Lawsuits, Media Circuses, and Anti-Adi Da Sites > Lawsuits and Media Circuses

Lawsuits and Media Circuses

by Chris Tong, Ph.D.

Back in the mid-1980s, a couple of lawsuits were brought against Adi Da Samraj by a few disaffected former devotees. When these lawsuits were made public, given the nature of modern sensationalistic journalism, a generally negative public attitude toward "gurus", and the exaggerated language that commonly appears in legal complaints, a kind of "media circus" erupted. There was significant newspaper and television coverage, including a Today Show "expose" about Adidam as a "religious cult".

The basic facts

The basic facts are pretty straightforward. As longtime devotee, James Steinberg, put it, in answering a reporter's question about the lawsuits: "Well, first, it is not like there are lots of lawsuits. There was one major lawsuit [filed by Beverly O'Mahony, March 4, 1985]." There was also a counter-suit by Adidam for extortion, and finally out-of-court settlements. As Brian O'Mahony makes clear: "The entire affair was eventually settled out of court by our insurance companies to avoid the incredible expense of an extended court process."

The losing side does not ordinarily have to pay the winning side's attorney's fees, contrary to popularly held belief. In the United States, the general rule (called the American Rule) is that each party pays only their own attorney's fees, regardless of whether they win or lose. This allows people to bring cases and lawsuits without the fear of incurring excessive costs if they lose the case. In contrast, in England and other countries, the losing side is often required to pay the other side's attorney's fees after losing a trial.

The Nolo Network, Attorney Fees: Does the Losing Side Have to Pay?

A judge dismissed the lawsuitBeverly O'Mahony (her married name at the time; she has since remarried) was the ex-devotee bringing the primary lawsuit. The complaints included "coercion", "infliction of emotional distress", "assault and battery", and "involuntary servitude". In November, 1985, a Marin County judge ruled that Beverly had no legal basis for filing the lawsuit; the Marin County Superior Court dismissed the case. And in 2006, a devotee in England was involved in a child custody case, where her ex-husband thought he could gain some legal advantage by bringing up in court all the slander he could find about Adi Da Samraj on the Internet. The judge went through every allegation, and dismissed every single one of them as being either hearsay, rumor, or utterly irrelevant, and having no legal basis in fact.

In a letter that Beverly wrote years after the lawsuit (and the ensuing media circus) to her ex-husband, Brian O'Mahony (who is still a devotee of Adi Da, and was interviewed by us about the lawsuits, etc.), she exonerated Adi Da completely. Among other things, she wrote: "I agree that 99% of what I have seen of any reporting on the Community/Guru is horseshit." "I can't think of anything the Master ever forced me to do." "The only physical contact I have ever had with Da is a few hugs, and when I was very pregnant, he touched my belly in a gentle and soothing way. That is it." She explained that most of the "complaints" were made up by her lawyer, who had taken advantage of the fact that she was going through a difficult divorce from Brian, and was in a very vulnerable state — which her lawyers were obviously aware of themselves, since they noted it in the complaint: writing that, at the time they knew her, "she was a young, naive, impressionable and very lonely girl."

As Brian O'Mahony has put it: "The lawsuit was very deliberately crafted to make Adi Da and Adidam look like a destructive cult. It had no basis in fact. . . . I remember my own feelings of pain and anguish when Adi Da, my friends, and I were attacked by the allegations. . . . To the surprise of no one involved with the drama of that time, the lawyer was disbarred some years later."

The media circus

Beverly continues: "Had I known it would turn into the media circus it did, I wouldn't have taken that ride. I enjoy my privacy. The media, both TV and newspaper, distorted everything. I was interviewed by a reporter, for one of the San Francisco papers — I can't remember if it was the Examiner or the Chronicle, and I couldn't believe it when I read the article. It had very little to do with anything I had said. It was at that point that I lost faith in the news, journalism and reporters, etc."

Other devotees would agree. Frans Bakker and Susan Lesser were two of the devotees responding on behalf of Adidam to the Today Show interviewer. Both were young and neither had any previous experience with the media. So when the reporter assured them of positive exposure, they naively believed him. Frans would later tell us the story of how the Today Show crew "grilled" him and Susan Lesser for hours, confronting them with endless provocative questions and accusations, while filming all the time. Frans and Susan both did their very best to respond, checking their growing impatience. But after five hours, they just couldn't tolerate the harrassment any more — and they exploded, their faces contorted in anger as they denounced the endless false accusations they had been hearing. And as it turned out, that explosion was the only part of the five hours of filming that was used in the actual show: these two devotees at "their worst", removed from the context of that provocative, five-hour grilling.

In hindsight, it was clear to Frans and Susan that this had been a deliberate strategy: the film crew had been deliberately provoking them and waiting to capture their explosion on film, so they could feature it. Just to give you a sense for how such "media sensationlism" is done, we've included two video clips: the first is how Frans normally looks and speaks today (older and wiser, but otherwise much the same as back in 1985); and the clip of Frans used by the Today Show.


At another point in the Today Show episode, the reporter suggests that Beverly was "held on Fiji against her will" when she decided to leave Adidam. Lynne Wagner, who was named as one of the defendants in the complaint (which shocked Lynne when she found out), has this to say:

Lynne WagnerWhen told that I was being sued for "imprisoning" Beverly, my first response was amazement. It was such a distortion of the real events, I could not believe that she was serious. During the couple of weeks Beverly was on retreat in Fiji, I talked with her two or three times about her practice and what she was going through with Brian. She was very unhappy about their relationship and determined to confront him when she got back to California. Discussing her marital problems was uncomfortable, but I was Brian's friend, had just met Beverly and wanted to help them, because I thought they loved each other.

I suggested that Beverly stay on the island a bit longer, take some time to relax, come to terms with her feelings of anger and betrayal and consider all the issues she wanted to bring up with Brian. And that's what she did — she waited a week or so until the next boat came to the island, and then she left. She certainly was not "held against her will".

Beverly's lawyer even talked to my parents, which upset them terribly. It took me years to recover their trust. The lawsuit and the public defamation was devastating to me and my family. It happened many years ago and wounds have healed, but I learned an indelible lesson about the world: People can justify causing one another great suffering, and the media will exploit their pain and even misrepresent the truth if there is profit to be made.

We also later came to know more about the Today Show reporter's strong, personal religious affiliations (including patronage of a scholarship at a Christian university with a stated intention of converting the world to Christianity), a compelling reason for questioning the objectivity of the TV segment he put together on our non-Christian religious tradition. A further reason for questioning his objectivity can be seen in the TV segment itself: it contains footage of him on Adidam property shortly after he arrived, reporting "conclusions" to the camera about Adidam which not only were false, but which he simply could not have had sufficient time to research, having only just begun his "investigation". Lastly, the Today Show reporter had assured us that he would produce a show that would give Adidam positive and balanced exposure — and then he turned around and did the exact opposite. For these and other reasons, it was clear to us that the reporter had pre-determined that Adidam was a "cult", and had intended all along to produce an "expose" on this minority religion so different from his own mainstream affiliation.

Read an interview with Brian O'Mahony about the lawsuits and the media circus.

Lawsuits, service professions, and expectations

Every area of human life that involves service to others — including religion and spiritual traditions — is also accompanied by lawsuits. Again, from James Steinberg: "People may be familiar with the fact that Upasani Baba faced court trials, as did Ramana Maharshi (they sent someone out to deposition him), as they did with Shirdi Sai Baba. And this is in India where there is a much stronger tradition of understanding about such God-men and women."

Ramana Maharshi

Adi Da Samraj


Upasani Baba

Shirdi Sai Baba
Ramana Maharshi

Adi Da Samraj

Upasani Baba

Shirdi Sai Baba

In other words, even genuine and highly respected spiritual masters, from Ramana Maharshi to Adi Da Samraj, can be sued. (In a different time, another great spiritual master was even crucified.) Many of our best doctors, psychiatrists, and other servants of society have been sued — which is not altogether surprising in the litigious society of the contemporary United States.

Any time there is the potential for a gap between expectations and reality — the expectations of the one being served, and the reality of what the one serving them must do to serve them effectively — there is the potential for a lawsuit. It might be a paramedic breaking someone's rib while performing the Heimlich maneuver to save the person's life. Or it might be a psychiatrist delving into unconscious matters that a person has suppressed all his life, to raise these things to consciousness so he can be free of them at last.

And in some sense, there is no greater potential for a gap between expectation and reality than in the area of spirituality. Our Western "consumer" culture programs us to expect "Enlightenment in a weekend" (in the manner of "fast food" to go). But true Spiritual Realization requires a most profound ordeal of transcending one's ego, and a Spiritual Master who, once "hired" for the job, won't let you off the hook. It is going to hurt! No doubt about it. But if we are smart, and remain clear in our higher purpose of Spiritual Realization (and in our understanding of how that purpose necessarily entails transcendence of self), we keep it a struggle with self, rather than turning it into a struggle with the Spiritual Master we chose to help us with that very purpose. As Laughing Man Institute Director, James Alwood, puts it:

There is a hidden presumption that if someone feels like they were hurt by a Spiritual Master that that somehow brings into question the Spiritual Master himself or herself. All throughout history, Spiritual Realizers of every kind have been suppressed, attacked, vilified, and treated basically like scum or social “outsiders”. Spiritual Realizers disturb egos. That is Their job. That is What They do. Egos do not like to be disturbed. Egos sometimes fight back viciously, usually reacting to the Spiritual Realizer as if he or she were a “Dad” or a “Mom” that failed to console them, or failed to protect their precious “egos”.

Author Mariana Caplan makes a complementary point about how contemporary views of ethics and morality can place constraints on genuine Spiritual Masters that limit their ability to practice Crazy Wisdom as needed, and hence limit their effectiveness as Spiritual Masters:

As it is concerned with conventional morality, the expression of crazy wisdom can be disturbing to the mind, challenging conditioned notions of ethics and morality. It is wise that this is so, as far too many self-proclaimed messiahs have incorporated highly questionable behaviors in the service of so-called awakening. Unfortunately, such behaviors on the part of charlatans have created skepticism regarding the [long-established] field of crazy wisdom a manner of teaching that has been in existence for thousands of years. In a culture full of dubious spiritual authorities, few [genuine] Western crazy-wisdom masters today are afforded the privilege of making use of their full bag of tricks. They are well aware that a single lawsuit brought against them by one unhappy ego could result in their losing the opportunity to continue their teaching function; thus they choose to accept the "oppression" of their mastery in service of remaining available to their students.

Mariana Caplan, Ph.D., p. 173, The Guru Question

Instead of suing the Spiritual Master, take advantage of his or her help and transcend self

As we have pointed out, even great servants of society may get sued. But dwarfing such lawsuits is their track record of helping others. Great doctors heal patients; great psychiatrists help relieve their patients of some of their negative psychological patterning; and great spiritual masters help their devotees transcend themselves, help them experience the greater-than-material Spiritual Reality, and utimately help them to realize that Spiritual Reality. This site is full of stories of Adi Da helping devotees in that ordeal of transcendence — an ordeal for both the devotee and Adi Da Samraj — and of devotees who chose to accept the Master's help, "stayed the course", came out the other side of a growth process, and were able to report a breakthrough in their human or spiritual maturity, from the humble to the extraordinary. (And Adi Da has made it clear that there can be no substantial spiritual maturity without substantial human maturity first.) Here are just a few such stories:



Quotations from and/or photographs of Avatar Adi Da Samraj used by permission of the copyright owner:
© Copyrighted materials used with the permission of The Avataric Samrajya of Adidam Pty Ltd, as trustee for The Avataric Samrajya of Adidam. All rights reserved. None of these materials may be disseminated or otherwise used for any non-personal purpose without the prior agreement of the copyright owner. ADIDAM is a trademark of The Avataric Samrajya of Adidam Pty Ltd, as Trustee for the Avataric Samrajya of Adidam.

Technical problems with our site? Let our webmaster know.