Finding Adi Da > Tom Williams

Coming Home:
The Spiritual Odyssey of a Former Clergyman

Tom Williams

Tom Williams is a former Presbyterian minister. He has been a devotee of Adi Da since 1982.

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Tom WilliamsThis is the story of how I fell in love with God. It may seem strange to say this. There is a real taboo against saying things like this in the hyped-up, technological culture in which we live. We don't talk publicly about things like this. But I do love God and want you to know about the way in which I came to love God, because life did not start out that way for me.

I have seen for myself that the Eternal God is Right Here, in Person, Present, available to us — straight, beautiful, completely authentic, filled with integrity — and that's the thing that changed my life and that I want to tell everybody.

I have no recollection of anything much beyond a very ordinary childhood in a suburban community. I had no intention then of becoming a Minister. I just lived what I thought was a very ordinary life. My story? It's about how I moved from being an ordinary person to someone who was given the greatest gift in the world, to being a devotee and student of the Divine Avatar, Adi Da Samraj.

It seems to me that my story began in earnest at the University of California at Los Angeles, in my second year, while I worked in the kitchen of a Sorority House, earning my meals. We had a new fellow working on staff. We would serve the ladies, clear the tables, eat as fast as we could, and wash the dishes. As we sat down to eat on his first night there, he bowed his head for a moment and said a silent prayer.

Well, that was strange to us. We kidded him. But that night when I got home from work, I had a revelation. The event had made me realize that my life was completely empty. Here was someone who had something in his life that was worth being ridiculed for, worth living for — while I had nothing.

So began my search for reality. The new fellow was a member of a group of Evangelical Christians, and that fascinated me. I began to read the Gospel of John for the first time as an adult.

I had gone to Sunday school as a kid. I remember myself as a child, sitting in a pew in church, my feet not touching the floor, totally bored, but feeling that there was something important going on.

I also have a recollection as a teen of praying at night before going to sleep, and feeling there was something really significant about being connected to God or the universe. But here, this night, there was something different. I saw the vision of Jesus of Nazareth as a man, a unique spiritual figure, and it moved me. Here was something profound.

I'm a little cautious by nature, a little skeptical, but after a period of about three months, I got down on my knees and offered my life to God and asked Jesus to come into my heart and to become my Lord. There were no miracles, no lightning struck me. But something shifted within and I knew I had changed.

A year later, I found myself confronted with a second dilemma. What was I going to do with my life, what career path should I take?

I'm the kind of person who doesn't like to do two things. I like to do what I'm doing. My interest in religion, in spiritual life, was growing. In fact, it was so strong that I concluded, "Well, why don't I become a clergyman?"

There were no other clergy in my family. At the same time, here was a way to grow more, find out more, enter a life of service.

I married a very attractive young lady and we set off for Princeton Theological Seminary, and I loved it. It was wonderful studying church history, the Bible, Greek, Hebrew, pastoral psychology. It was wonderful — except even from the start I could see that I was on my own as far as spiritual life was concerned. They had a beautiful New England chapel, a wonderful seminary choir. A few of the professors would start their lectures with prayer, but that was it.

You were on your own with respect to spiritual growth, about your own spiritual understanding. It was like going to any other kind of graduate school, and this situation began to introduce a measure of despair into my life.

I graduated from Seminary, went on to become a Minister, resolved (I guess) that the only thing open for me was to become the best professional Minister I could. "Why," I guessed, "should the Ministry be different than being a lawyer, or a doctor?"

My faith and my service seemed to be separate from one another. I loved serving people, I liked studying, but at the same time, the despair I felt about deepening my relationship to God persisted.

I was a Minister in Oklahoma in the 60's in the middle of the civil rights movement. I could feel the excitement of that great cause. I felt the wonderful things happening, terrible things as well. I was successful on a certain level, and went from Oklahoma to being a Pastor in a medium-sized church in California. I had a beautiful wife, three fine children. It looked like I was on top of the world, except something was missing.

In one sense, I was on top of the world with a beautiful family, a wonderful career, everything I ever dreamed of. And then suddenly, within a year, I lost it all. We divorced over my being a workaholic.

I found myself without a wife, suffering from anxiety, and unable to maintain my career — and out of work, with custody of three small children, I was bewildered and terrified. It was the worst time in my life, but probably the most creative as well.

I learned a lot, and began a career as a pastoral counselor. After studying for two years, I became a marriage and family counselor and developed a relatively successful private practice. At the same time, I continued to be haunted by this dilemma: what is "spiritual life" all about?

Psychology seemed to work in improving peoples' lives but it obviously wasn't truth. Christianity, as I knew it, seemed true, but it didn't seem to work (at least for me). In l973, someone handed me a copy of The Knee of Listening, Avatar Adi Da's Spiritual autobiography.

I took the book home, read it, and instantly recognized that Avatar Adi Da's words were true. They had an obvious quality about them. I felt, "Yes! This is exactly the way things really are." Adi Da spoke completely from his own experience, and it struck a powerful chord with my intuition. I began to read His books as fast as they were published.

Still, at that point, I was way too embedded in being a single parent, and as a Minister with a lot of ego.

I took the truth from The Knee of Listening and began to apply it to my life as I had done with many other self-help books. And strangely, even though I still thought of myself as a Christian and had no idea what it meant to be devotee of Avatar Adi Da Samraj, His Words began to change my life.

In a very human way, I got clear, I got straight, and began to see what I was up to. I remarried — to a wonderful lady — and for nine years, I continued to study every book Avatar Adi Da wrote as it rolled off the press.

In 1982, something new happened: I began to feel! As I started to feel what Adi Da was saying, my reading took on a different quality. It was obvious to me that the Words of the Divine Avatar were not a form of philosophy and this wasn't just religion as I had come to know it. The long and short of it was that I had started to feel the reality of who Avatar Adi Da really Is.

This realization plunged me into a major crisis of loyalty. I had made a commitment to Jesus as the Christ which I took seriously. Would I now be serving another Master? The dilemma resolved itself as I began to see what made Jesus the Christ was his transparency to God. I felt that if I moved from one window to another to get a better view, it wouldn't be an act of disloyalty to the first window. Adi Da is a window to Truth Itself, the Eternal One. Truth is where my allegiance ultimately is. That was the last barrier for me, and surmounting it allowed me to come forward. And then I realized I had no other choice. I either had to come forward and be a formal devotee of Adi Da — or be a fool!

Meanwhile, my wife, who was Mormon, had nothing whatsoever to do with Avatar Adi Da's Wisdom-Teaching at the start. It bewildered her.

The nearest Adidam center was a hundred miles away. So as my compromise, every other weekend I would go down to my devotee practice. That created tension between us, because my wife could feel that I was serious about Avatar Adi Da. I already worked long hours, and to be gone on top of that every other weekend was a stretch for her. But she was especially concerned about what the future might be for us. We had a number of talks. There was growing frustration and concern about what was going to happen between us. Then one day, the telephone rang . . . It was the leader of the Adidam Center I had been attending in La Jolla, California. We had a rather nice, large home in the San Fernando Valley, just north of Los Angeles. This man wanted to know if we could host one of Adidam's principal speakers for a week, while the speaker came up to scout out a new location in Southern California for a new Adidam center. My wife said "Sure, why not." So this speaker came up. He spent the days scouting locations, and the nights with us, telling us stories of what it's like to be in the presence of Adi Da. We were transfixed, my sons as well, our whole family.

He left. A week later, the phone rang again. One of the regional Adidam book salesmen was on a tour and asked if could he stay with us for seven days. He turned out to be one of the very earliest devotees of Adi Da Samraj. And so every night, after dinner, we would hear stories of what it was like in the early days, being in the intimate company of Beloved Adi Da. They were wonderful, wonderful stories.

At one point, my wife turned to me and said, "This is like being with one of the twelve apostles!" We loved it! Scarcely had we settled back, when we received another call. Now they wanted to know if the wife and two year old daughter of one of the speakers could stay with us for a brief time. Sure! We loved it! About three days into her stay, pictures of Adi Da started appearing on our bedroom wall.

My wife fell absolutely in love with Avatar Adi Da. Not from reading His books, but from just hearing those stories about Him from devotees. She became a devotee three months later, and we have both been devotees ever since.

In 1984, Avatar Adi Da Samraj, traveled from His Hermitage in Fiji to meet with devotees at the Mountain Of Attention Sanctuary in Northern California, for ten days. It was called the "Love of the God Man" period. I had been a student then for two years, and I was resigned to the fact that I probably would never see Him in the flesh, because I was told that He had retired to live in His Hermitage Sanctuary in Fiji. So, it was wonderful to have the opportunity see him in person.

Filled with excitement, my wife and I drove from Los Angeles to the Mountain Of Attention. The first time we saw Adi Da, there was a gathering in a giant tent holding 700 people, and we all sat there chanting.

He walked into the room and there was an electric charge, and I remember staring at His Face. At the same time it was obvious that He was completely at rest, peaceful, totally happy, and yet at times tears ran down His face as though He was stricken by the amount of love He was feeling for us all as he looked around the room from face to face. It staggered me. I'd never before seen such a display of compassion, love, self-surrender as in that moment.

I'd had this fantasy all my life: "What would it be like to be in the presence of a Spiritually Realized Person?" So the second day on retreat, I resolved I was going to make eye contact with Avatar Adi Da because He seemed to be looking into everyone's eyes, one at a time. I came a little early and brought some extra pillows, and set them up so that I'd be a little higher than the person in front of me. I got a good seat. I sat there waiting for His Gaze to come my way.

Sure enough, as He turned His attention to me, I started to get terribly uptight, completely-self conscious. Should I smile? How should I look? How does one look "loving"? I was freezing up. Then from some mysterious place, the thought came into my mind, "I love you!" and my body relaxed. That's all there was for me. "I love you."

Now, for me this is interesting, because I spent twenty years as a therapist and earned my living by eye contact. I could tell by looking into someone's eyes, whether they are there, how much attention they had, whether they were tracking me, the intensity of our connection.

Eye contact gives me all kinds of information. I'm very sensitive to it. But I haven't the faintest recollection of what happened when Adi Da Samraj looked at me! My mind just left. It was gone. But I do remember having a lightning series of insights that were just obvious. The first one was ... "Oh my God, there's nobody here but One of us! Oh, my God, in order to have that intensity He must be completely surrendered beyond anything I can imagine, moment by moment by moment . . ." Then I realized that even if I held onto this moment, it would soon be gone. I'd have to even surrender something as wonderful as this. That came without words. It was just suddenly, instantaneously obvious.

I have no idea how long it lasted. It could have been five seconds or thirty. I'm sure it wasn't long. In one sense it was Eternity! And then it was over. The man sitting next to me was the only other clergyman in this huge group, a former Professor of Religion from Harvard Theological Seminary. We just looked at each other and fell into each other's arms and cried. I don't know what his experience was, but it had to be similar to mine. We just cried together and held each other for the longest time, lost in the Love we'd received that was given as a Divine Gift.

I've been a devotee now for twenty-seven years. I wouldn't be telling you the truth if I said it was always easy. It is painful to drop one's illusions and see yourself as you really are. It is a hard school, but a happy way of life. And I wouldn't trade this life for anything in the world. There's nothing that compares to being in communion, in love with God.

Seeing Him in His bodily human form: that great gift ... has been and is my story!

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