by Jeffrey J. Kripal, Ph.D.
page 2 of 2
"Such a reading experience constantly calls upon one's ability to think and feel beyond the socially constructed ego."
No reader professionally or personally invested in Asian forms of spirituality and concerned about their effective (as opposed to dysfunctional) translation into Western culture can afford to ignore The Knee Of Listening or the larger textual corpus in which it is now placed, that is, Adi Da's twenty-three Source-Texts.
In my opinion, this latter total corpus constitutes the most doctrinally thorough, the most philosophically sophisticated, the most culturally challenging, and the most creatively original literature currently available in the English language.
Certainly there are even larger canons in Asia, but these are written and expressed in languages (primarily Sanskrit, Tibetan, Chinese, and Japanese) and interpreted in cultural frames that must remain permanently foreign to the contemporary English speaker and reader.
What sets the twenty-three Source-Texts apart is the fact that they were written in English, and that this English idiom has been enriched by a kind of hybridized English-Sanskrit, and that a new type of mystical grammar has been created, embodied most dramatically (and, to the ego, jarringly) in Adi Da's anti-ego capitalization practice, in which just about every grammatical move is nondualistically endowed with the status once imperially preserved in English for the non-existent "I ".
Such a reading experience constantly calls upon one's ability to think and feel beyond the socially constructed ego.
I thus will not even begin to pretend that the literary result is easy reading, or that this corpus will not present its own personal challenges and philosophical problems to many of its future readers (including this one).
What I can reasonably claim is that The Knee Of Listening, now placed within this total corpus, deserves our closest attention, and that it stands in a long modern Western textual transmission that
- begins with Charles Wilkins' translation of The Bhagvat-Geeta, or Dialogues of Kreeshna and Arjoon (1785),
- develops and deepens through Max Mueller's Sacred Books of the East series (1875),
- and extends into the previous century primarily through such spiritual classics as
- - The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna (1942)
- - The Collected Works of Swami Vivekananda (1907)
- - the collected works of Sri Aurobindo,
- - Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi (1955),
- - Swami Muktananda's Play of Consciousness (1978), which Adi Da (as Franklin Jones) helped to edit,
- - and the numerous writings of Krishnamurti, Yogananda, Alan Watts, and Chogyam Trungpa.
I am perfectly aware that Adi Da and his community do not identify with any of these traditions, and that both his real and symbolic presence in Fiji on the international dateline locates Adidam both physically and spiritually neither in the West nor the East. But the historical fact remains that the Teaching of Adi Da finds its closest, if never full, analogue in Asian forms of nondual gnosis and this specific textual lineage.
As recounted in the present text, moreover, it was many of these same texts — from the Gita to Ramana Maharshi — that were significant in Franklin's own initial search and then gave him some external guide with which to measure and better appreciate his own radical understanding of the "Bright" as "always already the case."
Even if the tradition of Adidam, then, cannot be reduced to such a textual lineage, it certainly can, and must, be understood in relationship to it. That anyway is precisely what Adi Da does in his "Lineage Essay ", "I (Alone) Am The Adidam Revelation ", and, indeed, throughout the present text, and this is one of the many features of The Knee Of Listening that make it such a remarkable document.
Finally, let me close as a professor with another professor. The German Indologist Heinrich Zimmer gave a series of historic lectures at Columbia University in the late 40s, a decade or so before Franklin Jones studied there in 1957. One of Zimmer's more well-known books is The Philosophies of India, a poetic tour-de-force through Indian thought and spirituality from the Upanishads to the Tantra.
At the very beginning of this rather large tome, in a section entitled "The Meeting of East and West", Zimmer writes the following:
We of the Occident are about to arrive at a crossroads that was reached by the thinkers of India some seven hundred years before Christ. This is the real reason why we become both vexed and stimulated, uneasy yet interested, when confronted with the concepts and images of Oriental wisdom....
But we cannot take over the Indian solutions. We must enter the new period our own way and solve its questions for ourselves....
We cannot borrow God. We must effect His new incarnation from within ourselves. Divinity must descend, somehow, into the matter of our own existence and participate in this peculiar life process.*
I do not know if Adi Da has ever read Prof. Zimmer or The Philosophies of India, but it seems to me that The Knee Of Listening can be read today in precisely this same spirit, that is, as an esoteric history of the embodiment, in the West, of a remarkable type of nondual consciousness that was first discovered and cultivated in different forms and tongues in Asia.
Whether that consciousness is to "descend " again into our individual lives and our (post)modern, postcolonial cultures (in which categories like "East " and "West " are growing increasingly meaningless, if not actually destructive) will depend at least partly on how we read texts like this one, and whether or not we can find the courage to speak our own readings and enact our own embodied meanings.
Jeffrey J. Kripal
2 November 2003
Rice University, Houston, Texas
*Heinrich Zimmer, Philosophies of India,
ed. by Joseph Campbell
(Cleveland: Meridian Books, 1964), 1, 2.