“We need another and wiser concept of animals. In a world older than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not our brethren, they are not underlings. They are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth.” – Henry Beston
I was born into a highland valley on the island of Papua New Guinea. It was 1963. I grew up on a coffee plantation. We lived on the tribal lands of the Jiga people. Around the valley and over the hills lived more tribes: the Moge, Yamaga, Kukukuku and others. As a kid I would wander far and wide. My father was well liked, which meant I was safe to go anywhere – except the traditional burial grounds. Sometimes I’d climb the 9,000 foot ridges around the green valley. From there I could glimpse the 15–16,000 foot equatorial snow-caps and look down on the raging highland rivers and great valley plains.
The Waghi Valley, where we lived, was rich – jungled valleys and mountain sides teeming with native birds, mammals, reptiles and insects. My father was a naturalist and under his guidance I developed a love and understanding for animals and trees. I had a happy family life and everything a kid like me could want. Then came the crushing blow of conditional reality we all face. My older brother died. And a family that was close and always facing each other now turned out in pain. We’ve always loved each other, but after my brother died, things were never the same for me. I felt the loss – mostly unspoken, seldom discussed – as a silent, creeping distance between us. My father was broken. Everything I trusted was falling apart. Previously outgoing, I gradually withdrew, becoming introspective, and spending much of my time caring for my animal friends. Then, one day, my beloved cockatoo died. After this, I had little to do with animals, beyond family dogs and cats, for a long time.
In 1975, we moved to Australia, where I went to boarding school. The contrast was huge. Jungles to concrete. Year by year, I became increasingly solitary, slowly but steadily withdrawing further from what I found to be the banal world around me. Toward the end of high school I became a serious rock-climber. Nothing else seemed worthwhile, and rock-climbing was something I was good at. I climbed seriously all around Australia for about five years, living in tents and caves, out of cars or just under the sky. I was part of a small sub-culture of oddballs and extremists, closely connected through our common interest and shared proximity to danger.
At 18, just as I was seriously pushing into the climbing, I impulsively bought a book, “The Eating Gorilla Comes In Peace”. Literally minutes into this book, I sat bolt upright in stunned silence.
To the empty room I whispered, “I wrote this! Damn… I wrote this book!”
But how could that be?
It felt that my very heart, life and truth had fallen heavy into my hands, like an egg from an invisible bird. It wasn’t the words, or the language. The book actually~breathed~to me. It was as if my deepest heart-self spilled from my eyes onto the pages and shone back to me: Free!
I had to find out about the author, this “Bubba Free John” (now Adi Da). He clearly knew all about me, though we’d never met. I read every spot of ink on every single page of “The Eating Gorilla”. Then I went out and bought every book and magazine of his that I could get hold of, and did the same with them. I filled out an application to become a formal student of Adi Da, but it never made it to the mailbox. Instead, I threw myself headlong into rock-climbing.
Bubba Free John was clearly completely free; way too free, I felt, for me at the time. And so I ran up cliff after cliff after cliff, year after year. Finally, I couldn’t climb anymore. It was done. I was exhausted. Life seemed over. I was 22. As darkness and near insanity crowded my young life I determined, “If life can get this bad I have to go to Da Free John!” I punched my fists into the water, climbed out of the lake I’d failed to drown myself in, and took a bus to Melbourne, late in January 1986.
Over the next seven years, I went on lengthy retreats to Naitauba Island in Fiji. Then in 1993 I received a phone call. I was invited to move to the Mountain Of Attention Sanctuary in California to manage the Fear-No-More Zoo, a small animal sanctuary that had been set up there.
I didn’t want to go.
To become responsible for animals’ lives again? Their deaths? Hell no!!
After I hung up the phone, I fell suddenly ill. I lay in bed for two weeks, during which time the Sanctuary in California kept calling, asking me to come. Eventually, I agreed to come for a six month trial.
Arriving at the zoo didn’t exactly allay my fears. The cages and sheds were old and decrepit, and everything seemed half-finished. Winter was coming, and here I was, stuck in this new country, surrounded by loud Americans and animals needing to be fed! The last time I worked with animals I was just a kid. There was no one to show me the daily routine of the zoo – who eats what, how much, when. I didn’t know where the food was purchased, or where the money came from.
There were more fundamental questions, too. Why was this little zoo even here? What did Adi Da want of it? What was the vision for it? No one seemed to know. I started wondering why I was needed. Did I come all the way from Australia just to feed some animals? What else was I here for? I began thinking about going home. The Sanctuary was great, but I didn’t want this service. And I knew that, before long, some of the animals were going to die on me…
The heart of life had brought me back to the very place where, as a boy, I’d pulled away from everything.
As I struggled with all of this, right before me was Jingle Baba, the great Bactrian camel, always overlooking his fence, gazing at me, massively aware, and wanting someone to rely on. The zoo had always been served by people who came and went, and I was no different. I wanted to leave.
Nine months earlier, Jingle Baba’s huge face had appeared to me in a vision while I was meditating, his enormous face pressing into mine. Now here he was in person, his dark eyes asking, “Will you stay? Or will you leave like all the others? What are you going to do? I need to know.” This bothered me.
Out beyond my turmoil rested the deep stillness of the Sanctuary, the resonant contemplative silence of the zoo, and the quiet oak forest, shedding autumn leaves across the earth. And the woodpeckers! Their loud “pock! pock! pock!” of beak on wood, which I found calming and reassuring.
A few weeks after arriving at the sanctuary Adi Da sent me a message. And in it he said, “I want Stuart to know that no animals should die, except from old age. And if any do, he has to write to me in detail and explain how it happened and give a firm guarantee that it won’t ever happen again.”
Now I seriously wanted out!
Adi Da, perfectly aware, sent another message. Pounding on me for a whole page, he said I should be fired and replaced immediately if I wasn’t prepared to commit myself. If I wasn’t fully committed he had no interest in me being here.
Reading the letter, all I could think of was getting the hell out of here. Face death? Be responsible for death? Care for what will only eventually die? I should never have come. I was really in flight now. To where I didn’t know, but I had to go.
At the end of his message, Adi Da’s tone softened. He said that my staying on here with the animals “for a good long while” would mean a lot to him. He also said this would be a good “Danavira Mela” (or Christmas) gift that I could give to him if I wished to.
I dropped my head and sighed. “Damn. I’m screwed. How can I leave now? How can I refuse this intimate of an invitation?”
So I stayed, and an ever-enriching life of unpredictable “sadhana” (practice) began, pressing deeper and deeper into everything that limits my free participation in divine awareness. The demand and ordeal of spiritual practice is something that never stops. I’ve come to realize that with every good kick comes a kiss, every pounding is a blessing, and every terror of mine sits meekly beside Adi Da’s “Vision of Fear-No-More”.
Yes, animals did die. And each time I was summarily dealt with. At one point I was told I couldn’t write to him ever again. He called me the “Animal Killer”. He pulled apart my character traits like the entrails of a carcass, and left them in the sun to dry. Gradually, agonizingly, through those months and early years, he pressed me deep into that tunnel of emotion where, as a young boy, I’d firmly and intentionally buried myself. He drew me there and healed me of a wounded heart and an abstracted life – and continues to. Terrible death still breaks my stride, but also confounds my mind and draws and awakens the heart.
One day Adi Da sent me another message: “If Stuart doesn’t stop bumping off my animals I’m going to re-name Fear-No-More Zoo ‘Live-In-Terror Zoo’.” As I listened to the words being read to me, I felt the hot pressure of a fist being thrust into my guts. But it was humorous, and playful somehow. It felt like a significant ordeal of purification had passed. In his skillful, tricksterish way, Adi Da embraced me with a joke and a punch. I was also able to write to him again. I could only hope I was ready for his next instructions!
The next instructions came in the form of a series of profound talks and essays he gave about the spiritual nature of the non-humans. Around this time, Adi Da began guiding me directly in how he wanted Fear-No-More Zoo to develop. Gradually, it became clear that his Vision of Fear-No-More was not limited to any specific location. Fundamentally, it is a way of describing the non-humans’ spiritual disposition, and a way of giving humans a means to appreciate and connect with the naturally contemplative quality of animals, trees and everything non-human. Adi Da’s invitation to humans to embrace the disposition of Fear-No-More is universal.
My love and commitment to Adi Da and the animals deepens year by year. My study and consideration of his teaching and leelas of instruction about the animals, trees and natural world continuously absorbs me. I have no other life drawing me elsewhere. These animals are my life with Adi Da. Each and all have served me in ways that I could talk about for years. I still don’t really want to do this service (I’d rather be lazy), but there’s no choice anymore. There never really was. I love it.
I’m by no means perfect at this. I’ve made mistakes. It’s just what it is. Adi Da clearly wants me in it, and I need to be here. It’s a gift I can now receive, and give myself to. I sometimes try to imagine an ideal life with my own private existence atop a hill somewhere, but without this service to Fear-No-More I think I’d be lost. The world of possibilities is not very interesting to me. The possibilities are endless, and possibility itself is only a torment. As each day passes and there is less of me, I’m more grateful.
To be honest my service at Fear-No-More has always felt impossible. The camels and zoo are on Sanctuary land, but they aren’t funded by the Sanctuary. I do the fundraising to feed the animals and keep things going, and there’s never been enough money to do what I’d like to do. Adidam is still a small collection of people so the basic support base is modest. A few years ago I had to go through the crushing ordeal of reducing the size of the zoo, and finding new homes for some of the animals. After building it up over many years, I now had to take it down. During that time I cried like a baby on a few occasions, including when the emus left. The older matriarch was a special bird. She taught me a lot. I miss her every day. I miss them all. I wish I’d never had to let any of them go. But there simply was not the money or manpower to run both the original zoo and the newly developing Sacred Camel Herd. Trying to maintain both would have meant neither would survive. I had Instructions from Adi Da to maximize my energies in serving the camels.
Adi Da made it clear that he didn’t want Fear-No-More Zoo and the Sacred Camel Gardens to come under the direct responsibility of any of the institutional structures of Adidam. He didn’t want decisions about the animals’ welfare in the hands of institutional managers, or any ‘religion business’ bureaucracy; he wants the animals taken care of only by those who know and love them, and will put them first. Left to managers, things like gardens and animals (and children) are often the first ‘items’ eliminated from programs and budgets. Well before Adi Da’s “Mahasamadhi” (bodily passing of a Master), he started placing the responsibility for all of this in my hands, and said it was up to me to keep it going.
So why do this service? Why stick with it? I’ve had numerous people come along over the years who suggested I should go do something more important, more significant, to not stay in this “animal thing” too long. The fact is, I can’t easily get away from here. When I do I can’t go for long. In the twenty two years I’ve served at Fear-No-More I’ve had only a few months away, to go on retreat or visit family. I have no savings. No health insurance. No retirement fund. No life of my own. Just this humble day-to-day life I’ve been given – this raw, demanding heart’s gift.
Before I came here, you couldn’t keep me doing one thing, or keep me in one place, for more than ten or twelve months. Adi Da brought me here and ‘chained’ my leg to Jingle Baba’s and I couldn’t leave. Staying in place meant I had to face many things I’d been avoiding. He required me to grow. What really grew, and still grows, is the grace-given impulse to freely participate, more and more, in the infinite feeling of being.
Adi Da Samraj has given me the intuition that his Vision of Fear-No-More is something I must maintain in some form, ragged or otherwise, to support his blessing for the protection of the natural world, and to enable a shift in the awareness of humans toward non-humans. I promised Adi Da, and them, that I’m not going anywhere. This is it for me. The gift is knowing you’re already dead; then you can live, and do what you need to.
In contemporary civilization we’ve forgotten one of the most important things about the natural world – its quality of profound spiritual contemplation. The natural world freely participates in divine communion, divine awareness. On the other hand, the unbridled human ego diminishes the natural world’s contemplativeness, and rampantly destroys and pollutes natural environments and systems.
The longest lived human cultures of the earth were closely integrated with the non-human cultures. All the short-lived human cultures were not. Adi Da wanted to see the integration of human and non-human cultures, essentially into one diverse sacred culture – of humans, animals, trees, rivers, soil, wind, mountains, rain, and so on.
He once said, “How do you relate to the grass as a person? How do you think the trees feel about you not regarding them as persons?” The world is presently in disarray.
Non-humans and world environments are more threatened by human activity today than at any time in history.
In the years before his Mahasamadhi, Adi Da created a Sacred Camel Herd for us to carry forward. Camels are survivors of harsh conditions and difficult times. They are patient and good company. And they are profoundly contemplative. One of their desert names, “Gamal”, means “to give back”.
I’ve been mostly with the camels in recent years, caring for them, training them, being trained by them, supporting their natural herd processes, deepening my role within the herd, finding new homes for young ones, doing “pujas” (ceremonies), and fundraising in order to feed, house and protect them. There are also the horses, the llamas and other animals, and we have some wonderful people helping with them.
Training at liberty, with no equipment, in the “heart-herd-bond”, is an amazing lesson in feeling. Everything I feel and think is felt by the camel. When I’m connected it becomes a dance in feeling. Feeling each other, moving together as one – and in the midst of this I’m drawn into the natural contemplative awareness enjoyed by the camel. I hope that many people will come to feel this. Time spent well with them is a kind of nourishment. It brings my feeling-intelligence into life in a way that now is essential.
In May of 2012 we sacredly gifted two camels, Sage and Phoenix, to a wonderful school for kids in New York. We drove across the entire continent, through places where wild camels anciently roamed, to somewhere near Adi Da’s birth-place. Along the way, we over-nighted in towns where the camels were seen and introduced to people across the country. The camels traveled in a well signed camel trailer, honorably and beautifully representing Adi Da Samraj and his love for non-humans.
This was the beginning of something new. The sacred gifting of two non-humans from Adi Da’s Sacred Camel Herd to another group of human beings who are capable of appreciating and receiving this kind of gift. No buying and selling of living beings.
I live an unusual life, even within my own community.Some years ago Adi Da Samraj said I should be living out with the camels full-time – 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I haven’t done this yet. I tried a few times – living out of a tent, an old trailer, the back of a car. Without decent shelter, it’s hard to sustain, especially in winter. He wanted me to do this for security reasons and also to become more integrated with the herd culture. Among many other things he also said I should remove every protruding rock and stone from the camels’ 40 acre pasture! – for their safety. I’m still working on this.
I first moved into the zoo years ago, living in a shed in the emu enclosure so I could more fully combine with this service and with the animals. Since then my life has pretty much been turned in this direction. In some sense, despite myself, my life has become a kind of vigil for the non-humans, in service to Adi Da’s blessing of them.
I love my guru. He is no “other”. He is me, free!
He is the fundamental and only reason I’m here doing this; why I’m here at all. The great lesson I’ve learned is this: Non-human beings are equal to, and as worthy of love and care as any human. This understanding alone has the power to remake the world in a new light.
We must begin to look, and do things, differently.
Adi Da’s admonition, “Everything must change!”, calls for a transformation of culture in every area of life; human and non-human, city and country, heart and mind. May we all become involved in this change.
“The world is transformed by one’s presumption about it. Those who live in a magical disposition toward the world change their world in one characteristic way: They do not seem to do very much with it as a natural phenomenon. They are very protective of it as a natural phenomenon and want to interfere with it as little as possible, because it is only by letting the world be what it is as a natural process, without interference, that it has the opportunity to produce magical signs and therefore to permit them to engage in magical relations with it.” – Adi Da Samraj
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