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Lawsuits, Countersuits, & 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". This section addresses these matters.

 


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], 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.

A judge dismissed the case, ruling that there was no legal basis for the lawsuit.Beverly 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.

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 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.)

As 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."

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 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.

In 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 Today Show.





The Frans we know and love

"Frans Bakker", media creation



streaming video clip:
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At 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:

When 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.

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". 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.

We 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.

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

Lawsuits, 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."

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 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.

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 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:

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”.

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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This site is not officially associated with Adidam. The formally approved and official site is www.adidam.org. For full disclaimer, click here. All excerpts from the works of Avatar Adi Da Samraj and and pictures of Avatar Adi Da Samraj © The Avataric Samrajya of Adidam Pty Ltd, as trustee for The Avataric Samrajya of Adidam. All rights reserved. "Adidam" and "Ruchiradam" are service marks of The Avataric Samrajya of Adidam Pty Ltd