Officials of the Marin. based sect of guru Da Free John conceded yesterday that, "sexual experimentation" as a spiritual practice was not abandoned in 1976 as they previousIy claimed.
"There have been incidents up to the fairly recent past," said Crane Kirkbride, speaking for the Johannine Daist Communion. "And we feel it is our right to experiment into the future. There have been no violations of the law, and nobody has been forced."
Kirkbride's disclosure came a day after church officials brought the same message to 300 sect members at a meeting in San Rafael. The discussion was followed by devotional chanting and ritual offerings of flowers to pictures of their guru, Queensborn Franklin Jones.
Some of the shocked members at the meeting had been unaware of sexual activities within the group's inner circle, sources said. Until yesterday, officials had maintained that all sexual experimentation ended in 1976 within the small religious group, whose guru now lives on a Fijian island.
Disgruntled former members said last week that members were ordered to undergo humiliating sexual activities in front of the guru and his high placed followers.
Kirkbride said yesterday that some members had not been told about the activities because they were not advanced enough spiritually.
Outsiders, Kirkbride said, were misunderstanding the group's relationship to their guru. "The whole subject of surrender is being misrepresented," he said. It's a mutual love relationship. Da Free John has criticized cultic belief for 10 years."
The homegrown group, which is not part of any major spiritual tradition says its religious practices draw on the "Crazy Wisdom" traditions of some forms of Tibetan Buddhism and on devotional spiritual practices within Hinduism.
Officials of the Free John group said they participate in "spiritual theater," a kind of psychodrama in which people are encouraged to release sexual and emotional problems as they travel the path to union with God.
Officials of the group conceded that "spiritual theater" may consist of members having sex in front of others at the guru's instruction.
One loyal follower, Louis Jandrel, a 42 year old consulting engineer who lives in Marin County and works in Silicon Valley, said that Da Free John's actions might at first seem "bizarre," but they were helpful.
"People have been shocked out of their everyday complacency and were completely grateful that some one had the courage to wake them up in such a bizarre way," he said.
Jandrell's interpretation was disputed by a 29 year old former member who said that in 1976 she was traumatized by "spiritual theater" at the group's hot springs, the old Sieglers Springs near Middletown in Lake County.
As a child, the woman had been I sexually abused by a neighbor. To help her through her sexual fears he said, Da Free John told her to have oral sex with three group members, and then the guru had sex with her himself.
"I was hysterical," she said. "After it was over, I went out into the parking lot and found an open car, and had a good cry and went to sleep. I was traumatized. It's years later that I came to terms with it."