Around 2000 or so, on an Adi Da forum, reference to an online copy of Sri Aurobindo's letter on the Intermediate Zone on the Kheper website was cited as a possible explanation for both the guru's powers and his strange behaviour. The discussion has long since been deleted.
More recently, in January 2005, "XD", an ex-devotee of Adi Da, cited Brunton and suggested his explanation of the "Intermediate Zone" as an explanation for the guru's strange behaviour. Discussion has appeared on several Daist and ex-Daist forums concerning this e.g link link link
When I first heard of the association of Da with the Intermediate Zone as described by Sri Aurobindo, I didn't give it much credence, as I still considered Da an authentically enlightened and liberated being. Later, as I cam to know more about Da's abusive behaviour I become more cynical, and felt that the concept of the Intermediate Zone may indeed be a useful explanation of the paradox of a teacher who confers such spiritual experiences in their devotees, but at the same time abuses others. I commented and elaborated on this phenomenon of the "abusive guru" in part 2b of a long essay (a critique of Ken Wilber from an Aurobindonian perspective) that I finished in June 2006 and which was published on Frank Visser's Integral World website. Building on XD's original interpretation of Da, and using Wilber's friend Andrew Cohen as a case-study, I argued there (as well as on this website) that all gurus that confer these experiences but are at the same time abusive are in fact trapped in the Intermediate Zone.
In December 2008 my worldview changed reading Arjuna Ardagh's The Translucent Revolution. I realised that some Gurus I had previously classified as Intermediate Zone, including many "absuive" Gurus, are actually only at the level of what I decided to call Transpersonal consciousness, what Ardagh calls "transluscent". (Ardagh himself, who spent time with Poonja (an authentic Intermediate Zone guru), doesn't seem to have the faintest idea of what authentic Enlightenment is, for him everything is this wishy-washy "Transluscent"). So there is a sort of spectrum, from ordinary consciousness ruled by the Ego and its Shadow projections, to Transpersonal development (still with Ego-Shadow), where those with big egos presume to be spiritual masters and gurus, to Intermediate Zone, where consciousness becomes truly cosmic and transcendent, and can truly overwhelm the limited consciousness, to Enlightened, where all trace of Ego-Shadow finally dissappears.
The Transpersonal Stage explains how gurus can be abusive; they are simply ordinary people with some spiritual awakening, but like everyone else with strengths and weaknesses. They should never have been appointed or consider themselves Enlightened. We have to stop thinking of these people as Enlightened, and start thinking of them as just like you and me. Then it becomes much easier to understand things. The apaprent phenomena of spiritual experuiences associated with their devotees can simply be explained in terms of what David Lane calls the Kirpal Statistic (I prefer the term Devotee Effect). this is in contrast to genuine Contagion of authentic Intermediate Zone daimonic, Intermediate Zone and Enlightened beings
My new understanding renders part of my Integral World essay and some of this original page obsolete; Andrew Cohen I would now consider Low or Middle Transpersonal, not in any way Intermediate Zone. Similarily, some material previously on this page has moved to a new page on (Merely) Transpersonal Gurus
But the true Intermediate Zone is another matter altogether, a truly powerful, paradoxical figure, far beyond any of the "translucents" Ardagh mentions. From our limited consciousness they truly do appear Enlightened, not in the bullshit way of the Merely Transpersonal Gurus who delude the gullible, but authentically, profoundlym, transcendentally. And perhaps they themselves feel this way too. Yet at the same time there are tendencies from the lower nature that show they have not attained the state of total no-self and Godhood that is Enlightenment.
It is worth pointing out that Sri Aurobindo was not in his original letter critiqing gurus. His concern was with Sadhaks undertaking his yoga, who might mistake a partial experience or half light for the real thing. But his letter - as with so much of his work - goes beyond the immediate subject he was addressing to the wider spiritual and physical world.
If you are involved in any sort of spiritual practice or journey, or with any spiritual teachers or spiritual practice, there is no way to avoid the danger of the Intermediate zone. Both your own most profound transpersonal experiences, and even more so the experiences of your guru, if you happen to sit at the feet pof one, will be conditioned by this reality. Therefore it behoves the spiritual aspirant, and indeed the esotericist in general, to carefully study and consider what Sri Aurobindo has written in this very profound and important missive.
The Intermediate Zone is a region of profound transpersonal experiences that go far beyond the ordinary surface consciousness, This experience may be either temporarary or constant. People who have experienced these states, and revceived the vast influx of knowledge, love, selflessness, breaking down of barriers between self and others, expansion oif being, inflation, etc consider themselves enlightened, and are considered so by their devotees, who are attracted to the magnetic charisma that seems to accompany their experience(s).
All of these experiences pertains to any of a number of possible states of enlightenment or pseudoenlightenment. that, although emanating ultimately from the Supreme, and although far beyond ordinary consciousness, have been filtered through the Intermediate Zone which provides a dangerously beguilling, highly persuasive, and narcissistically loaded distortion of the Absolute, instead of the Absolute in its purity. This is a mixed light in which it is impossible to tell truth from falsehood. The same Light and revelation and power, the very same Light, can both heal and harm, both convey enlightenment and even liberation and yet feed the ego. It depends on the state of the transmitter (the guru), and the state of the reciever (the devotee)
I interpret the Intermediate Zone as a transitional region between the Transpersonal (the higher level of samsara or avidya) and Enlightenment/liberation. I have here used Indian (Vedantic, Buddhist, etc) terminology and concepts because to me these are the clearest. But one could without much difficulty translate them into other frameworks; e.g. Sufi, Kabbalistic, Christian mystic, Theosophical, Hermetic, etc.
Ignorance or Avidya, lack of insight into the nature of the Absolute has an ontological, metaphysical effect on the nature of the individual; i.e. it contracts the being from a state of openness and at-one-ment with the infinite and universal, to a state of small and impotent ego-self. Realisation of the nature of the Absolute, Enlightenment in other words, has the opposite effect, by removing the boundaries and barriers between the finite self and the All, it allows for spontaneity, joy, expansion, openness, and freedom.
The state of Ignorance is called Samsara, which means that the finite self goes around and around, propelled by the force of its own blind actions, helpless to do anything about its fate. The state of Enlightenment is called Liberation, and means total freedom, a freedom that comes about not through the activity of the separate self but by surrendering to the Supreme, which is ultimately one's own essential nature in any case.
Between these two poles, these two Truths, of Absolute and Relative, there is a state where there is Enlightenment (or at least degrees of insight, awakening, and enlightenment), but one still resides in the state of Samsara, because of the activity of the ego and its desires, and because of samskaras or habit-tendencies from earlier in one's life and from past lives.
It is this transitional region or state or series of states that constitutes the Intermediate Zone.
In my understanding, by far the bulk of charismatic gurus and spiritual teachers that are around in the world today (and no doubt in past historical periods too) that claim to be enlightened are actually at one of these transitional stages; this is where their inspiration, their power, their insights and their charisma derive from. It is highly misleading to simply explain them away or dismiss them as con-artists or self-deluded, as many critics and sceptics believe. This ignores the very real transpersonal experiences that for example devotees have, and that it can be assumed the gurus and teachers themselves have. Most of them are in fact totally sincere in their statements and experiences; even the ones who are abusive towards their devotees. But conversely the naive New Age view that they are all enlightened masters is equally misleading. Very very few spiritual teachers could be considered authentic satgurus. This is not to deny that there are still many that, although not actually liberated, are still genuine
Because of the Intermediate Zone's power to puff up the tiny human ego, usually through identification with a "god", "archetype", "attractor" or "fascinator", or even a lesser nonphysical entity, many Intermediate Zone gurus suffer from extreme narcissism and delusions of godhood, which leads to them quickly becoming dysfunctional and abusive on the interpersonal level, and exploiting their devotees for their own lower desires and fantasies.
This is not to say that all Intermediate Zone gurus are like this. There are also those who are awakened to their inner divinity, which prevents them from acting in a negative manner. Or they may have be in touch with an inner beauty and sensitivity and/or detachment and discrimination that they don't let themselves be caught up in fantasies of power and exploitation. In other cases such individuals don't want set themselves up as "gurus" and teachers, because they realise they still have a long way to go. They may serve as quiet and humble friends and mentors, gurus in an informal sense of a spiritual friend who has advanced a bit further along the path than oneself, but they would have no interest in attracting a large following, and certainly would never claim to be enlightened.
Thus, to say that a teacher or mastre or guru is at the level of the Intermediate Zone doesn't mean that what they say is deceptive, their behaviour abusive, etc. It is probably more likely that it is just a smaller number of bad apples giving the rest a negative reputation by association.
The following is a list of possible Intermediate Zone gurus. Not all are necessarily f the same level or power
Da Free John / aka Adi Da
Chögyam Trungpa (established the crazy wisdom meme in the West),
I used to include Sathya Sai Baba here, but after reading the criticism on him I no longer consider this likely. it is hard to envisage how someoneone in such a profound state of cionsciousness can maintain such behaviour. He may actually be a Transpersonal guru with Intermediate Zone Daimonic powers. Of course, I coudl be wrong
When working on these pages I originally very tentatively divided the Intermediate Zone into three gradations, on the basis of the levels that various gurus would seem to be at, and comparing mixed realisation gurus with those that seem to be the real deal. However, I no longer consider this calssification viable, and have moved this typoology to my Transpersonal Gurus and Masters page
A better way of subdividing the Intermediate Zone is into Gross, Subtle, Causal, and Transcendent. These are levels of being that are not limited only to the Intermediate Zone of course. But at this level they take on a whole new dimension. Thus gurus and spiritual teachers and masters can be categorised according to the level of consciousness and being in which they abide, with a further category of Integral for those who encompass and can equally move through all the levels.
Basically the descriptions are:
Gross Intermediate Zone - Tantric and Taoist bodily realisations, experiences, and transmutation, experiences of the subtle body, kundalini, ch'i, chakras, healing, etc
Subtle Intermediate Zone - experiences of occult forces and phenomena on the subtle planes, remote healing, meeting with deities, dream experiences, astral experiences.
Causal Intermediate Zone - experiences of deep meditative states, nondual states that are formless, deep samadhi, subtle archetypal realities.
Transcendent Intermediate Zone - experiences of the transcendent Absolute or abiding in the Supreme. The nondual teaching; Advaitin or Mahayanist realisation , not in words but in actual practice and fact, formless or else equally beyond form and formless.