Saturday, November 29, 2008

Adi Da dies

Controversial 70s guru Adi Da (aka Bubba Free John etc etc) died on Thanksgiving. My main connection to him is his strong early influence from my erstwhile guru Swami Muktananda. I have a little familiarity with Da from attending programs run by his devotees here in Berkeley; these included some readings from his books, and watching him on video.

I've always been intrigued by how Da was accepted as a super high-class teacher by major writers and philosophers like Ken Wilber and Alan Watts... since his teachings on the whole had so little resonance for me. I've previously posted about Wilber here and here. It was this curiosity about Da's popularity that inspired me to start this blog with a post about Adi Da over a year ago.

I've joined some discussion about Adi Da at the Nonduality Blog and elsewhere. may be the most lively forum on the topic; Guruphiliac has also added a Da post.

Zen Master Seung Sahn used to say "A bad situation is a good situation." If someone is attached to money, and it's working out well for him, it's very difficult to see and examine and question the underlying attachment. But when a financial crisis hits, the bad situation is an inspiration for inquiry, for looking to the roots of the suffering in our own thinking. Likewise, when a guru dies, the bad situation may be the best time to wonder about our tendency to seek external authority above believing our own experience. That's generally what I've been saying in those discussions.

I happen to have been present in the Ganeshpuri India ashram when Swami Muktananda died. As I saw the devotees scrambling for a new way to project their belief and devotion during those days, it made me wonder about how the needs and wants and expectations of the followers may be the most fundamental part of the equation. (If authoritarian gurus didn't exist, we'd have to invent them.) I've always thought that being in the midst of Muktananda's death-drama was a key experience in pointing me toward a more independent path, which is likely why Da's passing is interesting to me today.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Regarding Obama

I often return to the perspective I got from reading Tim Leary... that the gene pool in her wisdom produces a variety of individuals to meet the needs of the species as a whole. Perhaps the species requires a large percentage of individuals who seek to cultivate stability, and a smaller percentage who explore and experiment at the edge. Or a large percentage of individuals who seek peace, and a smaller percentage itching to do battle when necessary. This would mean that different individuals can be driven by widely different perspectives... without anyone being "incorrect."

For instance, when I look at the life of Zen masters in the tradition I follow, they seem to be people of great drive, ambition, and energy. They were "empire builders." These aren't necessarily qualities that I personally aspire to, yet I realize that without these people with these qualities, the tradition would never have remained alive to reach me. Likewise with political animals. They may require outward-directed qualities that are necessary for the species to flourish... and allow the survival of more inner-directed individuals like myself.

I've heard it said that Obama is sincere about his desire to go beyond the us-vs-them dynamic that's split the country since the hippie-vs-establishment conflict of the 60s. Baby boomers (exemplified by Bush and the Clintons) may be forever caught in this mindset, but Obama speaks to a younger generation. (Obama's greatest margin was among under-30 voters; without his 2:1 advantage in this demographic, he would have lost Indiana and North Carolina.)

It's easy to cast Obama in the role of someone who straddles divisions. He's black, and he's white. He's an American, who spent years of his childhood abroad. He's a Christian, brought up by atheist/agnostic parents, he's lived in a Muslim culture, and appeals to secular humanists. He's a liberal, who surrounds himself with capitalist economic advisers. He's a macho basketball player, who can have the aura of an arugula-eating metrosexual.

No doubt that many on the Left want Obama to be the savior that leads their side to crush their enemies. As someone who hopes for less conflict in the world, I'd like to see him emerge instead as someone who can integrate the opposing sides.

Friday, November 07, 2008

World Series of Poker

The election may be over, but there's still a major contest of 2008 left to be decided.

Each year around June, the run of dozens of tournaments known as the World Series of Poker (WSOP) plays out in Vegas. It's kinda like Ramadan for poker players. It culminates in the "Main Event," a $10K buy-in no-limit hold'em event that in recent years (since the poker boom on TV and the net) has attracted as many as 6000 hopefuls. The explosion of interest has resulted in insane payoffs for the tourney; this year, first place is worth over $9 million. The winner of the Main Event also receives the informal title of world poker champion.

This year, as a publicity stunt, the Main Event was paused with 9 players remaining (the "final table"). The idea was to have 4 months for excitement to build in the poker world, maximizing the audience for when ESPN televises the finale this coming week.

Final table play begins on Sunday. They'll play down to 2 players, who will battle heads-up on Monday eve. ESPN will air the results on Tuesday. I'm looking forward to the excitement, and reading up on the profiles of the 9 combatants on sites like