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Ken Wilber and Adi Da

Ken Wilber was for some time a very enthusiastic supporter of Adi Da (formerly Da Free John).  It is easy to see the way he developed his own ontology of stages of psycho-physical development from Da's "seven stages of life".  It is possible to look at his early but seminal book The Atman Project and see how his idea of successive stages of psycho-spiritual development grew out of Da's Seven Stages of Life thesis.

Eventually his enthusiasm for Da seemed to be excessive.  I actually felt embarrassed for him when I read his recommendation to Da's intriguing but very difficult text The Dawn Horse Testament, as

"the most ecstatic, most profound, most complete, most radical, and most comprehensive single spiritual text ever to be penned and confessed by the Human-Transcendental Spirit"

(in 1985 edition, The Dawn Horse Press, San Rafael, California - current edition may or may not be the same)

For more, see external link Ken Wilber's Achilles' Heel: The Art of Spiritual Hyperbole, Part One: DA FREE JOHN and HYPE, part of David Lane's critiques/essays/reviews of Wilber.

Not wishing to denegrate a scholar of Ken Wilber's calibre, but that sort of syrupy devotionalism is really a bit much from a supposedly critical thinker. Indeed, Wilber's embracing of Da's form of mysticism and his entrenched monism resulted in subtle bias in his own attempt at a universal philosophy

Interestingly, Wilber became increasingly disillusioned by what he saw as the cultic behaviour of Da's followers and his whole organisation, and posted his critique online, something that the Da people were understandably not too happy about.

Here it is:

The Case of Adi Da

In it he says:

The teaching is one thing, the teacher, quite another. By this time (around 1985), things were starting to become very problematic for Da, his personal life, his community, and his teaching in the world. In ways that we are just beginning to understand, some types of spiritual development can run way ahead of moral, social, interpersonal, and wisdom development in general. Da is capable of some truly exquisite insights, but in other areas, he has fared less well, and this has increasingly verged on the catastrophic...

"Problematic" was the euphemism that sociologists at that time were using for Jonestown. Although few think Da will slide that far, nonetheless, his entire teaching work has indeed become problematic. The great difficulty is that, no matter how "enlightened" you might be, it takes a certain amount of practical wisdom to gauge the effects of your teaching work on the world at large. Crazy wisdom might (or might not) be fine for a few very close and longtime devotees. But it is disastrous when done as a large scale social experiment, which Da did, especially during the "Garbage and the Goddess" period.

We await, then, the day that the World Teacher consents to enter the World. Until that time, it is perhaps best to watch from a safe distance, while availing yourself of those written texts that still manage to shine with a light of their own.
Ken Wilber
Oct. 11, 1996

After voicing concerns about Adi Da's 'World Teacher' status, and Guru Theater praxis, many of Da's followers dismissed Wilber contemptuously as just a philosopher. Wilber however had never abandoned his connection to the Da teaching. And two years after the above criticism, external link in a letter written by Ken Wilber to the community of the Adi Da church in July 1998 he gave a different story

"I have been asked, on numerous occasions, to clarify the comments that I made about Master Da, posted on the Shambhala website. The critical aspect of those comments was obvious enough, but I think it led many people to misinterpret my overall stance towards Master Adi Da. I have not, and have never, renounced Da as Realizer, nor have I in any way abandoned my love and devotion for Him....

...If Da is the living Sat-Guru, then why did I say that I can no longer automatically recommend people to his Church? Only because, in this culture-where the guru principle is mightily feared and resisted, and where strategic legal and political forces are dedicated to its eradication-I cannot, as a blanket and public statement, recommend to people that they pursue that noble Path without also informing them of what a culturally and personally hazardous course it is indeed....

...I affirm my own love and devotion to the living Sat-Guru, and I hope my work will continue to bring students to the Way of the Heart..."

A month later however he turned around again and posted on the web-site a follow-up to his earlier criticism

web pageAn Update on the Case of Da August 28, 1998

In the meantime, I affirm all of the extremes of my statements about Da: he is one of the greatest spiritual Realizers of all time, in my opinion, and yet other aspects of his personality lag far behind those extraordinary heights. By all means look to him for utterly profound revelations, unequalled in many ways; yet step into his community at your own risk.

This public criticism led to a very heated debated on the Ken Wilber Shambhalla site's bulletin board, with supporters of Adi Da arguing with supporters of Ken Wilber / opponents of Adi Da

In spite of all of Ken's criticism, a devotee of Adi Da has informed me that

Not only did (Ken Wilber) not recant what he said about the first edition, he reaffirmed what he said in the expanded edition in 1990 and 1991. I was there in the Dawn horse Press when his envelope was opened and read aloud by those at hand. Its just that he made a ridiculous statement on his web site condenming Adi Da's actions, actions which he was just as aware of when he was praising Adi Da all those years earlier. Mr Wilber has done a classic case of the ancient ritual that Adi Da talks about called "scapegoat" , where Adi Da was first praised by Ken Wilber, then increasingly Ken plagerized Adi Da..and finally sort of condems Adi Da. Then in public he stated that even though he critisizes some of Adi Da' actions, he still feels that what Adi Da has written in the Dawn Horse Testament still stands on its own as the Greatest, most Profound, etc., written document ever penned and confessed by the human trancendental spirit. Then later, even though he didnt retract the trashy stuff he said on his web site he sent a letter to the Adidam community praising us and praising Adi Da. Go figure! ...the Dawn Horse Press decided it was better to leave the guys endorsement off. There was a statement praising Adi Da that Wilber took off his web site that was the intro to the old Scientific Proof Book, but his endorsement from the Dawn Horse Press was never retracted.

Martin J Miller

And so it goes...

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page uploaded 4 October 1999, last modified 3 May 2005