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Photo of Avatar Adi Da SamrajTHE GURU DIDN'T COME HERE BECAUSE HE wanted to change it," says devotee Jim Calladine. "He was drawn here because of what was here. At least that's my personal interpretation."

Seated in a sun-drenched living room overlooking Trinidad Harbor, Calladine is the antithesis of many preconceived notions surrounding the followers of the religious leader Adi Da. From the Timex Indiglo watch on his wrist to the Maxima and Saab parked in the driveway of the rented house, the 60-something Calladine projects the image of someone who fits well in the city of Trinidad.

That's just the point.

Beginning in the fall, the followers of Avatar Adi Da Samraj entered the community with the stated intention of being good neighbors. And they are expanding their presence as these pages reach readers' hands.

During a New Year's Eve day interview, Calladine said the religious group was closing escrow on a Stagecoach Road home and had just had its offer accepted to purchase the Shadow Lodge. Prior to September, few area residents had heard of the religion known as Adidam or its leader, Adi Da.

News of the religious group's arrival has led some residents to question if the organization is a cult, while others are concerned about increased traffic in their quiet neighborhood. Calladine emphatically argues against the notion Adidam is anything like a cult, and says traffic concerns are being addressed.

But in 1985 Adi Da was the target of a lawsuit accusing him of leading a cult marked by sexual abuse, humiliation and greed. The accusations were false, church leaders contend, and the lawsuit was later dropped.

In a series of articles in April 1985, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on Adi Da's alleged exploits during the 1970s in the San Francisco Bay area and in a "hermitage" on the remote Fijian island of Naitauba, quoting former members, one of whom sued leaders of the religious group on charges of sexual abuse. At the same time, a half dozen angry defectors accused the religious group of false imprisonment, brainwashing, sexual abuse, assault and involuntary servitude. High-ranking members of Adidam, then known as Johannine Daist Communion, responded with a lawsuit of their own, accusing the disgruntled former followers of extortion.

Jim CalladineAt the time, Adi Da was known as Da Free John and his commune was based in the Marin County city of San Rafael. Thirteen years ago, the Chronicle wrote, Free John's empire built primarily on the earnings of followers was worth an estimated $5 million.

The Chronicle covered the story almost daily over several weeks in 1985, at which time followers of Free John's admitted to "sexual experimentation," but denied abusing anyone. They also said that their spiritual leader, who once had nine "wives," was now living a life of solitude and contemplation.

Both of the lawsuits were eventually dropped, said Michael Wood, Adidam's attorney and a member since 1973. He recalled 1985 as a difficult time for the church and said the accusations all stemmed from a bitter divorce between a member and former member.


"The bottom line is it's all about things that were 25, 30 years ago," he said. Today the group does not attempt to hide its history, and has just released a book chronicling the movement's activities since its inception in 1972.

That book, Promised God Man by church member Carolyn Lee, Ph.D., addresses some of Adidam's more controversial periods, which included sexual exploration. Without reading the book, Wood fears, outsiders will not understand his religion. He nevertheless offered explanation.

"An unexpected life that is tending to self-suppression we don't believe is a base upon which one can truly grow in spiritual terms," he said during a telephone interview from Adidam's sanctuary in Lake County. "We think you need to inspect and understand who you are, what moves you, what you truly value. And on that basis there's a possibility of your growth and real happiness."

Following that doctrine, Wood said, the church in the '70s spent many years experimenting with everything from food to work, worship, exercise, money and sexuality. "Obviously sexuality would be a part of that. Why wouldn't it be?" he said.

And as for Adi Da's wives, he said, the spiritual leader "had a circle of ladies around him that served him intimately."

Claiming some 1,800 members worldwide today, the devotees and students (as they prefer to be called) of Adi Da follow a religion described as being similar to Hinduism and Buddhism which includes among its ranks the former members of the rock bands Pearl Jam and Live, one follower said. The church is no longer involved in sexual experimentation, Wood said.

Adi Da's journey to Trinidad began in Queens County, N.Y., on Nov. 3, 1939, when Franklin Albert Jones entered the world at 11:21 a.m. Devotees believe that as an infant Jones experienced his first spiritual awakening.

Today, followers of Adi Da are extremely protective of their "teacher," as they refer to him, refusing a reporter's request to interview or meet the man. And devotee Calladine went further, asking that a reporter not even drive by the Stagecoach Road house. Followers are also restricted access to the religious leader, and are required to be a part of the group for a period of weeks before meeting Adi Da.

Jones' story can be gleaned, however, from devotees and former followers, Jones' autobiography, the newspaper articles and several Internet websites adidam.org or religioncults.com, a cult-watch website.

Jones' early religious experiences took place in a Lutheran church on Long Island, N.Y., where he later served as an acolyte during adolescence before entering Columbia College in September 1957. According to Adi Da's autobiography, The Knee of Listening, it was six months later when he returned to his old pastor to express doubts about some of his earlier Lutheran studies. His spiritual introspection continued during the next few years through his graduation in June 1961.

Following a summer job as a hotel waiter, during which time he experimented with peyote, Jones entered graduate school at Stanford University where he focused his undergraduate philosophy background toward a master's degree in English.

During this time, his autobiography states, Jones took "large doses" of cough medicine and was a poorly paid subject for hallucinogenic drug trials which included mescaline, LSD and psilocybin that were being conducted at the local Veterans Administration hospital.

Responding to what he called a vision, Jones prepared to leave California in June 1964 in search of a spiritual teacher in New York City. Shortly before his departure, as he stood on the ocean-front cliff outside a small cabin where he had been living above Tunitas Beach, he experienced what he calls "a Divine storm, a revelation of Truth, a transformative Blessing, a Spiritual Initiation! It was the most magnificent thing I had ever seen. It was a tangible Divine Vision. ..."

Settling in Greenwich Village, Jones continued his studies of the world's philosophical, mystical and spiritual literature. While studying under the Yogic teachings of Swami Rudrananda (also known as Albert Rudolph), Jones entered a Protestant seminary for a year of biblical Greek study that was required for entry into Philadelphia's Lutheran Theological Seminary.

April 1968 included a brief trip to Swami Muktananda's Ashram in India, an introductory journey that served as the precursor to a month-long visit the following year. The next spiritual milestone seems to have occurred in May 1970 when Jones, his companion of many years and a third friend gave away their material belongings and returned to India for what they believed to be an indefinite period, according to the autobiography. The period lasted just three weeks before Jones reported visions of the Virgin Mary that directed him to take a pilgrimage to Christian holy places in the Middle East and Europe.

That pilgrimage lasted through early summer 1970 and ended with resettlement in Los Angeles in August. It was there, in September 1970, that Jones reported a "Great Event" of personal re-awakening; an event which eventually led to his 1972 self-offering as "The True Heart Master" to any who would respond.

In late 1973 Jones directed his growing number of devotees that he should now be addressed as Bubba Free John, a name based on a childhood nickname for "friend" combined with the essential meaning of Franklin Jones. Free John declared himself "the Divine Lord in human Form" in January 1974 and shortly thereafter the group obtained an aging hot springs resort near the Lake County town of Cobb. It was at this former resort, which Free John renamed "Persimmon," that he began instructing devotees in the practice of "worshipping the Divine through images."

Over the past 20 years, Adi Da's name changes included not only Da Free John but Dau Loloma, Da Love-Ananda, Da Avadhoota, Da Kalki, Da Avabhasa, Adi Da, Adi Da Samraj and Adi Da Love-Ananda Samraj. In addition, the same two decades were marked by property expansion beyond the Adidam's 1,000-acre sanctuary and meditation retreat near Cobb to include additional sanctuary locations in Fiji and on the Hawaiian island of Kaui, according to Adi Da's autobiography. In fact, Adidam's members are located around the U.S., Canada, United Kingdom, Holland, Germany, Australia and New Zealand.

Calladine responded to the cult accusations recently over breakfast at the Seascape Restaurant in Trinidad.

"If you went back and checked in literature to see who has written about cults, Adi Da has probably written more about cults than anybody," he said. "What's meant by a cult? (Adi Da) basically says, `What's the test of a cult and are we a cult?' When we actually don't function in the way he calls on us to do as part of his teaching, then, he says, `You are functioning like a cult does,' as a criticism of us.

"As far as a cult is concerned, his definition is that a cult is easy to get into and hard to get out of. We don't meet that test because it's hard to get into our church and easy to get out of it."

And those that wish to join must first have a clear understanding of the philosophy. "Otherwise, why would you want to be involved?" asked Calladine. "That kind of behavior is not what you would find in a typical cult."

Trinidad's Shadow LodgeIt was the redwoods that ultimately drew Adi Da and his followers to Humboldt County. Calladine cites writings by the man he calls his "teacher" which represent the trees as non-human examples of a "great process" that includes all living things.

It was 1997 when Adi Da first began talking about visiting this area. As the former operator of 75 Canadian travel agency offices, Calladine was assigned the job of making the trip arrangements and conducted research visits with his wife as far north as Brookings, Ore. An excursion into Oregon and possibly Canada was planned for fall 1998.

"That trip started in the middle of September and the first stop was here in Trinidad," Calladine said. "We had a rented house called Abalone Cove which was down on Patricks Point Drive. We were there for a couple of nights and (Adi Da) loved it. And, in fact, the first thing he said was, `I want to stay longer here.'"

They stayed an additional night in Trinidad before continuing to Portland, where Adidam's leader announced he wanted to return to Trinidad.

"And so I headed back down here while everybody else was still up there to find a place where we could stay," Calladine recalled. The ideal home would be available for extended stays or possible purchase.

"It's not that we have hundreds of places around. We don't," Calladine said. "But that's always an eventuality. He might want to do that. So we always have to look; is it a place that possibly could be purchased if that's what turns out?"

Adi Da himself was not part of the process. In fact, his followers take care of nearly every detail of their spiritual leader's life.

The group obtained a lease with option to buy for an unoccupied 2,700-square-foot home on Stagecoach Drive. Since Adi Da had already left Portland, Calladine videotaped the home and drove the tape up to Brookings for a midnight showing to his teacher. Returning at 2 a.m. with Adi Da's approval, Calladine arranged for a furious top-to-bottom cleaning of the home with the help of teams who rushed up from the Lake County sanctuary.

Adi Da arrived in Trinidad later that day. A month later, in October, it was decided the group would purchase the property. When news of Adidam's arrival spread, homeowners from the North Stagecoach Road Association worried aloud that the group might convert the house into a church, changing the character of the rural neighborhood.

"That was not our intention then, or now, or ever will be because this place will actually be used by my teacher only for certain times of the year; probably for two or three months of the year," Calladine said. "It's used as a residence. However, in addition to being used as a residence, people do come over, small groups of people at a time probably 10, 12, perhaps 15 maximum when he is around, not on any kind of predictable schedule."

Along with Adi Da, two other people will stay in the house. And several followers have rented homes around the city of Trinidad, including a "serving staff" that cooks and delivers meals to the house as well as the rental that Calladine and his wife share with Bill Dunkelberger, a former Marine Corps lieutenant colonel with Vietnam combat experience, and his wife, who maintains a daily journal of the group's activities in Trinidad.

"Wherever Adi Da goes, a lot of other things also take place," Calladine explained. "For example, he's constantly writing, so we have editorial staff who are there to deal with it. He is constantly in communication with people all over the world via an e-mail system that we have. He's constantly asking about people all over the place and so there's communication going back and forth. He functions on about 50 channels at the same time so he generates a prodigious amount of activity that has to go on in association with him."

Calladine's own spiritual journey began in Canada's Anglican Church and led him as an adult to a self-declared "God-man" named Meher Baba before he discovered the writings of Adi Da more than a dozen years ago.

Adi Da's writings include approximately 50 published books with 18 additional volumes awaiting publication.

In explaining Adidam's religious doctrine, Calladine acknowledged "some similarities to Hindu as well as considerable similarities to Buddhism as well." The religion is based on a sequence of beliefs in a building-block process that begins with the premise: There is nothing but the Divine.

Based on the conviction that humans are no exception to that rule, the beliefs then focus on the point that not all humans have the divine experience. Rather, Calladine identifies everyone's experiences as "being separate beings," a state that Adi Da attributes to an individual activity that he calls "self-contraction."

"The process, therefore, of God realization, he says is fundamentally not a matter of adding anything. In other words, if there's nothing but the Divine, what is there to add?"

Using the analogy of a closed fist (self-contraction) transforming into an open hand (realization), Calladine says that the process can't be accomplished by the individual alone. It requires a teacher.

Following an additional religious principle that "you become what you meditate on," Adidam followers meditate on Adi Da.

Adidam adherents generally follow a vegetarian diet focused on raw rather than cooked food. The exception is between early-December and mid-January, a time of celebration that includes parties where activities like drinking and smoking are permitted.

In Calladine's sparsely furnished rental was a small Christmas tree with three potted poinsettias, an incongruity that he attributed to the general celebration period as well as the Christian background of many church members. Later that day he was planning to drive down to a New Year's celebration at the Lake County sanctuary where the group was to be entertained by a live band of church members which includes the former drummer from Pearl Jam as well as the former lead singer from Live.

The new year should also see the completion of Adidam's purchase of Trinidad's Shadow Lodge, which will likely house seven to eight couples year-round, with additional members staying there on retreat when their leader is in town.

As for the Stagecoach Road neighbors, the religious group recently met with some two dozen neighborhood residents.

"They had various concerns including: Are we a cult? And, what are we doing there?" Calladine said. "We aired everything and we said to the neighbors, `Look, your complaints about traffic are completely right. There's been way too much traffic and that will change.' And it has. Because we were just disorganized. There was quite a bit of traffic and it was annoying to the neighbors. And quite properly. ...

"So we discussed everything with them and subsequently we heard from many of them, almost all of them, saying that they understand our situation and they've kind of relaxed about it now that they know where we're at and where we're coming from."

Calladine also reassures concerned residents that Adi Da's followers are not evangelical and do not go door-to-door.

"We want to be good neighbors," he said, adding "We are active and much more is going to be seen of us over the next couple of years."

Comments? E-mail the Journal: ncjour@northcoast.com

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