Love’s Sacrifice and the Ordeal to Become Human: 30 Years with my Spiritual Master, Adi Da

Spiritual memoirs are generally worth reading, I find. They usually combine a real life story with spirituality, and I can hardly ever turn a story like that down.

This book is no exception. However, there’s a difference between a memoir I’ll read from start to finish myself, and a book I’d actually recommend others to read. This is on the latter list.

Ever wondered about Adi Da? I’d personally not come accross more than his name, but even if you only read this book, you’ll know enough of the controversy to be able to imagine the rumors.

Dennis Leroy Stilwell came accross one of Adi Da’s early videos and was hooked. It took him many years to actually get in the Ashram, and even then he would continually be in and not-in the inner circle. Life truly was an ordeal for Dennis. He dealt with his son being taken away from him, his wife being victim to a medical mishap and totally changing her personality, then falling in love with a devotee and facing up to all his own neuroses.

As I read it, I had to deal with my own independent streak: although I’ve recently written about how Jiddu Krishnamurti was not enough of a teacher, I do have to wonder what kind of spiritual guru I’d personally be able to accept and submit to. Because that’s how far this goes: Dennis and his life partner Katherine submit to Adi Da. Adi Da comes first, their relationship, even their own happiness comes second.

As we get to know Leroy, as we follow him in his path, we see how the ordeal to become human is just that: an ordeal. And although Adi Da’s methods would not be acceptable today,  I guess they did work. At least for Leroy and Katherine they did. In some ways the honesty of the account speaks for itself. This was spiritual therapy.

Think the 60s and 70s. Here we have a guru who does nude pictures of his disciples – not erotic pictures on the whole, but still. I don’t think anybody would stand for it today. In fact, even back then most disciples refused when they were first asked. However, in the end they turned around. They saw it as a releasing of their egos. There were pictures taken of people as human furniture, as a joke, on their own initiative. As a gift to Adi Da. Him not even taking the pictures.

Before your mind jumps in to condemnation mode, remember again: this was the 1960s, 1970s – and even when it was later, it was that generation of people. The generation that made nudism a normal and unsexual way of going on holiday.

There are still nudist beaches and camping grounds in the Netherlands and I’ve known people who go there, including teens. Everybody is a bit defensive about it, as can be expected. But the thing the adults agree on is this: it’s relaxed and normal.

Well… not my kind of normal. However, I’m broad minded enough to know that cultures differ amongst themselves, and things change, and if everybody is OK with it, than what’s the harm, right?

Still, the amount of stress Leroy describes in the ashram is beyond normal. Only 5 hours of sleep, for days, weeks at a time. Unexpected visits by Adi Da, changing everybody’s routine.

And a smile by Adi Da, or a simply, doable assignment, made it all alright. At least, for Leroy and Katherine.

It reminds one of an abusive relationship. Without the apologies, that is. The thing is though, it really does seem like Katherine and Leroy came out of it all healthier more balanced people, after Adi Da’s death in 2008. Whether it was the stress or Adi Da’s enlightenment, genuine spiritual experiences were common in this community and continued after his passing as well.

Read this book and wonder: how far would YOU go for spiritual enlightenment? Where is the border between sect and ashram?

Read also this review on Amazon:

I started reading this book on the recommendation of a friend, and quickly found myself caught up in this extraordinary story. The most striking feature was the author’s honesty. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in encounter groups and such, and heard a lot of people speaking with an emotional depth that goes way beyond what is found in the workplace or even in close friendships much of the time. But I still found Dennis Stilwell’s self-awareness and willingness to reveal the unvarnished truth surprising – even shocking at times. I was reminded of reading Nietzsche in my late teens, except that this was from a contemporary whose life was much more similar to my own.

So Mr. Stilwell had built up some credibility with me before he got into the “supernormal” events of his life with his Spiritual Master, Adi Da. But I didn’t feel this “spirituality” as something that had just happened to him; his transformed life affected my own awareness as I was reading this book and afterwards. I felt my own life as miraculous – noticing the subtle intelligence of coincidences and the appropriateness of events unfolding, I could enjoy the play more and participate with more humor and freedom. This book is an initiation.