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Da Da: “Promised God Man” makes art

Jones (b. 1939), alias Bubba Free John, alias
Da Free John, alias Dau Loloma, Da Love-Ananda, Da
, Da Kalki, Da Avabhasa, and for the last couple years
Adi Da Samraj (but with numbers of special secondary appellations), says he’s the Ruchira Avatar, the “God Man” for whom the world has waited with baited breath
for, well, ever; the most enlightened creature ever incarnate. Greater than Buddha, greater than Jesus. He says he’s operating
at level 7 in the cosmic video game of enlightenment, where the latter only
made it to 5 or 6. Wra wra wra wra wraaaah – Game Over.

You can win an all-expense paid trip to nirvana however, if you simply recognize him as the World
Avatar, put up some pictures of His Pudginess, meditate upon his lordly
raised-eyebrowed visage, and get his groove on. Maybe you can even move to the
island paradise he rules in Fiji
(which he purchased from actor Raymond Burr, aka Perry Mason.) Former Playmates and general hotties, please move to the front of the line…


He’s been holed up down there for the last 25 years,
waiting for the world to recognize him, and elevate him to the status of Global
Grand Poobah, which he says will happen before he “leaves his body” (it was supposed to happen in 2000 – whoops.)
He has the outfits ready. Standard gear
includes purple John Lennon glasses, flower garlands, tiger-striped loin cloths (if he bothers, which he often doesn’t),
orange togas draped over his enormous belly, and lovely tresses
draping his shoulders – but as if metaphorically, only the fringe,
hair having long ago departed the top of his head.
I’m sure all the deep vibrations merely
burned it off.


If this guy is God, I’ll declare myself an atheist
on purely stylistic grounds. My god would never be so tacky, or self-seriously cornball.

Speaking of which, he fancies himself an artist now – last refuge of psychopaths and egomaniacs, and a interesting way to attempt global conquest. The website devoted to his art is called Da Plastique. Ooh la la (in pictures there, he sports a black turtleneck: Da meets Dieter.) He has a show at a somewhat crap
gallery on the hot La Cienega strip next month, who nevertheless also have a show scheduled of John Baldessari later (I imagine of prints or something.) Adi Da showed some things at the same time as the Biennale in Venice, thereby tagging the show (and a website) with Venice Biennale all over the place. He was one of 34 "collateral" shows – independently funded and curated artists who have an "in" and some cash. The ‘in’ in this case appears to be Achille Bonito Oliva, Da’s purported curator, and connected with the Biennale in past years. These shows are a major source of funding for the "proper" Biennale.

For some inexplicable reason, Donald Kuspit (yeah, that Donald Kuspit) was convinced of the necessity to heap praise upon the Venice show, and at some point earlier, Da’s photographs, many
of which are of naked women – of course (he has lots of wives, and accusations
of cultic sexual abuse abound among former longtime devotees.) What possibly got into Kuspit’s head? In his desolation about the "End of Art", did he drink the Kool Aid? Did he just not do any homework? I mean, you can’t just ignore that the guy has spent 30 years declaring he’s THE MESSIAH! It begs at least a small mention in a critical appraisal of his art, don’t you think?


(the horse is the Da religion’s symbol. They’d eat this up in Santa Fe) 

Over the years, I’ve been up and down the aisles in the spiritual
candy store. I’ve checked out the penny candy and the lollipops, the pop rocks
and the pixie stix (mmm – pixie stix). As I’m sure for many of you, since I can remember there was a niggling sense of
something beyond the veil, as it were. 20 years of meditation and encounters with all manner of monks and masters have provided not only plenty of evidence of the need for skepticism, but also powerful confirmation of the possibility, and necessity, of a richer psycho-cosmology than the scientific-materialist one that’s
dominated the "West" the past few hundred years. 

Historically, one of art’s prevalent functions has in fact been
to counter an assumed scientific hegemony, and its de-sacralization of the world. As that supposed hard
duality has all but dissolved in recent decades, many grope for new ways
of understanding the forces that rule our world, our societies, and our psyches. The rise of
various desperate fundamentalisms is clearly understood from this standpoint. And that of Oprah.

Religion of course was the third leg of the tripod,
and we’re all aware of the seemingly chaotic search for a new paradigm.
Art, religion, and science have held equal fascination for me, and I imagine
for many of you. They seem at times to neatly dovetail – and then sometimes to diverge sharply. Each have their traps, as well as more
nuanced, inclusive, and complete manifestations. The reasonable baby should never get chucked with the intuitive bath water. But that baby was indeed pretty filthy.

One guy who has been trying to
map the whole territory, attempt a complete, “integral” model of consciousness, is “philosopher” Ken Wilber (I resist using the term without
qualifying quotes). The guy fascinates me – so much of what he says is
undeniably compelling, and yet factual and theoretical gaffs, relentless breezy hyperbole, and the grotesquely hyper-rationalist, egomaniacal flavor of his
presentation all make me deeply uncomfortable. Another thing: his taste in art is horrible – Alex Grey is his Integral Picasso. Last and by no means least is an inexcusable, long-standing admiration for
ye ol’ Adi Da


(there are actually peace signs forming an eyeball, in 1980 OP t-shirt colors…I feel a new age dawning already) 

Early in his career as budding intellectual guru to
the New Age, Wilber wrote a glowing review of a Da book, saying “[
this] is the most ecstatic, most profound, most
complete, most radical, and most comprehensive single spiritual text ever
[written.]” Whew. Take a breath there, Ken. Later, after years of scandal and
lawsuits rocked Jones’ Fiji
compound, not to mention the funny outfits, Wilber began to distance himself,
criticizing the Master publicly. However, a secret letter written to placate
the Da’s followers was leaked to the public in 2000. In it, Wilber says “I have not…in any way abandoned my love and
devotion for [Da]. . .my own opinion is that Master Adi Da is the living
Sat-Guru [ultimate being/teacher]. . . . Many people have made their way to
Master Da because of my own writings. I am completely happy about that, and I
hope I can continue that positive influence…I speak of Master Da as the
Sat-Guru . . . I affirm my own love and devotion to the living Sat-Guru, and I
hope my work will continue to bring students to [Him.]”


get me wrong. I think spiritual teachers can be helpful, at
some points even crucial. They come in many forms – like maybe just the checker at the WalMart –  with many levels of
so-called attainment and ability. Folks drift by karma and inclination toward a style they
need or want. But it’s good to keep your expectations, of yourself and others,
modest; and to keep your wits close about you. If you’re in a human body, there are necessarily limitations to your perceptual/conceptual
reality, and the most that any of us can hope for is to sympathetically attempt
to transfer some sort of helpful vibration from one neural network to another, keep waking up to the grandness of this single moment we eternally occupy, and grow
as best were able beyond our more distressing relative limitations. Rarely does any of it go as planned.

people we deem “artists” are at their best just free-agents driven to grope toward
some comprehension of their own patterning and perceptual systems, making them
manifest and opening territories for further feedback loops and creative
discourse; maybe, just maybe, even helping to pave the way for a saner society and world. Art in a way is really a sort of social evolutionary medicine. Call it
“spiritual” or “scientific” or “artistic” – happily, those terms don’t really
seem necessary with a lot of art now, or anything more than limiting categories
to be transcended and blended.


(one of Adi Da’s photographs. Wow. Dial the Wayback Machine to Marin, 1973. Do you like pina coladas? getting caught in the rain?) 

Da, and therefore his artistic expression, must necessarily have an agenda, and even if the pieces have some merit, I
don’t do art with closed, self-referencing agendas. It all points toward him, not you. Which, while passe, is not unusual. What is is that he believes himself to be the most
enlightened being who’s ever lived;
that everyone on earth should recognize
this "fact"; and that enlightenment (ie the end of human suffering and confusion)
comes through this, and only this, recognition (funny how they leave this out of the press materials for his exhibitions). Maybe it’s just my complete samsaric ignorance, but this
seems like, um, uh … oh yeah, “complete and utter garbage” I think is the phrase I’m looking for.

Discussions of Jones/Da often hinge on seperating the message from the man, that his books are chock-full of the greatest insights into spiritual conciousness ever. I don’t find this argument convincing. I say look to the man for the message – as he himself does. Years ago I did attempt a couple of his 70 plus books,
and found them all but unreadable; self-centered, dated, drippy, repetitive, and tedious, containing
few insights not found in a thousand more grounded, reliable, or convincing sources – ground paved by centuries of psychonauts.

This guy, no matter his charisma, aura, or one-time attainment, has clearly long been unhinged, deranged; some of his chakras have flown off the tracks, and one would have to be simply confused to be drawn into the ditch with him – either by
too much thought and projected self-estimation (Wilber), or too little (the minions who act out the
master/servant farce in Fiji). Either way, people get hooked by the "special" feeling of recognizing the God Man, and he’s ready made to feed on such adulation. Oh, you would be saints and sages, tread carefully.




(my word, he’s turning into Yoda…)






At best, he’s simply symptomatic of his age; archly symbolic, but of a much different sort than he assumes: an agonizingly inflated Boomer who found confirmation of his stratosphereric self-esteem as early golden boy of a first-wave Indian guru (in this case, siddha yogi Muktananda). Every single Eastern master who came over in the 60’s had one or two. They had no idea what the American ego was really capable of. Young sociopathic enthusiast shows promise, is quickly given permission to teach, and next thing you know, student knows better than guru, all ties are severed (to the teacher’s dismay,) and off they go to found a compound and "tradition" of their own, where clothes (of a particular gender) are suddenly discouraged and "true devotion" is shown by freely giving your body, and your cash, to the new master. Everybody is told to suck it up, and bury any questions – it’s "crazy wisdom", baby! The list who followed this pattern is long…

is it that musicians, actors, and apparently Cosmic Avatars feel the need at a
certain point to validate themselves by becoming “artists”? What is it about
this absurd context that seems to promise some elusive confirmation? Adi Da’s
pictures could be worse – at least he’s not painting, a la Dylan, Bowie, or Tony Bennett. But they aren’t all that
great either. He supposedly studied the roots of Modernism in college back in the 60’s before realizing he was “the World Teacher.”
You see him channeling early Bauhaus, surrealist and pop sources he would have been aware
of, mixed in with some Indian yantric trickery and happy Hawaii tourist art cliches. Subtle they aren’t.

Da has been preaching for decades, and these pictures are as transparently didactic as Hallmark cards. You’re continually evaluating their desire to manipulate your attention in specific, not very interesting ways. Good art asks questions that it doesn’t already know the answers to. Cosmic omniscience would preclude that stance, I suppose.

Many of these works look like failed 3-D Magic
Pictures or sci-fi book covers, and you’re mainly overwhelmed by the Presence of the All-Knowing Hand
of the Ultimate, also known as Adobe software – the go-to media for urban shamans, yogic
flyers, psychedelic channeling mediums, and aspiring New Age gurus everywhere.


(Perspective is relative, like Cubism – but the pure light of wisdom transcends duality. Get it?)

In the chaos of the present moment, when most so-called art professionals are occupied with just looking clever, and amateurs are simply buying into the game in droves, dabbling global gurus like Jones/Da can foist themselves right to the top, and apparently be taken seriously without any questions. Who cares that the pictures are just the overblown computer doodles of a megalomanical self-declared savior, production costs paid for by foolish former Hippie tithers? Who can even even be bothered to notice in the senseless crush of it all? "Geometric shapes in bright colors on aluminum panels (all real art is on aluminum panels now), statements about spirituality – hmm, must be related to Kandinsky…ok, works for me. How much?" This travesty raises interesting questions about the nature of art, and spirituality: where do they converge? Can they? Should they? Also, it directs our attention to numbers of ways the art system itself works, with all of its hidden mechanisms and rules – and the ways it’s simply busted to hell.

Culturally, socially, politically we are at
an apocalyptic crossroads. We realize the desperate need for better models, that
give our interiors and myriad selves full due, while better recognizing the limitations of material
satisfaction and pleasure, for ourselves, and this stressed planet. Naturally, many now look to the East and its spiritual
technologies. It has become clear how unprepared many in the first
generation were to gracefully or wisely incorporate and integrate them, to discern
and recognize their own mistakes, foibles, and confusion. Some still
just carry on, further and further into madness and dismissability, fed by
the adulation of cultic followers, and that uncanny glowing book-blurb industry. Waking up isn’t so hard. The trick of incorporating real insight into a socially
relevant program and lifeway is at this stage much more so. The
glorious disaster of one Franklin Jones is a spectacular demonstration.



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4 Responses

  1. Trungpa Ricochet

    Good points made, Titus, and good humor at the expense of a charlatan. I would add that perhaps many in the art community could learn something from a similar point of view regarding art…that is: trust yourself. You yourself are the best authority. There are no gurus. Of course there are people whose opinions are more ably and more forcibly stated than others. That doesn’t necessarily make them any more “correct”. Art fills a hole in the lives of many people. Part of that hole was made by the loss of the authority of religion. How many collectors do you know who really trust themselves when they buy a work of art? How many collectors wait in the wings until some level of safety in the reputation of an artist has been achieved? For that matter, how many artists trust themselves?

  2. tobrienwriter

    for some nice points. I’ve been thinking that same thing – trust yourself. I love Agnes Martin’s comments regarding that, that I posted a couple weeks back. Isn’t that THE issue, for everybody? We just don’t so often, for whatever reason…
    the Zen teachers I studied with that I thought most highly of just made people believe inherently in themselves, not the teacher, or the Buddha, or god, or who/whatever. And yet, I found much of the instruction incredibly helpful. Teachers are necessary, for artists, and buddhas.
    and btw, love your tag.

  3. Malkooth

    Great piece Titus. Maybe you could add a running list of the accomplished who become artists. I for one missed Farah Fawcett on the list of Bowie, Bennett and Dylan.

  4. Malkooth

    So is ‘integral’ a genre?

    I’d like to hear more about Alex Grey from you? Illustrator extraordinaire?

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