Thursday, 30 May 2024

Followers mourn death of spiritual leader

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Adi Da Samraj died at his Fijian ashram on Nov. 27, 2008. Courtesy photo.
 

 

 

LAKE COUNTY – Followers are mourning the death of a spiritual leader who founded a religious practice and several religious sanctuaries around the world, including one on Cobb Mountain.


Adi Da Samraj, 69, died Nov. 27 at his hermitage in Naitauba, Fiji, according to a statement from his organization, Adidam.


Adi Da was a spiritual master for 2,000 devotees worldwide, said Bill Dunkelberger, a spokesman for Adidam.


The man known to many followers simply as "Beloved" died of natural causes while in his art studio surrounded by devotees, said Dunkelberger.


"This was a sudden, unexpected event," Dunkelberger said.


Although a precise cause of death was not given, Dunkelberger said Adi Da often had told his followers that one day his spirit would "outshine" the body. Adi Da's physicians said his heart simply stopped.


Dunkelberger said Adi Da's body was interred at his Fijian ashram. It's not yet known if he left a parting message for his followers.


Born Franklin Albert Jones in Long Island, New York, on Nov. 3, 1939, he graduated from Columbia University in 1961 with a bachelor's degree in philosophy from one of the university's undergraduate schools, and received a master's degree in English literature from Stanford University in 1966.


He studied with a succession of spiritual masters in the United States and India in 1964. In 1970, according to an account of his life by Adidam.org, "after a final period of intense spiritual endeavor, Adi Da spontaneously became re-established in the continuous state of illumination that was his unique condition at birth."


Adi Da was known by a number of names over the years, which are reported to have marked changes in his teaching work. Variously he went by the names Dhyanananda, Bubba Free John, Da Free John, Da Love-Ananda, Da Avadhoota, Da Kalki, Da Avabhasa and Dau Loloma, before taking the name Adi Da Samraj in the 1990s. The name, in Sanskrit, means “the radiant avatar, primordial giver, universal ruler.”


He created the religious practice he called "Adidam," and published more than 60 books, including a trilogy, “The Orpheum,” and an annotated bibliography of the world's religious traditions titled “The Basket of Tolerance.” Before his death, Adi Da completed "The Aletheon," which he designated his most important work, which Dunkelberger said is scheduled for publication in 2009.


In addition to writing, Adi Da also was a prolific artist, creating more than 100,000 works, some of which can be viewed at www.adidabiennale.org and www.daplastique.com.


Dunkelberger said the sanctuaries he established included the hermitage in Fiji, and others in Kauai, Hawaii; Trinidad, Calif.; and Cobb Mountain's Mountain of Attention Sanctuary, housed on about 700 acres in the Cobb area.


The Mountain of Attention Sanctuary also is home to Adi Da's Fear-No-More Zoo, a sanctuary for a variety of animals including turtles, horses, birds, emus and many other creatures, said Dunkelberger.


During the 1980s, Adi Da – then known as Da Free John – was the focus of intense nationwide media coverage over allegations made by former followers involving, among other things, drug use, fraud, and financial and sexually abusive practices.


Lawsuits were filed, including countersuits by the Johannine Daist Communion, the previous name for the fellowship of Adidam, which claimed the lawsuits were attempts at extortion.


One of the lawsuits against the fellowship was thrown out, but another brought in 1986 by former devotee Mark Miller was reportedly settled out of court with nondisclosure agreements. A call to Miller's attorney, Ford Greene, was not immediately returned.


Adi Da's followers continue to maintain that mainstream media distorted the case, but Miller and others remain critical of the religious group and its leader, and steadfast in their assertions.


At the time of the allegations, the self-proclaimed avatar was said to have 1,000 followers. Despite the controversy about him and his teachings – which continues in some circles – his following has grown. Today, the group has grown to about 2,000 "formal" followers and thousands more who read his teachings and come to public events, said Dunkelberger.


Membership in Adidam requires devotees go through a process that includes being fully vetted and informed of their responsibilities, said Dunkelberger. "Then they make their free choice."


Responsibilities include practices of meditation and study, service to the group and a requirement to tithe 10 percent of their income, Dunkelberger said.


Adi Da's devotees live around the world, but Dunkelberger said the majority are in the United States, particularly Hawaii and California.


Those living with Adi Da were the more advanced practitioners, said Dunkelberger. He added that the Fijian ashram is open to all devotees who wish to come for a spiritual retreat.


Dunkelberger, a retired US Army lieutenant colonel, became a follower in 1996 after being introduced to Adi Da's work by a friend whose daughter also was a devotee.


At the time he was 65 years old and a very "worldly" man who had served a tour of duty in Vietnam. But it was Adi Da's writing about love that affected Dunkelberger so deeply – he can remember the day, time and place where he was when he read it – that he and his wife joined Adidam and moved from their home in Vermont to Cobb.


"I thought to myself, whoever wrote this, must be the divine," said Dunkelberger.


By the time Dunkelberger joined Adidam, the controversy had passed.


"The community has long moved past that period," he said. "If there is any residual effect it's an effect among people who are not in the community."


He added, "This is not even spoken about any more."


Dunkelberger, who had international relations experience thanks to his military career, served Adi Da personally, and found that the allegations against him didn't resonate with the person he came to know, a man he called "the most loving, compassionate entity that I have ever encountered."


On a daily basis Dunkelberger gave Adi Da summaries of world news and issues. He said Adi Da was interested in everything when it came to understanding the world.


"He blessed the world daily," Dunkelberger said.


The initial reaction by followers to Adi Da's sudden death is grieving but, beyond that, Dunkelberger said they're devoted to carrying on the work he established over the last 36 years of his life.


He said no successor has been named, but a “sacred cultural authority” of Adi Da's closest followers is expected to help guide Adidam.


Dunkelberger said he believes Adi Da's greatest impact is the teaching "that love was the most powerful, indestructible force in this world."


In addition to his followers around the world, Adi Da Samraj is survived by a sister and four daughters.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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