April 19, 1968, I turned thirty-three — and
I was about ready to end it all. I had worked
my way up from the poverty of my early life
on the streets of New York, and now I was
a successful businessman, living in Los Angeles.
I had a loving wife and four great kids, a
beautiful home, three new cars, interesting
friends — I had really learned how to live
the good life. And even though I had had to
leave school early to help support my family,
I had taught myself to appreciate good literature,
classical music, the arts. I was right where
I always thought I wanted to be.
day, one of my best friends called me up and
said that he would like to take me out for
my birthday — for drinks, to dinner, the whole
thing. First we went to the Polo Lounge in
the Beverly Hills Hotel and had a few drinks.
Then we went to a restaurant — one of Los
Angeles' finest — and had a great French meal
with fine wines. After dinner, we went to
catch the scene at one of the local jazz clubs.
sets, my friend and I were standing at the
bar having another drink. I turned to him
and told him something that had been bothering
me for months, something I had never mentioned
to anyone else: "You know, there has got to
be more to life than this." And I was dead
serious. I had everything I imagined I wanted
when I was growing up, hanging out in the
pool rooms and bars, and then starting out
as an office errand boy, and then moving up
the ladder to book salesman in Manhattan,
and then finally getting promoted to Los Angeles
— I had all the things I thought would make
me happy. But now that I had it, I knew it
wasn't enough. The feeling that there had
to be more to life than what I was experiencing
kept gnawing at me. My friend was about twenty-five
years older than I was, so I thought maybe
he had discovered something I hadn't.
he answered me, "No, man, this is it. At some
point in life, everyone has to come to the
recognition that this is all there is — then
you make the best of it for the rest of your
thought about what he said for a minute, and
then I said, "If that's the case, then I have
friend tried to reassure me. "You'll learn
to deal with it," he said. But he didn't have
any advice for me as to how to deal
with it. So I spent the next four and a half
years doing everything I could to numb myself,
so that I wouldn't have to face the painful
feeling that, even though I was successful
in a lot of ways, my life was meaningless
never thought to look for a religious answer
— I owned a bookstore with a large section
on philosophy, new-age religions, and Eastern
gurus, but I only carried these types of books
because they sold well. I would order them
by title, but I personally never read even
a page. Like the whole crowd of friends I
ran with at that time, I thought that I was
too sophisticated to need that kind of stuff
— it all seemed like hocus-pocus to me.
I didn't know what else to do, I started two
businesses. I poured even more energy into
my four kids, doing everything I could for
them, doing homework with them, going to PTA
meetings, taking them to baseball games, providing
for them, disciplining them, telling them
bedtime stories every single night — they
were the one thing that made sense in my life.
But even that wasn't enough. I started drinking
and using social drugs more, working later
hours, going out on the town more.
this took a toll on my marriage, and I started
to have terrible arguments with my wife. We
had met when we were still kids, and we had
worked hard together to get ahead financially
and to create a good Italian family. But she
didn't seem to share my feelings of dissatisfaction
with what we had, and she couldn't understand
my pain, so the gap between us only grew.
that wasn't the only place I was having difficulty
— I started acting out my frustration at work,
too. I got angry and sarcastic with customers
or salesmen in my store for no reason. I was
so wound up that I actually started having
heart problems. I was really worried, but
I didn't know what to do about it all. I kept
having the feeling, "I want to change my life
completely," but I didn't have a clue as to
what kind of changes would make a difference.
my marriage collapsed. Now I was in serious
trouble. My kids were everything to me — I
remember having to tell the four of them that
we couldn't live together any more. My eleven-year
old daughter said, "Dad, I feel like my heart
is breaking." In that moment, mine broke too.
I was not prepared for the emotional impact
of losing them — I had lost the only thing
I was anchored to, the only thing I had been
able to invest myself in. I visited them as
much as possible, I called them a lot, I did
everything I could to make it okay for them
and for me, but losing them nearly destroyed
or three months later, I was sitting alone
in my new apartment. Instead of facing my
unbelievable anguish at the way my life was
turning out, I was sitting in front of the
TV, eating a TV dinner, with a joint in one
hand and a bottle of wine on the table. Suddenly,
I felt completely repelled by what I was doing.
"What the hell have I become?" I practically
shouted. I threw away the TV dinner, turned
off the TV, threw away the joint, and sat
down to figure out what to do about the mess
my life had turned into. I sat up almost the
whole night trying to think things out.
assessed my situation: I had made money, I
had a lot of "things", I knew how to be successful,
but none of that seemed to have any meaning.
It certainly was not making me happy. My marriage
was over, and I could see that the divorce
had really hurt my kids, even though I did
everything I could to prevent that. But even
my kids and the love I felt for them wasn't
enough to give my life purpose, somehow. Since
the divorce I had had a couple of girlfriends,
but sex and romance didn't touch the feeling
I was struggling with, either. I kept asking
myself, "This is a life?" What I didn't know
at the time was that I was Spiritually
starved. I was missing something, something
very real, the most important thing there
is — which is a connection to the Source of
Life, to God, to the Divine. What I did know
was that being successful wasn't enough. I
knew that I was tormented by the feeling that
something was missing, but I didn't know what
it was or where to find it.
I considered the options I was aware of at
the time. I could sell my business, fly to
Europe with a lady friend, and just float
for a while. Maybe that would numb the pain.
Or I could really throw myself into my business
and build it into an even bigger moneymaker.
Then I could afford even more extravagant
toys and entertainments, and maybe that would
distract me from the feeling that my life
was meaningless. Or I could drop out and move
up the California coast and try to "discover
myself in nature — pretty unlikely for a guy
from New York, but I could try it. Or I could
go to a shrink. A number of my friends were
already in therapy and I had read quite a
bit of Western psychology — Freud, Jung, Carl
Rogers, Rollo May, and so on. But nothing
I had read or heard from my friends impressed
me as a way out of my suffering — my problem
seemed bigger than anything a psychiatrist
I thought about the different possibilities
for hours, developing them in detail in my
mind. But when I asked myself, "What would
this option or that option do for what I am
feeling?" nothing seemed to touch my fundamental
feeling of despair. Finally, I decided that
there was only one thing that made any sense
— I should just check out of life altogether.
I thought, "I am here for this life, and it
hasn't worked out. There is nothing more that
I want to get or do — I already have all the
things I thought I wanted and they are definitely
not worth the trouble. So why not kill myself?
At least it would be over and I wouldn't have
to despair about the meaninglessness of my
life any longer."
also remember the philosophy I had at the
time: I thought that you come into this life
with a kind of innocence, like my kids had.
Then as a result of all the things that happen
to you, you build up a kind of shell. You
get jaded, hard. You lose the innocence, and
when that happens, life loses its meaning.
Then, when you die, you get the innocence
back — everything that built up during your
life gets erased, and you can go on to something
else. At that time, I didn't believe in reincarnation,
so I wasn't thinking that I would go on to
another life — I was just hoping that the
innocence would be restored and that I could
go on to something else, whatever it might
I thought about whether or not to commit suicide
for two or three days. I finally decided,
feeling completely lucid about it, that I
would do it on Saturday morning.
Thursday, I spent the evening playing with
my children. My ex-wife was out, so I let
them stay up a little later than usual, then
I tucked them in. When they were asleep, I
went to the hall closet, got my hunting rifle
and shells, and put them in the trunk of my
car. I went back into the house to say goodbye
to my kids. I rubbed each one of them on the
head as they were sleeping, telling them how
much I loved them and how much they meant
to me. Just as I was finishing up, the phone
wasn't going to answer it, but I didn't want
the kids to wake up, so I picked it up. It
was an old acquaintance named Jerry, someone
I'd met through one of my businesses. Jerry
had experimented with a number of different
meditation techniques and new-age Spiritual
groups — a year and a half previously he had
spent an entire evening teaching me how to
relax and breathe and use a mantra while lying
on the floor. In those days, I was willing
to try everything, so I went along with him,
but I basically thought he was nuts.
asked him where he was. He said he was in
Los Angeles. The last time we met he was living
in a Yoga community in northern California,
so I asked him about that.
no. I got out of that. That's why I'm calling
you. I am with this man, this teacher now,
and you have got to meet him. I know the two
of you will really get along."
said, "Yeah? What's his name?"
Jones," he said. (In the early days of His
Work, Adi Da Samraj used the name His parents
had given Him.) This sounded like just one
more of Jerry's strange and useless trips.
I tried to get out of it. "Nobody is named
Franklin Jones!" I said. But Jerry
insisted, "You should meet him."
hesitated, saying I had no time. But he finally
convinced me that he and I should at least
get together to talk about it. So I went down
to the address on Melrose Avenue that Jerry
gave me where Avatar Adi Da and some of His
devotees had set up a tiny bookstore and meditation
was Friday night — the night that Jerry managed
the bookstore and the night before I was planning
to kill myself. I had the rifle in my car,
ready for the next morning. It seemed a little
funny to be spending my last night on earth
with this guy I didn't know very well and
who I thought was part crackpot, but I had
already given up — I had nothing better to
and I were the only ones there the whole night.
He showed me around the place. (I remember
the first thing I told him was that they needed
to stock the shelves with more books. Here
I was, about to commit suicide, and I'm still
giving business advice!) We sat in the front
and talked, but there was also a small empty
room at the back of the store, behind a curtain.
Jerry told me that that was the place where
Adi Da sat in meditation with His students.
When I poked my head into the room to take
a look, just briefly, I noticed the room had
an unusual quality — it seemed to contain
a distinct energy, a kind of peace.
Jerry started telling me about Adi Da and
His point of view. It didn't make much sense
to me, but I did get the feeling that Adi
Da would understand what I was going through.
For the very first time in my life, I began
to express to someone my feeling of despair
and how empty my life seemed. I remember that
vividly. I told Jerry everything about how
I was feeling.
hours later, Jerry said, "I'm going to close
this place up. You should go home. I'll drive
had my own car, so I said, "No, you don't
have to do that." Then I blurted out, "I'd
like to sleep here, in the meditation hall."
ask me why I said that. I had never slept
on a floor in my entire life. I preferred
the kind of class and comfort found in places
like the Beverly Hills Hilton. It was completely
uncharacteristic for me to say that I wanted
to spend the night sleeping on a floor. But
for some mysterious reason that I couldn't
understand at the time, I really wanted to
stay there. After some prompting, Jerry let
the morning when I woke up, something had
changed in me. It felt as though I had been
touched or caressed by some kind of Graceful
Presence, like my troubled brow had been smoothed
— just by being in that room. I felt a peace
in myself from sleeping there, a peace I sorely
needed to feel.
was Saturday morning, but I wasn't thinking
about killing myself anymore. I hadn't decided
not to do it either — it's just that, for
the moment, I was more interested in something
else. Jerry had given me a copy of the manuscript
of Adi Da's autobiography, The
Knee Of Listening, and I wanted to
browsed the manuscript a bit when I first
woke up, then I started to read it in earnest
over breakfast, and after that I just kept
on going. I spent the whole day reading —
and by the time I got to the end of the book,
my life had gone through a total reversal!
I don't know if I can express how excited
I was by what I was reading. After years of
feeling so much despair, after coming to the
point of utter hopelessness — now, for the
first time, someone was explaining my situation
to me in a way that made sense, in a way that
lifted me into an entirely new way of looking
years, people had been telling me that there
wasn't any more to life than what I was experiencing
— and my own life certainly seemed to be proving
that they were right. I kept getting richer,
and as I did, I grew more and more desperate,
more and more certain that success was not
enough. Here, for the first time, was someone
who made me feel that, "Yes, there is more
to this life! Here it is, right here!"
even noticing it, I read past the appointed
hour for my suicide. When I finished the book,
I immediately started reading it over again
— I stayed up all night reading it the second
time through. I couldn't put it down. This
is what I had been looking for — and it had
come to me just in the nick of time!
is separation, being separate, limited, a
self-exhausting capsule of life-energy," Adi
Da said. "Suffering is separation and separativeness.
And suffering is the primary fact of individual
life. The seeker's 'problem' of life, for
all suffering human beings, is how to realize
life under the conditions of suffering. How
to remain active, 'creative', relatively and
at least temporarily fearless, optimistic,
was the question I had been posing to myself
over and over for years, which Adi Da had
stated more clearly than I could ever have
myself. Then, He went on to answer the question
that had been tormenting me for so long.
said that we suffer because we falsely
presume that we are separate from the Source
of Life, and that the Inherent Nature of that
Source is Happiness Itself. He said that everything
we do is seeking — a futile attempt to somehow
find true Happiness. And He pointed out over
and over again that this seeking for Happiness
must fail because it does not touch the cause
of suffering — our presumption that we are
separate. I felt immense relief. No one else
had been able to explain what was bothering
me, but now it was obvious that I was caught
in the cycle of separation, suffering, and
seeking that Adi Da was describing.
Da didn't suggest another, better form of
seeking. He recommended that His readers understand
the presumption of separation which is the
cause of seeking. Without this understanding,
He explained, we would live as seekers rather
than enjoying Happiness, Reality, or God now.
How ridiculous! I felt tremendous relief as
He described His own insights into this absurd
said that if we begin to understand the presumption
of separation itself — if, with His help,
we can observe how that presumption of separation
happens, and how it is unnecessary — then
our sense of alienation from Happiness would
be relieved. If this is done, He said, then
a person . . .
. . will
abide in understanding, and one will
not come into conflict with one's
moments, one's motives, one's actions,
one's reactions. One will abide now,
and now, and now. And this alone,
not any motive or search or effect
of these, will transform the complex
of one's living. And that complex
will never be one's concern, to transform
it or escape it or transcend it, for
one lives in understanding and draws
Joy even in pleasure, in egoic ignorance,
in failure, in suffering, pain, and
death. Only because one abides in
understanding is one already Free,
already liberated from one's life.
I affirm only understanding and no
state or object yet to be attained.
It is not a matter of purity first
or at last, nor of sanity, nor wealth,
well-being, goodness, or vision. All
these are the imagery of search, the
vanity of external peace.
is the ground of this moment, this
event. Therefore, Realize understanding,
and enjoy it, for you alone are the
one who must live your ends and all
the stages of time. The one who understands,
who is always already Free, is never
touched by the divisions of the mind.
And that one alone is standing when
all other beings and things have gone
to rise or fall.
It was not just that His logic made complete
sense to me (which it did — my own experience
proved it). It was not just that He explained
my suffering to me and even validated the
feelings of despair I had been struggling
with (which He did, in a way that was powerfully
cathartic for me). I was beside myself with
excitement because He was describing the
very thing I had been hoping for, but without
being able to put words to it, without being
able to know what it was. He was describing
the hub on which my own life and everyone's
life is set like the spokes of a great wheel.
He was describing the Truth, the Transcendental
Reality that we are all part of. He was
restoring me to my own Source, to the Heart,
the Divine Self. As I read I thought, "This
is exactly it!"
. . Thus,
when understanding has most perfectly
Realized itself as no-seeking in
the heart . . . one is the heart.
All the functions of the living
being become the heart. The heart
becomes the constant locus of all
activity. There is no separate one
to concentrate in it.
one who has most perfectly
Realized Existence as no-seeking
in the heart. . . is Free, Blissful,
"creatively" Alive. Thus, that one
is not only no-seeking, which
is Freedom. That one is eternally
Present, Which is Bliss and no-dilemma.
whole sad and stupid drama of my life over
the past years seemed unnecessary. I felt
immensely attracted to the alternative that
Adi Da was offering. It's hard to describe,
but Adi Da's words were more than ordinary
words — they had much more energy, much more
impact than anything I had ever read before.
His insights weren't just ideas — they were
alive. They opened me up and changed me. I
felt His Wisdom flooding into my life as a
kind of welcome, relieving Force. I decided
I had to meet Adi Da in person. Suicide would
have to wait.
immediately phoned Jerry and asked him what
I had to do to meet Adi Da. He told me that
if I came to an orientation at the bookstore
on Monday night, I could "sit" with Adi Da
in meditation on Tuesday night. I didn't know
anything about "sitting" or meditation, but
I was so looking forward to meeting Him I
could hardly contain myself.
went to the Monday night presentation. The
person giving the orientation said to me,
"You can go further and check Adi Da and His
Teaching out, or you can resort to your other
was the perfect thing to say to me. I answered,
"I don't have any other alternatives." And
that was true!
orientation itself was brief — only two or
three people came — and we were told to return
the next night, Tuesday, to sit with Adi Da.
next day I scrambled to finish work in time
to go home, take a shower, and get down to
the bookstore. I was going to "sit" with a
Spiritual Teacher. It was all so out of the
ordinary for me — but I was really
was there on the dot. I had been asked to
return the manuscript of Adi Da's book, so
I brought that with me, too. My approach to
the event wasn't very "spiritual" — it's just
that I was tremendously excited to meet the
fellow who had written this book. I had been
in publishing a long time and had met many
authors, but their books had never impressed
me the way that Adi Da's had. What could He
entered the meditation hall, sat down with
my back to the wall, wearing my horn-rimmed
reading glasses, and continued to read the
manuscript. Adi Da came in and, without saying
anything, took His seat at the front of the
room, facing the group of twenty or so people
who were there that night. He looked straight
ahead and then, at times, He also looked around
the room, gazing at the space just above our
heads. After watching Him for a few minutes,
I started reading the manuscript again.
back at it, I can see that this was not the
most sensitive thing to do, but I knew nothing
about meditation or how to relate to a Guru.
The whole situation was new to me and I felt
a little awkward, so I returned to what was
most familiar to me — reading. After a few
minutes, though, I looked up at Him again.
He looked directly at me. I felt a Force emanating
from Him — it was peaceful and yet energetic,
pleasant but not overwhelming — and I also
felt a kind of connection to Him. But I still
felt somewhat awkward, so I went back to reading
the manuscript again.
a few minutes more, I looked up at Him again.
This time, He was staring right at me. I began
to feel a very pleasant feeling in the center
of my heart. I was very warm. Even
though I couldn't tell what it was, I could
tell that something out of the ordinary was
going on here. So I put the manuscript down
and sat up straight in a meditation posture,
like everyone else in the room. It seemed
important to be respectful of the process
that was taking place, whatever it was, and
to cooperate with whatever Adi Da was doing.
From that point on, I simply looked at Him.
the meditation was over, He left the room.
I got up and followed Him to a small office
in the back. He was sitting in the chair at
His desk when I walked in, and it was clear
to me that He was not in an ordinary state
of awareness. I didn't know anything about
Spiritual experience at the time, but I could
tell that He was in a kind of Swoon, or Bliss-State.
He seemed to be "coming down" from that Swoon
to a more ordinary, "functional" awareness,
so I walked right over to where He was sitting,
put out my hand, and said, "My name is Neil
Panico, Franklin. I am really glad to meet
told me to sit down, which I did. Then He
turned to me and said, "What's happening?"
was floored. All my life I had used that very
phrase millions of times with my friends,
with people I met in business, with my kids
— all the time. It was the most familiar thing
He could have said to me. I found myself blurting
out to Him, "I don't know, man, I can't relate
to anything or anybody anymore."
didn't think about it when I said it; I didn't
mean to lay my problems on Him — it was spontaneous,
as though it were the most natural thing in
the world to tell Him my darkest secret. Immediately,
He reached over and hugged me. I was a little
taken aback at first, but He was so natural
in the way He assumed an intimacy with me.
He held me in this big bear-hug, and as I
relaxed into it, I felt the most wonderful,
nourishing feeling of coming home, of coming
to rest. I felt tremendous, instantaneous
relief from the incredible torment that I
had been carrying around — just as I had when
I read His book, but even more so. The warmth
and the beauty of the feeling He communicated
through that hug was fantastic — and it was
such a long hug. By the time He let me go,
my terrible feeling of emptiness and despair
was gone. My suffering of so many years was
over. He had removed it.
said, "What do you do?"
told him what I did for a living.
He asked me, "Why don't you come around a
I'll definitely be around."
next day I took the rifle back to my house.
I thought, "I don't know what this is about,
but I've got to check it out." I started going
to the bookstore and hanging out writh Adi
Da in the back room.
had the most wonderful times in the tiny back
room of that little Los Angeles storefront
— there were always at least a handful of
people there with Him, working, talking, laughing.
There was always a lot of laughter — He was
so full of humor! Sometimes, He would give
talks, spontaneously. And then, everything
would grow quiet and He would go into meditation.
The room would fill up with the incredible
feeling of His Love and Fullness, His Freedom,
His Humor, His Peace. We would sit around
Him, basking in that Feeling, wanting nothing
more than to be with Him.
that very first meeting with Avatar Adi Da,
I have never suffered so horribly again. I
have never felt that kind of terrible Spiritual
despair again, not for a moment. I am telling
you the absolute truth. My horrible suffering
was taken away forever, absorbed by my Guru.