered interactions with those closest to him. In any case, knowing what we do now about his uncouth antics, I would have definitely written a more critical piece on him today than I did thirty years ago. So with that caveat emptor read the following with a discriminating eye.

Distinguishing the Message from the Medium

There are very few spiritual teachers in the 20th century who could be termed religious geniuses. Da Free John is one of them. Since the beginning of his formal ministry in 1972 in southern California, Da Free John has produced a body of work that is unparalleled amongst new religious thinkers for its radical insight, comparative depth, and force of expression. He has won wide critical acclaim for his writings, eliciting praises from sociologists, psychologists, and theologians.

However, though Da Free John's writings have deservedly merited respect, the person himself remains a paradox. To many readers, the guru image he portrays juxtaposes with the impact of his message. Though Da Free John repeatedly stresses the need for transcending self-centeredness, he projects an egotistical air. Hence, while many individuals are deeply attracted to the philosophy of Da Free John, they are not drawn to the man. This, naturally, has led to a predicament in some seekers' minds on how to properly assess Da Free John and his teachings.

How does one distinguish a profound and viable spiritual message from the human medium that transmits it? This article, which is a generally positive overview of Da Free John's writings, is a response to that important question.

Confusing the Message with the Medium

One need not accept everything a spiritual movement offers because it has a single gleam of authenticity.

In religious circles there is a tendency to confuse the message with the medium (and vice versa). If, for instance, an author writes convincingly, elegantly and profoundly about spiritual realization, the reader assumes that the writer must also be an enlightened being by virtue of his presentation. But, this is not always the case. Simply because one communicates ultimate truths well does not mean by extension that he is an embodiment of that highest realization. Indeed, the person may be quite the opposite.

Alan Watts
Alan Watts

A good example behind this fallacious equation of "the medium is the message" is found in the life and work of Alan Watts, the renowned philosopher of Zen Buddhism. Due to Watts' brilliant articulation of the perennial philosophy, some of his readers felt that he was a genuine Zen master, one who had transcended the ego and its limitations. However, as those close to Watts can attest, he was not an enlightened guru, nor did he pretend to be. Watts, like the rest of us, suffered from a number of human frailties, including alcoholism and womanizing. Though Watts wrote exquisitely about Nirvana, his writings do not entirely reflect his own samsaric condition. [1]

Personally, I have found this type of equative thinking among many of the followers in the new religious movements I have studied. Whereas the student may only be attracted to a particular element in the teachings, and not initially to the guru or the organization, he buys into the latter because he thinks they are inseparable. In other words, the would-be disciple presumes that he can't get "it" without all the accompanying paraphernalia. [2]

Take M.S.I.A. as a classic object lesson. What attracts most people to M.S.I.A. is the intriguing possibility of soul travel, not its lineage of "Mystical Travelers." [3] Yet, instead of selecting that kernel of the teaching, the neophyte swallows the whole philosophy believing that it is an all or nothing proposition.

Thus, following this contagious logic, the student accepts John-Roger Hinkins, the founder of M.S.I.A., as a genuine master solely by weight of his detailed account of the inner planes, since he has already accepted the validity of soul travel and tends to idolize the testimony of others who claim to be proficient at it. But, how is the unsuspecting seeker to know that John-Roger copied some of his material from other Eastern and New Age groups? Furthermore, how is he to realize that John-Roger's encounters with radiant beings--the hierarchy of inner masters--on the higher regions are literary fictions that he borrowed from another American offshoot of Ruhani Satsang? Fubbi Quantz, Rebazar Tarzs, and Jagat Ho do not exist, neither on this planet nor on "Tuza." [4]

The devotee ends up duped, and in the process of uncovering his naiveté he discards everything in the M.S.I.A. package (just like he bought it all in the beginning), even the one thing that was (and is) valid: out-of-body experiences.

Fundamentally, the mistake inherent in this kind of approach is that it lacks a consistent discriminating edge. One need not accept everything a spiritual movement offers because it has a single gleam of authenticity. Nor, on the other hand, one doesn't have to dismiss the benefit of a sincere guru because he is functionally illiterate or a "naive bumpkin." [5]

To illustrate this point even further (and I feel it is a crucial one for anybody involved in spirituality), think of Christianity. Now on the whole it is generally agreed that the Christian faith in its essential principles, as laid down by Jesus Christ, is a beneficial religion: moral, loving, self-sacrificing. However, this does not mean that we cannot make qualitative judgments on various parts of its organization and history. In fact, we do it all the time: Witness our criticisms of the Spanish Inquisition, the futility of the Crusades, the horrendous treatment of the Indians by the Missions of California, and so on.

We make a series of appraisements on Christianity, often criticizing a number of hypocrisies that have occurred throughout the ages. It is not until we think of Christianity in its highest ideals and occasional heroic examples (Mother Teresa, etc.) that we label the religion as "great," "beautiful," "transcendent." Comparatively, this is exactly what we should do with all spiritual teachers and groups but for the most part don't. Instead of retaining a critical perspective throughout our quest we prematurely abdicate our discriminating minds and often judge situations in an "either/or" manner. I have seen this many times in devoted disciples of north Indian gurus. One day the student says his master is "God incarnated," and on another he even doubts if his teacher is a decent human being. [6] The disciple oscillates between absolute verdicts, never realizing that his observations are but partial reflections of his own evolutionary growth. [7]

This now leads us to the main topic of this chapter: Da Free John. A number of individuals have rejected Da Free John's sweeping and dynamic message on the grounds that he is just another cult leader out to gain followers, fame, and wealth. [8] Moreover, some readers just cannot countenance Da Free John's "Crazy Adept" image. Across the years I have heard reactions that vary from: "He walks around half naked most of the time, wearing skimpy underwear." "I dislike his writing style; it's self aggrandizing." "Why does he keep changing the name of his organization?.” "He is a poser, the epitome of the guru hype of the late 1960's. . . long hair, beard, walking staff, necklaces, then he shaves it all and goes for the egghead look. . . I don't buy it." "He has a hat/cap fetish." "Doesn't he drink his own urine?" [9]

Nevertheless, these same critics who disapprove of Da Free John's demeanor also reject his writings in their entirety since a "cult leader cannot possibly have any true or substantial insights on the nature of reality." [10] This, I believe, is a tragic mistake. The underlying spiritual message and the transmitting medium that conveys it, though related, are two distinct entities. To confuse the two betrays the fact that a corrupt religious group can present genuine teachings, or, that an authentic spiritual discourse can have an illegitimate expression.

The Paradox of Instruction

I remember an incident in the spring of 1984 at the school where I was teaching which typifies this issue. I suggested to one of my brightest students that he read Da Free John's The Paradox of Instruction in order to get a better grasp of the varying yoga systems and their desired aims. The student took up my suggestion and casually mentioned the author and the book to his political science teacher, who, without a moment's reflection, called Da Free John "pop," implying that the guru had nothing really good to offer. When I heard of my colleague's reaction I asked the student to query his teacher further and find out if he had ever seriously read Da Free John's books. The answer, surprisingly, was no. [11]

Obviously, my colleague didn't appreciate Da Free John's guru portrayal, at least as it was depicted on the cover of his books. Yet, instead of stopping there and making a judgment call on Da Free John's pictures, my teacher associate carried his opinion even further and applied it to his writings as well--though he himself had never studied them. The sad part about this sort of prejudice is that it reinforces the very thing that teachers of all backgrounds (including those from secondary schools) argue against: "Don't judge a book by its cover." "Let the facts speak for themselves." Etc.

Quite simply, regardless of how we may view his "Crazy Adept" image, Da Free John is one of the best writers on the perennial wisdom (non-dualist philosophy) in North America. As Donald Evans, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto, comments:

"I regard Da Free John as the most significant contemporary writer concerning the core of religion, more profound than Paul Tillich, Gabriel Marcel, and Martin Buber. Intimately acquainted with a vast range of spiritual experience, he peels off all externals and challenges us to join with him in surrender of our whole selves, shattering the egoism which contracts and separates us from participation in the loving, radiant life of God." [12]

Now that we have seen how people can confuse the medium with the message (castrating the latter merely on Da Free John's appearance), let us turn our attention to how the reverse can also happen. Several prominent thinkers have hailed Da Free John as a God realized Adept, a Divine Incarnation, the Avatar for the Western world, primarily on the strength of his numerous written texts. The problem in some of these ecstatic eulogies, though, is that they have been made without any direct personal observation of Da Free John, nor any experiential involvement with his methodology. [13]

What is occurring in many of these instances is a mere verbal assessment of Da Free John as a master based not upon intimate contact with him but on discursive reading. "He writes so well on the ultimate truths he must be a genuine guru." The danger in this approach is that we often end up measuring the competence of spiritual teachers exclusively on their ability to write or communicate well. Such a procedure is at best haphazard and inappropriately favors a left-brain inclination to religious leaders. If we judge masters in this way, and, no doubt, it should be an element in our appraisements, we leave ourselves open to an intellectual class of gurus versus a truly transformed group of enlightened men or women. A situation, I would add, that has led to the erroneous claims about Alan Watts' greatness. This, of course, is not to say that enlightenment and literacy are incompatible, but that the former should be adjudicated on evidence more than just the written word. There is no substitute for personal observation, involvement, or parallel experimentation.

It is readily apparent that some of the gracious praises for Da Free John's mastership are really for his writings. Yet, because certain writers confuse the message with the medium, they automatically link the two presuming that if one speaks eloquently about the transcendental reality he must also be a Seventh Stage Sage. This is not necessarily so. [14]

The authenticity of a religious teacher, though partially open to rational appraisements, is determined by the personal engagement of the student in day-to-day practice, sadhana, abhyas, or zazen. To secure judgments on anything less must be viewed as possible indicators of the teacher's status, not as final verdicts or endorsements. [15]

On the other hand of the scale, the legitimacy of a master's presentation can, for the most part, be adjudicated on the rational-verbal plane, as such an appraisement is chiefly concerned with the manifestation of the teachings on this level. [16]

Hence, while one may disagree with Da Free John's guru image (the presentation of his message on this plane), perhaps claiming that it has a low degree of legitimacy, no final judgment can be made on his authenticity until actual contact with him and/or his teachings is undertaken. [17]

This important distinction between authenticity and legitimacy, and the medium and the message, I believe, has not been made by many of those familiar, albeit slightly, with Da Free John's life and work. Either they dismiss Da Free John entirely because of his photographs or over hype him on the basis of his writings.

Interestingly, Da Free John's teachings or insight are not the controversial subject. Who, for instance, with any spiritual inclination, would deny that there is some greater power than us? That we have two fundamental options in the face of this Great Mystery: surrender or recoil? Or, finally, that God is Love and demands by His very existence that we participate via sacrifice of the ego in His Being? No, Da Free John's message isn't the cause for the debate surrounding him, it is his method of presentation, the legitimacy of his expression, which has turned admirers of his written word to harsh critics of his actions. [18]

Though there are really no good reasons to overlook Da Free John's vast contribution to spiritual philosophy and practice, there are some very pertinent questions to pose with regard to the validity of his organizational approach. Some viable criticisms that I have read or heard include:

"His church charges money for membership; this automatically disqualifies it as a genuine spiritual movement by some standards. Do true gurus ask for money as a prerequisite for having audiences with them? Would Jesus request a donation?"
"Da Free John has virtually no public ministry, save his contact with intimate disciples. This constitutes a cultic ring, a vicious circle wherein the legitimacy of the guru's actions goes unquestioned. Every blunder is rationalized, justified, or clarified as a "lesson for the devotee."
"To be frank with you, though I am a follower of Da, I do get upset with how he is portrayed. Do we really need so many pictures of him?"
"Personally, I find the Da to be more egotistical than causal. His constant use of I, though employed transcendentally, is quite condescending, especially if we are all `already happy/enlightened' anyway. Moreover, Da Free John makes absolute claims about his enlightenment and his unique way of presenting the essential truths. In a sense, if you take his argument to its full consequences, there is only one truly enlightened guru on the planet: himself! Everyone, according to Da, has their fifth and sixth stage limitations, except of course, himself. I find this not only presumptuous, but also an indication that it is not healthy to follow gurus who allege that they have attained something no other saint or yogi has." [19]

As for myself, though I am also critical of Da Free John's guru image and presentation (I have a resistance to any guru who charges money or makes personal claims about his own spiritual attainments.), [20] it does seem obvious to me that he is purposely invoking a parody of himself and all human teachers so that his reader/students may awaken from a purely intellectual perusal of his teachings and be confronted with the power of radical transcendentalism. I must admit that I never know what quite to expect from a Da Free John publication.

One year he is Franklin Jones, one-time disciple of Swami Muktananda, apparently extending the message of Advaita Vedanta for the western world; the next year he is Bubba Free John, the Spiritual Master, wearing Jewish styled caps; and in another year he is Da, with long hair, staff, living in seclusion, bald like a Zen monk, apparently much heavier, and preaching from a new island in the South Pacific." [21] Da Free John is, without question, the most iconoclastic teacher I have encountered. Not that his fundamental teachings change (they haven't), but that he continually upsets every model/label that he assumes. Da Free John is literally like a Cracker Jack surprise in the religious world. Just when you think that he has run out of new guises, Da Free John comes up with some bizarre clothing to startle you. [Check out the cover of his book, The Bodily Location of Happiness (2nd Edition), the picture of him on page 79 of The Laughing Man, Volume 4, Number 4, and the photograph of him in the book, Nirvanasara.] No wonder Da Free John has detractors calling him a cult weirdo; he invites such strong reactions by his selection of photographs. [22]

When Da Free John calls Seventh Stage Adepts crazy, he isn't playing semantic words games. He means it structurally: bodily, mentally and spiritually in contrast to the "norm" of our society and unenlightened man. [23] His "transmission" or "portrayal," depending on our estimation of his genuineness, upsets many of us, because true to his message Da Free John cannot adequately be pigeonholed.

Now this doesn't mean that we have to call him an enlightened being, or God-realized (can we really know if anyone is unless we ourselves are?), [24] but we shouldn't dismiss him in light of his teachings, as his writings do have an important spiritual import. True, Da Free John is a paradox, but he is at least a contradiction who elicits further examination of our own relationship with Reality. [25]

A Capsule Overview of Da Free John's Life

Adi Da as an infant, 1940
Adi Da as an infant, 1940 (Wikipedia)

Unlike a number of his contemporaries in the guru world, who wish to conceal their past (e.g., L. Ron Hubbard), Da Free John is more open about his life. [26] Born on November 3, 1939, at Jamaica, Long Island, New York, with the given name of Franklin Albert Jones, Da Free John recalls that his infancy was marked with the "Bright," an a priori condition of enlightenment about the true nature of reality. However, because his family and the society to which he was born into did not enjoy that same "vision," Da Free John claims that he was forced by his circumstances to relinquish his Divine Communion. Elaborates Da Free John:

"When I was born there were no complications, there was no failure to understand, there was no lack of illumination. But in my relations with family and friends it soon became apparent to me what kind of life is allowed in this world. It was obvious that my parents and their friends were unwilling to live as if they were in God and be happy. That was not permissible. So, obviously, I could not live that way either. I had to become their son and do the usual things that a child does, and, while doing that, continue to make the point of God-knowing." [27]

In the published accounts of Da Free John's life very little is mentioned about his childhood and early adolescent years. We pick up the narrative when he enters Columbia College in New York City at the age of seventeen. It was here that the "process of descending into ordinary life was complete--as a conventional human personality, Bubba [Da] was in a desperate condition." [28] Like ordinary men, Da Free John had to regain his prior understanding, where God (and not the ego) is the center and the circumference. He accomplished this by trying to "experience" whatever came his way. His quest had no limits; nothing was too baneful or too sacred. Yet, "neither his experiences nor his learning brought him closer to Truth." [29]

It was in the midst of this internal struggle that Da Free John allegedly experienced a spontaneous re-occurrence of "the Heart-Consciousness he had enjoyed at birth." [30] This regeneration, as it has been described, convinced Da Free John that freedom was native to man and not external to him. But, since this awakening was not stabilized, it too fell away and Da Free John persisted in his quest for permanent realization.

What was this hidden impulse that detained man from his already enlightened state? What force allowed man to persist in his egoic and suffering mood? The answers to these questions, which apparently haunted Da Free John for some time, became apparent to him in the early 1960's when he was attending Stanford University in California. As one "official" biographer puts it:

"He felt certain that there must be some hidden logic or force at the core of life that makes us abandon our native Divine Freedom for all the insane ways we suffer. To discover that logic, he had begun to observe and note in writing every single phenomenon that arose in body, mind, and environment . . . Finally it became apparent to him: The logic or principle of all birth, living, suffering, seeking, and death is hidden in the myth of Narcissus, the self lover of Greek mythology, who rejected relationship or love, in order to contemplate his own image, until he died. All human beings, he saw, live as Narcissus, locked into contemplation of their own selves, their own bodies and minds and destinies . . . ." [31]

After this breakthrough Da Free John returned to New York in June of 1964, where he subsequently met his first human guru, Albert Rudolph (more popularly known as Swami Rudrananda or "Rudi"). Along with his eventual wife, Nina, Da Free John sought tutelage under Rudi, who taught a physical version of Kundalini Yoga. [Rudi, it should be pointed out, was a follower of Swami Nityananda and his successor Swami Muktananda, both of whom resided in Ganeshpuri, India.] [32]

Swami Rudrananda
Swami Rudrananda

Rudi's effect on Da Free John was perhaps more "preliminary" than transcendental, as he emphasized work and commitment, a grounding, so to say, for future spiritual development. At Rudi's insistence, Da Free John entered the ministry of the Lutheran Church. Though having no particular interest per se with Christianity Da Free John acquiesced and studied in the seminary for two years. But, as Da Free John recounts, while studying at the school he underwent a "death" experience, which culminated in the dissolution of his ego. Da Free John maintains that his experience was similar in content to Ramana Maharshi's, the famed Advaita Vedanta sage of south India. [33]

Propelled by his new insight, Da Free John shifted his discipleship away from Rudi to Swami Muktananda, and, in 1968, made his first trip to India to see the Siddha Yoga master. During his stay Da Free John became absorbed with the ascending currents of the higher radiant mind, which is "infinitely above the body, the mind, and the world." [34] For over a year, we are informed, Da Free John lived in a "distracted state, at times moved toward worldly experiences, and at other times moved toward the internal world. But from the time forward, Bubba [Da] was firmly established in a subtle level of awareness and Energy that transcended ordinary personality and character." [35]

Swami Muktananda
Swami Muktananda

Da Free John's contact with Swami Muktananda allowed him to directly perceive the various manifestations of the awakened kundalini: mystical lights, sounds, and other subtle phenomena. However, Da Free John was intuitively convinced that "Truth could not be equated with any kind of acquired experience." [36] Therefore, even Siddha Yoga as a method for God-realization was limited, since it was still concerned with "experiences"--albeit higher and more mystical ones. Da Free John felt that true realization was not the product of any one event, but rather the intuition of an already prior, coexisting, eternal state, which man had not lost but only "forgotten" in his ignorance.

In the summer of 1970 Da Free John finally achieved "permanent Re-Awakening" at the Vedanta temple in Hollywood, California. As he describes it:

"In an instant, I became profoundly and directly aware of what I am. It was a tacit realization, a direct knowledge in consciousness itself. . . I am reality, the Self, and Nature and Support of all things and all beings. I am the One Being, known as God, Brahman, Atman, the One Mind, the Self." [37]

After his "enlightenment," Da Free John realized that he no longer needed to meditate for his own sake. Instead, some other form of destiny began to work its power on him; this force was the karmic propensities of other unenlightened souls, who appeared naturally to Da Free John in his meditations. In a remarkable passage, Da Free John details what happened:

"After that time, when I would sit for meditation in any formal way, instead of contemplating what was arising in myself, I would contemplate other beings as my own form. Instead of my own psychic forms arising, the psychic forms, minds, and limitations of others would arise. I was aware, visually or otherwise, of great numbers of people, and I would work with them very directly on a subtle level." [38]

The Knee of Listening

Led by this new destiny, Da Free John felt obligated to start teaching the spiritual path as it had been revealed to him. Thus, on April 25, 1972, after publishing his first book, The Knee of Listening, which was an autobiographical account of his quest and ultimate liberation, Da Free John commenced his public satsang on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood, inviting interested seekers to take up the practice of "radical understanding" in his company. [39]

In the beginning Da Free John's ministry was closely associated with Siddha Yoga and Advaita Vedanta, with pictures of Indian masters adorning the walls of his "Shree Hridayam Ashram." But, with his third trip to India in 1973, where he formally "sacrificed" his realization at various holy sites, and eventually severed his ties with Muktananda, Da Free John embarked on his own unique expression of the spiritual way. It was during this latter trip when Da Free John changed his name from "Franklin Jones" to "Bubba Free John" (lit., "a free man through whom God is Gracious"). [40]

Then, in 1974, Da Free John and the staff of the "Dawn Horse Communion" moved to Clearlake, California, where they established a retreat sanctuary first called "Persimmon" (later "Vision Mound Sanctuary" and now "The Mountain of Attention Sanctuary"). It was here where Da Free John began to work intensively with a small group of devotees, an inner circle in which to transmit his message of "Divine Ignorance" (formerly termed "Radical Understanding"). [41]

After this intermediate and preparatory stage was completed, Da Free John "retired" from frequent public interaction with his general following and produced a number of source texts for his teachings, including such books as The Paradox of Instruction, Breath and Name, Love of the Two Armed Form, and Enlightenment of the Whole Body, etc. [42]

By the latter part of 1979, Da Free John changed his name for the second time (replacing "Bubba" with "Da," meaning "Giver"), and began the "hermitage" phase of his work, which enables him to live in relative seclusion. Presently, Da Free John lives with a small gathering of disciples (known as the "Hermitage Renunciate Order") on an island in the South Pacific called "Translation Island." [43]

Perhaps the most auspicious development in Da Free John's work has been the acknowledgement that several of his disciples have achieved "7th stage" God-Realization, which in essence is the same attainment that Da Free John himself secured in the Vedanta temple in 1970. This "collective" transformation is being heralded by the group as a milestone in the evolution of human consciousness, since it indicates that enlightenment can be the heritage of all human beings, not just the providence of a few rare individuals. [44]

Although the previous account only gives the salient features of Da Free John's life, it does bring us to the key issue in his teaching ministry: What constitutes genuine spiritual enlightenment? This question, more than any other, is the driving force in Da Free John's writings, for unlike most American gurus of his generation, he explicitly outlines the necessary hallmarks of true God-Realization.

The Spiritual Philosophy of Da Free John

"Since Truth is the Condition of all arising, direct Realization of Truth must be possible, essential, and necessary under ordinary or random present conditions, and not merely or especially under extraordinary or strategically attained conditions. It is not itself a matter of feeling energies, or seeing sights or visions, or of extraordinary hearing, or taste, or smell. Nor is it a matter of any thought, or projection into any kind of environment, high or low, subtle or solid. It is a matter of intuitive abiding in the unqualified condition on which the present conditions are a play." --Bubba (Da) Free John, The Paradox of Instruction [45]

Ultimate enlightenment, according to Da Free John, is not the by-product of any particular effort or scheme that man may devise, but is rather the very nature of reality itself throughout and beyond all conditions. Hence, true realization becomes more a process of re-awakening to the "Truth which is already the case" than a strategic effort for attaining some exalted goal. In a sense, Da Free John sees the intersection of God's absolute transcendence and His immanence meeting in the Heart of Man. Man's only real dilemma is that he blinds himself to the infinity of which he is an intimate part. [46]

A crude, yet perhaps accurate, example of Da Free John's lucid argument is that of the ocean and a bubble. The ocean, in our case, represents the total reality (God), whereas the bubble (self) exemplifies a seemingly limited existence. Now to the bubble it has two fundamental options: 1) surrender to the ocean which is the creator, sustainer, and destroyer of its separate life; or 2) recoil and live in the (illusory) belief that as a bubble it has a distinct, autonomous existence. True Self Realization, argues Da Free John, is when the bubble intuits its subservience to the ocean and that it has no real life except in relationship with the larger environment. Likewise, God Realization is when the bubble consciously and fully allows the ocean to live and inform its being. [47]

Ordinary man, drawn almost solely to his "bubble" existence, rejects out of fear the truth of his condition, attempting to find ways to prevent death (cessation of "separate" being) and prolong life (narcissism). The tragedy in such a plight is that it constantly overlooks what is essentially true, real, and eternal. Undoubtedly, losing one's self (bubble) in God (ocean) is a scary proposition, since it necessitates a complete letting go of attachments--be they gross, subtle or causal. But, even though the prospect "appears" frightening and sorrowful, giving up one's being to God increases the soul's (bubble's) capacity for enjoyment, happiness, and peace immeasurably as the Reality (ocean) is infinitely greater than man's finite conceptions. [48]

Thus, genuine spiritual life is a moment-to-moment understanding ("whole bodily," as Da Free John puts it) [49] of the truth of one's temporal life. Such a "radical understanding," though never an outcome of any one experience, has varying degrees of intensity and adaptation. To better illustrate this evolutionary progression, Da Free John refashioned the classic yogic chakra system into his unique hierarchical Seven Stages of Life, which attempts to portray both man's already developed state and his future potentials. Elaborates Da Free John:

"The stages of readaptation in this Culture of Resurrection are 1) the physical-vital, 2) the emotional-sexual, 3) the higher vital (the will) and the lower mental, 4) the truly moral, the higher mental, and the lower psychic, 5) the higher psychic, the cosmic "gnosis", 6) the Realization of the unqualified Condition of Consciousness, or the prior Freedom of the soul, and 7) the Sacrifice of the Awakened Self into the Infinite Radiance of God, or the Translation of the Soul of Man into the Divine Domain." [50]

Da Free John indicates that the first three stages (physical, sexual, and mental development) are the heritage and lot of common man. Few individuals have entered into the fourth and fifth stages (psychic/mystical maturation), and rarely progress onward to the sixth and seventh stages (Self and God Realization, respectively). Accordingly, Da Free John's proclaimed mission is to transmit, without obstruction, the very highest realization so that all men/women may share in their true Divine birthright.

Da Free John's philosophy has been given various titles throughout his career: Radical Understanding; Divine Ignorance; Radical Transcendentalism; and Advaitayana Buddhism. Yet, one recurring pattern stays the same; the ego is the root of man's ailments. Not that the ego is an absolutely indivisible part of a person, or that it is an identifiable "entity," but that man in his narcissistic retraction from infinity presumes (falsely) that his "Self" is located somewhere inside. In truth, argues Da Free John, there is no permanent ego, self, or soul, regardless of how spiritual one might become. Rather, what is real is the Transcendental condition out of which all manifestations arise. Identify with that True Reality, Da Free John contends, and genuine Enlightenment will occur.

Paradoxically, Da Free John's approach takes into consideration both the Buddhist (no-self) and Hindu (One True Self) perspectives concerning truth and points out how they are essentially two different expressions of the same fundamental reality. The Buddhist purview is "negative" (all objects, including God, are disavowed), whereas the Hindu outlook is "positive" (Brahman and Atman are one). Yet, regardless of emphasis, they are mutually interdependent correlatives, each giving a glimpse into the nature of man and the universe. [51]

One of Da Free John's strongest presentations to seekers concerns what he terms "Divine Ignorance." Put simply, it is the inability of a person to know what anything is. Writes Da Free John:

"What is Truth? I may find out or know all kinds of facts or truths about any thing, or everything, or the whole word. But I may never discover or know what that thing, or everything, or any thing is. No matter how much time passes, or how much knowledge is attained, this fundamental Ignorance can never be changed to any degree. This Ignorance is Truth and the Way of Truth. It is the Truth or Condition of any thing and everything. It confounds the dreams of knowing . . . " [52]

Although Da Free John's argument has several articulate precedents (e.g., from Kant's "we can never know the thing in itself" to Nicolas of Cusa's "The unattainable is attained through its unattainment") [53] its forcefulness and clarity make his elucidation irresistible.

Crazy Adepts and Sane Disciples

The Transmission of Doubt

"Master Da Free John is not on an "ego-trip". Careful consideration will reveal that the ego that may be felt to arise while reading his writings is none other than the reader's." --Fred Alan Wolf, Ph.D. [54]

Regardless of the beauty of Radical Transcendentalism, one cannot help but encounter a strong sense of ego in Da Free John's writings. Fred Alan Wolf in his Foreword to The Transmission of Doubt (see above excerpt) tries to explain this feeling away by arguing that it is the reader's ego which arises when reading, not Da Free John's. This statement, however, is logically inaccurate. For, given Wolf's argument, the opposite corollary should also be true: When the reader does not feel ego, it is because he/she is egoless. [55]

No, the actual truth of the matter (something which Wolf picked up on and tried to explain away) is that Da Free John's writings do reflect an egotistical stance. This is evident in his choice of language, the selection of photographs, the promotion of his exalted status, to finally the continuing advertising that his teaching is superior to any revelation prior to his advent. Da Free John may have transcended the ego and its constraints, but the presumptuousness of his books (vis-a-vis their style and promotion) is not simply due to the reader's lack of spiritual attainment or misguided apprehension. To put the blame on seekers when the "ego arises" is naive. Rather, the more appropriate explanation is that Da Free John has chosen to present himself, his teachings, and his organization in a format that invites skepticism. Is it simply the reader's ego that resists such Da Free John titles (essays and talks) as A Birthday Message From Jesus and Me? [56]

Though Da Free John alleges that he uses "I" and "Me" in a transcendental mode, its consistent use and juxtaposition with ultimate Reality has other effects. For instance, read the following excerpts from Da Free John's recent essay, Pondering and Preparation:

"The Way That I Teach is a Great Process. An Ordeal Of Self-Sacrifice to The Spiritual Form Of God. Many may Respond to My Offering, but some may need time to ponder and to prepare themselves. . . Those who find themselves in such a stage of Response to Me should not feel that they must remain apart from Me and the Fellowship. They should honor their Response to Me by becoming friends, patrons, and regular students of The Laughing Man Institute. . . Such individuals "ponder" by engaging the sadhana of Listening to Me. . . by pondering My Arguments and Responding to My Person. Therefore, active patronage, friendship, student participation, and beginner's discipline are in fact forms of real practice. . . honored by The Fellowship." [57]

Perhaps the real "crisis" point at issue here is not only how one responds to the message of Radical Transcendentalism, but how one accepts Da Free John's transmission of the same. For those receptive to the "Crazy Wisdom Tradition," Da Free John's authentic voice may be sufficient for allegiance to his ministry. As James Steinberg explains:

"Because the Adepts are moved to immune and instruct whatever is brought before them, they may appear wild. They may appear self-indulgent, seem mad with powers, or act like fools. They may remain silent, or may teach through discourse or song, may appear angry, or warm, open, and loving. Historically, no two such Adepts were alike. Some practiced celibacy, and some were sexually active. For example, Marpa had one legal wife and eight Tantric consorts or partners. Yet his disciple Milarepa was naturally moved to be celibate. . . . " [58]

Furthers Da Free John: "But truly, actual Realization, the actual process, spontaneously produces dramatic changes in the psychophysiology of the true practitioner. Such an individual's behavior does change, both socially and in the way he or she teaches--and he would not teach as a monk sermonizes! Most of the teaching of such individuals is spontaneous, kind of wild and offensive. It typically shakes people up and offends them." [59]

However, for others concerned with issues of legitimacy (i.e., how the teacher/teachings are expressed on this plane), there may be some reticence to Da Free John. This "hesitancy" may include disapproval of his interaction with disciples, his self-proclamation about God-Realization, his requests for monetary subscriptions, and the "guru" image he portrays. Or, as Richard Grossinger points out in his review of Easy Death, even resistance to the name "Da Free John":

"I should emphasize that I have never met Da Free John nor been to his community or any of his centers. I know his teachings exclusively through the printed word. I began reading him several years ago because I was curious as to who this strange teacher was who had taken on the name of Bubba Free John (and then later Da Free John). I realize now that many people still wonder this and that the odd names keep them away. A number of potentially interested readers have turned away from these books on the false presumption that the name was an intentional parody of the role of guru or the clowning of a self-conscious guru . . ." [60]

We have now come full circle on the paradox of Da Free John. Unquestionably, he has presented a number of superb works on spirituality with unique vigor and insight, deserving of deep attention and respect. Yet, how one responds to Da Free John as a spiritual master depends upon a number of contingent factors, not the least of which concerns the connection between legitimacy and authenticity. In the final analysis, critical examination, while it is both beneficial and necessary, can only lead so far. Ultimately, the relationship between a guru and a disciple must result from a force beyond (but not necessarily versus) the rational mind. In the midst of that power, in the "fire" of that impulse, the student can test both the sincerity of his surrender and the genuineness of his master.

Thus, the paradox of Da Free John is in some ways the paradox of the disciple: an intricate koan between outward and inward signals. Perhaps the greatest irony of all is that for a master who writes so much about transcending ego, Da Free John should be labeled by a number of readers as an "egotist." But, even though we may not accept Da Free John's claim for mastership, we can at the very least benefit significantly from his writings, which convey truths so universal and penetrating that there can be no debate. [61]

Postscript | 1994

In retrospect, I think The Paradox of Da Free John is much too kind to the guru.

A few days after The Paradox of Da Free John was published in the early part of 1985, the San Francisco Chronicle and other Bay Area newspapers published an extensive expose of the guru's sexual exploits and violent interplays with female disciples. It was a significant blow to the group; some defectors even claimed that Da Free John had seven wives (the numbers vary, depending on the defector) and that he occasionally beat one of his wives. He is also reported to have had an alcohol and drug problem.

Holy Madness

Although I had a very strong suspicion when I wrote The Paradox of Da Free John that the guru was having sexual relations with his disciples, their spokesperson at the time, Georg Feuerstein, assured me in writing that it was over and that when it occurred it was part of his spiritual theatre. The facts suggest something else was going on however. Indeed, Feuerstein was naively trying to gloss over his guru's transgressions by trying to put a "spiritual spin" on what was obviously unethical behavior for a normal person, much less a master who claims to be God-realized. Later Feuerstein tried to come clean about Da Free John when he left the group in the late 1980s. In his book, Holy Madness, Feuerstein tries to come to grips with Da's crazy wisdom approach. Feuerstein's effort, however, falls way short, since he does not reveal in-depth the scandals that hit the community or explain his own questionable actions at the time.

In retrospect, I think The Paradox of Da Free John is much too kind to the guru. True, Da Free John (now Da Avabhasa) remains a vitally interesting cult leader, but he has become so enmeshed in his own ego trip that it is nearly impossible for the reader to wade through his self-aggrandizing tirades and discover the rare philosophical jewel from time to time.

The Dawn Horse Testament

Furthermore, the unmitigated hype surrounding him and his mission has reached absurd levels, especially when someone as bright as Ken Wilber has the audacity to claim that Da Free John is the greatest spiritual master of all time and that his book, The Dawn Horse Testament is the greatest spiritual tome of all time. To be sure, Da has written some brilliant pieces, but to then extend beyond his writings into an ontological appraisement of his status in the universe not only seems completely arbitrary, but downright silly. One gets the impression that we are talking about comic book action heroes. Who is greater: Superman or Batman? Or, as Wilber would have us frame it: Da or Jesus? Well, the debate is entirely missing the point, something which Wilber has yet to come to grips with: brilliant writing does not make one a master. In fact, a great thinker may live a reprehensible life; and if the published reports of Da Free John are any indication of his personal integrity, then he ranks along with John-Roger, Thakar Singh, Paul Twitchell, and others, as a charlatan more bent on satisfying his personal whims than helping his disciples achieve their spiritual goal.

I say all of this in the context of someone who likes to read Da Free John's books. Da Free John is clearly a more important thinker than most of the cult leaders today, but that does not mean that we have to condone his mean spiritedness and immature taunts under the lame excuse of "Holy Madness." My sense is that if we leave out the adjective "Holy" we will get much closer to the truth behind Da Free John.

The paradox of Franklin Jones may be best summarized by using Ken Wilber’s own words in proper juxtaposition with my own: Adi Da wrote some brilliant books, but personally he was “a fuck-up.”


1. There is a tendency when reading Alan Watts to presume that Enlightenment is an intellectual process; conceptually understand the ultimate truths of the universe and Self Realization naturally occurs. This is not correct, since genuine spiritual awakening involves the entire body-mind- soul complex. To intellectualize about Nirvana or Satori is quite easy, but to actually transform and surrender one's self to the Supreme Reality is a very difficult task indeed. For glimpses into Alan Watts' own trials and errors, see his autobiography, In My Own Way.

2. Although it is true that rituals have their place in setting up the right context for religious functions, it should not be forgotten that the essence of such superstructures, as Frits Staal (Exploring Mysticism) terms them, is to reveal (not conceal) the sacred mystery. All too often organized religions overlook their vital and primary purpose and begin to serve as social institutions concerned with purely ethical issues. It should also be pointed out here that not every seeker is attracted to a spiritual movement by means of the teachings. As Georg Feuerstein makes clear about the Johannine Daist Communion:

"In our experience, people frequently join our Community not because of the Teaching but because of their response to the Spiritual Master. (They may have seen a photograph of the Adept or a video and subsequently read some of the literature.) The way in which potential devotees are "contacted" by the Adept is mysterious, and no reductionist explanation can do justice to what has actually happened in hundreds of cases and is continuing to happen to newcomers even now. This is not to deny that for many people the Teaching itself is inherently attractive, but we find that the Teaching literature is read by very many people who have made no attempt to take up this Way, presumably because they do not associate its attractiveness with the spiritual presence of the Adept. And those who are content to merely read the literature, many suffer from the illusion that reading Master Da Free John's works is a sufficient form of spiritual practice. They belong to what the Adept calls the `talking school'."

3. In the M.S.I.A.'s worldview (i.e., John-Roger's novelistic creations), The Mystical Traveler of Consciousness is a force that has always been present on earth.

4. The history of M.S.I.A. is in many ways the life story of its founder, John-Roger Hinkins. John-Roger not only attempted to hide things about his past and cover-up his nefarious sexual activities, but he has also tried to set up phony smear campaigns against his detractors. See The J.R. Controversy.

5. The term "naive bumpkin" comes from Da Free John, as quoted by Georg Feuerstein in his Introduction to Nirvanasara (Clearlake: The Dawn Horse Press, 1982), page 8.

6. The cause for this change in attitude, I suspect, among disciples of Indian gurus has more to do with the student than with the teacher. For instance, when I was in India in 1981 I noticed that one Swedish seeker judged the greatness of a guru by how much time he gave to him personally. The result? If the master spent lots of time with him, he was a highly evolved teacher. If the master spent little or no time with him, he was still a struggling soul.

7. The bottom line in discipleship is that the student can never fully accept intellectually that his master is perfect. Hence, every absolute verdict or judgment that is made is always doomed to change or be radically altered. In this way, how a devotee sees his guru is to a large degree a reflection of his own inner struggle or advancement. However, there is also a certain element of constancy to a disciple's perspective, especially if they are mature practitioners. As Georg Feuerstein elaborates:

"I can readily see that in a certain mood the Guru will appear to a disciple in his transcendental nature, and in another mood the Guru will appear to him very mundane. But beyond these moods of the disciple, there is also a genuine heart intuition of the Guru's true nature that allows the disciple to understand his varying `readings' of the Adept-Teacher as projections. And that intuition deepens with his spiritual maturation, until the Guru is recognized to be literally identical to himself (or his Self), as the transcendental Being."

8. Since the tragedy of Jonestown there has been a great "cult scare" in America where any non-mainstream religious movement is suspect. In fact, though the word cult by definition is not pejorative it has become the mass media's buzzword for the religiously offbeat. This is unfortunate because there are a number of "cult" leaders who have some very insightful things to say about man, society, and God. Of course, this is not to overlook the glaring truth that many religious leaders are misguided or even dangerous.

9. The preceding quotations were selected from letters and interviews taken in the last ten years on the subject of Da Free John. Georg Feuerstein strongly objects to this type of "journalistic" writing on my part. Comments Feuerstein:

"[This section] is odious to me personally, because it promotes journalistic sensationalism. I merely want to comment on one point: The reason why Master Da Free John wears so many different hats is that all of them represent gifts from devotees, and he is wearing them for their sake, just as all his clothes are made and supplied by devotees. Without the notion of an Adept's perfect self-sacrifice, these gestures remain unintelligible. They are visible signs and the Adept is affirming his relationship with individual devotees constantly."

10. Most of the anti-cult organizations today are religiously based. It is from a theological framework (usually Biblical) that such groups attack wayward religious movements, especially those that do not subscribe to their cherished world-view. Again, I think this is a mistake. Even though we should be critically minded when studying new groups (as well as "old" ones), it is improper to dismiss penetrating ideas and thoughts simply because they do not fit into our own preconceived models of reality.

11. I would like to add that this particular student was exceptionally bright and went on to read parts of The Paradox of Instruction, as well as Ken Wilber's Eye to Eye. To the chagrin of my teacher associate, with whom I was a friend, the student won a major literary scholarship on the basis of a paper he wrote which quoted at length Ken Wilber's thoughts on the "perennial philosophy," portions of which contain elaborations of Da Free John's insights.

12. Quoted from the back cover of Da Free John's The God In Every Body Book (Clearlake: The Dawn Horse Press, 183).

13. There is often a tremendous amount of hype in spirituality. It is not dissimilar in some ways to the reviews of new Hollywood movies. If a recognized "reviewer" raves about a film, there is a predisposition among some movie- goers to question their own tastes. "Well, the New Yorker said it was a classic, so my boredom must be due to my inability to find the deeper meaning." Likewise, if a well known author in philosophy claims that a particular guru or master is "enlightened" the would-be reader is more likely to buy into it. The catch here, though, is that the writer may never have met the teacher in question. Furthermore, the philosopher may have some critical comments to make about the guru, but hesitates in doing so in fear that they will not be printed. Or, if such criticism is made the publisher does not include the same in the blurbs accompanying the book. The problem in all of this is that spirituality (or the guru's status) becomes a marketable item, polished and advertised to "look good," to be "acceptable" for the general reader. What is needed to counteract this "glossing sheen" is for individuals to directly find out what is occurring within the movement.

14. Georg Feuerstein sees my emphasis on distinguishing between the message and the medium as limited. Elaborates Feuerstein:

"You make the point about separating the message from the medium. From a worldly (objectivist) and hence limited or partial point of view this is valid. However, from a spiritual perspective this separation of message and medium is a product of the materialistic mind that is unable to perceive the psychophysical unity of the cosmos. Thus, from the Adept's viewpoint, his Teaching is one of his Agencies and as such is co-essential with his spiritual presence and potency. His entire Teaching Argument is intended to bring people to a level of self-understanding that will then enable them to begin to relate to the Adept as Spiritual master. The Adept is the Way. But his esoteric equation is meaningless to the conventional mind that interprets reality on the basis of innate doubt and distrust. I agree with you that writing well is not a sufficient criterion for appraising a Teacher's authenticity. Master Da Free John is manifestly a marvelous writer, but his writings (most of which are in fact printed talks) have a communicative power that goes beyond niceties of style."

15. I owe this discussion of authenticity and legitimacy to the pioneering work of Ken Wilber. See A Sociable God and Eye to Eye for more information.

16. Georg Feuerstein and I disagree over the issue of legitimacy as a necessary criterion. My own feeling is that unless the master's actions are above suspicion on this plane, it is not wise to follow him in the spiritual planes. In other words, if you cannot trust the guru in the ordinary waking state, what assurances are there that he should be trusted in the spiritual worlds? Georg Feuerstein believes that the concept of legitimacy, as it is presently used, lacks sophistication, particularly in relation to authenticity. Writes Feuerstein:

"Your comment that the `authenticity of a religious teacher, though partially open to rational appraisements, is determined by the personal engagement of the student' is to the point. Precisely for this reason the sort of treatment attempted by you is of limited import. Its hermeneutical methodology necessarily suffers the limitations of the `outside' observer. Also, your sharp separation of authenticity from legitimacy is artificial. For instance, Jesus' well-known outburst of righteous anger at the money lenders in the temple cannot be legitimized other than by his authenticity as a Spiritual Master. If we assume he was less than an Enlightened Adept, then this act was egoic and not self-transcending, and the spiritual Principle cannot be thought to have been upheld by him in that case. Then the question of the legitimacy of his behavior can be appropriately discussed within the con- text of Hebrew mores. If, however, we see Jesus as an Adept, then his action immediately takes on a different significance. He may have acted out of keeping with standard behavior at a holy site, but a larger, spiritual Principle was involved that led to the immediate purification of the situation (that is, positive change in spiritual terms). Of course, the latter view only makes sense within a perspective that is nonmaterialistic. And, to be sure, such a non- materialistic orientation is essentially nonconventional."

17. It is extremely dangerous to make final judgments on any human attainment. Rather, we should always realize that our appraisements, though at times useful and necessary, are subject to revision. Moreover, since we do not have access to all levels of existence, it would be premature to make absolute claims on the nature of reality. As S.L. Frank beautifully points out in his landmark text, The Unknowable, the paradox of life is that the moment we know something with certainty, at that very same instant we do not know it. Every appraisement, even the one that is presented here, is but a partial glimpse.

18. Da Free John's work is exceptional. Though we may disagree with his guru image or even his lifestyle, it would be a mistake not to acknowledge the power of his writings. Ken Wilber was not exaggerating in his praise when he wrote that Da Free John's The Paradox of Instruction "is, in its scope, its eloquence, its simplicity, and its ecstatic fund of transcendent insight, probably unparalleled in the entire field of spiritual literature." This book and others have rightly claimed an enthusiastic audience. The debatable point arises when we begin to equate superb writing/teaching with the author himself, particularly when there has been no personal contact or engagement with the guru.

19. These observations were taken from interviews and letters during the past ten years on the subject of Da Free John. Georg Feuerstein, again, disagrees with some of these comments, since he feels that they arise from a fundamental misunderstanding of the Adept and his work. Elucidates Feuerstein:

"The question of legitimacy can obviously be used as a convenient instrument for the conventional mind to air its biases and presumptions. A good case in point is the whole matter of charging money for spiritual services. Money, like sex, has traditionally been regarded as being antithetical to true spiritual life. This naive view can be understood historically and psychologically. It is essentially neurotic, as is all purism. Besides, it is worth pointing out that the early Christian cult was entirely financed by its converts who had to give up all their worldly possessions! Jesus didn't request a donation, true. He demanded that his devotees or disciples abandon the world altogether and become renunciates. Naturally, they would not leave their possessions to the state, but make them over to the growing community of followers. Master Da Free John also requests no donation. Like Jesus or Gautama before him, he expects his devotees to live as renunciates in community with one another."

Personally, I have a different view than Georg Feuerstein on this subject of money. Perhaps it is my own prejudice but I remember when I was seventeen years old and went to one of Da Free John's (then Franklin Jones) public talks, where a group leader spoke on the teachings of his guru. The meeting was held in West Hollywood on Melrose Avenue during the beginning years of the movement (1973). Finally, after the presentation, an older woman raised her hand and asked how it would be possible to sit in formal meditation with Franklin Jones (Da Free John). The speaker answered by saying, among other things, that a donation of fifty dollars or more was necessary. Needless to say, this request for money was disconcerting to the audience that was present. My own views on this subject are outlined in "The Spiritual Crucible."

20. This notion of self-proclamation or gurus making claims about their own spiritual attainment is a complex issue. My own sentiments are in agreement with Julian P. Johnson's classic adage, "If any man claims to have attained the highest in spiritual development that claim of itself may be taken as conclusive proof that he has not attained so much." Georg Feuerstein has a different view. Argues Feuerstein:

"2500 years have elapsed since Gautama the Buddha's parinirvana. 2000 years have passed since Jesus' crucifixion. Most of us now look upon both as truly great spiritual lights. Many regard both as fully Enlightened beings. And yet, both made personal claims about their own spiritual Realization. The New Testament is full of them, as is the Pali Canon. And let us not evade the issue by arguing that both documents do not represent the ipsissima verba of these two great Adepts. They may not give us the exact words of Gautama and Jesus but they certainly give us the gist of their Teaching and Work. Why should an Awakened being not proclaim his Realization if what is supposed to be his function is to make a visible impact on the world? Not every Enlightened being is destined to die in obscurity in a cave or a jungle. I dare say few are so destined."

21. The island is called Naitauba and is the location of the Hermitage Sanctuary of the Johannine Daist Communion.

22. Since Da Free John changes appearance so often (or at least in the pictures accompanying his books), it is understandable why "conventionally minded" readers are put off by him. To them, Da Free John looks like a caricature of the cult leader gone wild.

23. See Da Free John's Scientific Proof of the Existence of God Will Soon Be Announced by the White House! (Clearlake: Dawn Horse Press, 1980) for more on this perspective.

24. This is the inherent limitation of empiricism, rationalism, and even critical thinking. Regardless of how well we may analyze a situation when it come to spirituality or transpersonal realms of consciousness the investigator must engage in actual transcendent practices in order to rightly and fully understand the height of a teacher or master. This, of course, is not to say that rational scrutiny does not have its place (the existence of this essay is an argument for critical thinking), but only that we eventually move away from armchair speculations into experimental engagement. Georg Feuerstein is correct, I believe, when he states that my treatment of new religious groups has "limited import," since it suffers "the limitations of the 'outside' observer." However, even in its "limited" ability, such reports do serve a vital function in developing keen discrimination. Thus, the intellect should act as a stepping-stone for further evolutionary growth, not as a barrier or hindrance.

25. I think it would be unfair to categorically dismiss Da Free John and his writings, or, to lump him with the majority of other self-styled gurus in America. At the very least, though we may be critical of Da Free John's actions, etc., his writings do open us up to the utter Mystery and Wonder of creation. The directness of his argument is both refreshing and awakening.

26. It is curious, though, that Da Free John makes little or no mention of his parents/family.

27. Da (Bubba) Free John, The Enlightenment of the Whole Body (Clearlake: Dawn Horse Press, 1978), page 6.

28. Ibid., page 12.

29. Ibid., page 13

30. Ibid., page 13.

31. Ibid., page 13.

32. My biographical account here of Da Free John's life follows the information given in The Enlightenment of the Whole Body and The Knee of Listening.

33. For more on Ramana Maharshi's realizations see Talks With Sri Ramana Maharshi, Volume I and III (Tiruvannamalai: Sri Ramanasramam, 1972).

34. Da Free (Bubba) John, op. cit., page 19.

35. Ibid., page 20.

36. See Da Free John, The Paradox of Instruction (Clearlake: Dawn Horse Press, 1977) and The Way That I Teach (Clearlake: Dawn Horse Press, 1978).

37. Da (Bubba) Free John, op. cit., page 28.

38. Ibid., page 38. This excerpt is extremely important in revealing the impetus of Da Free John's ministry. If, as he says, psychic forms of other unenlightened beings began to spontaneously appear to him during meditation, it lends credence to why Da Free John felt moved to act as a spiritual master. Moreover, the passage is a pivotal revelation about how gurus are drawn to certain disciples. Apparently, there is a trans-structural destiny-awaiting individuals who transcend their own body/mind limitations. Instead of just merging totally with the Supreme Reality, enlightened beings are propelled to "work out" the obstacles of other individuals who are karmically tied to them. Hence, contrary to our usual notions of spiritual teachers (and more in line with the esoteric interpretation of religious mysticism), a master is Divinely commissioned to function as an agency for liberating souls. This "commission," as it were, though, can only occur after one has completely freed the self from karmic/structural bonds.

39. Da (Bubba) Free John, The Enlightenment of the Whole Body (op. cit), pages 38-39.

40. Ibid., page 46.

41. The terms "Divine Ignorance" and "Radical Understanding" are used interchangeably and represent the Mystery behind all human endeavors for absolute knowledge.

42. With the publication of these texts, Da Free John's message became much more widely known (and, hence through extension, respected by scholars). 43. Roy Finch's article, The Most 'Phenomenal' Teacher, in Georg Feuerstein's (editor) Humor Suddenly Returns (Clearlake: The Dawn Horse Press, 1984), pages 63-74, contains some thoughts on the wisdom and necessity of Da Free John's move to the island of Naitauba.

44. See M-Fields: An Interview with Rupert Sheldrake, The Laughing Man Magazine (Volume 5, Number 3), for the possible ramifications of "collective enlightenment."

45. Bubba (Da) Free John, The Paradox of Instruction (Clearlake: the Dawn Horse Press, 1977), quoted from the back cover.

46. Da Free John eloquently points out that ego is not an entity but an activity. Hence, in reality it has no real or a priori substance. Rather, it represents the retraction (moment to moment) of man from his true and eternal condition (Oneness with God). See Bubba (Da) Free John's The Paradox of Instruction (op. cit.) for a more detailed explanation behind the egoic principle and its relationship to the Heart.

47. I have based my discussion here largely upon Da Free John's book, The Four Fundamental Questions (Clearlake: The Dawn Horse Press), which I strongly recommend as a good introduction to "Divine Ignorance" or "Radical Understanding."

48. Ken Wilber's books, The Atman Project and Up From Eden in particular, are excellent extensions of Da Free John's fundamental argument.

49. Da (Bubba) Free John, The Enlightenment of the Whole Body (op. cit.).

50. Da (Bubba) Free John's The Way That I Teach (Clearlake: The Dawn Horse Press, 1978) for an elaboration on these "Seven Stages of Eternal Life." 51. Da Free John, Nirvanasara (Clearlake: The Dawn Horse Press, 1982). Clarifies Georg Feuerstein: "Master Da Free John sees as his real Work the Teaching of the Yoga of Enlightenment, which has to do with the persistence of the Disposition of unqualified Love under all circumstances. In other words, Enlightenment itself is not the end state. It is a process, and a school."

52. Da (Bubba) Free John, The Paradox of Instruction (Clearlake: The Dawn Horse Press, 1977), page 30.

53. The most exhaustive treatment of the "philosophy of Ignorance" is S.K. Frank's masterpiece, The Unknowable. It is considered by some scholars to be the most important work of 20th century Russian philosophy. Comments Georg Feuerstein:

"It is important to realize that Master Da Free John's argument about Ignorance is not a philosophical proposition like Kant's or Cusa's. Its whole point is to throw the individual into just that Condition of Ignorance, to allow him to intuit It. So long as the Adept is understood as a mere philosopher and his Teaching as philosophy only, neither are really understood."

54. Fred Alan Wolf, Ph.D., Foreword, to Da Free John's The Transmission of Doubt (Clearlake: The Dawn Horse Press, 1984) page 11.

55. Simply put, the major criticism of Da Free John is the "appearance" that he is on an ego trip and that his writings reflect an exclusive revelation. For instance, there are a number of books written by other masters which do not give the impression of ego, e.g., Talks With Sri Ramana Maharshi, Paramahansa Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi; and Baba Faqir Chand's The Unknowing Sage. This "impression of humility" is not due to the reader but to the style with which the masters chose to express their life and teachings.

56. Although Da Free John writes so much about the oneness of God and that Enlightenment is our true condition/heritage, his language is distinctively dualistic, replete with "I" versus "you" statements. For some readers, this stylistic preference automatically removes them from Da Free John, as his tone is often paternalistic, and, in some cases, condescending. A good example of the latter is in the question/answer transcriptions between Da Free John and his disciples.
DEVOTEE: Bubba, you are communicating a consideration here to people who have not totally assumed it. But in the future we will be able to assume it.
BUBBA: It would seem that way, wouldn't it? But since I can never leave, it stands to reason that you can never change. Certainly you will all become better, but that betterness will be the ordinariness of that new time.
--Bubba (Da) Free John, The Way That I Teach (Clearlake: The Dawn Horse Press, 1978), page 243

57. Pondering and Preparation, An Essay by Da Free John, August 25, 1984, The Laughing Man Magazine (Volume 5, Number 3), page 81. My personal problem with this particular essay, besides the overuse of "Me" and "I," is that the overall thrust of Da Free John's invitation involves some type of monetary subscription. For example, to be a "Friend" of the Johannine Daist Communion one should contribute $70 or more and subscribe to The Laughing Man Magazine. This continued emphasis on money as a prerequisite for "formal association," beginning in the early 1970's when a donation was expected for sitting in meditation with Franklin Jones (Da Free John), undermines the legitimacy of Da Free John's presentations.

58. James Steinberg, “Avadhoots, Mad Lamas, and Fools: the Crazy Wisdom Tradition,” The Laughing Man Magazine (Volume 3, Number 1), page 68.

59. Ibid., page 101.

60. Richard Grossinger, Far-West Journal (November 1984), page 78.

61. Concludes Georg Feuerstein:

"One final point: Although the Crazy Wisdom Adept constantly deals with the conventional mind of those who aspire to spiritual practice in his company, he NEVER pushes anyone beyond the point where he or she ceases to relate to the test with real understanding or self-insight, true surrender to God, actual reception of the Spirit-Current, etc. Besides, the disciple is always free to NOT participate, even in a verbal confrontation. The mark of the true Adept is that he will set his disciples free, not bind them. But it is a mistaken popular notion that spiritual life is all sweetness and delight. It is a profoundly difficult struggle, an ordeal of constant self-transcendence. The other mark of any Adept worth his salt is that he will always provoke a spiritual crisis in his disciples or devotees. That hasn't changed in a thousand years!"


A number of years after I wrote The Paradox of Da Free John, I was approached by a one-time follower of Adi Da who (unannounced) came by to see me at Mt. San Antonio College where I had recently been hired as a Professor of Philosophy. This particular gentleman, very well known in the cult's inner circle (his girlfriend eventually became one of Da's wives) wanted me to dig deeper into the nefarious activities of his former guru. He presented me with a treasure trove of materials that cast Adi Da in a very disturbing and negative light. Around this same time, a number of disaffected disciples of Da sent me manuscripts detailing Da's abusive interactions with them. Each of them felt that Adi Da was a selfish and disturbed individual who (like his later counterpart, Andrew Cohen) was in dire need of long-term therapy or, worse, jail time.

Adi Da never did open himself up to public scrutiny and because of this he was surrounded by a group of sycophants who tended to please and placate his every whim. Ken Wilber rightly distanced himself from Adi Da, though not with the passion and vigor that many felt was necessary. In a personal letter to me, Ken acknowledged that Adi Da was a “fuck-up” (Wilber's exact words; not mine), even as he praised him as a pioneer in spiritual studies.

Too bad that Ken Wilber didn't learn his lesson from Adi Da and think more clearly and rationally before aligning himself with Andrew Cohen, another self-styled guru with a massive ego who systematically desecrated his relationship with his students. Narcissistic gurus, under the misleading pretense of “crazy wisdom,” can justify any and all debasements. Giving someone herpes, as Adi Da was purported to do to one of his unsuspecting female devotees, isn't prashad or a sign of God's blessing. It is exploitation.

Perhaps the best way to keep one's critical faculties in tact when dealing with a so-called Master's questionable behavior is to ask one simple question: Would we accept the same conduct from an elementary school teacher interacting with our 8 year old child? Simply put, it is the disciple's responsibility to have a very high standard when it comes to his/her chosen guru or master. Otherwise, we become easy prey for charlatans and madmen who use spiritual entitlements for their own personal gain. The paradox of Franklin Jones may be best summarized by using Ken Wilber’s own words in proper juxtaposition with my own: Adi Da wrote some brilliant books, but personally he was “a fuck-up.”

Transcript of NBC Today Show report on Da Free John, May 1985
(transcript courtesy of Steve Hassan, corrected 3/28/00.)

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