by Jeffrey J. Kripal, Ph.D.
When the incarnation comes, the common people are unable to recognize him. He comes in secret.
— Sri Ramakrishna
in Sri-Sri-Ramakrishna-Kathamrita 2.16
From the day I first encountered the writings of Adi Da (as Da Free John) in the mid-80s, I knew that I was reading a contemporary religious genius.
Here was someone who had succeeded in making the nondual spirituality cherished in the traditions of Asia relevant to the Western mind — that specific historical form of consciousness which is defined by, among many other factors,
- radical individualism,
- a constitutional stress on freedom in most all of its forms,
- a specifically psychological view of the human being,
- a deep appreciation of human sexuality and eroticism,
- a history of passionate religious experimentation and expression,
- and a generally scientific or materialistic worldview.
The multiple texts that followed those first readings have done nothing to dissuade me from this initial impression. Quite the contrary.
Some years after my first reading of Adi Da, at a time when I had completed my dissertation on the Sakta Tantra of Sri Ramakrishna and was teaching in a small liberal arts college, I had the opportunity to "meet " Adi Da himself, in a traditional formal setting.
In the 1990s, Adi Da had been presented with a copy of my dissertation, which quickly became the focus of a number of animated discussions between him and a group of his devotees, initiated by Adi Da and his own reading of the text.
Later, he would put Kali's Child (the book that grew out of the dissertation)* in his Basket Of Tolerance, an immense bibliography of primary and secondary texts on the history of spirituality, accompanied by an eloquent appreciative critical essay on its content, "The 'Secret' Biography of Ramakrishna and the Universally Necessary Foundation Struggle with the Emotional-Sexual Character " — no doubt the most insightful and fascinating essay I have seen yet on the book written from a specifically metaphysical or religious perspective (and I have seen quite a few).
All this, then, was the context of my first visit to Adi Da's northern California ashram, the Mountain Of Attention, in 1998.
My "meeting " with Adi Da took the form of darsana (a traditional Hindu term for the formal "seeing " of a guru or deity, in which the essence of the guru or deity is understood to be communicated to the seer through the act of seeing itself — a kind of ocular communion or visionary sacrament, if you will).
The darsana took place in a formal hall of Adi Da's residence on the grounds of the Mountain Of Attention ashram. The room was filled with devotees chanting and sitting in contemplation. Adi Da himself was sitting in a large chair, directly in the center.
He was clearly in a state of ecstasy: his eyes were rolled up, his fingers were forming some sort of mudra (a posture of the fingers and hands traditionally said to convey a particular state of mind or religious state), and he was sweating profusely
I had the distinct sense that he was intending to communicate his state of consciousness directly to all present, and particularly to those who approached him one by one (including me), by the sheer force of his presence, which indeed was quite palpable.
I knelt down, offered a flower in the traditional manner, sat in darsana for a few minutes, and was then ushered out by my hosts. It was over as quickly as it had begun. As it turned out, however, it was hardly over, for whatever was communicated that night did not leave me easily or soon.
For days, I felt as if my consciousness had somehow "shifted ", that it had been affected on levels of which I was only vaguely aware. This sense of a "shift " lasted for an entire week, before I returned to my more usual mode of functioning.
That occasion of darsana was an encounter, in person, with the same force of being which informs Adi Da's books, and which you are about to "meet " in The Knee Of Listening.
The present edition of The Knee Of Listening is a particularly rich document that extends and deepens Adi Da's spiritual effort of cultural translation and transformation into the present — that is, up to 2004, and into you and me. This edition of The Knee Of Listening does not actually constitute a single narrative written at a single point in time, like, say, its previous incarnation, which was simply the running narrative of the present Part One, composed more or less at once in the early 70s.
This greatly expanded edition is different, with "later " strata layered upon "earlier " strata, to form a kind of dramatic historical witness to the evolution of Adi Da's embodiment of radical nonduality.
Adi Da has gone to great lengths to relate his Teaching — philosophically (via textual interpretation and rational argument), metaphysically (via reincarnation theory), and personally (via autobiographical narrative) — to earlier paradigmatic gurus, particularly Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, Ramana Maharshi, Swami Nityananda, and Swami Muktananda.
The overall result is what we might call an "esoteric history " of the siddha-guru in the present age. In this history, Adi Da manages to balance an obvious appreciation for and devotion to those who have come before him with a keen critical sense of where their teachings are inadequate or limited.
It is obvious that even his most penetrating questions about traditional Asian forms of spirituality and their teachers are animated by a spirit of deep concern, existential commitment, and profound love.
next: Foreword - page 2
*Jeffrey Kripal, Kali's Child:
The Mystical and the Erotic in the Life and Teaching of Ramakrishna, 2d ed.
(Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1998).