Yogic Gnosticism in the Work of Adi Da Samarj

The Whole Body Gospel

Yogic Gnosticism in the Work of Adi Da Samraj

In: Gnosis: Journal of Gnostic Studies


The Whole Body Gospel

Yogic Gnosticism in the Work of Adi Da Samraj

Naamleela Free Jones 

Rice University, Houston, TX, USA

Published online 3 May 2024


This article explores Gnostic spirituality in a new religious movement by examining what I call “yogic Gnosticism” in the work of my father, spiritual teacher and philoso­pher, Adi Da Samraj (1939–2008). Although Adi Da’s teachings are most often associ­ated with Indian traditions of thought and practice, an often-overlooked element of his work is his reading of Christian scripture. Adi Da read the New Testament as a moral, devotional, and mystical text – one that simultaneously portrays historical events and esoteric, or hidden, archetypes of enlightenment. To define Adi Da’s work as “Gnos­tic” is to examine gnosis as a category of religious imagination that is, by definition, transgressive and experiential – drawing on the traditional symbols and myths of the Christian religion but privileging an individualism that is often at odds with an ortho­dox reading. To categorize his view as “yogic” is to see it in interplay with definitions of the subtle body and of enlightenment that closely parallel Hindu and Buddhist yogic traditions. The result is an innovative interpretation of the gospel of Jesus that simulta­neously deconstructs orthodox readings of Christian scripture while affirming a deeply meaningful message of ancient religious truth.


Gnostic – Yogic – Adi Da – Christianity – Gnosis

Published with permissions (pending) © Naamleela Free Jones, 2024


1 The Yogic Gnosticism of Adi Da Samraj

In 2006, on a warm Spring night in the Fiji Islands, I listened to my father, Adi Da Samraj, read his newest work: a manuscript titled “The Spiritual Gospel of Saint Jesus of Galilee.”1 The air was filled with ocean breeze and collective anticipation as a hundred of his close students filled the room to hear his recita­tion. Adi Da’s “Spiritual Gospel” reads as a narrative and commentary on the life story of Jesus, rendered from translations of traditional Gospel texts and added elements of Adi Da’s own writing. The goal is essentially to present an accurate historical account of Jesus’s life, while re-telling his ancient spiritual message through Adi Da’s new revelatory voice. The result is powerful. As a young woman listening to my father read “The Spiritual Gospel,” I was struck by the profound spirituality communicated in his rendering of the words of Jesus:

The Divine Spirit-Breath is the Single Light of the world. The Divine Spirit­ Breath is the Eternal Truth that Pervades and Sustains all beings. The Divine Spirit-Breath is the Indivisible Light, and Love, and Truth, and Way in which all beings and things arise and change and pass out of sight.2

Ten years later, as a graduate student of Gnosticism, Esotericism, and Mysticism at Rice University in Houston, Texas, I would revisit this text in light of my study of ancient Gnosticism and contemporary new religious movements. What I have now come to appreciate is that Adi Da’s “Spiritual Gospel” is remarkable in that it emerged both from the rigors of an academically oriented theological and philosophical education and experiences of direct and personal mystical revelation. Even more, I have come to realize that he was engaging in the same ongoing interpretive process practiced by early Christians and ancient Gnostic sects of the first to third centuries. In this article, I suggest that Adi Da’s rendering of Christian scripture remains an overlooked area of his work, and that uncovering what I call his “yogic Gnosticism” offers a compelling example of Gnostic spirituality in a contemporary new religious movement.

Born Franklin Albert Jones, and earlier known as Bubba Free John, or Da Free John, Adi Da founded the Way of Adidam (or the Way of the Heart) in California in the early 1970s. His principal teacher was Swami Muktananda, the founder of Siddha Yoga, a modern guru-centered lineage that draws its teachings from the Indian traditions of Advaita Vedanta and Kashmiri Shaivism.

1 See audio recording of his recitation: Samraj 2011b.

2 Samraj 2011a, 302–303.

Although Adi Da’s movement is philosophically and institutionally distinct from Siddha Yoga, his philosophy remains most closely identified with Indian nondual schools of Advaita Vedanta, yoga, and Tantra, as well as some philosophical schools of Buddhism. From the 1970s to 2000s, Adi Da authored more than seventy-five books of spiritual, philosophical, and practical teachings, and created a large body of visual, literary, and performance art, while his religious movement grew to include several thousand followers, and ashrams, or spiritual centers, across North America, Europe, and the Asian-Pacific.

Nevertheless, Adi Da was born in New York and grew up in the Lutheran Church. As a young man he had considered becoming a pastor, and later stud­ied koine Greek before attending two different Christian seminaries. These periods of study remained important to him throughout his life as he consid­ered the teachings of Jesus, followed the ongoing debates on early Christianity, and wrote about the esoteric message of the New Testament. Ultimately, Adi Da read the New Testament as a moral, devotional, and mystical text – one that simultaneously portrays historical events and ancient esoteric archetypes. However, due to his close association with Indian traditions of thought and practice, he articulated his understanding of Christian symbols and myths through a distinctive perspective – the lens of spiritual enlightenment (mok­sha in Hinduism, bodhi and nirvana in Buddhism), and a subtle physiology of the body closely related to yogic and Tantric traditions.

Broadly speaking, Adi Da’s reading of Christian writings can be seen as twofold: he points to both a historical interpretation and an esoteric interpre­tation (presented as an outer/objective/surface reading, and an inner/subjec- tive/secret reading). In this sense, Adi Da’s historical interpretation of Jesus portrays him as a genuine spiritual teacher and transmitter, one who both instructed and initiated his students. At the same time, his esoteric interpre­tation of Jesus Christ sees him as a symbol for whole bodily enlightenment – a process that, in Adi Da’s view, is universally available to any individual.

This article will focus on the latter esoteric/subjective interpretation, in which Adi Da performs a radical re-reading of the figure of Jesus Christ as a universal archetype of whole bodily enlightenment. To categorize this inter­pretation as “Gnostic” is to define gnosis as a category of religious imagination that is, by definition, transgressive and experiential – drawing on the symbols and myths of faith traditions but privileging an individualism that is often at odds with the orthodox traditions. To categorize his view as “yogic” is to see it in interplay with definitions of the subtle body and of enlightenment that most closely parallel Hindu and Buddhist yogic traditions. In this context, Adi Da’s re-reading of the New Testament illustrates the Gnostic spirituality of a new religious movement that critically engages with conventional religions in order to transcend traditional religious boundaries.

In an early book, The Enlightenment of the Whole Body, Adi Da first argued that the New Testament contains both a religious, moral, or “exoteric,” mean­ing and a spiritual, inner, or “esoteric,” message. Certainly then, there is an outer message that forms the basis for a range of Christian ethical teachings. But, he argued, there is also an esoteric message structured “in the manner of gnostic or ‘secret’ mystery texts,” and communicated “in the form of symbols, allegories, parables, ciphers, cryptic numerological and mystical structures of language, and so forth.”3 That message, Adi Da tells us, contains archetypal truths of psycho-physical transformation and spiritual awakening.

Adi Da himself understood this esoteric, or archetypal, message to be Gnos­tic. In other words, he emphasizes the true message of Jesus as one of direct knowledge of God experienced through the spiritual process of enlighten­ment. Here, gnosis, or direct knowledge of God, is interpreted as whole bodily enlightenment, which is itself mapped onto a specific understanding of the human body. Adi Da’s understanding of the human body is closely related to classical yogic physiology, including a system of koshas (sheaths), cakras (wheels), bindus (centers), and nadis (channels), whose precise anatomy allows for the total transformation and transcendence of the body. Once this corre­lation is made, Jesus’s secret message becomes a “whole body Gospel,” or an ancient and universal message about the potentials for the enlightenment, or awakening, of the whole body.4 In this way, Adi Da engages directly with Christian scriptures to offer a radical re-reading that prioritizes direct expe­riential knowledge, and the divine potential immanent within the human being.

Adi Da’s primary argument is that “Jesus,” or the “Christ,” is a universal archetype for the principle of the whole body “crucified, or sacrificed to the Living Spirit.”5 The true message of Jesus then communicates a series of signs, symbols, and metaphors for the process of spiritual awakening. Whatever his­torical confirmation we might find for Jesus’s life story, Adi Da argues that the proof of his teaching is not verified by mere belief, or historical data. In other words, Adi Da’s vision of Jesus’s true message is not a matter of adherence to a historical system of beliefs, but a transformative process capable of being embraced by every individual in present time. He writes, “The historical per­son of Jesus is now beyond the ordinary reach of mankind. He has gone on

3 Samraj 1978, 511.

4 Samraj 1978, 493.

5 Samraj 1980, 312.

to fulfill his own evolutionary destiny in the realm of Nature. Only the Living God, or the Transcendental Reality to which Jesus pointed with his entire life and Teaching, remains for us to embrace in love.”6

Through this reading, Adi Da intended to uncover an original and ancient tradition, a kind of philosophia perennis, or core of philosophical truth that lies at the heart of Jesus’s message, and the heart of the New Testament. He held that he was locating what he called “Esoteric Christianity,” or “Christian Gnos­ticism” as the true core of original teachings given by Jesus:

[T]he original esoteric mysteries and mystical teachings of Christian gnosticism (which must often correspond to what must be presumed to have been Jesus’ own teachings) invariably communicate a message about the Spiritual (or Spirit-Breathing) Awakening of every individual….7

Even more, he argued that this original esoteric core of Jesus’s teachings had its roots in the Hellenistic and Middle Eastern culture of antiquity. He proposed that there were direct parallels between the teachings of Jesus and aspects of ancient mystery schools of the Greco-Roman world, thus effectively chal­lenging official “exoteric” church traditions which are wrong about Jesus’s true message. Adi Da makes this argument this by directly contrasting esoteric and exoteric Christianity:

Esoteric Christianity was, in contrast to exoteric Christianity, based on (or, at least, largely influenced by) the Greek (and other Oriental) gnostic and mystery (and, otherwise, mystical) traditions, which…affirmed the existence of the Eternal in the human being, in the form of a “soul” (or a psyche that is separable from the body) and which conceived of Salvation …in terms of the separation of the “soul” from the body via mystical (and Spirit-Breathing) ascent…Therefore, the gnostic message about mysti­cal ascent and Spiritual Freedom, rather than physical resurrection and moral righteousness, is presumably closer to Jesus’ own teaching than the “official” church and exoteric doctrine that was later developed in his name.8

Following this logic, Adi Da can be seen to integrate both esoteric and exoteric perspectives, and both “Eastern” and “Western” spirituality into his discussion –

6 Samraj 1980, 312.

7 Samraj 2011a, 224.

8 Samraj 2011a, 221–222.

generating new scriptures as well as radical hermeneutics for understanding the old scriptures in new ways. He engages with Christian texts in a manner that is unconventional and individualistic, arguing powerfully for Jesus as both the teacher of an esoteric message and himself a symbol of a universal process available to every individual. Through this engagement, Adi Da’s project also reflects the ancient Gnostic tendency to directly transgress the boundaries of orthodox scriptural interpretation, what April DeConick has called “flipping” the conventional narrative and meaning.9 According to DeConick, this ten­dency to flip convention is one dimension of Gnostic spirituality, which she understands to be a metaphysical orientation, or cognitive frame with ideal features.

The ideal features of that frame, as DeConick defines it, include: (1) direct experiential knowledge of a transcendent God, (2) the belief that humans have “an innate spiritual nature that is an extension of this transcendence…the divine embodied in each of us, the transcendent God made immanent within the human,” and (3) a transgressive, or flipped, interpretation of scripture.10 Once this Gnostic frame is engaged by people, it works sociologically to reorga­nize conventional theology, reflecting a vision of “true” religion, and reshaping the surrounding culture in powerful ways. She notes that early Gnostics were not really heretics, or even alternative Christians, but transgressors who crossed traditional boundaries and created new ones that often critiqued the old.11 Put another way, as Jeffrey Kripal, describes it, gnosis itself often involves a “critical- but-engaged encounter with the faith traditions.”12

This framing of Gnostic spirituality as a metaphysical orientation specifi­cally engages with what DeConick calls “servant spirituality” (and its modu­lations as slave, vassal, or client spirituality) – an orientation that views the human being as God’s property, created to serve God as the great “other.” Ser­vant spiritualities structured much of Greco-Roman, and even Egyptian, reli­gion, around the time that the ancient Gnostic sects were emerging. Human beings are meant to admire, worship, and fear God because of this power dif­ferential. Yet an alternative understanding also existed, glimpsed in Plato and the Greek mystery religions, in which the human being itself contains a divine spark, or hidden and illuminated potential.

The framing of this cognitive script as a new metaphysical order was instru­mental in the emergence of ancient Gnosticism. In other words, at its heart,

9           DeConick 2016a, 11–17.

10         DeConick 2016a, 11.

11         DeConick 2016b, 11–14.

12         Kripal 2006, 13.

the Gnostic perspective points to the divine as something not entirely “other,” but existing within every individual, and thus able to be directly experienced and known.13

Like the ancient Gnostics before him, Adi Da emphasized direct knowledge and experience of the divine as a reality not “other” than our true nature. And as we will see, itis precisely this kind of Gnostic knowing, or “critical-but engaged” encounter, which Adi Da encouraged his readers and students to make with the Christian tradition (or with any faith tradition they were raised in), in order to outgrow their provincialism and come to terms with what is of significance in their own deepest experience. The result, overall, is an interpretation that simultaneously deconstructs the literal readings of Christian scripture while affirming it as a deeply meaningful message of ancient religious truth.

  • Adi Da’s Early Encounters with Christianity

Born Franklin Albert Jones, on Long Island, New York, in 1939, Adi Da’s early life was profoundly informed by his encounters with both Christian and Indian religious traditions. Raised in the Lutheran Church, he recounts early on being filled by disillusionment with his childhood religion, and an intense desire for a direct knowledge of God – a personal enlightenment, or gnosis. This desire led him to complete an undergraduate degree in philosophy at Columbia Uni­versity, a master’s degree in English literature at Stanford University, and a sub­sequent discovery and exploration of Asian spirituality under the guidance of a series of spiritual teachers. Adi Da would eventually conclude that the Indian philosophical traditions of yoga and Advaita Vedanta represented the closest parallel to his own experiences and understanding. Still, the Christian symbols of his childhood continued to resurge and be important matters of considera­tion for the rest of his life.

Growing up on Long Island, Adi Da served as an acolyte and liturgist in the Lutheran church and was urged by his pastor to go to college – a path which he initially pursued with the intention of becoming a minister. He entered Columbia University in 1957, describing himself as a “listener” and a “seeker” of truth.14 Nonetheless, as he majored in Western philosophy and became exposed to the great works of Western culture, he was thrown into a crisis of doubt. In his autobiography, he recounts that the traditional Christian

13 For DeConick’s most recent discussion of servant spiritualities and the cognitive script of Gnostic spirituality, see DeConick 2023.

14 Samraj 2004, 58.

beliefs and doctrines that he had grown up with were laid bare by his study. At Columbia, he was exposed to the historical questions and debates around the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, his miracles and powers, and the orthodox doctrines of God. Profoundly disillusioned, Adi Da recalls that “My doubt grew overnight into awesome fear…Ihadnota single reason for Joy. I found no faith, no inexplicable grace.”15

This crisis of faith stayed with Adi Da through graduate school at Stanford University, at a time when he began to explore Western occult literature and ancient Indian literature, “ravenously reading whatever material [he] could find that dealt with occult phenomena, miracles, religious and Spiritual phi­losophy, and all matters relating to the process of liberation.”16 He studied books by H.P. Blavatsky, C.G. Jung, and Edgar Cayce in order to make sense of his experiences. But it was to the Indian traditions that he finally turned for a living tradition of spiritual transmission and practice – one which he dedicated himself to under a succession of teachers, including Rudi (Albert Rudolph, or Swami Rudrananda) and Swami Muktananda of the Siddha Yoga movement.

In the late 1960s, under Rudi’s direction, Adi Da returned to his Christian studies, attending Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, and later St. Vladimir’s Russian Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York. He was particularly attracted by the Eastern Orthodox Church’s theology of spiritual experience and went so far as to apply as a candidate for Eastern Orthodox priesthood. Still, he recalls continually feeling trapped by the dogma of “tra­ditional exoteric mentality…the experience of liturgy, church politics, and ethnic religion.”17 So much so that when he was turned away from priesthood on a technicality (his wife at the time had previously been divorced), he felt that his religious “career” had really and truly come to an end.18

In 1968, Adi Da began to study directly with Rudi’s own teacher, Swami Muk- tananda, traveling to India on and off for several years to stay in Muktananda’s ashram in Ganeshpuri. In his autobiography, Adi Da further describes going through an intensive period of shaktipat initiation and meditative practice under Swami Muktananda’s guidance. He recounts experiencing a vast range of mystical phenomena, including the awakening of the kundalini, and various subtle states of samadhi, or advanced meditative consciousness. In August of 1969, Swami Muktananda formally acknowledged Adi Da’s right to teach in the

15                Samraj 2004, 61.

16             Samraj 2004, 102.

17             Samraj 2004, 175.

18              Samraj 2004, 180–181.

tradition of Siddha Yoga, after which Adi Da moved to India with the intention to remain there indefinitely. By this point, he described his relationship to Jesus as follows:

Jesus of Nazareth himself, although he had a conventionally religious importance in my childhood, dramatically ceased to have any such impor­tance once I experienced the trauma of my college education. Indeed, now that even that trauma had been released by the Spiritual experiences and the profound understanding that developed and matured in my years since college, Jesus of Nazareth no longer had any “believer’s” significance for me at all. At least, that is what seemed to be the case at the level of my conscious mind.19

Nonetheless, the Christian symbols of Adi Da’s childhood would soon re­emerge. While residing in India in 1970, he began to experience – much to his surprise – a series of spontaneous visions of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ. His diary from the time reads much like a Catholic mystical account, as these recurring visions sparked in him a latent Christian devotion and led him to embark on a pilgrimage through the great Christian holy sites of Europe. In retrospect, Adi Da would understand this time as a deep purification of his inherited Western religious psyche, one which allowed him to finally release the unconscious symbols of his childhood. In his autobiography, he describes his mystical visions as a course of purification that was eventually replaced by a simple understanding:

By this same natural process of understanding, Jesus (or the “Christ”), and all of the great objects of Spiritual life in India, became recognized, at last, as symbols in the heart for the Reality that was not yet directly Realized

The Christian visions were not false. It was necessary for me to have them, in order to Realize the Truth that transcends them…When I became established in this Reality, the images faded away.20

19        Samraj 2004, 269.

20        Samraj 2004, 311.

  • The Enlightenment of the Whole Body

Eventually, the images did fade away. Adi Da settled in Los Angeles, Califor­nia, and within two years had started his own religious movement, opening his first center in 1972 – a small bookstore and ashram on Melrose Avenue. Known then by his birth name, Franklin Jones, Adi Da named his center “Shree Hri- dayam Ashram” (“Hridayam” comes from the Sanskrit root hrid, or heart), and named his movement the “Way of the Heart.” In the early years of his work, he introduced spiritual and philosophical teachings on yoga, meditation, and the relationship to the guru, offering what he called the time-honored or ancient way of the siddhas. He taught in a traditional Indian style and incorporated many elements of the Kashmiri Shaivite and Advaita Vedanta schools of Hin­duism, along with his own insights and teachings.

Yet in the background, Adi Da continued to consider the esoteric message of Jesus and the New Testament, in order to define its relationship with what he now understood to be the whole bodily process of enlightenment, moksha, or liberation. Enlightenment, in Adi Da’s teachings, denotes a higher spiritual, or esoteric understanding and total transformative process of the human body and mind, in contrast to the exoteric domain of religious belief and dogma. In other words, he defined enlightenment as a process that directly embraces the structure of embodiment and takes into account the hidden potentials of the human being, arguing that in that process “the body itself must be converted.”21 In this sense, he directly countered the ancient idea that the human body is to be feared because its impulses would lead to sin. But he also redefined the body itself.

Adi Da’s definition of the human being is based on a specific understand­ing of the “esoteric anatomy” of the body. He defines the body as a total “psycho-physical” structure – a vast complex of consciousness and energy that includes the physical, but only as one dimension of a larger spiritual struc- ture.22 Throughout his work, Adi Da looked to map the esoteric anatomy of the body in precise detail, as it forms the basis for the conductivity of energy and the phenomenology of enlightenment. Described most elaborately in The Enlightenment of the Whole Body (1980), Santosha Adidam (2001), and The Aletheon (2009), Adi Da’s account of this anatomy draws on the Indic language of the sheaths (koshas), centers (chakras), and subtle channels (nadis) of the

21         Samraj 1978, 8.

22         Samraj 1978; 2001, 335–349.

body, while also developing his own vocabulary, phenomenology, and compre­hensive map.

Broadly speaking, Adi Da views the human being as composed of three pri­mary dimensions: gross, subtle, and causal. This tripartite scheme reflects the “three bodies doctrine,” an ancient understanding found in the Upanishadic tradition. Building on that scheme, Adi Da elaborates three main anatomical structures of the body: (1) a vertical circuit (the spinal pathway of ascend- ing/descending energy), (2) a horizontal circuit (located in the inner workings of the heart, and corresponding with the three Upanishadic states of waking, dreaming, and sleeping consciousness), and (3) the “Atma Nadi” (a unique S- shaped circuit extending between “the right side of the heart” and “the Matrix of Light infinitely above the head,” through which he maps the ultimate phe­nomenology of enlightenment).

To Adi Da, the phenomenology of enlightenment must be understood in the total context of this esoteric anatomy, but the key exists at the heart. Situated in the middle of the body, the heart is the “center, core, and epitome of the entire bodily being.”23 The heart stands literally in the center, functioning as the divid­ing point between what is above and what is below. Thus, Adi Da teaches that the heart represents the unity of the body. Itis the place of integration of all the higher and lower energetic centers. In the most basic sense, it communicates love as the key to spiritual awakening. Even more, the right side of the heart is the precise point where he locates the root of human consciousness, and the lower terminal of the “Atma Nadi.”

The heart suggests a deep metaphysics to the human being and takes us to the recognition of a divine, or transcendent source in the center of every indi­vidual. As such, the heart (often capitalized in his writings) is central to Adi Da’s teachings on enlightenment, and it remains a central symbol in the identity of his religious movement. In the late 1970s, he wrote:

Bodily Enlightenment is the Process of the Sacrifice of the Heart into the Infinity of its own Radiance…In Bodily Enlightenment the Heart is always Awake, under all conditions of experience. All conditions are Real­ized to be only modifications of the Heart, the All-Pervading Divine Self, and therefore, they are felt to be identical to the Self. All conditions are Pervaded and Radiated by the Love-Radiance of the Heart in all directions and from all directions in the Infinite Ecstasy of God.24

23         Samraj 1978, 151.

24         Samraj 1978, 410.

Here we see Adi Da remapping the divine Self as the hidden heart of the human being. His language is reminiscent of Valentinus, who wrote that “when the Father…visits the heart, he makes it holy and fills it with light. And so a per­son who has such a heart is called blessed, for that person will see God.”25 It is in this mystical context that Adi Da began to present the symbols of Jesus Christ and the New Testament as symbols of esoteric/subjective messages of transformation and enlightenment. It remains true that, on one level, Adi Da regarded Jesus as a historical spiritual teacher who founded the original sect of Christianity. At the same time, he maintained that Jesus Christ, and in fact any spiritual teacher, can be viewed as an esoteric symbol, or “a Living Exten­sion or Projection of the total nervous system of the bodily being of Man.”26 In other words, he argued that the spiritual teacher can also serve to demon­strate what is required for the inner subjective transformation of any individ­ual.

In an early essay, “Jesus Is the Whole Body”, Adi Da began with an esoteric re-reading of the creation story in the Book of Genesis. Here he creates his new framing through re-fashioning, or flipping, the Genesis narrative. He defines the original garden of paradise as an archetype for the whole body in its natu­ral and unitary state. Speaking of the Garden of Eden, he asks, “Is this Heaven? Or is it simply the body in its primary mode, wherein the play of awareness and the senses begins, and where the heart may remain at rest, undisturbed, attuned to the Current of Life?”27

In this sense, Adi Da reads the mythology of creation as the evolution of orig­inal consciousness into the formation, or differentiation of individuality. He states that, in the Garden of Eden, the human body existed originally as a prior unity or single unified consciousness. Other religious symbols of that original unity have included the circle, the egg, and the ouroboros, or self-swallowing serpent of Babylonian and Egyptian mythology. In each case, in the beginning is perfection, wholeness.28 At the stage of the separation of consciousness, the individual becomes conscious of himself or herself, and a primal split occurs. For Adi Da, this is represented by the creation of Adam and Eve. When the one becomes two, there is an archetypal separation of opposites, the first fall from unity into elemental duality. In other words, within the Garden of Eden lies a story of the first differentiation of consciousness into form. From that original

25 See Valentinus’s Epistle on Attachments (Fragment H) in Layton 1987, 301–304.

26          Samraj 1978, 500.

27          Samraj 1978, 477.

28 For a discussion of the mythological stages of the evolution of consciousness, see Neu­mann and Jung 2014.

paradise of the one, consciousness is split into an apparent duality – male and female, subject and object, “self” and “other.”

According to Adi Da, this differentiation represents a fundamental bipolar­ity that resides in every individual. It corresponds not only with gender, but with what could be otherwise be expressed as internal opposites: yin and yang, active and passive; the right and left hemispheres of the brain; and the ida and pingala, or twin energetic currents that wrap around the spinal line. According to yogic physiology, three energetic circuits run from the base of the spine to the head: the sushumna nadi in the center, the ida nadi on the left, and the pingala nadi on the right. Adi Da interprets the tree of life and the tree of knowledge as symbols of these internal right and left currents, otherwise also represented by the ancient Greco-Egyptian symbol of the “caduceus” – the heralding staff car­ried by Hermes and subsequently by Hermes Trismegistus. To Adi Da, the trees of knowledge and life communicate the attainment or realization of eternal life, and they also represent a cultural taboo relative to gnosis and enlighten­ment. In their separation from the original paradise, the male and the female were thus also punished for aspiration to the possibility of direct access to the divine.

In another early essay, “The Essential Teaching of the New Testament”, Adi Da proceeded from the Book of Genesis to the archetypes of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. There he describes the New Testament itself as a “whole body Gospel”: a message about the spiritual destiny of humankind, or “a story and a commentary about the communication of esoteric and transcendental Truth.”29 He argues that where the Old Testament offers a primal account of the differentiation of consciousness into form, the New Testament now proceeds to communicate a way of salvation through whole bodily transformation. In this sense, Adi Da draws on his own understanding of the process of enlight­enment, in which transformation and transcendence is centered in awakening at the heart. And the way to God is to transform the whole being, through the principle of heartfelt sacrifice.

Here Adi Da radically re-reads “God the Father” as an archetype of all­pervading Light and Spirit, envisioned as an infinite source of light above the head. “Jesus Christ” is the heart, or the true Self, the Son of God the Father. The heart acts as the Messenger (or “Messiah”) of the Light. And just as Jesus’s sac­rifice revealed the way to the Father, the heart sacrifice of every individual is what reveals the Light of God. It is by the surrender of the heart to unquali­fied love, or full feeling to infinity, that the heart (or Christ) ultimately reveals

29 Samraj 1978, 491–493.

the Father (or the Light). To Adi Da, this is the true secret of whole bodily enlightenment – not subtle or mystical ascent to the light above, but a radi­cal awakening at the heart that inherently transforms the human being. In his words:

The heart, or “the Christ,” is the Way. It is the Way of sacrifice, through unobstructed feeling-attention, love, or whole body Radiance to Infinity …Therefore, “Jesus the Christ,” the heart – which is the Way of the Law of sacrifice or love – reveals the “Father,” who is otherwise unseen or falsely envisioned. Light itself is not Truth, unless the Truth itself is Realized. “Jesus” is the Way of that Realization. The heart is the Truth of the head and of the whole and entire bodily being. “Jesus” is the Truth of the Cre­ator God. The heart, the seat of egoic consciousness, or the covered soul, is Awakened to the Real Condition in the instant of intuitive Awakening wherein there is fulfillment of the Law of Sacrifice. Then the heart says: “ ‘I’ and the Father are one.”30

In this reading, Adi Da shares an image of Jesus as the principle of sacrifice. Just as in the Upanishadic interpretation of the sacrificial act, in which fire is internalized and identified as the “offering” taking place within the body of the one performing the sacrifice, Adi Da teaches that the heart epitomizes the law of sacrifice. Here, the mechanism of sacrifice is unobstructed feeling, love, or radiance from the heart. And it is through such inner sacrifice that the heart and the Light are awakened as one. In other words, it is only through love that Jesus is “come to life” again, revealing the true nature of God. When that occurs, the nervous system itself becomes a conductor of Light, thus reveal­ing the regenerated, or resurrected state. In other passages, it is this unique conjunction between the heart and the Light that Adi Da further maps on to the anatomical circuit of the Atma Nadi, a core esoteric structure of the being that he experienced as being regenerated in the final process of enlighten- ment.31

To Adi Da, this regenerated condition also contains a message about the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the medium of communion between the heart and the Light. It is seen to be the pneuma, (from Greek for “wind,” or “breath,”) or the spiritual force, or breath, that instigates and sustains the entire process of trans­formation. In fact, the Pneumatics in early Gnostic circles were known as the

30 Samraj 1978, 494–495.

31 Samraj 2011a. See Introduction by Condit, “The Heart and the Light,” especially pp. xv–xvi.

highest spiritual order of humans, described by Irenaeus as those who “become capable of receiving the [spiritual] seed” and achieving “perfect knowledge” of God.32

Adi Da refers to the Holy Spirit as the pneuma, the “Breath of God,” or the “Life, Breath, Transcendental Vibration,” and “eternal activity of the Light in the world.”33 While there are various practices through which such life, or breath, can be cultivated, he taught that it most often occurs through a direct process of spiritual transmission from an awakened spiritual teacher. To Adi Da, this brings us to the secret meaning of John the Baptist’s baptism of Jesus: the dove that descends from God is a metaphor for the Holy Spirit that was transmit­ted by John’s baptism and awakened Jesus from above. Regardless of whether this account is historical or mythological, Adi Da argues that it represents an ancient understanding of the secrets of spiritual baptism.

In The Enlightenment of the Whole Body, Adi Da includes an x-ray image of the skull and the ventricles of the brain, further arguing that the literal shape of the brain is the source for the traditional symbols of the “dove,” the “swan,” and even the “wings” of the caduceus.34 The Holy Spirit, therefore, in his under­standing, can be seen as the Spirit-Breath, or Light, that descends into the higher structures of the brain from above, literally “enlightening” and awak­ening consciousness in the whole body. The dove is telling us what it means, in an esoteric sense, to be regenerated or reborn through spiritual baptism.

Taken together, Adi Da’s early interpretations of the Book of Genesis and the New Testament reveal an esoteric, archetypal, or subjective reading of Chris­tian symbols mapped on to a yogic understanding of the process of whole bodily enlightenment and the esoteric anatomy of the human being. Enlighten­ment, here, is a radically transformed bodily, emotional, and mental condition. Inherent in this interpretation is a flipping of the servant spiritualities of antiq­uity, as well as a cognitive refashioning of fear of the body, or the idea that it represents only sin. Instead, an inherent state of divinity is what is realized when the heart, or Christ, is sacrificed to God. In that process, the heart and the Light become one.

The higher consciousness of the brain is infilled and awakened with the light of the Holy Spirit, and the nervous system becomes a conductor for the realiza­tion of the prior divine condition. On an archetypal and esoteric level, Adi Da holds that this message is key to a true understanding of the life and teachings of Jesus.

32 Iren. Haer. 1.7.5; 1.8.1.

33         Samraj 1978, 496.

34         Samraj 1978, 453.

  • Reading and Writing Scripture

The remarkable discovery of the Nag Hammadi library in upper Egypt in 1945 unearthed over fifty unknown ancient texts, including many long-lost “Gnos­tic gospels” – texts that reveal the rich and varied literature produced in the early Christian era. It is now clear that, like contemporary new religious move­ments, early Gnostic movements lived in a milieu where their ancestral reli­gions were breaking down. In response they drew from a variety of religious sources and sought for answers that very often transgressed the borders of tra­ditional dogma. They forged their own systems through innovative readings of scripture, flipping conventional texts and creating their own texts with alterna­tive views of theology, cosmology, and the teachings of Jesus.

In particular, the contrast between the Nag Hammadi texts and those that made it into the canonical New Testament shows that, as Eugene Gallagher argues, “in different early Christian circles the figure of Jesus itself was quite malleable and…a wide variety of perspectives on him were being developed by various writers.”35 What we think of today as orthodoxy was only one of a variety of beliefs and practices that would become standardized through a long process of social and religious history. And in those early margins, an assort­ment of questions and answers were being worked out. It should not be remark­able then to find that new generations continue that interpretive tradition. In today’s world, not only do the scriptures of the ancient Mediterranean world continue to function as sacred texts, but the production of new scriptures and commentaries continues to be an important aspect of modern religious life.

Historians of religion have long recognized the importance of scripture in religious group formation and identity. Reading and writing of religious scrip­ture is one of the important ways in which human beings strive to continually infuse meaning into the world, conveying distinctive perspectives on human life, and communicating anew the core of their religious experiences and mes­sages. Gallagher goes on to explore how many new religious movements in the twentieth century have themselves proposed “new readings” of biblical texts. New religious groups can be seen to articulate their own understand­ings of Jesus much in the same way that the early Christians produced their texts – through an ongoing interpretative process with differences of opinion and practice. Generally, such new traditions not only pose their own ideas. They also situate themselves in relation to previous traditions, through both the cre­ation of new scriptures and new readings of familiar texts.

35        Gallagher 2014, 133.

To this end, the scriptures produced by new religious movements often include both fresh revelations and innovative readings of the New Testament, the Hebrew Bible, and the accounts of creation and the end of the world. In some cases, religious literature can take the form of entirely new texts – such as Joseph Smith’s production of The Book of Mormon.36 In other cases, such as the Church Universal and Triumphant, founded by Mark L. Prophet and later led by his wife, Elizabeth Clare Prophet, religious leaders endeavor to uncover Jesus’s lost teachings by devoting particular attention to the missing details of the standard Christian history.37 Finally, other religious texts, such as A Course in Miracles, written, or “dictated,” by Helen Schucman, intend not to add to the Bible but to clarify its meaning, aiming to empower their readers to develop a new relationship with Christian teachings.38

Adi Da’s relationship to Christian scripture can be seen to include each of these approaches. It is clear that his principal intention was to clarify the esoteric meaning of the New Testament, to sensitize his readers to the “rem- nant…of esoteric Spiritual teachings, demonstrations, practices, and expe­riences” that lies at the heart of the stories of Jesus.39 In order to do that, his writings came out of a careful evaluation of religious and scholarly liter­ature on Jesus, presenting what he felt was as close as possible to a histori­cally accurate account. And to further present what he saw as the lost, orig­inal, esoteric message of Jesus, Adi Da wrote his own religious literature, in the form of numerous essays, commentaries, and finally his own “Spiritual Gospel.”

Adi Da viewed Jesus as a historical spiritual teacher and transmitter, while simultaneously arguing that the message of Christianity cannot be reduced to the historical Jesus. Instead, he emphasizes the esoteric and inner meaning of Jesus’s life and teachings, in order to empower his students and readers to relate to the symbols of the Christian tradition as a kind of universal spiritual inheritance. One of the ways he does this is by reading Christian scripture as an encoded message, one whose deeper meaning can be recovered through atten­tion to its symbols and myths.

As Paul Ricoeur pointed out, the task of hermeneutics lies in the recov­ery of meaning through attention to the very symbol-making function of lan­guage. Symbols, whether explicitly religious or not, are an indispensable part of human communication and meaning making. The word “symbol” comes

36 Smith 1981.

37 Prophet 1984.

38 Schucman 2021.

39 Samraj 2011a, 29.

from the Greek sumbolon, meaning token, insignia, or means of identifica­tion. Religious symbols develop as a way of saying something about human beings in relationship to the reality of the sacred. Along with the role of sym­bol, many scholarly approaches point to the core role of myth in human culture. As Ricoeur further pointed out, “Myths are merely more elaborated symbols.”40 Myth, from the Greek muthos, meaning “word” or “speech,” expresses the sacred in words, often reporting the origins of the world or functioning as a model for human activity.

According to religious historian Mircea Eliade, the essence of the symbolic process is the fact that the symbol “has an esoteric or ‘closing’ function as well as an exoteric or ‘disclosing’ one.”41 In other words, symbolic language both reveals and conceals. In that light, the religious symbol can be particularly powerful in its communication of multiple layers of meaning and deeper dimensions of relationship to the sacred. The double content of a symbol actively resists all reductive or literal interpretations and thus makes us share in the discovery and revelation of a deeper meaning.

It is generally accepted that there are several approaches to the interpreta­tion of mythology, which can be roughly divided into “literal” and “symbolic.” Literal interpretations of myth, like that of symbol, understand and believe myths to function on one dimension – as statements of historical fact. However, the obvious problem then arises when contemporary science finds such myths to be incompatible with reason or contrary to scientifically proven fact. On the other hand, a symbolic interpretation of myth, exemplified by twentieth­century figures such as C.G. Jung and Joseph Campbell, interprets mythological narratives as code – often a symbolic code for deeper, or hidden, dimensions of the human psyche. In that sense, myths need not be taken literally, but can be interpreted as allegories, or psychic and religious discoveries that all human beings ought to make.

Adi Da combines a literal and symbolic approach by advocating for both an exoteric (literal/objective) and an esoteric (hidden/subjective) interpretation of mythological symbols and narratives. And importantly, he does not regard the literal and symbolic approaches as mutually exclusive. Rather, he holds that symbol, myth, and even sacred scripture can be understood on multiple levels of meaning at the same time – including multiple dimensions of the literal or historical, and the symbolic or subjective. In this sense, rather than trying to rationalize Christian narratives as historically true or rejecting them as simply

40 Ricoeur 1986, 14–18.

41 Eliade 1986, 204.

false relative to current science, Adi Da argues against their reduction to only one level of meaning.

Still, while he acknowledged the validity of multiple levels of meaning and interpretation, Adi Da was most interested in offering what he called a “sub­jective interpretation” of religious data. In a key passage in The Pneumaton, he writes:

When “religion” is interpreted “objectively”…rather than “subjectively”… “religion” is mis-applied, even “tribalized”…and confined to the status of “difference”, and to both individual and collective dissociativeness and competitiveness…Therefore, all “religion” should be interpreted only “subjectively” (or within and of the domain of the “subject”, or the “self”), and (if it is applied at all) “religion” should be intended and applied only positively (and never negatively), and entirely as a prescription and a pro- gram…either for the positive transformation or the positive development or the potential and progressive (or would-be) transcending of the ego- “I”.42

Here we find that Adi Da’s primary intent is to interpret religious data “subjec­tively” rather than “objectively.” How then should we understand the myths and stories of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament? At best, we can apply them in a positive sense towards our own personal transformation. In other words, even traditional “creation” myths need not be read only as accounts of the origins of the physical world but can also be seen as archetypal or allegorical stories about the origins of human consciousness. For instance, Adi Da points out that many early creation myths appeared in animistic societies where there was not an absolute categorical distinction between inner and outer life. In that context, myths were not meant to be purely historical or objective. Rather, he argues that mythological narratives were originally meant to account for psychic and spiritual discoveries, or the “interior,” or archetypal design of the human psyche itself.

C.G. Jung made a similar argument, arguing that the primary function of myth is psychological. He held that “Myths are original revelations of the pre- conscious psyche, involuntary statements about unconscious psychic happen­ings, and anything but allegories of physical processes.”43 According to pro­ponents of this theory then, myths can provide therapeutic insights into the

42 Samraj 2011a, 386.

43 Read et al. 1968, 154.

energies and dynamics within the human psyche. As Jung argues, myth func­tions to fulfill our deep psychological need for contact with the unconscious. Ancient stories thus can help us to explore meaning in our lives and make sense out of our experiences, providing insight into the workings of the unconscious.

Moreover, Adi Da argues that when we encounter a myth, story, or text, it becomes meaningful for us through an individual process of interpreta­tion, one that is necessarily subjective in nature. In other words, every reader interprets a text based on his or her cultural background and life experience. Reception theory confirms this view, emphasizing that no text, literary or oth­erwise, is simply passively accepted by an audience. Instead, each individ­ual’s reception, or response, is what creates meaning from a given text. Every reader is involved in what cultural studies scholar, Stuart Hall, called an encod- ing/decoding model of communication. Messages can be decoded in different ways and can mean something different to different people. The coded signs within a symbol, myth, or message directly interact with the deep semantic codes of a culture, and in so doing take on additional and active ideological dimensions.44

Seen in this light, the reading and writing of scripture in religious move­ments can be seen to play an important role in forging innovative interpreta­tions and actively recoding religious symbols and myths. As demonstrated in ancient Gnostic sects and contemporary new religious movements, religious figures and groups construct their religious language in order to clarify and pro­vide new insights, often through a dialectic of new symbolism and the recovery of meaning in traditional symbolism. Like the Gnostics of antiquity, Adi Da offered his own innovative interpretation of the symbols and myths that he found in Christian writings. Through new readings of biblical texts, and his own writings, he provided alternative esoteric views of theology, cosmology, and the teachings of Jesus.

  • The Spiritual Gospel of Saint Jesus of Galilee

In 1983, Adi Da moved from California to the Fiji Islands, as his religious move­ment grew and established multiple centers around the world. While penning his own body of spiritual, philosophical, and practical teachings, he continued to follow the ongoing scholarship on Christianity and refine his consideration of the true message of Jesus. After compiling an extensive personal library and

44         Hall 1973/2007.

annotated bibliography of the world’s religious traditions, around 2005–2006 he finally dedicated himself to rendering key scriptural texts from the Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian traditions.

From the early 1970s to the late 2000s, Adi Da had worked on creating a bibliography of many thousands of books, articles, and audio-visual materi­als on the religious and cultural traditions of the world, entitled The Basket of Tolerance.45 This annotated bibliography (as yet unpublished in final form at the time of this writing) was intended to serve as a resource for the study of all religious traditions, guiding readers to understand both the virtues and limitations of their own cultural inheritances. To Adi Da, it would provide an essential tool for understanding the unified inheritance of humankind as one “Great Tradition.”46 In this collection, he included many hundreds of books on the historical figure of Jesus, the development of early Christianity, Paul of Tar­sus, and ancient Gnosticism.

Throughout the 1980s and 90s, Adi Da also closely followed the work of the Jesus Seminar and their assessment of the Gospels and the historical Jesus.47 As a result, he appreciated the challenge of coming to a definitive conclusion about the historicity of Jesus. Simultaneously, he also focused on collecting a range of materials that would illustrate the immense body of evidence and debate about the early Christian tradition. He followed the discovery and trans­lations of the Nag Hammadi library, while also writing extensive commentaries on the differences between “exoteric” and “esoteric” Christianity and the com­plexity of interpretation and institutionalization that occurred in the early church. At the same time, he carried on the project of presenting an esoteric understanding of Jesus’s life and teachings.

In 2006, these decades of consideration culminated with Adi Da penning his own rendition of the New Testament Gospels: “The Spiritual Gospel of Saint Jesus of Galilee.” This work represented the culmination of over thirty years of personal consideration, and his detailed reading of not only the canoni­cal Gospels but several “Gnostic gospels” only recently discovered in the mid­twentieth century. To write “The Spiritual Gospel,” Adi Da referred to the stan­dard translations of Gospel texts available at the time, while also drawing on his knowledge of koine Greek. He made careful and deliberate use of the synoptic Gospels as well as the Gospel of John, the first chapter of the Book of Acts, the Gospel of Thomas (nhc ii, 2), and the so-called “Secret Gospel of Mark.” Read­ing these alongside the gospel translations of the Jesus Seminar, he offered his

45 See Adi Da Samraj 1997.

46 Samraj 1997.

47 For a summary of the findings of the Jesus Seminar, see Funk 1996.

unique rendering of the life and teachings of Jesus while also communicating what he felt was the heart of the ancient and esoteric message of Christianity.

Textually speaking, “The Spiritual Gospel” relies heavily on the Gospel of John, the fourth synoptic Gospel that has been debated as a possible site of early Gnostic spirituality.48 To render many of Jesus’s sayings and the narrative of his life, Adi Da further drew on Matthew and Mark. It is also clear that he considered the Gospel of Thomas (nhc ii, 2) to be one of the most important reflections of early Gnosticism, providing proof of an esoteric tradition that was later suppressed in the establishment of the orthodox Christian church. At the same time, he drew closely on the Secret Gospel of Mark.

This is because he accepted Mark as the earliest Gospel, and likely closest to what he called a “root tradition.” Although he was aware of the controver­sies relative to the authenticity of “Secret Mark,” he felt that if it was genuine, it provided an important indication of the esoteric tradition of spiritual initi­ation from Jesus to his disciples.49 Interestingly, these textual connections are not only implied but made explicit, through Adi Da’s citations that accompany the verses of his own rendered writings.

In the “Spiritual Gospel” and accompanying writings published posthu­mously in The Pneumaton, Adi Da continues to map Jesus’s spiritual message on to the esoteric anatomy of the body, addressing secrets of enlightenment that are to be found by making a particular kind of use of, or reorientation of, the whole body. Here he focuses the esoteric process of enlightenment more centrally in the idea of pneuma as “Spirit-Breath,” by emphasizing the impor­tance of spiritual transmission, initiation, or baptism. He also concentrates more clearly on Jesus’s resurrection and ascension as an archetype of internal mystical ascent. And finally, he offers his esoteric reading of the kingdom of God as a message of the fully transformed condition that is possible for every individual who is regenerated, or re-born, by the Divine Spirit-Breath.

“The Spiritual Gospel” begins with Adi Da’s rendering of the first passages of the Gospel of John. Here the Spirit-Breath is invoked as the first principle, or unitary origin of the world, akin with a kind of prior, or original, consciousness:

At the Origin of everything is the Divine Spirit-Breath, the Intelligent Life­Principle, the One and Indivisible and All-Pervading Matrix of the total cosmic world. [ John 1:1] And the Divine Spirit-Breath is always One with the Indivisible State of Divine Being. [ John 1:2].50

48         DeConick 2016a. See Chapter Five, “John and the Dark Cosmos,” 135–161.

49 For Samraj’s full presentation of The Secret Gospel, see his publication of Smith 2005.

50 Adi Da Samraj 2011a, 302.

The following verses go on to describe the Spirit-Breath as the means for wor­shipping God, and the key to orienting ourselves in relationship to reality, truth, and consciousness:

The time has come – indeed, the present moment is always the very hour – when true worshippers must understand the Divine as Indivisible Truth, and how to worship Indivisible Truth by Means of Spirit-Breath. The heart of every living being is always yearning for Spirit-Breath, in order to Breathe the Way to the Divine domain of One and Only Truth. [John 4:23]51

Adi Da then describes the dynamics of Spirit-Breath – how it can be felt to descend from above, filling the human body and instigating the process of transformation. Here he elaborates the downward process of spiritual trans­mission, or baptism, and the upward process of internal flight, or mystical ascension. He re-tells the story of John the Baptist as the “Water-Baptizer,” per­forming his baptism of Jesus in the water of the Jordan river – an event to which modern biblical scholars assign a high degree of historical certainty.52 In that moment, Adi Da writes “the Spirit-Breath of Divine Power Descended upon Jesus from Above, much like a dove flies down to land upon a tree.”53 His narrative emphasizes the initiatory nature of this act as an example of spiritual transmission, which he compares to the Indian traditions of shaktipat (Sanskrit from shakti, “psychic energy” and pāta, “to fall”). In this way, the Holy Spirit, or Spirit-Breath, is seen to originate above the head and descend to the heart, always “Descending onto you, and always growing Alive in your heart.”54

Later in “The Spiritual Gospel,” Adi Da re-tells the story of Jesus’s nighttime meeting with the religious leader Nicodemus. He uses this narrative to again emphasize the process of spiritual transmission, as well as the “esoteric,” or secret nature of Jesus’s true teachings – by which he means that Jesus him­self reserved secret teachings for the initiates among his followers. Again, Adi Da maintains that these teachings are present in the form of an esoteric, or hidden, cipher, which must be decoded through a deeper interpretation of the New Testament stories. He argues that the fact that Nicodemus “came to Jesus by night” indicates a coded message for a secret, “nighttime,” teaching or spiri-

51        Adi Da Samraj 2011a, 303.

52        Samraj 2011a, 304–331.

53        Adi Da Samraj 2011a, 304–305.

54 Mark 1:15; Adi Da Samraj 2011a, 305.

tual initiation given under cover of darkness.55 Here he renders Jesus’s message to Nicodemus from the Gospel of John:

No one can re-enter the Divine Domain Above without first being Spiritu­ally re-born here [ John 3:5]…Similarly, every one who receives the Divine Spirit-Breath has, in fact, received what has Descended from Above. Therefore, if anyone receives the Divine Spirit-Breath here, in this world, he or she has, in fact, been born to here from Above. And this Event of being Spiritually re-born to here is a Mystery of Divine Spiritual Trans­mission [ John 3:8]…The proof of the Divine Spiritual Transmission from Above is only in the actual evidence of the experience of receiving the Descent of the Divine Spirit-Breath into the body [ John 3:10]…56

Clearly, Adi Da uses these accounts to emphasize spiritual rebirth as an ancient message of transformation through spiritual transmission, or baptism from above. In contrast, he holds that the narrative of Jesus’s resurrection and ascen­sion can be understood as a coded symbol for the ancient practice of spiritual, or mystical, ascent. Seen in this light, Adi Da understands the crucifixion of Jesus as an archetype of the disciplining of personal life and the heart-sacrifice that is necessary for total transcendence of the self. Jesus’s resurrection can then be understood as a kind of soul journey narrative, or an archetype of mystical ascent that symbolizes the transformation, transfiguration, and tran­scendence of the personal self in God.

Adi Da claimed that this message of spiritual, or mystical, ascent is a uni­versal one, found not only in the ascension story of Jesus but in many other traditions throughout antiquity. This argument is bolstered by recent studies that examine “soul flight” throughout the classical world and late antiquity. In a notable example, Mircea Eliade’s study of shamanism concluded that it was the pre-eminent ancient religious phenomenon of central Asia, involving a central theme and ritual practice of soul flight.57 The core idea of soul flight is a kind of shamanic journeying, or technique of ecstasy through which an individual can interact with the spiritual world on behalf of the larger community. This ecstatic impulse was found across the ancient religious landscape, from early Siberian and Mongolian shamans to the initiatory rites of Greek, Roman, and Egyptian mystery religions.

55 John 3:1.

56 Samraj 2011a, 307–308.

57 For Eliade’s detailed study, see Eliade, Trask, and Doniger 2004.

Itis this ancient technique of ecstatic mystical ascent that Adi Da sees coded in the ascension of Jesus. And which he believes can be uncovered as a kind of ancient inner tradition throughout human history, including Greco-Roman, and even Indo-European culture. Here we see the import of Adi Da’s statement that Gnostic spirituality is an original, esoteric orientation, “presumably closer” to Jesus’s own teachings.58 His intent was not only to uncover Jesus’s true mes­sage, but to uncover knowledge of a perennial esoteric tradition. To Adi Da, spiritual freedom and transcendence is the goal of the mystical journey, other­wise symbolized through magical flight, or ascent to heaven.

It represents the flight of the soul which, in terms of our esoteric anatomy, is achieved through the ascent of attention up the vertical ladder of the nervous system to the Light, or God above. Even further, he aligns this with the yogic concept of kundalini, a psychospiritual energy said to lie dormant at the base of the spine, which when awakened can ascend the spine and lead to spiritual awakening. In this sense, Adi Da considered mystical ascent to be part of the ancient lore and wisdom of both “Western” and “Eastern” culture.

At an important ideological level, however, Adi Da not only acknowledges the wisdom of mystical ascent but transforms it in his teachings on the heart. He criticizes the traditional conception that ascent alone is what brings the human being to God, rather emphasizing the intuition that God exists at the heart of the human being – “the ‘root’ and center of every living body.”59 In other words, the structure of his message continues to put forth the heart as the seat of the divine source, through a polemic against mystical ascent as the ultimate goal of spiritual life. Instead, he affirms the divine as immanent within the human, always already located at the seat of consciousness in the heart.

One way that Adi Da resolves this tension is through his interpretation of the kingdom of God. Again, here he argues for an esoteric/subjective interpre­tation of the kingdom of God, re-reading it as an archetype for whole bodily transformation. Like ancient Gnostic writers, he holds that Jesus was not teach­ing about a worldly or political kingdom to be established on Earth, or even a spiritual kingdom to be found above. Instead, the true meaning of the kingdom of God is a present-time state of total bodily transformation and communion with the divine. Often, he pointed to Jesus’s third saying in Gospel of Thomas (nhc ii, 2), “Rather, the kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will real­ize that it is you who are the sons of the living father.” To Adi Da, this statement

58 Samraj 2011a, 222.

59 Adi Da Samraj 2011a, 1008.

indicates an inner/secret/esoteric knowledge of the kingdom of God that must be established in the heart:

The ‘Kingdom of God’ is neither in nor of the ‘world’ – but the ‘Kingdom of God’ is (or must be established) within the heart, and the mind, and the body, and the active life of every human individual…By means of the comprehensive psycho-physical practice of the Spiritual ‘secret’ of the ‘Kingdom of God’, the worshippers (or devotees) of God…were to ‘wor­ship (or become Communion with) God in (or by Means of) Spirit…60

To support this interpretation, Adi Da turned to the Eastern Orthodox Church – the church he was most drawn to in his early days at seminary – and specifically the figure of Saint Seraphim. Saint Seraphim of Sarov (1759–1833) was one of the most renowned saints of Russia, commemorated there annually by the Ortho­dox church. His teachings were famously recorded by one of his close followers, N.A. Motovilov, from a conversation together on the banks of the Sarovka River. There in private, Seraphim is reported to have spoken about the reception of the Holy Spirit as the true purpose of Christian life, or that which “brings the kingdom of God into our hearts.”61

In his words, “This attainment of the Holy Spirit prepares a throne in our soul and body for the all-creating Divine to dwell in us…for the kingdom of God resides in the human heart.”62 Even more, Motovilov describes his own experi­ence of spiritual transmission at that moment. He reports that he had trouble looking at Saint Seraphim’s face because it was “brighter than the sun.”63 When he finally did look directly at him, he felt a great sense of calm, peacefulness, and joy in his heart, thus finally understanding the true meaning of the Holy Spirit.

So itis that we discover accounts of spiritual baptism, or transmission, across the landscape of Christianity, accounts highlighted by Adi Da as indicative ofan esoteric message of whole bodily enlightenment. Taken together, spiritual bap­tism, mystical ascension, and the kingdom of God, inform what Adi Da finds to be an ancient and coded message of esoteric spirituality and enlightenment. He concludes “The Spiritual Gospel” with a final verse dedicated to the prin­ciple of Spirit-Breath, which he invokes as the esoteric tradition of both “John the Water-Baptizer” and “Jesus the Spirit-Baptizer”:

60 Adi Da Samraj 2011a, 295.

61 Adi Da Samraj 2011a, 337.

62 Adi Da Samraj 2011a, 337, 360.

63 Samraj 2011a, 355.

Through bodily-enacted Spiritual communion with the interior “Single Light of the world,” the devotees of John the Water-Baptizer and Jesus the Spirit-Baptizer were “born to here from Above” – and, thus Blessed, they “worshipped the Divine as Indivisible Truth, by Means of Spirit-Breath.”64

  • Gnostic Spirituality beyond “East” and “West”

As a graduate student, I was captivated by studying the New Testament, early Christian writings, and ancient Gnosticism alongside new religious move­ments, the dynamics of orthodoxy and heresy, and the reading and writing of scripture. Looking back now on my father’s “Spiritual Gospel,” it is clear to me that it represented both his lifelong spiritual and theological considera­tion and the interaction of multiple cultural frames. Part of what strikes me about his insights is that they have been often overlooked within a contempo­rary religious movement otherwise strongly associated with Indian schools of philosophy and practice. Still, through them, he looked to provide a framework for his students’ critical encounter with the symbols of their inherited Western psyche.

As the founder of a new religious movement, with closest parallels to Indian traditions, Adi Da’s reading sheds light on the possibility of interpreting Chris­tian scripture as an ancient and perennial message of enlightenment. In a broader sense, I believe it also portrays a genuine attempt to reconcile the sym­bols of “East” and “West” towards universal religious truths.

Mircea Eliade closed his study of religious symbols by posing a question for the future: “Which symbols of the many that affect our lives ought we to uphold and transmit, and which should we oppose and attempt to replace?”65 In other words, the future is open to question. The collapse of traditional reli­gious worldviews is leading us to new symbolic systems – some secular in nature, and some achieved through new readings of religious symbols. As such, new religious movements can play a role in our collective meaning making, re-reading traditional scripture and offering innovative interpretations of our theological models. Such movements often express their metaphysical orien­tations through new stories and texts, confronting older models of religion and realigning them with a generation of new spiritual and global perspectives.

64 Adi Da Samraj 2011a, 331.

65 Eliade 1986, 207.

What makes Adi Da’s “Spiritual Gospel of Saint Jesus of Galilee” relevant, and fascinating, is that it reads new meaning in traditional religious scripture and rewrites it for our contemporary generation – a pluralistic world informed by both “Western” and “Eastern” forms of thought and practice. I believe that Adi Da’s esoteric interpretation of Christian scripture exemplifies Gnostic spiritu­ality as a metaphysical orientation that continues to inform our ideas, beliefs, and practices in the twentieth to twenty-first centuries. Even more, through his own spiritual and theological encounter, he advocates for every individual to engage in a critical encounter with traditional religious symbols and myths, one aimed towards direct spiritual transformation, enlightenment, or gnosis. Adi Da suggests that through such an encounter, the spiritual secrets of Jesus – like the many hidden secrets of both “East” and “West” – can become our com­mon inheritance for the future.


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