A Perpetual Reluctance to Face Reality

A Perpetual Reluctance to Face Reality


he curbstones of one of the walks at The Mountain of Attention Sanctuary carry in white paint the message, “Come to me when you are already happy.” This seemingly paradoxical saying was the title to a discourse given by Master Da Free John in late 1977. In this important talk Master Da made the following comment:

“The search for happiness is not the position from which to enter truly into spiritual life. You must approach God as a devotee, already blissful, already free of fear, already alive as love. Therefore, come to me when you are already happy.”

To the outsider this last remark will presumably sound like a casual witticism. To the conventional seeker it will be a perplexing demand. Is happiness not the target of all our spiritual aspirations? Are we not constantly engaging in strategies which are meant to alleviate and, hopefully, surmount our usual condition of unhappiness? How, then, can Master Da expect his disciples to approach him only when they are already happy?

His saying is a profound “upadesha” or initiatory utterance, which points straight to the wisdom of radical understanding. It is given from the seventh-stage disposition, and is intended to remind the questing disciple of his innate Blissfulness, of his permanent inherence in Truth.

In order to bring out, and come to appreciate, Master Da’s humorously serious utterance, it might be helpful to take a closer look at the qualifications traditionally looked for in a worthy disciple. This article has grown out of a special scenario which Master Da graciously created to sensitize me to the condition of “satsanga” or spiritual relationship which he offers to all who will prepare themselves to live it. I had been invited over from Europe by The Laughing Man Institute to work with the editorial team on more scholarly presentations of Master Da Free John’s teaching, and was welcomed by the spiritual community as someone who had done a certain amount of academic research into Indian spirituality. Although I have been involved with Yoga practice since my adolescent years, my intellectual outlook has always been essentially that of a scholar. This makes for a predilection to think before I leap-which in itself is neither good nor bad; it is simply a psychological disposition, one’s particular starting-point.

Now, even though my acceptance of the Institute’s invitation has been wholehearted and enthusiastic (and by no means for scholarly reasons alone), the face-to-face confrontation with the bodily reality of the spiritual culture at once led me into all kinds of silent monologues. In Master Da’s language, I reacted to my new environment by “contracting.” An anthropologist might have diagnosed my condition as “acute culture shock,” but this would have missed the crucial spiritual ingredient in my inner discourses, which consisted of a whole string of unanswered questions, doubts, and more doubts.

Since Master Da does not grant “darshana” to anyone who is not prepared for such a meeting-irrespective of a person’s background or reputation-I simply dropped my urgent hope to sit with him and abandoned any idea of courting his attention. Nor could I conceive of a way out of my inner dilemma, other than. by shelving the whole, matter. At this point the first message arrived from Master Da: I should pick up my garbage and dump it! It took no particular powers of comprehension to grasp what was meant. I began to make a more conscious and determined effort to cultivate the equanimity which he recommends in his writings and to understand my contractions the very moment they occurred. In other words, I started to dump my garbage. A few days later the second message was conveyed to me: I should compile a list of three columns. In the first column I should list the qualifications traditionally expected of a competent disciple (adhikarin*). In the second column I should write down the qualifications required by Master Da of a pupil or devotee, and in the third column I should enter all my hang-ups.

* The word “darshana” literally means “sighting.” Because of the Realized Condition of the Adept, such sighting implies the transmission of spiritual Energy and Consciousness.

I was surprised but not offended. Soon afterwards I came to see the astonishing wisdom in this curious assignment, and I received an impression of the compassion and concern with which his advice seemed imbued. I took the assignment quite seriously, and as my research progressed I found that I was beginning to enter into an inner relationship with the Spiritual Master which perhaps did not answer all my questions or remove all my doubts but which created the vital precondition of motiveless “listening.”

In this article I will summarize, and reflect upon, my findings with regard to the first two columns. I will, however, spare the reader the tedium, and myself the embarrassment, of publishing the entries of the third column!

The relationship between teacher and disciple is fundamental to the whole spiritual enterprise. All true spirituality is of an initiatory nature. On the one side there is the one who “knows,” the guru, and on the other side there is the one who thirsts for “knowledge.” This “knowledge” is not of the ordinary, conceptual variety. It is knowledge, insight, or understanding which is conducive to, and ultimately even equivalent to, Self-realization or God-realization. As the Shiva-Samhita, an important Hatha Yoga scripture, declares:

Only the knowledge which comes from the teacher’s mouth is alive. Other forms (of knowledge) are barren, powerless and the cause of suffering. (3:1)

Mundane, word-dependent knowledge is barren because it is short-circuited; it remains within the conceptual realm. Wittgenstein conceded as much when he said that philosophy could not remove a fly from the fly-bottle. At best conventional knowledge can lead to new experiences. It cannot, however, act as a lever for making the transition from “having” to “being.” It is not capable of changing a person at his very core. It may have the force to refashion a convinced capitalist into an equally convinced communist, or a totally committed atheist into an equally committed theist. Yet it can never transform him essentially, radically. It cannot turn a rogue, or even a God-fearing citizen, into a God-realizer, one who lives in, through, and as the Divine.

For this radical transmutation to occur, all knowledge and all experiences must be transcended. The human personality must be utterly undone, uprooted. As Master Da explains:

It requires a transformation in him that exceeds all that he is, all that he tends to be; and all that he prefers. It requires an absolute turnabout.*

* Da Free John, Garbage and the Goddess (Lower Lake, Calif.: The Dawn Horse Press, 1974), p. 218.

For obvious reasons nobody-or practically nobody-can achieve this great undoing by himself. It is far easier to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge to end one’s life than to consciously and from moment to moment grind away the hard layers upon layers of resistive egocentricity which conceal the Divine Light. Hence virtually all scriptures emphasize the need for a true teacher (sad-guru) who has transcended the ego. Master Da describes the function of the guru in this picturesque way:

The Guru is like an elevator. He’s in the hotel lobby with a nice marble casement and a needle above pointing to the numbers of floors. It looks perfectly stable. You know it has been there for a while. You dare to walk up to it. You see buttons on the wall. The doors open. You look inside. It is nicely decorated. A couple of people nicely dressed come out and go to the cocktail lounge. So you step in. You expect to rise, as all the traditions say. But you fall right through the floor! He doesn’t support it, but he appears ordinary. His activity is nonsupport in endless subtle forms.*

* Da Free John, The Method of the Siddhas (Los Angeles: The Dawn Horse Press, 1973), p. 43.

Further on in the same book Master Da describes the teacher as a “constant waking sound” (p. 152). This awakening of the disciple is the teacher’s highest function. According to the Kularnava-Tantra (13:128ff.), an important Tantric text which has much to say on this topic, there are six types of gurus. The “impeller” (preraka) is the one who stimulates a person’s initial interest in spiritual life, leading to actual initiation. The “indicator” (sucaka) introduces him to the particular spiritual method (sadhana) in which interest has been awakened. The “explainer” (vacaka) explains to the student the process and its goal. The “demonstrator” (darshaka) shows to him the working and goal in more detail. The “instructor” (shikshaka) supervises the actual spiritual practice. Lastly, the “illuminator” (bodhaka) bring to fruition the work of the previous five teachers by lighting up in the duly prepared disciple the “lamp of knowledge.” Of course, these six teaching functions can all be fulfilled by a single guru.

Whatever else these several functions may appear to be on the surface, their common denominator is, as Master Da puts it, the gradual undermining of the limitation called “disciple.” Therefore, spiritual life can be looked upon as a succession of tests and crises in which the “seeker” is confronted with the absurdity of his seeking and with the untenability of his present state of being. The teacher constantly makes the pupil face himself.

Thus spiritual pupilage is demanding, at times excruciatingly difficult, and sometimes even painful and dangerous; looked at dispassionately, it is a matter of life and death. The Mahabharata (XII.300:50), one of India’s two celebrated national epics, contains this stanza:

This great path of the wise’ brahmanas is arduous. No one can tread it easily, 0 Bharatarshabha! It is like a terrible jungle creeping with large snakes, filled with pits, devoid of water, full of thorns and quite inaccessible.

The Katha-Upanishad (1.3:14), a Sanskrit scripture dating back to the fifth or sixth century B.C., employs the metaphor of a razor to highlight the difficulty of the spiritual path. Understandably, all authorities are in unanimous agreement that only the most determined and keenest travelers on the road to Freedom will be blessed with success. In the days before the term yoga came into vogue, its equivalent tapas was widely used. This word captures very well the intrinsic ardor of spiritual life. It is derived from the verbal root tap meaning “to burn, glow, be heated.” It is descriptive of the “stewing which every aspirant must undergo in order to reach maturity. He has to stew in his own juice just as-in mythological language – the creator-god Prajapati had to “heat” himself, through tapas or austerities, to be able to “sweat out” the whole universe.

In Master Da Free John’s words, “When ordinary conditions of life are themselves made forms of loving sacrifice, then ordinary life itself becomes a form of ascetic practice or ‘tapas’ which means ‘heat’). The true Way involves re-adaptation of ordinary actions and relationships to the Law. Thus, such ordinary relations and enjoyments and responsibilities become ascetic in the truest sense. They awaken the ‘heat’ which is the sign of the frustration of old adaptation. And this ‘heat’ (mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual) purifies and transforms us in our habits and liberates us from the illusory consolations of experience.”*

* Da Free John, Breath and Name (San Francisco: The Dawn Horse Press, 1977), p. 103.

Because of the perpetual demand to transcend himself during the whole course of his spiritual practice, the disciple must come fully prepared to the sad-guru. What this entailed traditionally, can, -for instance, be gleaned from the Shiva-Samhita (5:10ff.). This manual speaks of four types of aspirants. According to the intensity of their commitment they may be called “soft” (mridu), “middling” (madhya), “extraordinary” (adhimatra), or “very extraordinary” (adhimatratama). The text goes on to characterize each category. Thus the “soft practitioner,” who is only fit for Mantra Yoga, or the Yoga of recitation, is described as having the following (doubtful) qualities: lack of enthusiasm, foolishness, fickleness, timidity, illness, dependence, rudeness, lack of manners, and little energy.

By contrast, the “middling practitioner,” who is capable of practicing Laya Yoga (Yoga of meditative absorption), would have these qualities: even-mindedness, patience, a desire for virtue, kind speech, and the tendency to take the middle path in all undertakings.

The “extraordinary practitioner,” who qualifies for the practice of Hatha Yoga (the forceful Yoga of postures, and breath control, etc.), is expected to demonstrate the following virtues: firm understanding, an aptitude for meditative absorption (laya), self-reliance, energy, liberal-mindedness, generosity, patience, truthfulness, bravery, vigor, faithfulness, the willingness to worship the teacher’s lotus feet, and delight in the practice of Yoga.

For the “very extraordinary practitioner,” who may practice all forms of Yoga, the Shiva-Samhita lists no fewer than thirty-one excellences: great energy, enthusiasm, charm, heroism, scriptural knowledge, the inclination to practice, freedom from delusion, orderliness, prime of youth, moderate eating habits, control over the senses, fearlessness, purity, skillfulness, liberality, the ability to be a refuge for all people, capability, stability, thoughtfulness, the willingness to do whatever is desired (by the guru), patience, good manners, observance of the law (dharma), the ability to keep his struggle to himself, kind speech, faith in the scriptures, the willingness to worship God and guru (as the embodiment of the Divine), knowledge of the vow pertaining to the “extraordinary practitioner,” and, lastly, the practice of all types of Yoga.

The Hathayoga-Pradipika (1:15-16), again, itemizes various qualities which either hinder or facilitate spiritual practice:

Overeating, overexertion, chatter, adoption of (wrong) disciplines, social intercourse, fickleness-by these six Yoga fails.

Through enthusiasm, determination, steadfastness, true knowledge, certainty and the abstention from social intercourse-by these six Yoga succeeds.

In the Bhagavad-Gita (ch. 2) Krishna reprimanded Prince Arjuna for his weakness, unmanliness, and mean faint-heartedness. He exhorted him not to grieve or be deluded, butt to endure the “opposites” (dvandva), that is, to bear with the changeable, paradoxical conditions of life and nature, such as love and hatred, heat and cold, etc. He challenged him to arise and fight; and this demand is symbolic of the central message of all teachers to their disciples. Spiritual life is action, and action requires commitment, and commitment calls for faith, strength, and courage.

In the eighteenth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita (vss. 51-53) the person who is fit to become transmuted into the Absolute is described. According to this passage, he should be endowed with a pure mind (buddhi) and firm self-control to have abandoned the sense objects and be indifferent to passion and aversion, to live in an isolated place, eat sparsely, control his speech, body, and mind, and to practice constantly the Yoga of meditation; he should also be tranquil and cultivate dispassion, and be free from egotism (ahamkara), lust for power, arrogance, desire, anger, grasping, and the notion of “mine.”

In the Vedanta-Sara (section 5), a sixteenth century manual of Vedanta metaphysics, similar stipulations are found. Thus the qualifying aspirant must have regularly studied the Vedas and auxiliary Vedas (e.g. phonetics, grammar, etymology, meter, ritual, astronomy). He must also be able to distinguish between things eternal and things ephemeral, he must be able to practice dispassion towards all forms of experience, high or low, and he must have acquired the means of quiescence, self-restraint, abstinence, endurance, concentration, and faith. Last but not least, he must actually desire liberation-and not as one might desire a new suit, automobile, or wife, but as a drowning man would desire air.

It would be easy enough to multiply such scriptural statements a hundred fold. Many Indian scriptures-ancient and modern, Hindu, Buddhist, and Jaina-contain pertinent comments about the signs of a duly qualified aspirant; but the above examples will suffice to convey an idea about the traditional expectations. It should have become clear by now that these expectations were of the highest order. Thus, “Come to me when you are already happy,” says Master Da, and with this simple demand puts in a’ nutshell all the catalogs of qualifications given in the traditional literature.

The God-realized teacher is not merely an instructor. Strictly speaking, he has nothing to teach. Therefore, so long as a person approaches the sad-guru in the mood of seeking, he is bound to be disappointed and frustrated. In The Method of the Siddhas Master Da spells this out very clearly:

A man should not approach his Guru in order to carry on his search. He should approach his Guru with devotion, as one who has found, and put his search down at his Guru’s feet. The true disciple is a devotee who simply lives with his Guru.8

To have come to this point of relative fulfillment, of having found rather than neurotically seeking, a person “must have passed through a critical consideration of the total human situation as well as his or. her own habits of action, feeling, reaction, and thinking.”9 He must have traversed the “crisis of discipline” by which the neurosis of the usual person is dissolved, and a certain measure of equanimity and even a degree of ease and happiness must have been attained so that the realized Presence of the sad-guru may make itself felt in his life. Master Da is more explicit:

I am interested in finding men and women who are free of every kind of seeking, who are attendant only to understanding, and who will devote themselves to the intentional creation of human life in the form and logic of Reality, rather than the form and logic of Narcissus. Such men are the unexploitable Presence of Reality.10

In comparison with the traditional qualifications of the foremost type of aspirant, Master Da’s expectations are certainly as high but more realistic and also more appropriate for modern conditions. A person need not be anxiously preoccupied with all manner of strenuous physical or mental disciplines, paranoid self-watching or self-improvement, or the neurotic suppression of negative desires and unwholesome habits. States the Tripura-Rahasya (20:79), a text valued by both Master Da and the late Ramana Maharshi:

What is the use of a thousand good efforts when there is no full intentness? Therefore, devotion (tatparya) alone is the principal instrument for emancipation.

This “intentness” or “devotion” implies a radical re-orientation, a conversion, of one’s whole being. It implies the actualization of loveattention as taught by Master Da. In The Paradox of Instruction he says:

The discipline of the true devotee, active on the basis of “hearing” in Truth, is constantly, intentionally, and with great feeling to bring the whole body-being into loving, compassionate, pleasurable service and creative cooperation with living beings and whole body (not merely subjective) conditions. Service or love is pure action.

This is the discipline: in every moment, instead of automatically aligning to the fixed disposition of reactive emotion, and allowing it to control or undermine the natural relational force of the body-being, turn into the present relational condition with great attention, intuition, energy, and feeling.11

Elsewhere in the same book (p. 69), he speaks of responsibility and service as the “foundation discipline.” What is required of the serious, mature student or disciple is constant self-transcendence through radical understanding. He discourages the past-oriented, guilt ridden, self-indulgent approach. No one is perfect. What matters is that one should again and again re-align oneself to the primal state of one’s eternal Perfection. Gradually, all the dross will fall away. This is no easy undertaking, but a lifetime’s sacrificial self-offering.

It requires great responsibility, great intensity, great energy, and great discipline of your karmic tendencies and your cultic life. All those things are demanded of you, and you are expected to fulfill them with absolute humor and love and attention.12

So long as such virtues as truthfulness, rectitude, courage, or self-reliance, etc., are practiced as egoic strategies, they remain unstable “possessions” which need constant, self-possessed attention. They may turn into regular triggers for neurotic obsession and fascination. They can grow into trees which will obscure the forest. Genuine spiritual life begins with the dropping of this teeth-clenching struggle for moral purity, or the self-conscious drive for self-perfection.

Spirituality does not call for mortification. Nothing needs to be “mortified” or as is the literal meaning of this word-be deadened or killed off. World-negation and life-denial are not necessary preconditions of spiritual life. Rather, they must be recognized as partial strategies which pertain to a particular cultural context and structure of consciousness. They may have been appropriate and adequate within that specific context, but today a non-exclusive approach is not only possible but desirable.

Patanjali’s Yoga-Sutra (2:33), the source book of the so-called “Classical Yoga,” contains an aphorism which gives out a method for counteracting unwholesome thoughts or sentiments. Patanjali recommends that when such feelings or intentions arise, one should repel them by cultivating their exact opposite. For instance, when one feels tempted to lash out at someone, one should remind oneself of the principle of non-harming (ahimsa), or when one feels tempted to lie, to remind oneself of the virtue of truth (satya), and so on. Curiously enough, the Sanskrit word for this sort of “reminder” is bhavana, which is more often employed to denote meditation or contemplation. So, although the Yoga-Sutra is not too clear on this, it could well be that Patanjali had more in mind than a mere intellectual recall of those wholesome principles. It is quite possible that pratipaksha-bhavana stands for the meditative attitude of remembering and thus of cultivating the “opposite” to whatever undesirable intention may have occupied one’s mind.

This would be more in keeping with the whole approach favored and taught by Master Da, or at least an aspect of his approach that first attracted me to his teaching. In this path, meditation involves, among other things, the dual practice of relaxation or release of the body into the primal Disposition and transcendence of the objects of attention via the “conscious process,” or the moment-to-moment surrender of attention to the Divine. And it is this act, performed from moment to moment, which helps one to transcend one’s unwholesome, negative habits and dispositions effortlessly. In order to outgrow dysfunctional old habits one need not desperately resist or fight them, but simply observe their existence and present influence in one’s life and then repeatedly and wholeheartedly turn one’s entire being towards the Transcendental Reality. They will dissolve of their own accord. Master Da writes in his Breath and Name:

In this discipline, all conditions are yielded to the Presence, and the Presence is depended upon for all changes. As a result, the true morality that only Divine Communion produces begins to appear in the devotee in the form of strength, intelligence, compassion, and loving service to all beings.13

The spiritual aspirant on this integral “path” does not narcissistically indulge in the usual construction of a “separate reality.” He does not conjure’ up and inhabit a larger-than life mental or psychic wonderland. Instead he continues to live in the bodily present of the here and now, fully accepting his normal life circumstances which offer him a permanent possibility of transcending himself by entering into heartfelt relationship with all beings and events and modifications of the Divine (which is also his own inmost nature). He will not search or strain for happiness. Rather, he will find or recognize his eternal Happiness in those moments when, amidst the ordinariness of his daily existence, he is in full intuitive alignment with the Ultimate.


Four months have elapsed since the writing of this article. In the meantime I have been fortunate enough to have had three formal and several informal darshanas (“sightings”) of Master Da Free John, plus a good many more notes from him. All this served to quicken my practice, though not necessarily in the way that I had anticipated. For the Adept’s function is truly to demonstrate to the disciple his perpetual failure to live up to the high expectations of spiritual life; to constantly remind him of his habitual self-contraction and unhappiness, and to confront him with his perpetual reluctance to face Reality. In other words, I have had a taste of the “stewing” or “heat” (tapas) that I have spoken about in the article. And this is how it should be. As one of the favorite chants of this spiritual community goes: “The Way is sacrifice of self.” However, what is so remarkable about this teaching, even in those moments which seem most arduous, is that there is room in one for quiet joy, providing one is practicing duly. The transcendence of the ego is, after all, a truly humorous affair. For, who would have thought an illusion could be so persistent even after having been recognized as such!?

8. Da Free John, The Method of the Siddhas, p. 58.

9. Da Free John, Scientific Proof of the Existence of God Will Soon Be Announced by the White House! (Middletown, Calif.: The Dawn Horse Press, 1980), p. 105.

10. Ibid., p. 110.

11. Da Free John, The Paradox of Instruction, 2d ed., rev. and exp. (San Francisco: The Dawn Horse Press, 1977), p. 82.

12. Da Free John, Garbage and the Goddess, p. 201.

13. Da Free John, Breath and Name, pp. 48-49.