Light Works Magazine interview with James Steinberg

Originally published in
a The Monthly
Aspectarian Magazine, Astro-Weather and Guy Spiro. June


Guy Spiro: James, you’ve been a
long term student of Adi Da Samraj. Tell us about

James Steinberg: When I joined his
community in 1973, I was looking for a spiritual way, a
spiritual teacher. I had seen many different people that
were on the “spiritual circuit” in those days, but
it wasn’t until I came across Adi Da’s teachings
that I found something that I actually felt that I could
belong to and become a part of. I’d been looking for a
teacher who could serve my own spiritual practice and he
spoke very directly to me. There was a book that he had
written called The Method of the Siddhis and it had a
chapter titled, “Money, Food, and Sex.” In that
chapter, he addressed how, if someone was going to be a
spiritual practitioner, they had to straighten out and apply
themselves relative to those aspects of life. Reading that,
I realized that this was a teacher who could serve me
because he had a lot of wisdom and truth of the kind of
things that I was definitely going to have to handle if I
was to become a real spiritual practitioner.

GS: What did you take from

JS: By that time I had tried
vegetarianism and been macrobiotic. I’d been eating raw
food. I grew up eating meat and I needed clarity about how
do you live relative to food and to spirituality at the same
time? I grew up in Los Angeles and was very involved in that
whole world there of bikini beach parties, and I knew that I
wasn’t going to be able to have a spiritual way that
simply just cut off sexuality. But how do you experience
your sexuality and have a spiritual life at the same time?
Adi Da addresses that directly. It’s the same regarding
money and how do you have a livelihood? Adi Da addresses
these issues. Each of these are vast realms of experience
and understanding that he has very directly made plain and
given wonderful direction.

GS: How does he deal with those
issues differently than the typical teaching?

JS: When Adi Da began teaching, it
was based on his own enlightenment, not on a traditional,
hundreds of years old approach. He directly addressed each
of us in the present moment. When the teaching came down
relative to sexuality, it wasn’t based on some ancient
scripture about it, but he engaged us about a
self-understanding regarding each of those tendencies. Where
were we at? What did we want to do? But then greater than
that, what was our spiritual impulse? So we had a period of
many years in the beginning relative to money, food, and sex
where he engaged us in what he called “a teaching
consideration.” He instructed us really from where we
were at. We experimented and tried things. We did it one way
and we did it another way. And then he would say to us in
the midst of it, “How does this serve your God
realization and your spiritual practice? What’s the
truth of what you are doing? Sure, you want to have and you
want to party. Sure, you have all of these ideas about doing
these kinds of disciplines, but what is it all truly
about?” In the midst of all of that, wisdom would come
out of what he would call “the consideration.” The
one agreement that we all had with him was that whatever
came out as truth or wisdom in the midst of it, that’s
what we wanted to do, because we were there as spiritual
practitioners with him. This evolved the most extraordinary
teaching relative to the present day of money, food, and
sex. Not something out of the books or something given by
some holy decree thousands of years ago, but a living
consideration in the face of real individuals.

GS: Is the teaching as renunciant as
you get most places?

JS: Eventually it becomes that.
Eventually it becomes a situation in which you’re so
given over to the ecstasy of divine realization, that a lot
of that kind of fascination with money, food, and sex falls
away and you’re more oriented towards the divine. But
at the beginning it involves truly dealing with those things
and growing relative to them.

GS: Rather than just saying
“No,” and trying to live with the

JS: Exactly. I mean, if someone has
truly already moved to that sort of thing, then that’s
fine. But in general, most of us haven’t, and so there
is a process of growing and outgrowing about all of those
aspects. Finally one gets to the point where one can devote
one’s time more and more to the divine, and it’s a
natural, happy, and ecstatic process.

GS: Rather than giving up something
that is painful at that time to give up.

JS: Right. It’s not a cutting
away. It’s not a self-flagellation or a bodily
mortification or anything like that. Basically, there is
nothing wrong with pleasure and bodily enjoyment; it’s
just that, ultimately, divine realization is the greatest

GS: You’ve been there a long
time and you’ve seen all the changes come and go. I
remember when he was Franklin Jones originally, and then he
became Bubba Free John, which I really liked. But there has
been controversy. It’s been very interesting. Talk a
little about the history and how those close to him have
experienced that.

JS: At the very beginning, Adi Da
taught in an extremely traditional way, very formally. What
he found was that his students weren’t really getting
it. So, he kind of got off his chair and went face-to-face
with us during the period that you’re speaking of, when
he was known as Bubba Free John. Bubba means
“friend” or “brother.” It’s a kind
of endearing word for somebody who is close to you. He
engaged all of us that way in order to teach us. He became
like us in order to teach us into “right”
understanding of ordinary presumptions. It was a wonderful
teaching demonstration.

When we began, all of us had a lot
of difficulties, for example, with organized religion. A lot
of us had had that in our backgrounds and really didn’t
want that. We were looking for a spirituality that was free.
And Adi Da schooled us and grew us to the point where we
could again take on all the aspects of true religious and
spiritual life, but without it being bureaucratic,
button-down, and so formalized that it had no living spirit
to it. Each one of the aspects of real religious, spiritual
life began again, and in some sense you can say that Adi Da
has now established a new tradition, a tradition that is
adapted to this time and this place. To watch it was to
watch the most extraordinary demonstration of

My own background when I came to Adi
Da was that I had already been running a small spiritual
bookstore in Boston, probably the principal spiritual
bookstore in the Boston area. So, when I came to him, I had
already read a great deal of the spiritual traditions. Even
so, when I saw him he was so alive and full of spiritual
power and transmission, and divinity, that the only things
that could come to my mind were things like Jesus sitting at
the last supper, or Rama Krishna in a room in Calcutta with
his devotees. I didn’t have any way to understand such
a god-man, but here he was in a white-skinned body, teaching
in a Western context, and it was extraordinarily
mind-blowing. For those few years around him, I forgot
everything else. I didn’t think about anything else
because he was so enchanting. History was literally, from my
perspective, being made—spiritual history.

At this point, there is an
extraordinary teaching of sixty volumes of instruction. The
instruction was in a written teaching, but also through
stories of his play with his devotees. In other words, he
doesn’t simply teach us by telling us, but he engages
in a story that shows us something. At a certain point,
after many years of that, he didn’t have to do it so
much anymore. So things became more formal. Whenever there
would be a dramatic change altogether, it would often be
marked by a transformation in Adi Da’s own body-mind.
At that point, he would take a new name. So Franklin Jones
became Bubba Free John, and then Da Free John, and now
he’s known by the name Adi Da or more formally, Adi Da
Samraj. The word “Da” means to give. It’s a
traditional word from the Sanskrit. The way that Adi Da
teaches is simply Adidam. It’s like the Buddha taught
Buddhism. In terms of trying to make an easily recognizable
name for the way, the way that Adi Da teaches is the way of

GS: Does use of the word
“Avatar” give you pause?

JS: I understand it and I have a
strong history in it. Adi Da does use the word
“Avatar” to refer to himself. We use it in our own
recognition or seeing who he is. The word itself means to
“cross down or cross over.” What it refers to are
beings that come to this earth-plane already divinely
enlightened. It’s an extraordinary statement to say
that someone is born enlightened. In the West, one of the
few examples we have of that is someone like Jesus who was
said, of course, to be a divine incarnation, an Avataric
incarnation. In the East there is a lot more of that
understanding of someone who comes like that. Adi Da has
told us is that he was born enlightened in order to serve
and help others with that single purpose, so his whole life
has been devoted to that. When you are in Adi Da’s
company, he’s not simply just a great mind or a great
thinker or a great speaker, even though he does have all of
that, but he’s alive with a spiritual power. If you
look at the paintings of the Christian saints, you see they
sometimes have halos around their heads. I’ve seen that
kind of halo around Adi Da’s head. He’s just very
alive with power. It’s very clear that, in his company,
you’re in the company of something great. There is a
kind of reverence or awe that you feel.

In my time of being around Adi Da,
I’ve often been the person that he sent out to go and
meet other spiritual figures in other spiritual traditions.
Any time when I’ve met someone who is of great
spiritual strength and power and potency, there is always a
kind of natural reverence that is there. No one has to tell
you, when you’re in the company of such a one, that
it’s appropriate to bow one’s head because
you’re grateful, not simply for that person there, but
for that spiritual power. In Adi Da’s company, that is
very strong and very profound. When he invites people to
become his students, it’s inviting them to be in
relationship to that force and power that he is, which is
really strong, and a real inviting of potency into your

GS: He sent you personally out on a
mission. What are you out in the world to do?

JS: Adi Da’s now sixty-five
years of age and, at this point, he is not very well known
in terms of a wide knowledge of him. So, simply put, my
“mission” is to let people know that he exists and
that he has this extraordinary teaching. Also, that he
offers a spiritual relationship to him that is absolutely
transformative. There will be certain individuals who are
looking, who are trying to find someone who actually is a
divine authority, someone who really knows what he is
talking about, who doesn’t simply speak from
experience, but is speaking from realization and the
circumstance of this divine, real, truthful condition. I
very much want his lifetime, his incarnation here, to be
able to be used by people.

GS: I was surprised for a moment
when you said that hardly anybody knows who he is, but then
I realized that, unless you’ve been involved in these
things for as long as you and I have, you might not know who
he is.

JS: In terms of the millions and
billions on this planet, many people are looking for
something, but they really haven’t found anything that
rings true to them, and therefore they are still seeking,
and they don’t even know that there is an alternative
of someone like Adi Da Samraj. I speak sometimes to high
school kids in religious study courses and they’ll talk
about all the great traditions of the past, but when I tell
them that there is somebody like that who is alive today, it
is an eye-opener for them. What I suggest to them is that
they owe it to themselves to check it out, to get one of the
books and see that there is some real truth there
that’s available to you if you’re ready for it.
Many people are just going about the ordinary pursuits of
life and that’s really what they’re involved with,
that’s their orientation. But there are some who are
seeking something great and something that is truly
profound, and who are willing to embrace a way of life
that’s about a relationship to a real

I’ve written two books on the
matter of the guru-devotee relationship. The word
“guru” is a difficult word in the West right now.
We’re very suspect of that word. To talk about someone
as a guru is very difficult because we kind of figure that
such an individual is going to pick our pocket or something.
That they’re going to want to take something from us.
We have a very independent orientation, every man in his own
castle with his own circumstance. But it should be obvious
to us that if you want to learn something really in depth
and truly understand it, you need a good teacher. It’s
the same thing with spirituality. If you want to learn how
to be a great ballet dancer, then get a great ballet
teacher. If you want to learn about physics, then go to a
master in the area of physics. If you want to learn about
spirituality, then the best thing to do is to find a
spiritual teacher. At a certain point, people are ready for
that. Adi Da teaches the real thing. He is looking for
people to actually realize his condition, to actually become
divinely and completely self-realized. That is possible in
one lifetime.

GS: What happens at one of your

JS: I do an evening event that
introduces these ideas. We talk about the dual-sensitivity,
the kinds of things that are necessary in order to take up
spiritual life. We talk about the area of my specialty which
is the relationship to a spiritual teacher and how to
transcend cultism and make use of a spiritual teacher. Then
we talk about Adi Da himself and his thirty-three years of
teaching. He’s now living in Fiji at his ashram, so we
talk about the current circumstances of his living. On
Saturday, we have a fuller event where we take a whole day
and I show a lot of Adi Da speaking, and also some other
traditional teachers speaking, and talk about the tradition
of realizers. We have time for more discussion and questions
and get into things in more depth.