Da Free John – Part 1

Twenty years ago my first acupuncture mentor in Japan was a fine Scotsman, of all things.  One day, my mentor stepped out of his role as acupuncture teacher and presented me with a religion book saying, “Sabio, I think you will really benefit from this book but you will have to read past the bhakti stuff in it so as to gain that benefit.”   The book (on the right) was by Franklin Jones and called the “The Knee of Listening” (now with a different cover and added material).  Jones went by many different names in the years to come including “Da Free John”, the name used commonly while I studied his stuff.  Da Free John kept together a religious following for decades.  His followers believed (like many other religions) that their teacher was a living incarnation of the Divine — and of course, their particular Divine teacher was considered special and unique.  The name Da Free John settled on before dieing was “Adi Da Samraj” (his wiki article) and his sect is now called “Adidam” (their official site).

So what was this “bhaki stuff” my friend was cautioning me about?

A common taxonomy used in Hinduism divides spiritual practices into 3 large types:

  • Karma (action) Yoga the path of action, service to others, mindfulness, and remembering the levels of our being while fulfilling our actions or karma in the world.
  • Jnana (knowledge) Yogathe path of knowledge, wisdom, introspection and contemplation. It involves deep exploration of the nature our being by systematically exploring and setting aside false identities.
  • Bhakti (devotion) Yoga: the path of devotion, emotion, love, compassion, and service to God and others. All actions are done in the context of remembering the Divine.

All people are felt to have one of three types of temperaments that then match up to one of these three types of spiritual practices as the best spiritual method for that person to reach the Divine.  My Scottish friend had lived in India (just as I had) and knew I was not of the Bhakti temperament.  So I weighted my mentor’s suggestions heavily because he was my mentor in many ways — both in terms of acupuncture, as a impeccable learner of the Japanese language, and as a true connoisseur of Japanese culture.  He was a 5th-Dan in Japanese Zen Archery (Kyudo), ran his own acupuncture clinic in Kyoto (the only foreigner doing so) and raised his 3 kids there with his Japanese wife.  Plus, he was great fun, amazingly creative and incredibly charismatic.  I will post more on him later.

My acupuncture mentor was right. The bhakti stuff in Da Free John’s book was thick.  In fact, the bhakti stuff would become more and more central to Da Free John’s teachings over the coming years.   It was very difficult for me to read the book without being repulsed by the hyper-devotional cultism I saw in Da Free John’s teachings.  Heck, 8 years earlier I had just left a bhakti cult called “Christianity” — my antennae were up.  But I persisted, at my friend’s recommendation, and found Da Free John’s writing fascinating.  I would go on to read him for three more years, to listen to many of his taped lectures and eventually stop in to visit his ashram.

Well, this is just the first of my planned few brief posts on my encounters with the teachings of Da Free John (Franklin Jones).  But I wanted to start with a few questions to any interested readers before posting further:

  • Has anyone ever recommended something to you that they knew you would dislike in large-part but asked you to read or watch past those points so as to gain some other information or benefit?
  • Have you ever thought of doing the same to anyone else?
  • Do you feel that there are cases where we can fundamentally disagree with someone yet walk away changed by them in positive ways because of messages we did not expect they had and yet still disagreeing with the parts we suspected we would disagree with?

Note:  There are many more varieties of Yoga.   For instance, other forms include (but are not limited to): Raja, Kriya, Hatha, Kundalini, Mantra, and Tantra yoga.  But my goal here is not to discuss all the complexities of the various yoga practices.  If you’d like to read a little about the simple three-way taxonomy, read this Wiki article on the Bhagavad Gita.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

26 responses to “Da Free John – Part 1

  1. (1) Probably, but I must have ignored the recommendation because I don’t recall following up on it.
    (2) No that I recall.
    (3) Absolutely. That has happened on multiple occasions, but not via a recommendation.

  2. ian

    The process of messianization is fascinating. I’m looking forward to hearing more about your views on this group.

    There are many occasions that I can think of books that I’ve enjoyed on both sides of the theism/atheism divide that would be useful to the other side. But typically I don’t say anything.

  3. (1) Yes
    (2) Yes
    (3) Yes. I’ve even had several that I “knew” I would not like, and ended up agreeing with the author

    These are the best kinds of books, messages, etc. in my opinion. People often expose themselves *only* to information and ideas that confirm their preconceived notions. It’s human nature, but, it’s deadly.

    The funny part is, people rarely complain *after* they’ve had their minds stretched by interacting with differing viewpoint.

  4. Pingback: Messiahs, Mary and Mysogyny | Irreducible Complexity

  5. @ Petteri & JS Allen :
    As JS says, I think it is rare to read stuff that counters your own view. And I think it is an excellent practice. But then, I would think that, wouldn’t I.🙂

    @ Ian :
    Some of us are bold in our recommendations than others. And each of us has stories about why our style is virtuous, I am sure. I love sharing, but I try to watch carefully to be sure to not throw pearl to swine.😉
    Nice post, btw — stealing my thunder, are you!

  6. Sabio,
    It’s nice to hear how you discovered Da Free John! Did you ever meet him or sit with him?

    …thinking about your questions…

  7. Hey nice article, I definitely fall into the jnana category.

    I sure get frustrated when I reccomend a book to someone and they don’t read it!

  8. @ Aly:
    Never met him, never sat with him.
    Questions for you:
    a) Do you believe in “satsang”?
    b) If so, do you believe in only happens in physical proximity?

    @ aaaummm:
    Hi, thanx for stopping in. Your comment illustrates well, as I am sure you intended, that when we give a gift to someone, the giving is partially (is not largely) for ourself rather than for the other. And such “giving” ironically often rightfully bites us in the ass!

  9. (1) almost all the religious/spiritual books I take on now come with this type of ‘primer’ conversation. Come to think of it, the fiction stuff too. Might be the circles I keep though.
    (2) Oh yea. In my experience people seem more suspicious now if you agree wholeheartedly with any particular thing and recommend it wholesale (progress is being made within beliefs after all?).
    (3) I think we have to approach things with this attitude now (potentially disagree but still willing to listen as well as change) or else the world is screwed. But also, we have to examine why we may hold on to our own position so doggedly. The automatic-influence-block force field comes up so quick in these sensitive cultures of ours.

    As to Da Free John — wow. I really don’t want to know anything more about him. But at the same time I feel responsible now, like I have to or something…

  10. aly

    Hi Sabio,
    I don’t know about satsang. It seems like that word is often used by iffy characters that I would not trust at all 🙂
    I have been in the presence of 3 teachers that I do trust – Eckhart Tolle, Bryon Katie and James Wood. I don’t trust their teaching based on how I feel in their presence because I don’t care about bliss or having interesting mystical/subtle experiences. I trust the teachers I trust because what they say works for me and it makes a lot of sense, intellectually. That’s what I appreciate about Adi Da, especially his early writings like Method of the Siddhas. Later his focus was much more on devotion…

  11. @ Aly
    Cool, we share some intuitive allergies to satsang!🙂
    And likewise, I don’t care about “bliss” — you said it like I would.

    I agree with your eval of Da Free John’s early teachings.

    Funny how that goes, teaching may be good but the behavior bad sometimes. It goes with my whole understanding that meditation techniques just build certain mind skills — weaving together a whole person is another deal !

    Thanx — I will share more on DFJ someday — inspiration to write is larely out of my control (as you know.

  12. Jill Kelly-Moore

    Yes, I have. And I continue to benefit from such encounters. I was a member of that Community during the 1970’s. It was a life changing encounter.

  13. aly

    Hi Jill, I’d really like to hear about your experience. I am really interested in meeting people who knew Adi Da.

  14. Jill Kelly-Moore

    aly; I am not familiar with the blogosphere, only FB and regular email. How do I write you, just do it here?

  15. @ Jill: Good to meet you. Seems Aly is still following this thread and I am reminded to write Part II. It is not very exciting and actually a let down, but I will try to get to it.

  16. aly

    Hi Sabio, yep, I’m still curious about part II! 🙂
    Hi again Jill, the conversation here is always great. I have a blog that I started because I’m interested in connecting with people who have worked directly with Teachers I study, like Adi Da. You can visit my blog by clicking on my name. I’ll put up a new post inviting student stories, and here is a link to one I wrote a while back: http://alycliffhanger.wordpress.com/2010/08/18/have-you-met-a-teacher-of-spiritual-awakening/

  17. @ Jill
    Besides telling me you had a good encounter with that group, perhaps if you react to some of the things I said in this post, it might inspire my writing in the next post.
    Thanx. BTW, in blogging, if you check the box at the bottom of the comment that says “Follow by e-mail” then you will get e-mailed responses so you don’t have to keep coming back to see if anyone said anything.

  18. Jill Kelly-Moore

    Aly: I’ll look into it.
    ly: I’ll look into it.
    Sabio: My given name is Jill. Kelly was my father’s name. I prefer Jill. What interested me was the mood in which you approached the teachings as it was similar to mine. I was in DHC from 1974-6. I worked for them as a graphic artist and lived in about 5 different households around San Francisco. I had never encountered anything like this lifestyle, I had been raised Catholic and then lived as an Atheist. I would say that his way of teaching was often to demonstrate, through theatrical means, people’s resistance to real spiritual practice. There was a liveliness and humor to his approach that was very appealing. I got a lot of on-the-ground training in the basics of a Sattvic spiritual life (life inside was quite strict for most of us regardless of the stories about wild parties, I never attended those)- lacto-vegetarian diet, no drugs including caffeine, no smoking, no sex outside of marriage, living in “free-feeling attention” with all devotees exclusive of preference, daily study, service, a full time job, regular yoga and living in community households. I found practicing this lifestyle very useful, but more than that was the idea of living in and as Diving Communion.
    Do I think Master Da was God? Well, I had some very peculiar experiences in his presence which have never been duplicated anywhere else. I don’t think he is any more or less God than the rest of us, except he knew it. But I believe that was true of Jesus too.
    I could go on and on. I left because I wanted to see if this kind of spiritual energy, generated within a group of likeminded people, could exist outside that environment. It can, but it takes a very strong will and it is a lonely task, since I do agree with Master Da that most people are hung up with living by their preferences, in other words, pretty somnambulistic. Also, I knew I was not completely committed, heart and soul, to Master Da as Guru and God. I did not think it fair to others stay under those circumstances, even though I was having a wonderful experience and will always speak kindly of Master Da and my time there.
    Two things I did not like: the strong white male patriarchal hierarchy and the lack of any interest in Islam as a major religion. The second I was not really aware of at the time, only later in my academic study did it occur to me that he never mentioned it as one of the major religions, or at least not that I could find.

  19. @ Jill
    Thanks, I fixed your name — ooops, sorry.
    Thanks for all that info — you had almost no exposure. You learned a lot.
    But your comment will help me when I write my second simple post.

    May I ask 2 questions:

    (1) May I ask what you think of the accusations against DFJ on sexual stuff is huge — several TV documentaries and several former devotees from his inner circle accuse him of horrendous things. The group even pulled some of his writings/recordings due to their self-incriminating nature. I know you didn’t see any of that, but what do you think of it?

    (2) You left to find out if you could live the “Sattvic” life outside of community. Did you find it? Was it better than living it IN the community? Do you miss living in the community. After being out, do you feel you had any blinders on when you were in?

  20. Jill Kelly-Moore

    1. When I lived in the community (end of Garbage and the Goddess Days) there were long periods of very serious practice. Once in a while, on a Friday, Master Da would call a party, during which time all living conditions were lifted. I saw those times as ways of determining just what anyone was really craving that the conditions prevented. For me it was coffee, and forbidden foods. But I do have an eating disorder, so that fits.
    Most people in my households indulged in cigarettes, alcohol, a bit of pot and some sexual fun; that was all I witnessed. It was a nice change from the conditions, but usually, we were back on the conditions on Monday.
    As I said before I was not part of the inner circle. I never really wanted to be. I knew intuitively that I was there to be a student, live the life of a student, to gain insight from that. There were those who did want the inner circle and frankly, it seemed Master Da gave them a double dose of what that would mean; he would give things (position , influence) and take them away with great rapidity, which I took to be a lesson tailored for that individual so they could see what they were doing.
    I cannot answer to all of the rumors, stories, lawsuits etc because I did not witness any of that. My experience there, while challenging to the set of situational ethics I had invented from living in counterculture, was wholly good. While I am aware that most people, including you, I guess, are much more interested in the seedier and more spurious stories, I cannot speak to those, I believe I was given exactly what I needed.

    2. I did, but it is a lot harder to live outside because very few people have those kinds of agreements and in some cases I was even scoffed at and told, “wow, you have standards”. An advantage to living in any intentional community is that people make agreements and are morally bound to keep them (not by any law, by choice) and so the level of functioning went way up. The households were joyful, active, lots of fun. Negative self- involvement was strongly discouraged. The individuals I met there were marvelous people, I still have very fond memories of many of them. I did not make much effort to keep in contact with them; I was swept up in the events of my own life. Blinders? Not really. As I said there was a part of me that I reserved for myself, unlike some who were totally committed to Master Da and his lifestyle. Some of those people are still there, or affiliated. I see their names from time to time. It may be that I missed something because of my inability to do this, but I gained so very much. Being there gave me the basic skills to understand spiritual practice and set me on a spiritual path which led me to Buddhism and eventually, to the Dalai Lama.
    Being with Master Da I was able to understand, in a way that has never left me, that there is a Divine Presence in the world, or better yet that these realms, whatever they are, ARE a Divine presence. Individuals and institutions will quibble, and even kill each other, over the particulars. This realization has informed my life in a profound way and I do attribute that realization to being with Master Da.

  21. Bruce Smith

    Hi all,

    I was in the Community at the same time Jill was… just after the Garbage and the Goddess Days ended…I sat with Bubba then later called Da Free John then after that Adi Da etc. in several meditations and talked to him at length on one ocassion…I also lived in and out of the community on other ocassions over several decades…what was going on behind the scenes was not what the general lay population of the Community were privy to. Yes there were great parties followed by periods of student conditional living requirments…but since the advent of the internet…alot more has now come out about what was going on for decades behind the scenes…stuff I never knew or heard about that was kept “secret” from us who were not “insiders” but general members of the Community.

    In the year 2000, I was living with a Devotee of Adi Da’s who had come from a wealthy background…he told me that back in the mid 1970’s, that he had donated $200,000 to the Community…he said that he knew for a “fact” that they took this money and bought “pot” with it and then sold it again…and they were dealing in it…they did this to raise the money so that they could buy the first Sanctuary which was called “Persimmon” back then…later the name was changed to the “Mountain of Attention”.

    Another Devotee (who served on the Island of Naitauba for awhile as the Chief Financial Officer for the Community, in the Fijian Islands, Da’s permanent and final home where he died) quit and left with his wife who was also a Devotee and had spent time as one of Da’s “wives”.

    Adi Da gave her herpes knowingly…This particular fellow told me that he was at several gatherings wherein Da was doing a teaching on what he termed the “Well of Being” and everyone was smoking pot heavily…this Devotee told me that he strongly objected to the fact that those involved, including the Guru… were not telling the rest of the Community that they were doing drugs…and although he didn’t personally care if people were smoking up or using other substances…he did find it offensive, that they were putting out written and verbal material from these ocassions as if it was all being done “straight” there was never any mention of drug use involved.

    He went on to say that he was doing the financial books for the Community and that Adi Da had a million dollars squirreled away in a Swiss Bank Account under his name as his “private account”…we both agreed that we didn’t care how much money Da had privately stashed away or what assets he held…he created the Teaching and the whole Community and we both felt that he was entitled to benefit financially from it…the problem was though….that we were all being told that he was a “renuciate” and had no material wealth to speak of and depended upon the donations of the Community…he gave everything he had away…which was in fact not true.

    Personally, I want nothing more to do with that Community or its members and that includes a couple of members of my own family who are involved.

    Many have been served by their involvement with this Community and the Teachings over the years and many have been hurt or damaged severely by their involvment…so it’s a “mixed bag”.

    I do not believe Franklin Jones…Bubba Da Free John…Adi Da… was who he claimed to be…I think he was brilliant and a genius in many repects…but he sure as hell wasn’t “The God Man” that he claimed to be.

    There are only a “handful” of his original Devotees still with the Community, as most have left over the years…even while he was still alive, long time followers were leaving…so that tells you something right there.

    I would caution anyone who is thinking about becoming involved with this Community past a casual interest in the Teaching to tread very carefully…it all looks good on the surface and is very seductive when you are new…HANG ONTO YOUR WALLET!!!

  22. @ Bruce Smith,
    Sorry for the delayed reply. Thank you so much for sharing this story here — even though it reads like a generic comment, it still is interesting. I find that groups like Da Free John’s attract people in similar ways and extricating yourself from them is equally difficult and not without scars.

  23. Bruce Smith

    Sabio…If you are refering to my posting as “reading like a generic comment”, I am not sure “where you are coming from” to say that…

    Outside of Jill’s posting, who was also “actually there” when the Community was still young…I don’t see much else posted here from anyone else who was a student at one time or even involved with the Community for that matter…so am I missing something?

  24. @ Bruce,
    So good to see you back. By “generic” I was referring to this phenomena:

    Some commentors search through the web for their favorite topic and then pop onto blogs posting on the issue and dump their standard (pre-typed) message that they do on each blog.

    You comment, mentions absolutely nothing specific about what I wrote but just went right into a Da Free John talk. So there was no way to know if you even read what I wrote or just popped in and dumped your generic post and moved on without following. I see you are following, which is cool. But hopefully you can see my suspicions. And now since I see you are following, here are my reactions to your comment.

    (1) It is amazing how much info from all sorts of abusive information is brought to light through the internet in all sorts of religious organizations. Religion in general offers great mechanisms for manipulation and self-deception.

    (2) So in light of sexual, financial, delusional garbage, did Da Free John offer teachings and methods to improve people — was the exchange worth it? I think not. But it took me a while to figure that out. Where are you now on religion? Have you found a new guru, a new favorite ideology? Or have you forsaken such clamoring?

  25. Bruce

    AH!!…now I understand what you were saying…I can see where you could just write something like I did and copy and paste it on several chat rooms or comment sections in blogs, as a “generic” spam…obviously this was not my intent.

    In answer to your questions:
    1) I learned a great deal while being involved with his community over the years…I was in and out of it a few times over several decades …I always felt that “the teaching” (what you read in the books and hear on video or audio) didn’t “match up” to what was really going on with the people…everyone would practice and have a great “rap” going about their “spiritual relationship” to the Guru…but for the most part…although I found most of them to be nice people…many were more concerned with gaining “status” and favour with each other than actually understanding their own limitations…so in the end…I left forever… being totally disgusted with how the community had “devolved” over the decades…the “freedom” and “joy” that seemed to be there in the early days of the 1970’s…had turned into a bunch of people blindly following a set of “rote” rules…they all seemed like robots to me in the end…parroting the “teaching” with everything they said practically…most seemed unable of critical independent thought…it got really “churchy” as an organization…so far removed from what Jill experienced and myself when we first became involved…this “formality” was a reaction to all the crap they went thorough as an organization and the backlash they received over the years.

    2) I found that most of the “essence” of the entire teaching is contained in the two original texts (the original versions…not the recent ‘rewrites’)…The Knee of Listening and The Method of the Siddhas are essentially a “road map”. Eventually, regardless of your level of understanding…when beginning to study and practice, if you keep at it long enough…it will effect positive change within you, on many levels.

    With that said…the problem becomes when you get the “politics” of the Ashram involved with the whole thing…one theme that is very common with this community, is that there are many who get elevated into “instructor” positions through attrition…who haven’t got a friggin’ clue about what the Teaching is really all about…they are good at “playing the game” …and after a time…they are allowed to instruct those who are supposed to be at a “lesser” or “newer level”…so you listen to these types “pontificate” from their lofty spritual perches…only to see them later on, leave the community at some point…WHY?

    Why out of all the thousands of people that have passed through this community over the decades, are there less than one thousand worldwide? Why are almost all of the original Devotees who are still alive, not living and working in the community to this day?….WHY? (enquiring minds want to know!)

    3) Herein lies the “rub”… What is written as the formal teaching, or transmitted via other means…I have no problem with…it is at the very least “useful”…but it seems so far removed from the reality of what is going on in that community on a daily basis…so for me…my involvement with this Guru and his community did serve me in many positive ways…but on the other side of the coin…I was left feeling disillusioned in the end with the whole thing.

    4) Today, I follow “no guru”…except for the one located in my Heart…if you allow yourself to truly feel into your emotional being…you may become aware of a “warm feeling” on the “right side” of your chest…if you surrender into that feeling…you will find that it gets deeper and deeper and that you tend to forget to do this and then “move out from there” and back into your conventional mind forms following thought. For me the practice is now, to allow myself to surrender to this “right side of the chest” locale in the body…this is not your conventional heart often felt to be in the middle of your chest…there is a “current” that can be located when surrendering into the location on the right side of the chest…and you can just let it “guide you” ….in the end “Consciousness informs the being” and you do start to realize that “you are being meditated” instead of “you doing the meditation”…so this is all that I find necessary at this juncture in my personal case.

    This is all clearly laid out in the Knee of Listening and to finish with this missive, I would like to quote Adi Da’s description of his final realization:

    Taken from the 1978 revised edition:

    Page 144 – I also saw that I had never been TAUGHT MY PATH FROM WITHOUT. The “bright” with its foundation in the heart, had been my teacher under the form of all my teachers and experiences.
    Page 145 – The “bright” had seemed to fade in adolescence, but it had only become LATENT IN THE HEART while I followed my adventure from THE VIEWPOINT OF THE MIND.
    THE HEART HAD BEEN MY ONLY TEACHER, and it continually broke through in various revelations until I RETURNED TO IT, BECAME IT and ROSE AGAIN AS THE BRIGHT.
    (sorry for the capitals…but I couldn’t find a way to use bold or italics to stress the points required)

    I am still in “the process”…I have not finished the journey yet…but I do not rely on exterior sources as “absolute authority” figures anymore…or their teachings…they are merely “tools” to direct and point you back to yourself and in the end…to the “seat of Consciousness”…

    If I have anything of value to share with anyone who reads this, I would say: to locate this right side of the chest center and surrender into it…let it unfold and the rest will take care of itself…that is my practice now.

    Now a question for you Sabio…were you ever in this Community?…it is unclear to me what the exact nature of your involvement was with this Guru…would you tell us please, more about yourself and your involvement beyond reading the Knee of Lisening?

    Thanks for allowing me to post.

  26. @ Bruce :
    Thanks again for all the sharing.
    As for my background I have read about 10 books by DFJ and listened to about 20 tapes and watch a few videos. I took extensive notes too. It filled my life for about three years. I was in Japan then, and on visiting the States, I stopped in the community, and that stopped my interest totally.

    I am glad some of the physiological-body manipulations and concentrations work for you — I wonder if left-handed folks find the same sensation in their left chest. I personally feel this is all brain stuff, but I could be wrong. We feel brain stuff in our body.

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