THE WHITE SPORTS CAR
'All the world’s a stage, and the men and women merely players.'
-------- William Shakespeare --------
Living in a spiritual community is not always a barrel of laughs. When viewed from a broad perspective, such life endeavors can take on quite comical, and often farcical features. Like all people who gather together in groups with the intention of achieving some common purpose, the specter of human frailty invariably emerges from the shadows to diminish the expression of our natural and shameless delight.
In Eastern traditions such dampening of the innate human spirit is known to be the sole province of Maya, that sexy goddess of illusion. She’s the type of dame a red-blooded male with any balls would chase with unbridled ferocity, utterly indifferent to the consequences. Think of the hapless Marc Anthony and his Cleopatra, the woman he relentlessly pursued to his own oblivion, or Adam who led the human race down the path of sin with his beloved co-conspirator Eve. Think of Citizen Kane and his quest for money and power only to end up old, frail and fearfully lonely. Then think of the endless schemes spiritual aspirants have embarked upon to find union with the Divine and you get a sense of the pervasiveness that is Maya. Put simply, and emphatically, Maya is one helluva broad.
I have been a staunch groupie of hers for years and have marveled at the way she has time and time again taken me for a ride along her slippery-slope of deception. The theatre of her play during a lot of that time was in a spiritual community called Adidam. We were devotees of Adi Da, a western-born teacher of astonishing wisdom and presence, whose teaching ‘method’ bamboozled even the most ardent of spiritual contenders. Essentially the method was no method, a sort of zen koan on steroids, guaranteed to blow your mind of any ideas about God.
Being a devotee of Adi Da involved a plethora of rituals and observances that occupied virtually every minute of every day. Think of the three Jewels of Buddhism - the teacher (or guru), the teaching and the community of practitioners - and you get a picture of what underlies life as a devotee of Adi Da. The observances were designed to account for the essential activities of life that Adi Da said each individual must be responsible for prior to the possibility of participating in ‘real’ spiritual life. They were in the areas of what he called money, food and sex, and they were to be performed as part of one’s overall personal, relational and communal practices.
Now, the thing about so-called spiritual practices is that, like everything else Maya has conjured up, in and of themselves they lead to nothing profound whatsoever… just more of the same if you are so inclined. Which is completely OK if all you want to accomplish is to become more proficient at practices. Take food for instance. Pretty much every serious spiritual aspirant has at some point in their life gone through the peculiar game of manipulating diet in order to feel the Divine Bliss. Macrobiotic, raw, vegan, vegetarian, fruitarian, no food, the Israeli army chicken diet - all have been manipulated in an effort to achieve that much sought-after state of nirvana. Or perhaps to simply slim down and look like a serious (and emaciated) devotee.
During one of the many austere periods our community underwent, I remember facing tables of raw food each day for dinner. Other devotes waxed lyrical about the wonderful cuisine before us. Standing 172 cm (5’8”) tall and weighing only 54 kgs (119 lbs), I felt horrified at what lay in front of me. Had my parents seen what I was up to, and what I looked like they would have been even more horrified - they had survived the camps of Auschwitz! After most dinners I would go down to the local fast-food store (with a similar-minded fellow devotee, God bless his soul) and gorge on hamburgers with the lot. I was rather naïve about my place in all of these shenanigans having since learnt that a number of devotees, then practicing at supposedly higher levels of practice, were secretly eating a lot worse than hamburgers, and drinking a lot more intoxicating liquids than coffee or coca-cola. For a lot longer. It’s remarkable how Maya seems so much more agreeable after a real meal and a drink of the ‘spirit’ juice.
But not all things were ascetic and dull in our neck of the spiritual woods in those days. Interlaced with periods of austerity were also times of celebrations with ingestive substances that became euphemistically known as ‘accessories.’ We would get together for long celebratory periods, sometimes lasting for many weeks, and eat and drink and dance and make merry night after night after night, all in the name of Divine Communion. Not being a person established in the art of drinking beer and smoking cigarettes, such festive periods were more challenging to me than a Vipassana meditation retreat! But I learnt a lot about celebrating existence and going beyond my usual containment of life’s expansive energies. I also learnt how to minimize the effects of toxic substances and recover in time for the next morning’s 4:30am meditation - it’s amazing what bacon and eggs on toast followed by black coffee can do!
During one particular celebratory period, Adi Da introduced a way of living he called The Pleasure Dome that he wanted us to create. Much to the disappointment of the men in the community, especially those ‘active as celibates’(surely an oxymoron), this direction was not referring to a men’s club or a bordello. Rather, the community was being directed to orient all of life’s activities towards a truly sacred and ecstatic culture. This manner of relating to the Divine was to include the creation of beautiful living spaces and to activate all of one’s senses in service of the communal enterprise.
In the blink of an eyelid, gone were the ascetic grey clothes we had previously worn on retreat days, and in their place were colorful and fashionable attire. Sacred music was incorporated into our daily lives and our collective living spaces and meditation halls were given boosts by the activation of sacred art guilds. The life-suppressive culture we had been animating was being replaced by one full of verve, vitality and unashamed abundance.
Or so we imagined….
This longing had been with me ever since the 1967 MGB MKII sports car made its first public appearance. I was only thirteen years old at the time and when I saw it being driven down the street I became spell-bound. I had visions of myself behind the wheel of one of those little beauties driving along the streets of Melbourne with the definitive blonde beside me. The admiring glances of the girls passing by, combined with the envy of the guys accompanying them, would re-affirm my place in the world as a successful, handsome and hip dude. Athletic too as the car would screech to a halt next to the curb and I would leap out using my arms as leverage without even opening the door. Like the Scarlet Pimpernel I would cut a fine and dashing figure.
For the intervening years, however, this vision had seemed an unlikely eventuation, especially as I had become a serious spiritual practitioner and any acquired wealth was not to be squandered on whimsical and transient earthly desires. But God works in mysterious ways. Past and present events were to conspire in a way that would provide me with the emotional and practical means to correct long-held misconceptions about the seemingly incongruent combination of spirituality and abundance.
Ironically, the emotional bit had to do with a seminar I attended some years earlier that was facilitated by the Adidam missionary in Australia and aimed at people who were considering becoming devotees. It was called Prosperity Consciousness and it dealt with unlocking hidden motives that prevented us from acquiring the prosperity in the form we most wanted. The very first exercise we did was to have a lasting impact on me.
We were instructed to simply write down the things we most desired. Of course, we were all budding spiritualists and, as most dedicated spiritual aspirants will tell you, such an endeavor mandates the desire for only the highest of spiritual ideals to the exclusion of all else. So, as each person read out aloud what they had written, the usual suspects emerged - enlightenment, god-realization, truth, and for the more esoteric ones amongst us, samadhi or moksha. When it came to my turn, what else could I proclaim as the most desirable of desirables but my beloved white sports car. Next item on my inventory was a tropical island, then a large boat to get me there. Somewhere down the list were enlightenment and god-realization.
I knew it then that somehow, somewhere, even if I became a devotee, I would have to manifest that white sports car.
Now, my interpretation of The Pleasure Dome was probably not what Adi Da had in mind when he introduced the notion to us, but like most things concerning ‘crazy-wise’ gurus no-one can say with certainty what they mean by anything they say. In any case, in the midst of living in the hub of the community I started perusing car magazines and going to car-yards around the city searching for the white sports car I knew had been divinely ordained for me. In my naivety I did not expect the flak that was already beginning to brew, especially after I sold my house, traded-in my old Nissan Pulsar and finally bought a brand new white convertible Honda CRX.
It first began with murmurs and rumblings of displeasure. How could I sell a car seating five people that was used to transport devotees to the ashram each week and buy a car that sat only two people? Why wasn’t I donating more money to the Adidam coffers rather than pandering to acts of self-indulgence? In buying a flashy car, was I really following the guru’s instructions regarding The Pleasure Dome, or was I merely animating the ego and its insatiable desire for worldly fulfillment? Was I going to be ostracized from the community for my actions, or even worse, was hell about to consume me?
Before I could fully consider these questions the shit hit the fan.
Although probably not a man of profound spiritual realization, Shakespeare clearly knew what he was talking about when he described humans as depicting actors on a stage. He would have noticed that most of us pretend to be living happily (or at least desperately conventional) lives while customarily hiding feelings of bewilderment and despair. Like actors on a stage we habitually forget we are indeed acting out scripts if not consciously aware of what underlies our actions.
One of the key requirements for going beyond the script is, as Adi Da once expressed, to lose face, to allow ourselves to be seen for who we truly are behind the masks, to not defend ourselves in the midst of what may feel like personal attacks. And that’s one of the major roles of the spiritual community in the play.
So there I was with a brand-new sports car smugly cruising the roads of Melbourne and revving her up and down the back-lots of our country ashram. No blonde babe next to me to rev up, but everytime I got into the car I felt a sense of purpose and exhilaration. Unfortunately my (not-so-blonde) girl-friend at the time did not share my delight in this new acquisition nor did many of my fellow devotees. They probably regarded me as either a maverick or perhaps an adolescent still in rebellion mode. Maybe they were simply envious. Whatever the reason, I was now under particular scrutiny and called to undergo what was euphemistically known as a ‘cultural consideration’.
Cultural considerations in Adidam are probably unique in the world of spiritual gamesmanship. In its untainted form, the process involves the thorough examination of every aspect of a particular devotee’s practice and personal motivation to the point of transparency and, ultimately, complete clarity. Perhaps not merely by chance alone, such deliberations in Adidam make use of many of the terms commonly associated with the Inquisition. Those under scrutiny must begin by confessing their ‘sins’. Cultural leaders and fellow devotees (inquisitors) then determinedly question the person in an attempt to purge him of his reluctance to confess everything and to flesh out any underlying motives. Finally, behavioral modifications (punishments) are given in order to prevail over the sins.
On a bright and sunny day, when I could have been out and about driving my car with the top off enjoying the crispness of the cool Melbourne wind rushing past my face, I was summoned by the cultural leaders of the community to undergo such a consideration with a group of fellow male practitioners.
Inside the Inquisitor’s Den (a.k.a. the community Ashram hall):
a one-act play inspired by the forces of Good against evil.
On the floor in a circle sit the cultural services manager (CSM), the treasurer and a group of devotees, all considered to be in the more advanced stages of spiritual practice. The mood is somber and somewhat reflective; the atmosphere dark and pungent with the smell of incense. At the front of the room is a large picture of the guru on a sofa adorned with beads and flowers. The meeting begins with all people in attendance reciting The Great Invocation, a prayer of thanksgiving to the blessings of the guru. Everyone’s attention is then drawn to Eddie, a devotee being charged with heresy after buying a white sports car.
EDDIE: My name is Eddie and I am Narcissus.
CSM: OK Eddie, before we begin specifically addressing your strange behavior with respect to the selling of your house and buying a sports car, let’s have a look at your checklist for the week.
Eddie takes a folded piece of paper out of his pocket, unfolds it and places it in the middle of the circle.
CSM: Let’s have a look now. Yes, you’ve gotten up most mornings for meditation and chanting. Study good. Not much yoga though and little morning exercises. Diary entries minimal. How come you haven’t written anything about your diet? Or sexual practices with your intimate partner? Have you been eating chocolates again, Eddie?
Eddie: All right, no more questions – I can’t stand it anymore. I confess. I had two Mars bars last week and a chocolate milkshake on Sunday, and I’ve had nothing but lustful sex with my intimate partner every fortnight for the past six months. And, and … I’ve had lascivious thoughts about your girlfriend!
Devotee 1: No wonder all you do is think during meditation.
Devotee 2: You know what the guru says about eating junk food and thinking too much.
Devotee 3: You’re just not devotional Eddie.
Eddie: Not devotional? What do you mean ‘I’m not devotional’? I’m one of the few devotees who meet all financial obligations every week. And I’ve been putting together a community business plan from the proceeds of the sale of my house that will employ a number of devotees. I participate in all community events. Hell, I’m the Australian Mission Manager. I do more service than most devotees do all the practices combined. What do you mean ‘I’m not devotional’? This is completely idiotic.
CSM: Well, then, why did you buy a sports car?
Eddie: I’ve wanted a sports car for twenty-five years. What’s wrong with driving a sports car?
CSM: Nothing wrong with it, but desire is desire and as we all know, at the root of suffering is desire. You could have gone beyond this self-indulgence and contributed much-needed funds to some of the community projects.
Eddie: You mean, if I give more money to the guru my suffering will be alleviated?
CSM: Maybe. You know, the guru once said if you contributed $450 million to Adidam you would be instantly enlightened.
Treasurer: And speaking of money, how much did you sell your house for?
Eddie: What’s that got to do with anything?
Treasurer: Well, if you sold your house for more than you bought there would be capital gains on it and you would be required to pay 10% of it as tithe and 5% of it to the upkeep of the Adidam treasures such as the sanctuaries and the book publications.
Eddie: Hey, what’s going on here? You just don’t like the fact that I’ve bought a fancy car and am actually enjoying it. You wanna play hardball? I’ll play hardball!
CSM: You see Eddie, there’s your angularity again. If you were truly devotional you would give freely without hesitation.
Eddie: Yeah, sure. Look, I bought the house six years ago. After taking inflation into account I made no profit at all.
CSM: In any case, we have to deal with your negative behavior and dietary transgressions. Let’s make a list of yamas and niyamas (restraints and observances).
Devotee 1: Twenty full-body prostrations before the guru’s photo every morning prior to meditation for the next month and beg for the gift of devotion. That ought to cut into your angularity and lack of feeling.
Devotee 2: And start the horse-gut diet. Eat 50% more than your usual intake at every meal and have at least two peanut-butter sandwiches each night before going to bed. Lots of banana smoothies, and no chocolates. How about eating delicious carob bars instead?
Devotee 3: And tell a joke every day. You’re too serious.
CSM: And if you keep animating this angularity we’ll have to put you on suspension. Take your medicine, Eddie!
‘I don't want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.’
- Groucho Marx
Pretty much every spiritual aspirant who has come across a teacher and/or teaching begins the process wanting something they presume they don’t have. We imagine that by following a course set by someone else we will have an experience, or realize a state some call ‘enlightenment,’ which is different to that which we are currently experiencing. We tend to hold to a false hope of a future free from whatever it is we imagine is preventing us from being happy right now, as if errors were possible in existence and it should be something other than what is currently the case - Maya imposing her deceptive will yet again.
In my case, I forgot that Paradox and Humor are the basis of existence. Reality is paradoxical because apparent opposites are indeed in harmony with each other (unless you think about it), and humorous because all our attempts to forgo happiness to a future time are futile. There is simply no ‘reason’ to be happy and nothing that can be done to achieve it. Hence everything we do is humorous. ‘Spiritual’ communities are simply one of the many places we get to play out the drama. And gurus such as Adi Da provide a living presence that forces us to confront every movement that suggests happiness in a future time.
I suppose that my buying a sports car was completely acceptable to God and it was the sign of a person seeking to raise his self-esteem through appearances. Perhaps it was an attempt to arrest the onset of middle-age. On the surface it appeared as if my motivations were the pivotal issue during the cultural consideration but underneath the facade an inquisition of sorts was also underway. Lack of intimacy and honesty, envy, life-suppressive fundamentalism, defensiveness – these were the human frailties that tainted the process and to which I and others in the community played our respective roles perfectly. The immaturity we animated had to be exaggerated so that it could be clearly seen without the usual facade. I’m sure both God and Maya are laughing uproariously together as they continue to observe the comical absurdities we portray. As Puck said to his King in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, ‘Lord, what fools these mortals be.’
I left Adidam a few years after buying the Honda CRX, not because of the ‘Inquisition’ nor as a result of any other particular incident portrayed here or occurring elsewhere. I simply felt living in the community had become a hindrance to the spiritual process that was beginning to unfold in new ways for me. I had faith that Truth would find its way by means other than that represented by the guru-devotee relationship.
I remain profoundly grateful to Adi Da and to those who participated with me during those years of community living. It was a time mostly filled with fun, adventure and the bond of common purpose with fellow practitioners. Indeed, if I had to choose the factor that most expedited the growth of my awareness of the Divine, it would have to be that represented by the Three Jewels of Buddhism.
Like every thing and every process, however, including the greatest of teachers, teachings and communities, they all have to be released into the void from whence they came.
But that’s another story altogether…
Oh, and I eventually did get my blonde babe. I met her at a spiritual festival where my music partner and I were guest performers at a recital. She says the white-sports car was a key factor in her attraction to me. So much so that she changed the direction of her life from that of wanting to become a Brahmacharya (a celibate renunciate) before meeting me, to becoming my intimate partner after meeting me. In return for her great ‘sacrifice’ I eventually sold my beloved white sports car and bought a green Mazda 121 Metro, an exceedingly ordinary small family car.
Now that’s what I call real spiritual practice!