Controversies About Avatar Adi Da
As the founder of a new esoteric spiritual tradition, a prolific author, and an artist, Avatar Adi Da Samraj (1939 – 2008) has received extensive praise from many people around the world as well as criticism from some detractors.
His unconventional manner and method of teaching, particularly during his early teaching years in the 1970s and early 1980s, has evoked various reactions including accusations of misconduct. We recognize the concerns of individuals who felt offended and respect each person’s right to choose how to respond. We also acknowledge that, over the years, some practitioners of Adidam—including some in leadership positions—behaved immaturely and unkindly or made unwise decisions that affected our friends and families. This sometimes led to situations that could have been handled better, and to those affected we extend our apologies.
Some of these accusations have been posted online. Many of the postings are by individuals who never had direct contact with Avatar Adi Da or practiced the way of Adidam, and are based on rumors, taken out of context, or even fabricated. The vast majority of people who have had contact with Avatar Adi Da or his teachings, or with the Adidam community, testify to the benign and beneficial nature of his work, his profound spiritual blessing, and the positive impact that he had, and continues to have, on their lives.
The contributors to this website, who have been practicing the Reality-Way of Adidam for many years, speak of Avatar Adi Da as we knew him during his lifetime. We share our experiences and first-hand accounts of incidents that have become topics of controversy.
What are the criticisms of Avatar Adi Da, and when did these incidents take place? Most of these claims relate to events that took place from the mid-1970s through the mid-1980s. We address the claims and incidents here:
- Avatar Adi Da's unconventional way of teaching,
- Allegations of cultism,
- Legal challenges, and
- His assertion of being God.
Esoteric spiritual practices are uncommon in today’s world, particularly in western cultures. Like spiritual teachers in other esoteric traditions, Avatar Adi Da challenged the cultural norms of the times in order to freely consider all aspects of human life and founded a new spiritual tradition on that basis.
The guru is the adept, the skilled one, the preceptor, the saint, the destroyer of karma, the embodiment of god. And, on occasion, the guru appears to be a “confounder” too, sometimes transgressing socially constructed expectations, even those associated with guru-hood.—Thomas A. Forsthoefel and Cynthia Ann Humes, editors
Gurus in America
Such unconventional perspectives undermine the cultural status quo and are often misinterpreted and branded as ridiculous, subversive, or cultic. Even in cultures with ancient traditions of valuing the special nature of esoteric spiritual teachers, many highly-regarded spiritual masters such as Shirdi Sai Baba, Paramahansa Yogananda, Ramana Maharshi, and Upasani Baba faced disparagement, lawsuits, and court trials. One identifying characteristic of authentic spiritual teachers is their willingness to stand for the truth of esoteric practice even in the face of public censure.
In Mahayana Buddhism, it is commonplace for the guru to apply “skillful means”—often unorthodox teaching methods that transgress social norms—to serve the liberation of devotees. In The Lotus Sutra, the Buddha affirms the essence of such skillful means:
I always know all living beings,
Whether they practice the way or do not practice it;
In accordance with what is required for their salvation
I proclaim for their sakes a variety of teachings;
I am always considering in my own mind
What can I do to bring living beings
To enter the unsurpassed way
And speedily accomplish their Buddhahood.—Michael Pye
Skillful Means: A Concept in Mahayana Buddhism
Avatar Adi Da’s unconventional method of teaching impelled devotees to understand that our illusions about life are connected to our mechanical patterns of desire and seeking. With such self-understanding these patterns and illusions can be transcended.
Avatar Adi Da speaks about his method of teaching in his autobiography The Knee of Listening, published at the outset of his teaching work in the early 1970s:
The Man of “Radical” Understanding must be “Located” in the midst of the ordinary.
Therefore, He cannot be found, except by the feeling heart.
By mumming (or mock-playing) every seeker’s role of life, He demonstrates the futility of every seeker’s path of life—except that He always coaxes every one only to understand.
Therefore, by all of this, He makes “radical” self-understanding the only possibility.
And “radical” self-understanding makes no difference at all. Except that it is turned to Reality, Which is always already the case.
—Avatar Adi Da Samraj
The Knee Of Listening