Working with Franklin Jones,
by Morgan Zo-Callahan with the author’s permission.
The essay is from the forthcoming book, INTIMATE MEANDERINGS, Conversations Close to our Hearts, by Morgan Zo-Callahan and Friends.
More information as well as other articles may be found at the prepublication website.
Death is utterly acceptable to consciousness and life. There has been endless time of numberless deaths, but neither consciousness nor life has ceased to arise. The felt quantity and cycle to death has not modified the fragility of flowers, even the flowers within our human body. Therefore, our understanding of consciousness and life must be turned to the utter, inclusive quality, that clarity and wisdom, that power and untouchable gracefulness this evidence suggests. Franklin Jones, The Knee of Listening
Finally with impurities renounced, spewed out, discharged, abandoned, and with the thought that one is endowed with serene joy in the Enlightened One in his Teaching (Dhamma) in the Community he is touched with a feeling for the Sense of the Truth, and he receives the gladness associated with Truth; when one is glad, joy arises; when the mind is joyful, the body becomes relaxed; when relaxed, one feels content. The mind of the contented man is concentrated. – Majjhima-nikaya, Sutta No. 7
In 1972 I became aware of Franklin Jones, and by 1973, I was his student. I was graced with, or maybe just lucked into, an intense five-year relationship with Franklin as my spiritual teacher. (Franklin was later known as Bubba Free John, and, by the last time I saw him in 1979, Master Adi Da). I was, and remain, truly grateful for this gift. This is the story of my experience as his student, my leave-taking and re-visiting, some reflections of what later happened within Master Da’s community, and what my experience taught me about the relationship of a spiritual seeker to his or her teacher. I am certain the my life today is quite different that it might have been because of my experience with Da, and I will conclude by trying to say how and why that is so.
It was the late 60’s and early 70’s, and so many of us were searching like crazy to be in touch with what our lives were about and how we might bring our fullest life to the world community. For me it was a time of great turmoil, both personally and socially. All of us were being torn apart over the war in Vietnam. The answers proclaimed by the religions of our fathers and mothers no longer satisfied. This was the age of Be Here Now, Black Power, Women’s Rights, Gay Rights, Brown Rights, and native American Spirit based religion. Theologies of Preference for the Poor, and Latin American Liberation Theology” were emerging.
Spiritual supermarkets were everywhere, lots of pretenders and phonies, communes, and some genuine articles. It was my most intense period of spiritual searching, with the possible exception of my first two years as a Jesuit, and I had egg all over my face listening to some incredibly power-hungry spiritual teachers, super-star religious gurus. In the middle of this sideshow, however, I was also catching the wonderful grace of meeting and talking with truly genuine, accomplished, spiritual geniuses such as Franklin. Happily I took on a way of understanding and self-inquiry to see if I could soften and resolve my own desperate seeking.
I had been in the Jesuits for 9 years, from 1962 to 1971, mostly great years, meaningful, fruitful, not-without-shadows, ever-continually-influencing-me. The Jesuits had made my life fuller, offered me opportunities and challenges to grow spiritually, to serve the poor, to learn meditation, to receive a wonderful education, and to enjoy the company of my fellow Jesuits, a very bright, varied and dedicated group of men.
During my last two years teaching as a Jesuit, I lost all feeling that I was part of a community everyone was “doing their own thing. And it was also then that Fr. Jim Healy, S.J. connected me to Alan Watts and Suzuki Roshi. He gave me a book, Christian Yoga, by Fr. Dechanet and I started standing on my head! But more importantly, I was being given a chance to deepen meditation practice, really to renew myself. Jim loved reading Alan and Suzuki Roshi and took me to visit Suzuki Roshi four or five times.
Another Jesuit friend, Marcus Holladay visited the San Francisco Zen Center with me where we meditated, and listened to talks by Suzuki who was a very welcoming teacher. Marcus also went with me to some talks and seminars with Watts. Marcus and I also spent time going to learn some of the “bodywork” therapies by day (after teaching until around 3 o’clock, we’d go to talks or workshops in body-movement therapies such as Feldenkrais, Alexander Lowen, bio-energetics, Dr. Randolph Stone, Gestalt Therapy).
I’d never been entirely separated from the Jesuits since I was an adolescent, yet by 1971, I didn’t want to be a Jesuit any longer. They would have to find their way without me. I felt that Catholic groups, including the Jesuits, were falling apart, doubting themselves. I was very put off by the body-sex negativity in the Catholic church, the teaching that human beings are born in original sin, that we’re naturally bad. (Of course, the church increases its power through the rituals of forgiveness to erase that inherent sinfulness forgiveness for something we aren’t in the first place). Some Jesuits lived double lives,” being sexually intimate while putting on a celibate face. Others, including myself, were suffering the “horny celibate” syndrome.
At age 26, I left the Jesuits, and I became a community organizer with the Jesuit Volunteer Corp to Xalapa, Mexico. Living with the American Jesuits there for a year allowed me a healthy separation from the Order and showed me a way to stay fully involved with activist projects without being a Jesuit. After this year, I decided to slow down and respond to the exploding echoes coming from the 60’s-70’s Eastern infiltration. I decided to “drop out” for as long as it took, be a hippie and spiritual seeker outside the Catholic tradition.
There were so many drums calling me. It was time for me to tap into other resources for spiritual growth. I was being pulled from the warring West to the blissed-out East.
In 1972, I was teaching a course at New College in Sausalito, California, on Comparative Religion: The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, Buddhism and Indian meditation. Alan Watt’s “rockin'” houseboat was also moored in Sausalito, and, through a fortuitous series of circumstances, I met Alan. We liked each other immediately. He invited me to his parties, and later, I became part of the group that would gather on the houseboat or in his forest retreat at the foot of Mount Tamalpais. It was a time of incredible conversation, meandering all over the spiritual landscape, plus lots of shenanigans.
Alan was the greatest lecturer and most entertaining speaker I ever encountered. I went to as many of his lectures as I could. He told fantastic stories of leading tours to Japanese Buddhist temples and monasteries. He was fascinating, alive, and quick, with roaring humor and a sharp mind and twinkling eyes; he was an artistic, sensual person and popular scholar, conversant in so many areas, including Tai Chi, architecture, music, art; but it was Zen that he introduced to me, in a rudimentary though very meaningful way.
Alan introduced me to the concept of “non-effort” in spiritual practice. He said that the release of all our spiritual seeking is an experiential realization in the Zen tradition. He would tell, with great pizzazz, stories of Zen teachers who would frustrate students into giving up all their effort and just surrender to the moment. They would ask the student “to figure out who you are, before you were somebody.” “Just get up and dance. Stop thinking so much.”
Alan insisted on some irreverence to counter-balance our precious methods and teachers of the spiritual life. We can appreciate our teachers, our rituals, our prayer and meditation without getting so attached to them that we forget to find our true selves. He had a quality of being a wise rascal who sometimes enjoyed the bawdy aspects of life, excessive, yet in the midst of that, still a teacher. There was a time to celebrate and a time to be sober. In the few years I knew him, Alan always seemed to be partying and without any regrets. He had a very generous heart and also, like all of us, his own “demons.” I loved being with Alan.
Alan taught that you can’t even try to let go, as we if could decide, “OK, I’m going to completely surrender to life.” He was like a pied piper trying to get us to see the realty of our situation, to have a meditation practice. He said meditation will lead to deep intuitions that we are not separate from one another or from our world; that we don’t need to go anywhere or achieve anything to attain what we think we want or need to be enlightened. He taught us about Vipassana insight meditation where we grasp the implications of change and death, “nothing to attain.” No need for seeking. Alan said that the opening of one’s heart and intelligence, already experienced within an individual with deep confidence, undermines the search from the beginning. It’s all right, all of it; no need to chase spiritual snake oil.
Alan asked us to try different forms of meditation, but he seemed most partial to Zen. It was a time, even more seriously than when I was in the Jesuits, where I began looking at the reality of my personal situation, my way of living, my intentions, my deepest desires, even my deep-rooted “hang ups.” He taught that with intuition, understanding, with the opening of one’s heart, we would see there’s no need to search beyond our personal situations. We are presently living. We are full within ourselves, ever-co-related with others. Alan quoted what Ramana Maharshi said: that devotions to spiritual teachers or traditions, practices, recitations, meditations, readings, serve their purpose when you don’t need them anymore.
As Wei Wu Wei says: Disciples and devotees What are most of them doing? Worshipping the teapot instead of drinking the tea!”
Alan was a great academic teacher, but I was looking for a practical spiritual Master. I heard Alan speak of Franklin Jones’ The Knee of Listening, as an excellent presentation of the idea that all our seeking outside of ourselves is unsatisfactory because “it’s already the case that you are God.” Alan often said that we all tended to think we weren’t already all right, already enlightened, and that it was our seeking, our sometimes anguished, scattered effort, that kept us separated from who we are, if we would just be ourselves. Later I would hear Franklin quote Ramana Maharshi, “Liberation is getting rid of non-existent misery and attaining the Bliss which is always there…in the Heart.”
Alan wanted to check out Franklin Jones for himself, which I think would have been mutually enriching for them, but Alan died on November 16, 1973 and never had that opportunity.
I visited a bookstore on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood, run by Franklins community, to buy the book that Alan had recommended. There was a big picture of Franklin in the front of the bookstore, which was a turn off, but I found The Knee of Listening, Franklin ‘s autobiography and initial teachings about meditation and Eastern and Western religious wisdom, very compelling. Alan wrote in his introduction to a later edition: “To say what Franklin Jones is trying to say is like drawing an asymptotic curve, a curve which is always getting nearer to a straight line, but only touches it at infinity…he has simply realized that he himself as he is, like a star, like a dolphin, like an iris, is a perfect and authentic manifestation of the eternal energy of the universe, and thus is not longer disposed to be in conflict with himself.”
From Franklin’s book, and from some of his unpublished notes, I found out about Franklin’s background and his own seeking for the “removal of internal contradictions or the mutual alternatives that enforce kinds of experience, the pattern of seeking and of conflict.” (The Knee of Listening, p. 17). His personal journey fascinated me and called to me. He had spoken out in the 50’s and 60’s against the injustice towards African Americans in America. In 1962, he had been a volunteer for psychedelic drug experiment at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Mountain View, California. During a six-week period, he ingested mescaline, psilocybin, and LSD, separately for 3 sessions and one session combining the 3 hallucinogens. Alan Watts similarly in the late 50’s experienced LSD*; when asked about LSD, Alan said: “When you’ve got the message, hang up the phone.” After ingesting the drugs, Franklin had various kundalini experiences which made him feel more conscious, alive and loving. The force of energies moved upwards from the base of his spine through the “centers” (chakras), exactly as described in ancient Kundalini Yoga texts. When Franklin felt this intensely tangible energy in his heart, he was overcome with emotion and wept. Franklin said he also re-connected with some experiences he had in childhood seizures resulting from illness.
As Alan, Franklin would leave hallucinogens. “Like any other stage in my life, it came to the end of its serviceable use, and at that point I abandoned it.” (The Knee of Listening, p. 22) Later, he would be convinced by Jung that a part of our consciousness is free from death, an awareness, a spirit, free from the limitations of body, a disembodied, yet aware soul that was immortal. He was struck by Jung’s reports of out-of-body, conscious experiences that happened to some of his patients. Such patients reported looking down on their bodies and being aware of what was happening in the room. Franklin would write: “This passage from Jung signified in me a liberation from mortal philosophy and all bondage to the form of death” (The Knee of Listening, p. 34). [Recent scientific research has shown that “out of body” experiences can be induced by running a current through a part of the brain, as well as arising from other conditions, and doesn’t imply a spirit apart from the body.]
In 1964, Franklin started a three and a half year practice of Sidda Yoga with Rudi, Swami Rudrananda, who taught Kundalini Yoga out of his Asian antique store in New Yorks Greenwich Village as well as a retreat center in the Catskills. Rudy had worked with both Swami Nityananda and Swami Muktananda, and continued their practice of discipline and self-surrender by concentrating on the form of the guru (a method Franklin would give his own students, but one I didn’t always find helpful). Rudi encouraged Franklin to enter a Christian seminary where he studied theology and biblical languages. Franklin also worked with the methodology of Scientology before going to India to be Swami Muktananda’s disciple.
After reading The Knee of Listening, I started to think that I wanted to become Franklin’s student later on, if the conditions were right. I continued the rest of ’72 learning from Alan and also from the seminars of Ram Dass. I would sometimes visit the Zen Center in San Francisco, but I missed Suzuki Roshi, and no longer felt that it was my practice place.
* Alan was initially introduced to mescaline by Dr. Oscar Janiger. He experimented with hallucinogens several times with Drs. Keith Ditman, Sterling Bunnell, and Michael Agron.
Franklin Jones accepted me as his student in 1973, and I began a five-year period of work and study with him. I felt a natural connection with Franklin, yet it was with some fear and trepidation that I immersed myself in a student-teacher relationship and in living communally. There was some sense of struggle on this quest for “no struggle” and “no seeking,” but the early years with Franklin were, for me, a spectacular time of learning, observing myself, becoming aware of my own distracting mind and clenched heart, and being able to touch “inner goodness.
When I say being accepted as Franklin’s student, I mean I accepted him as a spiritual master in a most human sense, one who is psychologically mature as well as spiritually adept. I can say I was never Franklin’s devotee, though I was a serious student, in what I considered an adult though vulnerable relationship. I refused to become subservient to a spiritual master who makes himself or herself a god and whose followers say, “We’re the only ones who know the answer,” and I never felt that Franklin demanded that of me in order to be his student.
My time with Franklin was a long spiritual retreat, not completely calm, also a chaotic whirlwind of trying out new ways of thinking and living in a community. I was fully and happily involved during my time with Franklin, and yet I felt Franklin’s community was “nothing special. He taught hatha, pranayama and Sidda yoga, and communicated this Eastern wisdom in Western terms. He stimulated the light within us. I accepted his authority to teach, passed to him through Swami Nityananda and Swami Muktananda, and I felt fortunate to work in an authentic Siddha Yoga tradition. He revered and respected his teachers, but didn’t make them an object of worship.
There were long hours in the meditation hall, many spontaneous periods of meditation, both in the company of Franklin and alone. It was a time for late night spiritual conversations about God, about health, diet, sex, community living, children, education, and learning from the various great religious traditions. We as a community allowed ourselves grow into an intimate relationship. There were sumptuous meals, but also fasts, times for detoxifying. And there were times when we mingled in the baths and pools, fooled around in the water, singing, listening to Stevie Wonder music, smoking cigarettes and drinking beer. But I also remember many more times during this period of meditating in the steaming mineral waters, giving each other massages, doing various yoga practices, including tantric yoga; being naked, both physically and psychologically, with intimate friends.
Even if at times we were all, including Franklin, drunken fools, Franklin always taught. He was having a ball, laughing and joking, but also engaging individuals very directly, stimulating our intelligence as well as our hearts, intensifying the student’s native ability to conduct the life-force and to rest the mind in the heart, as Pantanjali taught: “Let your mind fall into your heart,” breathing that realization, breathing the deepest peace within us, bringing life and love to oneself, extending that outwards to all others and to our environment.
Most important to me were my conversations with Franklin. They were direct and personal. I’d enjoy their free flow. Eventually I’d come to know and call Franklin “Bubba” or brother. It was a very engaging friendship, with lots of give and take. He had an ability to inquire in conversation, in a non-dogmatic way, and was adept at getting to the questions behind the questions, addressing my real needs.
In the beginning, Franklin would say, no beads, no bowing, no incense just relationship. He asked his students to be free of drugs, to work, to study and meditate, and to live responsibly in their relationships. For my part I focused on staying in relationship to him. I was also very fond of him and enjoyed his company which made that very easy. Franklin was always open to answer my real questions at the time. Since I had a physiotherapy license, Franklin invited me to be with him many times, to give him massages or to do some “body work” techniques with him, such as from the Alexander technique, or movements from Dr. Rudolph Stone and Dr. Robert Hall.
I feel so fortunate Franklin allowed me to learn with him. I felt Franklin’s whole agenda was to wake me up, to push me to pay attention to my heart, to be intelligent and actively find out what’s important to me, as I live my tiny-timed life. He was a Mr. Gurdjieff who shook up my “programmed” way of living.
Bubba would sit in meditation with us, much as in the Indian-guru tradition of sitting with a teacher whose presence is felt-in-the-heart and who communicates directlywith grace, not effortto the student. Bubba’s meditation hall was spiritually and tangibly charged, and I could easily enter into deep states and spontaneously relax in graceful conductivity generated in the company of the teacher. Some people had kriyas (spontaneous shaking, movements of the body), blisses, crying, screaming, moaning, talking in tongues; some had “out of body” experiences and visions. (Yoga describes these as manifestations of descending and ascending life force within and permeating us).
He might consciously regard those sitting with him, looking into our eyes, and, it seemed, communicating unconditional love. If asked to contemplate the human guru, I rather felt more comfortable just sitting in meditation with Bubba, “being with the teacher.” He might ask us to examine how we were contracting, tightening ourselveshed make a fist to show how we unconsciously do this ourselves, inquiring “avoiding relationship?”. Tight throats, heads, chests, hearts, stomachs just seemed to loosen and fill in the intensified, expansive field of energy that he generated. For me, I found that meditation is where the life force is energized and an understanding of the self begins.
Franklin would listen carefully to our questions, upsets, doubts. He would try to help the questioner directly, as Ramana Maharshi suggested: first question; observe yourself, the questioner; ask Who am I? Inquire into the avoidance of relationship in our lives, as reflected in stiff body and contracted feeling. As in Buddhist meditation, we wouldn’t avoid what we were feeling but allow expansiveness around whatever was occurring in us.
He tired to communicate his own realizations to us. He said his spiritual influences were Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Ramakrishna, Shirdi Sai Baba, and Ramana Maharshi. He wrote after a time of meditation at the Vedanta Temple in 1970: “All paths pursue some special state or goal as spiritual truth. But in fact reality is not identical to such things. They only amount to identification with some body, realm or experience, high or low, subtle or gross. But the knowledge that is reality, which is consciousness itself, which is not separate from anything, is always already the case.”
I was totally taken by Ramana Maharshihis teaching to be just as you are. “Give up the notion, ‘I am impure’. The Self you are, authentic self is ever pure…If you get at the basis of the mind, all these wrong notions disappear.” Studying Maharshi began to open up the path of no seeking; that realization is already here echoed the Buddhist Heart Sutra, “there is nothing to attain.” We only have to give up seeking for an authentic self and just realize for ourselves that we don’t need to seek so desperately or to suppress what’s manifesting in our own particular lives. This process wasn’t some kind of killing the personality and individuality of the student. As Franklin said, “You are not invited to annihilation, but rather to the fullness of God that is happy and free. There is no murder involved in such an event.”
For the most part, I found that community life complemented my intimate relationships. It didn’t mean loving and liking everyone the same even though we decided that we could expand sharing of our energies beyond our wives, lovers, and friends. I had a circle of friends who were extremely close, Wendy, Marcus Holladay, Andrew Johnson, William Tsiknas, to name some. I’m still friends with William and his wife, Patricia, who live in Master Da’s community.
Wendy became my first wife. We met in 1973 when we were both Franklin’s students. I fell in love with her the first time I saw hershe was sweet, energetic, sharp and a wonderful listener. Three months later, I asked her to marry me. She accepted and asked me to go with her to Maumee, Ohio, to meet her parents and ask for their blessing, which we did. Her parents and I hit it off right away. Bubba later officiated at our religious wedding ceremony on the land, witnessed by the community, friends, and a few relatives. It was a memorable, fun day. I had the feeling: “The world is charged with the splendor of God” (G.M. Hopkins).
My only sadness was that my mother would not attend the ceremony. I tried to understand her. She had been upset and distant for a few years by this time, because I had stopped going to the Catholic Church; I had left the Jesuits; and now I was involved with hippies and gurus and leftists. She would have been so much happier if I had gone to law school.
Wendy and I felt no demand “from on high” to conform to any particular social norms. We wanted to be “as free as the wind.” The fact that Wendy and I agreed to experiment sexually was very important to the authenticity of our experience together. As difficult as it was at times, as even dangerous as it could be, Wendy and I agreed not to lock each other up psychologically, letting each other be free to engage with other people. It was a form of discipline to get along in a happy and mature way with others and to live and sleep together as a couple.
While Wendy and I were living on the land, one night, March 23, 1974, Franklin discussed our responsibility to live more communally, without clinging to our own relationships, to our wives or husbands or lovers or our “few friends.” This would test our intention.
Bubba said don’t let fear of losing what we think is “ours” (even if nothing is just “ours”) keep us trapped in our conventional arrangements. If we had agreed to an open marriage, then don’t be afraid to let your spouse enjoy others, including sexually. “Be a community of free persons…touch one another, love one another, deal with one another as intimately as you please, not like gangsters, rapists, and whores, but in that radical freedom…approach each other directly, the more you understand, the less you feel the form of inner suffering necessarily created when you feel your contracts are violated…so allow this self-purifying responsibility and privilege to love and be free and happy.”
When Wendy slept with a friend, Sal, Wendy had wanted to see what it was like to make love with another man; she wanted to allow herself the experience of being seduced and to learn and grow from that experience as several in the community had already done. What’s it like to have more than one lover?
Sometimes, my meditation and yoga helped me be more aware that all movements were the life-force of my breathing-flexing-stretching body. At other times, if I was boiling with jealousy, anger, or self-doubt, I spent my meditation time just feeling rotten, just breathing. But that night how I screamed and howled in grief, pounding the walls of the wooden cabins on the grounds until I exhausted myself. I had occasionally made love with other women, but I wanted Wendy only for myself. Somehow the whole incident combined with practicing meditation allowed me to let go of holding onto Wendy in that way. The next day I spoke with Sal and, after some words, some forgiveness, some sorrow, I spontaneously hugged him and Wendy. I realized that I had changed. Both Wendy and I had changed; we discovered our playing around was hurtful to the other and we were naturally faithful to each other for as long as we were married.
At some point in 1976, Wendy became uncomfortable and doubtful about continuing to live in the commune. She said to me “I don’t know whether Bubba is God or the Devil, or maybe both.” We had a long of conversation and in the end, both of us felt all right about leaving each other, grateful for the three years we were together. There’s nothing worse than pretending to do spiritual practice or uphold a false allegiance. It was time for Wendy to go, and she felt totally free to leave. I was in tears; Wendy was crying too; we held each other for a long time. I told Wendy that I wanted to continue studying with Bubba, even though I knew I would also be leaving soon. Then Wendy and I made love one last time.
I feel gratitude and appreciation of the incredible time we had together. And I also regret that I wasn’t more mature, that sometimes my bad temper surfaced, fueled by jealousy. Wendy taught me how to love someone without being possessive, angry when not “being loved”. She taught me love is a very sudden giftnot to be taken for granted or clung to. A love relationship suffers many changes, and doesn’t have to be “forever.”
Wendy was so sweet and wisehow can I ever forget her? We have never spoken or seen each other since though I still feel her. After we spit up, she returned to her relationship with a man who had never forgotten her or given up on getting her back. She asked me not to contact her, and I have respected that, but a clean break doesn’t mean you no longer love someone.
Like many of the first generation of western gurus, Master Da would make all too human mistakes around the perennial issues of power, sex, money, relationships, organizational politics, marketing, and excessive spiritual claims. Certainly not a fraud, not an exploiter, and, in my opinion, truly genuine without any ill will, yet still Master Da is subject to human frailty. I realize Franklin may have had an entirely different public image than what I experienced as his student in the early years of his teaching. But I knew even then that Franklin Jones is not for everyone, as Dass would say to me. He does have a lot of personal charisma and power. Franklin and Dass knew each other and knew each other as human beings, with some of the particular shortcomings we all share.
I had been away from Da for several years when I when read charges in the newspapers that some of his former students felt manipulated, “traumatized,” by the excesses and the sexual experimentation. I know some of those close to Franklin in the period 1973-76 who were angry and upset with teaching theater. They felt that Franklin was intimidating his students. One has to find for oneself what is genuine and what is the play in teaching theater. I also know that some serious allegations against Adi Da would later surface in 1985-6, and some of his students would harshly, perhaps justifiably, criticize him. In my experience, however, I never saw any imprisonment, sexual abuse, assault, brainwashing or involuntary servitude with Da, as he would later be accused of and then sued in 1985 and 1986. If Da did really abuse sex, money, power, or whenever there are legitimate legal grievances against any spiritual teacher, of course, I support anyone who was intentionally, illegally abused to take appropriate action and judged in a court of law.
There were of course unwholesome aspects to our life in community. Sometimes we’d party for 2 weeks at a time, and some of us quickly learned the pitfalls of addiction and excessive self-indulgence. However, I never felt forced to drink, or party, or engage pranks, or make jokes, and I felt that I benefited from my relationship with Bubba, only because I wanted to be involved. I engaged in the play between the teacher-student wholeheartedly even when I felt some fear. I felt enthusiastic, not shoved, humiliated, never traumatized.
Some former community members felt hurt in their relationship with Franklin, and their response was criticism and cynicism. Many years after I left Franklins community, I was told there was a negative attack web site about Franklin where a Morgan was writing. I said I wasnt the Morgan, but that Id take a look. I found a letter by another writer full of sarcasm and disrespect. Menacing, threatening taunts seem unjustified to me. I wondered if that person had ever felt the important, genuine part of Franklin. Apparently he or she felt that Franklin was supposed to live up to expectations. Were people hurt? Yes. Was I hurt at times? Yes, there’s some hurt in my relationship to Bubba and his community. There’s criticism of the “hierarchy,” of “the cult.” But stronger than that for me is a loving communication and force from Franklin that informs my life: we are all already all right, now, just the way we are.
The heart of the student-teacher relationship is engaging in a process with the teacher that he or she has mastered. Whether living in healthy human community or alone, it requires direct face-to-face encounter with the teacher. When someone comes as a sincere, curious, questioning student, it’s a very down-to-earth sacred relationship. This relationship can never be beneficial, however, if there isn’t a chance for the student to challenge the teacher and vice-versathat “clicking” can’t be forced. A relationship with a spiritual teacher is then exquisite play, a kind of art, and entrance into an understanding of ways to pray and meditate that is potentially more powerful than pure academic study. But this power can also be dangerous. There is always a possibility of indoctrination, brainwashing, religious sloganeering, or being manipulated by a remote authority.
Franklin possessed a genuine yogic power which was tangible to me. He taught that all yogic and meditative experiences, absorptions, mystical visions just happen. Benefit and learn from them, but let them come and go. The Buddha taught that there’s a profound peace beyond even the greatest of the jhanas (absorptions), however useful they may be and integrated to the meditative path. Although I never had any dramatic spiritual experiences in the meditation hall, many around me did. I found also some people exaggerated their experiences, seeking public approval from Franklin. That is another instance of the darker side of a spiritual community, based in the fear that we need to kiss the teacher’s ass. The teacher, if he or she is worth his salt, wants to see who you really are and what you’re really about. False ingratiating faces are really a hindrance.
The spiritual Master is sometimes tough, but he or she will never intentionally harm any one. I found Franklin Jones a loving human being, a spiritual teacher of integrity and most importantly a teacher who embodied a priceless teaching. At one of Franklin’s first public talks, a young man became angry and said that Franklin was full of it, that he wasn’t making any important communication, that he wasn’t answering his questions. After some interchange, the man left the room pissed off. Franklin said, “I appreciate the challenging questions, the confrontation.”
It was fine that the man walked out of Franklin’s talk and in the future many would do the same. Everyone in the community had the opportunity (sometimes it did take some courage to speak up and reveal yourself) to get his or her most vital questions and communications across. Franklin appreciated the passion in the man, and Franklin had just wanted the chance to get the man to see for himself why he was so angry. Franklin wanted to engage the individual on a sincere and deep level, mutually respectful, but no bullshit; let’s deeply enter a consideration of divine worlds, beckoning us to its realization, in kind and wise actions, while we’re all breathing the world together. Through our work with one another, I, the community, many of us came to see how some of our questions have deep emotions behind them, hidden in anger and self-centeredness.
No spiritual teacher ever has the right to abuse his or her student; such abuse violates the mutual condition of love which is the basis of the master-student relationship. I understand how vulnerable a person can be who is in a concentrated teacher-student relationship. However, I always felt free to express what I wanted to say to Franklin and I also felt free to ignore institutional dictates. Franklin didn’t give me the feeling he wanted anything from me. He loved Indian scripture: “Whenever there is an “other,” there is fear.” The true teacher always communicates even if being tough on the student that what a spiritual master has realized is exactly the same as what the student already is. I never slowed down as much during this time and at the same time, never ran so fast, “accelerated,” enthused to try a new life style. I never had so much leisure to study and meditate, listening to talks by a Spiritual Master and occasionally, being with other teachers such as Krishnamurti, Chogyam Trungpa, and Ram Dass.
Teachers such as Chogyam Trungpa were also accused of being of abusive, sexually inappropriate and addicted to alcohol and power. I’d met with Trungpa a few times when I was studying with Master Da and learned a bit about his Tibetan Buddhism. Trungpa was a heavy drinker and, as was Da, sexually very liberated. I didn’t particularly like the organizational-cultural setting around Trungpa and the attitude of kingly and elegant circumstance. It was too much of a separation from the world I’d seen in our inner cities and in Mexico. Though it appeared elitist to me, it was not without benefit. Trungpa was certainly a good teacher and I enjoyed hearing him speak and engaging in conversation.
Both Trungpa and Da were able to teach because of their realizations, positive intentions and the giving of themselves to the student. I felt both had respect for the freedom and intelligence and desires of the students. Their students, however, were in an adult relationship with a spiritual teacher, and had to be aware of what that entails. As far as I was concerned, we fully agreed to submit ourselves to an experimental way of life in a community. But I always felt free to leave, free to engage or not, even in the crazy wild times with the guru.
I never was comfortable with guru-worship even though Franklin’s approach later emulated much of his teacher’s, Swami Muktananda’s, Hindu rituals, bowing, pujas, incense. I looked at these rituals though focusing and engaging in the same way as we burn incense at the Buddhist monastery and Catholic church. They are not worth getting hung up about. Leave all rafts on the other side of seeking. It is mass mind that makes gurus and monks into gods. No matter how gifted, the teacher is in a mutually respectful relationship with the student. A student is free to leave a teacher, to criticize, to put light on the “shadows.” (I include Franklin’s community and Franklin himself). It’s only foolish cultism that wants to make a teacher into the only font of wisdom, to make dogma which stifles the ability to think for oneself or to come and go following the stream of one’s most authentic life.
Ken Wilber was one of the first important writers (Watts was the first) to appreciated Das spiritual writing. Wilber, along with Georg Fuerstein, Ph.D., would praise the wisdom of Das teaching, but criticize his dealing with the perennial problems of power, control, sex, and money. Wilber said that Da was fully developed spiritually, but morally and socially immature. As a teacher, Wilber thought that Da should be willing to meet with other teachers and adepts; that he should enter the public forum of spiritual conversation, and be challenged in the world. 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.
Master Da is not the public personality that Watts was, and so be it, if he wants to teach privately, leaving religious inquiry to others, such as Wilber. Da is both an able theoretician and keen thinker as well as an avid reader of spiritual literature. He is interested in serious and enlightened conversations, but he apparently doesn’t want a very public life which is his right. If he chooses to live and teach privately with a few students, free to explore with them the particular fruits of his own realization, does this limit his ability as a religious teacher? Of course not. It might be healthy and mutually beneficial for Da and his community to have a more public conversation, but not necessarily so. However his emerging voice might soften the nasty attitude that “we’re the only ones with any Truth” that seems prevalent in religious practice.
I think his contributions lie in other areas which will inevitably find their way in the more public conversation. They already have. Why should Da have to be like the wonderful Dalai Lama or Thich Nhat Hahn? But who knows? Master Da may show up at an important public forum in the future.
Realize it’s what we already are, said Ramana Maharshi. The purpose of sitting with the spiritual Master is to enjoy one’s own enlightenment, not adore an individual teacher. The spiritual Master is a teacher and a servant. Franklin encouraged me to find the Divine within myself. “We’re supposed to be cool and hip and straight, oriented toward our survival, worldly and wise. But to be simply alive in God and happy, and to speak about it and act that way and think that way, is absolutely unwanted and not allowed. A cult object is allowed to be Divine in this world, a conventional guru is allowed to be Divine, a God in a book is allowed to be Divine, all kinds of fetishes are allowed to be Divine, but you are not allowed to be Divine. It is taboo to be already happy. You must seek happiness.”
In 1973 when I was first Franklin’s student, I lived a short while in L.A. with my friend, Billy Tsiknas, who amazed me by being able to sit in the full lotus position. We painted the exteriors of houses while we did interior work with our teacher. This was a beautiful time, full of joy, and also a strict time of doing deep personal examination (which for me included the Ignatian examen). Besides our strict vegetarian diet, we followed a steady schedule of study and service, learning and acknowledging through meditation and conversation, where our hearts were closed, and changing some destructive habits.
When two old Jesuit friends dropped by to visit, and saw that I had a photo of Franklin in my meditation corner, along with images of Jesus, and Buddha, I felt embarrassed. I worried that they might have felt that I was worshipping and bowing to a man in a weird cult. My friends reactions were understandable. They did not share my relationship with Franklin. (My mistake was not to keep my meditation area private. Jesus says: Close the door and then meditate and pray. To this day, I keep a few photos of Master Da.
Most of my Jesuit friends didn’t take my involvement with Franklin seriously. Yet during most of the time I was in Franklin’s community, I continued to have a Jesuit spiritual director, Father Francis Rouleau. “Let’s talk from my heart to yours, yours to mine,” Francis would say. He was a very skilled and mature spiritual director he recognized that there were very powerful practices that I was learning and he took me seriously. He was never judgmental about me; he really did understand.
Despite his strong theological and moral convictions which were contrary to those I was developing for myself, our personal relationship and his commitment to my spiritual growth was what really mattered to him. He was very human and down to earth, not at all “condescending” as so many priests and teachers and I loved him for that. For example when I discussed the sexual ethos of Franklin’s community with him, and my no guilt sexual exploration outside traditional Catholic morality, he was genuinely interested, speaking himself about those still living in the Society falling in love, some having sex. He also asked my feelings about homosexuality as my best friend Marcus Holladay was openly bi-sexual. (Sometimes Marcus and I would visit Francis together).
We talked about the ideas of “no seeking” and the Buddhist practice of meditation as self-observation without any negative judgment. I was practicing meditation as laid out in The Knee of Listening. Perhaps, after my conversations with Francis, it would be more accurate to say that I was integrating my Buddhist mediation, the Spiritual Exercises Examination of Conscience, and self-observation, observation of our lives, in conversation with Franklin Jones and in the company of community. Franklin writes: “I do not recommend that you meditate. There is only understandingtherefore, understand. When understanding becomes observation, reflection, insight and radical cognition, then the state of consciousness itself is meditation.” What is radically cognized? One experiences an inclusive connection with all, a joy of being alive, to consider, as St. Ignatius encourages, “all blessings, all life, as descending from above, from the supreme and infinite power…descending as the rays of light descend form the sun, and as the waters flow from their fountains.” Franklin continues: “Understanding arises when there are true hearing and self-observation in relationship…Observe yourself in life. Observe yourself when you suffer to any degree. Observe your motives. Observe the activity of identification. Observe the activity of differentiation. Observe the activity of desire. Observe the patterns of your existence.” (The Knee of Listening, p.171)
Francis understood that this was authentic spiritual practice.
I felt the energy and love in Father Francis’ presence much like in the presence of Franklin, though Francis was not as demanding as Franklin nor was his teaching complicated by a community of followers. Both he and Franklin embraced mysticism, though in their own particular way. Francis said: We are never God, only God’s servants. Bubba would agree we are truly all Gods servants, while declaring himself in his Eastern religious vocabulary to have been enlightened, to have realized the Self, as understood in genuine Eastern thought and practice. I am That.
Bubba, like Francis, was personally charismatic, an intense teacher. Unlike Francis, Franklin was not always gentlemanly. Sometimes he was just a drunken laughing fool. He might have been, as the Jesuits say, finding God in all things. Francis was self-effacing whereas Franklin wasnt given to humble expressions, saying I am God; you are God, which was very eastern, and later, accepting the bows of his disciples, just as he had bowed before his teacher Swami Muktananda.
Neither men were perfect. I thought that Father Francis was a saint; Franklin didn’t pretend to be a saint, and he isn’t. And I always tended to distrust some of the religious trappings around him. I did experience Franklin as a loving person, a tremendous hugger, a person with a remarkable sense of humor and an insightful, penetrating teacher who could be shy and withdrawn.
Francis was pleased when I left Master Da, but he still considered it an extremely important learning time for me, as do I. Da is still a great teacher to me, initiating me in his tradition from his teachers, still helping me now, just practicing at the Rosemead Buddhist Monastery, my daily meditation, and my practice of service at the Jesuit Dolores Mission. Just living my life.
When I fall in love with someone, I say it’s forever. I don’t mean just the sexual falling in love, but the love that can happen between friends, or even between a student and teacher or a teacher with his or her student. This kind of love has a natural component that very human, warm appreciative reverence that can last beyond any interaction with the person. Love doesn’t always mean life-long contact, as in the case of Da and of my first wife, Wendy, but its influence is for life. As a university, adult school, high school and junior high school teacher, I continue to recall some students with great feeling and clear recall, even if I don’t know where they are now or what they are doing. May we all be well and happy!
For the most part, I loved living in Free Bubba Free John’s community, and when I realized that I had finished my work with him, in 1977, I left without a backwards glance. I knew in my heart that I could never be totally apart from my friends, people with whom I’d had strong contact while I was with Bubba. The interval after leaving the community and integrating back into ordinary life was awkward.
I had somewhat the same confusing time as when I left the Jesuits. I was for a while a fish out of water on both occasions. Because my family was ashamed of my leaving the Jesuits, there was a feeling of failure. And the Jesuits, without conscious intent, made leaving a matter of disgrace. When I left the Jesuits, I had asked my uncle in New York for a small loan to get started in a career as a teacher. He told me I should be ashamed to ask for money and to work harder. He said I was a quitter and that my father, his brother, who had long passed away, would not be proud of me. My mom was angry with me; but later, because we liked talking with each other, we were able to reconcile. Only my sister Mary seemed to accept my changing conditions without harsh judgment. However, despite my own lingering doubts and the confusion about my family’s reactions, I was confident in wanting a different kind of life for myself apart from the Jesuits. Just as clearly when I knew for certain that a life of celibacy wasn’t for me as a Jesuit, I knew when living in Bubba Free John’s community wasn’t right for me any longer.
From 1977 to 1979, I worked at a special education junior high school on the corner of Geary and Franklin, called Fairfield School around the corner from the Unitarian Church. I stayed in touch with some of the community members, some of whom chastised me for leaving the community and for criticizing Bubba, even though my criticism was respectful and sincere. Marcus Holladay and I went to workshops on therapeutic body/movement work, as well as going to parties or volunteering for campaigns with Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. Marcus and I would also visit Fr. Francis sometimes.
I felt some emotional raggedness after leaving Free John and the community. Working and being with these children, many of them tough kids with deep emotional challenges, was a kind of therapy for the “fallout.” I look at some of their pictures even today with profound tenderness. Joyce Roberts was the amazing principal who encouraged me be creative and make San Francisco part of my classroom: the wharf, the museums, fire and police stations, the sea. Various businesses opened their doors to us. The students set up a small business where they sold jewelry and art they made or was donated. Our business profits paid for lunch, and I began to feel totally connected to the ordinary world again.
Joyce and I became lovers and were intimate for about a year. I lived with Joyce and her young son, Art, who was a beautiful boy. Our house was always full of people. We both didn’t want to marry, but Joyce wanted the same sort of sexual freedom that I had tasted in Franklins community. Not judging that life-style, I realized that it was no longer for me.
The last time I saw Bubba Free John, by then known as Master Da, was September 16, 1979 on the land in Northern California. I had been away from the community for two years, but we were together again to celebrate his spiritual “awakening” at the Vedanta Temple in Hollywood nine years earlier (September 10, 1970), the same place I had visited when I was in high school. He had included many of us from early years who were no longer involved with the community on the guest list. Dressed in white, wearing a tall white hat and using a cane with an ornate metal handle, Da seemed very peaceful and full. He said: “This is the most beautiful occasion that has ever taken place here.” I’m not sure exactly what he meant, but, as I watched him walk back to his home, I too felt that it was a beautiful occasion. I bowed and said my final good-bye.
Celebrating Master Da’s realization at the Hollywood Vedanta Temple, I felt I had come full circle. In 61 when I was a junior at Loyola High School, I had visited the Vedanta Templethe gardens, rooms, and bookstore with Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim literaturejust above the frenetic Holladaywood freeway. Inside I had been attracted to the serene images of Buddhas round face and the tender face of Jesus from the Shroud of Turin. At first, repelled by the shrine with a picture of Sri Ramakrishna, I hurried away feeling that real altars and shrines and rituals were for Jesus alone. But soon I found myself drawn back, just to sit in the temple and explore books or sometimes to have lunch with the Indian swamis who would invite me to talks. I was totally confused in 1961, but interested. By 1979, having studied with Master Da for almost 5 years, I had a real taste of an ancient and powerful spiritual tradition.
The understanding that my study and work with Franklin began in me 35 years ago continues to this day. I have a way of pursuing my own religious quest that Franklin taught me in the deepest part of my being: No one can give us happiness or freedomwe have to realize it for ourselves. That’s the current in his teaching that most touched me and the one that I most explored and continue to explore.
My experience with Master Da, in what was at root a Hindu tradition, would be my only experience of Siddha Yoga, the relationship of teacher to student as the centerpiece of spiritual practice. Yoga is a general term for practices from India which tune body-mind abilities to be in union with the Divine Source. A Siddha is someone who has “fallen into the Heart,” a “completed one.” The Siddha comes from a living tradition, having been initiated, going through a process of understanding her or his life through the practice of yoga and meditation, finally completely surrendering to Life itself and being recognized by that accomplishment. In my case, that relationship was also a friendship. Many joyful experiences and insights arose spontaneously, without effort. It was a rare opportunity for me to learn some ancient wisdom from a wild, loving, Siddha Yoga teacher
Master Da taught that we must bravely allow our “hanging on” to loosen. He said that our natural state of being happy and peaceful becomes obvious when we can observe how our mind and heart work; when we pay attention to how we separate ourselves, how our bodies and hearts become hard or weak. My most “prior” being is whole, creative, and not contained only in my ego. We are all continually changing, and yet the “I” wants to attach to feeling good, even to mystical experiences, all of which just come and go. Da taught me to embrace all of life, including parts of myself that I have disowned, whether I am honest about the disowning or not. I learned to be sensitive to when I’m being self-indulgent, as well as when I’m refusing the invitation to drink deeply from life’s gifts.
The person of understanding is someone filled with joy and pleasure, of love and knowledge, the ability to help, as well as detachment, calm, energy, clarity and force. To this day, Da inspires me to meditate and pay attention to the heart of no-seeking that it is already enough to be living from the heart, in wonder and not-knowing-it-all, being fully alive. I continue a daily meditation practice with both Buddhist and Ignatian flavors. After Suzuki Roshi introduced me to Zen meditation, my practice with Da gave the experience of meditation, not suppressing feelings, whether “self-loving” or “self-hating,” to observe my breath and feel the tightness in my belly, around my heart and in my throat, and allow myself to be present to what’s going on, now in this moment.
Once I quoted Ramana Maharshi at a meeting of activists who were bickering at the time: “Trying to help the world without knowing yourself will be just like a blind man trying to treat the diseases in the eyes of others. First, clear your own eyes. If you do this you will see the eyes of all others as your own. Then, if you see the eyes of all others as your own, how can you exist without helping them?” (Ramana Maharshi Answers Hundred Questions, p.6) Several of the activists got this message enthusiastically.
Master Da was iconoclastic, even regarding his own teachers. I have learned that we as humans want to create an exclusive God, an idol. Today as a teacher and sometimes organizer, I discover that I have a sixth sense for this “us against them” attitude. Our organizations lose the human touch, get stuck in power, money, and they become cults, whether Da’s community, the Catholic Church, or a Buddhist Monastery. No religious organization is off the hook! There are organizational abuses of power which I’ve seen in most spiritual communities and churches with which I’ve had varying degrees of contact. True spiritual communitiesI’m discounting the ones that are out and out hoaxes are growing up, evolving positively and encouraging mature relationships, including being critical of each other in a loving, supportive way. There is wisdom in the Buddha’s promoting consensus and the sharing of power and responsibilities within a community.
Alan Watts spoke about the possibility of doing one’s spiritual practice in relationship to a teacher. He told stories of Marpa and Milarepa in Tibet, where the guru seemed to be absolutely demanding and the disciple had to be completely dedicated. And yet there was a feeling of love between them. True spiritual relationships of teacher to student can happen and do happen, even if there are limitations. First and foremost it’s important to remember both the spiritual director and spiritual master are human beings, perhaps very evolved in different aspects of their being, with varying levels of capacity and maturity, but human beings. Anyone who lives or works with a master or spiritual teacher should be free from any fear to speak up, to have personal and intimate boundaries while living in community, and always to refer to one’s own heart and mind and conscience rather than any kind of organization “group-think” or “group-pressure” that force conformity with the self-appointed authorities.
I also learned from both Alan and Franklin that the spiritual life is not a dreary matter. There is no need to walk around with lowered head and serious frown. We have not been assembled to witness an execution. Life is joyous. The raucous parties, both with Alan and Franklin’still remarkable and appreciated are long past. Alan’s extravagance may have shortened his life; Franklin used intoxicants, partied like crazy, but for both men spiritual life was always the focus. And the joy I experienced with both stays with me.
All true gurus, both Alan and Master Da insisted, have submitted to the Eternal Siddha-Guru who is God. I still hear Da telling me to be awake, the Heart, just be what I am. I hear Fr. Francis saying: “Touch the Eternal Heart of God in our every day life.” What a way to live!
by Morgan Zo-Callahan
with permission – original posted on Morgan’s Website