Adi Da Samraj

Martha Bradley-Evans

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ADI DA SAMRAJ TIMELINE

1939 (November 3):  Franklin Jones, later known as Adi Da Samraj, was born in Long Island, New York.

1957:  Jones attended Columbia University.

1950s:  Jones did graduate work at Stanford University.

1969:  Jones received a letter formally authorizing him, as “Divine Avatar,” to begin functioning as a Spiritual Master from Swami Muktananda.

1970 (September 10): Jones became aware of the Light of Consciousness Itself in the Ramakrishna Temple, Los Angeles.

1972 (April):  Jones opened his first ashram and bookstore in Los Angeles.

1974:  Jones inaugurated The Mountain of Attention Sanctuary, Northern California.

1980s (Early):  As “Da Love-Ananda,” Jones was in Mahai, Hawaii.

1983-1999:  Adi Da Samrajashram, Fiji, became Adidam’s principal site; Jones became known as Avatar Adi Da Samraj.

1986 (January 11):  Adi Da experienced Divine Avataric Self-Emergence.

2000 (April 12):  Adi Da experienced the Ruchira Dham Event at Lopez, Island in Washington State.

2007:  “Transcendental Realism,” Adidam’s Exhibition opened in the Venice Biennale and later in Florence.

2008 (November 27):  Adi Da died in Naitaba, Fiji.

2011:  The “Orpheus and Linead” exhibition opened at Sundaram Tagore Gallery in Beverly Hills, California.

BIOGRAPHY

Since the 1970s, the followers of Avatar Adi Da Samraj have assembled in sacred community spaces in Fiji, Hawaii, and Northern California for “systematic, open esoteric school and global community of spiritual practice” (Adidam website 2017). Adidam is centered on the person and evolving teachings of Franklin Jones, later known as Avatar Adi Da Samraj [Image at right]. The name of the group has varied over time, from The Dawn Horse Communion, to The Free Primitive Church of Divine Communion, The Johannine Daist Communion, The Free Daisy Communion, The Free Daist Avataric Communion, etc. After late 2005, the name of the group has been Adidam, after Adi Da, the term Franklin Jones used to refer to himself, and the name that will be used for the purposes of this profile (Gallagher and Ashcraft 2006, IV:86).

As Adidam’s spiritual leader, Adi Da taught, motivated, inspired, and challenged his followers with a range of tools (extensive writings, lectures, meditation ceremonies, “empowered spaces,” and image-art). Avatar Adi Da Samraj used existing buildings and natural landscapes to create sacred spaces, and he designed and built new sacred architecture embodying spiritual concepts that reflected particular ritualistic purposes. The process of making and interpreting these spaces as sacred occurred through religious devotion, communion with him, and a range of spiritual disciplines, such as the practice of meditation and puja, the creation of sacred art or architecture, and the embodied expression of devotion through “spiritual culture.” These practices, which supported the devotional way of Adidam, included diet, exercise, or physical work. The activities of Adidam transpire in the context of sacred sites “empowered” as “Agents of His Spiritual Transmission” (See My Brightness Face to Face: A Celebration of The Ruchira Buddha, Avatar Adi Da Samraj 1997:196).

Since the beginning, Adidam and the practices of its followers, its sacred architecture and art have “directly reflected the spiritual and psychological state of its founder, leader, guru, and central focus: Franklin Jones” (Gallagher and Ashcraft 2006, IV:85). It is person-centric and mirrors the mind and creative energy of its originator (Adi Da) in every way. In his telling of his life story, Adi Da described himself as having been born as the “bright,” in 1939, and emphasized his centrality as the source of light and knowledge and the conduit of essential insight about the meaning of life. “The first fundamental is the essential practice of Ruchira Avatara Bhakti Yoga (the practice of devotion to Avatar Adi Da Samraj) that is the foundation of the entire process of Adidam” (The Ruchira Sannyasin Order of Adidam Ruchiradam 2003:30). As a teacher, he focused on the relationships he built with his followers. “You could characterize it as the heroic way of Teaching, the way of identifying with devotees and entering into “consideration” in that context and bringing them out of the enemy territory, gradually waking them up” (Adi Da Samraj, quoted in Costabile 2009:27).

Adi Da sensed, even as a child, that he was unusual, certainly different from the other children around him. As an adolescent, he was fascinated by religion and religious practice, studying ancient traditions and texts, and the lives of spiritual guides. After he had a profound religious experience in 1970, “what he believed to be a permanent state of enlightenment” (Gallagher and Ashcraft 2006, IV:85), he moved to Los Angeles, California. He launched a bookstore, the Dawn Horse Bookstore, and began holding meetings at his first ashram, “Shree Hridayam Siddhashram.” There, he shared his religious ideas, held satsang or meditation and lecture sessions. The books he sold were a combination of ones he considered to be core spiritual texts as well as self-published volumes he began to regularly produce about his own work. The group who came to hear him speak and who was influenced by his teachings continued to grow, and counted more than 1,000 followers by the time it moved to Northern California in 1974 (Gallagher and Ashcraft 2006, IV:86). Gallagher and Ashcraft estimate that Adidam never had more than some 2,000 followers in a given time period but that between 1974 and 2006, more than 40,000 individuals had associated themselves with the group (Gallagher and Ashcraft 2006, IV:86).

Adi Da wove a narrative about the world and human potential that was filled with humor, insight, and, importantly, motivated individuals to live their lives in expansive ways. His followers felt he had “an ability to produce profound alterations in the states of consciousness of susceptible individuals through a mysterious process of energy transmission, or shaktipat” (Gallagher and Ashcraft 2006, IV:85). Self-aware and conscious of his impact on others, and of the value of keeping a record of his oral and written documentation, he began recording his lectures and creating a body of spoken and written work, a practice he would continue until his death (Gallagher and Ashcraft 2006, IV:90). Between the time when he first began teaching and lecturing in the early 1970s and 2000, he wrote more than sixty books.

As a writer and thinker, he was extraordinarily prolific: writing, speaking, engaging his devotees in dialogue on a wide range of topics and experiences. He “introduced devotional and sacred practices into the culture of Adidam, worked to establish an esoteric order of mature practitioners, empowered holy sites and sanctuaries, developed the principles for rearing, educating, and serving children within the culture of Adidam, established Adidam’s organizational entities, and more” (Costabile 2009:51). The sacred spaces of the retreat centers established during this time were key to the perpetuation of his message and the rituals surrounding his ideas. He “permanently ‘empowered’ his community’s sacred sites, so that his spiritual blessing will be available forever to present and future devotees” (Gallagher and Ashcraft 2006, IV:96-97).

To those moved by his teachings, Adi Da was “a supremely enlightened spiritual superman, the only living incarnation of God for this and all other worlds and the only savior for a suffering humanity.” He was not without his critics. Where devotees saw the originality of his thought and its synthesis of ancient traditions, some outsiders saw his ideas as derivative and a recycling of themes that originated elsewhere (Gallagher and Ashcraft 2006, IV:86). Jones would change his name several times during his time as a teacher, but in 1991 he began calling himself Avatar Adi Da Samraj.

Like other spiritual guides or teachers, during his time in California Adi Da invited “people to the time-honored relationship of love and mutual sacrifice that exists between a Spiritually awakened Master and his or her disciple, or devotee” (Lee 2007:51). His teachings were deeply rooted in centuries of religious practice from across the world, and his enormously fertile and versatile mind constructed a narrative that explained the meaning of life, defined the practices that would bring one to a more enlightened state, and illuminated the impact of the power of being in the presence of a spiritual being. Rather than dogma, “to those who are moved to respond to Him, He Offers an extraordinarily deep and transformative devotional and Transcendental Spiritual relationship” (His Divine Presence: In Celebration of The Divine Avataric World Teacher Ruchira Avatar Adi Da Samraj 2008:iii).

Although every encounter or meeting varied somewhat, a distinctive pattern of activity began to emerge. According to one follower:

Before His formal talks, Adi Da would typically sit in silence for some period of time, without offering any explanation or instruction. He was merely present, allowing the ‘Bright’ to Radiate freely. Those who sat with Him—students, street people, business people, Spiritual seekers, and so on—felt an unnamable attraction to Him. There was a force and radiance in His company that seemed to rearrange the very cells of the body. People came back again and again just to be in the same room with Him. And he began to explain that this was the relationship of which he spoke—an ecstatic participation in His State (and thus, in the ‘Bright’ Itself) with all the faculties of the being? (Lee 2007: 52).

As he sat with his devotees, he built a narrative for them that designed a particular way of being in the world that included a “series of disciplines relative to diet, exercise, sexuality, and the use of money, as well as disciplines related to meditation, study, service, and participation in the educational life of the ashram,” what he called spiritual culture, that would serve “the process of spiritual realization” (Costabile 2009:33). Adi Da’s method of engaging his students revealed to them “the limitless Power of His Spiritual Transmission, infusing the very air with overwhelming Blissful Force” (Lee 2007:55). Over the next twenty years, his devotees joined him in an exploration of human life and spiritual awareness. “It was a highly interactive process with devotees, an intensive examination of the realities of their lives – their interests, moods, and experiences” (Costabile 2009:39).

Adi Da was himself going through an intense period of exploration and growth in the 1970s. Upon one occasion, Adi Da was meditating at the Vedanta Society Temple, in Hollywood, California when he entered “an intense spiritual union” with the Divine Shakti. Adi Da taught that the enlightenment he received through such experiences was a human being’s main purpose for life. The rituals he developed and asked his devotees to practice were intended to inspire an altered sense of consciousness to open them up to this intensity. For one, Adi Da introduced his devotees to the practice of sacramental worship “as a means to enter into Communion with Him whether He was physically present or not. He taught that the secret behind sacramental worship was: if we actively ‘bring our body-minds to Him’ wherever we are, His Revelation will be granted” (Stillwell 2013:2). The devotees gathered together at retreat centers or empowered sites: in 1972 at the Mountain of Attention Sanctuary; in 1983 at Naitauba, Fiji, where Adi Da died in 2008; and in other less formally organized sites around the world.

Throughout his life as a spiritual leader, Adi Da constantly produced art. When Adi Da developed a rationale for his art, he built a system of definitions and assumptions that sought to create the essence of how he hoped humans would engage with his work, not unlike what he had tried to do with religious ritual, sacred spaces and a sacred culture embedded in empowered spaces.

“The ability to make image-art that is Transcendentally Real,” he said, “that is about egoless coincidence with Reality Itself, is what I have been working on for many years (…) The viewer will always tend to exercise a ‘point of view’—but the viewer of the image-art I make and do will be confounded (and, hopefully, served to the degree of true aesthetic ecstasy) the ‘point-of-view’ less characteristic of the image-art. Such is the intention I have in making image-art—to draw the viewer into egoless (or ‘point-of-view’ less) participation in Reality Itself (Adi Da Samraj 2008b).

Much of Adi Da’s religious exploration was about the tension between perception and reality, and how individuals can expand their capacities to experience and understand more.

My images are about how Reality is – and they are also about how reality appears, in the context of natural perception, as a construction made of primary shaping=forces. My image-art is, therefore, not merely ‘subjectively’ or, otherwise, ‘objectively’ based. Rather, the images I make and do always tacitly and utterly coincide with Reality As It Is. Therefore, I have called the process of the image-art I make and do Transcendental Realism (Adi Da Samraj 2008b).

Adi Da spent more than four decades producing art which expanded on his verbal and written teachings as another way to broaden the minds of his followers, to “create images which would enable the fully participatory viewer to experience a taste of the inherently blissful state of nondual awareness that he asserts is our native condition once we transcend the presumption and experience of being a separate ‘subjective’ self perceiving a separate ‘objective’ reality.” The aim was to experience what he called “aesthetic ecstasy,” “always prior to space-time and every separate and separative ‘point of view’” (Coates 2009:2).

Adi Da’s monumental paintings were self-described as “aperspectival, anegoic and aniconic,” and his photography “established an approach to image-making which transcended the inherent limitations (or fixed characteristics of the camera as a ‘point of view’-machine’)” (Adi Da Samraj, as quoted in Coates 2009:2).

Adi Da’s work was first exhibited internationally at the fifty-second Biennale di Venezia in  2007, curated by art critic, Achille Bonito Oliva (see Venice Biennale Exhibition Catalogue 2007). Four of the pieces were displayed a second time in 2008 at the exhibit “Transcendental Realism: The Art of Adi Da Samraj” in the Cenacolo di Ognissanti in Florence, Italy, juxtaposed with Ghirlandaio’s fresco, ThexLast Supper. [Image at right] According to architectural professor, Gary Coates, “Adi Da’s aperspectival images must be seen and experienced as a literal inversion…and a radical response to the limitations implicit in perspectival vision that have dominated the last six hundred years of Western art, architecture, science and religion” (Coates 2009:6). “Adi Da proposes an art that is wholly sacred and yet beyond the confines of any specific religious iconography” (Adi Da Samraj 2007a:9).

In the same way that his art challenged traditions in art history, he asked his followers to engage in meditation or contemplation to transcend their ordinary state of being. His art, he would say, “is the intrinsically ego-transcending—and, thus and thereby, perspective-transcending, or intrinsically aperspectival—image-art that participates in (or egolessly coincides with) Reality Itself” (Adi Da Samraj 2008a:16).

Much of his work could be described as geometric abstraction and certainly, geometry became his principal tool for disrupting perspective and the representational nature of much of Western art and say it is an “abstract formal language [that] speaks wordlessly and universally to the underlying order of both self and world” (Adi Da Samraj 2007b:56). In a similar way, he used bold, primary colors that created primal, emotional reactions. He said, “A pure color is a vibration…a piece of the spectrum of visible light…. Color is not arbitrary. It must be exactly right for each image in particular. Color has emotional force. Colors in relation to one another generate, by that relatedness, different modes, or tones, of emotional force” (Adi Da Samraj, quoted in Israel 2007:96). Art Historian Mei-Ling Israel suggests his art is “constructed out of a full spectrum of pure and vibrant colors, which, like the crisp, precisely delineated geometries characteristic of the piece, [Alberti’s Window I] are made possible by the use of digital technology and advanced methods of image fabrication” (Israel 2007:96).

Geometry, the bold use of color and line created, according to Adi Da, “a complex, paradoxical play between abstract form and fundamental meaning intended to create a vehicle for an ego-forgetting and ego- transcending aesthetic experience” (Adi Da Samraj 2007b:55).

This toolkit [Image at right] is described in the introduction to Adi Da’s Aesthetic Ecstasy, his most concise treatise on image-art. “The three geometric figures—square, circle, and triangle—represent the structural basis of his art. The three primary colors (red, yellow, and blue)—together with the fundamental binary pair of black and white—represent the ‘color set’ from which all colors in his art are generated,” “two forms of content….familiar forms… abstract forms” (Adi Da Samraj 2007a:7).

Adi Da’s piece, Alberti’s Window I, illustrates his range of design tools and his palette including pure, vibrant primary colors, black and white contrasts which show us the geometry of the piece [Image at right]. Although much of Adi Da’s theology is informed by ancient traditions, here he uses modern technologies (digital and image fabrication) for new purposes (Adi Da Samraj, quoted in Israel 2007:95). Contrasting the perspectival point of view and representational nature of Ghirlandaio’s The Last Supper in the Florence church, “it does express at an archetypal level the all-pervading presence of the primal elements and shaping forces which are always at play in the constantly changing, self-regulating and dynamically balanced natural world. (Coates 2009:14). Adi Da speaks to his motivation in creating a non-objectified, anti-perspectival art that is “made and done to perceptually embody—and, thus, by means of the ‘aesthetic experience’, to communicate—the inherently egoless, non-separate, and indivisible Self-Nature, Self-Condition, Self-State, and Perfectly Subjective ‘Space’ That Is Reality Itself” (Adi Da Samraj 2007a:39).

His canvases have complex ordering devices that create a series of primary and secondary fields, animated by color, patterns that radiate or create triangular forms, vertical lines or directional graduations of red, yellow and blue all unifying the whole. “One comes to the conclusion that in Alberti’s Window I there is order without system, in a work of art that is a living field of dynamically balanced polarities. Symmetry and asymmetry, cool colors and warm colors, horizontal lines and vertical lines, rising forces and falling forces, circular forms and angular forms, advancing colors and retreating colors, pure geometries and indefinable shapes are woven together to create an image that is never at rest, yet always seems to be calm and centered…and that a mysterious sense of creative order and a prior, underlying unity are all-prevading.” (Coates 2009:18).

Upon the occasion of his exhibition in Florence, Adi Da described his motivation and intent in producing art, photography and other means to stimulate visual processes that would help his devotees to expand their minds and capacities for feeling and thinking.

“I am making art that is intended to be of greatest significance and transformative power – art that invites profound participation, rather than the mode of casual and dissociated viewing that allows and supports (and even requires, and, ultimately, even institutionalizes) mere ‘objectification’ and dissociative (or strategically non-participatory) detachment. I want to transform peoples’ participation in art – and also their participation in Reality (Itself, and altogether) – and help them to a new way of life, out of the ‘dark’ period in which humankind is presently immersed” (Adi Da Samray 2007b:70).

As a true creative genius, Adi Da believed in the transformative power of art. “True art heals. True art restores equanimity. Art must regenerate the sense of well-being. That is its true purpose” (Da Plastique 2017). Works like Alberti’s Window I are portraying reality beyond point of view, or without point of view, and create paradoxical perception, as the viewer is processing the abstraction in the piece. He describes this process:

When your brain breaks up an image into bits, depth level of psycho physical perception; transcending an explanation of what the image is really about, this is what it is, a self-portrait of reality itself…. I couldn’t say this, words can describe it but not equal it. It is beyond the mind, beyond speech mode, beyond the conventions of knowledge and thinking. It is a dimension of revelation, communication, that can render by artistic means (Da Plastique 2017).

Adi Da portrays his art as “a process in which the viewer must actively participate” and that seeks to understand the “human need for beauty” (Adi Da Samraj 2007a:9), as well as finding “meaning space” rather than an objectified “thing” (Adi Da Damraj 2007a:13).

According to Peter Weibel, Director of the ZKM Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe, Germany, “[Adi Da’s] pursuit of the spiritual paths found in early abstraction, from Kandinsky to Mondrian, and [his] translation of that pursuit into the digital age, restore a transcendental spirituality to the materialism of the machine aesthetic” (Da Plastique 2017). According to Adi Da himself,

people should, as an always first principle, freely (perceptually and totally) participate in the viewing of image-art without any association with mere ideas (or disembodied talk), comparisons, ‘objectifications’, reductionism, and academic analysis – or, in other words, entirely without the medium of something-in-between. In the primal moment of free participatory perception, there is no intrinsic mediator – neither the mediator as ‘other’ nor the mediator as ‘self’ (Adi Da Samraj 2007a:17).

Image-art is the code Adi Da developed to encompass the rationale behind his work.

What is the primary use of image-art? The primary use of image-art is perceptual (and total psycho-physical) feeling-participation in the totality of the meaning-space that the image-art is. …It enables human beings to participate in human existence (and in Reality itself) in a right, true, and, potentially, profound sense” (Adi Da Samraj 2007a:20), “with the understanding that such participation is, primarily and fundamentally, what the images I make and do are about (Adi Da Samraj 2007a:21).

His was “a unique understanding of the purpose of art. That purpose could be described as the ‘radical’ (or always ‘at-the-root’) uplifting of the human disposition – out of egoic grossest course of conventional ‘realism’, and out of egoic (or space-time-‘located’, and divisibility-driven, and ‘point-of-view’-bound) ‘self’-delusion, and out of the absurdities of anti-beauty, and out of the ‘dark’-minded determination of anti-beauty, and out of the ‘dark’-minded determination to crush the ‘aesthetic experience’” (Adi Da Samraj 2007a:46).

And in another passage: “Primarily and fundamentally, image-art is simply the aesthetic experience itself – how form and color, line and structure, come together in the moment of the viewer’s meaning-making reception of the work of image-art, and how the various aesthetic elements combine with the brain and the nervous system and the whole field of human participation” (Adi Da Samraj 2007a:22).

Adi Da created monumental pieces for maximum impact and engagement [Image at right]. “My images are large by intention – for all kinds of reasons.” He said: “The monumental size calls for full physical participation, such that the viewer is drawn into a space that is beyond his or her ability to contain and limit the images by means of explanations or by means of any physical activity. My images call for ecstasy. They enable ecstasy – the ecstasy that is indigenous to the aesthetic experience” (Adi Da Samraj 2007a:27). The process of creation of his work, and engagement of viewers in work was centered on active participation. The result was not intended to be a precious object or a thing, but an experience. He says to his viewers, that his images “are simply to be felt.” “Tacitly feel them”, he asked, reassuring viewers that “you do not have to ‘figure them out’. Simply participate in the images, by means of unguarded feeling perception” (Adi Da Samraj 2007a:34).

The Avatar Adi Da emerged as a unique figure in religious history through the body of thought, practice and art he produced during his lifetime, which communicated a particular interpretation of the potential of human capacity to expand and experience life. As a highly original and creative artist, he asked his viewers to fully engage with his work, promising them that if they did, they would be changed. His work was recognized internationally and nationally during his lifetime with exhibitions, articles and videos that situated his work in relation to abstract expressionism of the modern era but also as the creative expression of religious ideas.

IMAGES

Image # 1: Photograph of Adi Da Samraj.
Image #2: The exhibit “Transcendental Realism: The Art of Adi Da Samraj” in the Cenacolo di Ognissanti in Florence, Italy, 2008.
Image #3: One of the geometric abstractions of Adi Da Samraj.
Image #4: Adi Da Samraj, Alberti Window I, detail.
Image #5: The Florence Dance Company performs Dante’s The Divine Comedy with monumental projections by Adi Da Samraj, 2010.

REFERENCES

Adidam website. 2017. Accessed from http://www.adidam.org/bay-area/adidam.html on 12 July 2017.

Adi Da Samraj. 2008a. Perfect Abstraction. Middletown, CA: The Dawn Horse Press.

Adi Da Samraj. 2008b. “Transcendental Realism.” Accessed from http://www.adidabiennale.org/exhibition/index.htm  on 12 July 2017.

Adi Da Samraj. 2007a. Aesthetic Ecstasy. Middleton, CA: Dawn Horse Press.

Adi Da Samraj. 2007b. Transcendental Realism: The Image-Art of egoless Coincidence with Reality Itself. Middletown, CA: The Dawn Horse Press.

Coates, Gary J. 2009. “The Rebirth of Sacred Art: Reflections on the Aperspectival Geometric Art of Adi Da Samraj.” A paper presented at the 2009 CESNUR Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah. June 11, 2009. Accessed from http://www.cesnur.org/2009/slc_coates.pdf on 12 July 2017.

Costabile, Michael (Anthony). 2009. “Avataric Revelation and the Restoration of Spiritual Culture: On the Life, Work, and Passing of Adi Da Samraj and the Preservation of His Spiritual Legacy.” A paper presented at the 2009 CESNUR Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah. June 11, 2009. Accessed from http://www.cesnur.org/2009/slc_costabile.pdf on 12 July 2017.

Da Plastique. 2017. “Transcendental Realism: The Art of Adi Da Samraj .“ Accessed from http://www.daplastique.com on 12 July 2017.

Gallagher, Eugene V. and W. Michael Ashcraft, eds. 2006. Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. Five Volumes.

His Divine Presence: In Celebration of The Divine Avataric World Teacher Ruchira Avatar Adi Da Samraj. 2008. Middleton, CA: The Dawn Horse Press.

Israel, Mei-Ling. 2007. The World as Light: An Introduction to the Art of Adi Da Samraj. Middleton, CA: The Dawn Horse Press.

Lee, Carolyn. 2007. The Avatar of What Is: The Divine Life and Work of Adi Da. Middleton, CA: The Dawn Horse Press.

See My Brightness Face to Face: A Celebration of The Ruchira Buddha, Avatar Adi Da Samraj, and the First 25 Years of His Divine Revelation Work. 1997. Middleton, CA: The Dawn Horse Press.

Stillwell, Leroy. 2013. “Empowered Places and Things in Adidam. ” Accessed from http://www.adidaupclose.org/Empowered_Places/index.html on 12 July 2017.

The Ruchira Sannyasin Order of Adidam Ruchiradam. 2003. Adidam The True World-Religion Given by The Promised God-Man, ADI DA SAMRAJ. Middleton, CA: The Dawn Horse Press.

Venice Biennale Exhibition Catalogue. 2007. Transcendental Realism: The Art of Adi Da Samraj. With essays by Achille Bonito Oliva and exhibition Co-Curator Peter Frank as well as an artist’s statement by Adi Da Samraj. Middletown, CA: The Dawn Horse Press.

Post Date:
13 July 2017

 

 

 

 

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