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".
This section addresses these matters.
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], and one other peripheral one [filed by Mark Miller,
May 21, 1986]." There was also a counter-suit for extortion,
and finally out-of-court settlements.
O'Mahony 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 she had no legal basis for filing
the lawsuit. 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.
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 recently
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 lawyers,
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: "she was a young, naive, impressionable
and very lonely girl." (Her primary lawyer would later be forced
off the State Bar of California in 2001, when he resigned in the
face of a misconduct allegation.)
Brian O'Mahony has put it: "It
took an entirely disreputable attorney to make it possible for such
a lawsuit to be created. That such a thing could happen strains
credulity in most ordinary good-hearted people. I remember my own
feelings of helplessness and anguish when I tried to defend myself
and my Master and my friends against the various allegations. It
was a great relief to me and a measure of restoration of my faith
in the legal system when the judge finally saw through Cunningham's
[the attorney's] efforts and summarily dismissed the suit."
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
they "grilled" him and Susan Lesser for hours, confronting them with
endless provocative questions and accusations, while filming
all the time. Frans and Susan did their very best to respond,
while checking their growing impatience. But after five hours,
they just couldn't tolerate the harrassment calmly —
they exploded, their faces contorted in anger as they denounced
the endless false accusations they had been hearing. And 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", taken out
of the context of that provocative, five-hour grilling.
hindsight, it was clear to Frans and Susan that this had been a
deliberate strategy. 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 (a little older, but
much the same as back in 1985); and the clip of Frans used by the
Frans we know and love
Bakker", media creation
another point in the Today Show, 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 O'Mahony,
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.
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".
When I heard she had initiated a lawsuit, I felt horrified
that such gross lies about Adi Da would be used for profit. Her
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 discovered that the supposedly "objective" reporter not
only had the common media motivation to sensationalize and create
an "expose" on a group he had pre-determined to be a "cult"; but
he also had fundamentalist Christian ties and thus a strong incentive
to "trash" non-Christian Adidam.
a recent interview with Brian
O'Mahony about the lawsuits and the media circus.
service professions, and expectations.
James Steinberg continues: "Are you 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."
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 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 a psychiatrist delving into unconscious matters
that the person has suppressed all their life, to raise these things
to consciousness so he or she 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 would like an "Enlightenment weekend" (in the manner of
"fast food"); 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. (For a detailed and clarifying talk by
Adi Da on this point, click
here.) But if we are smart, and 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 devotee, James
Alwood, puts it:
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”.
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.