On April 19,
1968, I turned thirty-three — and I was about ready to end it all.
I had worked my way up from the poverty of my early life on the
streets of New York, and now I was a successful businessman, living
in Los Angeles. I had a loving wife and four great kids, a beautiful
home, three new cars, interesting friends — I had really learned
how to live the good life. And even though I had had to leave school
early to help support my family, I had taught myself to appreciate
good literature, classical music, the arts. I was right where I
always thought I wanted to be.
That day, one
of my best friends called me up and said that he would like to take
me out for my birthday — for drinks, to dinner, the whole thing.
First we went to the Polo Lounge in the Beverly Hills Hotel and
had a few drinks. Then we went to a restaurant — one of Los Angeles'
finest — and had a great French meal with fine wines. After dinner,
we went to catch the scene at one of the local jazz clubs.
my friend and I were standing at the bar having another drink. I
turned to him and told him something that had been bothering me
for months, something I had never mentioned to anyone else: "You
know, there has got to be more to life than this." And I was dead
serious. I had everything I imagined I wanted when I was growing
up, hanging out in the pool rooms and bars, and then starting out
as an office errand boy, and then moving up the ladder to book salesman
in Manhattan, and then finally getting promoted to Los Angeles —
I had all the things I thought would make me happy. But now that
I had it, I knew it wasn't enough. The feeling that there had to
be more to life than what I was experiencing kept gnawing at me.
My friend was about twenty-five years older than I was, so I thought
maybe he had discovered something I hadn't.
But he answered
me, "No, man, this is it. At some point in life, everyone has to
come to the recognition that this is all there is — then you make
the best of it for the rest of your life."
I thought about
what he said for a minute, and then I said, "If that's the case,
then I have real trouble."
My friend tried
to reassure me. "You'll learn to deal with it," he said. But he
didn't have any advice for me as to how
to deal with it. So I spent the next four and a half years doing
everything I could to numb myself, so that I wouldn't have to face
the painful feeling that, even though I was successful in a lot
of ways, my life was meaningless and empty.
I never thought
to look for a religious answer — I owned a bookstore with a large
section on philosophy, new-age religions, and Eastern gurus, but
I only carried these types of books because they sold well. I would
order them by title, but I personally never read even a page. Like
the whole crowd of friends I ran with at that time, I thought that
I was too sophisticated to need that kind of stuff — it all seemed
like hocus-pocus to me.
Since I didn't
know what else to do, I started two businesses. I poured even more
energy into my four kids, doing everything I could for them, doing
homework with them, going to PTA meetings, taking them to baseball
games, providing for them, disciplining them, telling them bedtime
stories every single night — they were the one thing that made sense
in my life. But even that wasn't enough. I started drinking and
using social drugs more, working later hours, going out on the town
All this took
a toll on my marriage, and I started to have terrible arguments
with my wife. We had met when we were still kids, and we had worked
hard together to get ahead financially and to create a good Italian
family. But she didn't seem to share my feelings of dissatisfaction
with what we had, and she couldn't understand my pain, so the gap
between us only grew.
But that wasn't
the only place I was having difficulty — I started acting out my
frustration at work, too. I got angry and sarcastic with customers
or salesmen in my store for no reason. I was so wound up that I
actually started having heart problems. I was really worried, but
I didn't know what to do about it all. I kept having the feeling,
"I want to change my life completely," but I didn't have a clue
as to what kind of changes would make a difference.
marriage collapsed. Now I was in serious trouble. My kids were everything
to me — I remember having to tell the four of them that we couldn't
live together any more. My eleven-year old daughter said, "Dad,
I feel like my heart is breaking." In that moment, mine broke too.
I was not prepared for the emotional impact of losing them — I had
lost the only thing I was anchored to, the only thing I had been
able to invest myself in. I visited them as much as possible, I
called them a lot, I did everything I could to make it okay for
them and for me, but losing them nearly destroyed me.
Two or three
months later, I was sitting alone in my new apartment. Instead of
facing my unbelievable anguish at the way my life was turning out,
I was sitting in front of the TV, eating a TV dinner, with a joint
in one hand and a bottle of wine on the table. Suddenly, I felt
completely repelled by what I was doing. "What the hell have I become?"
I practically shouted. I threw away the TV dinner, turned off the
TV, threw away the joint, and sat down to figure out what to do
about the mess my life had turned into. I sat up almost the whole
night trying to think things out.
I assessed my
situation: I had made money, I had a lot of "things", I knew how
to be successful, but none of that seemed to have any meaning. It
certainly was not making me happy. My marriage was over, and I could
see that the divorce had really hurt my kids, even though I did
everything I could to prevent that. But even my kids and the love
I felt for them wasn't enough to give my life purpose, somehow.
Since the divorce I had had a couple of girlfriends, but sex and
romance didn't touch the feeling I was struggling with, either.
I kept asking myself, "This is a life?" What I didn't know at the
time was that I was Spiritually
starved. I was missing something,
something very real, the most important thing there is — which is
a connection to the Source of Life, to God, to the Divine. What
I did know was that being successful wasn't enough. I knew that
I was tormented by the feeling that something was missing, but I
didn't know what it was or where to find it.
So I considered
the options I was aware of at the time. I could sell my business,
fly to Europe with a lady friend, and just float for a while. Maybe
that would numb the pain. Or I could really throw myself into my
business and build it into an even bigger moneymaker. Then I could
afford even more extravagant toys and entertainments, and maybe
that would distract me from the feeling that my life was meaningless.
Or I could drop out and move up the California coast and try to
"discover myself in nature — pretty unlikely for a guy from New
York, but I could try it. Or I could go to a shrink. A number of
my friends were already in therapy and I had read quite a bit of
Western psychology — Freud, Jung, Carl Rogers, Rollo May, and so
on. But nothing I had read or heard from my friends impressed me
as a way out of my suffering — my problem seemed bigger than anything
a psychiatrist could fix.
I thought about the different possibilities for hours, developing
them in detail in my mind. But when I asked myself, "What would
this option or that option do for what I am feeling?" nothing seemed
to touch my fundamental feeling of despair. Finally, I decided that
there was only one thing that made any sense — I should just check
out of life altogether. I thought, "I am here for this life, and
it hasn't worked out. There is nothing more that I want to get or
do — I already have all the things I thought I wanted and they are
definitely not worth the trouble. So why not kill myself? At least
it would be over and I wouldn't have to despair about the meaninglessness
of my life any longer."
I also remember
the philosophy I had at the time: I thought that you come into this
life with a kind of innocence, like my kids had. Then as a result
of all the things that happen to you, you build up a kind of shell.
You get jaded, hard. You lose the innocence, and when that happens,
life loses its meaning. Then, when you die, you get the innocence
back — everything that built up during your life gets erased, and
you can go on to something else. At that time, I didn't believe
in reincarnation, so I wasn't thinking that I would go on to another
life — I was just hoping that the innocence would be restored and
that I could go on to something else, whatever it might be.
So I thought
about whether or not to commit suicide for two or three days. I
finally decided, feeling completely lucid about it, that I would
do it on Saturday morning.
I spent the evening playing with my children. My ex-wife was out,
so I let them stay up a little later than usual, then I tucked them
in. When they were asleep, I went to the hall closet, got my hunting
rifle and shells, and put them in the trunk of my car. I went back
into the house to say goodbye to my kids. I rubbed each one of them
on the head as they were sleeping, telling them how much I loved
them and how much they meant to me. Just as I was finishing up,
the phone rang.
I wasn't going
to answer it, but I didn't want the kids to wake up, so I picked
it up. It was an old acquaintance named Jerry, someone I'd met through
one of my businesses. Jerry had experimented with a number of different
meditation techniques and new-age Spiritual groups — a year and
a half previously he had spent an entire evening teaching me how
to relax and breathe and use a mantra while lying on the floor.
In those days, I was willing to try everything, so I went along
with him, but I basically thought he was nuts.
I asked him
where he was. He said he was in Los Angeles. The last time we met
he was living in a Yoga community in northern California, so I asked
him about that.
"No, no. I got
out of that. That's why I'm calling you. I am with this man, this
teacher now, and you have got to meet him. I know the two of you
will really get along."
I said, "Yeah?
What's his name?"
he said. (In the early days of His Work, Adi Da Samraj used the
name His parents had given Him.) This sounded like just one more
of Jerry's strange and useless trips. I tried to get out of it.
"Nobody is named Franklin Jones!"
I said. But Jerry insisted, "You should meet him."
saying I had no time. But he finally convinced me that he and I
should at least get together to talk about it. So I went down to
the address on Melrose Avenue that Jerry gave me where Avatar Adi
Da and some of His devotees had set up a tiny bookstore and meditation
It was Friday
night — the night that Jerry managed the bookstore and the night
before I was planning to kill myself. I had the rifle in my car,
ready for the next morning. It seemed a little funny to be spending
my last night on earth with this guy I didn't know very well and
who I thought was part crackpot, but I had already given up — I
had nothing better to do.
Jerry and I
were the only ones there the whole night. He showed me around the
place. (I remember the first thing I told him was that they needed
to stock the shelves with more books. Here I was, about to commit
suicide, and I'm still giving business advice!) We sat in the front
and talked, but there was also a small empty room at the back of
the store, behind a curtain. Jerry told me that that was the place
where Adi Da sat in meditation with His students. When I poked my
head into the room to take a look, just briefly, I noticed the room
had an unusual quality — it seemed to contain a distinct energy,
a kind of peace.
Then Jerry started
telling me about Adi Da and His point of view. It didn't make much
sense to me, but I did get the feeling that Adi Da would understand
what I was going through. For the very first time in my life, I
began to express to someone my feeling of despair and how empty
my life seemed. I remember that vividly. I told Jerry everything
about how I was feeling.
Four hours later,
Jerry said, "I'm going to close this place up. You should go home.
I'll drive you."
I had my own
car, so I said, "No, you don't have to do that." Then I blurted
out, "I'd like to sleep here, in the meditation hall."
Don't ask me
why I said that. I had never slept on a floor in my entire life.
I preferred the kind of class and comfort found in places like the
Beverly Hills Hilton. It was completely uncharacteristic for me
to say that I wanted to spend the night sleeping on a floor. But
for some mysterious reason that I couldn't understand at the time,
I really wanted to stay there. After some prompting, Jerry let me.
In the morning
when I woke up, something had changed in me. It felt as though I
had been touched or caressed by some kind of Graceful Presence,
like my troubled brow had been smoothed — just by being in that
room. I felt a peace in myself from sleeping there, a peace I sorely
needed to feel.
It was Saturday
morning, but I wasn't thinking about killing myself anymore. I hadn't
decided not to do it either — it's just that, for the moment, I
was more interested in something else. Jerry had given me a copy
of the manuscript of Adi Da's autobiography, The
Knee of Listening, and I wanted to read it.
I browsed the
manuscript a bit when I first woke up, then I started to read it
in earnest over breakfast, and after that I just kept on going.
I spent the whole day reading — and by the time I got to the end
of the book, my life had gone through a total reversal!
I don't know
if I can express how excited I was by what I was reading. After
years of feeling so much despair, after coming to the point of utter
hopelessness — now, for the first time, someone was explaining my
situation to me in a way that made sense, in a way that lifted me
into an entirely new way of looking at things.
For years, people
had been telling me that there wasn't any more to life than what
I was experiencing — and my own life certainly seemed to be proving
that they were right. I kept getting richer, and as I did, I grew
more and more desperate, more and more certain that success was
not enough. Here, for the first time, was someone who made me feel
that, "Yes, there is more to this life! Here it is, right here!"
noticing it, I read past the appointed hour for my suicide. When
I finished the book, I immediately started reading it over again
— I stayed up all night reading it the second time through. I couldn't
put it down. This is what I
had been looking for — and it had come to me just in the nick of
separation, being separate, limited, a self-exhausting capsule of
life-energy," Adi Da said. "Suffering is separation and separativeness.
And suffering is the primary fact of individual life. The seeker's
'problem' of life, for all suffering human beings, is how to realize
life under the conditions of suffering. How to remain active, 'creative',
relatively and at least temporarily fearless, optimistic, and effective?"
This was the
question I had been posing to myself over and over for years, which
Adi Da had stated more clearly than I could ever have myself. Then,
He went on to answer the question that had been tormenting me for
He said that
we suffer because we falsely
presume that we are separate from the Source of Life, and that the
Inherent Nature of that Source is Happiness Itself. He said that
everything we do is seeking — a futile attempt to somehow find true
Happiness. And He pointed out over and over again that this seeking
for Happiness must fail because it does not touch the cause of suffering
— our presumption that we are separate. I felt immense relief. No
one else had been able to explain what was bothering me, but now
it was obvious that I was caught in the cycle of separation, suffering,
and seeking that Adi Da was describing.
Adi Da didn't
suggest another, better form of seeking. He recommended that His
readers understand the presumption
of separation which is the cause of seeking. Without this understanding,
He explained, we would live as seekers rather than enjoying Happiness,
Reality, or God now. How ridiculous! I felt tremendous relief as
He described His own insights into this absurd situation.
He said that
if we begin to understand the presumption of separation itself —
if, with His help, we can observe how that presumption of separation
happens, and how it is unnecessary — then our sense of alienation
from Happiness would be relieved. If this is done, He said, then
a person . . .
in understanding, and one will not come into conflict with one's
moments, one's motives, one's actions, one's reactions. One will
abide now, and now, and now. And this alone, not any motive or
search or effect of these, will transform the complex of one's
living. And that complex will never be one's concern, to transform
it or escape it or transcend it, for one lives in understanding
and draws Joy even in pleasure, in egoic ignorance, in failure,
in suffering, pain, and death. Only because one abides in understanding
is one already Free, already liberated from one's life.
I affirm only understanding and no state or object yet to be attained.
It is not a matter of purity first or at last, nor of sanity,
nor wealth, well-being, goodness, or vision. All these are the
imagery of search, the vanity of external peace.
is the ground of this moment, this event. Therefore, Realize understanding,
and enjoy it, for you alone are the one who must live your ends
and all the stages of time. The one who understands, who is always
already Free, is never touched by the divisions of the mind. And
that one alone is standing when all other beings and things have
gone to rise or fall.
It was not just
that His logic made complete sense to me (which it did — my own
experience proved it). It was not just that He explained my suffering
to me and even validated the feelings of despair I had been struggling
with (which He did, in a way that was powerfully cathartic for me).
I was beside myself with excitement because He was describing the
very thing I had been hoping for, but without being able to put
words to it, without being able to know what it was. He was describing
the hub on which my own life and everyone's life is set like the
spokes of a great wheel. He was describing the Truth, the Transcendental
Reality that we are all part of. He was restoring me to my own Source,
to the Heart, the Divine Self. As I read I thought, "This is exactly
understanding has most perfectly Realized itself as no-seeking
in the heart . . . one is the heart. All the functions of the
living being become the heart. The heart becomes the constant
locus of all activity. There is no separate one to concentrate
one who has most perfectly
Realized Existence as no-seeking in the heart. . . is Free, Blissful,
"creatively" Alive. Thus, that one is not only
no-seeking, which is Freedom. That one is eternally Present, Which
is Bliss and no-dilemma.
The whole sad
and stupid drama of my life over the past years seemed unnecessary.
I felt immensely attracted to the alternative that Adi Da was offering.
It's hard to describe, but Adi Da's words were more than ordinary
words — they had much more energy, much more impact than anything
I had ever read before. His insights weren't just ideas — they were
alive. They opened me up and changed me. I felt His Wisdom flooding
into my life as a kind of welcome, relieving Force. I decided I
had to meet Adi Da in person. Suicide would have to wait.
phoned Jerry and asked him what I had to do to meet Adi Da. He told
me that if I came to an orientation at the bookstore on Monday night,
I could "sit" with Adi Da in meditation on Tuesday night. I didn't
know anything about "sitting" or meditation, but I was so looking
forward to meeting Him I could hardly contain myself.
I went to the
Monday night presentation. The person giving the orientation said
to me, "You can go further and check Adi Da and His Teaching out,
or you can resort to your other alternatives."
It was the perfect
thing to say to me. I answered, "I don't have any other alternatives."
itself was brief — only two or three people came — and we were told
to return the next night, Tuesday, to sit with Adi Da.
The next day
I scrambled to finish work in time to go home, take a shower, and
get down to the bookstore. I was going to "sit" with a Spiritual
Teacher. It was all so out of the ordinary for me — but I was really
I was there
on the dot. I had been asked to return the manuscript of Adi Da's
book, so I brought that with me, too. My approach to the event wasn't
very "spiritual" — it's just that I was tremendously excited to
meet the fellow who had written this book. I had been in publishing
a long time and had met many authors, but their books had never
impressed me the way that Adi Da's had. What could He be like?
I entered the
meditation hall, sat down with my back to the wall, wearing my horn-rimmed
reading glasses, and continued to read the manuscript. Adi Da came
in and, without saying anything, took His seat at the front of the
room, facing the group of twenty or so people who were there that
night. He looked straight ahead and then, at times, He also looked
around the room, gazing at the space just above our heads. After
watching Him for a few minutes, I started reading the manuscript
at it, I can see that this was not the most sensitive thing to do,
but I knew nothing about meditation or how to relate to a Guru.
The whole situation was new to me and I felt a little awkward, so
I returned to what was most familiar to me — reading. After a few
minutes, though, I looked up at Him again. He looked directly at
me. I felt a Force emanating from Him — it was peaceful and yet
energetic, pleasant but not overwhelming — and I also felt a kind
of connection to Him. But I still felt somewhat awkward, so I went
back to reading the manuscript again.
After a few
minutes more, I looked up at Him again. This time, He was staring
right at me. I began to feel a very pleasant feeling in the center
of my heart. I was very warm.
Even though I couldn't tell what it was, I could tell that something
out of the ordinary was going on here. So I put the manuscript down
and sat up straight in a meditation posture, like everyone else
in the room. It seemed important to be respectful of the process
that was taking place, whatever it was, and to cooperate with whatever
Adi Da was doing. From that point on, I simply looked at Him.
When the meditation
was over, He left the room. I got up and followed Him to a small
office in the back. He was sitting in the chair at His desk when
I walked in, and it was clear to me that He was not in an ordinary
state of awareness. I didn't know anything about Spiritual experience
at the time, but I could tell that He was in a kind of Swoon, or
Bliss-State. He seemed to be "coming down" from that Swoon to a
more ordinary, "functional" awareness, so I walked right over to
where He was sitting, put out my hand, and said, "My name is Neil
Panico, Franklin. I am really glad to meet You."
He told me to
sit down, which I did. Then He turned to me and said, "What's happening?"
I was floored.
All my life I had used that very phrase millions of times with my
friends, with people I met in business, with my kids — all the time.
It was the most familiar thing He could have said to me. I found
myself blurting out to Him, "I don't know, man, I can't relate to
anything or anybody anymore."
I didn't think
about it when I said it; I didn't mean to lay my problems on Him
— it was spontaneous, as though it were the most natural thing in
the world to tell Him my darkest secret. Immediately, He reached
over and hugged me. I was a little taken aback at first, but He
was so natural in the way He assumed an intimacy with me.
As He held me
in this big bear-hug, and as I relaxed into it, I felt the most
wonderful, nourishing feeling of coming home, of coming to rest.
I felt tremendous, instantaneous relief from the incredible torment
that I had been carrying around — just as I had when I read His
book, but even more so. The warmth and the beauty of the feeling
He communicated through that hug was fantastic — and it was such
a long hug. By the time He let me go, my terrible feeling of emptiness
and despair was gone. My suffering of so many years was over. He
had removed it.
He said, "What
do you do?"
I told him what
I did for a living.
Then He asked
me, "Why don't you come around a little bit?"
definitely be around."
The next day
I took the rifle back to my house. I thought, "I don't know what
this is about, but I've got to check it out." I started going to
the bookstore and hanging out writh Adi Da in the back room.
We had the most
wonderful times in the tiny back room of that little Los Angeles
storefront — there were always at least a handful of people there
with Him, working, talking, laughing. There was always a lot of
laughter — He was so full of humor! Sometimes, He would give talks,
spontaneously. And then, everything would grow quiet and He would
go into meditation. The room would fill up with the incredible feeling
of His Love and Fullness, His Freedom, His Humor, His Peace. We
would sit around Him, basking in that Feeling, wanting nothing more
than to be with Him.
Since that very
first meeting with Avatar Adi Da, I have never suffered so horribly
again. I have never felt that kind of terrible Spiritual despair
again, not for a moment. I am telling you the absolute truth. My
horrible suffering was taken away forever, absorbed by my Guru.
Da Samraj and Aniello Panico
Los Angeles, 1972