The Moon over the Water

A Story of How Avatar Adi Da Began Taking Photographs

[from the forthcoming biography of Avatar Adi Da Samraj, Adi Da]

Where the Light Glances off the Water—that is where the pictures begin. —Adi Da Samraj

When Avatar Adi Da was in India during 1973, accompanied by Gerald Sheinfeld, part of Gerald's responsibility was to make a photographic record of their pilgrimage to the various ashrams and holy places. One day, while they were staying at the ashram of Satya Sai Baba, a large bird loomed overhead. Gerald positioned himself with the camera to catch the bird in flight, and he was taking time to get the focus and the other details right. Suddenly, Avatar Adi Da took the camera, and, in a single rapid gesture—click!—took the picture, capturing the bird in flight.

Avatar Adi Da had taken some photographs of the northern California coast in the early 60s (during His period of intensive observation on the beach while at Stanford) and He had attended some photography classes in Los Angeles early in 1973. But the incident with the bird was virtually the only time that Avatar Adi Da touched a camera during all the years of His Teaching and Revelation Work. As He remarked later, what had been required of Him to establish the Way of Adidam did not allow Him to place any attention on doing art. His years of Sadhana and His Teaching-Work had involved Him in a constant Submission to the human mind and to verbal expression, in order to show the Way whereby the mind could be transcended.

I Entered Into and Took On the mind of human experience. But it is an incredible Struggle to Conjoin the Prior, Non-mental Reality with mind.     —Adi Da Samraj

Beginning in October 1998, Avatar Adi Da Samraj began to focus in His artistic Work in a very serious way. Now that His verbal Teaching was fully Given, He began to develop pre-verbal—artistic—means to picture the complex (and ultimately single) nature of Reality.

Avatar Adi Da was staying at the Hermitage on the northern California coast that He had named "Tat Sundaram" (meaning, in Sanskrit, "All of this is beautiful!"). Near dawn on October 6, 1998, Avatar Adi Da was up ready to work on the manuscripts of His "Source-Texts", as was His custom at the time. Then, looking out from His upstairs bedroom, He caught sight of the beautiful moon—reddish, and almost full—hanging over the ocean in the first light. It should be photographed, He said.

A devotee of Adi Da Samraj, Thankfull Hastings, describes the occasion:

THANKFULL: At 6:00 A.M., I was called to come and take photographs of the moon as it was setting over the ocean. When I reached the house, Beloved Adi Da was already Working on His manuscripts. Ruchiradama Nadikanta and I both took some photographs of the moon. I had also brought a professional-quality camera, borrowed from a devotee who was staying nearby, which we set up on a tripod in case Beloved Adi Da decided to come out onto the porch of His room and take photographs Himself.

At about 7:15 A.M., a devotee pointed out to Beloved Adi Da that the moon was just settling into the horizon. Beloved Adi Da got up from His desk, walked out onto the porch and immediately began taking photographs of the moon and the ocean. It was about 45°F outside, and He was wearing only His briefs. But He did not appear to notice the cold, He was so concentrated in the photography. It was about ten minutes before He could be convinced to put on a fleece pullover.

After this, discussions about photography and photographic equipment became a major part of Avatar Adi Da's life. Almost daily, Thankfull brought Him brochures on cameras, lenses, tripods, and every kind of photographic accessory representing the current state of the art. Avatar Adi Da's technical "consideration" was exhaustive, and went on for most of a year, during which He took relatively few photographs. He was studying and experimenting to discover exactly what kind of approach to photography would serve His Purpose and what would be the best equipment for the task.

As Avatar Adi Da explained, what He intended to convey through His Art was His Revelation about Light: "All That Is Is Light." Real God, the Source-Condition, Is Conscious Light—and everything that exists is this same Light, appearing in modified form. How could He use the photographic process to make this Revelation? This was the challenge He had set Himself—to make patterns in light that would break the viewer's stride, moving people beyond the ego's view of existence, beyond the observer/object mode, into the vision of Oneness. He wanted to show people the Beauty and Fullness that radiate in and through this mortal world, and do so with a revelatory power that would affect their lives.

It was not until November 1999 that Avatar Adi Da began to show His photographs to more than a few devotees. And when He did so, they exclaimed in joy at the stunning beauty, originality, and power of His photographs. He had translated His Written Revelation into visible Light! Avatar Adi Da acknowledged that His artistic Work was becoming a form of communication that conveyed His essential message about Reality in visual terms—just as His twenty-three "Source-Texts" do so through the medium of words.

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