and "Spiritual Legitimacy"
Chris Tong has been a devotee
of Adi Da Samraj since 1989. He is one of the founders of this website. You can
read his biographical information in the About
this article, I address a couple of common, but mistaken notions about money and
spirituality: someone who is "spiritual" should have nothing to do with money
(making it, using it, etc.); and any spiritual or religious organization that
makes money a requirement rather than a "pass the basket" voluntary matter could
not possibly be legitimate.
Spiritual people have nothing to do with money. The
many ascetically oriented spiritual traditions throughout history that have a
notion something like this are the source from which we inherit this notion. There
is the image of the Christian hermit in the desert, the Hindu sannyasin in the
forest hut or in a cave in the Himalayas, or the Buddhist monk with the begging
The philosophical underpinnings of such ascetic traditions are life-negative:
sex is a problem, money is a problem, food is a problem, and indeed, the material
body itself is a problem. Being more spiritual is a matter of being less material,
and dissociating oneself from money, food, sex, and the body to the degree one
In contrast, Adidam is based on a life-positive presumption:
such dissocation is not necessary in order to Realize something Spiritually great;
indeed, literal dissociation from life is not only not necessary, but counter-productive
for Spiritual Realization. Our understanding of such images, to the extent that
they hold significance for us, is that they are metaphors not for literal dissociation
from life, but for freedom from attachment, based on our giving ourselves over to
a greater Attachment, a Divine Distraction. Our practice is to be distracted
from money, food, and sex by Something Greater, not to self-effortfully dissociate
ourselves from these. With time and practice, the joy of God-Communion effortlessly
exceeds and "outshines" the pleasure of sex.
Beyond the difference in orientation
— a life-positive rather than a life-negative one — Adi Da has at times pointed
out that the "living in a cave", or "begging for food" approach to spiritual practice
also simply is not very practical in the 21st century, particularly in the West,
but increasingly less practical in places like India as well. These days, if you
park yourself in some forest to become a "hermit", you're likely to get arrested
for trespassing! If you go around with a begging bowl, you're likely to run afoul
of vagrancy laws.
Even spiritual practitioners living in cooperative community
with each other (as Adi Da calls us to do in our practice of the Way of Adidam)
still have bills to pay every month. Perhaps paradoxically, even though the “separate
self” is ultimately Realized to be an illusion, we do need to care about our physical
survival until we Realize that. As Adi Da puts it:
There is nothing
inherently "un-Spiritual" about participating in the human world at
the life-level. The functional responsibilities thus incurred do not, in any sense,
prevent Real Spiritual life. The responsibilities of the human world require the
exercise of creativity and intelligence. All life-conditions are forms of relationship.
Everything at the level of life requires ordinary responsibility. If you are incapable
of such ordinariness, then you have not even begun to become involved in Real
Avatar Adi Da Samraj
"Money, Food, and
in My "Bright"
Adi Da Samraj directing the construction
of the first
(Los Angeles, 1972)
So true spiritual life is not an escape from the world, by people who
are not yet even humanly mature, and who are running away from a world in which
they have not yet learned how to function. Rather, spiritual life is the fruit
of human life, the next phase of development. Its necessary foundation is human
maturity, including all the obvious capabilities for handling one's "life business":
being able to earn an income, etc. Indeed, even from a purely practical standpoint,
the spiritual practitioner — with whatever help comes from his or her spiritual
community — has got to be in some sense better at mastering ordinary life
than the average Joe, because he or she has to not only handle all the ordinary
things everybody else does, but accomplish an extraordinary spiritual practice
as well. It is in this spirit that Adi Da writes (contrasting the functional effectiveness
of Adidam practitioners with both ascetism and indulgence):
It is easier to reduce your involvement in the enterprises
of ordinary life and to restrict your budget than it is to be creative and to
succeed. You must control spending, but you must also succeed. Similarly, you
must not take the easy road of using up your money. As My devotee, you are supposed
to be living a life of self-discipline. Therefore, do not be a wastrel, and do
not be lethargic in fulfilling your service and your financial obligations. Demonstrate
your great motive to the God-Realizing Process in My Company.
Adi Da Samraj
It has traditionally been said that money is
"the root of all evil". However, this traditional saying does not mean that money
itself is evil. In and of itself, money is neither positive nor negative.
Money is simply a sign of human energy. Money is made into a positive or negative
sign depending on one's disposition toward it and toward life altogether. Therefore,
if you are My devotee, the necessary and inevitable involvement with money is
something to be made right, something to be transformed — not something to be
merely eschewed (or, otherwise, merely wasted). My devotees must, both individually
and collectively, re-orient and transform themselves relative to money. If you
are My devotee, you must make money into an expression of the fullness of your
devotional energy and your ego transcending disposition altogether, including
your disposition toward the life-pattern of real and true cooperation.
My devotees are to make right creative use of all of their personal and
collective energies, including money.
Avatar Adi Da Samraj
from "The Necessary Foundation of Right Life"
III, The Aletheon
Spiritual organizations that
make money a requirement could not be legitimate. Sometimes when people hear
or read that Adidam has financial "requirements", such as a 10% tithe, they get
reactive, and make pronouncements like, "How could a legitimate spiritual tradition
require money from its members? When I went to church as a kid, they used to pass
the basket; contributing was voluntary."
There are a couple of issues packed
together in such a reaction, so let's tease them apart.
1. The reaction to a spiritual way having any requirements whatsoever.
The first issue is a reaction to the very notion of there being any requirements
whatsoever! But this is just silly, if one thinks about it for a moment. Any great
accomplishment requires much of anyone, whether the accomplishment is an Olympic
gold medal or a great Spiritual Realization. And many of the processes required
for such accomplishments involve more than just oneself. Winning an Olympic gold
medal requires an excellent coach, and years of training, generally designed by
the coach. In some sense, all of these "requirements" are voluntary,
because after all, it is you who went to college to get that degree in
engineering so you could become an engineer; it is you who wanted to win
that gold medal and hooked up with your coach for that purpose; it is you
who joined a particular spiritual tradition and "hired" your Spiritual Master
for that purpose. So in that sense it is of course voluntary, but if you shirk
the requirements associated with your choice, and fail to accomplish what you
set out to do, it will be primarily you that you will disappoint.
many of us start out with the strange notion that one can attain great Spiritual
Realization without any requirements, or with "requirements" that can
be applied in a "do-it-yourself", "pick and choose" fashion — as though spiritual
practice were somehow a fundamentally different process from what is required
to accomplish anything else that is great. There is a profoundly materialistic
basis for this curious viewpoint. We are most familiar with religions that are
"belief systems" only. Most of us are not personally familiar with a religion
or spiritual tradition that provides an actual means for tangibly associating
with a greater-than-material Reality. Consequently, the very "invisibility"
of a believed (rather than experienced) "Spiritual Reality" allows us to play
fast and loose with our notions of what that reality is and what associating ourselves
with it for real (and permanently) might take. We think: maybe going to church
now and then, and being a mostly good person throughout our life, really is
sufficient in order to go to "heaven" when we die. Of course that sort of "fast
and loose" thinking fails to take into account the real laws of the greater-than-material
Reality, which require a whole lot more for "getting into heaven". Or if we are
not the churchgoing type, but the do-it-yourself "new age" spiritualist: if we
have a better-than-average day, some peaceful quiet time, or a nice walk on the
beach, we may tend to call it "spiritual", and calibrate our notions
about what is required for "Spiritual Realization" accordingly — what
will it take to have more "spiritual" days like that?
But settling for a
"relatively peaceful life" would be selling ourselves far short of our greatest
destiny. Anyone who has actually experienced a tangible Revelation of the greater-than-material
Reality through the Spiritual Transmission of a genuine Spiritual
Transmission Master quickly becomes aware of how much greater real Spiritual
Realization is than just the passing feeling of a little peace; and of how easily
one's lifelong habits (dedicated to materialistic self-fulfillment) distract one
from that Transmission. Such a person knows in a very concrete way that steady
reception of that Transmission from moment to moment is going to require a great
deal of oneself: the overcoming of lifelong (and perhaps even many-lifetime) habits.
As Adi Da has put it, Ultimate Realization is the greatest creative process a
human being can engage in, and so it will require more of a person than
any other creative process.
2. The reaction to a spiritual way having
financial requirements. The second issue is that "pass the basket" notion:
"Contributing money was voluntary in my church when I was a kid. If it's not voluntary
in your church, your church couldn't be legitimate."
The problem with this
notion is that the church in which only a basket was passed is part of an established
religion — Christianity — that has been flourishing for two thousand years
now. And its largest sect — Catholicism — is at its core (in the Vatican) one
of the wealthiest religious organizations in the world in terms of its possessions
(properties, art, treasures, etc.). Many books now document this wealth (for example,
The Vatican Billions and Render Unto Rome: The Secret Life of Money
in the Catholic Church). In The Vatican Billions, Avro Manhattan writes:
Catholic church is the biggest financial power, wealth accumulator, and property
owner in existence. She is a greater possessor of material riches than any other
single institution, corporation, bank, giant trust, government or state of the
whole globe. The pope, as the visible ruler of this immense amassment of wealth,
is consequently the richest individual of the twentieth century. No one can realistically
assess how much he is worth in terms of billions of dollars.
Manhattan, The Vatican Billions
I'm not in any way disparaging the ostensible principle (whether or not it was
always strictly applied) underlying the wealth, namely: collect or create treasures
for the Glory of God, from exquisite devotional art to cathedrals, aimed at moving
the pious visitor to greater love of God. The point I'm getting at is this: such
religions — which are not only merely getting by, but vastly flourishing — can
afford to only pass a basket! Their survival is not at stake. Christianity, for
instance, has over two billion members worldwide.
But the survival of new
spiritual movements like Adidam, with currently only a small membership, is not
at all straightforward or guaranteed. Those of us who are "first generation" devotees
naturally share the responsibility and passion for ensuring (as well as the delight
in ensuring) the survival of our Way for all time. Adi Da points out the kinds
of resistances that sometimes surface:
Because of the automatic resistances built into religious
and Spiritual endeavor, the practical need for money and for the means of survival
is a very complicated and frustrating affair for even the most sophisticated religious
and Spiritual groups.
all of this should be a very obvious matter. You are not in heaven. This is the
Earth. Everything here costs life, effort, and money. It costs a great deal of
life, effort, and money to function as a gathering of religious or Spiritual practitioners.
The purposes of such a gathering may be religious or Spiritual, but a living culture
must fulfill the same functional laws as any household or any business corporation.
practical demands are made for effort, commitment, cooperation, or money, people
tend to lapse into the "tamasic mood." [tamas: Sanskrit for inertia.] Such
reluctance retards life. And the ability of an individual or a group to transcend
this tendency is the measure of freedom and survival.
There is the suspicion
that if you are “Spiritual” you are not supposed to need money, you are not supposed
to require anything, and you are supposed to abandon the functions of life. Obviously,
though, money is needed in most circumstances — and work, effort, human relatedness,
and energy are necessary for functional survival. Why isn't it patently obvious,
then, that individuals are responsible to bring life and commitment to their own
religious or Spiritual community, that they must take responsibility for its existence
and effective functioning in the world, and contribute a responsible amount of
money for its continuation? Why isn't that obvious? . . .
is because of the traditional illusion of Spiritual attainment — which is pictured
as a kind of evaporation process, wherein you become more and more “elusive” [“non-material”],
and you finally disappear inside your “something”, or dissolve into your “someplace
else”. . . .
I find this traditional orientation to
be utter nonsense. I do not teach it, and I do not support it. Truth Is Always
Already the Case. There is nothing inherently "un-Spiritual" about
participating in the human world at the life-level.
We wouldn't be devotees if we didn't share in that understanding
of the extraordinary enterprise of which we all were a part, and its potentially
world-transforming benefit, through the Blessing Adi Da is making available to
all. Among other things, then, that means raising a lot of money among ourselves
to cover the vast number of expenses that accompany the creation of a new and
enduring spiritual tradition.
The life-Key That Allows The Sacred Purposes Of The Cooperative Cultural Gathering
Of My Devotees To Be Fulfilled. If You Do Not Make Effective Use Of money, You
Lose A Crucial Opportunity To Make A Difference In the world.
Adi Da Samraj
Sutra 31, The Dawn Horse
All That I Mean By The Term 'money' — Including
life, energy, Love, work, and Commitment — Is The Resource For The Movement Of My Divine Avataric
Transcendental Spiritual Blessing-Work Into the world. Through their Gifts Of money To The Sacred
Organizational Entities Of Adidam, My Devotees Expand My Capability (During, and After, and
Forever After My Avatarically-Born Physical Human Lifetime) To Have A Positive and Benign Spiritual
Influence In the world.
Adi Da Samraj
Sutra 31, The Dawn Horse
Of course there are
also higher principles behind practices like tithing, above and beyond mere necessity,
and even above and beyond the gathering together or building of beautiful things
(art, music, temples, cathedrals, and the like) for the glory of the Divine (and
the manifestation of the Divine) through a particular Way. These higher, spiritual
principles are the reason practices like tithing have appeared in virtually all
of the world's religious traditions, and are mentioned in spiritual literature
from the Bible (Genesis 14:20, Hebrews 7:2, Matthew 23:23) to Emmett Fox ("The
Magic of Tithing", in Emmett Fox, Alter Your Life). James Steinberg introduces a number
of these spiritual principles associated with money in his