Finding Adi Da > Dan Sleeth

My First Meeting with Adi Da

Dan Sleeth, Ph.D.

Dan Sleeth has been a devotee of Adi Da since 1983. He has worked for many years in the field of human services as a mental health provider. Dan earned a MA in general psychology and in counseling. After receiving his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, he wrote The Integral Ego as a vehicle for considering the non-dual perspective possible in the clinical therapeutic setting. Dan has served Adi Da in many different capacities, including public outreach, regional manager, and ashram manager, as well as through his writing and advocacy.

Dan SleethIt was a difficult winter for me. Someone very dear spent the months with me considering whether they should commit suicide. In the end, they didn't do it, and I was glad. But we were not unalike, and I had to face the unwelcome truth: there was no way that I would survive. Life simply wasn't set up for me. At the time, I was a returning college student; confused, alone, and just about completely fed up. I was a little too old for college life and didn't fit in very well. But then, I had never fit in anywhere all that well. I was used to being alone; it was my choice, in fact. I had arranged for it. Life had not treated me kindly, in my estimation, and I was paying it back.

However, this arrangement was not proving to be all that satisfactory. Things were not working out well and, worse, I couldn't find anyone to take the blame. In fact, the world seemed indifferent to my strategy. That was the truth of it: the effectiveness of my revenge was that no one seemed to notice. But I was not about to give in. Yet, life made no sense. I had become a success . . . at suffering. I was consumed by loneliness, precisely because I was having things my own way. Life suddenly seemed so tenuous. Little appeared to stand between me and a bad end. I could feel life slipping through my fingers. Even more than the pain, my suffering frightened me. I could see where it was headed. I knew I had to change.

So, I quit smoking — just to prove I meant business. And I developed my physique by working out — to improve my self-esteem. And I returned to school — to study religion, philosophy, and, later, psychology. It was my intent to benefit from the wisdom of my culture. I was turning to it for answers. I even thought that it might save me. But there was no remedy for what ailed me. I had always taken it for granted that our lives were founded on truth. It never occurred to me that anyone would settle for less. But so much had been written of no use. A staggering edifice had evolved, in fact — the gesture of our genius. And it kept me busy! My mind throbbed with points of view. Yet, no matter how ingenious, very little of it was convincing. In fact, it seemed there was a good chance the argument itself was all that mattered. Complexity and obscurity passed hands like a ritual. As much as I needed to believe in them, this much was painfully clear: they were only guessing.

This discovery left me shaken and at a loss. I felt betrayed by ambiguity, and abandoned by ambition. There was so much to consider. Looking back, the situation seems perfectly suited to ripen me, prepare me for the spiritual encounter that was to come. The first half of what Adi Da calls the dual-sensitivity had firmly settled into place. He speaks as follows about dual-sensitivity, which stands at the origin of spiritual life:

If you were not preoccupied with all the things you use to console and indulge yourself…you would inevitably become sensitized to your real situation…you would, necessarily, become aware that you are afraid…. Of course, you do not want to experience fear, you do not want to experience loss, sorrow, and separation, you do not want to experience any lack of pleasure at all — you do not want to suffer. Yet, really, all of these unwanted conditions are inevitable.

However, you are also more than merely afraid — you want True Happiness. To want True Happiness is inherent in your heart, in your deepest disposition of body-mind. Yet, what you are always doing in this mortal circumstance is effectively (and, altogether, experientially) cutting you off from yielding to your inherent and great heart-Impulse (and from the fulfillment of that Impulse)…. I Affirm and Confirm to you, on the Firm Basis of actual (and Eternal) Realization, that There Is the Infinite, Satisfactory, Unchanging, Eternal, Divine Condition, and that It Is the One and Only True Happiness…

At this point, I was deeply, irrevocably convinced of the first prong of the dual-sensitivity. I also believe the ordeal of my life thus far served two purposes: to soften me up and to disentangle me. There is a real sense in which a spiritual aspirant must be an outlaw, that is, willing to live outside the constraints and polite contracts of society. If the first part of the dual-sensitivity leads to the second part, Adi Da calls it positive disillusionment, because it dispels the illusions imparting suffering — and allows the reality of love and happiness to be the case instead. So long as one is hardened against this possibility, actively pursuing love and happiness in a realm where suffering is inevitable, the outcome is inherently futile and self-defeating. What could be more clear? Only a lifetime of ignorance, faulty advice, and bad choices stood between me and this realization.

During this time, I would catch the bus home a couple of blocks from the University. Home was down the street from the main avenue of the university district, which was a popular viaduct for the swarm of students busy with their own budding careers. A covered kiosk nestled at the bus-stop, out of the way and sheltered. It was a favorite spot of mine. After the demand and disillusionment of school, you could take it easy until the bus came. It was a place to catch your breath, to stand and lean up against the wall, maybe just glance around.

Outside the kiosk there was a telephone pole, clearly visible through the window. One day I noticed a poster tacked up on the pole. It displayed the photograph of a lively, younger man. His face was boyish, round, and soft. He was leaning forward, intense. His expression was lavish, full of anticipation. He held up a clenched fist that was positioned in the photograph exactly at the level of his chin, which created the impression to me of thoughtfulness. He seemed both having just transgressed some secret boundary and on the verge of doing so. He was an outrageous contradiction, and immensely attractive. He seemed so happy. I wanted to know the reason why.

Intrigued, I stepped out from the kiosk to get a better look. But what I discovered was completely unexpected and discordant. I read the print beneath the picture, which contained quotes and a description about him. I learned about his self-proclaimed enlightened state and discovered that he went by the name of Da Free John — which was apparently his choice. It was appalling. I was offended, not only by the magnitude of his claims but also the sheer preposterousness of his name. Looking back at his picture again in disbelief, I noticed the boyishness and the longish, casually brushed back hair. I immediately felt duped and wondered why I hadn't seen it from the start. Obviously, he was just another Californian beach-boy on the take, trying to make it by passing off his hustle with good looks and charm. It seemed so obvious. I couldn't believe I had almost fallen for it.

Everyday I would return to the kiosk to catch my bus and reprise this ritual. Catching a glimpse out of the corner of my eye, I would instinctively lean toward him, immediately attracted. But, then, I'd catch myself. I'd shake my head and look at his picture again. "Who was he trying to kid?" I'd ask in amazement. For days this went on. I'd look over at his picture, again and again. It started to get annoying. "Who was he trying to kid?" I'd ask myself in disbelief. I was not fooled.

But, I was followed. His image began to appear in my mind, away from the kiosk. On the bus home, I could see his face out the window. It was an image in which he was beside himself with joy and laughing, but I had no idea why. In class, I couldn't concentrate. I would think of him, forget about the professor. But I knew this wasn't normal. I wondered what his intentions were. It started to go beyond annoying. I began to really worry and wondered what I should do. Finally, I developed a plan. Committing myself, I made a decision: right after class, I would have it out with him.

I bounded down the steps of the University and headed toward the kiosk. I felt relieved, my course firmly in hand. I approached confidently, eager to put this episode behind me. When I arrived, I strode directly up to his poster, determined. There was no turning back when we squared off: eye to eye, body to pole.

I scanned the boundaries of his face first, but found nothing there, nothing to indicate the incredible fascination he held for me. I overlooked his smile intentionally, not to be so easily undone. I was determined to learn his secret, knowing that any fool can spread his mouth, and many do, but this was too important to take any chances. So, I was careful, and scrutinized his eyes. I was not about to be denied. Something was going to be revealed, certain that you can't hide lies in the eyes.

At first I was puzzled. His expression conveyed a wildness and unrestraint that didn't seem revealed in his eyes alone. The lids were arched and poised around his pupils in serene curves, exactingly precise. They laid upon the arc of each eyeball unconcerned, almost indifferent. No effort was present to suggest the intensity that radiated from them. On the one hand, they appeared flung open, unabashed, wildly tossed asunder. Yet, at the same time, they seemed rested, immaculate, in repose. No mistake: there was much paradox in those eyes.

Standing there, I was perplexed for some time. The sheer fact that it was enjoyable was curious. After a while, a realization occurred that was completely unexpected. It suddenly struck me, their cause. Those eyes were open! Not just lifted, or raised — but open. No pinch of skin in them showed a trace of suffering, as the sag of a tent canvas suggests, pulling against taut ropes. No, they were open, unfettered and aloft, devoid of aversion. I was captivated by a remarkable activity taking place in those eyes. Tissue spread, soft and fluid. Passing through this opening, the eyes emerged, rising like bubbles, unrestrained, forcing the water at its surface — suddenly free. Like secrets on display, abrupt and naked, they came pouring out. Their innocence was shocking, relentlessly shouldering their way in mystery, explicit as birth.

I stared in amazement. Such odd eyes could not happen by chance, I was certain. Eyes that open happen, not by force or effort but by the sheer courage and unimaginable suffering that will see anything — immune to preference, vulnerable, exposed. In the presence of eyes like these, all is revealed, there could be no doubt. These eyes had to have looked upon truth. They were welcoming, earnest, uncompromised. No doubt or fear had settled in, serving to occlude them. Rather, they were unwary and at ease, forthright, wiped clean. Without the slightest hesitation, they yielded. They accepted the world implicitly, with no regrets, willingly shaped in the phases of its vicissitude.

I marveled at these eyes, even happy to be amazed! Then a startling realization came. Clearly, he had seen — in fact, was seeing now. The face in the poster seemed to literally come alive. I could feel his presence, a person standing in front of me — looking at me. His eyes were a gauge of regard, rapt with notice. I felt gripped in their gaze. They were insistent, assertive. They would not go away. And the implications of this realization were enormous. Allowed into his sphere of sacrifice, I felt a profound debt: to share the company of one so great requires greatness in turn. I was overwhelmed. But there was no way to resist. I was taken over by the sheer capacity that had been accomplished in those eyes. They broke in on me, relentless with integrity.

I stepped back. This was far more than I had bargained for. Casting about, I sought any crease or fold, any misplaced edge of feature with which to question what I had just seen and clearly perceived. I tried, but it was a wasted effort. Undaunted, his face dared the truth. Having endured so much in his ordeal of honesty, I could not deny him now. I saw his smile anew, dimpled, a dent of inquiry hanging in anticipation. There was so much to understand. Laid open and impertinent and vulnerable as a wound, his mouth waited, ready, crooked by the easy delight of the obvious. Full of warmth and quizzical whimsy, he gave the secret away. And that, too, was the secret — that it was given away. It was a mouth playing songs of laughter, formidable and sweet.

At this point, the second prong of the dual-sensitivity came clearly into focus. My awareness was in a swirl, sifting me out of any sense of my usual frame of reference. All I could notice was the gentle intensity of this face, reaching out to me from the poster. It was the same as a living being, and that relationship brought with it certain responsibilities. There was no way I could be casual about it. Something inexplicable and ecstatic was taking place. I deeply felt the presence of love, lifting me out of my place in this world, transporting me to another domain entirely. And in it, all was relieved. I was utterly beside myself with gratitude and delight! Nothing remained, except the willingness of my surge toward its embrace.

Startling and exquisite, the truth is clear: God is here, alive and among us, realized in His human form as the Sat-Guru, the World Teacher of the Heart — the Ruchira Avatar, Adi Da Samraj. No honest man could deny those eyes.

Out of intimacy, integrity; out of integrity, truth. The mind casts its shadow, but the Heart shines; it has its own reasons. The mind is a fool; yet, even so, love is not fooled. Truth leaves its trail. No mistake: I say it now, as I said it then,

"Those are the eyes of an Enlightened man."

* * *

Below is the picture that appeared on the poster, the original cover of the first book written by Adi Da Samraj, The Knee Of Listening, which is His spiritual autobiography.

Adi Da Samraj

Quotations from and/or photographs of Avatar Adi Da Samraj used by permission of the copyright owner:
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