Postscript In the nearly two years since "The Strange Case of Franklin Jones" was written, I have had occasion to reflect on some of the tentative conclusions reached during the week I spent composing the essay. Working rapidly, I had allowed the essay to pour out; it basically wrote itself. Once it was done, I did not spend much time reworking the ad hoc, spontaneous analysis, largely because further pondering did not seem to bring greater clarity to the initial observations. However, recent correspondence, particularly with Dr. Georg Feuerstein and John White, has led to the correction and modification of some of my earlier positions. Now that the essay is being republished, I have decided to take advantage of this opportunity to update the manuscript, by attempting a reappraisal and correction of several of my initial assertions. There have been a few new developments on the Da-watching front in the last few years, ranging from the predictable (a new name, Adi Da, "the Primal Da"?) to the unlikely (Saniel Bonder, one of the most ardent of the guru's devotees and publicists, has set himself up as an enlightened successor to Da, apparently without the approval of the master). The community continues to exalt Da as the "World Teacher"; his "Emergence" is now being touted as the greatest event in the history of our galaxy, perhaps even the most spiritually significant occurrence since the "big bang." In video presentations, the Guru rarely speaks-- officially this is because he is now devoted to his "blessing work" and presumably is engrossed in radiating enlightened energy throughout the universe--but looks brooding and obese. The Guru's lifestyle has put some serious miles on his odometer. Healthy or not, Da Free John is continuing his ambitious publishing agenda. The current venture is the publication of repackaged, edited, expanded, and sanitized versions of his entire corpus. His first book, The Knee of Listening, has grown from an original two-hundred seventy-one pages to a mammoth six- hundred five page text. Not only have new prefaces, appreciations and appendices been added, but the descriptions of early phases in the Guru's life and spiritual search have been significantly rewritten. One suspects that a serious study of the alterations might reveal a great deal about the ways in which Da is reshaping his image for posterity. Ironically, the altered, revisionist texts are being labeled the "New Standard Editions." In addition to the biblical associations evoked by the name, there are delightful Orwellian overtones, for it is one thing for classicists and biblical scholars to examine the oldest extant texts of the Bible, compare the variant readings, consult the commentaries, and then produce authoritative translations of the foundational texts of Judaism and Christianity, and quite another to issue heavily revised versions of books one recently wrote oneself. It is hard not to get the strong feeling that, even more than before, Da is busily creating his own hagiography and working with dogged energy to establish a teaching and community that will carry on after his death. While on the topic of editing, I should retract my earlier claim that Da Free John's talks were published as originally given. Georg Feuerstein, writer, yogi, and former editor for the Dawn Horse Press, has informed me that all of Da's talks were edited to some degree before publication. In the early days, the editing was done largely by Nina, Da's wife; in later periods, a group of editors reworked the lectures. The extent of editorial emendation varied greatly from talk to talk. With some, the corrections were limited to the deletion of occasional obscenities and impolitic asides. Other talks were thoroughly restructured and revised. The talks that I heard in person were among the least altered, but then most were published in Garbage and the Goddess, a book that has been "recalled" and expunged from the Guru's bibliography. Apparently, Garbage and the Goddess was the result of a failed experiment in open communication, one soon repudiated. In any case, even the lectures presented in that frank book were not wholly unexpurgated, since especially outrageous remarks were excised. Given the great emphasis most gurus seem to place on controlling their public image, I should have known better. Recruitment is another issue. Based on my experience, I concluded that Da Free John was not especially interested in dragging new members off the streets or out of the shopping malls. Certainly he was a man with a message and a mission, and both human effort and cash were needed to spread the word, but I saw no big push to convert the masses, unless we consider the movie "A Difficult Man" to be a marketing tool. According to Dr. Feuerstein, this is correct as far as it goes. What the new members did not see was the Master's interest in enlisting the assistance and allegiance of the rich and famous. Though Georg is always discreet in his remarks, he implies that the attempts to recruit highly placed persons of influence were often awkward and clumsy, resulting in embarrassment far more often than success. For the record, I should note that Georg feels that I was too hard on the "miracles" so prized by the community, though he does not explain what he thinks actually took place. His feeling seems to be that devotees desperate for confirmation of their Master's divinity exaggerated the significance of minor sychronicities, atmospheric irregularities, and the like. Rather than making much ado about nothing, as I imply, they were apparently making mountains out of molehills. Caveat lector. In an excellent unpublished paper on Da Free John, the well known author, editor, and consciousness researcher John White makes a simple, obvious point about "service" that struck me with great force. What White notes is that our planet is in desperate straits, largely due to the insensitivity and blundering of human beings. Despite what the "feel good" scientific illiterates of the New Right seem to believe, there is a tremendous amount of work to be done if we are simply going to survive through the next century, much less thrive on a healthy, biologically diverse planet. Even if the earth should prove more resilient than we have any right to expect, there are still vast numbers of vexing social and economic problems that need to be addressed, the sooner the better. What then is the focus of the selfless service promulgated by Da, a man supposedly in profound harmony with the entire spectrum of suffering life forms? The answer is straightforward and simple-minded: all service, from beginning to end, is to be dedicated to satisfying the personal needs of the Guru. Few students of religion would take issue with the necessity, found in any new religious movement, for building an infrastructure and setting up a reasonably permanent and enduring base. All new movements can seem self-absorbed in their initial days. What White objects to is the insistence that Da is essentially the only living being who should be served. Forget the blue whales, the blind Nepalis, and the losers eating out of garbage cans in any American city, serving Da with heart, mind, and soul is the highest, and perhaps the only, good. Strangely enough, there may be some truth in the Master's claim: devoted service really is liberating. Once again, my worry is with the motives of the Guru. Can't the devotees serve Da Free John through serving the needy, much as Mother Theresa serves Jesus by helping the poor? How do the devotees serving Da differ from those Evangelical Christians who pay lip service to Jesus while doing absolutely nothing to alleviate the suffering of those around them? In fact, the Evangelicals are responsible only for their slanted interpretation of the Christian message, whereas Da, by laying claim to the hearts, souls, and energies of his flock, seems guilty of the most monstrous egotism, unless of course he is truly an avatar, and it turns out that catering to the sexual, financial, and emotional needs of an avatar is of greater cosmic significance than helping the homeless and hungry. This brings us to the last unanswerable question to be considered in this short piece: what is enlightenment? In my original essay, I entertained the suggestion of Agehananda Bharati that enlightenment, or the "zero experience" as he calls it, is by definition temporary. It cannot be clung to, and anyone experiencing it is basically incapable of normal functioning, for as long as it lasts. Doesn't this go against nearly everything "enlightened" masters have claimed? Not exactly, at least not as Bharati explains it. Bharati's most effective argument hinges on the distinction between emic and etic modes of speech. Though the nuances of these technical terms drawn from anthropology are not always clear in Bharati's work, basically emic refers to the encoded private language of "in-groups," while etic refers to the language of the "objective" outside observer. Bharati contends that the emic speech of Indian sadhus is governed by complex, unspoken codes, codes that are rarely noticed, much less understood, by outsiders, no matter how clever or perceptive. One of the unwritten rules is that gurus must never acknowledge being in any state other than that of full realization. "Master, how often do you enter that state of highest bliss and realization?" "My child, I am in that state even now." Bharati's claim is that because of the rules governing the speech of Indian mystics, the guru has no choice but to assert that he is always enjoying satchitananda, even when he knows perfectly well that he is not. Further, according to Bharati's understanding, the very fact that the guru is exerting himself by speaking in public proves that he is not, in that moment, enjoying the state of enlightenment. If he were, there would be no motive to speak. Most importantly, from the emic perspective of insiders, there is no dishonesty in this claim to permanent enlightenment, despite the undeniable fact that it is objectively false. Bharati asserts that a dispassionate look at the evidence will suggest, though not prove, that enlightened states are by their very nature temporary. The great mystics are those who frequently enter transcendent states and make the cultivation of the zero experience the dominant focus of their lives, but no one is permanently in the state of highest illumination. The very idea that one can experience enlightenment twenty-four hours a day is the product of a too literal etic understanding of the emic speech of professional mystics, who not incidentally benefit from this linguistic confusion. If, and this is a very big if, Bharati is right, then one must wonder if the search for ultimate bliss, cosmic closure, and the end to all effort might not be part of the problem, not the solution. If all living creatures are engaged in an ongoing process of growth and change, then no one being can ever have all the answers, no one can possibly have reached the end of the path. In traditions where the belief in, and search for, a final realization is a dominant motif, there seem to be marked tendencies towards self-deception, grandiose ego-inflation, and antinomian excess--in short, all the problems that appear to be manifested by Da Free John. My fear is that "permanent enlightenment" is too close to the most private (and selfish?) dreams of most of us to be anything more than a particularly transparent instance of "spiritual" wishful thinking. Of course, the preceding argument relies heavily on reductio ad absurdum. In fact, one cannot assail the logic of a position by pointing to the evil consequences attendant upon acting out its most extreme implications. While it may be true that the spiritual traditions that strive for a final enlightened state, a state that obviates the need for all further work, growth, and morality, tend to produce deluded individuals, this doesn't necessarily give us cause to doubt the existence of the enlightened state. Perhaps a state of "permanent" liberation is, in fact, possible. I don't know. As I read the New Standard Edition of The Knee of Listening, I get the overwhelming impression that Franklin Jones was desperate for some sort of final, ultimate realization, a realization that would provide closure to the search, end the need for any further work, and eliminate the necessity for the struggle and growth that seem to characterize all biological life. Da claims to have reached some sort of supremely enlightened state--despite his own continuing phases of transformation and "emergence," each of which, in turn, has been touted as a final, ultimate, and permanent development. I suspect that Da Free John's insistence on the eternal, unchanging, and incomparable nature of his realization stems more from the personal and all-too-human psychological needs of Franklin Jones than from the uniquely deep illumination of a "World Teacher"; however, even if I am right on this account, it does not prove that Da Free John is not a highly evolved individual. From the time of the Upanishads to the present day, spiritual teachers have warned that the path to liberation is narrow and precarious, with many alluring side tracks, byways, and dead ends. The farther one progresses, the easier it becomes to fall off the path, which is, by all accounts, "narrow as a razor's edge." Despite Da's many attempts to bolster and augment his "spiritual genealogy," it is clear that his later, most powerful realizations, the ones that have convinced him of his unique status and destiny, have never been publicly confirmed by any other living master. This leads me to suspect that Da may not have transcended his "small self" as completely as he thinks and, having dropped his guard, has slipped off unaware into some kind of high-level ego-trip, albeit one that most of us cannot completely fathom. Nonetheless, it seems likely that Da does, in fact, speak from compelling personal experience, even if the content of his teaching is sometimes questionable. His message now is more clear than ever: despite the fact that we are all one and all equally enlightened in our true nature, we should worship only Da, think only of Da, and serve only Da. Again, in theory, this devotion should be liberating. Yogi Bhajan once said that if anyone could surrender fully and truly to a rock, they would be liberated. If the way to liberation is through shedding one's limited identification with the mind and body, this may well be true, but then what is the significance of Da and his self-proclaimed exemplary realization? How is an avatar more helpful to a spiritual seeker than a lump of granite? One answer might be that an avatar, by his or her very presence and example, provides disciples with a living embodiment of full realization, a perfect model for their own transfiguration. Another answer might be that avatars can instruct through personal interactions with disciples, leading each to discover her or his own unique path to Truth. Finally, the avatar might serve as a beacon of enlightened energy, transmuting the gross material of this world into its finer, more spiritual essence. No doubt many other exalted roles can be described for the perfect master. How well does Da fit just these three? Here I find myself feeling more critical than I did a few years ago. So far as I can tell, Adi Da spends most of his time being worshipped by a handful of especially devoted followers, while he lolls about half-naked in a tropical paradise. This gives the impression that the Guru is pursuing a rather oblique approach to enlightening the planet. The video footage of devotees bowing at his feet provides images more appropriately associated with medieval royalty than selfless saints. One can imagine Da in a previous lifetime as a minor European nobleman, exploiting his impoverished serfs, sleeping with their wives and daughters, and living a splendidly dissipated life of luxury, all in the name of the divine right of kings. As a model for proper behavior in the twilight of the twentieth century, Da seems neither better nor worse than, say, Marlon Brando or Keith Richards. How does Da measure up as a teacher? Who knows? He appears to be at least semi-retired and relying on his books to carry most of his teaching load, having abdicated the role of personal teacher for all but the select few. The third function of an avatar is less tangible and inherently unmeasurable. Readers will undoubtedly rely on their own intuition and experiences to judge the transformative power of any guru, spiritual teacher, or religious leader. This is as it should be. As for me, I've recently begun collecting unusual and distinctive stones; pending the advent of a more plausible "World Teacher," perhaps I'll spend my leisure cultivating my rock garden. Scott Lowe 19 July 1995 Gousty Knowe 1 1
Make your own free website on Tripod.com