| In a huge meeting hall overflowing with people chanting to the Ruchira Avatar Adi Da Samraj, swooned a veteran of the "black liberation movement." The hall was thick with the Transmission of Adi Da's tangible, body-invading Love-Bliss. I was so happy that I hardly noticed I was injuring my knee as I swayed to the feeling of Adi Da Samraj as Love-Bliss. |
I felt that I was finally home, and was intuiting a place that is utterly beyond this temporary, limited world. A place that was a far cry from the circumstance of me, as a little boy, in one of the worst ghettos in Philadelphia, sitting daydreaming on the top of my bunk bed, and realizing in utter terror that I was this physical body, and that this body was going to definitely die — that it could die in any moment, that when you're dead, you're dead.
Back then, this realization had driven me to find an answer to the problem of death, and I had gone to the premier book I had heard about, the word of God, the Bible. In fact, by the time I was a teenager, I had read the Bible at least three times, from cover to cover, seeking a satisfactory answer to the problem of death. I would gang war during the day, and read the Bible at night! But neither gave me any ultimate satisfaction, or solved the dilemma that plagued me.
I eventually gave up on religion (and gang warring) and joined the "black power" movement: I became a black revolutionary, a cultural nationalist and Pan-Africanist; a Black Panther and Nation of Islam sympathizer. And I did not get back into religion until my sophomore year in college, when I took a course called "The Black Experience," taught by a brilliant black professor who was a legend on campus, and learned about eastern religion. Truly a master, this teacher integrated the black experience and Black Nationalism with the more public oriented teachings of Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucius. In fact, he was sometimes known as the Chinaman, since he loved Lao Tzu and Confucius so much. This was his last teaching semester, and like Lao Tzu (the founder of Taoism), he was going to "ride off on his water buffalo" to parts unknown.
The primary text for his class was "The Religions of Man," and my favorites were Hinduism and Buddhism. One Hindu teaching really grabbed me. It was called the "Four Wants of Man."
The Hindu tradition states you can have whatever you want. The first want is pleasure. But pleasure is always associated with some pain, doesn't last long, and diminishes in satisfaction the more you indulge it. The second want is success, or fame, wealth, and power. Worldly success lasts longer than pleasure, but requires competition — while wealth and power decrease when they are shared, and you cannot "take them with you" when you die. Those were the partial wants that concerned me at the time. The "Four Wants" concluded by saying that what Man truly wants, deep in his or her heart, is unlimited Being (Sat), unlimited Consciousness (Chit), and unlimited Joy (Ananda), or, when combined in one word, Satchidananda.
This spoke to exactly what I had wanted as a small boy, on that day when I sat on top of that bunk bed in terror. The paradox was that Hinduism also said you cannot "get" Satchidananda since it is Unconditional — beyond the realm of cause and effect. Like Grace, it has to "come" to you. So how do I get Grace, or Unconditional Love-Bliss-Happiness to "come" to me? since — now I knew exactly what I wanted, but had no means on my own to get from bondage to Liberation?
Since Chinaman was the wisest man I knew, I joined his philosophic company and dedicated my life to the goals of his prestigious group for over ten years. But still, I found no real satisfaction (Satchidananda.)
Once, I got a taste of this Free condition while singing "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother," with a group called the Acappellas, when the audience started chanting. I was leading this call and response chant, and decided to just let myself go. I became more and more ecstatic as I was improvising, and soon lost virtually all sense of separateness! My Consciousness and Happiness greatly expanded, and the "audience" and "I" became one.
Then, in this ecstatic state, one of my brand new contact lenses popped out of my eye. I knew that about a third of my monthly income was on the floor and would be stomped to pieces. But I didn't care, for now Total Satisfaction, or Satchidananda, was no longer just an idea. I felt something of what it was, and it totally changed my life. I wanted to live in that state forever and nothing else would do.
My chanting experience revealed to me the stark limits of our ordinary mental state-full of self-preoccupation, anxiety, doubt, desire and unrest. So I started studying positive mental attitude (PMA) and read many books and listened to hundreds of tapes. In the end, I found them to be largely superficial and useless.
Then I came across a book about Ramana Maharshi, a great Indian sage who had died in 1950. I loved everything he said, and he revealed a great secret!
It was to meditate on Real God or the Perfect State of Satchidananda as Guru. It was to form a devotional relationship with a "person" who had already realized Satchitananda, and who constantly transmitted that Reality. The Guru was the Means, the Way to get from "here to there."
So I proceeded to read every book written by, or about Ramana Maharshi that I could find in the local bookstores. I even wrote to Ramana Maharshi's ashram in southern India. But the nearest center was in upstate New York, and the fact was, that was just not good enough for me. So, in despair, I kept on reading the Maharshi books, over and over again. But just by studying, I was not growing to realize what Maharshi taught. I had no Guru, and therefore no agency for the kind of transmission he described.
One day, mysteriously, a catalog came to my house, called The Dawn Horse Book Depot. I did not know how it got to me. And in it, various people and scholars were praising and reflecting on the teaching of a Guru called "Da Free John" (Adi Da Samraj). I really liked the name, Da Free John. So I looked on the cover of one of the books called The Method of The Siddhas, and who did I see? I didn't see a Guru, I saw a white man!
I thought to myself, "Who does this white man think he is? White men can't be Gurus. They are good at making war, technology, and business, but authentic spirituality is the exclusive domain of 'people of color.' And not only is this man white, he was born near New York City (the big 'rotten' apple), and he started his teaching work in Hollywood, California (the place of show business, fantasy, fakery, and façade!) The audacity of this 'guy' with all this big talk seemed unbelievable! What an ego!
You see, when I took the "Black Experience" class in college, and then joined this society composed of some of the most brilliant black people in America, I was taught, and fully believed, that white people were black people's (and non-white people’s) "natural enemy". There was no need to be in despair or to hate white people, it was just part of the natural order of things. Like water and fire, there was black and white; you could not change it. And even though Ramana Maharshi had greatly undermined this presumption for me — because he said the great error was presuming you were the physical body, emotionally and in depth — when I saw that picture of Adi Da Samraj, I rejected him outright, simply because of His skin color.
Now, The Dawn Horse Book Depot also had some books on Ramana Maharshi that I didn't have. So I ordered them all. Only, what happened was, I read those books repeatedly, and still, I could get no closer to Love-Bliss Itself, Satchidananda — the object and goal of the Yogic tradition.
At the same time, I knew that I needed a living Guru to "get from here to there". So, after two more years of dissatisfaction, I reread all those claims about Adi Da Samraj and looked at his photo again. I decided I would order the smallest and cheapest of the books he'd written, "The Four Fundamental Questions." After it came and I read the first page, I slammed the book down in utter amazement! I stood up and walked around the room. I thought to myself, "This white man is God! God dammit! He's God! He's Real!"
I did not want to believe it, but I could not deny it — this white man was Satchidananda in Person! And the more I read the book, the more it was confirmed for me that despite what Adi Da Samraj looked like, He was the most authentic, articulate, and penetrating Guru I had ever read. Adi Da Samraj said everything Ramana Maharshi had (and Krishna, Buddha, Jesus, Lao Tzu, and Swami Muktananda) — but he Spoke with much greater depth, detail and clarity, in His own words, and without any translation. Everything He said included and completed all the other teachers and spiritual masters I had ever studied. Not only that, the Spiritual Force coming from this book would sometimes spontaneously move my head around, blissfully and slowly.
After my initial joy of finally finding Real God in the Agency of Adi Da Samraj (not "God, the Creator", but the Feeling of Existence Itself), I thought in despair to myself, "Why did God have to come in the form of a white man?" But, I had already recognized that Adi Da Samraj was Truth Itself in human form. And how suitable and "strategic" it was that Infinite Being, Consciousness and Joy (Satchidananda) would use as "Its" human Agency the physical form of a western (white) man. For the western white man has mostly destroyed the planet. He rules, and everyone else is trying to emulate him. Also, it was the perfect insult and liberator to all the people of color (like me) who presumed that the white man was inherently evil, and that only people of color had souls, innate "goodness" and real spirituality.
So, recognizing Adi Da Samraj to be Reality Itself, appearing mysteriously in human form, I studied His books like a starved man who was finally getting some deep nourishment. And I became his formal devotee.
In the words of Adi Da Samraj: