Beezone Interview with Aniello Panico – November, 2019
Franklin Jones and Aniello Panico, 1973
BEEZONE: How did you get involved with “Franklin” (Adi Da) and The Knee of Listening?
ANIELLO: I became a devotee of Adi Da Samraj in 1972. I immediately became involved in producing His first books, “The Knee of Listening” and “The Method of the Siddhas”, because I had worked in publishing for 15 years.
From 1959 until I met Adi Da in 1972, I worked in publishing as a sales representative for Simon and Schuster and later Macmillan and Co., both on the east and west coasts. After I retired from full-time sales work in 1970, I opened my own bookstore in Los Angeles and continued to work for major publishers on a freelance basis.
BEEZONE: How did “Franklin” become aware of your background in publishing?
ANIELLO: In the earliest days, there was a small number of devotees with Adi Da. We knew everything about each other, as did Adi Da, as He worked directly with each person. He included me in His inner circle at the time.
Over time He said, why don’t you take on the ordering of the bookstore scene, because you’ve run a bookstore? I said okay,
He originally used to keep an inventory control card on every book in the store. There weren’t many and He’d note the distributor, the title of the book, the price and so forth. After I took over, for the first two or three times He would go over each order with me. He was instructing me — about what to buy, what not to buy, how many to buy and so forth, until I took it on. And then He said to me, “By the way it would be good for you to start reading some of this Spiritual literature”. He said, and if you want any books for yourself you could take a forty percent discount.
BEEZONE: What were some of the books you read?
ANIELLO: Adi Da (Franklin) would point out books, like The Gospel of Ramakrishna, Ramana Maharshi’s books, some Tibetan books, all really good stuff. Real traditional type of literature. That helped me a great deal, made me understand what I was getting involved with, who He was. I don’t know how to describe this, but
BEEZONE: Working that close with Adi Da must have awakened something in you, no?
ANIELLO: Yes! I knew something was going on immediately. It didn’t take me too long to know this was unusual. In fact in a very short period of time I started calling Him “Guru” because Franklin didn’t seem adequate, you know.
BEEZONE: Who were the individuals “Franklin” was interested in?
ANIELLO: He didn’t give us any names to contact. He left it up to us. He considered that our public work.
BEEZONE: So, how did the idea of getting Alan Watts to write the foreward to The Knee of Listening happen?
ANIELLO: In 1973, we were preparing The Knee of Listening for a paperback edition, brainstorming about how to get a Foreword from key people in philosophy and religion, like authors.
BEEZONE: Who were you considering?
ANIELLO: Besides Alan, Israel Regardie was coming to sit with the Guru. I spoke with him and his wife several times. He was our only known name. Adi Da said to take out a little monthly ad in a magazine that Regardie was associated with. We were also in dialogue at the time with Paavo Airola, the nutrition author, about developing the right life diet for devotees.
BEEZONE: How did you contact Alan?
ANIELLO: One devotee, Craig Lesser, was a friend of Alan Watts’ son, Mark. and we asked him to facilitate contacting Alan about writing a Foreword to the book. What better authority in 1973. After a time, we were able to get in touch with Alan, and he received a copy of The Knee of Listening.
BEEZONE: Do you remember the date?
ANIELLO: Early 73
BEEZONE: At some point you actually met Alan, prior to working on getting him to write something, right?
ANIELLO: Yes. I was planning a trip to San Francisco from Los Angeles in early 73. We contacted Alan.
BEEZONE: How did you contact him?
ANIELLO: I probably made the appointment with Alan through Craig Lesser, who was in touch with Alan’s son and was the communicator.
BEEZONE: What was the circumstance?
ANIELLO: It was arranged as a lunch in Mill Valley at Rancho Sausalito, his home at the time. And so we met. It was a lovely day in Mill Valley, north of San Francisco.
BEEZONE: How did you introduce yourself?
ANIELLO: As a devotee.
BEEZONE: What did you talk about?
ANIELLO: Alan’s first comment to me was “Tell me about your Guru’s practice”. I told him I could not speak to the Guru’s practice, I could just speak to my own. So he started asking me questions that turned into a 3 hour conversation. We discussed that more and more people were dismayed by traditional religion, that there was a resurgence of spiritual practices happening, and that Americans were responding well to his writings. I might have taken notes on our conversation, but I didn’t. It didn’t seem to fit. Alan had received The Knee of Listening but had not read it yet.
BEEZONE: How did you describe “Franklin” to Alan?
ANIELLO: For one thing, I was full of the Guru’s Siddhi. When we would sit with Adi Da, I would feel His Presence strongly. I had “visual kriyas”, where the Guru’s face would change into other Realizers, like Satya Sai Baba, Swami Nityananda, Swami Vivekananda, and Ramana Maharshi, and then my own face as well. So I told Alan about these experiences. I wish I could remember more.
As I was leaving, Alan said “Neil, remember this people judge a Guru by His devotees. By the way, what are you doing tonight?” I said I was in town with two other friends; he was having a party and invited us to attend.
The party was a lively time. As we arrived, 6 drummers were outside playing these fantastic rhythms, really wailing. I was told the poet Gary Snyder was there. We mingled in the crowd. I spoke to Alan briefly and he said he would read the book and get back to me about writing a Foreword.
When I returned to Los Angeles, I asked to see Adi Da. I went to His house to tell him about meeting Alan. I said it would be great if he would be willing to meet Alan in person. I knew Alan would like that very much. Adi Da declined. He said “I don’t meet people from the public or have casual social contact. You just want to sell books.”
BEEZONE: Was he interested at all in your meeting with Alan?
ANIELLO: He had me describe the meeting in detail. Three weeks later, a brief letter came from Alan after he had read the book, agreeing to write a Foreword. We were thrilled. We posted the letter in the bookstore window, ahead of publishing the book.
BEEZONE : Is this Alan’s full foreward to The Knee of Listening?
ANIELLO: Yes, this is the foreword as Alan wrote it and as it appeared in The Knee of Listening
ANIELLO: A couple of months later, after the book came out, Adi Da called me up to His house. He said He would agree to meet Alan. I had continued to advocate to Adi Da that He meet with Alan, whom I described as a popular scholar. I looked forward to relating with Alan over time. How Adi Da and Alan would meet and discuss the Dharma would give me direction on promoting the Teaching Word.
BEEZONE: Do you mean you asked him again or did he bring up the topic of meeting with Alan?
ANIELLO: He brought it up. He didn’t explain why He had changed His mind. I think He was doing it for the sake of the Ashram and His Work.
BEEZONE: Could you explain what you mean by, “Doing it for the Ashram?”
ANIELLO: By that I mean doing it for the greater good of growing His Work for which all devotees in the Ashram were working devotedly to accomplish.
I was thrilled, I had to contain myself. I called Alan the same day. He was happy about the plan to meet the Guru. He was to be speaking at a college in Southern California in the near future. We arranged that I would pick him up then, go out to lunch, and then take him to meet Adi Da. The date was set.
BEEZONE: Your excitement? Was it thinking this would possibly “launch” Adi Da into the sphere of influence Alan had?
ANIELLO: Yes, I knew enough to know that Alan Watts was a major opinion leader and authority on Eastern religion, and his endorsement would influence many people to check out
ANIELLO: , Which it did.
BEEZONE: What was the date?
ANIELLO: Alan died on Nov 16, 1973, so the meeting was scheduled for a time soon after that.
BEEZONE: What was the circumstance or environment you had arranged to have the meeting?
ANIELLO: The plan was to pick up Alan from his speaking engagement, take him out to lunch, and then accompany him to meet Adi Da at Adi Da’s home in Laurel Canyon. Three weeks later, I got a call from Craig Lesser, the devotee who knew the Watts family. Craig said, “You are not going to believe this. Alan has died.” Yes, unbelievable. What a loss for Alan to pass, and a loss for him and us in serving the Guru’s Work.
I called Adi Da’s house and asked to see Him. I wanted to give the news in person. I was told to come up. When I saw him, I said “You are not going to believe this”! When I told Him, Adi Da took a moment in silence, Blessing Alan. Then He said “Some people will do anything to avoid doing sadhana.”
BEEZONE: There is also a story of Alan being asked to write a foreward to the “Method of the Siddhas”. Do you know anything about that?
BEEZONE: Alan at some time was shown a video of ‘Franklin’ and was said to have wept and say, “It looks like we have an Avatar here.”
“Alan Watts. Not a man to be caught with his comments out on a limb, he wrote a carefully worded foreword to The Knee of Listening which would leave him unbesmirched if Bubba (Adi Da) subsequently turned out to be a charlatan. However, a year later, when he was invited to contribute a foreword to The Method o the Siddhas, he had an opportunity to study Bubba on videotape. The encounter left him shaken and in tears overwhelmed by the gestures, voice, and humor of what he felt was an obvious godman. “It looks like we have an avatar here,” Watts is said to have commented. I can’t believe it, he is really here. I’ve been waiting for such a one all my life.”
BEEZONE: Do you know the circumstances of how the video got to Alan and who recorded the response?
ANIELLO: I remember this happening through Craig Lesser’s connection with Alan’s son, Mark.. Craig gave the video to Alan’s son, who watched it with Alan, and then reported back to Craig what Alan’s response was.
Stay tuned to Part II