Franklin Jones, also known as Bubba Free John, Da Love Ananda, Adi Da, and many other appellations besides, was quite the character. Even as a relatively young man he was lauded by spiritual elites; Ken Wilber, in 1979, wrote of him:
Whatever else might be initially said, the event of Bubba Free John is an occasion for rejoicing, because — without any doubt whatsoever — he is destined to be recognized as the first Western-born Avatar (World Teacher) to appear in the history of the world. For the other great avatars — Christ, Gautama, Krishna — all have been Asian. But here, for the first time, is a Western-born Spiritual Master of the ultimate degree.
At the same time he was the quintessential cult figure, an abusive, predatory and whimsical sexual-spiritual bully who lorded it over his god-besotted, harebrained disciples. Wrote Mark Miller, the former boyfriend of one of Jones’ “spiritual wives”:
DFJ [Da Free John] gave her herpes and told her it was prasad [spiritual food] from the Guru to help her work through her bad cunt karma… He also gave it to a lot of other women, and you can’t really say it was by accident. He knew he was contagious but he had sex anyway because he could just explain it as a form of blessing for the women he gave it to… DFJ made another friend of mine give three guys oral sex, one after the other, and then he had sex with her himself. She was molested as a child and had some sexual hang-ups, so this really traumatized her, making her do this group thing (91).
William Patrick Patterson’s book is the first assessment of this man of many sides and extremes.
I’ve long been curious about Franklin Jones–how could one not be after Wilber’s hyperbolic, laudatory ejaculations?–so when I found this volume on Amazon I snatched it up with hardly a thought, even though the book did not appear to have been properly published. Indeed, no reputable publisher makes a book cover like that; mine has “review copy” stamped on the inside cover, plus there are a zillion typos and sentences needing to be rewritten. Clearly this is not a finished product. I don’t know if a polished edition will ever emerge–I certainly hope so–but I still read the work with relish and plowed through it at a pace. I suspect you’ll do the same.
So, what’s inside?
The actual biography is a mere five chapters at around a hundred pages. While a lot more could certainly have been said, Patterson manages to give you the gist of the man in this relatively short space. There is almost nothing about Jones’ boyhood, which is a shame because one really has to wonder what sort of upbringing might have formed such a thoroughly narcissistic, exploitive and charismatic personality. (The suggestion of sexual molestation by his Lutheran minister is made, almost as an afterthought, on page 135. Jones’ autobiography The Knee of Listening supports this.) By page two he’s already in college. Clearly, Jones was a gifted student–he went to Columbia and thence to Stanford, and the snippets from his master’s thesis on Gertrude Stein (at the back of the book) indicate not only a born writer but a subtle intellect as well. During this time he participated in drug experiments and flung himself headlong into hedonism before finally recognizing that way as a dead end. And here begins his real story.
To make it short: he connected up first with an Asian imports store owner and kundalini yoga master named Albert Rudolph (aka “Rudi”), through whom he was introduced to Swami Muktananda. Under Muktananda’s tutelage Jones came into his own–and then left him. Finally, at the Vedanta Society Temple in Hollywood he attained his final realization:
It was as if I had walked through myself. Such a state is perfectly spontaneous. It has no way of watching itself. It has no way to internalize or structure itself. It is Divine madness. The Self, the Heart is perfect madness. There is not a jot of form within it. There is no thing. No thing has happened. There is not a single movement in consciousness. And that is its blissfulness (26).
Jones made his career afterwards as a guru and self-proclaimed Avatar. He self-published on a massive scale, made the evening news with sex scandals, got fatter and fatter, and finished his days hiding out on a private Fijian island with a gaggle of flunkies, er…I mean groupies. Finally, the rock star lifestyle caught up with him and he died of a massive heart attack at the oh-so-appropriate age of 69.
Those are the general biographical details. But what makes the story particularly compelling is the man’s bona fide yogic energy–his shakti–and his often brilliant insights into the contemplative life. Franklin Jones was amoral. He was a narcissist and megalomaniac, a wife batterer, sexual pervert and drug addict. He was even, perhaps, delusional and psychotic. But he was not a fraud; he was too fucking brilliant to need to fake. Meaning, I have no doubt he was a natural born spiritual genius, though often malevolent, abusive and manipulative as the worst cult leader can be. (He learned much of his art from Scientology, after all.) Meaning, while you would never want to join his club, reading his books, especially their earliest editions, may not be a bad idea. His entire lineage–that of the Kashmiri siddhas–has much to teach and is filled with fascinating characters. In addition to the aforementioned Rudi and Muktananda is the greatest of them all, Bhagwan Nityananda.
So, let this rough cut biography be a starter for you. You can learn something from rogues as well as saints, so why not a rogue saint? This story points out how sublime and how horrific the human situation really can be; we are all, in our own little ways, Franklin Jones.
My Amazon rating: 4 stars