Media Circuses, and Anti-Adi Da Sites > Lawsuits
and Media Circuses
and Media Circuses
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?
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
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."
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,
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.
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:
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.
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.
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."
Adi Da Samraj
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.
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
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”. |
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:
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
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:
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