Thursday, December 23, 2004

Ken Wilber's Shaky History of Endorsements

Andrew Cohen enjoys the endorsements of very few but one he does have is that of Ken Wilber, and Wilber is certainly no slouch. People are no doubt drawn to Cohen upon hearing of this support.

Wilber’s endorsement is most prominently on display in the forward to Cohen’s book Living Enlightenment:

“Andrew Cohen is a Rude Boy. He is not here to offer comfort; he is here to tear you into approximately a thousand pieces, so that Freedom can replace imprisonment. It will, in fact, be hell, and only Rude Boys are rude enough to tell you that, and to show you that—if you can stand the rudeness, stay in the fire, burn clean as Infinity and radiate as the stars…if you can stand the heat... Andrew's magazine What Is Enlightenment? is the only magazine asking the hard questions, slaughtering the sacred cows, and dealing with the Truth no matter what the consequences.”

No matter what the consequences….hummm??!!

Four times a year Cohen and Wilber appear together in dialogue in What is Enlightenment? magazine, discussing the important spiritual topics of the day. They publicly couldn’t be more embracing. (For a WHAT enlightenment?! parady of one of these Cohen/Wilber dialogues, see our post What is Narcissism, Oct 19 below.)

However, Wilber’s endorsements have run into serious trouble in the past. An endorsement Wilber made which turned very sour was this one of spiritual teacher Adi Da in 1985:

“This is not merely my personal opinion; this is a perfectly obvious fact, available to anyone of intelligence, sensitivity, and integrity: THE DAWN HORSE TESTAMENT is the most ecstatic, most profound, most complete, most radical, and most comprehensive single spiritual text ever to be penned and confessed by the Human Transcendental Spirit. That seems an objective fact; here is my own personal and humbler opinion. I am honored (even awed) to be allowed in its Presence, to listen to and Hear the Potent Message of the Heart-Master Da. How can the soul not bow down to such a Message? What other is the appropriate response? How can I not say what I am saying? How, in the face of such a Testament, can we possible justify neglect?

At the very least, it is perfectly obvious that there is now no excuse whatsoever for any intelligent and spiritually-minded person, of whatever persuasion, not to be at least a student (or one who simply studies the Written Teachings) of Master Da Free John. The days of denial are over; this nonsense of neglect cannot continue, with any rational reason. I ask my friends, my students, my readers, even my casual acquaintances, to see and recognize and, above all, confess the Realization that Master Da is.

I do not understand why so many thousands of people--who have heartily expressed to me the opinion that my own written works express great clarity, judgment, and understanding--balk and look in disbelief when I speak ecstatically of the Heart Master Da. It is as if my friends believe everything I say except that Master Da is a genuine Adept, Free at the Heart, Confessed in Radiance, Transcendent to it all. How has my judgment suddenly lapsed in regard to this Man? I am as certain of this Man as I am of anything I have written--in fact, as certain as I am of my own hand (which apparently claps by itself in solitude when it comes to this Great Issue). So I make only one request: if you do only one thing to test my judgment in this matter, please read this DAWN HORSE TESTAMENT cover to cover (and I mean cover to cover), an then I will be glad to argue with you if you still wish--but not before. And, I think, we will then see who the Master of the Heart really is. Is that not fair? Read this Man, Listen to this Man, Hear this Man, then See Him. And then, I think, you will stand Smiling.

What else do you really want? What else can I say?”

Uhh…well, there was more that Wilber could say, and he waited another 10 years to say it. On October 11, 1996 Wilber made his now famous retraction of the endorsement he’d given to Da:

“THE LAST POSITIVE STATEMENT I made about Da's work was in 1985, when I wrote a very strong endorsement for his major book, The Dawn Horse Testament. This is one of the very greatest spiritual treatises, comparable in scope and depth to any of the truly classic religious texts. I still believe that, and I challenge anybody to argue that specific assessment.

The teaching is one thing, the teacher, quite another. By this time (around 1985), things were starting to become very problematic for Da, his personal life, his community, and his teaching in the world. In ways that we are just beginning to understand, some types of spiritual development can run way ahead of moral, social, interpersonal, and wisdom development in general. Da is capable of some truly exquisite insights, but in other areas, he has fared less well, and this has increasingly verged on the catastrophic.

It is always sad to see such promise run aground on the rocks of personality problems. As this was becoming increasingly obvious to even his most appreciative students, including me, I did an interview with Yoga Journal (September/Octobers 1987). In that interview, I made my very last public statement about Da. For the next decade, I would publicly say nothing about him whatsoever (until now).

Da makes a lot of mistakes. These are immediately reinterpreted as great teaching events, which is silly. And then he gets mad and frustrated and goes into sort of a divine pout . Because of these and other difficulties, he has holed up in Fiji, become very isolated and cut off, which I think could be disastrous, for him and for the community. The entire situation has become very problematic. It's real hard to get happy about what's going on.

Problematic was the euphemism that sociologists at that time were using for Jonestown. Although few think Da will slide that far, nonetheless, his entire teaching work has indeed become problematic. The great difficulty is that, no matter how "enlightened" you might be, it take s a certain amount of practical wisdom to gauge the effects of your teaching work on the world at large. Crazy wisdom might (or might not) be fine for a few very close and longtime devotees. But it is disastrous when done as a large scale social experiment, which Da did, especially during the Garbage and the Goddess period. Anybody who could not see how that experiment would be perceived by the world is simply a damn fool. And an enlightened damn fool is even more culpable.

Those events sealed Da's fate in today's world. His teaching work is effectively ended for all but a small handful. And he will never be able to teach in this country, or virtually anywhere else, either, because his past will follow him. It is altogether sad, then, to see him continue to announce that he is the World Teacher. He won't even venture out in to the world! He hides in Fiji, away from the glare, away from the world, away from the truth at large. And he calls us to his little island kingdom, there to save the world. This verges on the grotesque.

Is there any chance that Da can rehabilitate himself? His claim, of course, is that he is the most enlightened person in the history of the planet. Just for argument, let us agree. But then what would the most enlightened World Teacher in history actually do in the world? Hide? Avoid? Run? Or would that teacher engage the world, step into the arena of dialogue, meet with other religious teachers and adepts, attempt to start a universal dialogue that would test his truths in the fire of the circle of those who could usefully challenge him. At the very least, a person who claims to be the World Teacher needs to get out in the world, no?

This doesn't mean Da would have to attend every conference, give hundreds of lectures, hit the talk-show circuit, etc. It simply means he would at the very least find ways to directly engage or at least meet!--some of the prominent leaders in the fields of religion, politics, science, and administration. As it is, he won't even meet with other leaders, such as the Dalai Lama, unless they become practicing members of his church! Hello?

To step out in that fashion requires moral courage. It requires a willingness to engage and respond. It demands a brave heart to stand forth and shine, not just to a few hundred in Fiji, but to an unbelieving world.

Until this happens, I can recommend to no one that they take up the isolationist practices of the Daist community. At the same time, this should not prevent us from taking advantage of that part of Da which isn't broken, namely, his clear (if isolated) spiritual writings and insights. If nothing else, his written texts are still an extraordinary source of material. Even if you do nothing but disagree with them, you will at least see a stunning number of ideas and insights and methods, which you can check for yourself and see if they actually work or not. Nor should his personal problems negate these insights. Even if Einstein was a complete psychotic, E still equals mc2. Let us not deny the latter because of the former.

We await, then, the day that the World Teacher consents to enter the World. Until that time, it is perhaps best to watch from a safe distance, while availing yourself of those written texts that still manage to shine with a light of their own.”

Two points need to be made about this retraction. First is notice how Wilber clearly states how mistaken it was for Da to use techniques of Crazy wisdom (often irrational, provocative and confrontational challenges to ones sensibilities). “Crazy wisdom might (or might not) be fine for a few very close and longtime devotees. But it is disastrous when done as a large scale social experiment…” But it is exactly Cohen’s employment of “rudeness” – ie crazy wisdom – on a wholesale level, that Wilber so heartily endorses. Now, use of this sort of harsh and even dangerous approach presupposes a master with the most delicate of insight into each individual student’s needs. Wilber apparently feels Cohen has the right stuff, is sensitive and therefore ready and equipped to use the shock tactics. WHAT enlightenment?! blog is an ongoing catalog of examples of Cohen’s total lack of the right stuff.

The second point concerns Wilber’s criticism of Da for hiding out in Fiji. Fair enough, it does sound like hiding out. But need we say that Cohen, while he broadcasts his message in his magazine, and teaches publicly, has never and probably will never, truly meet and face any sort of reflection from fellow teachers who are his peers, “testing his truths in the fire of the circle of those who could usefully challenge him” nor has he opened himself to the growing voices of descent and grievance amongst the also ever-growing group of ex-students, many of whom were intimate household members for periods of years. This is an even more fundamental hiding out, and eventually it will need to be faced if he is ever going to make things right.


5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting so many articles that take to task gurus Cohen and Wilber. No one deserves it like they do. Your “What is Narcissism” article was a scream, and my friends and I also really liked the piece on Cohen/Wilber’s use of “thought stopping clichés” (see November 24.) These 2 guys have it all figured out it seems.

The latest issue of Cohen’s What is Enlightenment magazine carries yet another installment of this foolish duo – it’s called The Guru and The Pandit: Transcend and Include. Only a true narcissist could make some of the statements Cohen made here – and do it with a straight face and without any sense of irony. Let me quote some glaring examples of Cohen’s malignant self-love. (This dialog took place after Cohen had attended the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Barcelona.) For the sake of brevity, I quote only Cohen:

Andrew Cohen: “The fact that so many different people from so many different backgrounds, cultures, faiths, beliefs, and even, dare I say, levels of development could come together in such a spirit of sharing and inquiry is remarkable…

(Cohen met with the director of the Parliament who said that the mainstream must be reached and moved)… while I have mainly been focused on pushing the very edge of our spiritual potential…

All we can do is everything that we honestly can do – and if we’re doing the right thing, we’ll experience the ecstatic glory underlying the entire process, no matter what happens in the end…

My own attention has been devoted to pushing the edge of consciousness development, which in my own work is probably a lot less than a half percent!...(this followed a point made by Wilber that two three percent of people are progressives or “integral.”)

I realize that it’s possible to embrace a wide variety of world-views, opinions, and spiritual perspectives without compromising one’s own evolving edge…

I had never met so many different kinds of people who I felt I was able to relate to with the best part of my own humanity, at a real heart level and also at the level of mind. I think it was a maturing experience for me because as I said, I realized I didn’t in any way have to compromise my own position in the process of engaging with and learning from so many others who were also trying to uplift the consciousness of this same world…”

Well there you have it! Cohen believes that he is doing only the highest work and that he is to be given credit for not letting anyone’s view shake his own.

If this really is an example of the highest spiritual leadership, then all I can say is to ask for the Goddess to please help us.

Tuesday, 28 December, 2004  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ramesh Balkaser says this. I may beleivethat the whole universe is a dream,but so long as one remains outside of the dream and sees it as something seen by him as something seen by him as a seperate intity he cannot be any nearer to liberation or self realisation.Liberation is nothing other than the liberation from the idea of a seperate entity doing the seeing. Wilbur and Cohen are both very much seperate if not superior entities seeing others as still trapped in the dream. Poor fools instead of transending their ego's they have simply driven it under cover so that rather than being able to witness its workings they act so totally from it that they have become useless to themselves and a danger to others. Still its all part of the game. Goodies and baddies etc

Friday, 31 December, 2004  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm. Some interesting points are made about Andrew Cohen. I sense that these points could be right, that Cohen needs to lighten up with HIS dogmatic form of enlightenment. It is disappointing to see that a magazine called What Is Enlightenment? has stopped asking the question, and quite possibly, has the gall to posit answers without asking anymore questions. Okay, so I'm not entirely convinced that Andrew Cohen is this bad, but he must be careful! I most certainly do feel a powerful pomposity in Cohen despite his good intentions. And that's where I am (at least for the moment) still in defense of him because I do not think he's as dangerous as some may fear. There are too many of us "out here" who have been through self-assigned gooroos before, and though we are sadder, we are most certainly wiser. So, yes, I am worried that Cohen will self-destruct if he loses sight of his responsibility to those who look to him for guidance. He must realize that as a teacher, he is less than his students, not more. Teaching--any kind of teaching--is a privilege. We must honor our students, not debase them--no matter what. Focus and discipline are not compatible with debasement and degradation. In terms of Ken Wilber, well, I'm not worried about Ken Wilber. I'm not worried about Ken Wilber at all. Ken is evolving. There is a wise undercurrent of humble surrender within Ken Wilber. Please, be patient with him. He may surprise you--he may surprise himself. He may surpise us all. He may surprise Andrew Cohen!

"Lee"

Thursday, 10 August, 2006  
Anonymous seer said...

Huh? Lee sez:

"In terms of Ken Wilber, well, I'm not worried about Ken Wilber. I'm not worried about Ken Wilber at all. Ken is evolving. There is a wise undercurrent of humble surrender within Ken Wilber. Please, be patient with him. He may surprise you--he may surprise himself. He may surpise us all. He may surprise Andrew Cohen!"

A naive assessment. Far from evolving, the dark side of Ken's ambition to be a spiritual teacher and his midirection of well meaning but naive seekers when he isn't anything but a speculating pundit is all too apparent. His resulting poor choices are manifesting more and more on multiple levels. Ken is a egotistical hypocrite who has led thousands astray with his word craft. His claims rude boy gurus are superior are based partly on his frustration with his own internal conflicts and partly on the utility of being able to serve as their interpreters in his works, and yet he is nowhere to be found doing what he practices, only talking about it from a safe distance. As for Ken's claim that enlightenment itself is evolving when Ken knows nothing about it, what infantile nonsense.

Monday, 06 November, 2006  
Blogger Stephen C. Rose said...

Ken Wilber

I share some of this critique.

Monday, 06 September, 2010  

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