Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Bibliography/Book Review/Eulogy; Jones, Franklin aka Bubba Free John, Avatar Adi Da Samraj,et al; The Knee of Listening, Method of the Siddhas, et al.

Bibliography/Book Review/Eulogy;
Jones, Franklin aka Bubba Free John, Avatar Adi Da Samraj, et al; The Knee of Listening, Method of the Siddhas, The Paradox of Instruction, et al.

I first heard about Bubba Free John as I was walking though a run-down part of Portland, Oregon one evening in the mid-1970’s. Posted in a window of a vacant storefront was a poster for a movie called “A Difficult Man”. Something grabbed me about this poster, and I went and saw the movie, which I think was screened in a room at Portland State University, having been sponsored by a group of Bubba’s followers. The movie about this being likewise fascinated me, and I soon thereafter purchased and read his first book, The Knee of Listening, containing his autobiography and early teachings. Here was the first American-born spiritual master that I had ever heard of (Richard Alpert/Ram Dass never pretended to be any such thing), in the tradition of Eastern spirituality, recasting the teachings of the East into Western terminology and experience, as perhaps only a Westerner could do. There was something about his being and method and mode of communication that grabbed me on a very deep level. He wrote in prose, yet it was poetic, profound and moving, and above all dripped with spiritual power and essence, as did his photos and movie and video images. The magic of these early books in particular was that I could pick up any page, start reading, and somehow the profound essence and power of his teaching was communicated with almost every sentence and paragraph. It was almost more than my psychic energy system could bear, and I could not read for very long without needing to put the book down to gain my bearings, as the power was so transfiguring. I remember one evening in particular reading Paradox of Instruction all the way through (in its original version, it was a very short book), spending most of my time on the toilet, as it literally had the visceral effect of thoroughly cleaning out my bowels. It grabbed and churned and cleansed just like an enema. I cannot recall any other author’s writings having such a deep impact on me in this respect, except perhaps D. T. Suzuki (I don’t think I ever got through his Studies in Zen cover-to-cover; it was just too potent at the time).

His physical image, movement, voice and speaking likewise exuded extraordinary spiritual power. His laugh echoed from the deepest recesses of Cosmic Humor (in fact, a periodical that was once published by his organization was called The Laughing Man, and one of his organizations was called The Laughing Man Institute), and his spontaneous articulated speech was mesmerizing. In one of Alan Watts’ last public utterances, he more or less gave Bubba the Goodhouskeeping Seal of Approval as the next Great World Teacher.

Needless to say, I was very taken with this man and his teachings, and joined up with the local Portland group who had sponsored the showing of the movie. They were highly intelligent and spiritually sensitive. Although I had some desire to meet Bubba in person down in California, where he generally hung out, he rarely made himself available to the public at large, and never went on any speaking tours or the such. As a community of followers sprang up around him, there were all sorts of psycho-dramas and ever-shifting barriers erected around him, making the opportunity to see him difficult and never guaranteed. He was in this regard sort of like an American version of Rajneesh/Osho, acting as an iconoclast and playing a lot of games with his followers, many of them controversial. I had no interest in engaging in any trials or tribulations that might be involved in navigating such a course, so I contented myself to reading the books and purchasing some tapes and videos as they came out.

Bubba’s teachings had a deep impact on me, and in addition to the books and other media through which I was exposed to them, I also felt a master-student connection on an inner level. I had some extremely powerful dream-vision encounters with him over the years, and I consider him one of my spiritual teachers and guides, even though I never met him on the physical plane.

There were two basic streams to his teaching, one quite enlightening, and the other, in my opinion, quite disappointing, delusional and tragic.

On the positive side of things, he was undoubtedly a highly advanced spiritual being who had locked into a state of spiritual development at a very high level. It is clear from his autobiography and other writings that he was an incredibly intense, intelligent, articulate, determined and introspective person. He enunciated with razor-sharp clarity insights into and understandings of the functioning of the human psyche and its virtues and vices, and methods by which one could overcome and pierce through self-constructed obstacles in order to spiritually develop. His fundamental teaching was a precursor to the neo-Advaitist movement: any kind of spiritual search is self-defeating because it presupposes there is something to search for and be found. In fact, that which is searching is that which needs to be found, the idea that “what you are looking for is that which is doing the looking” (not his quote), and, as he never tired of saying, “it is always already the case”. There is a root-function of our separative egoic being, which he referred to as “Narcissus” after the Greek myth of one absorbed with oneself, and which he also called “vital shock”, and “contraction”, which obscures our ability to perceive that underlying Prior Condition of Oneness and leads us off in tangents of never-ending melodrama that we call our ordinary lives. We conduct our lives based upon a false presumption of separation that this contraction generates, and in fact is. He used the metaphor of a clenched fist for how we perceive and define our lives, never understanding that the way to real freedom and truth is to let go of the contraction that causes the fist in the first place. By opening up the hand we come to the realization that the fist no longer exists and only existed due to the contraction of our self-absorption whereby we thought the fist was all that existed. Another illustration was of someone pinching themselves and complaining of the pain, not realizing that the pain was in fact self-inflicted and that the way out was to stop the pinching in the first place. He also spoke of our great Dilemma, that we are self-absorbed with our own self-inflicted contractions and limitations, but fearful of the unknown involved in letting go of what is known and familiar. So we stay trapped in this vicious cycle, even though we are unhappy with the dissatisfaction and incompleteness with what we know, but too deeply afraid of what we don’t know to want to venture forth into that unknown.

He emphasized that true spiritual understanding was not a matter or process of undergoing extraordinary experiences by which one finally gains the ultimate experience of spiritual enlightenment, but rather a matter of coming to rest into this Prior Condition that is Always Already the Case, which provides for a true, complete and profound understanding of the ordinary. He maintained that there was nothing you could really “do” to spiritually develop, and at one point melodramatically issued the iconoclastic edict, “I do not recommend that you meditate”. His point was that as long as there was a sense of a separative self as a “doer”, even “doing” meditation, that it was just reinforcing that sense of separation, and thus undermining any ability to establish the sense of non-separation which is the true spiritual condition that is real meditation. However, at other times he did recommend a variety of fairly traditional yoga-based practices, emphasizing that they needed to be engaged in from a sense of unity and not of separation. You don’t “do” meditation or other traditional yoga practices; rather, meditation and the other practices happen of their own accord as an innate activity of a spiritually connected being. So the basic “method” that he prescribed was to “presume that you are none other than Living Light itself”: to conduct ones life based upon the assumption that we are united with The Source of All. Proceeding from that perspective, all of the traditional spiritual practices could be worthwhile in maintaining the health of the physical-psycho-spiritual being, and help it to increase its functional capabilities and magnify/expand its capacity to conduct divine vital life force. Another of my favorite quotes in line with this orientation was his description of his state of being: “I do not feel full or fulfilled. I am lost in the Fullness.”

The title of his book, The Paradox of Instruction, conveys the idea of the dilemma faced by all spiritual teachers: the essence of what they want to really convey cannot be taught in any traditional sense of teaching as a means of imparting a body of information or concepts; it can only best be conveyed through Being That, through their very existence, and through Silence. All that a spiritual teacher really does with all of his or her writings, lectures, audio tapes, video tapes, gatherings, etc. is attract people to the Essence from which those things stem, distracting them from their own self-absorbed, self-limiting narcissistic activities. A good spiritual writer or speaker can convey the message of the Essence through those media, as they can wonderfully imbue those media with that Essence. Master Da was very good at that. He once candidly told his followers that all he was doing with all of his teaching activities and controversies that he stirred up with his spiritual guerilla theater were attempts to keep them focused on him and the Essence that he communicated. If it got too bland or humdrum, then people might start walking away, so he was constantly doing something to keep their attention. In line with this idea, the content and public face of what he and his organization presented was always cutting edge, intended to create a buzz, what I referred to as “avant guarde” spirituality. This stood in stark contrast with how the Himalayan Institute, the organization I eventually hooked up with, went about its business in a staid, traditional style of presentation. For example, the Institute’s book on healthy eating is called Diet and Nutrition, while Bubba’s is called The Eating Gorilla Comes in Peace; the Institute’s books on physical exercise are called, Joints and Glands Exercises, Hatha Yoga Manual I, Heath Yoga Manual II, while Bubba’s is called Conscious Exercise and the Transcendental Sun.

But this approach led to many controversies over the years about him and his community of followers, including the fact that he used profanity (such as his infamous self-promoting proclamation that “dead gurus don’t kick ass”, despite the fact that he himself had significant encounters on inner spiritual planes with several such “dead gurus”), maintained a harem of “gopis” (female sexual consorts) and stories of wild orgy-like parties involving strange drugs, etc. But for me, the true tragedy concerned the second basic stream to his teaching that developed over the years and eventually gained pre-eminence: that he was an Avatar, a flesh-and-blood incarnation of God on earth, with the mission to lead all of mankind into the light of spiritual realization. The best (if not only) means for anyone to gain spiritual development and realization was to come into relationship with Master Da and ponder his Divine Being. It was continually made clear that who he really was had nothing to do with his physical bodily presence, and that many could benefit from his existence without ever encountering him in his physical body, although at the same time, there was something special to his physical bodily existence. It was also made clear that everyone had the capacity to be like him, which was his mission, yet at the same time, there was another message of his unique Specialness as an Avatar, by which nobody else could be like him, and it was expected and promoted that he should be treated and regarded accordingly as the Special Being that he was. It is one thing for a spiritual teacher to engage in activities to gain and keep attention of students as discussed above, but at some point a line is crossed into the inappropriate realm of demagoguery and cult-worship. His teaching unfortunately crossed that line and devolved into a delusional personality cult. The more that this message came to the fore and became prevalent, overshadowing the other teachings, the more I became disappointed and disillusioned with him.

It was clear from his original unrevised autobiography that he had been born as a mortal human like everyone else. Certainly, he had intensely magnified qualities that set him apart early on. He had a distinct memory of experiencing what he called “The Bright” as an infant and toddler. It was a sense of moving within a medium of unified illumination. But the original unrevised message was that perhaps we all came into life with this state as our earliest reality, but most of us not only lose it as we grow older, but forget the memory of it, just as most of us don’t remember too much of what occurred in our lives before around three years of age. The young Franklin Jones likewise lost this sensation in his later childhood years, as he was conditioned into life in the American material world. What set him apart was this memory and a one-pointed intensity coupled with a high level of intelligence that marked his early adult spiritual search, as he was unconsciously propelled by an inkling of this lost memory to regain it. When he ultimately did, he described his eventual, final spiritual reawakening/realization as a non-phenomenal non-event. It came upon him while sitting in the Vedanta Society Temple in Hollywood, California. He described this new condition in which he had come to rest as follows: “The primary awareness of reality, my own actual consciousness, could not be modified or lost. It is the only thing in our lives that is not an experience. It depends on nothing and nothing can destroy it. It is bliss, joy, freedom, consciousness and sublime knowledge!” (The Knee of Listening, First Edition, page 136).

My disillusionment started early on as it became evident that his teaching styles would shift, mimicking those of others that preceded him, sometime with attribution, and sometimes not. Early on, it was Krishnamurti and Ramana Maharshi. Many familiar with Krishnamurti claimed that Bubba’s teachings were virtually identical to his. Bubba himself acknowledged a deep indebtedness to Ramana Maharshi, to the extent that he somewhat suggested that he was his incarnation. I am grateful to him for this reference, because although I was never personally that attracted to Krishnamurti, Bubba introduced me to Ramana Maharshi, with whom I have felt a great affinity, and I could see after studying Ramana, that in fact, Bubba’s early teaching expressions were for the most part a restatement of Ramana’s teachings with a certain amount of theatrical spin and flair.

As the years moved along, Bubba went through many melodramatic shifts with his community of followers and organizations, along with several name changes, all the while churning out more books and publications. Revisionist interpretations where then laid over the original early writings. Instead of acknowledging a mortal human birth, losing his way, engaging in an intense and dramatic search filled with all kinds of extraordinary events, teachers and experiences before eventually regaining/finding his way, Bubba’s early history was recast in a new perspective. The revised story-line was that he was established in the final realization from birth and never lost it. He knew it and maintained it all along, and only went through the apparent drama and search documented in his autobiography for the benefit of his students and mankind, to illustrate the futility of spiritual searching. This, despite the obvious that all of this spiritual searching in fact led him to his final realization beyond the search and probably were necessary prerequisites and preconditions laying essential groundwork for his final realization. Many of the preliminary stages took the form of intense spiritual searching through various organizations, starting with Columbia Seminary School, wending through Scientology, and then a series of one American and several Indian yoga and Vedanta masters, with the last stages closely corresponding to kundalini awakening as documented in yoga literature and tradition. His organization eventually actually declared a new religion in his name, the religion of Adidam. I did not follow any developments or read anything too closely after the first few years in the 1970’s, just getting wind of new directions and configurations through occasional mailings and emails. The books became more verbose, with an extraordinary amount of adjectives, adverbs, and like qualifiers and conditioners, some with strange employment of capitalization that was supposed to have some deep hidden meaning. The early books, which to me were the best, contained all of the essential teachings, and the later books were just gobbledy-gook rehashes. As described above, many of the early books went through later revisionist edits and versions, to bring them in accord with the new emphasis then in vogue. Apparently much later on, the new message was that Master Da was in some form or fashion an extension of the lineage running from Ramakrishna to Vivekananda and on to him. This was a nice, tidy and poetic tying-up of loose ends, as it completed a circle that began at the Vedanta Society Temple in Hollywood so many years earlier, although at that time, Franklin did not so recognize this connection, and regarded the location of his final realization as something of a peculiar happenstance (the Vedanta Society is in outgrowth of a lineage originating with the remarkable late-day sage of India, Sri Ramakrishna, and his primary disciple and successor, Swami Vivekananda) .

Some time after I began my studies of Judaism and Kabala, I revisited the early books of Franklin Jones, aka Bubba Free John, as a refresher, to see how they stood the test of time, and also for any references to Judaism and Kabala. I found only two such references. One is when he described a sort of initiatory rite of passage that he experienced on an inner subtle realm with yet another great sage of India, Shirdi Sai Baba, a few months before Bubba’s final realization described above. He was received by an assemblage of the sage and family, friends and devotees as a son, in “a celebration that had the informal, family air and importance of a Jewish Bar Mitzvah.” (The Knee of Listening, First Edition, page 145). The final realization non-event occurred in the Vedanta Society Temple a few months later, and shortly thereafter, he had another inner experience whereby he realized that Ramana Maharshi was another of his spiritual “fathers”.

The only other reference I can recall to Judaism was in a newsletter I received some years ago, recording an exchange between Master Da and one of his Jewish devotees who was a Holocaust survivor. The pain and agony of her experience came cathartically rushing out of her, and he very appropriately and touchingly comforted her.

I learned a little while back that Master Da left his physical body in November 2008. Right before I heard that news, I had been thinking about him and realizing how lost and delusional he had become in his cloistered and secluded life, dragging so many others with him down that road. Now he leaves behind a community of however many remaining followers, some of whom will spend the rest of their lives archiving and chronicling the materials he left behind, and attempting to promote to the rest of us what they believe is the truth and significance of his life as a Divine Incarnation, separate and apart from any realization us mere mortals could ever attain, which is totally contrary to his real core teaching that what he realized and became is everyone’s possibility. He should be remembered and promoted as an example of what is possible, not placed on a pedestal of adoration as a graven image of what is impossible. The traditions have always warned that even such highly evolved beings can lose their way and become less than honest as they become morosely absorbed with their own delusions, and have cautioned to be ever vigilant against such dangers, and to remain in humble service to That Which is Greater and Beyond. “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” If we all realize our inherent buddhahood, there will be everyone and no-one left to idolize. All that is left to be done is to serve, not seek to be served.

Because the delusion surrounding Master Da and his followers had taken such a firm hold and prominence over the years, I had hardly any emotional response to the news of his passing, even though I consider him a great and positive influence on my life. That influence was in the past. We experience a natural grief of loss upon learning that someone dear to us has passed. In the case of Master Da, upon hearing of his passing, I don’t think I experienced that sense of grief because I had already lost him many years ago while he was still alive.

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Quote of the Week 381 - Heaven

Heaven is all round,

Translated to sound.

--Michael Hedges



Announcing Publication of New Book, DIMENSIONS: Navigation the Spiritual Spectrum

I am pleased to announce the publication of my new book, DIMENSIONS: Navigating the Spiritual Spectrum, now available at Amazon, in paperback print and Kindle versions. It is easily found by searching my name, or by searching the full title and subtitle. You can also click on the image of the book in the right hand column of this blog.

What a great way to start the New Year, cozying up to a fire, real or imagined, and reading a new spiritually inspiring book, sure to become a classic!

DIMENSIONS: Navigating the Spiritual Spectrum

Grounded in the traditions of Torah and Veda, Steven J. Gold takes us on an oceanic tour of the depth and breadth of spiritual consciousness. Sharing personal stories and insights into various traditional scriptures as examples, he urges us to adopt a spiritual worldview, to “ponder infinity, awake and arise,” to “find your inspiration and follow it.”

“The chapters…are records of what happens when Steve’s right mind, and heart, are given full freedom to wander where they wish. As discoveries and correlations are made, his well-trained left mind and sharp wit give his observations shape and form…” – Brother Shankara, Resident Minister, Vedanta Center of Atlanta

“Universal Ice Cream: Dive deep into Steve’s wonderful book to help find your favorite flavor on the Spiritual Spectrum.” – Rabbi Mitch Cohen, Spiritual Leader, Congregation Shalom B’Harim, Dahlonega, GA

“Steven J. Gold’s Dimensions is an exploration of spirituality from the inside out. If you are looking for a guide through the pathless land of truth, read this book.” – Rabbi Rami Shapiro, author of The World Wisdom Bible

Interfaith/Inter-Spiritual Contemplative Groups

Please check out the following, which is an ongoing activity that may be of interest: