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Lawsuits, Countersuits, & Media Circuses


An Interview with Brian O'Mahony

October 11, 2006
(interviewed by Chris Tong)


 

Brian O'Mahony has been a devotee of Adi Da for many years. The one major lawsuit against Adidam was brought by Beverly O'Mahony, Brian's wife at the time (1985). In this interview with devotee Chris Tong, Brian speaks candidly about that time, the lawsuit, the media circus that ensued, and what to make of it all more than twenty years later.

 


Chris TongChris Tong: There are several websites that make much of a couple of lawsuits back in 1985, and the "media circus" that followed. Now, in 2006, people interested in spiritual life discover Adi Da (often via the web), read amazing things about Him, and start considering the possibility of approaching Him as their Spiritual Master. But then they run across these negative websites and hesitate in approaching Adi Da or Adidam any closer. What would you say to these people?

Brian O'MahonyBrian O'Mahony: Recently I spoke to a very reputable Intellectual Property attorney who has represented many religious organizations in matters of copyright protection. She is intimately familiar with the affairs of many well-known mainstream and alternative religious organizations in America, and she is also a student of history. I related to her the events of 1985 and the very negative impact that they had on Adi Da's Work. She replied that "spiritual interventions" are always met with a backlash. The greater the intervention, the greater the backlash. A cursory look at history provides many examples. She said also that there are always going to people who disagree, misunderstand, become disaffected, and even attack what they once held dear. And she warned me that the more Adidam grows, the stronger the backlash will be, and the more the ranks of the disaffected will grow. She admonished me and my friends to be strong, to remain focused in our service to Adi Da's Spiritual Work, to expect backlash and disaffection, and to not make the mistake of trying to overcome it. Just tell the truth and serve our Master.

I found that conversation very heartening. It reminded me that Adidam is not unique by any means in being attacked. No matter how great Adi Da's Work is, it is likely to always have its detractors and critics and even some who are moved to attack it and try to destroy it.

To anyone considering Adi Da's Work, I say you are encountering the Truth, and in Adi Da, the very Embodiment of Truth. His Work is a Great Shining Beacon of hope and brightness and love in the midst of this terrible world of suffering. The negative stories and accounts you encounter on the Internet are simply not true. Some of the stories have a basis in events that actually occurred, but they present a distorted and false view of those events. Others are simply made up, based on rumor, hearsay, and often passed on by people who have never even met Adi Da or participated in His gathering of devotees. For those who have participated in His Work, their accounts are almost always based on a negative personal reaction to Adi Da and His manner of Working, rather than on a right understanding of the nature of His Work and its inherent and positive demand to understand and transcend the ego and all its reactions. Or they have reacted to the immaturity of the community of devotees, which is a gathering of very ordinary human beings who have embraced the Way but are certainly far from perfect.

There is something in humanity that likes to tear down what is great. In my 34 years as a devotee of Adi Da, I have seen that ugly motive in myself on many occasions. I have seen it played out on the Internet by many others, and collectively by the media. It is sobering and disheartening, but it is a fact that we have to live with. My suggestion to those who read negative comments about Adi Da is to speak about them to a devotee, talk about what they bring up in you, and be helped to move beyond the doubt that they engender. Do not be distracted from the great Grace and Gift of Adi Da's Offering to you and to all of humanity.

Chris: Other people running across these negative websites have discovered Adi Da through His work in other areas, such as art or literature, and may be interested in forming professional collaborations. So their concerns, when they read about the lawsuits and the media circus, are a little different. What might you say to them ?

Brian: On the occasion of the premier public exhibit of Adi Da's Divine Image-Art in Los Angeles a few years ago, the gallery owner encountered all of the negative content on the Internet. He was quite sanguine about it all. He pointed out that almost everyone who has any kind of fame has both supporters and detractors, and both sides seem to use the Internet to promote their ideas. So, he was not at all deterred in his collaboration with Adi Da and Adidam. The exhibit was quite successful, and there was some media attention, with the usual negative references to the past. But they were not the point. The Art was the point. It was also interesting to note the lack of energy for the negative content. A lot of what is said on the Internet is simply rumor, gossip, and personal opinion. Anyone can say whatever they like. People feed on the constant "conversation" that occurs. On the other hand, media professionals have to be much more responsible and cannot freely quote hearsay, rumor, and invective. It has to have some verifiable basis before it can be reported. Then they can have a field day. But the lawsuits against Adidam were filed in the mid-'80s. For the media, that is awfully old news if there isn't anything more recent that they can build a story around.

So, what I would say to professionals is that the old stories are simply not true, that they happened a long time ago, and that they have nothing to fear in terms of a repeat of the media circus that happened in the mid 1980s.

Chris: The main concern spiritual seekers have when they run across these websites is to know that what they are getting into is not a "cult", and is the real thing, as "advertised". So when they read the complaints listed in Beverly's lawsuit, or read an article from a newspaper that quotes Beverly as saying she was "compelled, over a prolonged period of time, to accept physical and sexual abuses, confinement, degrading acts, inadequate diet and the surrendering of her children" to Adi Da and other authorities within Adidam, alarm bells tend to go off. They start thinking "cult leader", "exploitation" of followers, all the things we tend to associate with the word, "cult".

My understanding is that the lawsuit was dismissed by a judge, for lack of sufficient legal basis that's one form of answer, a good one. But let's get to the crux of the matter for such people: Was there any truth to these complaints, particularly about Adi Da and Adidam? Would Beverly have sued if there wasn't some truth to this? Some have suggested this was a marital spat that got blown up way out of proportion, a kind of "tempest in a teapot". Is there some truth to that?

Brian: Yes, absolutely this was a marital spat that got blown way out of proportion. And yes, the lawsuit was dismissed because it had no merit or truth to it whatsoever, and was prepared by an attorney who was later disbarred for unethical activities. So, what actually happened?

Well, Beverly and I broke up in 1984, about 8 months before the lawsuit was filed. I was incredibly stupid, dense, insensitive, and selfish in the manner in which I handled our break-up. We had been married for 7 years, and our relationship was extraordinarily difficult. We were both very volatile and strong-willed characters, we were very different, and we were in constant conflict. We had gone through two separations in the years before our final breakup in 1984. Even though we loved each other, and had three small children, our marriage simply could not sustain the constant struggle and anger and real anguish we caused each other. We split up, and I soon became involved with the woman whom I married a year later and with whom I have had a wonderful intimacy for the last 22 years. Beverly was left single with the three kids. Even though I did everything to stay involved with the kids and maintain my support of them, there was no way to get around the fact that Beverly and the kids were abandoned and alone, and I was happy. That formed the heart-breaking emotional background to what developed into a lawsuit in early 1985.

Perhaps the best way to answer the question about whether there was any truth to what was in the lawsuit, would be to quote from a letter written to me by my former spouse, Beverly, on February 4, 1997. The letter was written in response to my asking Beverly if she could help set the record straight about what actually occurred in 1985. Beverly and I reconciled many years ago, and have continued to stay in touch, mainly around our mutual love and service to our three children, all now grown-up and leading happy and productive lives in the world. Last year Beverly and my three kids and their intimates joined my wife and I for Thanksgiving.

Anyway, in 1997, I told Beverly that a Dutch magazine was writing an article about Adi Da and His Work, and resurrecting all the old stuff from the '80s, and I asked her if she would help us tell the truth of what actually happened. She said that she would, and said "I agree that 99% of what I have seen of any reporting on the Community/Guru is horseshit". She went on to say:

"No one has ever in my life forced me to have sex with anyone, including Franklin Jones. I have always been completely monogamous, and was never pressured, encouraged, coerced, etc. to have sex with anyone but my husband when I was in the community.

"I can't think of anything the Master ever forced me to do. There were times I was given an instruction which I considered spiritual lessons at the time, which I attempted to follow. I was never given a personal command or order that comes to mind.

"The only physical contact I have ever had with Da is a few hugs, and when I was very pregnant, he touched my belly in a gentle and soothing way. That is it.

"I would have never filed a lawsuit, or even thought of filing one, if it weren't for Tony and Louie [Note: names have been changed to protect actual identities, but these men were at the focal point of the attacks on Adi Da and His Work in 1985.] They came to me, and told me they had a lawyer, and they would take care of everything. I was in a very vulnerable place (single mother with three small children) and I let them take charge. Had I known it would turn into the media circus it did, I wouldn't have taken that route. I enjoy my privacy. Cunningham (the lawyer whom Tony and Louie introduced to me) is the sleaziest, lowest drunk you can imagine.

"The media, both TV and newspaper, distorted everything. I was interviewed by a reporter for one of the S.F papers I can't remember if it was the Examiner or the Chronicle and I couldn't believe it when I read the article. It had very little to do with anything I said. It was at that point that I lost faith in news, journalism, reporters, etc."

The lawsuit was very deliberately crafted to make Adi Da and Adidam look like a typical destructive cult. It had no basis in fact. At Beverly's formal deposition, which I attended, she told the truth and point-by-point shredded the case that her attorney had built for her. Nevertheless, her attorney convinced her to persist in the legal process and the lawsuit was eventually settled out of court by our insurance company, who preferred to pay the relatively small settlement amount rather than pay for the expensive process of actually defending the suit in court. Also, in a formal proceeding while the settlement was still in process, the judge at the Marin Superior Court threw out the case.

 
   

Just how disreputable was this attorney? We went searching out on the web, and here's what we found. Judge for yourself:

  • He was forced off the State Bar of California in 2001 (when he resigned in the face of misconduct allegations) [ref].

  • He tried to file for Chapter 11 (on behalf of the "Cunningham Family Trust") several times (unsuccessfully); and one dismissal stated that "the Trust has made false statements in papers filed with this Court" [ref]).

  • At one point, he was discovered to have given a false address for his supposed law business [ref].

  • At the time of his death (4/24/06) [ref], he was under investigation by the police for possible fraud charges: "Police learned that Cunningham placed a call to [a recently deceased friend's] lone next-of-kin his elderly mother in Ohio and tried to persuade her to surrender control of the family trust by misrepresenting himself as [his friend's] attorney." [ref].
 
 
       

I know it might be hard for most people to believe that there is hardly an ounce of truth to what was contained in that lawsuit. But that is actually the case. It took an entirely disreputable attorney to make it possible for such a lawsuit to be created. That such a thing could happen strains credulity in most ordinary good-hearted people. I remember my own feelings of helplessness and anguish when I tried to defend myself and my Master and my friends against the various allegations. It was a great relief to me and a measure of restoration of my faith in the legal system when the judge finally saw through Cunningham's efforts and summarily dismissed the suit.

Of course, Cunningham got a share of the settlement amount. His participation was entirely cynical from the beginning. He approached me personally at Adidam's offices several times during the legal process to encourage me to settle the suit and "end this ugly affair". He knew that there was no basis for a lawsuit, but he also knew that, by playing the "destructive cult and cult leader" card, he could get what he wanted. And he especially knew that by putting all these accusations in a lawsuit, the media could repeat them without fear of being charged with libel or slander. I think, however, that even he was surprised at the magnitude of the media circus that ensued.

To the surprise of no one involved with the drama of that time, Mr Cunningham was disbarred a few years later.

Chris: One of the things that is striking when we read the sensationalized newspaper articles or listen to the Today Show, is how much you, the "leaders" in Adidam, and Adi Da Himself, are "caricatured", almost in a cartoon-like fashion, as faceless, feelingless "bad guys", and how the media made out the people filing the lawsuits to be the "victims", the ones deserving of the reader's or viewer's sympathy. However, when I talked to Lynne Wagner, who was named as one of the plaintiffs on the "Beverly O'Mahony" lawsuit, I was struck, not only by hearing the other side of the story, but in realizing that it hasn't really been told. She was shocked by the lawsuit, at how the media had turned things like her recommendation to Beverly to stay a week longer into, "Beverly was held against her will", etc. Can you say a little bit about what the whole period was like for you? I'm sure it must have been incredibly difficult for you and everyone.

Brian: Well, I was personally devastated and in shock during the whole time, and I felt absolutely terrible for Adi Da, for my friends and intimates, and in particular for my children. I had never been involved with the media before and I was astonished at the "feeding frenzy" that occurred. I can honestly say that my former wife, Beverly, was just as devastated. But the media phenomenon took on a life of its own and actually drove a lot of the events that occurred after the lawsuit was filed.

As is typical in a situation like this, our attorneys advised us not to speak to the media. However, we felt we had to defend ourselves and get the truth out. So, we spoke to everyone. And the more we spoke, the worse it seemed to get. After a few weeks, the Today Show contacted us, told us that they wanted to do a balanced piece on the story, and guaranteed that our side would be fully represented in their piece. We were ecstatic. Finally, a national show, respected for its balanced reporting, would tell the real story! We opened the doors for them. I worked personally with the producer and the main reporter. We gave them full access to everything and everyone, even our children. We all gathered around the TV to watch the show when it finally aired, full of anticipation. The producer had called me the day before to tell me that he was very happy with the piece and was sure I would be too.

Well, the Today Show was an absolute hit job! No one spoke for a long time after we turned it off. It was obvious that the show had written the story line before they even contacted us and they cherry-picked all our comments and all our material to reinforce their script. They went so far as to pick the weakest or most emotional comments we had made and insert them in a way to make us look even worse. Their storyline was "is this another Jonestown in the making?" Sells a lot of advertising time, but unfortunately for us, had nothing to do with the truth!

We learned a lot about the world of journalism from that incident, and from the other media involvement we had at the time. The media was beholden to its audience, not to us, and not to the truth. It is hard for ordinary people to imagine this. Most of us believe what we see or read, especially when coming from mainstream media. But that is actually nave.

The media maelstrom was capped by another remarkable incident a few weeks after the lawsuit was filed. The San Francisco Examiner, which was the first major media outlet to break the original story, asked if they could send a reporter to Adi Da Samrajashram, in Fiji, to get the "real truth" and tell everyone the "real story". Getting a bit wiser to what was going on, we agreed on one condition, that we have final review of the story from the reporter before it was published, so that we could rebut any falsehoods. The reporter spent several days at Adi Da's Hermitage Island, and was accompanied by a senior official from the U.S Embassy in Fiji. I was present at the San Francisco Examiner's editor's side as the story came over the wire from Fiji, on a Saturday night. It was slated to run on the front page of the Sunday edition. As the editor read the story, his mood turned from happy expectation of a unique scoop to disappointment. He said, "There is nothing here. It is a bloody travelogue." I read it and, despite the reporter's obvious efforts to inject some controversy, it was actually a long account of a perfectly benign and positive Island Hermitage of Adi Da, of the devotees who lived there, and their families. The editor relegated the story to the inside pages, and that was the end of that.

Unfortunately, because of the Internet, all of the other sensational versions of what happened back then have been constantly regurgitated in one form or another on various websites since that time, often posted by the very people who attacked Adidam in the first place. It goes on and on and it has a life of its own.

For me, it is heartbreaking to feel how my own character failures surrounding the ending of my previous marriage have contributed to a permanent stain on Adi Da's Beautiful Work. He is not responsible for any of this. All of the "egos in the growling pit" have written these stories, and continue to do so. I can only hope and pray that people will not buy the negativity and will find True Happiness instead in His Perfect Company.

Chris: To close then . . . Do people considering the Way of Adidam today in 2006 have anything to fear? Or maybe to put it another way: They're fearing getting their money ripped off, and having their sexuality compromised, when perhaps what they should be "fearing" is the much bigger thing that Beloved Adi Da is after: the complete rip-off of their "separate self" altogether!

Brian: What is it Franklin Roosevelt said?: "There is nothing to fear but fear itself." Well, Adi Da has promised that all sense of separate self will ultimately be transcended in the Way in His Company. From an egoic point of view, that sounds scary. But what He promises is Liberation from mortality, from the "little self" and its limited, mortal point of view, so one can instead Realize the Divine Being. That is actually an unbelievably happy process rather than a fearful one, although it is difficult and requires intense embrace of the Way in His Company.

It is important to understand, however, that all participation with Adi Da and His Way is voluntary and it is up to each individual as to how intensely they participate or practice, and how quickly they grow in the process.

For example, I am a professional engineer, a partner in a successful consulting engineering firm with offices in California and Fiji (yes!). We have 28 employees. I have been very happily married for the past 21 years. I have a very positive and loving relationship with my grown children, and with my mother and other relatives in Ireland. I maintain all kinds of professional responsibilities in the world. In other words, I am a very ordinary person. I am constantly drawn to a simpler life, a life that will allow more and more time for contemplation of my Master, Adi Da Samraj, and ultimately, full and complete Liberation and Realization of Him. I have always felt that if there is room for people like me in Adidam, there is room for everyone!

Of course, Adi Da is always calling and urging us to deeper and more profound embrace of the Way. Why wouldn't He? Our Liberation is His only Purpose. So, I constantly feel the demand to deepen my practice, to grow more, to contemplate my Master and His Work more seriously and constantly. I am very grateful for this demand and for Adi Da's Call to move beyond my otherwise mortal destiny.

But the process is gradual. And everyone is different in their impulse. Some are rather readily moved to a life of renunciation and intense practice. Others, like me, move more slowly. Adi Da accounts for everyone in His Work, and invites everyone's participation. That is why He has offered different levels of involvement, and different congregations depending on one's impulse. And yet the Way is instant also. I felt instantly Liberated when I first read His Word, and that feeling has never left me. I have always felt that He Enlightened me in that very first moment, and my life is just the purification and release of all obstructions that remain to my perfect enjoyment of His Gift and His Divine Company.

So, there is absolutely nothing to fear in becoming a devotee of Adi Da Samraj. Much to transcend, much to embrace, much to practice with, understand, and enjoy, but certainly nothing to fear. He is the Bright Love-Bliss Radiance of Conscious Light, Illuminating and Pervading all of us. Of this I am absolutely certain.



 
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