NOW SERVING Psychedelic Culture

Don’t Pray the Grey Away — Alex the Grey versus Alex the White

This is Part II of the Alex Grey Art series, a Spiraling Eye Encrusted Overview of the Art of Alex Grey. Part I of this series can be found here.

Note on part two: I probably owe Alex an apology for this part.  While there’s much about his relationship to the shadow here, I also went off at length about the problem of abusive gurus (with a detailed examination of Adi-da) and the idealization of spiritual traditions. Although Alex does have a tendency to be friendly to abusive gurus and to idealize certain spiritual traditions, I want to emphasize that he is the opposite of an abusive guru — a genuinely humble visionary who is kind and generous to everyone he meets.

Expect some long tangential forays into the psychology of cultism and guru abuse which will, at times, seem pretty far afield of Alex’s work, but which I believe will be of interest and relevance to many Reality Sandwich readers. Alex wrote a response and that’s posted at the end of the article.

Darkness, the shadow, and death haunted Alex from the youngest age. As mentioned earlier, Alex was drawing skulls and skeletons by age five. By age ten, he created two powerful images: Grim Reaper and Graveyard Study and by the time he was seventeen, when he created his self-portrait, Life Cycle, his connection to the charged boundary between life and death was self-aware and profound.

In Life Cycle, his hand, already the hand of an accomplished artist, touches the boundary between a fetus and a corpse. In a 1996 interview, Alex traces his awareness of darkness and light back to the crib, and his earliest memories:

My very first memories are of lying in my crib and seeing textures in my mind. I felt immersed in a pure, blissful, milky white light — an ecstatic peaceful space. Then I remember a gnarly snaggle-branched, brownish black shadow moving into that space from the periphery of my perception, coming in clumps, and then taking over. This ugly swarming texture would engulf and terrify me, obliterating all the light. Then little islands of bright purity would appear. These pools of milky luminescence would clear away the gnarly texture and I’d have a white-light ocean again. The visions of psychic texture were like yin-yang energies, a constant flux of the universal energies of clarity and chaos, peace and panic, light and darkness, hope and despair. My entire life has been conditioned by the oscillation of those opposing abstract fields.

Alex was born “Alex Velzy.” At age twenty, he changed his name to Grey as a gesture toward his struggle to harmonize the dark and light principles battling within him. By keeping Velzy as his middle name his initials became “AVG,” the abbreviation of “average.”

Especially in his twenties, Alex became creatively obsessed with death and darkness. He worked in morgues and did art projects with corpses. Much of this dark creativity took the form of performance art that Alex now considers “transgressive.” All of this is well documented in his books, so I’m not going to rehash his transgressive phase here.

Obsession with darkness is not uncommon in both creative and uncreative people and, in the postmodern world, is considered a much more acceptable subject for art than spirituality. Alex, however, brought his profound originality and penetrating vision to the shadow realms and dark aspects. My first conversations with Alex relate to an area of dark, paranormal investigation that I call “mind parasites.”

I wrote about some of Alex’s related experiences and art in Alex Grey and the Mind Parasites. In 2006 I brought him on to Coast-to-Coast AM. George Noory and I interviewed Alex on the subject of mind parasites.

Alex has a great deal to contribute to our understanding of dark forces and shadow realms. I also think that his transforming relationship to light and dark needs to keep transforming. There may even be an area or two where the transformation has gotten stuck, and where his understandable preference for light over dark has led to certain areas of idealization and shadow denial. In his latest book, Net of Being, there is a small photo, almost lost in a large collection of small photos, showing Alex with a variety of well-known persons, which seems to unintentionally illustrate a polarization that has occurred in Alex’s relationship to darkness.

H.R. Giger, whom Alex appropriately describes as a “morbid genius,” is on one side of the photo, Alex on the other, and standing between them is transpersonal psychiatrist, Stanislav Grof. Giger, Groff, Grey.  I feel that this photo should be entitled: Stanislav Grof Standing Protectively between the Wizard of Darkness and the Wizard of Light so as to Prevent an Anti-matter Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Implosion that could Irreversibly Damage the Space-Time Continuum. The crackling, plasmic fields of boundary tension and cognitive dissonance as Giger and Grey were briefly in the same room together almost certainly created a profound disturbance in the Force. One shudders to think of the light saber battle that could have ensued if Grof weren’t there to stand between them.

This photo could be the subject of a collaborative painting that might actually seal the breech between the light and dark sides of the Force. Giger would paint the left side of the canvas, which would include him and would no doubt be teeming with intricate, extraterrestrial, parasitic/heavy metal forms. The left side of Groff would be illustrated as infected with a burst-from-the-abdomen-type extraterrestrial parasite (as seen in the movie, Alien). Alex would paint the right side of the canvas filling it with a shimmering lattice of eyes and spiral galaxies. The right side of Groff would obviously have glowing transparent anatomy.

The Giger-Groff-Grey photo seems to illustrate the polarization problem that characterizes Alex’s current relationship to darkness. Giger’s identification with darkness is so absolute that it would be easier to imagine Megadeth performing a Doris Day cover than it would be to imagine a ray of light entering a Giger image. Alex’s relationship to light and dark has been much more dynamic, and yet we can sense that Giger is now his unintegrated doppelgänger, the two of them able to appear together only with a powerful psychiatrist like Stanislav Grof standing between them. Giger might also be the only person that I’ve heard Alex tell a negative anecdote about. Alex asked Giger if he ever tried LSD and he responded with German mad scientist paranoia: “No! It is forbidden!”

Competing with Alex’s sometimes-extraordinary ability to integrate shadow, is his tendency to idealize spiritual traditions, spiritual practitioners and certain other people. While Alex is often vivid in depicting the shadow side of the West, of exploitative capitalism, etc., he is not so uninhibited in depicting the shadow sides of spiritual traditions or of people he idealizes including some notoriously abusive gurus. I wouldn’t comment on this, except that shadow integration is a major theme of his artwork.  Alex, who knows I’m writing this and will be critical of his shadow integration wrote:

“Jonathan, just wanted you to know that there is a special structure planned at CoSM for engagement with the shadow. It goes with a mythic tale I’m spinning about the current darkness humanity is facing.  The land will host pavilions for engaging different levels of the dismemberment of Mother Nature.”

In some ways, Alex’s generous view of others is a product of his spiritual maturity and lack of competitive egocentrism. His attitude toward people, like that of my friend Rob Brezsny, sometimes makes me feel uncomfortable because it highlights my more sarcastic view of a lot of people. I can experience myself as more spiritually immature, and competitively egocentric by contrast. I heard Alex’s wife, Allyson Grey say, “I’m a Russian Jew, and Russian Jews are angry.” That’s my background, and I’m from the Bronx, so perhaps that explains part of the difference. I’m more likely to be confrontational than tolerant of others who are doing things I find objectionable.

I could feel this difference in temperament and attitude toward others’ failings in my last face-to-face conversation with Alex, which was at Area 51/ Burning Man 2012. Mostly we talked about the Singularity Archetype, and seemed to be on a common wavelength, but when I asked Alex what he thought about the somewhat disillusioning revelations about Terence McKenna that had come out recently from his brother Dennis, (See: On the Disillusioning Revelations about Terence McKenna. Alex vehemently dismissed them and launched into a spirited defense of Terence. As an admirer of Terence, I could see where Alex was coming from, but I was interested in discussing these newly revealed character flaws for the depth they would add to our picture of him. Alex seemed to regard them as distractions from the need to idealize Terence.

I felt Alex’s tendency to idealize was an unconscious reflex, but in an interview with Joe Rogan on October 10, 2012, Alex brings his feelings to the surface as a conscious policy:

“What we like to do is trash all of our heroes, make them as low as possible, so that you have no hope about human character, and I think that is a shame.”

This is a legitimate point. We do live in an anti-heroic age, and age where we like to trash talk the high and mighty and are fascinated with celebrity scandals. On the other hand, there are self-promoting charlatans who enforce their own idealization and whose unintegrated shadows make them a hazard to others. (For a recent example, see: American Cyclopath.)

Alex, who is a genuinely talismanic personality and worthy of some idealization, is unfortunately a promoter of certain influential persons who could be hazardous to idealize. In Net of Being there is a photo of Alex standing next to the abusive guru Andrew Cohen.  Alex has also invited Andrew to speak at CoSM and has had some public dialogues with him. (For more on Andrew Cohen’s abusive history see the book, American Guru, the website Whatenlightenment? and the sarcastically entitled The Mother of God — a book by Andrew’s own mother denouncing the abusive cult tactics she witnessed.)

Alex frequently lauds Ken Wilber, who is a genius, but also a promoter of abusive gurus like Andrew Cohen and Adi Da, and a man whose unintegrated shadow casts a reality distortion field that compromises the value of some of his work.

When I tried to talk to Alex about him in CoSM several years ago, his description of Wilber was hagiographical, and I knew that my mixed feelings about him would be met with resistance. There are sides of Wilber that Alex either doesn’t see or chooses to ignore. For example, in Mission of Art there is an idealized portrait of Wilber and on the opposing page, accidentally juxtaposed, is a summary of the perennial philosophy. Wilber is a vocal opponent of key aspects of the perennial philosophy that contradict the spiral dynamics evolutionary model he favors. The opposing pages seem to illustrate the side of idealized figures Alex doesn’t see.

By far the most objectionable instance of idealization is Alex’s portrait of the criminally abusive guru Adi Da that spills across two pages of Transfigurations. Adi Da (who went through several name changes, but was originally born Franklin Jones in Queens, New York) is portrayed by Alex as the messianic avatar that Jones heralded himself as being. Next to the portrait Alex writes:

In my painting Adi Da, the guru is portrayed as a totally transfigured being. His heart is the dawning sun, source of illumination outwardly and inwardly symbolic of Da’s transparency to divine radiance. …The potion in the cup is amrita, nectar of the heart united with an ocean of love, the God intoxication that the guru provides and for which humanity thirsts.

Alex also describes how impressed he was by darshan with Adi Da:

There was only the Divine Presence that he is and all of us potentially are. He seemed silently to become every individual in the room, and as this happened, people swooned in devotional ecstasy. My one encounter with Adi Da was profound. I am not a formal devotee, but I have a tremendous respect for Da’s writings and teachings.

Alex’s words and striking portrait, created and published when Jones was still alive, could easily have enticed someone into the often spiritually, psychologically and physically hazardous presence of this very strange man.

In the following section I will take an extended look at Jones, because I think it will illustrate where Alex and others get some things wrong about the shadow, especially the shadows of spiritual traditions and charismatic spiritual figures. This will be the longest tangent in the spiraling overview, so for readers who are not interested in the shadow side of gurus and want content more closely related to Alex Grey — feel free to skip ahead.

Jones was apparently a genius, and a spiritual prodigy of some sort, but he was also, according to numerous people close to him, a malevolent narcissist, an abusive and exploitative sadist and serial rapist who emulated a poor man’s version of Caligula’s lifestyle. At one point, for example, Jones had a harem of nine wives including a Playboy pinup girl. He binged on junk food, alcohol and drugs and had many expensive habits. He once paid $159,000. for a single glass paperweight, and devotees celebrated this deed as a great accomplishment.

Recently, I’ve been dialoguing with Conrad Goehausen, a brilliantly insightful man, who was a member of Jone’s inner circle for many years and is working on a book about him. As critical as he is of Jones, Conrad resisted any attempt I made to flatten him into a stereotyped caricature. Jones, according to Goehausen, was a genuinely powerful and spiritual being whose charismatic presence was a force to be reckoned with. Jones talent for mind control and manipulation may have been honed during his time as a Scientologist.

A few notes and disclaimers before we take a deeper look at the shadow side of Jones. The following comes from ex-devotees and members of Jone’s inner circle. The testimony is presented mostly in their own words, which I’ve found in the Adi Da Archives (the site has now apparently been taken down). In some few cases I’ve done a little editing for continuity purposes.

I have no ability to independently verify all of the episodes they report. I would make any judgments based on the aggregate of this material in case any individual occurrence is misrepresented in any way. I have zero direct experience of Jones so neither Reality Sandwich nor I can take responsibility for the veracity of each and every claim.

Adi Da stated that devotional worship of him is the sole means of spiritual enlightenment for others. He said that his own spiritual stature was superior to that of Jesus, Buddha, or any of the great spiritual figures from human history.

In 1983 he predicted that before he died all of humanity (whom he called “five billion slugs”) would acknowledge him, and said that if he had not come to Earth all of humanity would have been destroyed.

Jones prophesied, repeatedly, that the year 2000 was the year he would be recognized by the world. He even went so far as to claim that Christians would recognize him as the Second Coming of Christ.

Jesus was a fifth stage realizer, Buddha a sixth stage realizer, and Jones was the first, last and only seventh stage realizer. The first, last and only claim by Jones was repeated so often that many insiders referred to it by the acronym: “FLO.”

In Jones’s own words (and eccentric use of capitalization):

I Am the Ultimate Demonstration (and the Final, or Completing, Proof) of the Truth of the Great Tradition as a whole. Until I Appeared, there were no seventh stage Realizers within the Great Tradition of mankind. I Am the First and the Last seventh stage Adept to Appear in the human domain (and in the Cosmic Domain of all and All). It is neither possible nor necessary for another seventh stage Adept to Appear anywhere, because I have Accomplished My necessary Work everywhere. However, because I have Appeared and have Done My Completing Work, seventh stage Realizers (not with the Divine Adept-Function That Is Unique to Me, but Fully Realized, through their ego-transcending devotion to Me, and, Thus and Thereby, to the by Me Revealed Divine Person and Self-Domain) will Awaken, in all times and places.
–Franklin Jones (Adi Da) from the prologue to his book The Basket of Tolerance.  These remarks were also posted on the official Adidam website.

Anyone who did not accept Jones’s megalomaniac claims, or who did not devotionally worship him, was a narcissistic egoist doomed to live in the outer darkness. In Jones own words:

I Am the Sign and the Revelation and the Proof of God in the world. I am the Way up from the pond. In your egoity, you only want to stare at yourself in the pond and apply some techniques and some disciplines to yourself. Without devotion to Me, without Ishta-Guru-Bhakti Yoga, disciplines are fruitless nonsense, realizing nothing but Narcissus. All of life is self-meditation unless life itself becomes meditation on Me.

Those who Do Not heart-Recognize Me and heart-Respond to Me — and who (Therefore) Are Without Faith In Me — Do Not (and Cannot) Realize Me. Therefore, they (By Means Of their own self-Contraction From Me) Remain ego-Bound To The Realm Of Cosmic Nature, and To The Ever-Changing Round Of conditional knowledge and temporary experience, and To The Ceaselessly Repetitive Cycles Of birth and search and loss and death. Such Faithless beings Cannot Be Distracted By Me — Because they Are Entirely Distracted By themselves! They Are Like Narcissus — The Myth Of ego — At His Pond. Their Merely self-Reflecting minds Are Like a mirror in a dead man’s hand. Their tiny hearts Are Like a boundless desert, where the mirage of Separate self is ceaselessly admired, and The True Water Of My Constant Presence Stands Un-Noticed, in the droughty heap and countless sands of ceaseless thoughts.

One of Jones’s favorite pastimes was “sexual theater” (his term) which was fueled by endless quantities of the sacred Tantric substances Jack Daniels and Rush (“poppers” — amyl nitrate) and which involved grotesque and sadistic humiliations of hundreds of devotees. Jones rationalized his sexual theater this way:

I Know what to do about sex.


Most people do not know what to do about sex-so they generally just keep their pants on, if they are seriously involved in religious and Spiritual life.


But I do Know what to do about sex — and I Know how to Serve My devotees in this matter.


I am not an ordinary man.


What I Do is Unique.


I Straightened My devotees out about sex.


No ‘lily-white’ approach to dealing with sex can come even close to straightening anyone out.

Adi Da gave herpes to a significant number of women, so many that it cannot be claimed to be merely an innocent accident or mistake. One must admit he was reckless and negligent at a minimum, because he knew he had active lesions and was contagious, yet infected women anyway. Beyond mere negligence however, he was surely sick and deranged as well because he has claimed that he gave others the disease for their spiritual benefit. He told one teenaged girl in the mid-70’s, J.K, (and perhaps others) that he gave her herpes as “prasad (a divine gift) from the Guru to help her work out her bad cunt karma.”

Jones consistently humiliated and emasculated other males to maintain his status as the alpha. For example, he would require heterosexual married men to be anally penetrated by other men in front of their wives. He would also have them witness their wives being sodomized by other men.

The first time 10 year old Jessica Constantine met Adi Da, he commanded her to strip naked in front of a large group of adults who were partying. She refused and ran away. Adi Da told some of his devotees to chase her down, and they brought her back and forced her to strip, against her will. (Jessica Constantine, NBC Today Show, 1985)

Many devotees who were sexually abused by Jones were convinced that they had been divinely blessed. For example, Jones apparently burned the back of a female devotee with a cigar while having anal sex with her. Afterwards the devotee bragged that lightening had come out of the guru’s hands and left healing marks on her back.

A married woman gushed to another devotee: “I’ll never forget the first time I went down on the Lord.”

According to an ex-devotee:

When I was new in Adidam, I asked the teacher of the class I was in, when he was waxing on about crazy wisdom knowing no bounds and so on, if there wasn’t SOME LIMIT to what the guru would do. (Little did I know when I innocently asked that question!)


He then told me the story of Franklin turning to a devotee and saying, “Let’s go rape a virgin!” and going and finding a 16 year old girl and raping her in front of the other man, then leaving her crying on the floor.

Meanwhile, many of Jone’s devotees were instructed to be celibate. It was, however, permissible for them to masturbate in solitude while sitting or lying before a photograph of Jones.

Does Jones sound a bit vampiric? At one point this was all but literal:

Adi Da’s extravagant spending habits kept his community in a difficult financial condition for many years. At one time, in order to help mitigate the financial problems, he required all followers to be corralled like cattle into a San Francisco skid row blood plasma donation center to donate twice a week. The money went directly from the center into the organization’s operating budget, i.e. into Adi Da’s pocket by way of paying for his and his wives’ living expenses, travel, gifts and extravagances, etc. Many of the people should not have been donating plasma twice per week for so long, and had trouble passing the tests given by the blood center because they were getting depleted and sick, or experiencing dizziness, etc. However, they were given large doses of iron and other vitamins so they could continue to pass the physical and chemical tests so that they could continue to donate plasma and keep the money coming in. (see Mill Valley Record, 4/3/85).

Jones (who was a notorious binger on junk food and rich luxury foods) claimed his bulging belly, displayed in so many photographs, extends grotesquely due to the huge amount of “life force” being conducted through his “vital center” in the stomach. (Mill Valley Record April 3, 1985, attested to in numerous articles and attested to by Miller, Kahn, Masters, Bev O’Mahony, the Lupa’s and others).

Many of Jones’s devotees followed the process of idealization into full-blown idolatry:

Carolyn Lee (author of the sycophantic The Promised Godman Is Here) described Jones’s appearance in exalted terms (and she also parrots his eccentric capitalization):

When you receive Beloved’s Communication you will feel His Extraordinary State of Body. His Darshan is an overwhelming Revelation. His Body, and especially His Divine Face is Plastic as He Speaks, Shaping and Reshaping Like a Flow of Water.

His Head appears more Spherical than ever. His Divine Human Form is Beyond Human. His Infinite Divinity has Assumed His Avataric Form in ways that are simply inconceivable. The very Sight of Him, Bodily, Grants us an immediate Vision of a Reality other than this gross domain.


He is the One to Whom we can only bow down in adoration and worship. Such a Sight as He is has never before been Granted to humankind or to any beings at all.

Another devotee, Malcolm Burke, described Adi Da’s demeanor this way:

After a time, His Eyes like laser beams of Fire, He Looked out at all devotees in the Room and beyond, and began to Speak. There are no words to describe the Sound of our Beloved’s Voice. He Speaks now from His Room, the Center of the Cosmic Mandala, so deep there is no doubt that the entire cosmos is conforming to His Divinely Husbanding Power, and yet so vulnerable and human there is no doubt He is the Embodiment of Compassion and Love.

One devotee spoke of the need for those who serve Jones directly to become “professional” (a term that Jones used). By “professional,” Jones apparently meant meekly and courteously submissive to his sexual demands:

He has Indicated that “professional” in His terms, means Samraj or Spiritual absorption in Him and sensitivity to Him, so that there are no Oedipal limits in devotees who are caring for His Body.

This is extremely important because our Beloved is so profoundly Involved in His Spiritual Work now that it is difficult for Him to even remain associated with the waking state. Thus the way that He is served must draw Him very sensitively and pleasurably into association with the Body.


Only this quality of devotional service can soothe the unspeakable Ordeal of His World Work that He Engages tirelessly in Divinely Loving Service to all beings.

At one point, Jones told devotees that it was a shame he had to teach in a time and place where the laws of the land prevented him from killing devotees if that’s what it took to wake them up!

Jones frequently criticized his devotees for not bringing him enough gifts and “contact persons” (VIP visitors who were either celebrities or who had access to great wealth). For example, in 2000, the same year that Alex published his portrait of Adi Da in Transfigurations, Jones lamented:

So the force of My Work is pushed up in Me so profoundly it could be destructive, and so I have to have a way to function above and beyond the physical body. I am involved in the most immense struggle. I am at war with the most fierce forces that can be imagined. And this terrible descent comes into My Body unless My Descent is able to Flow. But this must not be allowed to continue. The forces I am dealing with must be allowed to flow and not come into this Body, and, for this to occur, I need to begin to relate to real contact people of wealth and influence…

This is a typical guru strategy. Ooze shaktipa and charm when VIP guests, like Alex Grey, are present, and save the sexual theater stuff for when they are off the premises. Alex was certainly not alone in his admiration for the teachings, if not the person of, Jones:

One ex-devotee provides a partial list of those who have offered Jones high praise:

Ken Wilber, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, Larry Dossey, M.D., Willis Harman, President of the Institute of Noetic Science, Sun Bear, Fred Alan Wolf, Joan Halifax, Judith Cornell, Georg Feuerstein, Alan Watts, Bonnie Greenwell, Malidoma Patrice Some, Leroy Finch, Robert K. Hall, M.D., Irena Tweedie, Richard Grossinger, Charles T. Tart, Stanley Krippner, Peter Russell, Bill Gottlieb, Jeffrey Mishlove…

The same ex-devotee points out Ken Wilber’s remark in an introduction to one of Adi Da’s books, “…no one in the fields of psychology, religion, philosophy, or sociology can afford not to be at least a student of Da Free John.”

Alex’s idealization of charismatic spiritual people also extends to spiritual traditions. As I mentioned before, while Alex is not shy about depicting the shadow side of the West, industrialism, etc. he does not seem to acknowledge the extremely dark shadows of the spiritual traditions that he idealizes in his images. In Net of Being, Alex writes:

When judging whether a teaching is adequate to the task of enlightenment, look to the teachers, the exemplars. To what degree are they realized? To what degree are they living and speaking and expressing as Godself?

I agree with this statement, but do not see Alex following his own advice. However, I would like to apply his advice right now, and assert that the abusive guru syndrome, the extraordinary number of gurus, especially those heralded in the West, who turned into Adi Da types — sadistic, exploitative sexual vampires — are the direct products of psychological flaws in their spiritual traditions.

Most of us would be willing to make that sort of connection with the Catholic Church and the priest abuse scandals, but find that a veil of political correctness keeps people from seeing the flaws of Eastern spiritual traditions. The “Crazy Wisdom” approach that both Jones (Adi Da) and Andrew Cohen (who was once a Jones devotee) adopted to rationalize their sadistic behavior, comes from the spiritual tradition that Alex has most identified with, Tibetan Buddhism.

I can hear the protests even as I type these words. People will say, But this isn’t a fair criticism, Jones and Cohen are Americans who distorted this tradition! (to clarify: I worded that poorly since it seems to imply that Cohen and Jones are identified with Tibetan Buddhism. They’re not. What I meant to convey is that the Crazy Wisdom Path comes from Tibetan Buddhism).

Actually, many of the most inflated and abusive gurus are authentic, indigenous lineage carriers of their Eastern traditions. Also, shadow deniers of spiritual traditions always say: “Those aren’t the true (Christians, Muslims, etc.) that did that—” These same people would never say “Those aren’t the real Republicans, capitalists, corporatists who did that—” When a system or tradition regularly produces abusive people and tactics, then that phenomenon is a legitimate part of that system or tradition to be studied and evaluated. It will usually turn out that the abuses derive from structural and psychological flaws in the tradition or system and not merely bad apple individuals or sects.

One of the few people with the courage and depth to look into the shadow side of his own tradition was Carl Jung. The son of a Protestant minister, Jung remained a Gnostic Christian, but he also had the honesty to ask himself, “Why has so much blood been spilled in the name of Christianity?” He found that the flaw was in the religion itself and he wrote about that in his book, Aion.

Jung himself had a very brutal shadow and while I am greatly influenced by his work, I don’t see any reason to idealize him or hesitate to point out the flaws in his personality and conduct.

Idealizers of religions don’t do this work, but try to compartmentalize and exclude the pathology as having any thing to do with the system itself. For example, America’s Roman Catholic bishops commissioned a five-year study to provide a definitive answer to what caused the plague of sexual abuse by priests.

According to The New York Times,

The study, initiated in 2006, was conducted by a team of researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City at a cost of $1.8 million. About half was provided by the bishops, with additional money contributed by Catholic organizations and foundations. The National Institute of Justice, the research agency of the United States Department of Justice, supplied about $280,000.

According to the study, the problem of priests raping children did not derive from the culture or structure of the Catholic Church, its beliefs or practices. Instead, the blame was outsourced to popular, secular culture. In what’s been called the “blame Woodstock” explanation, the study asserted that the problem was caused by the sexual revolution. Similarly, people who’ve never studied the Qur’an (and who typically have no understanding of the principle of abrogation in Islam) will say: “Islam is a religion of peace, these extremists distort the religion and have nothing to do with real Islam.”

At CoSM several years ago, I met Dawoud Kringle, a Sufi Islamic Imam and friend of Alex’s who was frequently called on at public events there to read poetry, play music and pronounce words of Sufi wisdom. I found him very personable and charismatic and we had some conversations at CoSM.

At the time, I was also helping a nonprofit, The Women’s Assistance Fund that aided women who were the victims of Islamic Fundamentalism.  During the course of my work for that organization I had to encounter a mountain of horrific evidence of the dark side of Islam. I felt that Dawoud, with his mystical Sufi background would be the ideal person to reality check what I was reading in the Qur’an and Hadiths, etc. We conducted a lengthy dialogue by email that has been published online (with Dawoud’s consent) since 2006 (see Part III of Projection the Enemy of Peace and Justice. I think if Alex read the dialogue he would be shocked to find out what Dawoud thinks about women and gays (which emerges in the dialogue linked above).

What can happen when we meet a charismatic person with a spiritual aura is a particularly dangerous variant of the “halo effect.” If someone seems spiritual, is revered by others, is said to be an elder or a lineage carrier or whatever, we may assume all sorts of things about them. We idealize them, in another words, and that can be extremely dangerous.  (For more on the halo effect and other dangerous delusions, read: Seeing Blindspots.)

So when Alex paints a reverential portrait of Adi Da, he is using his genius to put a halo effect (and even actual halos!) around someone who also needs to have a skull and cross bones emblazoned on their forehead as a warning to others. Someone looking at this portrait of Adi Da in 2000, and at the words Alex added, might easily think: Alex is the real deal. He is a visionary genius and I’ve seen him in public and see how kind and compassionate he is. Someone whom he depicts in this way must be god-like. Maybe I should put myself at the feet of this amazing guru.  This is an example of how idealization can create suffering.

Oddly enough, Alex provided a relevant warning about projection, the halo effect and gurus in his 1998 book, The Mission of Art:

The teacher is an outward symbol of one’s own highest nature. In a cult situation, people project their own spiritual authority onto their “infallible” guru and then become morally blind by justifying the guru’s outrageous behavior, or they become disillusioned if the guru doesn’t live up to their projections.

Some people in the West tend to be so awed by Buddhism, especially since it is non-Western and comes from exotic non-white cultures that they think it is beyond reproach. The halo effect extends across a vast tradition. But Buddhism is an amalgam of many different practices and beliefs of varying quality. It also has psychological flaws in its typical structure and a series of anti-feminine biases. I wrote about these in a surrealized way in Lessons for an Entity Incarnating as a Mammal.

Back to Tibetan Buddhism, the Crazy Wisdom Path and an indigenous, authentic lineage carrier of same, Rinpoche Chogyam Trungpa. Trungpa, according to Wikipedia, was a “Buddhist meditation master and holder of both the Kagyu and Nyingma lineages, the eleventh Trungpa tülku, a tertön, supreme abbot of the Surmang monasteries, scholar, teacher, poet, artist, and originator of a radical re-presentation of Shambhala vision.”

In Dynamic Paradoxicalism — the anti-ism ism, (an essay defining my own philosophy which was designed as an alternative to absolutisms, and other sorts of isms) I discuss Trungpa’s version of Crazy Wisdom:

Spiritual genius and abusive guru Chogyam Trungpa is a classic example of sophisticated rationalization. He defined crazy wisdom in the following way:

But this craziness is not so neurotic; it’s just basic craziness, which is fearlessness and not giving up anything. Not giving up anything is the basic point. At the same time, you are willing to work with what is there on the basis of its primordial wakeful quality. So that is the definition of crazy wisdom, which is sometimes known as wisdom gone wild.

Huh? Another explanation is that the Buddhist (and Hindu) emphasis on vertical transcendence may often mean a neglect of the horizontal plane of development, such as integration of the shadow, which can then rule the personality as an unintegrated autonomous complex. Trungpa’s crazy wisdom path involved sexual abuse of students and drinking himself to death at the age of 48. His chosen successor spread AIDS to some of his young disciples, which resulted in at least one fatality.

Trungpa selected Boulder, Colorado as the place to set up a college (Naropa) as well as the Shambala center. When I came to Boulder in 1995 (I still live in Boulder) I befriended a member of Trungpa’s inner circle. Bill was a brilliant and charismatic man who continued to idealize Trungpa even as he related horrific stories about what went on behind the scenes. Bill’s emulation of Trungpa was pervasive; he had been one of Trungpa’s favored drinking companions and sadly, like his master, was drinking himself to death.

Author Sam Keen had this to say about the proliferation of Wisdom teachers:

One of the things I frankly don’t like about your magazine [What is Enlightenment?, rebranded as EnlightenNext,  published by Andrew Cohen and now defunct] is the holding up of these people who are supposedly “in the absolute” and totally liberated. I don’t know whether you remember, but for many years I was the person at Psychology Today who interviewed all these gurus. And so I’ve had a good bit of experience with a fair number of them — Chögyam Trungpa, Oscar Ichazo, Muktananda and others. And if these are all examples of people who are totally liberated, I say give me slavery because they were people with enormous illusions and who were cultivating enormous illusions in their followers. By and large almost all of them were totally unclear about three important things: sex, money and power. And they could play like they were liberated as long as they had a whole cult of disciples who did everything for them except wipe their asses — and probably that, too. And most of them were on enormous power trips. So I think the idea of total liberation is an idea that is more crippling than helpful.

As I stated above, Eastern traditions that emphasize vertical spiritual transcendence have a huge psychological flaw: they tend to neglect the horizontal plane of development, such as integration of the shadow, which can then rule the personality as an unintegrated, autonomous complex. (I’m using the word “tend” because, like all traditions, there are endless variations of the tradition that can range from the sublime to the ridiculous and dangerous.)

Eastern traditions often tend to denigrate the human plane of existence as maya, samsara, etc. and this may be part of an anti-feminine bias. (Taoism, however, is the most feminine of all major religions, also the least abusive.) Followers of these traditions often fail to recognize something that should be obvious at this point: Someone can have a transcendent experience of nondualistic connection to oneness — enlightenment, Samadhi, Satori — and then return to their psychological baseline where they may continue to be the same asshole they were before the experience. Often, however, they come back as a far more dangerous asshole than they ever were before because they will be more inflated and charismatic.

(Another example of an inflated and abusive guru who gets naively idealized is Amma See my brief document related to her: Giving Away Your Power

There is a classic problem we see with New Age gurus, with psychonauts, conspiracy folk and many others who engage esoteric work. Often, when people contact the transcendent realm, and/or the collective unconscious/archetypal realm, they are not necessarily improved as people. I wrote about this in Carnival 2012—a Psychological Study of the 2012 Phenomenon and the 22 Pitfalls and Blindspots of Esoteric Research: Pitfall #7: Archetypes and other forces in the unconscious are powerful, high energy, obsessively fascinating, and pose dangers of ego inflation, literalization and possession.

Many take what they experience literally, failing to recognize the trickster aspect of the unconscious and the need for interpretation. This can lead to becoming possessed by unconscious contents. It is very easy to identify with the forces, archetypes and entities you encounter during unconscious exploration and you may find your ego becoming monstrously inflated. Key red flags include: you feel you have seen something no one else has ever seen; you feel filled with a sense of special destiny, perhaps messianic fervor; you feel an intense need to proselytize and convert others to your new vision.

Pitfall # 8: If your esoteric research, discoveries, etc. cause you to think that you are entitled to certain sexual privileges, that you are imbued with some special powers such that sex with you is an evolutionary catalyst or spiritual initiation: STOP! GET HELP! YOU ARE BECOMING AN EVIL ASSHOLE!

Some have suggested that the era of the sexually abusive guru might be coming to an end because of the Internet. Anyone can get on line and find out about their abuses. I’m not so sanguine. Some people are magnetically attracted to darkness. Some psychoanalysts I knew in the Eighties told me that at the height of AIDS, their gay male patients reporting being hit on by supposedly straight men much more than they had ever experienced before. I interpret this as an aspect of the mysterious connection between sex and thanatos (roughly, a death drive). Some people want someone to dominate and deceive them and sometimes even to lure them into death.

Pitfall # 9.  Sex, money and power tend to flow together. Many of the most revered, exalted gurus, prophets, religious leaders and spiritual teachers have been horrible sex, money and power abusers. Tolerating that in yourself or someone else means you have crossed over to the dark side.

Note: The abuser would be actively on the dark side, while the victims are less blameworthy but have crossed over to the dark side in the sense that they are now eclipsed by a dark force that is ruling over them. Their degree of responsibility for the situation would be governed by the degree that they had, and were able to exercise, free will to avoid the situation. For example, some of those abused in cult situations are children whose parents chose to join.

Now that we’ve taken an extended tour of shadowland, let’s move in a constructive direction and conclude the shadow section by looking at how we can healthfully work with shadow material intrapsychically, interpersonally and artistically.

In Carnival 2012, and elsewhere, I’ve talked about my ongoing work to integrate my own shadow. Many of the pitfalls of esoteric research I learned about by falling into them. In the discussion of pitfall #7, which warns about dangers of being possessed by archetypes and inflated by them, I acknowledge:

This gets a bit tricky because some of those red flags could be up and you could still be onto something valuable. To be honest, I’ve been aware of some of those red flags in myself since the Seventies. I am also well aware that I am a narcissistic personality type, the ruling personality type of this age (though I have never had narcissistic personality disorder, a much more serious condition). Very gradually I’ve made progress realizing how my narcissism and self-importance work, how they distort many things, and how to compensate for them so that I am not constantly acting them out in destructive ways.


The self-monitoring and efforts at compensation for my narcissism are an imperfect, moment-by-moment struggle. Typically, I am self-monitoring the words I write and that come out of my mouth, scanning them for the thousand flavors and faces of my narcissism. When I sense my self-importance heating up, I try to rein myself in. Is what I am writing/saying of moral, informational and/or entertainment value to others, or am I merely caught up in self-promotion? The price of freedom from unconscious possession is eternal vigilance.

I also realized that there were certain hidden, valuable aspects in some forms of narcissism. (See my document Narcissism.)  To integrate the shadow, we need to embrace it, and work with it. I’m not expecting my narcissism to disappear, but I have made progress in becoming more aware of it so I can compensate for it rather than just acting it out.

The perceptive reader of this spiraling overview will no doubt be able to find ample evidence of my shadow (arrogance, narcissism, egocentrism, etc.) in the text, and is free to judge how well I have compensated for those attributes.
(More on integrating the shadow.)

For more on reclaiming idealizing projections see Casting Precious into the Crack of Doom — Androgyny, Alchemy, Evolution and the One Ring

Dealing with the shadow interpersonally is another vast topic, but in this context we’ll focus on how to relate to those who are brilliant (as Franklin Jones/Adi Da certainly was), but who also cast dark shadows. As Jung once said, “The brighter the light, the darker the shadow.” He also said, “The larger the man, the larger the shadow.” Probably, 6’5″ Jung was hoping people would apply these aphorisms to him, since he was both brilliant and brutal.

Relating to talented people with very dark shadows is a topic that came up in a recent email exchange with my friend Rob Brezsny, who, like Alex, tends to take a much more charitable view of many people than I do.

Rob wrote:

The key for me is: How sizable is each person’s Asshole Quotient? Is their influence on the world and their presence in the Noosphere more than 40% Asshole and 60% Other Stuff? If so, then I will probably not have much to do with them.
But if their proportion is more like 15% Asshole and 60% Pretty Good Stuff and 25% Other Stuff, then I will be more receptive.

Part of my response to Rob:

The following factors will allow me to tolerate a talented person with a very high asshole quotient:
1. They’re dead. Any abuse of others is in the past.
2. Their work has unique, intrinsic genius and is too valuable to throw out with the toxic bathwater and spoiled baby parts of them.
3. Their shadow is well known enough (for anyone who wants to find out) that it doesn’t need further outing. Even so, when I talk about Jung, whose work I revere and follow, I often point out that he was personally brutal.  I can quote Aleister Crowley without outing his dark side, since that’s often the only part people know about him.
4. Compartmentalization. If their teachings or work of genius are unrelated to character, psychology, spiritual development, personal conduct, etc. it’s easier to compartmentalize. For example, a physicist would be unlikely to say: “I like the theory of relativity, and the experimental evidence for it is overwhelming, but given Einstein’s near abandonment of his first wife, I’m never going to be able to accept it.” On the other hand, if someone like Adi Da proposes a path to enlightenment if you follow him, but then you find out that his approach led him to become a monstrous lecher, and those who followed him to become cult victims, then there is a need for some shadow reverse engineering to see where he went wrong and if there is any healthy tissue left in his work that can be compartmentalized from his metastasizing personality.

What lowers the pass factor is an aspect we might call “asshole marbling,” which is analogous to meat that is so marbled with fat that it would be impossible to trim it. Of course, as a vegetarian, it might not be the best analogy for me to use, but you get the idea. I’ve gotten some good things out of reading Ken Wilber, but the marbling with his grandiosity and unreliability is exasperating, and I don’t have time to double check every assertion. A labyrinth of intricate ideas caught in a personality distortion field wants me to enter. It might be give me a theory and history of everything or it might leave me with a Ken Wilber headache and the sense of his giant ego pounding in my head. At some point I may read some more Wilber, but the combination of voice of authority, brilliance, erudition and pseudo-erudition, and his overreaching grandiosity and need to be the one who categorizes everyone else, leaves me with the feeling of compromised content, and a particularly labor-intensive and irritating form of marbling to process. It feels like someone has put a Vulcan and a clown into a high-speed blender.  I want to drink just the Vulcan part, but it would take a team of PhDs and a basement full of centrifuges running for sixty years to make the distillation.

(Note: People much better educated than myself have already extensively criticized the flaws in Wilber’s philosophy. An index of this considerable body of work, including a recent book, can be found here.)

With Jung, I don’t find his personality flaws to compromise his writings very much, so it’s easy to compartmentalize. His brutality shows up in the writings mostly as an irritated wizard tone, like Gandalf talking to Pippin after a moment of appalling halfling carelessness, and I find that kind of tone quite appealing from Jung. A slightly brutal wizard confiding essential secrets through posthumous writings is quite tolerable for me, but a slightly brutal unconscious asshole standing in front of me is not.

Although I’ve given some criticisms of Alex’s relationship to shadow material, I see him as having great power to reveal shadow realms. In Alex Grey and the Mind Parasites. I discuss three of his paintings, Demons and Deities Drinking from the Milky PoolSelf-Hatred/Endarkenment and Despair that aren’t merely manifestations of darkness (we’ve already got mountains of art, film, music, etc. doing that), but illustrations that penetrate darkness with illuminating vision.

In the triptych, Journey of the Wounded Healer, the first two panels, which depict dark or chaotic states, are the most powerful, and allow the moment of spiritual ascent in the third panel to seem earned. Prostration is a vision of earned spiritual transcendence. The power and depth of the image is greatly enhanced by the shadowy realm of demons below the prostrate figure. Similarly, I find the first two panels of Nature of Mind the most potent because they depict the darkness that accompanies the spiritual journey.

Finally, I’ll conclude this long shadow section with a suggestion of a new masterpiece that would redeem Alex’s occasional lapses into idealization. The excessively white light Adi Da portrait is badly in need of more grey, and specifically I recommend some Dorian Gray-style overpainting. The addition of herpes sores, a lecherous grin, and perhaps fangs, would help fill out Adi Da’s depiction. Beneath him could be discarded Jack Daniels bottles and vials of Rush as well as various of the demons he succumbed to. Then, possibly the greatest lenticular postcard in the history of art could be created which should be entitled “Guru.” It would phase between the original portrait of Adi Da and the overpainted revision. If Alex accepts my humble suggestion of this new masterpiece I will commit to buying at least four of the resulting postcards.

Alex responds to Part II:

Regarding my portrait of Adi Da, I think all your critique of my willful blindness to the shadow of some spiritual leaders is fair.  I made the portrait as a commission for a devotee of Adi Da, it was not meant as a full summary or critique of the personality of Franklin Jones.  I had read Da’s work for many years and respected his teachings, but was never in a devotee relationship with Da myself..

Years before, my teacher, Namchai Norbu, a Tibetan Buddhist leader had told me, “Sometimes it is better to keep the guru at a distance.  The closer you get the more human they appear.  If you believe the guru is a Buddha, you receive the spiritual transmission of a Buddha.  If you believe the guru is just as human as you, you get that level of transmission, if you believe the guru is a dog you get the transmission of a dog.”  This affected the way I wanted to portray Adi Da, because I wanted the devotee to get the maximum “empowerment” from the transmission of the guru, so I painted the full-on “God-Man” fusion with all the bells and whistles.  Anyone not familiar with Da’s “crazy wisdom” guru theatre might be very drawn to him from my portrait.  I still love his writings though it is easy to understand the objections by his former associates.

By the way, both Adi Da and Andrew Cohen have no connection to the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, but you state that they do.  Those teachers had connections to the Hindu non-dual tradition.

(To clarify: I worded a sentence poorly and seemed to imply that Cohen and Jones are identified with Tibetan Buddhism. They’re not. What I meant to convey is that the Crazy Wisdom Path comes from Tibetan Buddhism—JZ)

If you’re impatient to read part III or want to experience parts 1-3 as a podcast go here.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

RS Newsletter

Related Posts

Hamilton Morris

An Evening With Hamilton Morris

On a warm spring day, March 28, 2023, I found myself once again making the trek to the city of Angels. As part of the Reality Sandwich editorial team, it is my mission to always be at the forefront of psychedelic culture, whether that means ingesting psychedelic substances (for the science of course) or taking

Read More »

Welcome to Reality Sandwich. Please verify that you are over 18 years of age below.

Reality Sandwich uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By entering Reality Sandwich, you are agreeing to the Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy.