Finding Adi Da > Max Cottrell

A Difficult Beginning

Max Cottrell


Max Cottrell has been a devotee of Bhagavan Adi Da Samraj since 1976. He currently serves Adi Da's Work as a photographer at the Mountain Of Attention Sanctuary in Northern California where he also does cultural service in the local community of devotees.

Finding Adi Da

Max CottrellI was born into a working class family in Bristol, England in 1947. Britain was recovering from the ravages of WWII. Everything was in short supply. There was food rationing until 1953.

My parents were not wealthy and the prospect of raising a third child in that environment must have been more than daunting. They decided I should be aborted. My mother told me many years later that she tried to do it herself using knitting needles. This was a precursor to a painful childhood in which it became obvious to me that I was not wanted by either of my parents.

When I was around two years old my mother suffered a nervous breakdown from which she never recovered. From that time onward she displayed wild mood swings from extreme hysterical happiness (mania) to being dark, brooding, angry, and threatening violence. These two moods were her only ways of being. They were unpredictable and would last for hours, days or weeks at a time. Although both states were obviously quite "crazy" we all preferred her to be in the manic mood. We, (my two brothers, sister and my father) would try not to trigger a change to her dark and dangerous persona. I was especially careful in this regard because as a small child I was terrified of her capacity to do me harm.

Mother was hospitalized several times and given the rather crude treatments available at the time. She would return home in a more "normal" (though suppressed) state after treatment but after a few weeks she would revert to her usual patterns of behavior. Nothing and no-one seemed to be able to help her.

I grew up knowing that my mother was crazy, wanting more than anything else for her to be like our suburban neighbors and my friends' mothers. A dark guilt occupied me, and I felt ashamed about her condition. I grew up feeling anxious, depressed and alienated from everyone and everything. Mother was unable to love or nurture, even in simple ways like providing regular meals. I grew up physically weak and emaciated.

I became suicidal in my teens. Nothing seemed to be able to relieve a dark sense of hopeless despair that neither my life nor my mother's life could ever be even remotely happy. Alongside my despair, when I looked at how everyone around me was living, I was not particularly attracted to being "normal" rather than depressed. If being normal meant having minimal integrity of heart and mind in the midst a superficial and self-centered life, I was not interested in that at all. I longed to live an authentic, deeply feeling and free existence based in some greater wisdom than displayed by those I encountered around me. In my teens and early twenties this only added to my sense of hopelessness. I felt as if I were a worm who wanted to be an eagle. Additionally, when I would try to reach out of my mental and emotional prison to engage relations with young women of my age, I would feel paralyzed by guilt and fear. The more I felt attracted to someone, the more paralyzed I felt, and I was therefore unable to enjoy relations with the opposite sex.

All this created an intense desire in me for release, and later for liberation.

In spite of my difficulties, I was quite a good student and got myself into a university to study engineering; during that period of time I learned Transcendental Meditation, or TM. This provided some support, and for a time, a degree of emotional and psychological healing. It helped to release despair and at the same time promised a life of wisdom based on integrity of heart and mind. I embraced the practice fully and decided that I would become a TM teacher. At last there seemed to be a real solution to my difficulties.

In the ensuing training process I came to deeply love and respect Maharishi Mahesh Yogi who brought the TM practice to the West. He was the first "True Man" I had ever met. I fully applied myself to serving his vision of changing the world by having large numbers of people practice TM. Maharishi taught me many things; perhaps the most significant lesson for me was his demonstration of the power of devotion. It was obvious that he was utterly devoted to his guru who, though no longer physically alive, was still completely available to him through the process of Maharishi's loving surrender. He held us all enthralled to witness his all-consuming life of devotion. He was full of radiant energy, love, happiness, humor, humility and always communicated wisdom that was entirely appropriate for the moment.

But something struck me as very curious: although Maharishi was a consummate devotee, he neither taught nor recommended guru devotion to those he taught the meditation practice. It was obvious to me that his liberated condition could not be separated from his life of surrender to his Master. However, Maharishi was no fool. He knew that if he was to successfully bring the TM practice to large numbers of people in the West, there could be no element of guru devotion involved as that process is taboo in the ego-centered culture of the West. However, my own yearning for liberation had by now grown from the need for emotional release to the understanding that only complete freedom from all sense of self-possession would yield the "authentic life" that I sought. I desired nothing less than complete enlightenment. I decided I would do whatever was necessary to bring about that enlightened condition.

Alongside my dedication to Maharishi and teaching TM, I liked to keep my mind open to study other paths to liberation and I regularly examined other teachers and spiritual practices. One summer weekend in London in 1976, I attended a showing of a short movie called Laughter, about the American-born teacher Adi Da Samraj (then known as Bubba Free John). This had a profound effect on me; here was a person who, though born in the West showed all the signs of complete Divine Enlightenment! This was startling to me as I had been used to Maharishi's Eastern, celibate monk style of illumination; for instance: when asked by followers about some emotional-sexual problem they were struggling with, Maharishi would answer "My field is not sex", but here, in Adi Da Samraj, was Divine Enlightenment in a person who was completely comfortable with all aspects of everyday western life. He even smoked a cigarette! I found him to be utterly attractive and interesting. Furthermore, he taught that devotion to a Guru was not only profoundly useful but actually necessary in the process of complete liberation. And He welcomed anyone to practice an authentic spiritual life of devotion, with Him as their Spiritual Master. I purchased a book and a magazine at the presentation and quickly read them. I found some more of His books later in a bookstore near my home. As I read them I became more and more excited, and delighted by the liberating power of the Guru's Word recorded in these books.

In the writings of Adi Da Samraj I was astonished to discover such a bold, complete and detailed explanation of how the process of relationship with a True Guru leads to spiritual liberation. I drank it all in and was awed by His extraordinary intelligence, wisdom and humor. He displayed and freely communicated complete insight into the whole process of life that reached deeply into me. This study, which was actually an initial form of meditation, made it clear that TM could not bring about the fullest state of Realization, liberation and freedom that I sought. I quickly realized I had found my Guru. I was 28 years old. I remain His devotee to this day at the time of this writing, August 2010, I am 63.


An Ongoing Relationship with Adi Da

Revisiting my early life: in my late teens when commuting to work on public transport, if there was an empty seat next to me on the bus, no one would sit there unless there were no other seats available, even then, as soon as another seat would become free, the person sitting next to me would get up and sit away from me. My disturbed feelings radiated around me and kept people away.

Now, by contrast, in the community of devotees of Adi Da Samraj, life's daily demands do not undermine what is basically a happy life. Love is the primary characteristic and presumption of His devotees and each of our relationships with our Master is one of love not the usual "I love ice cream" or "I love my cat" or even "I love my wife/husband/children" The relationship I enjoy with my Spiritual Master is a love connection of a divine and unbounded nature that cannot be destroyed even by death.

My relationship with Adi Da Samraj is primary in my life. Every day I remember Him. I feel the love and breathe the feeling connection between us. There is a daily, actually moment-to-moment practice in which feeling and attention are oriented to this relationship, which, in a natural and effortless manner progressively replaces identity with the negative, unhappy backlog of past experience. This is meditation on the state of liberation of Master Adi Da Samraj. Over time, His Enlightened State has become more and more my own state. That is how the True Guru liberates his devotee. He freely gives His Own Liberated Self to His devotee. Adi Da's most complete, seventh stage realization means that the radical (root) state of non-dual consciousness itself is freely available to be lived by ordinary men and women anywhere in the world.

No one avoids me now; the fact of my existence is no longer a problem in any way whatsoever. Rather, daily life is a process of progressively greater and greater liberation.

In spite of practice in Adidam being basically happy, the creative difficulties and tests of life continue. It is not just a "bliss ride" insulated from the shocks and pains of mortal existence. This is referred to in this excerpt from a talk by Adi Da Samraj about the life of practice of His devotees called The Fire Must Have Its Way:


It is very difficult.
It is a manly Way of life, man or woman.
It is a creative Way of Life in the highest sense, in that it involves the transcending of egoity, rather than "self"-fulfillment.

Therefore, as you adapt to the Reality-Way of Adidam, the fire is prominent. There is a great deal to learn, and there is much responsibility yet to be realized in order just to be human. Your commitment must not be to "your" Enlightenment, but to the Light Itself, to Real (Acausal) God, and that commitment is exercised through "self"-surrendered right and true devotional Communion with Me, in every moment and under all circumstances.

Adi Da Samraj, The Fire Must Have Its Way (audio excerpt)


When I first became a devotee of Adi Da Samraj I was looking to be saved from myself and quickly become blissfully enlightened. Instead, I was instructed to take personal responsibility and sort out my problems myself! Adi Da Samraj teaches that before you can become spiritual, you must first become human. I was required to learn very basic life skills like how to stand, sit, breathe and walk. I had to take on all kinds of responsibilities and continue to make my way in the world just like everybody else. Adi Da teaches that spiritual life has to be "resurrected from the ground up." It cannot be fruitfully begun in ethereal states of spiritual consciousness in a search to escape from the demands of everyday life.

However, I found that whatever help I needed was given. He has actively intervened to release the difficult states of mind and emotion that I suffered for so many years. In doing so He took them on my very own states for a time Himself. I know this because I witnessed and felt Him do it. I am hugely indebted to my Master more than I can ever repay. I love Him unconditionally.

I now regard my difficult early life as a blessing. The so-called "normal" life of the usual person is not happy either. I am grateful that mine propelled me to seek and consider deeply.

In TM I had experienced Cosmic Consciousness a clear intuition of oneness with all existence, but I had much to learn and change about the way I lived, much to learn about being a mature human in order to provide a solid foundation upon which to build real spiritual awareness. My Guru Adi Da Samraj displays extraordinary skill at providing the lessons, Blessing Help, and daily life circumstances required for that process, even now when He is no longer alive in a physical body. It is truly a mysterious, miraculous process.

* * *

An example of my Master's Blessing Power is referred to by the Guru Gita, a traditional Indian text in praise of the Guru; it states that all members of the family of the devotee of a True Guru are also blessed by the Guru.

When I was newly married to another devotee of Adi Da, I took my partner to meet my mother; my father had died when I was 17. I was stunned to see that over the years of my time with my Master something amazing had happened to her.

Going back to when I was around five years old, my mother had stood on my foot whilst wearing stiletto heels (and she weighed over 190 lb, 85 kg). I yelled in pain and tugged at her clothing to attract her attention; she was oblivious, laughing about something in her mind and paid no attention to my plight. She continued to laugh when she looked down and saw what was happening. In that moment I concluded that she was incapable of love. But now, meeting my devotee partner, she was transformed; she radiated love from head to toe, utterly happy to see us together. She was calm, peaceful and loving in her communications. She was completely normal with no trace of craziness at all. I was humbled with gratitude to see the change and transformation in her.

Adi Da Samraj had restored my mother's well being and thereby fulfilled that long-held deepest wish of mine that she recover from the terrible mental and emotional torture she had suffered most of her life.

* * *

In November 2008, Adi Da Samraj's physical life ended when He entered Divine Mahasamadhi. It was a sudden, unexpected event that required some adjusting to from His devotees after so many years of His constant outpouring of blessing gifts. However, miraculously, the countless occasions of ecstasy that I and all His devotees have always enjoyed in communion with our Master continue unabated and often seem even more intensified; for instance, when receiving His Darshan (Darshan = sighting, now recorded); or, in formal periods of sitting meditation; or, when studying His Divine Teaching Word; or, when regarding His Divine Image-Art; or, when watching The Orpheum enactments. These are just some of the many Divine Gifts Adi Da has made available so that all humankind may enjoy Liberation in God.

The capacity of my Master to Bless and transform those who love Him is apparently endless and unstoppable.

I joyfully surrender my life to Him. May all beings consciously enjoy the Grace of God through my Guru: The Divine Avatar Adi Da Samraj.



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For a related story by the author, read How Did He Know?.


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