Tuesday, November 30, 2004

A Corruption of Power

In December 1998, Andrew is in Amsterdam again for his semi-annual visit. This time I go to the teachings, to check out how it strikes me now. I am surprised that I don’t feel any connections with him, that his teaching sounds like a broken record. His talk about killing the ego in order to find freedom now sounds fundamentalist to me. What was so thrilling about that? During his talk Andrew gives an example of the viciousness of the ego by talking about another student of his that left him a few days before, a rich American woman. He calls her a narcissist and speaks about how she once gave him two million dollars for his Foxhollow center, but was unwilling to give up her ego. I am shocked and upset by his derisive and aggressive tone of voice. He’s throwing a tantrum in public at a student who gave him two million dollars! I find the whole thing unbecoming, to say the least.

As a matter of fact I know the woman in question, and a few days later I manage to speak with her on the phone. She is devastated and outraged by Andrew’s public treatment of her, not only because of the humiliation, but in particular because she had believed and trusted that Andrew would keep the two million dollar donation confidential. Listening to her story, a chilling picture emerges. Andrew had actually solicited the two million dollars from her, which amounted to over 80% of her total assets. She had been deeply upset and confused about what to do because she felt she could no longer continue to be his student if she said no. She loved the community, Andrew, and the spiritual path. Two of Andrew’s students had talked to her repeatedly over several weeks. Finally she had given in and promised to donate the money. She believed it would be serving the world, since the estate of Foxhollow would allow others to have access to Andrew’s teachings. Complicating maters, the money was not immediately available from a family trust. Andrew exerted pressure on her to rush the donation as he had already proceeded with the purchase of the property. The rushed transaction resulted in a loss of a great deal of money and she seriously risked losing her family relationships. In retrospect she described his request as a corruption of power. It’s a story that makes me nauseous.
-Andre Van der Braak, Enlightenment Blues

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

More On Ken Wilber and Andrew Cohen

The pro-AC/KW crowd appears to have a few core arguments:

1) Anyone who disagrees or has misgivings is afflicted by a virus of the mind called 'green meme'. This is a good example of what cult education specialists term a 'thought stopping cliché'--a bit of mind fuck that brings discussion to a screeching halt and derails a valid argument. Green meme is code for being too weak, too coddled, too middle class to appreciate being bullied, abused and jeered at, as well as any refusal to accept someone's nasty behavior as being justified/sanctified by that person's state of enlightenment or claim to be such.

2) If someone is enlightened (or claims to be), they are suddenly exempt from normal accountability and are permitted to say and do anything they please. While the enlightened one is in a state of grace, anyone who expresses misgivings in a state of sin, guilty of anger, negativity, closed mindedness, aka Green Meme Syndrome. (Sounds like a New Age take off on the Calvinist scheme in which the predestined Elect, who are in a state of grace are distinguished from the damned Green Memes.)

3) (Speculative) There appear to be a lot of people who enjoy, even thrive on high adrenaline situations and who because of a biochemical fluke, assume that stress induced adrenaline surges are spiritual breakthroughs. Being addicted to adrenaline and sheer intensity, they may even despise gentler methods, and seek out extreme teachers because they get jazzed by being confronted in person or by watching others squirm on the hot seat.

If these adrenaline junkies select non spiritual experiences, they may become extreme athletes, fire fighters or if they join the armed forces, become test pilots, Navy Seals, Recon Marines or qualify for the Green Berets. Perhaps AC (and more vicariously) KW are adrenaline junkies and their supporters share a similar psycho-biochemical profile.

All this green meme business is just school yard bullying/name calling, as is KW's love affair with rating systems for levels of spiritual attainment.

He resembles people who get off on filling display cabinets with butterflies, neatly labeled and pinned to cork board in nice, tidy rows.

Luckily, life's much bigger than any classification scheme. Thanks for mentioning the Integral Naked site!

-from a comment received on Nov 23.

(Any reader who is a member of Integral Naked and wishes to post a link there for After Hours....we thank you.

For links to Integral Naked and other relevant sites, see list on right sidebar>>>>)

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

A Report From the Front Lines

Hey folks I just came out of a one day intensive with Cohen. I had the benefit of listening to the dialogue between Cohen and Ken posted on the Integral Naked site before the intensive. If you listen carefully Ken shows great patience in redirecting Cohen toward more integral path of conversation. The reality is that he was rude by any measure and clearly intended to humiliate some of the audience members.

I have spent 20 years studying and practicing in many realms of eastern philosophy, so after witnessing some of the intellectual arrogance that was occurring I took him on with some fairly pointed questions about that basically mimicked some of the discussion topics within the Wilber/Cohen dialogues eg The history of Nirvana inspired lineages, Samsara lineages, paradoxical incarnation non duality issues, bodhisattva vow, etc to see if what he said reflected what he’d either said or agreed with in the Wilber discussions.

About half way through he nearly lost it with me, he stopped and closed his eyes and was obviously having some difficulty composing himself. They weren’t aggressive questions, they were thoughtful and well presented, but he appeared to be bamboozled . He misrepresented the bodhisattva vow as one of Nirvanic enlightenment, he struggled with explaining anything but all attachments being negative , he seemed to be recommending ego death of some sort. To be honest I wouldn’t be surprised if he's having health problems of some sort, the obviously agitated condition, the inability to flow on a subject area that is obviously well practiced makes me think there must be something more he's dealing with personally.

I came away thinking I could have done a better job explaining his own work and relating to the crowd.

If you're reading this Ken, I would reconsider your endorsements, the guy on the downloads is a very well behaved and thoughtful guy. The guy I witnessed in the seminar was arrogant, dismissive and just plain weird.

from a post on Integral Naked, 11/23/04:

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Healing From Abuse: A Framework

(From 'Relating to a Spiritual Teacher' by Alexander Berzin, Snow Lion Publications, 2000. Berzin traces many complex psychological issues and pitfalls that have come up for Western practitioners of Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism. If you're in early stage recovery, his book may be confusing and seem invalidating, but after you've reclaimed your boundaries and are curious to analyse the situation, his book is likely to provide food for thought, even if you disagree with some of it.)

'In (his book) 'Invisible Loyalties' Boszormenyi-Nagy, the Hungarian founder of contextual therapy, suggested sensitive ways to heal the psychological injuries of victims of physical or sexual abuse. The methods he outlined parallel in many ways the approach taken in sutra level guru meditation. His analysis may augment our understanding of how the meditation may help to heal the wounds of students deeply hurt by abusive spiritual teachers.

'Boszormenyi-Nagy explained that the first step in the healing process is for abuse victims to acknowledge their pain and that they are entitled to feel bad. They have in fact been violated and for them to deny the truth will only add fuel to suppressed anger or feelings of guilt. Similarly, if we have been personally abused by our spiritual mentors or have learned from reliable sources that our teachers have maligned other students, we too need to acknowledge our pain and our "entitlement" to feel bad. We were in fact wronged or let down...'Contextual therapy calls next for trying to understand the context in which the abuse arose from both the perpetrators' and the victims' sides. This does not mean one should rationalize the faulty behavior or mistakes in judgment on the perpetrator's parts, nor that the victims should take the entire blame and feel guilty...

'Victims of abuse also need to acknowledge that they are entitled to a better deal in life. In Buddhist terms entitlement to happiness comes by virtue of having an innate network of positive potentials as part of (one's) Buddha nature. Nevertheless abuse victims need to earn that happiness by acting decently. For example, war refugees are entitled simply as human beings to homes and a livelihood in host countries. Yet they need to earn good treatment by following the law and leading upright lives...'Many victims of abuse have negative self-images. Either consciously or unconsciously, they blame themselves for what happened and may feel they do not deserve better treatment. Even if they feel entitled to better treatment they may resign themselves to further abuse.

'A similar pattern often emerges with victims who are told and feel that they are special. (eg when an unethical guru tells you that you're enlightened and must now start a revolution amongst the young, or if an abusive teacher singles you out to be his or her favorite and you find yourself following orders to tyrannize over others--my note, not Berzin's) During the abusive relationship, an inflated sense of self worth may make them unaware of being victims of abuse. They often deny the abuse or defend their perpetrators, even if confronted with the facts. Then, when their abusers find other "chosen ones" they feel humiliated, experience sudden deflation of their self images and become deeply hurt or completely outraged.

'In all such cases, the victims need to dispel their identification with their negative self images in order to regain emotional stability...so long as they identify with being unworthy, they continue to open themselves to possible manipulation and abuse.'The next step in the healing process in contextual therapy is determining clearheadedly the legacy that the abuse victims may take from their relationship with their perpetrators. Is it just outrage, bitterness, and an inability to trust anyone in the future, or can the victims take something positive with them? (At this stage, only after legitimate pain and anger have been thoroughly acknowledged--see previous steps--my note, not Berzins)

'The therapy encourages focusing on the positive factors gained from the relationship and enables the victims to be loyal to the positive aspects and to incorporate them into their lives. 'This process also helps the victims to avoid acting with misplaced unconscious loyalty to the abuser's negative aspects. Such loyalties may result in victims being inconsiderate of themselves, and due to feelings of guilt, denying their rights to have healthy relationships--conforming to the subtle message conveyed by the abuse. Consequently, victims of abuse frequently experience mental blocks about emotional and physical intimacy and may not feel entitled to get married or become parents...Dharma students traumatized by abusive teachers often become so disillusioned that they are unable to continue on the spiritual path.'

(From 'Relating to a Spiritual Teacher' by Alexander Berzin, pp 143-146)

Note: In the Dharma and New Age worlds, there appears to be a taboo against legitimate, appropriate anger even when one has been horrendously abused. It is sad to see tormented students trying to bear witness and anxiously declaring 'But I am not angry!'

It doesn’t help that abusive teachers and their minions are quick to pounce if someone show signs of anger and use that to invalidate them and shame them.

But this recovery framework makes clear that legitimate anger is an essential ingredient in the early stages of recovery from any kind of abuse.

Its useful to see recovery from abuse as analogous to a multi-stage rocket, the kind used to propel the Apollo moon expedition.

When the rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral, the initial power thrust was supplied by the first stage of the rocket. (eg the vital anger stage of early recovery).

After the fuel burned out from Stage One, that portion would un-couple from the rocket and fall away. The engines from the second stage then fired up. After the rocket was free from the earth's gravity and the second stage fell away, a smaller set of engines, guided by precision instruments fired up and the expedition continued its trajectory to the moon.

What assists in early recovery can become disabling in later recovery. Compassion toward one's perpetrator, something vitally important in advanced recovery, can hamper early recovery.

Unskillful use of non dual analysis (aka 'Advaita Shuffle') can also be used by the victim or well-intentioned but unskillful helpers in such a way as to derail recovery. Of course the perpetrator can also use this trick to stop recovery, preventing the victim from gaining independence from the dictates of the perpetrator.

- Much appreciation to the reader who send After Hours this article. This is a very clear statement of the recovery and healing process...further discussion is welcome.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Empowering Survivors to Find Their Voice

Great site. I hope it empowers more survivors to find their voices, and rediscover their essential dignity.

A book that many Cohen survivors may find helpful is 'Prophetic Charisma' by Len Oakes (he reviewed Andre Van der Braak's book).

If you've ever wondered why so many gurus sound alike and seem to have attended the same training camp, 'Prophetic Charisma' is a must-read. Oakes interviewed twenty charismatic leaders and many of their followers, and was once a member of a group led by such a leader.

What Oakes learned was that none of these charismatics was capable of ordinary, intimate relationships with peers. They all had some form of narcissistic personality disorder, and compensated for lack of intimacy and lack of empathy by becoming avid students of social manipulation and communication arts.

Another feature Oakes observed was that the leaders often learned to have 'canned' responses to any situation, and knew how to ruthlessly exploit the slightest sign of self doubt or hesitation in an adversary...

You can order a copy from amazon.com

There is another article, by Arthur J Deikman, available at his website and is excellent. His take on the mark of a genuine spiritual teacher is the ability to create conditions that support spiritual development. An authoritarian, anxiety ridden community would undermine such development, not support it. http://www.deikman.com/eval.html

-letter from a reader

Friday, November 12, 2004

Readers' Comments

What Enlightenment?! has received many reader’s comments. We’re happy to receive these responses, and would encourage more of the same! Here’s a sampling of our mailbag:

A reader’s comment on “The Narcissist Claims Infallibility:”

I must say I found your first entry, with the dialogue between Andrew Cohen and Ken Wilbur at the café in the south of France, a real riot. No kidding, I laughed out loud reading it, as did a few of my friends. No one more richly deserves to be satirized than those whose self-importance and grandiosity has reached epic, even mythic, proportions. Especially when two people come together and use each other to promote themselves in such a cloyingly self-satisfied way, then represent it to the naïve general public as dharma. One does not have to be an ex-student of Andrew’s to be irritated and annoyed at such unbecoming misbehavior in two grown men who claim to be enlightened.

However, reading WHAT enlightenment?! I could not help but reflect on how there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Too much of anything becomes its opposite—not just a bad thing, but, in this case, in poor taste and unconscious of its own pain and aggression. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it, because those are exactly the charges that can be levied (among others) quite fairly against Andrew Cohen.

Those who have known and observed Andrew Cohen for the past ten years have watched, with some sadness, as he has aggressively pursued world domination of the spiritual scene. Andrew started out as a brilliant, inspiring individual of extraordinary dharmic rhetorical power and clarity; he clearly had the potential to offer something of profound value to serious practitioners on the spiritual path. What a heartbreak to see him fall so far from grace! He has left a trail of “bloody bodies,” so to speak, among his students, with serious allegations—that did not appear in Andre’s book, by the way, where the issues were watered down or left unexamined—of serious physical, emotional and spiritual abuse. Anyone who is vitally tuned into the western spiritual scene is aware of the pain of many, many ex-students of Andrew Cohen who have been bombarded with coercion and who feel deeply, deeply betrayed by the man they considered to be their guru. And for the record: it’s not only Don Beck and Ken Wilbur whose ideas Andrew has usurped and made his own—and here we can include both dharmic ideas and actual phrases that are either universally known principles of the spiritual path and the specific language and experience of other contemporary western schools, which he has claimed for his own.

However, for your purposes, in order to strike at the root of the problem in a way that actually serves a higher purpose—rather than merely the immediate ego gratification of trashing someone who hurt you deeply—you could take a long, strong look at yourselves and assess what might be the most effective skillful means at hand. There is such a thing as satire and humor that is free of aggression, although, granted, it is a very difficult thing to achieve. Nonetheless, when you can free yourself of hatred and aggression toward Andrew, you will be more effective in achieving your goal, which might be to provide some real sanity and clarity for people who are lost in the swamp of Andrew’s unexamined shadow. Perhaps that is where the real possibility of WHAT enlightenment?! can be found.


Great response and very helpful and balanced. I have a lot of trouble struggling with these polarities. Between feeling righteous anger at Andrew and his ruthless methods to achieve his lofty goals. Realization after realization that his motivation was not totally pure, despite being totally immersed in a system that did not in any way allow legitimate questioning....which of course dulled my own inherent ability to discriminate....rationalizations just ended up warping and blunting my own god given intuition. And still.........! What was good and wholesome in the impulse to follow someone like Andrew has to be given some space too.

A comment posted in reply to “SPECIAL ELECTION ISSUE:”

I was at Heathrow airport, summer 2002, one of two dozen London students come to see the master off on his return to the US. AC, holding court in a coffee lounge, was attacking one student for her "green meme" (aka bleeding heart liberal) views on the impending war. "We shoulda finished Saddam off last time", growls AC. The implication was clear: Bush Snr had also been a bleeding heart liberal.Two things struck me at the time. One, and it genuinely surprised me as I'd considered him a bright guy, was how simplistic AC's assessment was.

Grim realpolitik - the hope that a chastened Saddam could still have a role to play in regional stability and balance of power - is a far more likely cause of Bush Snr's cold-hearted (and for tens of thousands of Kurds and Shias, fatal) halting of the drive to Baghdad in 1991 than any rush of liberal pacifism.I hear Wilbur gets up to the same kind of trick - equating opposition to the mess in Iraq with green meme thinking.

I'm no pacifist. But I saw the WMD thing as bogus, and I was right; and I saw the equating of Saddam's appalling (formerly US backed) regime with Al Quaeda as ludicrous, and I was right.

It would be nice to report that, in that impromptu coffee lounge meeting at the airport, I spoke my mind against AC's uninformed posturing. But anyone ever involved in this cult will know such a thing would have been unthinkable. The Master had spoken.

A comment to “All Absolute Power Demoralizes Its Possessor:”

"Qui veut faire l'ange, fait la bête." ("Those who play at being angels, end up as animals.")--Blaise Pascal

A reader comments on “David Deida muses on Guru Andrew Cohen:”

How refreshing! Kind of a more sophisticated version of imagining someone you're intimidated by on the toilet. I think Deida hits the nail on the head when describing Andrew's lack of depth, not so sure about his endearingness :) Andrew reminds me of Bush...that kind of moral conviction that can be very powerful, and the lack of depth and willingness to deal with ambiguity that can be very dangerous.

This comment came in response to the Parabola Magazine review of Enlightenment Blues, posted on October 25:

Andre’s book has made a very large contribution to understanding what happens in the presence of a powerful and charismatic spiritual authority like Cohen. I was in the Cohen group (or cult, pick your word) for many, many years. It was quite a struggle to leave, complete with much personal reprobation, but finally I did get out. I was warned that if I ever left that my soul would rot, that the world “out there” was a desert, that no one ever finds true happiness once leaving the community.

However, almost immediately upon my departure I had an explosive experience of freedom, joy and an unboundedness that was not about anything in particular other than that I was now the captain of my own ship, I was once again free to fully explore without the rigid dictates of any system. I felt free in a way that surprised and amazed me. I looked down the street, and it was just a street, yet this joy! In my mind there had been the possibility of feeling guilty for leaving the organization I had given so many years to, but when this sunshine began to shine on me I knew that there was nothing at all wrong, that on the contrary there was a hell of a lot to be very grateful for.

Over those years in the community the horizon had become slowly, imperceptibly, closed and dark. It didn’t begin that way, but somehow it really had become that way.

But now, within hours of departure, I found my horizon beginning to clear up. To quote Nietzsche, “At long last our ship may venture out again, venture out to face any danger; all the daring of the lover of knowledge is permitted again; the sea, our sea, lies open again: perhaps there has never been such an ‘open sea.’ I literally had my life back, and that recognition continues to be more precious than anything I had ever imagined.

A comment posted Oct 23 in reply to “So Just What IS a Real Sage?”:

Interesting stuff. There is no doubt in my mind, after 12 years of close contact with Andrew, that he is at the very least a bad teacher, one who uses his final goal as justification for severe abuse of his students. I think some justification could be made that he is a sadistic bully who takes pleasure in any pain experienced by anyone not on his current list of most loyal subjects. This of course includes any ex-students, but also any current students exhibiting a desire to truly question their experience. An experience that may include severe doubts about the running of the "revolution" they find themselves in.......

This comment received on October 22:

Enjoyed your blog - a welcome release for some.

As to Big Brother What Is Enlightenment’s continued existence - from my experience of 10 years+ as a student- Andrew Cohen wanted to be the evolutionary revolutionary leader and we wanted him to be as it seemed to fulfill something in us at the time.

It's only when you find the guts to leave - usually under a cloud - that maturity dawns. Those of us who now meet as friends find that we have moved on, found our autonomy and a perspective on our lives.

Evolution has no long term goal, it occurs because , in successive generations, there are slight differences in embryonic development therefore claims by any organisation to be "on the cutting edge of evolution" - is arrogant nonsense.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

3 Spiritual Teachers Arrive at the Gates of Heaven

(The following story was first told by a prominent American meditation teacher to his audience.)

Three spiritual teachers die and find themselves standing before God.

God turns firstly to Amachi and asks her: What have you learned in your life and what have you taught others? And Amachi says: I have understood that life is a river of love and that all one needs to do is float in and with it. Very good, says God. Come sit here on my right side.

Then God turns to Deepak Chopra and he asks him, What have you done in your life? And Deepak answers, I have understood that life is all about making choices. I have taught people a system by which they can choose consciously and create their own reality and find happiness. Very good, says God. Come sit here on my left side.

Then God turns to Andrew Cohen and he asks him, What have you learned in your life? And Andrew answers, I think you’re sitting in my chair!

Sunday, November 07, 2004

All Absolute Power Demoralizes its Possessor

All absolute power demoralizes its possessor. To that all history bears witness. And if it be a spiritual power which rules men's consciences, the danger is only so much greater, for the possession of such a power exercises a specially treacherous fascination, while it is peculiarly conducive to self-deceit, because the lust of dominion, when it has become a passion, is only too easily in this case excused under the plea of zeal for the salvation of others.

-- Professor J.H. von Dullinger -- (1871)

Saturday, November 06, 2004

A Self-referential Nightmare

The way Andrew Cohen’s own cautionary teachings refer so perfectly to himself is like some kind of strange and scary self-referential nightmare; a kind of spiritual "Being John Malkovich" movie with Andrew Cohen in the Malkovich role.

“Being John Malkovich” you recall, was the movie with the memorable scene when the character John Malkovich himself goes inside the head of the famous actor John Malkovich and encounters some kind of endless Malkovichian feedback loop.

How does Cohen play “Malkovich”? Consider the following quote:

“Enlightenment, then, is the direct realization of the dual nature of the glory of God as the inherent perfection of all things and a ceaseless imperative to evolve...When the ecstatic embrace of the evolutionary imperative is not firmly grounded in the profound knowledge of the inherent perfection of all things, the consequences can be disastrous.

"Why? Because the ego’s insidious and deadly investment in dominance and control can easily be fueled by the tremendously empowering discovery of the evolutionary imperative unless one is first firmly grounded in the awakened knowledge of the inherent perfection of all things.

"Indeed, without that grounding, inspired passion easily becomes fertile ground for the ego to identify itself with that which is Absolute, thereby enabling our darkest impulses to masquerade as the greatest good.”

- Andrew Cohen in Embracing Heaven & Earth...pretty amazing...

Friday, November 05, 2004

The Myth of the Totally Enlightened Guru

by John Horgan

Over the past twenty years, the myth of the totally enlightened guru has taken a beating, as one avatar after another has been accused of depraved and even criminal behavior. Given the scandalous behavior of so many self-proclaimed enlightened masters, one can understand why Huston Smith insists that no mere mortal can achieve total enlightenment, and why Ken Wilber contends that all gurus—"no exceptions, none"--have feet of clay. But the myth of the totally enlightened being has proven to be extraordinarily persistent.

I first saw Cohen in the flesh on a blustery Sunday in early spring, when he gave a talk in Manhattan. Five minutes after Cohen was scheduled to appear, he strode briskly into the penthouse and took a seat on a platform at the front of the room. He was shorter and slighter than I expected, with dark hair and moustache. He asked everyone to join him in meditation, and the room fell silent for several minutes. Even with his eyes closed, Cohen’s face was knotted with concentration, as if he were multiplying large numbers in his head.

"Hello," Cohen said, opening his eyes. "Hello," the audience replied as one.

With an eerily deadpan expression, Cohen began talking about how attachment to our individuality prevents us from knowing our true, timeless selves.

Our sexuality, Cohen emphasized, may be the biggest trap of all. Caricaturing male sexuality, Cohen clenched his fists and growled, "I’m a man." Switching to a simpering, high-pitched voice, he said, "I’m a woman," while laying one hand on his cheek, pursing his lips, and batting his eyelids. "Those are the major categories," Cohen added drily, getting a big laugh from the audience. Gays and lesbians, he emphasized, may be even more invested in their sexuality than heterosexuals.

Cohen’s demeanor was more remarkable than his message. He punctuated his mocking riffs about human vanity with an abrupt, barking laugh--"Ha!"--followed immediately by "Sorry!" His eyes often seemed glazed, or focused on an invisible object a few feet in front of him. Occasionally his eyelids fluttered and his eyes rolled back into his head, so that only the whites showed. The first time this happened, I glanced around to see how others were reacting, but no one seemed surprised. At other times, Cohen zeroed in on one member of the audience, his dark eyes gleaming with demonic intensity.

Two days after I heard Cohen speak in New York, he agreed to meet me at a compound in western Massachusetts that serves as his headquarters. The interview took place in a spacious, high-ceilinged room containing a long wooden table on which someone had placed a pitcher of water and two glasses. The room’s only decorations were a vase stuffed with flowers and a photograph of Cohen.

Cohen seemed to drift in and out of focus. His eyes never rolled completely back into his head, as they had in his talk (in New York.) But they glazed over at times, as if he was distracted by some inner vision, then locked onto mine with an unsettling directness. He kept his hands busy, chopping the air, pounding the table, even touching my hand now and then.

Some of his riffs had an incantatory effect. He spoke rapidly in a low, soft voice, often reiterating a single idea with slight variations.

I decided to get my big question out of the way early, although it came out not as a question but as a statement: You are an enlightened person...

"Well, I, I..." Cohen, to my gratification, seemed taken aback, but he quickly composed himself. "My policy is not to answer questions like that. I'd like for other people to make up their own minds." He paused. "You saw me teach the other night. Wasn't the implication rather direct?"

Yes, it was, I replied.

Enlightenment "is possible. It is real. And if you give enough of your heart and attention to that understanding, to that experience, then you are going to be able to realize it and manifest it yourself. Wasn't that the implication?

"Yes, it was."I wasn't holding back, was I?"

No, you weren't.

"I'm pretty bold."

You are pretty bold, I agreed.

"I've gotten in a lot of trouble for being bold."

Cohen’s belief in his own specialness kept coming to the fore. Those who are enlightened, he said, by definition can do no wrong. They "are no longer acting out of ignorance, in ways that are causing suffering to other people." They display "an unusual and rare consistency" in "their words, in their deeds, in their relationship to life." Over and over he emphasized how few have reached his level of spirituality.

Cohen recalled meeting only two fully enlightened people, both Indians… None of Cohen’s students have become liberated. To be sure, he said, many have had brief awakenings; some had insights so strong that they wanted to become teachers in their own right. But Cohen helped them to see that their desire to leave Andrew and become independent teachers stemmed from pridefulness.

I could not let this pass. I pointed out that Cohen himself has said that he became fully liberated only after dissolving his relationship with his guru, Poonjaji. Shouldn’t he help his students achieve independence from him? Cohen shook his head. He reminded me that Poonjaji was imperfect; if you find a truly enlightened, perfect teacher, there is no reason to leave him.

"Let's say the Buddha was alive today. Let's say someone that great, that enlightened, that pure, that perfect, with such a great teaching, was still alive. I mean, could someone be too attached to someone like that?"

Yes, I replied. I did not see how you could be truly liberated while remaining dependent upon another human, even one as great as the Buddha.

But one cannot be too dependent upon a truly enlightened person, Cohen said, exasperated. "The more attached you get to a person like that, the more free, literally, you become." Cohen derided the importance that people in general, and westerners in particular, give to independence. He had begun slapping the table to emphasize points. "Look," he said forcefully. "Anybody"—Slap!—"who wants to be free is going to have to bend his knee." The mind "must surrender!" Slap! "However that happens, it doesn't really matter, as long as it happens." Liberation cannot occur until the ego, the "root of all evil," is obliterated.

Enlightenment "is all about being nobody. It's going from something to nothing, someone to no one." Even some very powerful teachers still manifest egotistical pride, and a need to be revered by their followers. "You can be a powerfully realized being and be an egomaniac! You can be a super-egomaniac!"

Achieving total self-transcendence is extraordinarily difficult, Cohen said. "You have to leave the world and everyone in it behind forever and never return again. Okay? To be an independent teacher"—Slap!—"in the way that I am, means you...stand...alone."

For all his talk about our need for submission, Cohen has forged his own guruhood out of sheer willpower and faith in himself. If Cohen believes, unwaveringly, that he is the equivalent of Christ and Buddha and other Bodhisattvas, then his belief will be—must be!—fulfilled.

Cohen describes enlightenment as a form of not-knowing. And yet his guruhood, his entire life, revolves around his belief in—his knowledge of--his own unsurpassed perfection. To borrow a phrase, Cohen is a super-egomanic. His casual contempt for us ordinary, egotistical humans is frightening, as is his belief that, as an enlightened being who has transcended good and evil, he can do no harm. Cohen may not be a monster, as his mother claims, but he has the capacity to become one. If Cohen settled for being human instead of perfect, he’d probably be a better teacher, and a better man.

Excerpted from the longer article by John Horgan

Thursday, November 04, 2004

A Lively Debate

One place to look for very interesting discussion on the Guru Cohen issue is in the reader reviews for the book Enlightenment Blues posted on Amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

Below is one particularly lively exchange posted a while ago. Interestingly, these 2 reviews were subsequently deleted while dozens of other reviews weren't. Could it be that these two comments are too close to the bone? Don’t know. But savor what you are about to read.

2 Reviews of Enlightenment Blues:

A two dimensional fabrication of an extraordinary life
Posted on amazon.com January 17, 2004

Reviewer: Caragh from USA

This book is a complete falsification of people and events that occurred during the eleven years that Andre was a student of Andrew Cohen and a member of his community.

It is a two-dimensional fabrication of what was a full and fascinating life in an evolving spiritual community, that formed to understand and live the teachings of Andrew Cohen, a very radical and rare teacher who insists on humanity, integrity, and truth being lived for real by his students. Reading about the people and events during these years through Andre's eyes is a serious warped deviation from the truth of what really occurred. It seems obvious to me that he has such a twisted view of what happened because he is, at this point in time, looking through glasses which are heavily colored by his extreme resentment, anger, and desire for personal power and affirmation. There is absolutely no context to what he is writing about, which is that we were living together in an extraordinary experiment in the collective pursuit of freedom, authenticity, and the evolution of consciousness.

I know a lot about what happened during most of the time this book covers as I am Caragh, alias Gina, the infamous love of his life! It is a very strange experience to read the chapter about our relationship and not recognize myself or Andre, from his superficial, demeaning and very personally focused descriptions. It's horrible to read the way Andre reduces everything that happened between us to a painfully flat mischaracterization of the truth. It appears that all that matters to Andre is how he looks, what he felt, and how he can justify the choices that he made.

What he writes is not true, and seriously misrepresents our relationship. We met in a mutual recognition of spiritual freedom and talked a lot about our love and recognition of our new-found spiritual teacher, Andrew Cohen, and his teachings, which were giving us an entirely new perspective on life. There was a trust and intimacy developing that was very unusual because it was based on the thrill of enlightened understanding, together with a heart opening where there is a lot of vulnerability and love. The intimacy came out of this context and in that there was tremendous depth and interest in something transcendent and very powerful. Andre understood this and we got
closer personally because of sharing this. This meeting in a mutual interest and profound experience in something beyond ourselves was the basis of our relationship.

The book begs the question: Why would Andre have remained a student of
Andrew's for 11 years? Nothing that you read in the book helps you to make sense of this. I know why: it is because the experience and accompanying realizations that he and we had with Andrew opened our mind and consciousness so far that a new relationship to thought and feeling became possible. Andre discovered something that he had always wanted- freedom from the conditioned mind and an understanding of a mystery that reveals the truth of our oneness and non difference. Yet, that initial realization was just the beginning as this experience demands everything from us in order to really be worth anything. It demands that we evolve beyond ego, that we consciously take on our deep and conditioned responses to life that are selfish and narcissistic. This very personal change is essential in order to be available for a larger collective shift in consciousness. And I can tell you from my own experience, it is not easy. But something extraordinary becomes possible between human beings when a group of people come together
beyond ego-something happens that is way beyond the individual-a miraculous collective consciousness and understanding is discovered that has the power to change humanity's future. This was there in embryonic form when we met Andrew, when we discovered a deeply enlightened state, free from the mind/ego. He has omitted this from the book as he is choosing personal ambition and power versus giving himself over to what he knows to be true. And in this, he is denying and distorting what he found in meeting Andrew Cohen.

Try this little experiment:
posted on May 28, 2004 by a reader from lafnowl

Try this little experiment. Read the previous review, posted by Caragh/aka "Gina". As she says, she's "Enlightenment Blues'" author Van der Braak's former girlfriend, the self-described "love of his life" and a firm believer in Cohen and his community. Note the angry, extreme and disrespectful language used regarding the opinions and perspective expressed in the book (e.g. "seriously warped"; a "twisted view;" "complete falsification").

Note the scathing and personally vindictive attacks on the author's (her ex-lover's) character (e.g. "his extreme resentment, anger, and desire for personal power and affirmation.") Observe the complete lack of factual detail to support the previous charges and smears, coupled with an overreaching sense of total certainty regarding them. Notice the vague and idealistic averments regarding the community, again completely unsupported by any factual detail. Now multiply that angry, unbalanced and disturbing voice by about 100 for the approximate number of community members.

Play that tape at yourself ceaselessly 24/7 for a few weeks, months or years. See if you don't feel like hell while being told you're in heaven.

This may begin to give you a sense of the experience of the dark underbelly of such a community. Or better yet, read "Enlightenment Blues." At least that way you'll have the insight and inspiration of learning, in the end, that extricating oneself from such a group forever, and living a life of freedom and happiness, is indeed possible, even after such an ordeal. Discovering that, alone, is worth far more than the price of the book.

(Without explanation, both of these reviews disappeared from the amazon.com site a few days after they were posted.)

Tuesday, November 02, 2004


Upon the fall of Baghdad in 2003, Guru Cohen sent the following 'official message' to his students.

"All you bleeding heart liberals can go to hell! I'm celebrating victory with our President!"

Wow, stunning! What do you think of that??

Well, it's election day, so you get to vote! Please indicate your preference by submitting a comment for either of the following choices. Click on the 'comments' button below, and just write in B/C or K/E - or feel free to comment more.

Please select one:



(Stay tuned, results will be posted!)

Monday, November 01, 2004

Accepting a Simple Truth

"I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives."
Leo Tolstoy

"I believe the closed, self-confirming guru-system has an ...important defect, even with Masters who manage to avoid (many) temptations, namely that there is little or no opportunity for theories and techniques to be evaluated against their experiential results and exchanged for better ones.'

'My own reason for regarding the Master-concept as pernicious is that it imposes an almost irresistable temptation on guru and disciples alike to keep quiet about and/or rationalize away any experience that might detract from the guru's claim to infallible authority justifying surrender.'

'The trouble is that once such a system is swallowed, the guru cannot admit to lapses without completely discrediting his claim to have any enlightenment to pass on. So from the highest possible motive, a sincere desire to share his God-consciousness, he is tempted to rationalize, probably even to himself. Sexual advances toward attractive disciples become tantric exercises or studies of the chakras, a beer-belly is due to the descent of shakti-power, outbursts of temper are to weaken disciples egos or to test their devotion, collection of money is needed for spreading the Word, gifts are accepted because the disciples wish to show their devotion, and so on through the whole hackneyed catalog.'

Professor John Wren Lewis

"Anyone who denies having an unconscious stops an essential process of awareness which involves being very alert to the workings of one's own filtering mechanisms. This denial can only increase the power of the unconscious.

Because a spiritual authority cannot compete well from a position of fallibility, gurus are caught on the horns of a dilemma: by denying the unconscious they become more unconscious; but if they acknowlegge its possibility in themselves, they can no longer be infallible."

from The Guru Papers by Allstad & Kramer