By Zachary Lynn
Many spiritual teachers, counterculture movements and cults would arise in the United States during the turbulent decades of the 1960s and 1970s. Adi Da Samraj is perhaps not as notorious as people such as the Manson Family, the Rajneesh Movement or Jonestown, but he certainly left his own mark on the United States and the New Age Spiritual Movement. Adi Da Samraj was known by a variety of different names during his history including Bubba Free John, Da Free John, and Da Love Ananda. He would in the last 17 years of his life be known however as Adi Da Samraj. With all the names, I will refer to Adi Da as Adi Da throughout the article for the sake of clarity.
Adi Da would be born Franklin Albert Jones in New York in 1939. He lived what appears to be a largely middle class lifestyle until graduating from Standford in 1963. It was around this time that Adi Da would heavily use mescaline, magic mushrooms, LSD and other psychotropic substances. He lived with a girlfriend, Nina Davis, who worked to support them while he meditated and studied, often while on these substances. This was a pattern not uncommon at the time with many young people in America attempting to find spiritual answers during times of a great national uncertainty.
After about a year in the hills of Palo Alto California, Adi Da and Nina Davis went to New York. They would spend time with Albert Rudolph, himself a discipline of the founder of Siddha Yoga, Swami Muktananada. Siddha Yoga would be one of the first major Yoga traditions common in the United States. However, Swami Muktananda would later come under fire for sexual abuse, an alarmingly common practice in some of the alternative spiritual movements of the 1960s and 70s. Albert Rudolph would invent his own Yoga Style called Kundalini Yoga which had essentially nothing to do with the actual Indian tradition. Under pressure from Adi Da’s father who made contact with Rudolph, Rudolph would pressure Adi Da to become a more concrete member of society.
Adi Da would marry Nina, stop using drugs and actually enroll in a Lutheran Seminary, appearing at least at first to be taking his interest in spirituality in a more mainstream direction. While at the Seminary he would suffer the first of a number of anxiety attacks he was prone to throughout his life. He claimed that these attacks opened his mind to insights bout the nature of the universe and God. He abandoned the Lutheran Seminary for a Russian Orthodox Seminary, before leaving that and taking a job with PanAm.
He would return to bouncing from various alternative religions for a time. He would visit Swami Muktananda in India and study Yoga there. With his wife, he would spend a year with the Church of Scientology and sever all contact with Rudolph owing to scientology rules about cutting off “hostile people.” After a year with Scientology, they left that also. Adi Da and Nina disposed of all their belongings and went to India to live on Muktananda’s ashram. This was originally a plan to live there permanent, but they lasted 3 weeks as Muktananda had been discovered by a whole host of other Americans.
Perhaps it should not surprise anyone that Adi Da decided that he himself was a spiritual leader or Guru. He claimed that he had become aware of “The Bright”, his understanding of total spiritual understanding. He self-published his book in 1972 where he claimed that he had been born with this “the bright”, but it had been hidden from him during childhood. He claimed that his bouncing from spiritual teacher to spiritual teacher was a way of removing the blocks on his perception of the bright.
Adi Da used financing from a former scientologist and friend Sal Lucania to open Ashram Books in Los Angelos. While it likely did not enter much into the story of Adi Da himself, Sal Lucania was extensively connected to old money west coast mob families, indicating that even old crime families were far from immune from the spiritual searching sweeping the nations. At this bookshop, he began to live lectures and did so from a raised dais. Listeners would be seated on the floor around him. He borrowed extensively from many Indian philosophical schools such as Advaita Vedanta, but would add his own ideas.
He would found a movement called the Dawn Horse Communion. He and his one time teacher Muktananda would meet one last time in India where they argued and insulted each other’s level of spiritual awakening. Adi Da would change his name for the first time around the time he and his followers bought a resort near San Francisco that they renamed Persimmon. This resort is still owned by his followers.
The transition of Adi Da into what I would call a cult leader happened in 1973. He began a time period where he issued what he called “crazy wisdom”. He claimed that these unspiritual methods helped awaken deeper feelings of understanding. He called this the “Garbage and the Goddess” period of instruction. His followers, at his orders would involve in public and group sex. They would film pornography and engage in group masturbation. All of it was part of a choreographed sexual theater by Adi Da. Control over group Sexual Encounters has frequently been a hallmark of certain cult leaders, most notoriously Charles Manson. In my research most cult leaders will either heavily restrict sexual encouters or greatly encourage them, while at the same time using forced encounters and “new practices”, as a form of control over participants.
These actions were not just limited to sexual encounters, but under Adi Da’s guidance, the group was encouraged to drink, use drugs and consume junk food. Adi Da would claim this was to destroy the prison of conventional moral value and social contract. He would do this to in his eyes, snap people out of conventional patterns. Adi Da particularly seemed to dislike traditional marriage and he often forced followers to divorce or to at least change partners. His book Garbage and the Goddess: The Last Miracles and Final Spiritual Instructions of Bubba Free John sold heavily. However, it was controversial enough that he would order it withdrawn and burned at his orders. He then moved to Fiji on an island purchased by follower Raymond Burr.
While living in Fiji, Adi Da would experience a physical and emotional collapse. He claimed it was “A final divine emergence” and that followers could archive spiritual awareness just by meditating at his image. He would claim that in 2000 he would be recognized around the world for his spirituality. This obviously did not happen. While he kept his core followers around him, he engaged in mostly spiritual blessing instead of active teaching. He would die in 2008 in Fiji.
Part of the reason that Adi Da ended up moving to Fiji was to dodge a fair amount of controversy in the United States. His religion, Adidam, was often covered by the various papers of San Francisco. A number of investigative reports with both named and anonymous members stating that Adi Da engaged in some very morally questionable behavior. This includes psychological, sexual and physical abuse directed towards members. The religion was also sued for tax fraud. The most public lawsuit was that of Beverly O’Mahoney who sued for a very long list of crimes. Adi Da claimed it was part of an extortion attempt against the faith. While the church would claim that all acts were consensual and confined to an inner circle, members who left claimed this was not true. As well, Adidam did settle a number of lawsuits out of court. He himself would have at least 7 wives and long term sexual partners.
On a personal note, and I apologize for the vagueness in this. I have spoken to several former members of the Adi Da movement who wished to remain anonymous. They state that the majority of the controversy was correct and the lawsuits generally justified. They also each declined to be interviewed in a formal setting. This declining was not out of any sort of legal concern, but that they all wish to move on with their lives beyond confirming many of the general allegations of controversy directed against Adi Da.
So what exactly did Adi Da preach. It would change at various points throughout his life, however the core of it was based on the idea of a Self-Contraction. He claimed that this was the act of the ego that prevented humanity from reaching its full potential, keeping it in a state of suffering. Quoting his work of stages of life, he said that all humanity could be divided into the following.
First Stage—"individuation/physical development"
Third Stage—"integration/mental development"
Fourth Stage—"spiritualization/Divine Communion"
Fifth Stage—"spiritual ascent"
Sixth Stage—"abiding in consciousness"
Seventh Stage—"Divine Enlightenment: awakening from all egoic limitations"
He claimed that most people were in the second and third stages. Important religious figures were in the fourth, fifth and sixth stage. He claimed that he himself was the sole person in the 7th stage. But he was the unique person who fully embodied it. He claimed that in what I would call an act of ego, that the sole way to reach enlightenment was to worship him.
Adi Da occupies a very strange chunk of history. In my view it would be very hard for a man such as Adi Da to ever lead a group larger then the 3 or 4000 people at its height that the group had. (Estimates for the size of his following estimate from 500 to as many as 4000). However, Adi Da was very charismatic and had a way with people. Could he have risen further in the ranks of an organization such as the Lutheran Church? Perhaps. Could Adi Da have perhaps worked with many of the new age and spiritual movements to try to organize them into a more coherent force, bringing together the disparate Guru’s and spiritual circles into a permanent force for change on the American religious and political landscape. Now that would be difficult because of the different nature of these organizations. But could a lose organizational structure have emerged, now that is possible. Like many Guru’s, Adi Da did count a few Hollywood members within his ranks. Could Adidam have become something like scientology had it managed to dodge controversy for longer?
One of the stranger connections is Adi Da’s connection to the West Coast mob via Sal Lucania. What if after Adi Da died, or Sal Lucania stuck around longer that Adi Da’s religion became a front for mob funds. A religion would be a fantastic place to launder criminal funds. The trouble the IRS had with scientology clearly shows that religions are often difficult to investigate in America. I would also not be doing my job as a writer of alternate history if I did not bring up the idea of Adi Da trying to take over Fiji.
However, I find this exceptionally unlikely. The Adidam movement never had much in the way of association with politics or guns. So such a scenario is improbable. In the end, Adidam is a little discussed, but very interesting cult movement. It still has some adherents, and maintains control of its Fijian Island. However, it lacks the numbers of groups such as OSHO international, the Theosophical Society or Scientology.
Zachary Lynn is the Author of Three Days in Yangon published by Sea Lion Press