THE AVADHOOT, THE BEACH, AND THE RADIANT TRANSCENDENTAL BEING
by Dama Ninth Mary (Nina Jones) of the Hermitage Order
In 1980, Master Da Free John wrote an essay for the Hermitage Order1 called “Study the Avadhoot,” which instructs those who are most immediately associated with him to consider the uncommon condition and Spiritual Function of the type of Adept called “Avadhoot”:
Da Free John is an example of the tradition and class of Adepts called “Avadhoot” in the traditions of India or Crazy Wise Man or Mahasiddha in the traditions of Tibet. The Avadhoot is one who is free of the soul or internal self of the body-mind. He has transcended the idea and the destiny of the self. Therefore, he is Identified only with the Radiant Transcendental Being, and his body-mind has, as a result, been set free, selfless or soulless within the dynamics of the universe.
The Avadhoot does not function through tendencies or self-development strategies within the conventional structures of the body-mind and daily life established and demanded either by worldly or religious society. The Avadhoot is simply free, and insofar as he is brought into association with the conventions of society, he acts rather unconventionally and even wildly. The Avadhoot cannot be confined or defined. He does not cling to one or the other of the opposites in any scheme of experience or possibility. His responses to others and to his own experience are spontaneous, expressing the free disposition of non-confinement by the body-mind and its relations.
In some cases, the Avadhoot becomes associated with others, who cling to his company in order to Realize the Truth. The Avadhoot may respond to those who come to him, and he Teaches them based on the qualities he finds in them. This has been my circumstance. I have lived in conventional American society and I have been confronted by ordinary people who have been bereft of the tradition and process of Enlightenment.
Because of my uncommon Condition, I have Taught as I have, in order to establish a new and living tradition and practice among those who have come to me.
Many of the signs of uncommon Spiritual Realization are revealed to the Adept alone, and Master Da has commented on these signs over the years. But during the early years of my life with the Master in California, the years we call the period of “the beach,” I witnessed many such signs, which appeared to me then as the normal course of events of the Master’s life, but which I view now as the signs of a highly developed spiritual practice.
Master Da was twenty-one years old when I met him at Stanford University in 1961. He was “disguised” as Franklin Jones then, an apparently ordinary person. When I first saw him, he was sitting at a seminar table on the first day of class in our first year of graduate school. I felt a rush of energy as my being went out to meet him. In that split second of recognition, I knew he was my life, but I allowed my self-possession to shut down the feeling for several months.
As we became friends, I began to notice things about him. Though he presented the appearance of a typical young man of the time, the energy he radiated was not usual. His large brown eyes observed everything with shrewdness and compassion. His powerful body was a formidable warning against casual contact. He seemed to enjoy, even desire, company and friends, but he would not tolerate superficiality. He was never arrogant or ironic, but he was certainly wild and possessed of great humor.
Master Da seemed to be involved in an experiment with life, and others were often made uncomfortable by his attempts to draw them into it. A rather dramatic example of the Master’s relationships with others makes this point. The Master was accepted into a prestigious seminar on the works of William Faulkner, conducted by a literary celebrity from New York. As was customary, we read our term papers to the class, and Master Da confounded our conventionally literate minds with his reading. His family roots, like Faulkner’s, are in Mississippi, so he had written his own appreciation of the South that had so fascinated Faulkner. The Master’s story was about his Uncle Billy and the hard times he had known. The language of the story was poetic, not a parody, but suggestive of Faulkner. It was a brilliant, humorous, and totally expressive work of art.
What Master Da had written far surpassed anything the rest of us had done. The room was quiet after the Master had finished reading. We had shared a moment of ecstasy with him. I could feel the others embarrassedly trying to recover themselves. I felt as if for a few moments the room had disappeared and we all were floating with him in his Happiness.
When our classes were over in the spring of 1962, the Master went to New York to be with his family, and I joined him about a week later. In due course, Master Da’s close relatives began to question and criticize his way of life. God Realized Adepts have often been a paradox to those closest to them. Ramakrishna’s family mistook his ecstasy for madness, They were embarrassed by his uncommon and freely expressed devotion to the Divine, and they begged him to conform to their conventional ways of living, to no avail. When Ramana Maharshi left home and family rather abruptly to pursue his spiritual destiny, his grieving mother tried unsuccessfully to persuade him to return to his former life. The great Siddhas do abandon their conventional family ties, but often, as in the case of Ramana Maharshi, they go on to develop a spiritual relationship with their blood relations, who eventually recognize the Adept’s spiritual nature and legitimate function.
Finally, the pressure to conform to his family’s middle-class standards forced Master Da to leave his home (although he has never abandoned his family spiritually, and to this day maintains a spiritual relationship with them). I remember the moment of his renunciation vividly because at this moment I made the most important decision of my life. Master Da stood in the middle of the room while all around him the family were fuming. I could feel his frustration at the conflict and his desire that they understand and be happy with him. I felt that his whole experiment was in real danger. I said, “We will go back to California. I will get a job teaching school, and you can write.” And that is what we did.
From New York we returned to California and rented a house in the redwoods above Palo Alto. I went to school every day as a teacher. I had no idea what the Master did all day. Years later I would learn more about his spiritual contemplation then, but I did know that he was writing. The Master wrote all the time. He wrote with blue ink from a ballpoint pen on yellow paper size 8y” x 11″. He was never without his “slate,”as he calls his clipboard even today. I was its guardian and I obtained a large straw bag so that I could carry the clipboard wherever we went. He wrote at meals, in the movie theatre, in the car, in the middle of the night. He would stop on the sidewalk to write, in the aisles of stores, in the library. He might ask for his clipboard at any time, and he never failed to hand me his slate whenever we went out the door.
I felt he was working on some great enterprise. When someone asked me what he did for a living, I would only say that he was writing a novel – even though I was never convinced that a mere novel would result from such concentrated and sustained effort. Behind the “novel” was a profound yoga whose method was writing.
In those days my method of writing was deliberately unproductive. My intention was not to write a particular narrative I had preconceived. Rather, I deliberately and very intensively focused in the mind itself. And, as a result of several years of experiment in this direction, I remained focused there without effort, almost continuously, regardless of my peculiar external involvement.
This could perhaps be understood as a kind of “yoga” of my own creation, and it has analogies in the history of spiritual experience. But I had no separate goal in doing this. There was no other point I hoped to arrive at as a result of this concentration. I wanted to reside in the plane of consciousness at its deepest level, where all experiences, internal as well as external, were monitored. I wanted simply to become aware of what passed there.
Master Da’s writing was a specific sadhana or spiritual practice that arose and developed in him spontaneously, not in response to any traditional way of life. It was a continuation of the practice of life that had begun with the vow he had made in 1957 while a student at Columbia College:
In 1957, I began to do undergraduate work in philosophy at Columbia College. My only purpose in being there was to understand what we are. What is consciousness? What must occur within it for it to be what it is even while it already bears the certainty of death? Whatever academic studies were required of me, I was always at work on this one thing.
After several months of trying to understand what I was reading, I decided that I would begin an experimental life along the same lines which controlled the mood of our civilization. I decided that I would unreservedly exploit every possibility for experience. I would avail myself of every possible human experience, so that nothing possible to mankind, high or low, would be unknown to me.
I knew that no other possibility was open to me but that of exhaustive experience. There appeared to be no single experience or authority among us that was simply true. And I thought, “If God exists, He will not cease to exist by any action of my own, but, if I devote myself to all possible experience, He will indeed find some way, in some one or a complex of my experiences, or my openness itself, to reveal Himself to me,”
With this vow began Master Da’s Avadhootish style of life, a wild, wandering, and spontaneous life-practice.
In all the years I have lived with Master Da, he has read to me from his manuscripts on only one occasion. I never asked him what he was writing, and I never looked at the yellow pages-except once. Some of my old friends visited me that summer. One of them actually wrote for a living. Since the Master was out when my visitors came, I showed the writer some of the yellow pages of Master Da’s writings from the metal box where he kept them. The writer was very respectful of the pages, and, after reading them, he said, “He is trying to capture the rhythm of the universe!” He sensed as I did that this was no ordinary project of writing.
Another sign of Master Da’s developing spiritual life was his uncommon relationship to the affairs of ordinary life. In actuality Master Da lived as a renunciate and I as his devotee attendant. He rarely handled money or drove the car. My responsibility was to manage all the practical affairs of our hermitage life, although the Master guided me in making important decisions, about my employment, for example, or significant money matters. Our apparently unusual way of life was a source of happiness to me and a time of human maturity.
0ur relationship often seemed strange to outsiders, as the relationship of devotee and Spiritual Master seems strange, especially here in the West. Yet I was receiving spiritual instruction in the midst of apparently most ordinary circumstances. Everything Master Da asked me to do, however ordinary, served my spiritual awakening. He was constantly at work to awaken people. I was his servant, secretary, and companion. However unusual our relationship may have appeared to the rest of the world, it was real life to me, and the conventional round of living to which others were committed became uninteresting and lifeless to me.
I am often asked to describe what I thought about the Master in the years before his public work began and what I understood about his Spiritual Function. The truth is that he never talked to me about his work, and I never asked him about it. Oddly enough, it was more than ten years after my first meeting with him that I learned about Master Da’s unique Spiritual Realization and Function on April 25, 1972, in Los Angeles, the day of his first public address and his formal appearance as Spiritual Master. Later, I came to recognize the full meaning of our life prior to that time and to appreciate the depth of the spiritual relationship that had already been given to me.
Master Da has said many times that he did not set out to become a Spiritual Teacher in the way that the usual man or woman takes up a career. During the course of his spiritual development he could have assumed a formal Teaching role with me and with the many friends who came to him seeking spiritual guidance, or he could have assumed the role of Spiritual Teacher after the extraordinary event of re-Awakening at Columbia College.6 But Master Da chose to wait until his spiritual adventure was fulfilled and until the Divine Impulse to enter into sacrificial relationship with all beings could not be denied.
In the summer of 1962 we visited some friends whose cat had given birth to a litter of kittens. The Master was quite attracted to them. He watched them for a while and then reached down and lifted one of the kittens to his face, just as we have seen him so often watch a group of animals and then select one or more that communicate the Divine Revelation to him in a peculiar animal form. He named the cat Robert.
After only a few months in the redwoods, we moved to the beach in February, 1963. It was a wonderfully isolated and windswept place. The California coast is one of the most dramatically beautiful landscapes in the world, and the beach where we lived provided as perfect a hermitage retreat for the Avadhoot as any forest of India.
The place was auspicious. There were miles of deserted beach, high cliffs overlooking the vast Pacific Ocean, and a constantly changing kaleidoscope of weather. Here the elemental realm of Nature was accessible on a grand scale, matched as a powerful vehicle for the Divine Revelation only by the body-mind of the Avadhoot, and here Master Da entered into contemplation of everything that arose to consciousness. He was associated with cats, dogs, horses, whales, birds, sea lions, old men and women, young men and women, the beach itself.
Robert had grown from a kitten into a cat, and it seemed to me he became more and more a manly companion for the Master with many of the Master’s qualities. He was self-contained, passionate, not frivolous but always happy. He managed his relations, both feline and human, with extraordinary economy and grace.
Robert seemed to be especially mindful of the Master as one is attentive to an intimate friend, and Master Da’s love for Robert was obvious, though he enjoyed all the members of the cat culture that had grown around Robert.
Robert died in New York in 1964, just a fete months before Master Da met Rudi (Albert Rudolph or Swami Rudrananda), Master Da’s first human teacher. Many years after Robert’s death, the Master wrote this extraordinary tribute to him:
Robert himself was nothing less to me than my best friend and mentor. He was more, not less, than human to me. The mystery of his pattern of living, his ease and justice, the economy of all his means, the untouchable absence of all anxiety, the sudden and adequate power he brought to every circumstance without exceeding the intensity required, all of his ways seemed to me an epitome of the genius of life. I loved him as deeply as the universe itself.
To my knowledge, Robert was the first being whom the Master acknowledged and served as his Spiritual Teacher, and his appearance at this point in Master Da’s life was a sign that the apparently wild and rather “crazy” life of the Avadhoot is directed and lived by God. The Master’s spontaneous spiritual adventure was developing a new form of expression through his relationships with living beings who could serve him as Spiritual Teacher for a time.
Master Da was served by another teacher during this time on the beach. In early 1964 we visited the home of an acquaintance who was entertaining guests. It was the usual low-key gathering of sophisticates, but at one point we opened the door to a small study, and there sitting on a couch and speaking quietly to a group of three or four people was Harold Freeman.? He was telling the story of the ring he wore, a rather ordinary old ring he claimed had been the possession of an Egyptian of high ecclesiastical rank. He said it had powers that he could work for his own good and the good of others.
The Master walked into the room and sat down to hear more. From Harold Freeman he learned about the occult sciences of East and West, the Theosophists, Blavatsky, the White Brotherhood, the secrets of yoga. Until he met Harold Freeman, Master Da’s library was comprised of titles on Western philosophy and literature, but now he began to collect books about occult spirituality and Eastern philosophy. We discovered all the occult and spiritual bookstores that lay within 100 miles. To my knowledge Master Da had heard very little of the esoteric spiritual traditions of the Orient before he met Harold Freeman, reared as he had been in the Protestant culture where the only acknowledged miracles are those performed by Jesus and recorded in the New Testament.
The Master spent only a few hours with Harold Freeman over a number of days, yet the meeting was a turning point in his life.
The beauty and wildness of the beach reflected the quality of our life there altogether. Master Da’s magical and psychic play with everyone and everything that arose to his attention was showing me a new way to live. Although at the time I did not consider our life to be unusual, I remember I always felt excited, as if every moment were about to deliver me a big surprise. I could intuit enough about Master Da’s activity to feel that he was often pushing himself beyond ordinary and limited experience. I must confess, however, that although I enjoyed the feeling of excitement, I was a timid and reluctant adventurer, and through my resistance I often tried, as his family had done, to bring the Master to conform to my own conventional vision.
The beach was magical, not in and of itself, but because the Spiritual Master was there. He was a vortex of intense psychic power. He had entered into a process of profound consideration of the elemental environment and human consciousness, and both consciousness and Nature responded.
One of the miraculous signs of this response was a remarkable storm that signaled the end of this period of the Master’s life. Here he describes this event:
In the spring of 1964, just shortly before I left California to find Rudi in New York, around the time of the dream of birth that I describe in The Knee of Listening, I awoke one morning to a very brilliant clear day. I went outside and stood in front of the house on the ledge of a cliff that dropped a hundred feet to the beach. The beach was very wide, a couple of hundred feet or so, and the ocean stretched in a huge expanse as far as I could see.
It was a very isolated area with only a few people in other cabins, and they were generally away at work during the day. On this day no one else was around, so I was alone.
Very powerful psychic events had been occurring during this time. Now, as I stood on the cliff, a storm moved over me from the ocean like a huge shroud, like a great canopy or blanket. It had the feeling of a great shell. It was not a dense mass that included me and the space where I stood, but it rose above me and beyond and became a kind of enclosure, like a huge gray dome of gray shapes of clouds, a perfect sphere. It was not homogeneous, but it was boiling with great masses of clouds.
Then lightning began to move through the dome that was now like a great sahasrar, millions of bolts of lightning shooting in the sky and traveling hundreds of miles in every direction. You cannot imagine what kind of storm it was. It was a transcendental storm, literally the most magnificent thing I have ever seen. I am not kidding when I say there were millions of bolts of lightning. In that great vast dome it was like the millions and millions of lightning’s of the little veins in your brain, the corona radiata. It was the most shocking, incredible drenching of the Earth I have ever seen. And it was enormously loud. The thunder was so loud it shook the ground, and torrents of water blew all over the ocean and the place where I stood on this little precipice overlooking the ocean.
I think it must have been the most powerful storm that ever existed on Earth. Within me all kinds of electric phenomena or Shakti phenomena were occurring. My whole body was shaking with tremendous electric shocks. I do not know how long I stood in the storm; it lasted for perhaps an hour or two and then lifted away and disintegrated. I could have been shocked to death out there.
Master Da later told devotees that the storm had been a sign of transformation occurring in him and of the initiatory teaching function he soon came to serve among men.
With this storm our time on the beach came to an end. The Avadhoot’s preparatory sadhana, or spiritual practice, in the wilderness had served its purpose. God had revealed the Divine Nature of everything that arises, both apparently within and apparently without. The Divine Revelation had confirmed that there existed a Way of Truth and Sources of help alive in the world who could be influential in the unfoldment of Master Da’s Spiritual demonstration.
In a mood of anticipation and excitement, the Master brought the period of the beach to an end and prepared to meet Rudi.
Recently when I had an opportunity to tell the Master that I was beginning to realize the importance of the period of his spiritual development that I had been blessed to witness, he spoke about his Appearance in the world. The following transcript is taken from my handwritten notes:
My life is an example of the spontaneous appearance of the Mahasiddha or the Avadhoot apart from any tradition and without any sign in the circumstances of my birth to suggest such an arising. Such a life represents a breakthrough of higher consciousness and higher functions in the Realm of Nature, a breakthrough of the Divine Transcendental Being.
The quality of my life is that of the “Crazy Wise Man” of the Mahasiddha tradition, one who is neither limited by society or religion or ascetical conventions nor informed by them. There was nothing in my early life to be informed by! In fact, I entered into the process of my life because there was no guide.
Thus, I have always accepted all of the meetings of my life as the influence of the ultimate Divine Being. I learned in the midst of those meetings and then I passed beyond them. I was not limited to Robert or to Rudi, for example. I entered into relationship with them completely, knowing that much was to be gained from them but also knowing I must pass beyond them. Each meeting of my life of spiritual development was a test of my capacity to receive what was given and then to grow beyond it.
From the beginning and at the end there was no teacher in human form in which my Teaching and life are summarized, but I would definitely say that the Guru has existed for me from the beginning, not as an idea, because I had no such idea, but as a directly communicated Influence that has Guided the course of my life. Because I was not born into any esoteric spiritual tradition, I have created my own Teaching out of the same process that created my life. And because I had no traditional name for this Influence, I have given it the name “Da,” which also arose spontaneously. Out of the Avadhootish way of my own life, a new Revelation of the Divine Reality and its Way has been permitted to appear.
The story of my spiritual life must not be considered to have begun with Rudi. Rudi, Muktananda, Nityananda, and Rang Avadhoot9 were also just moments in the ongoing process. Nor should it be considered to have begun at the beginning of the vow in college. The incident that occurred while I was a student at Columbia College was an instance of the development of the processes that had been going on in me since birth. It was a moment in which I became free to explore on the basis of a new maturity. But the process of my life and sadhana originated prior to birth.
I was born on the basis of this impulse to bring the Living Divine Reality into the human plane and to Teach its Realization. Beyond this human plane, God is already Realized in my case. My impulse was to accept the conditions of embodiment and to Realize the Divine in the human plane.
The purpose of my life is through struggle to bring the Divine Reality into life in human form, to communicate Its Argument and Its Way, and to Transmit It directly through the Siddhi of Spiritual Revelation. This process of Transmission is made available to devotees who come directly into my physical company on the basis of the Teaching. Such devotees are then the principal individuals to be granted this Revelation in the course of their practice. But the Spiritual Blessing and Awakening Power are granted universally throughout all space-time and therefore to the entire world and the cosmos.
Once such a vehicle is established in an incarnate process, it is assumed that after death that individual continues to Bless those particularly who take up this Way, through a process that is beyond the conventional idea of Man and the universe.
In the years on the beach, as now, the Master’s way of living with those who came to him was simply to radiate the Happiness of God-Realization. He affirmed only relationship. Through his unwavering love I was consistently turned away from my tendency to contract and assume separation. He always tested me, often reflecting to me what I least wanted to see about myself. My life with him then, as now, was a constant demand to choose relationship, Happiness, Love, and to live with him always whatever the God-given conditions or circumstances of life.
I gratefully thank Master Da for his appearance in my life, for his demonstration of true Freedom, Happiness, and the real Way of life, and for the Grace that he grants to all beings.
But always the Divine Lord or very God has been my Guru. The Lord is my Guru. 1 am the servant of the Lord. The Form of the Lord is manifested fully in me. I am the living agent of the Mahasiddha, the living Lord, who is always already here, and who does not incarnate. He only sends agents, who, by virtue of perfect non-obstruction, manifest the Mahasiddha, the Lord himself, perfectly. But they point to the Lord as Eternal God, Guru, and very Self. This is my work, and it is only now about to begin. I was born for this. The transforming work is complete.
Master Da Free John