Saturday, September 8, 2018

The Avataric Ordeal Of The Great And Dreaded Flying Spaghetti Monster

"Adi Da Samraj: Realized Or/And Deluded?" is a book by William Patrick Patterson, a practitioner of Gurdjieff's Fourth Way. The book is a surprisingly sober criticism of the Californian guru Franklin Jones, better known as Bubba Free John, Da Free John or Adi Da Samraj.

I say "surprisingly sober", since critics of Adi Da and his new religion (Adidam) claim that Da was a cult leader and veritable monster with a penchant for sexual sadism, sodomy, pornography, drugs and money. While Patterson rejects Da and Adidam, he wants to understand the man, feels sorry for him and in some sense even seems to believe that his appearance was inevitable. To be honest, I think the author is too soft on Da, and I can't help wondering if one reason is Patterson's own background as a former devotee of Chögyam Trungpa and current follower of Gurdjieff, both of whom were "crazy wisdom" teachers. As an outsider, I also have a problem with the "in house" character of the book. It seems mostly directed towards former Da devotees and perhaps people interested in the Fourth Way.

Patterson's main objection to Da's spiritual teachings (as opposed to his bizarre practices, which the author rejects as a matter of course) is that he didn't understand "self-observation". What he really was practicing was "self-watching", which means "the mind watching the mind". This is still a duality between subject and object. Real self-observation does away with this dualism by focusing simultaneously on both subject and object, thereby transcending them to a higher state of non-duality. Adi Da claimed to be a non-dual teacher, but according to Patterson, he got stuck - seriously stuck! - at a lower level. According to Gurdjieff, a person doesn't have one "I", but several. It takes long and arduous practice to unite them into a single "I". Sometimes, one "I" might attain a high level of spiritual attainment, while the others are left undeveloped. This creates a lopsided, badly evolved personality who is extremely difficult, perhaps impossible, to change. Patterson speculates that Da did reach some kind of Realization, but that he never created a single "I". His different egos therefore started to use the Realization to further their own ends, not always benign ones. (Of course, this explanation makes sense only if one accepts Gurdjieff's metaphysics.) Patterson also criticizes Adi Da's view that one can reach instant realization. He points out that Da himself practiced under several teachers, indeed, that Da at one point gave up experimenting on his own in favour of learning from a guru. Yet, Adi Da would later claim that anyone could become enlightened simply through a relationship with *him*.

The author's other criticisms of Adi Da are on the level of basic pop psychology. Da had periodic depressions, something he gave a spiritual explanation. He had a narcissistic craving for love and attention - this is ironic, since he made the fight against "Narcissus" a central point of his teachings. Adi Da came from a dysfunctional family, and started experimenting with sex and drugs already in college. He never broke with these habits. Patterson speculates that as a young boy, Da might have been sexually molested by a priest, making him depressed and disillusioned in the God of his childhood. He had an infantile craving for love all his life, apparently owning a lot of teddy bears, making artwork with Disney figures, etc. For rather obvious reasons, these kind of Freudian speculations are difficult to prove.

Patterson admits that Da's "crazy wisdom" teachings were more crazy than wise, and that he broke many lives. However, the author nevertheless proposes that Adi Da might have been a kind of "negative avatar", one who reflects our own negativity in the Kali Yuga: "What if our world-time is so mired in narcissism that a negative Messanger was sent, one blind to - or not caring about - his Herculean narcissism and self-indulgence in his sustained cry that mankind awaken, and awaken by awakening to him, the Narcissistic One? Hasn't mankind become so dense and self-centered it could only be awakened by a Messanger who exactly mirrors what it has become? Of course, there were many devotees hurt, but what of those who say they were helped? If the aim is to awaken people from their mechanicality ... then isn't it worth the hurting of many to awaken the few?". It's not entirely clear whether Patterson believes this or not: he does say he is playing the devil's advocate. However, since Gurdjieff had a pretty bleak outlook on life, claiming that only a handful would be saved, "the devil's advocate" might be difficult to gainsay! If the only way to save the few is to shock them out of their complacency by sadistic "sexual theatre", who is Patterson to disagree with the Ruchira Avatar?

I'm not entirely sure how to rate this book, but in the end, I'll give it three stars.

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