This is an excerpt from an interview with Terry Patten* about his relationship with his former teacher, Adi Da (aka Da Free John):
Terry: I was with Adi Da for fifteen years, starting in the very early days of his teaching in Los Angeles and Northern California. The awakening, transmission, brilliance, the sweetness of love-bliss that I experienced with him were off the chart. So was the richness of the new Dharma that he brought through, and the art and poetry. He was thoroughly authentic in the richest possible way. At the same time, the structure of this relationship was totally, intensely hierarchical. He was the guru. We were the devotees. Zero mutuality. The work ended up always being about the miracle of Him, capitalized.
I’m not interested in criticizing him because the first, second or third things I want to say about him have to do with gratitude and praise. It was a tremendous gift to spend such an intense transformational time with him. In some sense, all the traditional devotional language that “I’m just a reflection of what my guru gave me” has a truth to it. Although I went through years of processing anger and confusion, I circled back to being devotionally grateful to him and I will forever be grateful for everything I received through that relationship, which remains profoundly transformative.
And it’s also true, in a sense, that he failed me. He failed to trust and honor the spiritual process that he initiated in me. I had to stand up and say “no” to him, and eventually I had to leave the ashram altogether. After I left I had a profound awakening. The same happened with Saniel Bonder [Chapter 9]. In our experience, it was as if a secret teaching was revealed only in the process of leaving the teaching. It was as if it was printed on the inside of the wrapper, made visible only in the process of us liberating ourselves from it.
Amir: It sounds like you’re holding two completely different perspectives on your relationship with him.
Terry: Yes, it’s pretty complex, and I’m still working it out. I have a huge body of experience that makes no sense except in the mode of grateful surrendered adoration of my guru. And I have another huge body of experience that makes no sense except when, having summoned up my autonomous self-discernment and self-responsibility, I am saying no and giving the finger to the many ways I was violated and victimized by the unhealthy dynamics. I can’t be in the state that can access the first body of experience and the state that can access the other body of experience at the same time. Those states are incompatible; they are mutually exclusive. So I’ve been forced to live with the fact that I will never be able to contain the totality of the experience I lived in this body, because of my encounter with Adi Da. It’s a profound and paradoxical teaching. For that, I’m eternally grateful.
* Terry Patten, born in 1960, is an American integral philosopher-activist, spiritual teacher, author, coach and consultant, founder of Integral Spiritual Practice and the founder and host of the podcast Beyond Awakening: The Future of Spiritual Practice. With Ken Wilber and a core team, he co-authored the book Integral Life Practice: A 21st Century Blueprint for Physical Health, Emotional Balance, Mental Clarity, and Spiritual Awakening. He spent fifteen years as a student of Adi Da.